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Book Review – Artemis by Andy Weir

Artemis, by Andy Weir, starts out as a bit of a heist book.  Set in the first city on the Moon, Artemis follows Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara as she navigates her life as a porter, her sideline as a smuggler of contraband, and her disapproving father.  One of Jazz’s smuggling clients offers her a sabotage job with a huge payday, but as you might expect, it goes sideways in a hurry.  She gets caught between the Moon’s government and the mob in the midst of a conspiracy that has implications all the way back to Earth.

Quick Review

I enjoyed this book.  I haven’t read The Martian, but I enjoyed the movie (it is one of my son’s favorites).  Jazz is perhaps not as likable as Mark Watney, but there’s still plenty of plausible space science (and space welding, which at least one of my followers will enjoy) and intrigue to go around.  Artemis is a quick read that should satisfy people who can deal with Jazz’s smart-ass-ness and enjoyed The Martian.  Thanks to NetGalley for the advanced copy.

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Book Review – The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

I got my latest read, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet as a gift, and had a great time reading it.  The first novel from Becky Chambers, it follows a young woman named Rosemary as she joins the crew of a tunneling ship (basically they make shortcuts through space) as they get a big contract that could very well set them up for bigger and better things in the future.  But with that comes danger, especially in a universe where humanity is NOT at the forefront of the great intergalactic governing body, but a minor cog.

The cast of characters are adorably quirky, with the long-suffering Captain Ashby putting up with all sorts of shenanigans that would feel at home on Farscape or Firefly.  I also love the care that was taken to make the aliens truly alien.  Cold-blooded aliens, aliens with differing numbers of limbs, aliens that are symbiotic with a weird virus, the works.  The story of the tunnel the ship needs to make is the overall driving force of the story, but most of the book is a series of what feels like episodes, with each crewmember having an adventure or getting some backstory in.

If you’ve been overwhelmed by Dark and Gritty™ sci-fi or are in the middle of a 74-book high fantasy slog and need a break, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet works great.  It manages to be light and fun and still have a lot to say about gender, relationships and artificial intelligence.

 

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Books Review

Book Review – Archivist Wasp

For months, one of my online friends has been recommending Archivist Wasp to pretty much everybody.  It was on my list to check out some day, but when it went on sale a few weeks back she decided to just gift the book to a few of us and be done with it.  I’m very glad she did.

At first glance, the world seems like a typical fantasy realm, where you take a medieval setting and add something weird (ghosts, in this case).  ‘Wasp’ – not her real name – is the Archivist, one of a group of young women marked at birth by a goddess, and taught to catch and study the ghosts that linger all around the landscape.  It’s a brutal life, as the role of Archivist is won through, and held onto, via knife fights to the death versus ‘upstart’ challengers.

Even that life is turned upside down when Wasp meets a special ghost – one that has no problem communicating with her.  He shows her worlds never glimpsed by normal people, and shakes the foundations of everything she was raised to believe.

Archivist Wasp is a quick read that you’ll want to finish in one sitting.  If there’s one flaw, it’s that it relies a bit much on flashbacks to the ghost’s previous life.  But I was dying for that information so it didn’t bother me.  Felt like the flashbacks to the island on Arrow in that way.  Anyway, check the Kindle preview below and buy it, you’ll be glad you did.

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Book Review – Star Wars: A New Dawn

Are you watching the new Star Wars cartoon, Rebels?  Do you want to know more about Kanan?  Well, it takes quite a while to get interesting, but A New Dawn is your jam.  There’s insight into Kanan (then under his real name) and his training as a Padawan before Order 66, the first meeting with Hera, and a cyborg efficiency expert as the villain.  Okay, only some of those things are cool.  At the end of the day, that’s what keeps this book from getting out of mediocrity – John Jackson Miller seems convinced that all of the particular world he’s built and the political junk between the villain and the guy trying to take over his position are much more interesting than finding out more about a hidden potential Jedi.  Still, enjoyable enough.  Thanks to NetGalley for the chance to read it.

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Book Review: Star Wars – Tarkin

Remember how strange it was in Ocean’s Twelve when it was revealed that Danny and the boys had won because they had outsmarted the bad guys off-screen? Yeah, pretty much what you have here.  We begin Tarkin, by James Luceno, with an attack on a station Moff Tarkin is familiar with, so Palpatine (now the Emperor as the book is set not long after Episode 3) sends Tarkin and Vader to go check out what happened.  BUT!  It turns out it was a ploy to get Tarkin out there, as Rebels steal his badass stealth ship to go rampaging.  It’s up to Tarkin and Vader to get it back.

Unfortunately, ‘getting it back’ mostly involves Tarkin being outsmarted at every turn, and Vader mostly being there as a threatening presence.  How many of you buy a book about the bad guys on the threat that Vader might force-choke a dude?  Tarkin spends most of the book getting outsmarted and relaying to Vader barely-related stories from his childhood, until the end when it’s revealed that no, I meant to lose all along.  He and Palpatine had a plan to ferret out some traitors in their midst and deal a blow to the barely-formed Rebel Alliance.  But we are really only told about this as an after-the-fact taunt.

