Review: Arrival

Arrival
Arrival by Ryk Brown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Arrival was a long drawn out read for me. It took me almost a month to find time to read it all. Partly due to life, but it was also a somewhat slow read in general. Not typical Ryk Brown fair. While he has become one of my favorite authors since I found his Frontiers Saga series; that does not make everything he writes an automatic favorite. This novel, while a decent story, was flawed in a few ways that were significant enough for me to barely be able to say ‘3 stars – I liked it’ vs. ‘2 stars – it was ok’ on Goodreads.

The characters, as always, were well conceived and written. Some attitudes seemed forced in a couple of them, but they were consistent which offset that somewhat. They did grow on me as they developed through the book, but not enough that I was totally pulled in to their plights emotionally (as I have been with characters in other Brown books).

The story is not bad. The crew of the Icarus, and advanced party on a planetary scouting mission, are sent to determine the viability of Tau Ceti Five. The final destination of the primary ship, the Daedalus – a multi-generational interstellar colony ship – depends on their findings. And of course, not everything follows mission nominal paths. What kind of Sci-Fi book would THAT be, right?

The landing scene is quite intense. This was probably the best part of the book. The cross-country escapades of two of the crew, as well as the discovery and triumph over unique natural environmental issues by the main crew were the main draws into the book for me. It’s what kept me reading to find out what would happen next.

The major problems I had were with the plot, and they are two-fold. One is that the prologue gives away a very important plot point, as well as shows part of the final outcome of the story. It spoiled something in the book for me. If you read it, you will most like see what I mean in the first few pages. It might not be that big of a deal for some, but it took away a lot of the dramatic tension of not knowing what might happen to the primary colony ship. The second is that certain important information regarding why the mission was not exactly equipped correctly is not revealed until near the 80% mark in the book. That fact threw me out of the story when I was reading, but later caused an ‘oh, ok, it makes more sense now’ moment. Unfortunately, my opinions of the book were already colored pretty heavily by that point. And there was really no reason not to tell the whole story up front as far as I could see.

If you really want to know what I’m talking about you can go read the SPOILER info of this review on Goodreads.

There were other little foibles like characters saying they had never felt cold before and the like that were an annoyance to me, but that mainly happened after I got initial disgust at them not having a water going boat in the landing equipment, and never testing the shutters on the aeorbrake system in 90 years.

So, TL:DR, It was an OK book that spoiled itself and therefore barely gets 3 stars and an Alright Read designation from me.

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Review: Red Tide

Red Tide
Red Tide by Larry Niven
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Red Tide is an anthology with a novella (Red Tide – 94 pages) & a short story (Dial At Random – 21 pages) by Niven, a short story by Brad Torgersen (Sparky the Dog – 21 pages), and a novella (Displacement Activity – 47 pages) by Matthew J. Harrington. All revolve around the concept of teleportation as originally laid out in Niven’s short story ‘Flash Crowd (1973)’ which Red Tide is an expansion of. There are several other stories by Niven on this topic, the most memorable to me being ‘The Last Days of the Permanent Floating Riot Club’ which can be found in

‘A Hole In Space’

  • one of Niven’s collected works books – along with several others. In fact it has the same character, Barry Jerome Jansen, who appears in many of them.

Red Tide
– the novella – was a bit wonky to start. There seemed to be some anachronistic bits in there… some mentions of old tech and then new. I’m sure this comes from ‘revising’ a 40 year old story. For instance, the backstory of Jansen’s rise to becoming a ‘newstaper’ seemed strange to me. Its like a news-hound concept, a roving reporter who wanders around trying to find ongoing news stories. That concept is somewhat dated in general, but it was ‘updated’ in this story to tie it in with previous ones. It worked ‘ok’, so I gave it the benefit of the doubt and moved on, but there is a ‘wonkiness’ to it that still feels odd. That aside, the story is well written, with Niven’s usual pin-point character development. The story itself is woven around the technology of the teleporter booth; its origin, its good and bad repercussions, and an ongoing issue that Jerryberry is caught up in. All in all, it was a great sci-fi piece to read.


Dial At Random
was a story written to showcase the wonders of the rapid mobility that teleportation provides, while also revealing details about the development of the long-distance version of the teleportation booths, and its use for space travel. It’s a decent story, quick and exciting, but nothing spectacular.


