Blog Archives

#CBR7 Review #3-4 – Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword

Ancillary Justice

Target: Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1) and Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch #2)

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera

After Action Report:

The Imperial Radch series is a relatively simple little space opera, in the classic sense of the term.  Spanning hundreds, if not thousands of years, multiple star systems and a variety of cultural influences, it’s a series firmly rooted in the tropes of its genre.  While Ancillary Justice does wonderful things with those ideas and concepts, building a surprisingly compelling setting and cast, the series as a whole is somewhat underwhelming.  Lacking the bombast of James S. A. Corey’s The Expanse or the vision of Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space, Imperial Radch sits in an uncomfortable place between top-tier SF and the middle of the road dross that clogs the shelves at Barnes and Noble.

Ancillary Justice follows Breq, also known as Justice of Toren, One Esk, a surviving fragment of the controlling AI of an interstellar warship.  A portion of Justice examines Breq’s life as the ship Justice of Toren before it was destroyed, while the main narrative picks up after Breq has been on her own for years, executing a long plan that might make up for some of the mistakes she made as Justice of Toren.  The PoV snaps back and forth between the present and the past until we witness the moment of Justice of Toren’s destruction.  After which we shift entirely to Breq on her mission of justice and vengeance.

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#CBR6 Review #21: Count to a Trillion

Count to a TrillionTarget: John C. Wright’s Count to a Trillion. (Count to Eschaton Sequence #1)

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera

After Action Report:

Count to a Trillion is a strange sort of novel.  It seems primarily dedicated to avoiding any kind of resolution to any of the narratives it establishes and finding other literary ways to annoy me.  Poor characterization, egregious technobabble and obnoxious timeskips are just a few of the book’s many sins.  And yet, there is an interesting and ambitious concept at its core.  Ultimately, I think the novel falls short of its goals, but it takes us on what could be the start of an intriguing ride.

Count to a Trillion opens an unspecified amount of time in the future. The Earth has been ravaged by non-nuclear global war and racial strife. These events have left the Indosphere and Hispanosphere in control of much of the world.  Born in the relative backwater of the southern United States, Menelaus Illation Montrose grows up as a judicial gun-for-hire, but hides a unique secret: a phenomenal gift for higher mathematics.  Pressganged into an once-in-a-lifetime expedition to examine an alien artifact orbiting a tantalizing source of free energy, Menelaus subjects himself to an experimental procedure designed to artificially enhance his brain to a posthuman level.  The process drives him insane.

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#CBR6 Review #14-15 – Saga Vol. 2-3

Saga 2Target: Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga.  Art by Fiona Staples.  Collecting issues 7-18

Profile: Comics, Science Fiction, Space Opera

After Action Report:

It’s been too long, but I’m finally getting around to reviewing Saga Volume 2 and, as a limited time bonus offer, you get Volume 3 thrown in for free.  Back when I first picked up this epic comic series, I noted that the one flaw holding it back was the lack of focus and development.  To quote myself, “While many of the details needed for true long-term success are still missing, Saga tantalizes with an incredible spread of fantastic ideas and well-drawn characters.”  Vaughan has done a lot to build a cohesive story from the flighty bits of Volume 1.  The pacing and, more importantly, unfocused nature of the comic are still getting in the way of strong narrative flow, but Saga somehow transcends these limitations and is building a beautifully cohesive world out of the narrative equivalent of confetti.

After the cliffhanger ending of Chapter 6, Volume 2 disjoints briefly from the narrative of Marko and Alana to take time for some flashbacks.  We look at Marko’s youth, Alana’s time as a solider and their joint experiences as prisoner and guard that preceded the events of Volume 1.  We also meet a whole gaggle of characters from Marko’s past and pick up some of the threads from The Will’s side story.

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#CBR5 Maneuver #25 – Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan WakesTarget: James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse #1)

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera

After Action Report:

The Expanse has received a lot of attention, mostly from other authors, for being a fresh take on space-based science fiction.  The books have also received high praise for their cinematic fight sequences and politically charged plot lines.  The books are each fairly lengthy, sitting well over the 500 page mark, but manage to feel like much shorter novels thanks to brisk pacing and strong, dynamic characters.

In spite of the ‘space opera’ tag, the stories of The Expanse are really more like war stories, having more in common with John Scalzi than they do with Iain M. Banks or Alastair Reynolds.  The scope of the setting is mostly limited to the solar system and there isn’t the same sense of wonder and discovery that has become associated with New Wave Space Opera.  Instead, The Expanse feels like older styles of space opera that focused more on combat, and the brave actions of courageous soldiers against overwhelming odds and the threat of the unknown.