Tarkin is really hard to justify.  Grand Moff Tarkin was a great villain in part because of the mystery.  We have the amazing Peter Cushing on screen for a few minutes, he orders a Princess tortured, snarks at Lord Vader, and blows up a whole damn planet because it makes a good example.  If you are removing the air of mystery surrounding a character like that, you would do well to make them a heck of a lot more interesting than this.  As always, thanks to NetGalley for the chance to check this out.

Amazon link: Tarkin: Star Wars

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Book Review – Half a King, Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie’s Half a King is my first book of his, and it’s great, if not ground-breaking.  It follows young Prince Yarvi, who has a withered arm, content to step away from the throne and dive into a life of books and study.  Not strong enough to fight, he hones his mind, but everything changes when his father and brother are killed and the throne is thrust back upon him.  It goes from bad to worse when he is betrayed and left for dead.  What follows is a quest for vengeance, and to retake the throne he didn’t even want.

Joining Yarvi are a cast of odd crooks and malcontents, forming an uneasy alliance while fleeing captivity.  Undoubtedly a YA novel, it’s not nearly as dark some of Abercrombie’s other work from what I’ve seen, but the book serves as a great palate cleanser between heavier reads.  There’s action and humor and twists you may or may not see coming.  The book is available now via Amazon or B&N.  Thanks to NetGalley for the copy.

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Book Review – Star Wars: Honor Among Thieves

As soon as I heard James S. A. Corey (the Sci-fi pen name for writers Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham) had signed on to write a Star Wars novel, I was all in. Even better was the fact that most SW novels get put on Netgalley so I can read them early review them for you.  This is actually the second of three books in the ‘Empire and Rebellion’ series (though they are not interconnected), which has books that follow each of the three primary protagonists of the original trilogy in a new story set during the Rebellion.  The first, Razor’s Edge, focused on Princess Leia.  Honor Among Thieves is all about Han.

The first thing I’d point out is the only thing you need to know about the Star Wars universe to enjoy this book is just the original trilogy.  That’s great, as some of the other books are deep into the Expanded Universe nerdery (and much of that may be getting swept aside as Disney tries to make it one big happy universe).

This story follows Han and Chewie after the destruction of the first Death Star, as they try and reconcile being scoundrels who dislike any and all governments with working for the Rebels, whose stated goal is to replace the Empire with a new Republic.  I really enjoyed Han’s internal struggle – he likes and trusts Leia and Luke, but doesn’t (yet) want to join the team.  This plays well against the new hero we meet in Scarlet Hark.  Han and Chewie go on a simple mission to extract the Rebel spy, but thing don’t go exactly according to plan.  But hey, do they ever?  What it kicks off is a race between the Rebels and the Empire for a long-lost superweapon that adds a very Indiana Jones feel to the Star Wars universe.  The use of Leia and Scarlet as a choice between the independent life of a smuggler and the legitimate government agent works well to build the character of Han into the man we know later in Return of the Jedi as well as in Zahn’s books.  If I had any complaints – and they’d be very minor – it’s that the plot contrivance of a superweapon created by a long-lost race seems a bit played, but it didn’t take my enjoyment away at all from the rest.  There’s a few EU lore bits that stuck out as being off, such as a Noghri appearing (and Han knowing what it was) but again, doesn’t cause a problem for the story.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in what happened during the Rebel years, or who enjoys Corey’s Expanse series.  Honor Among Thieves will be on sale 3/4.

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Book Review – Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

I keep an eye out on NetGalley for books that may some day interest my kids, and I became curious about Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee when I saw it was one of the most requested books on the site.  What I found was a fast-paced reimagining of the Snow Queen story that the intended audience will love, but doesn’t quite reach the level of all-ages classic.

 Ophelia is the sort of quirky girl that is the star of books like these – she has asthma, she pulls on her braids when nervous, and she has no time for fantasy.  She’s all about science.  That is contrasted with the story of the Boy, whose name was taken for safekeeping when he was picked as the child of prophecy to take down the evil Snow Queen.  Giant owls, magic swords, eternal winters – you know the drill.  He has to find the ‘One Other’ to help him, and if you are like me you already know where this is going.  But for the 9 to 12 year old set, it should work.

As I was reading this, I kept thinking that it felt a lot like one of Gaiman’s adult tales edited down to be palatable to 10 year olds.  I don’t mean that as a negative.  I can see easing your kids into Neil’s more brain-melting works by starting here.

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Book Review – Maul: Lockdown

It was with some trepidation that I started this latest Star Wars novel, Maul: Lockdown.  Kindly provided via NetGalley, it had several warning signs.  First, it’s about a prequel trilogy character, one that barely qualified AS a character.  Maul was red and black, and had a saber-staff.  He got killed by Obi-Wan, which has to be kind of embarrassing, honestly.  This had “retroactive badass” written all over it.  That’s my term for a character that’s a throwaway or unimportant who later (in subsequent movies or ‘Expanded Universe’ stuff) gets turned into the most awesomest guy EVAR.  Boba Fett is your poster child.  The second knock against the book is the author, Joe Schreiber – his catalog is mostly supernatural horror, of the Eli Roth variety.  The third knock was the completely unoriginal ‘prison/gladiator fighting ring’ plot.

