Sunday, June 30, 2013

How Far Does the Apple Fall Through Space: Earth Afire by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston

Earth Afire is the second book in a prequel trilogy to Ender’s Game.  The fact that, in the media of film and literature, this has become a common practice is perhaps not something I will delve into too deeply here, though I will feature some of the flaws of this structure.  Is this book a worthy successor to Earth Unaware?  Is it a worthy predecessor to Ender’s Game?

Right off the bat I almost put this book down.  I need to get this clear, not for readers, but for authors.  And for publishers.  And for agents.  Humanity has worked a long, hard time to get to where it’s been.  We’ve gotten through a lot of prejudices and really terrible things as a result of bigotry.  I’m not going to go so far as to break Godwin’s Law, but what I am going to say is that in this day and age, seeing an image of Earth’s future in which a man who even claims to run a respectable image can be shocked that a woman runs an equally respectable business is enough to convince me that this is not a future I want to read about.  The idea that bigotries that are gasping their dying breaths in the 21st century will be revived 100 years ago makes looking to the future lose a lot of its appeal.

This is the low point of the book, and I’m grateful, because usually when you start counting low points, you end up with a lot of them.  There is the fact that this vision of the future includes a Great Britain that is still fond of using archaic racial derogatories, but that’s a throwaway line in monologue that still makes sense if you remove it, and has a bit of purpose, so I can forgive that to an extent.  Similarly, we get a bit about a woman who had a role in Earth Unaware and is largely irrelevant in Earth Afire, making a speech at the end about how the part of her that is a mother, and a sister, a wife is in favor of taking the risk.  This would have a bit of meaning if there was anything other than her theoretical vagina (theoretical because we don’t actually see it, of course) to state that she is any of those things.  It would be a bit more meaningful if any of those things actually informed her character.

Beyond those things, I would argue that Earth Afire is better than its predecessor.  It doesn’t have the high points that Earth Unaware had, but if its low points were identical, I probably wouldn’t be looking forward to Earth Awakens.  And I am, so if you want the very short version, I did enjoy Earth Afire once I got past the early bits.  It’s still plagued by the occasional irrelevant storyline, but where in the first book it was the unrelated plot that held my interest the best, here it’s a story that I barely have interest in.  Since this is a plot that ties in to the first book, it can be maintained that a plot in Book Three requires it.  I don’t hold to that mentality myself, but I can see an editor pushing for its inclusion here.

More importantly, we get our main plotlines about Mazer Rackham in China - one that has stakes, action and more grounded emotional drama all in sufficient doses - and that of Victor, which pays off for the effort that was put into setting the plot up.  Through Victor and Imala’s dealings with various individuals in Juke Limited, we see that Victor really isn’t emotionally mature enough to have the kind of love that his family was concerned about his developing, furthering his innocence.  It doesn’t particularly further his likability, though.  Still, you have to admire the creativity that is involved in the solutions he develops to problems.

Creativity is largely the name to the game.  The MOPs, despite all of their focus on skill, aggressiveness and charisma, value creative solutions to problems higher than anything else.  Creativity and insight seem to be the name of the game here: Ender was selected because of the possibility for new tactics created by the minds of children, and here you see the birth of that concept.  Bingwen is clearly, if not a proto-Ender, the inspiration for Battle School, and I’m curious to see how that’s going to go.  Ultimately, I feel like the trilogy is going to come down to a statement that creativity and the refusal to lie down and die beats intelligence, resources and a willingness to die for the greater good, but it’s too early to tell as the individual books are not ready to stand definitively and make a statement.

That is probably the biggest weakness of these books, but unfortunately it’s not one that surprises me.  Novels, movies and comic issues that have a definitive beginning, middle, end and stance are getting more and more rare, but with any luck the greater whole of the Formic Wars will be greater for it.

