Sunday, June 26, 2022

Review of The Left Left Behind Plus... by Terry Bisson

While I prefer reading paper books, the heft and feel in the hand irreplaceable, it's inevitable that in 2022 ebooks and audiobooks are likewise present in my life. If I do consume the digital side of literature, I prefer short length—10 hour audiobooks, novellas, and collections are my go-to. Seeing a short collection by Terry Bisson on the cheap in e-form, I snapped it up. The book is Left, Left Behind plus... (2009).

When I said short, I meant short. Left, Left Behind plus... is two short stories sandwiched by a solid introduction and an in-depth interview with Bisson. That's it. It's a sampler of the personal variety. Despite this, it still offers more substance than a lot of the genre fluff making its way to shops.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Review of The Lady of the Lake by Andrzej Sapkowski

Note: This review of The Lady of the Lake (1999), fifth and final volume in the Witcher series, is going to assume the reader has read the prior four books.

After four novels, we’ve finally reached the end of the Witcher novel series. It’s up to The Lady of the Lake to put the final stamp on proceedings. As with any final volume in a series, this means the impression of the entire series for many readers—the part coloring the whole.

Ramping up slowly through a series of framing scenes, The Lady of the Lake finally settles into real-time storyline. Geralt, and the group which accumulated around him in The Baptism of Fire, are in Toussaint awaiting news. Geralt is once again taking monster contracts, and on one fateful excursion learns of a plot to overthrow the Emperor. As an extra little nugget of information, Geralt learns Vilgefortz’s location, and so rushes back to his group in make an attempt at rescuing Ciri. Arriving at the castle, however, things take a left turn, leaving the fate of the group, and Ciri and Yennefer, up in the air.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Review of Bridge 108 by Anne Charnock

It’s mid-2022 and Europe’s attention is on the ongoing war in Ukraine. The topics of security, economy, and resource availability are at the forefront. But in 2017, another topic was predominantly on Europe’s screens: refugees trying to escape a (Russia-involved) war in Syria. Ethics, human rights, and cultural integration/conflict were widely being discussed and handled in a variety of fashions. Into this scene Anne Charnock published a novella “The Enclave”. Having seeds of potential, in 2020 Charnock expanded it into a novel, Bridge 108.

The Enclave” was a window into the life of Caleb, a Spanish immigrant who lost his parents and now finds himself an indentured laborer in the hands of Ma Lexie in near-future Birmingham, UK. Lexie enduring her own tragedies, she daily sells her second-hand clothing at a cheap market in a poor enclave, Caleb her helper. In the enclave, immigrants like him are taken advantage of; life is not easy. He must look for his own bright spots, all the while enduring unpleasantries and the social limitations Ma Lexie and her associates impose on him. Caleb dreams of many things, and it isn’t long before he plots to get out of the enclave. He gets out, and Bridge 108 tells the story of what happens after.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Review of The Star King by Jack Vance

Jack Vance’s Demon Prince series is one of the more remarkable projects in Vance’s oeuvre. The five books were not written in relative succession, rather spread out over a period of sixteen years among other writing projects. But what makes them most notable is their human nature. Where most of Vance’s books tend to feature static heroes adventuring across the galaxy, in the Demon Prince books the revenge motif is taken seriously - something aking to a sci-fi version of The Count of Monte Christo. Vance gets deeper inside his main character, letting the man reflect on his loneliness and mission to kill than he does with most of his other such heroes. Setting the stage for the series is its first novel, The Star King (1964).

When just a child, Kirth Gersen watched his family and city destroyed by an alliance of five evil men, later called the “demon princes”.  His grandfather, the only other survivor, trained Kirth to be an assassin, and before dying, instructed his grandson to get revenge.  Carrying the list of names in his pocket, Kirth now makes his way through the galaxy hunting the princes, luring them into the open, and killing when the opportunity arises.  The opening of The Star King finds Gersen on a sparse, remote planet chasing information on one of the demon princes, one Attel Malagate. At a bar he meets a man employed by Malagate, but before he can extract enough info, a gang of thugs enter and put an end to his interview in decisive fashion. Kirth having a few tricks up his own sleeve, he learns the identity of the thugs and begins tracking them, hoping to be led to Malagate himself. His methods take him in the right direction but getting to the bottom of exactly which of his suspects is Malagate will require special cunning.

Friday, June 3, 2022

Review of Julian Comstock by Robert Charles Wilson

In my youth and into adulthood I have read a fair number of boy’s adventures—Hardy Boys, The Mad Scientists’ Club, Hatchet, Mark Twain, Treasure Island, Jack London, My Side of the Mountain, The Prince of Central Park, and many others. Big rights and wrongs, catastrophes, mysteries, becoming independent, and of course adventure, there is indeed a certain style of book that appeals to teen males. It’s therefore important to note that Robert Charles Wilson’s 2009 Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America is precisely one such novel.

Julian Comstock is actually the story of Adam Hazzard. Adam is eighteen and a member of the working class (i.e. slightly above indentured servants but certainly below aristocrats) living in a small, Western town. He spends his days working in the barn of a local aristocrat family, the Comstocks. where he is taken under the wing of the Comstock family’s son, Julian. Unlike everyone else in his family, Julian eschews the religious rigor of the day and crosses class lines to befriend Julian. The two spend many an hour discussing religion and politics, that is, until the army comes to town looking to forcefully conscript its young men. Knowing they’ll be sent to distant Labrador to fight in long, bloody battles against the Dutch, the boys look to escape. They do, but only for a time. There comes a moment when they need to decide where to put their energy—religion, politics, and everything else around it as war rages on.