There are some positives here though.  The story does move at a solid clip, and the fights are the well-described brutality one might imagine of a prison fighting ring.  Maul is sent to the prison to find an arms dealer who has been hiding there for years, and has a secondary mission of acquiring a weapon that Palpatine will use for his own nefarious purposes.  The ending feels very abrupt, with things that seemed important earlier sort of glossed over.  I kept trying to page past the end for more but there was none.

Maul: Lockdown wasn’t terrible by Star Wars EU novel standards, and if you are more of a horror fan it may be worth your time.  For everyone else, it’s probably a pass.  Here’s the link to check it out.

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Book Review – Steelheart

Steelheart, by Brandon Sanderson, is a spin through a dystopian world where an event (the Calamity) has given a small number of humans super powers.  The problem is, they are ALL evil.  Even though not all ‘Epics’ are equal in power, there are enough that they pretty much carved the world up into chunks they rule with impunity.  It’s in this world that we see our protagonist, David.  He witnessed Steelheart, now ruler of a large swath of the former United States centered around what once was Chicago, kill his father.  David’s dad was one of the Faithful, who believed that with villains around, heroes would come.  His father died for that belief…but not before he wounded Steelheart.  David is the only one who knows what happened that day, having escaped the purge by Steelheart that followed, and he’s trained himself for years to hunt the villain down and kill him.

To make that happen, David finds and worms his way into a group called the Reckoners.  Normal humans who hunt down and kill Epics by studying their weaknesses.  Every Epic has one, of course, and it’s their most guarded secret.  Our hero believes he’s the only one who can figure out Steelheart’s weakness, since he was there on the one day he was hurt.

This book was quite a bit of fun, even if you’re not into comic books.  Steelheart is an obvious ‘evil Superman’ stand-in, though comic fans might feel Black Adam is a closer fit.  The world is interesting, I’m very curious about the Calamity and what caused it, why all heroes go bad, and the fate of one of the characters left at the end.  The supporting characters (the typical band of misfit rebels of the Reckoners) don’t get far beyond basic characterization, but for a YA novel, that’s not the end of the world.  The action is fun, and as a whole I was engaged enough that the plot twists worked on me.  4 of 5 stars.  Definitely want to know what happens next.  Steelheart is $4.99 as of now on the Kindle and Nook.

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Book Series Review: The Gentlemen Bastards Series

red seasOkay, my friends had been recommending this series to each other for years, and when I saw the third book was available on NetGalley, I jumped in and started reading.  WOW.  This is some great fantasy writing for sure!  Take Ocean’s 11, add in magic and alchemy, stir with swords and hatchets, and you’ve got the gist of it.  The stories follow Locke Lamora and his best friend Jean, as they lead a life of long cons and thievery.  Each book intersperses the ‘present day’ chapters with a story from the past that helps illustrate the central pot of each novel – it works because the more you learn about Locke, Jean and the other ‘Gentlemen Bastards’, the more you want to know how they got the way they are.  The downside is, the main plot gets delayed, but soon enough you’ll like the characters so much you won’t really care.

I won’t spoil the books, but they are filled with daring capers, weird magic and alchemy, disguises, loves lost and found again, and a man killed by a leaping shark.  And that last one wasn’t even in the awesome pirate-themed second book.  Many of the twists and turns were jaw-dropping, and I couldn’t wait to see how they resolved things.  It’s really great fun, and a great palate-cleanser if you’ve been reading denser, more grim or serious fare.  Not that there isn’t grim, serious moments here but damn if it isn’t funny and action-packed too.

The first two books, The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies have been out for a while now, and the third, The Republic of Thieves, comes out October 8th.

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Book Review – Kenobi (Star Wars)

Got this one as a review copy from NetGalley, and it’s a bit better than the last one (Crucible).  It’s about, as you might guess, Obi-Wan Kenobi, as he tries to watch over the infant Luke.  It’s framed by Obi-Wan’s attempts to recreate the meditation Yoda showed him in order to speak to Qui-Gon.  The rest of the story plays out much like a western, with the Sandpeople taking the role of the (possibly not so) evil Indians, the black-hatted head of the local militia/neighborhood watch/cattle baron trying to wipe them out, and the simple, honest townsfolk caught in the middle.  There’s even a potential love interest for our Jedi Master taking the Miss Kitty spot, though not in a space bordello.

That woman is the real driving force of the story – Annileen runs the general store/saloon in these parts, having taken it over when her husband passed.  Both she and her daughter take a shine to the mysterious stranger, moreso when he time and again steps in to try and smooth over an argument or defuse a dangerous situation.  The resolution of the main plot gets a little jumbly and scattered, but the story is worth reading if you like Obi-Wan, and want to learn about what he did to keep busy after setting up shop to watch Luke.  John Jackson Miller does a solid job making the idea of people living on Tatooine make sense.  The book is out today, if it sounds like something you’d enjoy.  It’s one of the better SW EU books I’ve read recently.