[Book Review] Romance on the lam

Book Review: Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance (Vorkosigan Saga, #15)(Vorkosigan Saga #15)

I can’t believe it’s been fifteen books already. Here is the latest installment in this military space opera series, following Ivan Vorpatril. In the past, Ivan has played the Watson to the series protagonist Miles’ Sherlock Holmes. But with Captin Vorpatril’s Alliance, it’s his turn to get his very own book.

Captain Ivan Vorpatril, confirmed bachelor, is happy as an admiral’s aide on an easy assignment, far from the politicking of the empire. On the other side of town, Tej Arqua and the exotic blue-skinned Rish are on the run, assassins on their heels and a price on their heads.

And of course, Tej and Rish’s troubles soon become Ivan’s very big and inconvenient problem. 

Bujold does it again – the novel is a rollercoaster of plots and resolutions, all with the humor and wit we’ve come to expect and love in her Miles’ series. I wasn’t very keen on reading a book from Ivan’s point of view (he’d never really struck me as an exciting character), but man, was I wrong. Ivan is great. He’s my favorite. I want more books about Ivan.  Continue reading

[ Book Review ] The Great Bay, by Dale Pendell

The Great Bay: Chronicles of the Collapse, by Dale Pendell

North Atlantic Books, 2010.

Maybe you’ve seen those images of the earth’s biggest cities underwater, edited to show the predicted effects of climate change on the coastlines we know and love. Maybe you remember the summer when Armageddon and Deep Impact came out, or the next year when Y2K-induced panic sent people rushing to 7-11 for more bottled water.

Fortunately, The Great Bay isn’t really like that. Though it’s the story of The End of the World As We Know It, it’s a gradual end, with lots of beginnings. It’s a history of the earth after the Collapse, a global pandemic that kills most of mankind. What happens next happens slowly, over the course of almost sixteen thousand years.

That’s a pretty enormous scope, so Dale Pendell focuses in on California, and the gradual widening of the San Francisco Bay into a basin at the center of the state. While this is the earth’s story, told on a chronological scale only earthquakes, canyons, and rivers understand, Pendell gives it a human voice. Continue reading

[ Roost Report ] Star Wars: Thrawn turns 20

Heir to the Empire 20th Anniversary Edition by Timothy Zahn

Ask any Star Wars fan what their thoughts are about Lucas’s enhancements to the Star Wars Blu-Rays and you’ll get everything from “Who cares?” to “Darth George is destroying my childhood!”

At least there’s one reissued Star Wars classic coming out this month that no one has redone.

The 20th anniversary edition of Heir to the Empire, book one of the Thrawn Trilogy and #88 on NPR’s Top 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books list, features no extra scenes, no digitally-enhanced text, and no additional adjectives. The only thing that’s changed is the cover… and maybe the font.

So, it’s been twenty years. Now it’s in hardback and includes a new short story; big deal. And I want this because…?

First off, what’s it about?

The war between Imperial Forces and the Rebel Alliance didn’t disappear overnight. Five years after the death of the Emperor and Darth Vader, Princess Leia and Han Solo (married and expecting twins) and Luke Skywalker (lone Jedi Knight) are still working hard to help reestablish the New Republic government and drive out any remaining Imperial Forces.

And they missed one. Lightyears away from the capital planet, Grand Admiral Thrawn, a brilliant military tactician, is piecing together the remains of the Imperial Navy in order to strike back at the New Republic. He’s got a couple aces up his sleeve that will make it nearly impossible (i.e. will take three books) for the New Republic to win.

There’s also a former employee of the Emperor out to kill Luke. That’s always fun.

Why is this book so awesome?

The Thrawn Trilogy is credited for establishing the Star Wars Expanded Universe, allowing other authors to pick up where the Hugo Award-winning author left off, as well as reinvigorating the space opera franchise. It’s not just the solid story, but the incredibly well-developed characters that make Heir to the Empire along with the other two of the trilogy (Dark Forces Rising and The Last Command) three of the best Star Wars novels ever published.

