Blog Archives

#CBR7 Review #1 – Ready Player One

Ready Player OneTarget: Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One

Profile: Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Pop Culture, Adventure!

After Action Report:

Ready Player One is one of those books that’s been sitting on the shelves at Barnes and Nobel taunting me with nearly universal acclaim for longer than I care to think about.  Not only that, but it falls clearly into my ‘near future, speculative fiction’ bailiwick and even focuses on video game culture, so I really have no excuse as to why I’m only just now adding it to my library.  And that’s a shame, because it really is quite good.

Any returning readers will recall that I intensely dislike reading books with good press or recommendations, mostly because it means that I’m suddenly holding the author (and the book) to much higher standards than are reasonable, but also because it messes with the way that I think about writing these reviews.  I feel pressure to generate ‘original’ criticism, which puts my tendency to nitpick into overdrive.

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#CBR6 Review #25 – Lexicon


Target: Max Barry’s Lexicon

Profile: Speculative Fiction, Thriller

After Action Report:

As I have written before, I find book recommendations to be more annoying than useful (which raises some interesting questions about why I write book reviews).  There are so many variables involved in what makes any given book appealing to a given person that, without a history of literary compatibility, it is almost impossible guarantee that any two people will like the same book.  Still, every so often I’ll follow up on a recommendation or a particularly good review from a source that I like and it won’t disappoint me.  Lexicon not only did not disappoint, it wildly exceeded my expectations.

Lexicon takes place in a world where “Poets” have been the real power hidden in the shadow of history.  These individuals, possessed of extraordinary willpower and a set of linguistic tools, are able to command people by speaking a few key words that bypass our conscious minds and force us to obey.  The idea on its own is fascinating, drawing on shades of Neal Stephenson’s secret histories and J.K. Rowling’s ‘school for special people’ concept.

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#CBR6 Review #18: Ship Breaker

Ship BreakerTarget: Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker (Ship Breaker #1)

Profile: Speculative Fiction, Young Adult

After Action Report:

There is a gritty reality to Paolo Bacigalupi’s work.  A grim straightforwardness that crushes the optimism older SF styles.  On its own, this same honesty produces brilliantly brutal speculative fiction, like Windup Girl.  But there is a necessary optimism to Young Adult literature that is at odds with Bacigalupi’s tone.  Ship Breaker lives in artificial space between two styles, carving out its own literary niche, but at the same time feeling discordant and incomplete.  And yet, it is a technically excellent novel that I really did enjoy.

Like many of Bacigalupi’s stories, Ship Breaker deals with a post-industrial crisis world.  Climate changes has melted the ice caps and destroyed much of costal civilization.  Technology and wealth have concentrated even further and the average person lives at the whim of a few mega-corporations that dominate the world.  Nailer and his crew are child laborers who scrape a living from salvaging the wrecks of cargo ships from the old era.  When the ship of a wealthy heiress crashes into their lives, Nailer jumps at the opportunity to escape his dead-end situation, only to get caught up in an international power struggle.

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#CBR6 Review #13 – The Incrementalists

The IncrementalistsTarget: Steven Brust and Skyler White’s The Incrementalists

Profile: Speculative Fiction

After Action Report:

As a concept, The Incrementalists is a pretty impressive pitch.  A secret society of quasi-immortal do-gooders dedicated to the slow improvement of mankind suddenly threatened by one of their own sounds like a great, high concept blockbuster.  But The Incrementalists can’t seem to decide if it’s supposed to be more like ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ or ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,’ and flounders unpleasantly somewhere between the two.  There are a lot of good ideas here, but the novel feels undirected at best and a confused mess at worst.

The book opens after the death of Celeste, a senior member of the Incrementalists.  Phil, her lover and fellow senior Incrementalist, is tasked with finding her replacement and initiating her.  This process involves transferring the memories of Celeste, and all of the other people who Celeste has been, into a new person.  This new person is Renee, called Ren.  But something goes wrong in the process and now ‘Celeste’ is missing and Ren is losing her mind.  It falls to Phil and Ren to get to the root of the problem before it unravels the Incrementalists for good.

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#CBR6 Review #7 – EX-Heroes

Ex-HeroesTarget: Peter Clines’ EX-Heroes (EX-Heroes #1)

Profile: Superhero Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Zombie Apocalypse

After Action Report:

EX-Heroes falls very clearly in my reading category of ‘book candy.’  It’s light, entertaining, but lacking many qualities of actual literary goodness.  Well, actually the concept is executed rather well and Clines manages to tell a pretty compelling story within his somewhat limited framework, so maybe the novel isn’t all that lacking.  But at the end of the day, there’s very little here that hasn’t been explored before.  Points for novelty notwithstanding.

The book bills itself as “The Avengers meets The Walking Dead,” and that’s pretty much the premise.  A sequence of international events prompt the rise of a small number of ‘superheroes,’ who only have a few years to establish themselves before the zombie apocalypse kicks off.  The book is told in two parallel arcs, one following a conclave of heroes who have carved out a sanctuary in the ruins of Paramount Studios in the post-zombie world.  The other arc jumps between perspectives of various heroes as they tell portions of their origin stories or their first contact with the book’s zombies, called ‘Exes.’

