Book Review Archives

REVIEW: Final Impact by John Birmingham

REVIEW SUMMARY: Continuing the quality of effort from the previous book, Birmingham delivers on a quality ending to a complicated trilogy.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The task force from the future introduced in the work Weapons of Choice, continues to deal with the impact of its arrival and, most importantly, the continuation of the fight against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. The politics of nations takes center stage here as the planet deals with the new ending to WW2 and the significantly different history of the Soviet Union.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Excellent thoughts on the behavior of Stalin, Yamamoto, Roosevelt, and others when confronted with the major changes in the world brought about by the technology of the future.

CONS: Perhaps a bit gratuitous in parts – but war is hell.

BOTTOM LINE: The final 2 books in this trilogy make it overall very solid and worth your time if you are interested in military fiction of this type.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: Someone please tell me this series gets better!

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The misadventures of incompetent magician Rincewind who acts as a guide for the rich-but-naïve tourist named Twoflower.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: “The Lure of the Wyrm” was the strongest story; well-conceived world.

CONS: Not as funny as expected; uneven stories, some of which hovered near mediocrity.

BOTTOM LINE: Considering the expectations fueled by the series hype, this was a letdown.

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REVIEW: The Brass Man by Neal Asher

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The continuing adventures of Polity Agent Ian Cormac as he tries apprehend the terrorist Skellor, deals with remnants of Dragon and meets an old foe thought destroyed in Mr. Crane, the brass man of the title.

PROS: Interesting universe and characters.

CONS: Very violent, choppy story threads, somewhat overcomplicated and long, plot centered at expense of characters.

BOTTOM LINE: A decent entry into the Polity universe, but doesn’t quite live up to Gridlinked.

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REVIEW: Fugitives Of Chaos by John C. Wright

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Five school ‘children’ attempt to escape their school grounds and discover the full potential of their powers.

PROS: Strong philosophical discussions of different supernatural power paradigms, snappy/witty dialogue, intriguing main characters.

CONS: Suffers from being the middle book, last half if basically one long ‘chase’ sequence with little actual chasing.

BOTTOM LINE: Fugitives Of Chaos is a worthy addition to this series, especially if you enjoy Wright’s wide-ranging and deeply philosophical writing style.

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REVIEW: Already Dead by Charlie Huston

REVIEW SUMMARY: Engaging vampire noir. With zombies!

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Joe Pitt, vampire for hire, must find a carrier of the dreaded virus and a socialite’s missing daughter.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: The bleak-but-tasty noir feel; accessible and engaging writing style; realistic depiction of the effects of the virus.

CONS: Joe needed some more backbone; lack of quotes on dialogue sometimes caused unwelcome pauses in reading.

BOTTOM LINE: A refreshing and fun book.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: Reading this classic was long overdue.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Gully Foyle seeks vengeance on those who refused to rescue him from his derelict ship, the Nomad.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Textured prose; swift-moving plot; memorable main character; inventive and well thought-out societal backdrop.

CONS: A minor one: Foyle’s feelings for Olivia seem unfounded.

BOTTOM LINE: If you haven’t read this yet, do so.

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REVIEW: Project U.L.F. by Stuart Clark

REVIEW SUMMARY:Excellent sci-fi thriller that offers a ride reminiscent of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An ex-con turned animal hunter is thrust onto a very dangerous planet and forced to rally his rag-tag team of misfits into a fight for their very lives.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Very well written action sequences, overall pacing is excellent

CONS: Some characters are openly stereotypical, dream element heavy-handed

BOTTOM LINE: Well worth the time if you enjoy a bit of thrill along with your pulpy science fiction.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: Redeems the series with an excellent, action-packed finish.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Delgado and Ash join forces with a rebel Seriatt group to overthrow the alien Sinz that are using the planet as a launch point for war with Earth.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Relentless, engrossing action sequences; likable characters; page-turning quality; vivid imagery.

CONS: Some moments broke suspension of disbelief.

BOTTOM LINE: 100% adventure.

