[Book Review] Where no man has gone meta before

redshirtsBook Review: Redshirts by by John Scalzi

This book was talked up so much that almost nothing less than a comic masterpiece could have met my expectations. I was also just coming off reading three Bujold books in a row, so my humor bar was set high.

And so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that this book didn’t quite meet them.

In case you haven’t heard about this book, here’s the setup:

In a Star Trekian style universe, Ensign Andrew Dahl joins the Intrepid, a spaceship that explores the universe and fixes problems. He soon realizes something screwy is going on. The crew is acting weird and every Away Mission seems to involve some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces. And while the senior officers always survive, at least one low-ranked (red shirt uniformed) crew member is, sadly, always killed, often in the craziest of ways. As he starts digging into this mystery, the craziest theory begins to make the most sense: Are they characters on a campy science fiction show?  Continue reading

[Book Review] Find the exiled commando ninjas, save the universe.

Blackcollar by Timothy Zahn (Blackcollar #1)

After a lackluster first encounter with a backcopy of Timothy Zahn’s writing, I hesitated before picking up Blackcollar. The back blurb (which combines all those keywords I just can’t resist) hooked up with my curiosity and convinced me to give it a go. And man, I take back all the disgruntled things I said about Timothy Zahn’s writing.

Spies! Elite, genetically-enhanced guerrilla commandos! An alien occupation and one special agent sent out on a suicide mission to contact a resistance cell on another planet –

It was love at first premise.

The human worlds have been under occupation for nearly thirty years now. Allen Caine has spent his entire life preparing for an infiltration mission: impersonate a government official, get off Earth, travel to a former colony planet, and rally the resistance movement there…assuming there even is one there, anymore. Because in his head, Caine has information that, for the first time in decades, could mean a fighting chance against the alien occupation.

A wrench is thrown in Allen’s plans within the first six pages, and the story is off. Even when Allen makes contact with Earth’s once-elite guerilla commandos, in a world where anyone could be a collaborator and anyone could be a spy, betrayal is just one trap away. Continue reading

[Book Review] Recreating the world, one story at a time

Shoggoths in Bloom by Elizabeth Bear

My quest to read something by Elizabeth Bear started a little over a year ago, and it’s been riddled with false starts. First, I ended up grabbing Trading in Danger (by Elizabeth Moon). Then Dust was nowhere to be found. Then I got All the Windwracked Stars (isn’t that a stunning cover?) but couldn’t find the time to read it. Seeing Shoggoth’s in Bloom up for grab was serendipity, and I went into this collection to get a sense of what Elizabeth Bear can do – in small, bite-size pieces.

I got that, and more. This collection brings together 19 short stories by Elizabeth Bear, including two Hugo winners, “Tideline” and “Shoggoths in Bloom,” plus one never-before-published piece original to the collection, “The Death of Terrestrial Radio.” With one exception, the stories average around a few-to-twenty pages and cover a truly mind-boggling range of genres and styles. We get an urban fantasy with a ritual gone wrong, historic fiction written through letters between John Adams’ wife and Thomas Jefferson about running for office during a time of suffrage, a lovely elegy in prose about a dragons and a museum curator, a folktale about a blacksmith’s commission, and a story about the slow death of the fishing industry. Each story is powerful, heart-rending, and memorable in its own way. Continue reading

[Book Review] What does planet and a spider have in common?

Book Review: Spinneret by Timothy Zahn

This 1985 sci-fi novel fell into my hands as a result of me realizing it’s high time I read something by Timothy Zahn, and the Spinneret’s serendipitous re-release as an eBook. (And just in case the book isn’t representative, I have Blackcollar on hand, and Dragon and Thief on my To Read shelf.)

But here is Spinneret. In the far, far future of 2016, humanity has made it to the stars (well, who knew in the 80’s that we were going to scrap our space programs?), and is all ready to colonize the stuffing out of the universe. But it turns out the universe is already chock-full of technologically advanced alien who have already called dibs on all the habitable planets.

So humans get Astra, a useless piece of real estate, for an exorbitant price.