Sparky The Dog
is an interlude story involving the same main characters from Red Tide, but this time it’s the inventor of teleportation on his death-bed revealing an untold secret from the beginning of the program. It’s an interesting story, but again nothing spectacular.


Displacement Activity
is well named. It accurately describes what happened to my brain when reading this novella. It takes you from the start of the expanded space program to a far future. It jumps… sometimes randomly… all over the place. And yet, it was still a very good story. The reason is that all the scenes it jumped to were very interesting… only you don’t get to stay in any one long enough to fully grasp its import before you are whisked away to another – also interesting – place, event or concept. Due to this, the characters were very thin as well. There was a lot of humor in the tale, which I very much appreciated. This is one I would like to see expanded upon someday. Unfortunately, if you jumped in and just picked this one up without having read the others, it would fall flat and probably be hard to understand. It is not a stand-alone story.

So, for me this book was a win. I give it 3 stars and call it an engaging read.

You should check it out, and also find and read the other stories Niven wrote in this ‘flash crowd universe’.

They are:

The Last Days of the Permanent Floating Riot Club

The Alibi Machine

All The Bridges Rusting

and can all be found in the ‘A Hole In Space’ anthology.


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Review: The Amber Monolith

The Amber Monolith
The Amber Monolith by Monte Cook

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This short story supplies an introduction to the world of Numenera, the setting of the RPG game. The story is quite good and has really piqued my interest in this game. It’s worth taking the time to read, and it is free.

The Amber Monolith – free story (appx. 4200 words/18 pgs.)

Happy Reading!

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Review: Resurrection

Resurrection
Resurrection by Ryk Brown

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Do you know how hard it is to read when you can’t sit still because a book is sooooo good?!?! This is the most exciting book in Part 2 of the Frontiers Saga, and probably since the last major conflict with the Jung in Part 1. I actually shed a few tears of joy at the end!

I refuse to spoil this for anyone, so I won’t say much about the plot. But the ACTION! Oh Man, does this book got some ACTION! I cannot wait until the next one comes out! This series has morphed in many directions since it first started, and I was worried that it was in decline somewhat toward the end of Part 1. However, Part 2 has steadily improved to the point of awesome!

This one gets 5 stars and I call it a Kick Ass Read!

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2016 Year In Books

2016 has been a slower reading year for me. I also didn’t find as many gems in the coal this time. I only found 3 I considered to be 5-star books, and none of them were in my typical Science-y/Space-y Sci-Fi category. Two were Fantasy and one was a Comedy/Satire audiobook. There were several above-average ones though, which I’ll link to below. Here’s the breakdown for my reads & reviews this year.

Total books read for the year: 45

Total pages read for the year: 10,841

Book ratings: 3 – 5 stars, 14 – 4 stars, 15 – 3 stars, 9 – 2 stars, 4 – 1 star

I would love to hear from any readers in the comments.

How many books did you read in 2016? What were your favs?

 

Here’s wishing you all a Happy New Year & Happy Reading for 2017!


Showcase of some of my favorites from 2016 are below…

Five Star Books

Off Leash (Freelance Familiars #1) by Daniel Potter
My Review
Domino by Kia Heavey

My Review

The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent by Larry Correia

My Review

Four Star Books

Monster Hunter International (Monster Hunter International #1) by Larry Correia

My Review

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

My Review

Marking Territory (Freelance Familiars #2) by Daniel Potter

My Review

The Scarlet Plague by Jack London

My Review

One Second After (John Matherson #1) by William R. Forstchen

My Review

Spinward Fringe Broadcast 0: Origins (First Light Chronicles #1-3) by Randolph Lalonde

My Review (4 stars) of Freeground (Book 1)

My Review (3 stars) of Limbo (Book 2)

My Review (4 stars) of Starfree Port (Book 3)

A Long Time Until Now by Michael Z. Williamson

My Review

Beacon 23: The Complete Novel by Hugh Howey

My Review

Escalation (The Frontiers Saga: Part 2: Rogue Castes #1) by Ryk Brown

My Review

Bastion Saturn by C. Chase Harwood

My Review

Days of Future Past – Part 1: Past Tense by John Van Stry

My Review

Review: The Defiant Agents

The Defiant Agents
The Defiant Agents by Andre Norton

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This third entry in the Time Agents/Ross Murdock series was not as good as the previous two. The main reason was not the writing, but the premise on which the adventure starts.