I’ve done a lot more criticizing this book than praising it, but that’s par for the course of the way I read: the book has nothing spectacular, but a lot of average things.  Bingwen is good, but it’s good in a way that we’ve seen Card do before.  Mazer is good, but we’re still waiting for the epic moment of triumph that hangs like a shadow over everything he does.  Wit is cool, but it feels like we’re waiting for his true purpose that is yet to come.  Ditto with many of the other plots.  This book, for instance, ends with one minor victory, two cliffhangers, and the completion of a bridging story that gives no indication of what is yet to come.  This may be a result of the initial comic format, or it might have been a conscious decision in outlining the trilogy, but it still results in a distinct lack of shining moments on a short term basis.

Yet, as I stated, I do recommend Earth Afire, and I do want to read Earth Awakens.  It just feels like a part of a whole, something that doesn’t have all of the elements of the story yet.  There is a character arc, but it has the odor of something that is not yet completed.  Actions are taken with full awareness of the consequences, but we have yet to see them.  Plans are undertaken with hopes of success and fears of failure, but we have yet to see the dangers, and the chances for each.  Therefore, the book is not yet able to relay the gravity of these scenes, so it is difficult as yet to truly praise them.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Bad Lip Reading...

I have had a hellish day with our kitchen remodel and I need a laugh...

Yeah, this will do.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is a blog meme hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine to highlight upcoming books.

This week's WoW selection is:

Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone
Publisher: Tor
Date: October 29, 2013
Pages: 352

The new novel set in the addictive and compelling fantasy world of Three Parts Dead

Shadow demons plague the city reservoir, and Red King Consolidated has sent in Caleb Altemoc — casual gambler and professional risk manager — to cleanse the water for the sixteen million people of Dresediel Lex. At the scene of the crime, Caleb finds an alluring and clever cliff runner, crazy Mal, who easily outpaces him.

But Caleb has more than the demon infestation, Mal, or job security to worry about when he discovers that his father — the last priest of the old gods and leader of the True Quechal terrorists — has broken into his home and is wanted in connection to the attacks on the water supply.

From the beginning, Caleb and Mal are bound by lust, Craft, and chance, as both play a dangerous game where gods and people are pawns. They sleep on water, they dance in fire... and all the while the Twin Serpents slumbering beneath the earth are stirring, and they are hungry.

Three Parts Dead has been on my TBR list since it came out last year and this release only makes me realize that I need to get to this series soon.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Book Review: Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston

Sometimes a book does a lot of things right and a lot of things wrong at the same time.  The thing is, doing things right that we’ve seen before and doing things wrong that we’ve seen before are two completely different animals.  In many cases, especially in the same series, simply doing things that we’ve seen before can be the problem.  Case in point: the almost-incest thing was starting to get old in Speaker for the Dead.  When it becomes the a pivotal point of the first scene of Earth Unaware, you start to feel like Orson Scott Card is trying to tell us something.  I won’t dwell on it much, but Earth Unaware (indeed, the whole Formic Wars trilogy) was co-written by Aaron Johnston.  Considering that the majority of the latter contributors’ work to date has been bringing Card’s work to the comic book page, I anticipate little in terms of drastic changes to the end product as a result of his contribution, though I will name anything that appears to be more Johnston’s than Card’s.

Like the Ender books that the Formic Wars trilogy act as a prequel to, Earth Unaware is based on more down-to-Earth science than many Science Fiction franchises.  That’s not to say that all of the achievements in this books can be traced back to theories that exist today - the communication network in the Ender sequels, as well as the Formics’ manner of thought can travel any distance instantly - but faster-than-light travel for anything else remains impossible.  Extended amounts of time in zero gravity is shown to reduce bone mass and have other negative effects on the body, and it takes months in the fastest rocket available to travel from the Kuiper Belt to Earth.

Orson Scott Card has always been good at creating sympathetic characters, from Ender, to Bean, to Novinha, and the characters of Earth Unaware are no exception.  He opens the novels with a close look at the emotions of a teenage boy, Victor, and through this boy’s schema we view the world he lives in.  Even the humans that engage in more unsympathetic actions are given sympathetic motivations, though they’re clearly subjective in terms of just how much you forgive them for it.