But soon after a reluctant colonization effort, the new owners of Astra discover that they are sitting on something unique – and uniquely priceless. Add a dash of military rule, a pinch of restless third world activist, a data worker with good intentions,  and a UN desperate to hold on to its newfound power, and you get something that approximates the delightful political machinations and intrigue of Spinneret. Continue reading

[ Book Review ] There’s Christmas in Battle School Too

A War of Gifts, an Ender Story by Orson Scott Card

I received A War of Gifts in the mail a couple days ago, just in time for the Holidays, and finished it in under an hour last night. Though this book is sometimes called the tenth novel in the Ender universe (I’m looking at you, wikipedia), it’s best viewed as a short novella.

In 126  small, wide-margin pages, it tells the story of Zeck, an abused minister’s son, Dink, later one of the eleven children who command the counteroffensive against the aliens, and Flip, a Dutch boy who is homesick for something familiar. When Dink makes an impulsive gift to Flip for Sinterklaas Day, that small act sets off a chain reaction of rebellion, kindness, resentment, and religious tension through the school.

The story will be a treat for long-time Card readers. The book is filled with Easter eggs, and fans will be making connections left and right–here is the Rat Army, there is Dink remembering an off-hand commend he made to Ender, and here are the seeds being sown for the Muslim Caliphate from the Shadow series. We see Colonel Graff as he deals with the children and get a glimpse of a pre-Christmas crisis in the Wiggins household on Earth.

While the religious and moral Message (capital M here, please) part of the novella jarred me, the story wraps up with a lovely bit of bittersweet feel-goodness. It also puts the Shadow series books solidly back on my to-read list.

I have questions now: Were Peter’s parents truly aware of how much of a psychopath their older son was? Was the harsh treatment of Peter by his mother really part of the family dynamic? Does Orson Scott Card deal less superficially with religious issues when he has the elbow room of a novel-length piece?

I want to read more Card now, and that is the perfect Christmas present.


Complementary copy received
courtesy of GoodReads and TOR.

___

Related Reads:

[ Small Chirp ] Literary Whiplash

The week started so normal: Sunday spent cuddled on the couch watching a football game, yelling at the cat to stop pulling out his fur (“You’ll look silly naked!”), reading The Power of Six and marveling at the sheer badness of the book.

Then I got an email. An emergency request to review a book for the science magazine I regularly freelance for. Sure, I wrote back before even looking at the title. I love to read science things!

So from The Power of Six I went directly into How the Hippies Saved Physics by David Kaiser, a delightful narrative that follows a group of counterculture physics gurus as they investigate the kooky realms of quantum mechanics and parapsychology. And while the physics major in me absolutely adored the sentiment of the book—the exploration of the philosophy of physics—to go from rather crappy YA novel to an intense discussion on the non-locality of quantum particles was a bit of a headspinner.

But it was okay. I was making great progress with Physics when my mom called to ask how I was getting along with the book club novel for the month. Fuck, I thought. Not again.  So I grabbed Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan on my Nook, promising myself that someday I would get a head start on these damn book club selections. I was in for another jarring experience—from YA to Quantum Mechanics to the fluffiest lit fic I’ve ever had the mild disgruntlement to read.  The sentence structure is terrible and the story is very so-so. But at least it has a plot that does not involve aliens or any discussion of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.

At this point, I’m suffering from some pretty major Literary Whipslash.  What say you, Canary readers? What’s the most mind-bending genre leap you’ve made in back-to-back readings?

[ Book Review ] Star Wars: Is it over yet?

Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi – Ascension (Book Eight) by Christie Golden

Fate of the Jedi is a nine-book series written by three authors over the course of four years. It’s long, dragged out, and could have been condensed into a trilogy. But then I wouldn’t have nine pretty hardbacks on my bookshelf. (Yes. Nine freaking expensive hardbacks, three each year, during an economic downfall. Good job, Del Ray!)

I went into Fate of the Jedi very hopeful. Political intrigue, power-mongers, Luke no longer running the Jedi Order. But after seven books, each more meh than the previous, I went into Ascension feeling very apathetic.

I just.

Want.

This series.

To freaking.

End.

Blarg.