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REVIEW: Eifelheim by Michael Flynn

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Aliens crash land in a mid-14th Century village while present day researchers try to discover why that village disappeared from the maps.

PROS: Believable, sympathetic characters; unusual first contact setting; thought provoking ideas about cosmology and religion.

CONS: Present day story line weaker than the historical one; too many coincidences overall.

BOTTOM LINE: A thought provoking first contact novel any SF fan should enjoy.

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REVIEW: The Sky People by S.M. Stirling

REVIEW SUMMARY:Well-written alternative history novel with a story that comes up a bit short.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The worlds of Mars and Venus turn out to be exactly as the classic sci-fi writers of the 50’s thought they would be – populated with sentient life. After establishing a base on Venus, American colonist Marc Vitrac goes on a rescue mission for a downed SovietBloc space ship only to be caught up in a squabble with the natives for the very reason for Venus’ existence.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Solid prose, well-done military / action sequences

CONS: Characters are largely one-dimensional, story isn’t very compelling

BOTTOM LINE: If you love Stirling you’ll probably like this one – otherwise, I’d give it a pass and read one of his better works such as Islands in the Sea of Time.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: A must-read for anyone who is a fan of “A Boy and His Dog” and a should-read for anyone else.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Graphic novel of three Ellison adaptations (plus Ellison’s original short stories) in which Vic and his telepathic dog named Blood travel a post-apocalyptic landscape in search of food and sex.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Excellent stories; graphic adaptations faithful to original material; high production value.

CONS: Visual adaptations appear before the source material.

BOTTOM LINE: A fine addition to the library of any sf fan.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: The cover blurb caused me to expect something more.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Two mathematicians devise a way to predict the future and hop to parallel worlds in hopes of wooing the same girl and depose a tyrannical president.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Cool premise; clear language allows Inner Geek to enjoy advanced math concepts.

CONS: The promise of alternate-realities doesn’t come to fruition until the second half of the book and even then it’s downplayed in favor of political satire; Surfer-Dude dialogue can become annoying.

BOTTOM LINE: A mediocre reading experience.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: Very good stories based on cool sf-nal ideas.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A collection of eleven pieces of holiday-themed short fiction.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Imaginative ideas; clear writing; well-placed humor.

CONS: The list-like infodump writing technique is all too evident when reading the stories back to back.

BOTTOM LINE: A fine collection of science fiction stories to be enjoyed any time of year.

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REVIEW: Starship: Pirate by Mike Resnick

REVIEW SUMMARY: Continuing the story and characters started in Starship: Mutiny, Mike Resnick turns in a quality effort.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Facing life in exile from his beloved Navy, Captain Wilson Cole decides to try life as a pirate.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Great action sequences, fun plot, quick read

CONS: Feels like it suffers a bit from being the middle book of a trilogy. Not as strong as the first book.

BOTTOM LINE: If you enjoyed the first book, you’re likely to enjoy this one.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: Non-fiction : a very interesting book describing the facts of energy usage in the United States that challenges a lot of conventional thinking.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Huber and Mills are out to challenge the pundits, policy-makers, and environmentalists as they use the history of energy consumption to predict the future – and the future is bright! While others have constantly predicted the end of oil and a coming crisis, the facts say otherwise.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Excellent analysis, facts of the past, and predictions for the future.

CONS: Last chapter is out of place, belongs in another book.

BOTTOM LINE: Great read for anybody who wants to challenge their own thinking about energy and its use not only today, but in the future.

This book surprised the heck out of me – it was recommended so I took a chance and was very surprised. I post it here because I was facinated by some of the recommendations and predictions for the immediate future regarding the changes to automobiles and traditional power sources (like oil and gas heat, for example.) I know not everybody on this list likes to read non-fiction books, but if you do, I think you’ll enjoy this one – even if you don’t agree with everything the authors came up with.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: Another worthwhile sampling of space opera adventure.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Anthology of 17 SF adventure stories “in the grand tradition” written after 1970.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: 13 stories good or better, 5 of them standouts.
CONS: 4 stories mediocre or worse.
BOTTOM LINE: A good representation of space adventure stories between 1970 and 1998.