While I’m praising the book, let me look a bit more closely at some of the things that give the book its identity: its ties to the Ender series.  The Formics (which have yet to called “buggers”, which I’m thankful for when you consider that even after they became martyrs they were still known by this name) are handled excellently.  We get a description of a Formic up close, as well as the bafflement of a species confronting them that won’t understand the way they think or communicate for another century.  In fact, all of the prequel elements are done well; one of the main groups of characters is on a scientific mission that will finally come to fruition in Ender’s Game, but it’s handled in context.  If you’ve never read Ender’s Game, this subplot makes sense from a purely narrative point of view, and if you have, it has that added bonus of foreshadowing events in the future.

As I mentioned earlier, though, there are some ugly elements. When you look at Orson Scott Card’s female characters, written almost thirty years ago, they really give you hope that he would have the wisdom to write them evenly in the modern day, when such things are looked at more closely.  Yet the women in Earth Unaware consist entirely of wives, potential wives, mothers, and “always right” leader figures that embody stereotypes of these roles.  This started in the first chapter and made the novel really difficult to read at times.  How hard is it to write a woman that might think of herself as something other than “must be motherly to the men” or “must marry someone”?  Toward the end of the book, a woman that might be an actual character is introduced, but so far she’s just smarter than everybody else and always right.  One is understandable, two is forgivable, but three is an admission of guilt.

For some poetic irony, the passages that I enjoyed the most are the ones that had the lead right to be there.  I tend to think that the MOP passages were Johnston’s contribution, largely because they read like a comic book, both in the action and in the sense that they completely ignore the seam between books.

The story with the minors is completely contained within Earth Unaware.  These characters might carry over to Earth Afire or Earth Awakens, but regardless of whether they do or not, the story aboard El Cavador have a beginning, middle and end within the book.  The story of Victor must start here, aboard El Cavador, and is able to take advantage of the format of the trilogy to give him the opportunity for a further story.  The story of the Makarhu and its crew is very much the same: it has its own beginning, middle and end, as well as leading into a new cycle of the same for the next book.

The story of Wit O’Toole and the MOPs, on the other hand, has no role here.  I have little doubt that O’Toole’s team will be important in Earth Afire and vital in Earth Awakens, but in Earth Unaware it is little more than a diversion.  An entertaining diversion, yes, and one that foreshadows the climax of the trilogy, but a diversion nonetheless.  It’s too bad that this fact wasn’t identified during the writing process, because Card strikes me as the type of author that would be able to fix this and turn it into a look at Earth’s politics at this point in the future.

Oh, and there’s only one woman of note mentioned in all of the MOP passages: a local woman that one of the soldiers takes interest in, a symbolic siren that leads Bogdanovich to disobey orders and get himself killed: the first time that we see an MOP specifically described as anything less than flawless success. Stay classy, authors.

Now that we’ve discussed the good, the bad and the ugly, what does that make Earth Unaware?  Ultimately, they make it a fairly average Science Fiction book.  That scale goes up if you intend to buy all three (which is what the book is clearly made for) and down if you tend to pay more attention to the role of the female characters than I do.  The characters are all emotionally fleshed out, the science is better than most, though not the absolute hardest if you’re not into that sort of thing.  It’s a fair mix of positive and negative elements that make me look forward just a bit to reading the next entry to the series.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is a blog meme hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine to highlight upcoming books.

This week's WoW selection is:

The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough

Publisher: Del Rey
Date: July 30, 2013

In the mid-23rd century, Darwin, Australia, stands as the last human city on Earth. The world has succumbed to an alien plague, with most of the population transformed into mindless, savage creatures. The planet’s refugees flock to Darwin, where a space elevator—created by the architects of this apocalypse, the Builders—emits a plague-suppressing aura.