Here’s why:

It’s 43 years after the first Death Star went boom. Luke Skywalker was arrested by the Galactic Alliance and exiled from Alliance space for letting his nephew, Jacen Solo, fall to the dark side. Luke and his 17-year-old son Ben Skywalker are now on the strangest father/son bonding trip ever, assigned to figure out why Jacen fell. Along the way, Luke meets an old girlfriend. He still wuvs her, even though she’s possessed by a uber-powerful dark side creature named Abeloth. He also meets a group known as the Lost Tribe of the Sith. They thought they were the only ones in the galaxy. They want to kill Luke dead.

Then Ben gets the hots for a teenage Sith chick, Vestara, but she’s torn between her duty to the Sith and her crush on Ben.

Meanwhile, the Sith had a vision that a beautiful red-headed girl grows up to run the Jedi Order, so they want to find her and kill her. That beautiful red-head is Jacen Solo’s eight-year-old love child, Allana. Luke knows it. Ben knows it. The Sith don’t. Yet.

Oh, and the Jedi Order without Luke functions about as well as a demagnetized compass.

Did I mention the (former) Chief of Staff of the Galactic Alliance was an Imperial Admiral and has the compassion of a rabid Wookiee? Yeah. Because she laid siege to the Jedi Temple, the Jedi Masters de-throned her after they killed Luke’s replacement. (Dark Side points all around!) Now that she’s gone from power, Luke’s no longer exiled and can come back and calm everyone the eff down. But that’s going to be difficult because the Lost Tribe of the Sith want to team up with (i.e. enslave) Abeloth and conquer Coruscant.

And that’s what you missed on Glee.

(Keep in mind, I summarized the main plot. CanaryTheFirst didn’t allocate me enough space to recap the subplots, too.)

It took me several days to get through Ascension, and that’s after skipping the first six chapters devoted to the Lost Tribe. I felt bad because Golden (and the other authors, Aaron Allston and Troy Denning) clearly has spent a lot of time shaping and developing the Lost Tribe. But I don’t care about the antagonists anymore. I was never attached to them like I was with Darth Malgus in Deceived, so I’m not worried about their fates.

The Jedi Order, however, is the only plotline I was concerned about, and found myself skimming over anything that didn’t directly deal with them. (That’s bad.) Once the story focused on the Jedi, Ascension was great…the little bit there was.

The focus of Ascension seemed to be Ben Skywalker’s romance with Vestara, something that’s been growing since, oh, book three. I’ve never been a fan of Romeo and Juliet and skipped a lot of their cuddle/make-out sessions. They’re teens, they’re infatuated with each other, and Vestara decides (after her father tries to kill her) that she wants to be a Jedi now and wuv Ben for ever and ever. And my first thought was, “This isn’t gonna last ’til the next book.” (Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.)

As for the stuff I missed? Recapped in the plot I care about. Win, win!

It also wouldn’t be Star Wars without a rogue group trying to take down the government and a cameo by Boba Fett. (Yawn.)

The biggest problem I have with the series as a whole is lack of suspense. That the one thing the previous nine-book series Legacy of the Force did right. The characters were constantly thrown into life-threatening situations, and not everyone made it out alive. Angry and upset with seeing my favorites killed off, I had kept reading. I had to know what happened next.

However, the editors have already publicly stated that no main characters will die in Fate of the Jedi. With the final book titled Apocalypse and knowing Skywalker lives really adds to the Not Caring vibe. Would you have read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows if you knew before it was published that none of the good guys were going to perish?

I’m not suggesting that characters should be killed off, but the possibility certainly adds to the suspense and seriousness of the situation. The last OMG moment for me was in book five (Allies, also by Golden) when the government laid siege to the Jedi Temple and shot a 15-year-old Jedi Knight for attempting peace negotiations. Book six (Vortex by Denning) had an epic lightsaber battle where Luke had to push himself to his limits to win, and even then you weren’t quite sure how Skywalker was going to pull it off.

More dire situations that makes us wonder how in the ‘verse the characters are going to get out of them, please. Build up the antagonists so we fear them more.

The final book of this series doesn’t come out until April 2012. I had the opportunity to sit-in at the Fate of the Jedi author’s panel at Star Wars Celebration V, and it was promised this is the end (for now) of the epic, multi-book Star Wars series. They’ll be focusing on trilogies and stand-alone novels from now on.

Thank the Force.