Travis Fox, a time agent recruit of Apache heritage – who was a main character in the last book in the series – is supposed to be a volunteer on a colonizing mission to the planet Topaz. He and several others with historically nomadic or naturalistic ethnic backgrounds are specifically selected by the American government for settling this planet because… well, it’s a frontier? See, this is where the logic fails. The author wanted a story about Native American interplanetary settlers…so, reasons were found… just not very good ones. Supposedly, they were being regressed so they would have a better chance at survival. They even had a special machine as a backup plan that would allow them to mentally live out the lives of their ancestors somehow (as preparation for survival on the new planet?) This ends up being used (last resort) when their ship is shot down by the Russians who have beaten them to the planet.

Side note: this is 18 months after they got the spaceship from the last book back to Earth. Somehow in that time, they let the whole world share in their knowledge (which they could have kept totally secret and would have during the real Cold War). And, they (and the Russians and others) have managed to reverse engineer it and build working copies.

Credulity: Strained

So, back to the Topaz thing…. well, the Russians imported their own natives (Mongols) but being very bad people, the Russians are using mind control to make them slaves. sigh Why? It’s just dumb.

There just wasn’t any way for me to dismiss these failed premises. I mean, seriously, you are going to establish a colony on another planet, and you select people based on their ‘rugged ancestry’, and then you don’t supply them with any technology at all? No supplies? I mean, the ship should be able to make round trips, shouldn’t it? Sure, it gets shot down, but you didn’t plan for that to happen, right? I just can’t think of a good reason to excuse this silliness. The author wanted to write about Indians on another planet, so the reasons why they are there and still at a primitive tech level don’t matter enough to be plausible? Survey Says: baaammmph

So, you may be able to see my problems with the book. But… set aside nonsense (if you can) and the story becomes one of low tech vs high tech. Oh, and I forgot to mention the telepathic coyotes… they’re pretty cool. And there’s some alien stuff in there too. The writing is fine, and the characters are understandable, maybe even relate-able at times. In summary, the book isn’t bad, but it’s not all that good. I hope the next in the series is better.

So, only two stars, and I call this one a Confusing Premise Read.

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Review: Police Your Planet

Police Your Planet
Police Your Planet by Lester del Rey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Police Your Planet takes you through the newly outcast life of Bruce Gordon who has been exiled to Mars, like may others from Earth, in a manner similar to the founding of Australia with prisoners and undesirables. He is sent as punishment for revealing wrong secrets (I think?) and blackmailed with the threat of worst conditions on Mercury if he doesn’t help Security (interplanetary equivalent of the U.N.) by spying for them… although he isn’t really told ‘how’ to do that. He is left to his own devices and slowly and painfully tries to find a way to buy a ticket back home to Earth. He is wholly unsuccessful as his personal honesty/fairness trait keeps him from doing the things it truly takes to succeed in Mars corrupt society.

So the story wasn’t horrible, and I did kind of like the book, but for every Pro there was a corresponding Con to go with it.

The action was there, but it was hard for me to relate to because it was harsh physical action. Most of the time the things that were happening involved someone getting the crap beat out of them. That turned me off.

The pacing was good, but the story moved from one steady crappy situation to another. I know upping the ante for the protagonist is supposed to happen, but this one cranks it to ludicrous level.

The background/world/environment was very vivid, but it was so seedy in nature that it depressed me. The whole story revolved around a grinding, inescapable, systemically criminalized society. The only people who ever got ahead were the criminals. The ‘honest’ people were the prey and virtual slaves. The criminals used each level of the crime riddled world to try to gain an upper hand, but usually only ended up feeding upward to the next highest level until it basically ended up in the mayor’s pocket. Marsport is a really run down Banana Republic-esque capital city crossed with a mob-ridden New York. The cops are the official racketeers who do protect and serve… but at exorbitant cost. Any criminal they stop, they usually pick clean, beat down, and move on. It’s quite a miserable place.