Skyler Luiken has a rare immunity to the plague. Backed by an international crew of fellow “immunes,” he leads missions into the dangerous wasteland beyond the aura’s edge to find the resources Darwin needs to stave off collapse. But when the Elevator starts to malfunction, Skyler is tapped—along with the brilliant scientist, Dr. Tania Sharma—to solve the mystery of the failing alien technology and save the ragged remnants of humanity.

I don't read a lot of sci-fi, but this sounds more like an action novel with sci-fi elements. Perfect summer reading...

In Theates: Man of Steel

I’m not a fan of Superman. I became a comic fan while Superman was dead.  That should tell you something. A hero who can not be harmed and cannot be tempted by very definition has no appeal to me. In fact, everything I've witnessed with Superman, barring special events in which he fights other Kryptonians, there is only one reason this is even a series: Lois Lane's tendency to get herself captured.  Silly Lois, don’t you know only Superman should investigate things?  A silly girl such as yourself could get hurt, don’t you know?
Believe me, I’m going somewhere with this.

The movie begins on Krypton, where Scientist Jor-El is trying to convince the government that the planet is imploding as a result of harvesting materials from the core of the planet.  No, correct that.  He’s lecturing them for doing so, and they don’t disagree with his conclusions at all.  The response of the leaders of this technological paradise is “Well what were we supposed to do about it?”

From there, Jor-El has conflict with the militant Zod.  Zod was an occasional villain of Superman’s in the Silver Age.  Actually, he can be compared to Green Lantern’s arch-rival Sinestro.  Both of these two villains debuted in 1961 and had a fairly equivalent number of appearances in their first two and a half decades.  The difference is, Sinestro continued on in Crisis on Infinite Earths and later events, coming to be one of the premiere villains of the DC universe, while Zod was banished from the new direction Superman took after Crisis.  In the 1990s he became a little more obscure, appearing  only via imitations and alternate universe counterparts, much in the way Supergirl was killed off and replaced with Earth-2’s Power Girl.  In 2006, Zod returned to comics, making a brand new impressions on fans that had probably never heard of the name.

My editor at this point is telling me that Zod featured heavily in Superman films of the 1970s and ‘80s, and has since become a common name.  Now, he’s hurting me, punishing me for not having seen these films.

Watching this film, I find it hard to believe that Zod’s appearance is anything less than a reference to the villain’s popularity strictly from the previous films, which is a bad place to start.  Otherwise, Luthor or even Brainiac would be a great villain for a film, something that could really be given a modern spin as well as giving Superman a chance to be Earth’s hero.  Instead, we get the villain from the earlier Superman films, tied inexplicably in with the titular character’s birth as Kal-El.  If the scene I described earlier doesn’t show that the Council is irredeemably stupid, holding the knowledge that Krypton is doomed and the entire civilization is going to die, they decide to punish Zod’s rebels by exiling them.  Off-planet.  In another dimension.  So that all of the rebels live, and the law-abiding citizens die.  Krypton is less a tale of over-complacency and too much thirst for technology than it is the lifetime winner of the Darwin Award, isn’t it?

From there we get a standard superhero origin, with some changes.  All of the morals and things that are usually added, not for the sake of story but out of some sort of obligation, are left out of here.  Saving people just comes naturally to Superman, and he starts doing it offscreen.  The only parts of the origin that we see are the ones that are relevant to the conflict between Superman and Zod - his Kryptonian origins, the way he overcame the sensory overload, and similar topics.  A version of the Fortress of Solitude is somewhat referenced, somewhat explained, and then pushed aside for things that are relevant to the plot.

