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Books Review

Book Review – Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

Foundryside is the latest book from Robert Jackson Bennett, who previously wrote the “Divine Cities” trilogy.  I mostly knew him from the shenanigans he, Sam Sykes, Chuck Wendig and others get up to on Twitter.  Checking out new authors that way hasn’t steered me wrong yet.

Sancia is a thief, who operates out of Foundryside, a slum that exists in the gutters and buffer zones between four merchant houses.  Like most heist books, she’s damn good at her job, but powerful forces are at work, and she gets swept along.  Good thing she makes friends with a strange cast of characters along the way!

The merchant houses run the entire city, existing in a state of cold war.  Sancia is one of the independent operators, taking jobs for anyone.  Unfortunately her latest job has her stealing an object of incredible power.  The magic of this world is called ‘scriving’.  It works by convincing objects that the natural laws don’t apply to them, or do apply but in a different way.  Imagine if you could make a cart roll by itself, by scriving runes to tell the wheels that they are on a hill.  A sword can be made to think that, when swung, it’s three times heavier.  But before all that, beings existed that couldn’t just tweak, but rewrite reality as they saw fit.  And their artifacts are being found.

If you like the Gentlemen Bastards series and are looking for another heist book with a strange cast of characters, Foundryside would be a great option.  Check it out!

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Books Review

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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Books Review

Book Review – Terminal Alliance by Jim C. Hines

Terminal Alliance (Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse), by Jim C. Hines, takes a futuristic zombie-esque apocalypse and wonders – what happens if someone comes along and fixes it?  Humanity was turned into mindless, shambling monsters, but the Krakau (a squidlike alien race) decides to help fix us.  Eh, more or less.

The story follows a human nicknamed “Mops” and her motley band of space janitors as they get caught up in all manner of mischief.  And might just uncover the galaxy’s biggest conspiracy.  It’s all played for fun, and it’s nice having humans NOT as the leaders of whatever galactic alliance for a change.  We’re the big dumb muscle.

Terminal Alliance knows the score when it comes to sci-fi tropes and does enough to play with them to make it different.  Think Scalzi’s Redshirts, but not quite that obvious.  That makes it a fun palate-cleanser between bloody thousand page epics.  Recommended.

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Books Review

Book Review – Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

Red Sister is the start of the latest series by Mark Lawrence, who I was previously aware of but hadn’t yet read.  When I saw this was book one of a series and available on Netgalley, I went for it.  What I found was a bloody story of revenge, bathed in the mysticism of a dying world.

Nona, our heroine, is set to be hanged for murder when a Sister from the Convent of Sweet Mercy takes her away to join their order.  There, she learns that she and many of the other nuns have aspects from one or more of the “old bloods”, powers that come from the four races of the world.  Her hunska blood, for example, basically puts her mind in hyperdrive so she moves and reacts faster.  Think bullet-time, but only for short bursts.  A person with all four bloods is highly sought after – there’s a prophecy, though the Sisters have a cynical view of them, as most prophecies are political distractions.

I was born for killing – the gods made me to ruin.

Nona

Despite the desperation of the world, your typical school trappings are there.  There are strange teachers, including the poison master who delights in poisoning new students.  There are bonds of friendship, rivalries, and fights.  Through all of this is a family seeking revenge against Nona (that’s why she was headed for the noose), and the political machinations of a dying empire.

I enjoyed the book quite a bit by the end, and if there was one complaint, it’s that there are so many murder-nuns in it that it can be difficult to keep track of them all, save for Nona herself, who is basically X-23 in a weird failing future fantasy world.  Definitely worth a read if any of this sounds like it’s up your alley.  Red Sister is out now via the usual suspects, including Amazon.

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Books Review

Book Review – Fallout (Lois Lane) by Gwenda Bond

Now that Amazon has a selection of books available to read for free for Prime members, I’ve been going through the categories that interest me to find new material.  Obviously, a book about Lois Lane would do that.  In this case, Fallout is about a teenage Lois in high school, though her nosy reporter skills are in full effect.  She’s attended several schools, thanks both to her military father moving around, and her own knack for finding trouble and being disruptive, but now she’s just trying to keep her head down.  But when a group of kids obsessed with a strange VR war game start bullying and harassing other students both in and out of the game, Lois just can’t resist investigating the just why the principal seems to let it all slide.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this.  The characters are just what you’d expect from a younger Lois and her family.  General Lane sounds exactly like the military dads I know, and the bullying feels real.  It’s fun to see Lois get her start at the Daily Planet and Perry White. It IS a bit eye-rolling that she’s also internet friends with a certain “SmallvilleGuy”.