One political thing I took away was that the author apparently had a very bad opinion of nationalism, which is why his ‘good guys’, Security, were the U.N. This was written in 1956, so the Cold War was going on, and I guess the whole clash between superpowers was bugging him. It all seems nonsensical today based on how history has unfolded, but I guess it made sense then.

The typical failure of 50’s era male-female relationships to translate to current (2016) norms was almost laughable in this one. The ‘I tried to kill you three times, and now I’m in love with you’ plus ‘everyone on the planet is a criminal, but God forbid we should sleep in the same bed together’ made the whole ‘romance’ portion just too absurd for it to have the intended effect on me as a reader. I’m sure it was fine for it’s time, but it totally fails to work now.

All that criticism might make you wonder why I even get up to 3 stars. I’m not sure either, but it was better than just ‘ok’. I guess I was waiting on the resolution of all the issues, and that’s what kept me reading… to see how bad it would get before it got fixed. It does get fixed, but because of the relationship fail I mentioned above, the ending was only mediocre. So, if you have spare time and you want a Goodfellas on Mars story, go ahead and read it, but definitely keep in mind the culture shift in the last 60 years really dates this one. I give it 3 stars and call it an Interesting Read.

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Review: The Serpent’s Head

The Serpent's Head
The Serpent’s Head by Bryan Young
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

You know, I would really like to be able to post a review of a good book on this blog. It’s been quite a while.  Unfortunately, this one is not the one.  This is the second novel by Bryan Young that I have read, and it will probably be the last. I had forgotten that he was also the author of Operation Montauk which left me disgruntled with the ending despite the excellent story and fast paced action. It would have been nice if this one was better. Alas, it is worse.

The story is a very used wild west tale, simply retold with an interplanetary frontier take. There are lots of problems with the story and the writing. There’s the tired nature of the tale itself… I felt like I had seen this b-rated spaghetti western before. There was also a heavy dependency on euphemisms in the prose despite their complete lack of fit to the situations they were used in.

For example:

The gunslinger hit the accelerator on the stolen speeder, launching him across the expanse of Glycon-Prime’s prairie. He flew far and fast toward the edge of the red desert, knowing he didn’t have long before Guerrero’s men would be on to him.

“So, can I call you Kelly now?” Zeke said to him, modulating his volume over the roar of the speeder.

“You know better than to even ask.” The gunslinger shouted, adjusting his feet on the pedals in order to keep his speed down. Now that he was out of cannon range of the complex, he wanted to give the Glick’s an easy chance to catch his trail.

He flew far and fast? No he didn’t… he slowed down so they would see him and chase him.

This quote also shows an example of a horrid tendency to say one thing is happening, but immediately say the opposite in the next two to three sentences. It was almost like it was written one way, then edited to expand it without rereading what was already there.

The characters were also shallow and self-contradictory. Their motivations and emotions were smothered in an overriding tell, tell, tell versus show writing style which often did not match their actions. The mysterious hero, Twelve, is not sure of his own motivations for acting as the hero… a fact of which you are informed dozens of times. In the end, his backstory is not even revealed, which is exasperating to me. The sub-villain, Santa Madre, was supposedly soooo horrible and did horrible things to the kidnapped young girl, Miri… yet there were no permanent repercussions to her that I could see… at least none that a good shower couldn’t fix.  The main villain who was supposed to be an angry, mean completely evil mastermind, turned out to be kind of a stupid wuss. Of course you don’t find this out until close to the end, which stinks.

All of this just constantly threw me out of the story. I’m not sure why I kept reading it other than my own tendency to need to complete a task. And it was a task.

After trudging through all that, the ending fails. It is lackluster, unsatisfying, and predictable.

I can’t even give this novel 2 stars. I recommend anyone thinking of reading it wait until it is re-released after a good edit. There’s potential for a decent story, but the novel in its current state does not live up to it.

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Review: Hammer’s Slammers

Hammer's Slammers
Hammer’s Slammers by David Drake

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Like with most of Drake’s books I have read, afterward I find myself thinking… ‘Well, that was almost good.’ It’s just on the border of OK and Good. This one was good in premise, and it had its moments of intensity, but for the most part I have to call it lackluster. Something about it just felt like I was thrown into the middle of a story without enough context to understand what was happening. You eventually get the info you need, but it’s like having someone explain an inside joke after everyone is done laughing about it… it falls flat.