But there’s another element that’s always an important part of the origin: the love interest.  Mary Jane Watson, Pepper Potts, Carol Ferris.  Actually, the last one is closer to the mark.  Both Carol and Lois, in previous incarnations, made up for their frequent Damsel-in-Distress-ism by being cut-throat businesswomen.  This doesn’t entirely excuse their roles, in my opinion, but at least some of the times Superman saves Lois, it’s because she’s in a role where any man or woman would have been murdered by the villains of the story and Lois is just that focused on putting her job before her welfare.  Like Green Lantern, Man of Steel saps these harder, less immediately likable aspects from the character, making her nicer and more supportive and...not Carol Ferris, and not Lois Lane.  I could call her LINO, but I think that was beat into the ground with Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla. In any case, everything that stood about this character, that made her so enjoyable to watch on the rare occasion I watched Superman the Animated Series is gone.

It’s not just the separation of this character from the classical one, or the fact that they included a meeker, less intimidating woman as a character in the film.  It’s the variety we get, and the fact that Warner Brothers has now intentionally taken two strong leaders who don’t take crap while still not needing to be the superhero themselves and replacing them with women who might not necessarily lie down and give in to pressure, but exist entirely for the purpose of supporting the male characters and making them feel in control.  I praised Pepper Potts because, despite existing in a role that might be difficult for the viewer to internalize, she embodied ideas that you rarely see in cinematic women.  Carol and Lois embody many of those same ideas and mentalities (minus the “silly woman” thing I talked about earlier) in progressively more relatable packages, yet either Warner Brothers as a whole or directors Martin Campbell and Zach Snyder making individual choices felt that these characters were too intimidating and had to be softened into a role of pure support, preventing them from being characters that can act (or even exist as independent characters) on their own.  David Goyer’s scripts aren’t traditionally any better, but there was enough wiggle room in Man of Steel’s script for Dana Delany’s Lois to rear her head.

The rest of the film is essentially visual magnificence.  This is something that the generation of superhero films starting in 1999 (although arguably we’re in a new generation that began in 2008) has excelled in.  This film, with a visual range from red to black, to grey, to blue, has a better range than many and as a result comes off stronger.  Until the 3D kicks in.

I watched this film in 2D, and it was pretty obvious where 3D was intended to be a major selling point of a scene.  That’s one problem with big budget releases this year; they often seem to rely entirely on the 3D gimmick.  Few films are actually filmed in stereo, even in post-Avatar days, but all of them are filmed with 3D in mind, it seems.  At times, Man of Steel gets to the point where it feels claustrophobic without 3D glasses, where everybody seems to be standing shoulder to shoulder, with the understanding that the 3D will add some depth to the room to keep it from feeling like everybody is standing in a narrow hallway.

The end result is that Man of Steel is your standard superhero film.  It features a workable origin, a workable conflict, and workable characters, without bringing anything spectacular to the table that makes it stand out among the crowd.  It looks good, but is dragged down by its reliance on 3D.  The characters have layers worth seeing and discussing (an argument can be made for Zod being merely a product of his society, and everybody has difficult decisions to make), but this is ultimately hurt by an outdated mentality of fearing a woman with some independence.  Man of Steel is a Superman reboot made in 2013, and is no more or less than that would lead you to expect.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

In Theatres: After Earth

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: M. Night Shyamalan is one of the comedic masters of our age.  He’s a modern day Claudio Fragasso, but with a higher budget.  He started with Bruce Willis arguing with a woman who clearly couldn’t hear a word he was saying, went on to an invasion of Earth by hydro-allergenic aliens beaten by comedically placed glasses of water, then we had the comedic masterpieces that were The Village and The Happening.  Shyamalan then tried to sell a Scream fanboy as a film critic, before giving us the glorious scene of Uncle Iroh calling on a random young boy for the sole purpose of humiliating Zuko.  Let’ s see what he has for us here.

Will Smith plays his hardest role yet as he struggles to portray an actor utterly without  charisma, playing a general in what is clearly a propaganda film.  The first piece of evidence for this is fairly simple: the opening is narrated by a child who is supposedly military trained yet has all of the military bearing of I Love Lucy, in which it describes Will Smith’s character - a clearly fictional character with the ridiculous name of Cypher Rage - as having been a hero of a war that took place one thousand years before the start of the film.