Fallout is a great gateway for comics-reading teens to a full-length prose novel, but would still be enjoyable even if the kid in question is only dimly aware of who the heck lives in Smallville.

 

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Books Review

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 – Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn

I’ve heard a lot of good things about Carrie Vaughn from friends who read her Kitty Norville series, so when NetGalley had a copy of her new book, Martians Abroad, available to read, I jumped at it.  I’m glad I did, though the book is not without it’s faults.

The story takes place in a future timeline where Earth has settled the moon, Mars, and has stations and colonies out in the belt and on the usual moons.  Sort of like the Expanse, but less grim.  Polly Newton and her brother, Charles, are the kids of the main Martian colony leader.  Polly wants nothing more than to learn to be a pilot, but her mother has other plans – she manipulates their way into the Galileo academy, a prestigious Earth-based school for the best and the brightest.  Off-worlders usually don’t attend, not only for the physical limitations (with most growing up in 1/3 to 1/6 Earth gravity), but for the fact that the school is basically a networking tool for all the elite rich kids of Earth.  Polly is furious, but her brother Charles (an odd hacker who isn’t against a bit of manipulation himself) convinces her to give it a try as attending may give them some advantages in life.

From there, it plays out not unlike the usual YA novel where the outsiders struggle to fit in.  The Earth folks look down on them, the head of the school doubts them, but it’s a series of strange accidents where Polly has to be a hero that really throw them for a loop.

Martians Abroad is well-written and keeps things moving at a decent pace.  The main downside for me was, it seemed to take quite a long time (more than half of the book) for the mystery to really take hold, and even then, it didn’t stand out that the bad things happening were all that out of the ordinary.  Still, it was an interesting, YA-friendly take on future kids doing dangerous stuff in space and if any of that sounds appealing, or you’re already a Carrie Vaughn fan, it’s worth checking out.  You can pre-order at the link, the current release date is January 17, 2017.

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Books Review

Book Review – The Girl With All The Gifts

I am not normally a zombie guy, but I had heard great things about comic writer Mike Carey’s (styled M. R. Carey here) novel The Girl with All the Gifts and when it went on sale, I gave it a shot.  I’m glad I did, as it’s an enjoyable spin on the nature of zombies and the “zombie apocalypse”.

Carey’s book starts out with all the usual zombie trappings, you know, the last few human survivors working to find a cure, the zombie infection coming from a real-world source (a cordyceps fungus, like in The Last of Us), and the somewhat annoying trope that people don’t call zombies zombies.  The twist comes from the children found among the walking dead – seemingly still fully intelligent, they just have an uncontrollable hunger for flesh when they smell it.  The group of survivors we follow (most notably Doctors Caldwell and Justineau, and Sergeant Parks) are studying the children, hoping that they are a hint to a final cure for the infection.  The conflict comes from the differing views of just how far they should go in that study – Caldwell is rather freewheeling with a scalpel, carving up the intelligent zombie children, while Justineau empathizes a bit too much with them.  Things are turned upside down when the base is assaulted and overrun and they are on the run in a busted truck – with Melanie, one of the intelligent “hungries” along with them.

The rest of the story becomes a survival-on-the-road movie where Parks, Caldwell and Justineau learn more about the zombie infection while travelling with Melanie, but she’s learning at leaps and bounds too.  The Girl with All the Gifts moves at a solid pace for the most part, and drives to a solid conclusion I didn’t see coming.  It’s a bit abrupt considering the time spent on the rest of the story, but the only other negative was a rather eye-rolling romance aspect between Parks and Justineau that seemed unnecessary.  In the end though, it’s a book about zombies that had something new to offer, and considering how prevalent zombies are in our media at this time, that shouldn’t be ignored.  Check out the preview below if any of this interests you.

 

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Book Review – Black Widow: Forever Red

Before you start this book, know that while it’s got Black Widow in the name, it’s both about her, and not exactly about her.  If it might bother you to discover the story is told mostly through the viewpoint of a teenaged girl that has an…interesting connection to Natasha, as some other reviewers seem to, just be aware.  Black Widow: Forever Red (by Margaret Stohl) tells the story of Ana Orlova, a young girl rescued from the mastermind of the Red Room, the infamous organization that turned Natasha into the perfect assassin.  Nat promptly dumps the girl into SHIELD’s lap and jets, not being the mothering type.  Fast forward 8 years, and Ana is having strange dreams and that evil from the past roars back to put the whole world in danger.