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#CBR6 Review #1 – RASL

RASLTarget: Jeff Smith’s RASL

Profile: Graphic Novel, Speculative Fiction

After Action Report:

If you look around online, the reviews for RASL are decidedly mixed.  There are complaints about the pacing, the protagonist, and a laundry list of other, minor issues that plague the graphic novel.  But the real problem most of these readers seem to have with the book, is that it isn’t Bone.  Jeff Smith really carved out a place for himself with Bone, capturing the attention of fans and critics alike but now those same fans can’t seem to move past it.  That being said, I haven’t read Bone.  So with any luck, this review will be a little less biased.

RASL opens with the narrator/protagonist, a man only identified by his calling card, a graffiti tag with the letters RASL in green and pink, stealing a Picasso from a loft apartment.  The heist goes wrong and RASL escapes into an alley where he straps on four miniature jet engines and an African mask. When the police round the corner and fire on him, he vanishes in a flash of light.  RASL can ‘Drift’ between dimensions courtesy of technology he developed from the notes of Nikola Tesla.  He makes a living stealing parallel copies of famous painting and selling them on Earth Prime.  But the jumps between dimensions are taking their toll on his body, and now someone is chasing him between the worlds.

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#CBR5 Maneuver #17 – Secrets of the Fire Sea

Secrets of the Fire SeaTarget: Stephen Hunt’s Secrets of the Fire Sea (Jackelian #4)

Profile: Speculative Fiction, Steampunk, Fantasy, Mystery

After Action Report:

The fourth book in Stephen Hunt’s Jackelian series is a marked improvement on the third, but doesn’t quite recapture the energy or creativity of the first.  However, the actual narrative line of Secrets of the Fire Sea is surprisingly clean and easy to follow, a vast improvement over Hunt’s pervious stories.

If you haven’t been following my various Cannonball blogs, Secrets of the Fire Sea takes place in Hunt’s steampunk/fantasy/sci-fi setting that started with The Court of the Air. And it is honestly one of the best steampunk settings out there, and continues to be wonderfully creative sometimes even surprising.  I would go so far as to say that the setting is the reason these books are worth reading, as the stories tend to be retreads of obvious tropes and are only interesting because of the set pieces that make up the world.

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#CBR4 Maneuver #29 – The Long Earth

Target: Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s The Long Earth

Profile: Speculative Fiction, Science Fiction

Summary: From, “1916: the Western Front, France. Private Percy Blakeney wakes up. He is lying on fresh spring grass. He can hear birdsong, and the wind in the leaves in the trees. Where has the mud, blood and blasted landscape of No man’s Land gone?

2015: Madison, Wisconsin. Cop Monica Jansson has returned to the burned-out home of one Willis Linsay, a reclusive and some said mad, others dangerous, scientist. It was arson but, as is often the way, the firemen seem to have caused more damage than the fire itself. Stepping through the wreck of a house, there’s no sign of any human remains but on the mantelpiece Monica finds a curious gadget – a box, containing some wiring, a three-way switch and a…potato. It is the prototype of an invention that Linsay called a ‘stepper’. An invention he put up on the web for all the world to see, and use, an invention that would to change the way mankind viewed his world Earth forever. And that’s an understatement if ever there was one…

…because the stepper allowed the person using it to step sideways into another America, another Earth, and if you kept on stepping, you kept on entering even more Earths…this is the Long Earth. It’s not our Earth but one of chain of parallel worlds, lying side by side each differing from its neighbour by really very little (or actually quite a lot). It’s an infinite chain, offering ‘steppers’ an infinite landscape of infinite possibilities. And the further away you travel, the stranger – and sometimes more dangerous – the Earths get. The sun and moon always shine, the basic laws of physics are the same. However, the chance events which have shaped our particular Earth, such as the dinosaur-killer asteroid impact, might not have happened and things may well have turned out rather differently.

But, until Willis Linsay invented his stepper, only our Earth hosted mankind…or so we thought. Because it turns out there are some people who are natural ‘steppers’, who don’t need his invention and now the great migration has begun.”

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#CBR4 Maneuver #26 – Iron Council

Target: China Miéville’s Iron Council (Bas-Lag #3)

Profile: Speculative Fiction, Weird Fantasy, Politics, Bas-Lag

Summary: From the hardcover edition, “It is a time of wars and revolutions, conflict and intrigue. New Crobuzon is being ripped apart from without and within. War with the shadowy city-state of Tesh and rioting on the streets at home are pushing the teeming city to the brink. A mysterious masked figure spurs strange rebellion, while treachery and violence incubate in unexpected places.
In desperation, a small group of renegades escapes from the city and crosses strange and alien continents in the search for a lost hope.
In the blood and violence of New Crobuzon’s most dangerous hour, there are whispers. It is the time of the Iron Council. . . .”

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#CBR4 Maneuver #19 – Mindstar Rising

Target: Peter F. Hamilton’s Mindstar Rising (The Mandel Files #1)

Profile: Speculative Fiction, Science Fiction, Mystery

Summary: From, “Greg Mandel, late of the Mindstar Battalion, has been many things in his life. Commando. Freedom fighter. Assassin. Now he’s a freelance operative with a very special edge: telepathy.

In the high-tech, hard-edged world of computer crime, zero-gravity smuggling, and artificial intelligence, Greg Mandel is the man to call when things get rough. But when an elusive saboteur plagues a powerful organization known as Event Horizon, Mandel must cut his way through a maze of corporate intrigue and startling new scientific discoveries.

And nothing less than the future is at stake.”

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