When Jaden Smith fails to graduate Ranger training - think Special Forces in a setting that doesn’t mention any other branch of the military - allegedly because of falling apart in the field, his General father takes him along for a mission.  I say “allegedly” because there is absolutely no military demeanor in this character whatsoever.  The ship flies through an asteroid thicket which means their homeworld is somewhere close to the Hoth system, which results in the ship being so damaged that it winds up in a completely unexpected stay system: that of Earth.

Let me say that one more time.  An asteroid belt that is so dense it would destroy itself within a short time (and therefore discourages things moving quickly through it) hits the ship so hard that it travels within minutes to a different star system at presumably faster than light speeds, so far that even the navigator has no idea what system they’re in until the computer tells them that they’ve reached Earth.

As we continue along this cheap propaganda film within a high budget movie, the main characters survive a wreck that throws most of the equally restrained other characters (all of whom happen to have different skin pigmentation than the main cast) off of the ship and Will Smith - I’m sorry, Cypher Rage - takes time out of a military campaign to stand in front of a matte painting (or the green screen equivalent) for a flashback.  The story is obviously constructed by someone who’s never visited the post-pollution Earth, or even the modern one, covered as it is with beautiful green environments without a trace of human (or invading alien) existence.  The “massive environmental damage” that the film tries to sell us on is portrayed by the lush green jungles being covered in a layer of frost each night (without any of the plant or animal life suffering as a result of this) and the atmosphere being slightly more difficult to breathe.  These two go hand in hand, because neither of them makes any sense with what we’re seeing, and if this were intended to be a real dramatic action film, it would play up on one of these and make it matter, rather than using them as an excuse for tension and graphics and having Jaden Smith saved from freezing to death by an eagle sacrificing its life to bury him in brush.

I’m not typing that again.  You read that properly.  An eagle that tried to feed Will Smith’s son to its offspring came back after they died to sacrifice itself that.  You don’t get any more non-sequitur than that.

If you’ve found M. Night Shyamalan’s other movies hilarious, After Earth is largely in the same vein.  It’s largely in the same vein regardless of that, actually.  As I mentioned earlier, Will Smith is playing an actor that’s nothing at all like Will Smith, and while Shyamalan has a talent for bringing utterly emotionless, alien performances out of actors that are normally capable of emotion or depth, Smith seems to struggle with the role at times.  Jaden Smith is not the kind of precocious child that Shyamalan normally casts either, and that also shows, which helps the comedy of the piece in a way that may not have been intended.

What?  I defy you to find an explanation of the movie that makes more sense than this.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Upcoming Movies...

I'm so sorry I haven't been posting lately. Thankfully Bill Silvia has had my back. I am in the middle of a kitchen remodel and it is an absolute time killer. I may be too busy to post for a couple more weeks because we seem to be chronically adding projects to the to-do list. Anyone who has ever done a remodel of any kind probably knows exactly what I'm talking about. In the meantime, for those who haven't already seen them, here are some upcoming movie trailers-- there are more than a few here that I'd like to see myself.

Kick Ass 2 (International Trailer)

Despicable Me 2


Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

300: Rise of an Empire

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is a blog meme hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine to highlight upcoming books.

This week's WoW selection is:

Elisha Barber: (Book One of the Dark Apostle) by E.C. Ambrose
Publisher: DAW
Date: July 2, 2013
Pages: 304

England in the fourteenth century: a land of poverty and opulence, prayer and plague…witchcraft and necromancy.

As a child, Elisha witnessed the burning of a witch outside of London, and saw her transformed into an angel at the moment of her death, though all around him denied this vision. He swore that the next time he might have the chance to bind an angel’s wounds, he would be ready. And so he became a barber surgeon, at the lowest ranks of the medical profession, following the only healer’s path available to a peasant’s son.

Elisha Barber is good at his work, but skill alone cannot protect him. In a single catastrophic day, Elisha’s attempt to deliver his brother’s child leaves his family ruined, and Elisha himself accused of murder. Then a haughty physician offers him a way out: come serve as a battle surgeon in an unjust war.