There are two characters in particular that make Heir to the Empire worth reading. The first is the trilogy’s namesake, Grand Admiral Thrawn. Considered to be the best villain in the Expanded Universe, the blue-skinned, red-eyed military leader was inspired by historical and literary figures such as Robert E. Lee, Alexander the Great, and Sherlock Holmes. He’s cold, calculating, intimidating, and a lover of art–all traits he uses against his enemies. (As Thrawn explains, “Learn about art, Captain. When you understand a species’ art, you understand that species.”) He was featured later in the Hand of Thrawn duology (Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future, also by Zahn) as well as the recently-published Choices of One (another Zahn novel) and miscellaneous mentions here and there.

The second character is Mara Jade. A powerful Force-user, Mara was once an Emperor’s Hand–a dark side spy/assassin who could go places and do things the Emperor couldn’t. Despite the Emperor’s death, Mara’s days as a Hand aren’t exactly over. (Just mention “Luke Skywalker” and watch her reaction.) Mara also keeps in the spirit of strong female Star Wars heroines. She isn’t a damsel in distress; Mara’s intelligent, powerful, skilled and in every way Luke’s equal. Thanks to the Thrawn Trilogy, Mara went on to become not only one of the most central characters in the Expanded Universe but Mrs. Luke Skywalker.

What does this version have the other doesn’t?

Littered throughout the book are footnotes by Zahn, explaining his thinking process, why he made the choices he did, and what was carefully planned versus “That sounds good.” The annotations also cover how he approached specific scenes and characters, and how his choices have impacted the overall mythos of Star Wars.

Excerpt annotations hit the web earlier this year, and later a scanned page to show fans how the footnotes would be worked in. Here’s an example of one of the hundreds of excerpts, this one explaining the origin of Thrawn and his title:

“I wanted HEIR’s villain to be a military leader, as opposed to a governor, Moff, or Sith. But a normal admiral seemed too commonplace. Hence, the Grand Admirals. I first ran across the title, by the way, in connection with the German navy in William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” –TZ

Star Wars or not, having the opportunity to jump inside the author’s head is fantastic. As a writer, I love learning how authors approach their novels and characters. Knowing Zahn’s thinking process while reading along with Heir to the Empire instead of an interview at the end or a memoir-ish forward is worth repurchasing the novel.

So this is like repurchasing a movie on Blu-Ray you already own on DVD just because of the extra behind-the-scenes stuff?

Yeah, kinda.

Unless you really want to read Zahn’s thinking process or the exclusive short story, there’s no need to repurchase the hardcover. $30 can be a lot to ask for these days, so stick with your $7 paperback. Otherwise, the 20th anniversary edition of Heir to the Empire is a fun addition to a literary collection.

And if you’ve never read Heir to the Empire? Shame on you.

Is there more to come?

So far there’s been no official word whether Dark Forces Rising and Last Command will get the same 20th anniversary treatment (internet rumor is it depends on how well Heir to the Empire‘s sales go). I hope they do just so nerds like me can have a complete collection.

[ Book Review ] Indie Series: Fate’s Mirror

Fate’s Mirror by M.H. Mead

“Cut off from home and friends, Morris Payne faces a hacker’s worst nightmare—an artificial intelligence with access to every computer on the planet. The AI wants freedom and power, but mostly she wants Morris Payne dead.”

When the co-authors of Fate’s Mirror told me that after looking through my reviews, they thought I’d like their novel, I was skeptical. Was this going to be another political time travel satire? Or like the time when an author asked the Jedi Canary to read his psychological thriller?

I flexed my canary claws, read the sample…and then realized I’d downloaded the book and was already racing through chapter five, loving every minute of it.

Turns out, Fate’s Mirror is science fiction fun on a stick. It’s a Robert Ludlum meets Neuromancer in a future near enough to be recognizable, but far enough that the writing team that is M.H. Mead has its hands full creating a high tech world in all its 3D glory.

But let’s back up. So there’s this hacker virtuoso whose panic attacks make it impossible for him to leave his house. That’s all fine and dandy as far as he’s concerned…right up ’til someone goes and blows up his home.  Morris discovers that someone really is out to get him as he tries to figure out what happened, who’s behind it, and whether it has anything to do with his ex’s job in the government–and her sudden and brutal death.

Once I got past the first few pages (slightly rough, ignore them), it was a fast-paced ride. The authors aren’t afraid to change setting and direction by taking out characters and keeping me guessing.  Written in third person limited, we gain glimpses into the minds of most of the actors, seeing the characters from a delightful range of perspectives.