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#CBR5 Maneuver #16 – Saga Vol.1

Saga Vol 1Target: Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga.  Art by Fiona Staples. Collecting issues 1-6

Profile: Comics, Science Fiction, Space Opera

After Action Report:

Saga is probably the most praised comic currently running.  Brain K. Vaughan has a bit of a reputation for excellent comics with his Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina stories making lots of people’s must-read lists.  So it shouldn’t be surprising that readers and industry wonks alike were practically frothing over Vaughan’s new series.  I got to this party a little late, mostly because I don’t see the point of collecting individual issues and prefer to wait for the mass-market paperback collections.  So I write this review with the enormous pressure of thousands of positive reviews sitting on my back.  Not that I feel the need to contradict them.  Saga is an excellent book with only one serious fault.  And that fault is one that could easily be corrected with time/more issues.

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#CBR5 Maneuver #12 – Blue Remembered Earth

Blue Remembered EarthTarget: Alastair Reynolds’ Blue Remembered Earth

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera

Summary: Adapted from Goodreads.com, “One hundred and fifty years from now, in a world where Africa is the dominant technological and economic power, and where crime, war, disease and poverty have been banished to history, Geoffrey Akinya wants only one thing: to be left in peace, so that he can continue his studies into the elephants of the Amboseli basin. But Geoffrey’s family, the vast Akinya business empire, has other plans. After the death of Eunice, Geoffrey’s grandmother, erstwhile space explorer and entrepreneur, something awkward has come to light on the Moon, and Geoffrey is tasked – well, blackmailed, really – to go up there and make sure the family’s name stays suitably unblemished. But little does Geoffrey realise – or anyone else in the family, for that matter – what he’s about to unravel.

Eunice’s ashes have already have been scattered in sight of Kilimanjaro. But the secrets she died with are about to come back out into the open, and they could change everything.  Or shatter this near-utopia into shards…”

After Action Report:

I’ve mentioned this before, but Alastair Reynolds’ novels leave me a little bewildered.  The scope of his settings are daunting and even Blue Remembered Earth, a book that starts and finishes within our own solar system and a scant 150 years in the future, promises to have gotten just as big by the time we get to the end of the Poseidon’s Children series.  Reynolds packs a lot of interesting ideas into this opening novel, but the plot seems to get pushed aside to make room for it all.

Not that Blue Remembered Earth is bad.  It feels like its setting up for something really interesting and, like a lot of setup stories, it doesn’t quite stand on its own.  Reynolds’ attention to detail draws a compelling map to the stars and the future of humanity, but the reason we keep turning pages has nothing to do with Geoffrey Akinya or his sister, Sunday.

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#CBR5 Maneuver #3 – Old Man’s War

Old Man's WarTarget: John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera, Military

Summary: From the back cover, “John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space.  The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce–and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.

Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.
John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine–and what he will become is far stranger.”

After Action Report:

I’ve resisted reading this book for a very long time.  The reviews were just too universally good, and I’ve been burned that way before.  But after hearing Scalzi interviewed on NPR about his new book, Red Shirts, I finally started wondering what all the fuss was about.  And for once, I wasn’t disappointed.  Old Man’s War is a tremendous novel in an understated package that handles the horrors of war and the wonders of the final frontier with equal aplomb.  It approaches its subject matter with the correct mix of humility, awe and confidence to tie the reader to the plight of the cast, and even this fictional version of the human race.

Old Man’s War is narrated in first person perspective by John Perry, an aging ad copy writer.  He and his wife Kathy decided to get a second lease on life by joining the Colonial Defense Force.  But Kathy died before their number was up, so John is on his own as he enlists and becomes a part of humanity’s first line of defense.  Scalzi’s vision of the future has humanity expanding colonially into the stars, while Earth remains isolated.  But the galaxy is not empty and many other species desire the same resources we need.  Competition for planets and systems is fierce and humanity isn’t the big kid on the block.

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#CBR4 Maneuver #43 – The Evolutionary Void

Target: Peter F. Hamilton’s The Evolutionary Void

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera, Science Fantasy

Summary: Taken from the back cover, “Exposed as the Second Dreamer, Araminta has become the target of a galaxywide search by others equally determined to prevent – or facilitate – the pilgrimage into the Void.  An indestructible microuniverse, the Void may contain paradise, but it is also a deadly threat.  For the reality that exists inside its boundaries demands energy drawn from planets, stars, galaxies – from everything that lives.