Between tending to the wounded soldiers and protecting them from the physicians’ experiments, Elisha works night and day. Even so, he soon discovers that he has an affinity for magic, drawn into the world of sorcery by Brigit, a beautiful young witch…who reminds him uncannily of the angel he saw burn.

In the crucible of combat, utterly at the mercy of his capricious superiors, Elisha must attempt to unravel conspiracies both magical and mundane, as well as come to terms with his own disturbing new abilities. But the only things more dangerous than the questions he’s asking are the answers he may reveal.

I almost missed this book in my search for this week's WoW title because of it's unconventional title. But it sounds like a terrific fantasy in the grimdark mold. This one comes out in less than a month and I'm pretty sure I'll be picking it up. 

Sunday, June 09, 2013

A Real Book, or a Fandom's Dream? - Star Wars versus Star Trek

I need to start this review with a confession and/or disclaimer.  When I first read Star Wars vs Star Trek, I was at a bad time in my life.  There were a lot of things going on, and by the time I realized I hadn’t reviewed the book, several months had passed, and I had loaned it to another reviewer for the possibility of it being showcased on Youtube.  I’m writing this all off of memory; luckily, this is a very simple book and memory will suffice.

The full title of the book, written by Matt Forbeck, is Star Wars vs Star Trek: Could the Empire kick the Federation’s ass? And other galaxy-shaking enigmas.  The book is a series of short pieces consisting of pitting elements of the Star Wars universe- generally the films- against elements of the Star Trek films and shows.  Think of it as a condensed version of The Deadliest Warrior, with stats and histories of each combatant being listed prior to the battle.

The words “combatant” and “battle” are perhaps the problem.  This isn’t a very deep book: it’s designed to pit two well-known characters against one another and prevent schoolyard fights over the outcome.  Sometimes that concept is taken to extremes, however, when two individuals that were never sent to occupy the same niche are pitted against one another.  Just because two villains are both headstrong, arrogant and driven by rage, that  doesn’t mean that they’re both suited for one on one combat.  And just because two things are both space stations doesn’t mean that one has a remotely planet-destroying laser.  This is coupled with the fact that the book makes sacrifices in order to link all mainstream eras of each series, inserting characters from newer installments of both series simply for the sake of referencing them.

I am not the target audience of this book.  I am a serious Science Fiction fan, a Star Wars fan of the sort that views the films to be peripherals of a massive novel series that is condensed into a single “battle” in this book.  This book isn’t intended for someone who will scour the respective universes to pit the most evenly matched opponents against one another.  This book is about taking a list of iconic figures from the most popular entries of two great series and pitting them against  one another.

For what it is, this is an entertaining book.  It’s eye-roll inducing when two individuals with drastically different or unmatched skill sets are pitted against one another, and Forbeck doesn’t avoid that quite as well as the oft-criticized Deadliest Warrior does, but it’s fun to read his take on these characters and what makes them a victor or a loser- perhaps more importantly, it’s a fun ride to read the abbreviated war between the Empire and the Federation that was worked into the title.

It’s both easy and hard to pin this book down.  It’s easy because it’s simple to say “a fan like me will likely give this book a once over and move on”.  It’s difficult because I’m in no way saying that this is not a book for the hardcore fan.  It’s all based on how you look at the fandom, and what appeals to you.  This was a labor of love, and besides that probably a hobby between better paying books, and if you enjoy seeing your movie heroes pitted against one another in this way, this will probably be something you share with your friends and come back to from time to time.  If you prefer something a bit more critical and expansive, comparing the economic feasibility of the Federation versus that of Coruscant, or the martial arts styles of a Klingon warrior compared to a Teras Kasi adept, this book may skim the the top of your interests but ultimately leave you looking for more.  The plus side is that if you’re in the latter camp, you can always give it to your kids or friends and come out looking really awesome.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Books Received

I have been a poor steward of this blog lately and do not deserve all this bounty. But I thought it was appropriate to put up a listing of all these fabulous books, many of them soon-to-be published titles, in lieu of my normal Waiting on Wednesday post. Enjoy!