One word of caution to anyone reading these as part of the Complete Hammer’s Slammers omnibus… ORDER MATTERS. I suggest you read in the order shown in the original, and not the order of the omnibus version. I did not realize this, and I think this is why I felt contextually lost as I mentioned above.

Anyway, I’m going to write about the individual stories (but not the interludes) in detail and give them ratings. I’ll try not to get spoiler-y, but be cautious reading from this point forward. Overall I give the book a rating of PI – 22 stars over 7 stories – (3.14 stars) and call it an OK Read.

But Loyal to His Own (4 stars)

An introduction to the origins of Hammer’s Slammers. General Hammer must defend his troops from political plotting of the Friesland President who sent them out to fight in the first place. Now that they have won (at any cost) he fears they are too powerful and can’t be redeemed. His solution to that problem is not something Hammer will let happen.
This is a good story. It should be read first before anything. It is key to understanding the background for all the others.

The Butcher’s Bill (2 stars)

Introduces a recurring character, Danny Pritchard, who serves as a conscience (albeit maybe an ignored one) to Hammer’s Slammers. In this story, the client who’s hired the Slammers is naïve to the costs of war. They want to stop once they realize what’s coming, and Mercenaries live off their reputations, and blood has already been spilled.

Under the Hammer (3 stars)

This is a decent story introducing another minor recurring character, Rob Jenne, who gets his first taste of combat on his first day on the job.

Cultural Conflict (5 stars)

This is the best story in the book IMO. A tanker crew whose boring assignment is canceled runs afoul of local flora/fauna. A sentient hive mind tries to defend itself, but the supertanks of Hammer’s Slammers are not a natural enemy. There is another minor recurring character intro in this one also, Sgt. Horthy.

Caught in the Crossfire (4 stars)

A competing Merc group is trying to set a trap for Hammer’s convoy. They are using a village populated by women and children (whose men-folk – save one too injured to go – have been conscripted) to do it. One of the women, Margritte, is made a widow and has nothing left to strive for except revenge. She too becomes a recurring minor character in later stories.

Hangman (3 stars)

A competing merc company and the Slammers have been transition from fighting on either side of an ethnic war to keeping the peace in it. Unfortunately, the opposing mercs have too many cultural ties to one side and surreptitiously begin to aid them, while the Slammers can do nothing that won’t jeopardize their own contract. That’s why Danny Pritchard and his crew must allow one atrocity to trigger a reaction that will prevent a larger one. This story highlights Pritchard’s conscientious but loyal personality, and the dichotomy of war as a means to peace.

Standing Down (1 star)

While this story puts a period to the quest for a home for the Slammers, it is scattered and not very memorable. Hammer returns his company to Friesland to help put a dictator in power… the dictator ‘dies’… Hammer becomes ruler and is about to marry the daughter of former President Tromp to cement a political alliance. Holdouts die mercilessly.

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Review: Days of Future Past – Part 1: Past Tense

Days of Future Past - Part 1: Past Tense
Days of Future Past – Part 1: Past Tense by John Van Stry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Major John Riggs is an Air Force pilot instructor, a decedent of the Native American Navajo, the future savior of his people, but mostly he’s an asshole.

Lt. Paul Young was about to be drummed out of the Air Force by said Maj. Riggs as a personal favor for someone with a grudge against a relative.

Then they were both sent to a far distant realm by an Indian goddess to save the Navajo people. Well, Riggs was, Paul just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time… as was intended by another very tricky god.

Thus Paul is stuck in a ruined world where he must help a man he despises become a hero, or face the wrath of a god who can make his life a living hell if he doesn’t… On the other hand, he can also make it worth his while.

This novel was an excellent action adventure with great characters and a world setting that keeps you guessing. I enjoyed it from start to finish, and I plan to read the rest of the series.

The main character, Paul, is a true can-do hero who uses his mind and his body to conform the world to his own shape rather than letting it overwhelm him. He is put into dire situations repeatedly, but comes out – with some luck at times – on top. The love interest part is a bit odd… a one man two women combo… but things are kept below a graphic level, so it’s really a side story. I could have done without it, but it does bring the drama into play.

The world itself is a post-apocalyptic one where you can find magic, fey creatures, high-tech, and even dragons!

Overall, I give this book four stars and call it an Exciting Read!

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