Cardboard Corner: Review of Fireball Island

For those unaware, I am an American living in Poland. Slowly but surely, I have transported all 500+ of my CDs across the Atlantic. (Yes, I’m also a middle-aged American—a music loving middle-aged American.) Every visit to the family or business trip, I would stick a few dozen in my luggage, and eventually they were all brought here. A couple years ago I became even more ambitious: to transport my copy of Fireball Island across the Atlantic.*

For the unaware, Fireball Island’s board is a single, solid, very colorful, 3D piece of plastic about the size and shape of a kitchen sink, but with less depth. It cannot be folded neatly and transported as any other board game might. Why it can’t be folded, you ask? So the marble fireballs have sturdy ground to roll and smash you, of course.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Review of The Anomaly by Herve Le Tellier

I’ve heard it said that science fiction is a “literature of ideas”. I never liked this. All literature is ideas. Thus, I would paraphrase to say science fiction is a literature wherein ideas that do not (yet) exist in reality often take priority over the realism of character, emotion, dialogue, etc. After all, alien species, extraterrestrial planets, radical technology, and alternate forms of society often receive more attention from science fiction writers than the characters around them. Science fiction by default, Herve Le Tellier’s The Anomaly (2022) nevertheless subverts this mode by putting its weight behind typically less-prioritized elements—ideas, as they were.

To say precisely how The Anomaly is science fiction is to spoil the novel. Therefore, it is a good time to pause and say if this is one of the first reviews you have read of The Anomaly, be cautious reading additional reviews if you are concerned about plot spoilers. The novel hinges around an “idea” that is revealed at about the halfway mark. I have read reviews which discuss it in nonchalant fashion, but be aware it is the hook on which the plot is hung.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Review of The This by Adam Roberts

Adam Roberts is that maddening sportsman who has trophies on the shelf to show he is a winner but doesn’t always show up to play. With an irregular training scheme and dynamic mentality, he instead depends on innate talent to win matches. Naturally, this results in inconsistency; he’s not always a threat for the podium. For the reader, this means they never know what they are going to get with Roberts—certainly one type of appeal. With 2022’s The This we get the chance to A) test the accuracy of Google’s search algorithm, and B) answer the question: has Roberts once again channeled his innate talent to make a run for the winner’s circle, or is it just another quiet bowing out in the group stage?

Working with Robert’s love of θ, we get The This. After a surreal, cosmic cycle to open the novel, the book settles into the life of Rich Rigby. A typical 30-something male in the mid-21st century, Rich spends his days waiting for freelance writing gigs, playing video games, indulging in internet porn, and of course, thumb-fucking his mobile phone into loneliness. Almost all of his waking life spent online, he becomes interested in a breakthrough technology that saves users time by installing tech in the brain. Text messages, online searches, etc. no longer require tiresome finger movements. Such activities can all be done mentally, thus freeing users’ hands to perform other useful activities. The name of the tech is The This. While Rich is initially skeptical, the corporate forces that be eventually win him over, broadening his horizons in ways every major, human technical breakthrough has: for better and worse. But such blasé commentary is not Roberts’ point. Read on to find out.

Cardboard Corner: Race to the Treasure

Race to the Treasure (2012) caught my eye as an Amazon recommendation while browsing small children’s games. Reading further, the voices in support of the game came from too many different corners to be just “coincidence”. So, I splashed the cash. And since playing innumerable times with my children (aged 3 and still holding some interest at age 6 though fading), it seems the voices were right.

Race to the Treasure is a simple, cooperative logic game for small children. Players work together to build a path from the starting square, across a grid, to a treasure square. Collect all three keys and get to the treasure first, the group wins. Take too much time, and the ogre will get the treasure before you. Simple as that!

Monday, May 23, 2022

Review of Dead Space by Kali Wallace

Over the years I have paid less and less attention to science fiction and fantasy awards. It’s become normal to celebrate vanilla, or laud politics over quality or innovation. But occasionally I will peek, and one award I have lingering attention for is the Philip K. Dick Award. While producing its share of stinkers, it has traditionally looked beyond the mainstream, making it a potential gold mine. Rudy Rucker’s Software, Ian McDonald’s King of Morning, Queen of Day, M. John Harrison’s Nova Swing are examples of PKD award winners. Winning 2021’s Award is Dead Space by Kali Wallace. Why not have a look?

Dead Space is a locked room mystery set in a cyberpunk solar system. ‘Locked asteroid’ the better descriptor, the majority of Hester Marley’s investigation takes place deep in space inside a 15km-long rock being mined for valuable minerals. Marley an AI expert, her initial intentions of helping set up a colony on Titan were set aside when terrorists attacked and killed the majority of the expedition. Left with multiple bodily prosthetics and deep in debt, Marley has become an indentured servant of Parthenope Enterprises, one of the largest solar system corporations. Thus, when a dead body turns up at their mining operations inside said asteroid, it’s Marley they send to investigate. Little to her knowledge she is stepping beyond the corporate and into the violently political.