Forever Red doesn’t break a ton of new ground, being a fairly standard YA novel, just in this case, it’s set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  And yes, it’s the MCU, as they specifically mention events like the Battle of New York, and has Coulson as SHIELD director.  There’s also an extended appearance from Tony Stark.  There’s a good balance between the weirdness of the MCU and the more grounded aspects Natasha typically deals with.  I enjoy the interplay between Ana and Nat as their similarities get the better of the older woman (in a “when you get older I hope you have a daughter just like you!” sort of way).  The action moves at a fair clip most of the time, and the story has just enough twists to make you second guess some things.

Forever Red is a worthwhile read, especially for the MCU fan who isn’t up on the comics and wants to know how a spy/assassin gets the skills to team up with gods and monsters and not die.  Preview below:

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Books Review

Book Review – Rebel Genius by Michael Dante DiMartino

Rebel Genius is a new book from Michael Dante DiMartino (of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra fame), and if you are a fan of either of those shows, you’ll find a lot to love here.  In fact, if there’s one negative to the book it’s that it hems a bit closely both to what DiMartino’s done before and some other classics of the fantasy genre.

The story follows Giacomo, a 12 year old orphan who is also an artist.  In Giacomo’s world, art is outlawed, and artists gain a birdlike companion creature (not unlike the daemon concept in the His Dark Materials series) with special powers tied to the creation of art called a ‘Genius’.  When Giacomo gains his genius, he goes on the run and falls in with a mentor who has a hidden studio where he teaches other children how to use their gifts.  They are opposed by both the Empress Nerezza (styling herself the ‘Supreme Creator’) who hunts down artists and destroys their Geniuses, rendering them zombie-like, and another renegade artist, Ugalino, who has made a Tulpa – basically a homonculus, or a living statue of immense power.  He wants to tear down the world and remake it in his own image, and to do so he seeks the Sacred Tools – said to be the three items God used to make the world.

All of this is well-trod ground for DiMartino – a group of almost-teens or teens with special powers set out on a journey to save the world.  You’ll notice that I said they were opposed by the Empress and Ugalino – as usual for DiMartino, the good/evil aspect of the antagonists is fuzzy.  You may not like what they do, and disagree with their methods, but they have a reason for what they are doing.  The other kids tend to fall into tropes but I trust DiMartino to twist those expectations around (Sokka didn’t stay a misogynist dip for long).  We see some of it by the end of this first book.

The idea that art is magic is kind of precious, considering that DiMartino himself is a creative person.  Sort of like how so many writers write books about writers doing stuff.  But it’s easily forgiven as the Renaissance-inspired world is interesting.  There’s a lot of talk about ‘sacred geometry’, and Zanobius is very obviously Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, which may drive some readers to go investigate classic art, which is never a bad thing.  If you have a kid in the target range, Rebel Genius is a worthy purchase.  Just don’t expect it to stray too far from the formula that DiMartino and Konietzko made (admittedly excellent) use of before.  Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.  It’s currently scheduled for release October 4th.

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Books Review

Book Review – The City Stained Red (Bring Down Heaven #1) by Sam Sykes

I became aware of Sam Sykes mostly via Twitter, and his interactions with Myke Cole, Daniel Abraham and other authors I followed.  He was funny, and when the first book in his new series was discounted, I took a shot.  The City Stained Red, book one of the “Bring Down Heaven” series, follows an adventuring band led by Lenk, which resembles your favorite D&D group’s mismatched murder hobos as they attempt to enter the city of Cier’Djaal to get money owed to them.  Lenk wants to settle down and stop all the killing, you see, but if you know how things go for adventuring groups, things go sideways in a hurry.

I enjoyed the book enough that I’m seeking out the rest in the series.  It’s funny but not afraid to have a few serious bits, and while most of the characters aren’t particularly likable, they ARE interesting.  My main complaint is that the book sort of stops instead of ends.  It’s a hard balance for an early book in a series – to end in a satisfying way, yet set up the next book – and Sykes came up a hair short of that on this one.  Still, it’s a worthwhile read.

 

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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.