The narrative is one part cyberpunk fun, one (small) part romance, and one part myths-meet-virtual-naval-battles. To that effect, the story uses the possibilities of virtual reality to open the doorway to more fantastical world-building (think Tad Williams and his Otherland series).

Indeed, I pronounce Fate’s Mirror to be Cyber Opera (a la space opera, my favorite genre).

It takes a lot to get me to rave.

And, defying my expectations, this book had it.

“Morris Payne just might save the world. If only he can gather the courage to leave his house.”

Try the free sample on Smashwords and see what you think:

Book Links: Goodreads || Amazon || Smashwords || Authors’ Website ||

Check out our other reviews in our Independent Authors Series here.

[ Book Review ] Luke, I am not in this book at all

Star Wars: The Old Republic – Fatal Alliance by Sean Williams

(Oh, 3.5 happy canaries! Happy, dammit, happy!)

Audiobook read by Marc Thompson

Star Wars Fan Intro: The Hutts have found a new civilization and are willing to sell the information to the highest bidder. Representatives of both the Republic and Sith Empire (and some uninvited guests) have traveled to Nal Hutta to attend the auction, including a Jedi Padawan, a former Republic trooper, a mysterious Mandalorian, an Imperial Spy, and a heartless Sith apprentice.

Non Star Wars Fan Intro: Giant slug-like creatures are holding an auction for information about a new planet they’ve found. They’ve invited good guys and bad guys to attend. May the man with the most money win.

JediCanary Time Out: One, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is my favorite video game ever of all time. Two, I’ve got the collector’s edition of SWTOR pre-ordered and have had a glimpse of the beta (and have joined a guild, and read everything about the game, and, and, and…) So trust me when I say that you don’t need to be familiar with either games to read and enjoy this book, but you’ll appreciate it more if you are.

JediCanary Time In.

Unlike the rest of the Star Wars EU (that’s “Expanded Universe” for you non-Jedi), Fatal Alliance is in a wholly new timeline; approximately 3,650 years before the farm kid from Tatooine blew up his first Death Star. It’s also the first novel in the Old Republic series, a media tie-in series for Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR), a Massive Multiplayer Online video game that’s still in its beta-testing stages. Continue reading

[ Book Review ] Academy Dropout Wanted for Captaincy.

Chirp, I have no idea.

Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon

(Vatta’s War series)

I have a weakness for space fantasy, so when I saw this cover staring out at me, I thought, “Oh no, I am absolutely not–“, but my hand was already reaching.

I started Trading in Danger at 10:23pm yesterday and finished it in one swoop. The last half I power-skimmed, bleary-eyed but enthusiastic. It was five minutes till four in the morning when I reached the back cover. As a result, I have no idea what to rate this book. All I know is this: it kept me turning the pages well past any semblance of a normal sleep schedule. And I love it for that.

Ky has just been kicked out of the military academy.  Of course, she still has her family business and support to fall back on: the Vatta trading corporation’s run by her father, and he’ll find her a place in it. The problem? She’s failed again–and she doesn’t want to be seen as the irresponsible, pampered girl she used to be.

When her family gives her a ship and sends her on a trade route to get her away from the media mess she’d caused, it’s two-parts well-meaning banishment, and one-part opportunity. And then things begin get complicated.

Warships and pirates complicated.

Continue reading

[ Book Review ] He’s human, and she’s a blob.

Changing Vision by Julie E. Czerneda 

(The second book in the Web Shifters series)

In a futuristic world, where humans and aliens have spread across the galaxy, Esen Alt Quar, a web shifter — a biological animorph, the last of her kind — shares a trading business with her friend and human, Paul Ragem. On taking her first vacation after fifty years of self-imposed exile, danger strikes, both accidental and malevolent.  New species of aliens, old enemies, abduction, ghosts, torture, a super-weapon, the imminent destruction of a planet, and family grudges all rear their heads over the space of 500-some pages.

Now as with the other Czerneda books I have read so far (just three, to be fair), this novel suffers from the breadth of detail it attempts to cover, and from the scope of its interstellar action.  At the same time, and though there are a lot of them, the minor characters are carefully three dimensional and undergo their own personal growth and redemption.

Changing Vision sets itself apart in another sense as well; it is neither the sword & sorcery genre transposed into space, nor is it a thinly veiled pretense for a romance novel. While I do enjoy romance (and, of course, the inevitable angst) in my Space Opera, the strength of this series is Continue reading