Meanwhile, the story of Edeard, the Waterwalker, continues to unfold.  With time running out, Inigo, the first Dreamer, must decide whether to release Edeard’s dangerous final dream.  And Araminta must choose whether to run from her responsibilities or face them down, with no guarantee of success or survival.  But all these choices may be for naught if the leader of a rival faction enters the Void.  For it is not paradise she seeks there, but domination. ”

After Action Report:

Okay, I’m not sure if I wasn’t paying attention to book two, but The Evolutionary Void definitely jumped the tracks a bit and careened off into the nebulous science fantasy genre.  Not that there’s anything fundamentally wrong with science fantasy, but the effect is sort of like going to a Star Trek convention, passing out on the last day and waking up to the cosplay contest of an anime con.  Not unpleasant per se, but definitely disconcerting.

Where book two, The Temporal Void, was mostly about the events within the Void, and by extension Edeard’s story, book three takes us back outside to resolve the ongoing problem of the Living Dream pilgrimage.  The majority of the narrative is spent picking up plot threads from the first book that were left withering to make room for the copious number of dream chapters in book two.  I should note that I started Evolutionary Void almost two full years after reading the first two books, and spent a substantial amount of time trying to remember who the hell everyone was with mixed success.  Most of the protagonist groups have finally aligned against the forces of the Living Dream or the Accelerator Faction, but haven’t necessarily teamed up.  All that aligning means less in the way of Ludlum-esque chases and more pseudo-scientific technobabble along with a fair portion of posthumanist philosophy.

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#CBR4 Maneuver #39 – The Hydrogen Sonata

Target: Iain M. Banks’ The Hydrogen Sonata

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera, Expanded Continuity

Summary: From goodreads.com, “It is, truly, provably, the End Days for the Gzilt civilization.

An ancient people, they helped set up the Culture ten thousand years earlier and were very nearly one of its founding societies, deciding not to join only at the last moment. Now they’ve made the collective decision to follow the well-trodden path of millions of other civilizations; they are going to Sublime, elevating themselves to a new and almost infinitely more rich and complex existence.

Amidst preparations though, the Regimental High Command is destroyed. Lieutenant Commander (reserve) Vyr Cossont appears to have been involved, and she is now wanted – dead, not alive. Aided only by an ancient, reconditioned android and a suspicious Culture avatar, Cossont must complete her last mission given to her by the High Command – find the oldest person in the Culture, a man over nine thousand years old, who might have some idea what really happened all that time ago. Cossont must discover the truth before she’s exiled from her people and her civilization forever – or just plain killed.”

After Action Report:

Having reviewed more than half of Banks’ excellent Culture novels, I’m getting to a point where I’ve run out of things to say.  The Hydrogen Sonata continues the series’ exploration of the galactic metacivilization called the Culture with the same strong storytelling and eye for humor.  The themes Banks is exploring are natural extensions of those we found in Look to Windward and Excession.  Of course, the problem with consistency, even good consistency, is that it is boring to read about.

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CBRIII Maneuver #28 – Look to Windward

Target: Iain M. Banks’ Look to Windward

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera, Expanded Continunity.

Summary: Edited from goodreads.com “The Twin Novae battle had been one of the last of the Idiran war, one of the most horrific. Desperate to avert defeat, the Idirans had induced not one but two suns to explode, snuffing out worlds & biospheres teeming with sentient life. They were attacks of incredible proportion–gigadeathcrimes. But the war ended & life went on.

Now, 800 years later, light from the first explosion is about to reach the Masaq’ Orbital, home to the Culture’s most adventurous & decadent souls. There it will fall upon Masaq’s 50 billion inhabitants, gathered to commemorate the deaths of the innocent & to reflect, if only for a moment, on what some call the Culture’s own complicity in the terrible event. Also journeying to Masaq’ is Major Quilan, an emissary from the war-ravaged world of Chel. In the aftermath of the conflict that split his world apart, most believe he has come to Masaq’ to bring home Chel’s most brilliant star & self-exiled dissident, the honored Composer Ziller.

But the Major’s true assignment will have far greater consequences than the death of a mere political dissident, as part of a conspiracy more ambitious than even he can know–a mission his superiors have buried so deeply in his mind that even he can’t remember it.” Read the rest of this entry