Gardner Dozois’ 1999 anthology, The Good New Stuff: Adventure in SF in the Grand Tradition, looks at space adventure stories written between 1970 and 1998. It is the companion to his earlier anthology from 1998, The Good Old Stuff, which samples adventure stories from 1948 and 1975. (Both books, by the way, are (were?) available from the Science Fiction Book Club as The Good Stuff. Biblioholic that I am, I also have a copy of that hardback omnibus in addition to the individual paperbacks, a disorder I thinly rationalize by having the ability to read one at home and one on my lunch hour without having to carry a book back and forth. [Hangs head in shame.])

The stories in The Good New Stuff do an admirable job at entertaining, though there were some weaker stories. When the stories worked, though, they worked quite well. Standout stories include “The Way of Cross and Dragon” by George R. R. Martin, “Swarm” by Bruce Sterling, “Poles Apart” by G. David Nordley, “Cilia-of-Gold” by Stephen Baxter and “Escape Route” by Peter F. Hamilton. I note here without comment (since I can draw no conclusion from it) that a larger-than-expected number of stories had some economic element to them.

In the introduction to The Good New Stuff, Dozois uses the term adventure synonymously with space opera. Thus, I cannot help but compare his two anthologies to the more recent (2006) collection of space opera, The Space Opera Renaissance edited by David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer. While the Hartwell/Cramer anthology seemed more concerned with critical analyses and all the myriad definitions of space opera (including some forays into military sf), the Dozois books seem to (mostly) center on stories of adventure. However, the inclusion of some stories here also seemed questionable, like “The Blind Minotaur” which came across more like a literary fantasy than adventure story. To be sure, both anthologies succeed at their own goals and there is only one overlapping story between them (Hamilton’s “Escape Route”).

Reviewlettes of the stories follow.

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REVIEW: Spears of God by Howard V. Hendrix

REVIEW SUMMARY:

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Children from a remote area survive the massacre of their tribe over a meteorite which may contain some primal genetic material. This material when combined with material from other meteorites some of which have religious significance may help produce the ultimate super soldier, but other factions are at work to use the children and these rocks from space to start a holy war.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: An interesting view on meteorites and life on this planet.

CONS: Unbelievably smart characters and some of the theological elements might turn folks off.

BOTTOM LINE: A hard science novel with some fantastic ideas that just didn’t work for me.

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REVIEW: Blindsight by Peter Watts

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A first contact novel with Watts’ unique view of humans.

PROS: Very hard SF, a new take on first contact, lots of cool SF ideas.

CONS: Lots of talking and info dumps, a dark and grim future, difficult to accept rationale for vampires.

BOTTOM LINE: Definitely worthwhile if you like really hard SF with lots of speculation on future technology. Blindsight is also an interesting take on first contact, but the novel is weighed down by its dark and grim setting.

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REVIEW: Helltown by Dennis O’Neil

REVIEW SUMMARY:

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Vic Sage returns to the town of his youth to find some answers regarding his past. In the process of trying to find these answers, he asks the wrong questions and is nearly killed. With some assistance from Batman, he returns as The Question to really find out what is going on.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: The transformation of Vic Sage into The Question, Lady Shiva as a character is great

CONS: The fact that The Question is very similar to Batman, and cookie cutter villians.

BOTTOM LINE: A good book that brings a new hero into existence.

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[EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is a guest review by Fred Kiesche, blogger extraordinaire of The Eternal Golden Braid.]

REVIEW SUMMARY: Hopefully will revitalize the number of Tiptree books in print.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The ups and downs of world traveler, egg farmer, intelligence officer and occasional author Alice B. Sheldon in her multiple identities.

MY REVIEW

PROS: Should prove to skeptics out there that there is more to SF than Star Wars.

CONS: Ignores much of the field and its history, and does not give a sense of where Sheldon fit in.

BOTTOM LINE: Does not live up to the hype.

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