Blood and Bone: A Novel of the Malazan Empire by Ian C. Esslemont

In the western sky the bright emerald banner of the Visitor descends like a portent of annihilation. On the continent of Jacuruku, the Thaumaturgs have mounted yet another expedition to tame the neighboring wild jungle. Yet this is no normal wilderness. It is called Himatan, and it is said to be half of the spirit realm and half of the earth. And it is said to be ruled by a powerful entity whom some name the Queen of Witches, and some a goddess: the ancient Ardata.

Saeng grew up knowing only the rule of the magus Thaumaturgs—but it was the voices out of that land's forgotten past that she listened to. And when her rulers mount an invasion of the neighboring jungle, those voices send her and her brother on a desperate mission.

To the south, the desert tribes are united by the arrival of a foreign warleader, a veteran commander in battered ashen mail whom his men call the Grey Ghost. This warleader takes the tribes on a raid like none other, deep into the heart of Thaumaturg lands. Meanwhile word comes to K'azz, and mercenary company the Crimson Guard, of a contract in Jacuruku. And their employer...none other than Ardata herself.

Affliction (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter) by Laurell K. Hamilton

Some zombies are raised. Others must be put down. Just ask Anita Blake.

Before now, she would have considered them merely off-putting, never dangerous. Before now, she had never heard of any of them causing human beings to perish in agony. But that’s all changed.

Micah’s estranged father lies dying, rotting away inside from some strange ailment that has his doctors whispering about “zombie disease.”

Anita makes her living off of zombies—but these aren’t the kind she knows so well. These creatures hunt in daylight, and are as fast and strong as vampires. If they bite you, you become just like them. And round and round it goes…

Where will it stop?
Even Anita Blake doesn’t know.

The Fall of Arthur by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Fall of Arthur, the only venture by J.R.R. Tolkien into the legends of Arthur, king of Britain, may well be regarded as his finest and most skillful achievement in the use of Old English alliterative meter, in which he brought to his transforming perceptions of the old narratives a pervasive sense of the grave and fateful nature of all that is told: of Arthur’s expedition overseas into distant heathen lands, of Guinevere’s flight from Camelot, of the great sea battle on Arthur’s return to Britain, in the portrait of the traitor Mordred, in the tormented doubts of Lancelot in his French castle.

Unhappily, The Fall of Arthur was one of several long narrative poems that Tolkien abandoned. He evidently began it in the 1930s, and it was sufficiently advanced for him to send it to a very perceptive friend who read it with great enthusiasm at the end of 1934 and urgently pressed him, "You simply must finish it!" But in vain: he abandoned it at some unknown date, though there is evidence that it may have been in 1937, the year of publication of The Hobbit and the first stirrings of The Lord of the Rings. Years later, in a letter of 1955, he said that he "hoped to finish a long poem on The Fall of Arthur," but that day never came.

Associated with the text of the poem, however, are many manuscript pages: a great quantity of drafting and experimentation in verse, in which the strange evolution of the poem’s structure is revealed, together with narrative synopses and significant tantalizing notes. In these notes can be discerned clear if mysterious associations of the Arthurian conclusion with The Silmarillion, and the bitter ending of the love of Lancelot and Guinevere, which was never written.

Shadows of the New Sun: Stories in Honor of Gene Wolfe Edited by Bill Fawcett and J.E. Mooney

Perhaps no living author of imaginative fiction has earned the awards, accolades, respect, and literary reputation of Gene Wolfe. His prose has been called subtle and brilliant, inspiring not just lovers of fantasy and science fiction, but readers of every stripe, transcending genre and defying preconceptions.

In this volume, a select group of Wolfe’s fellow authors pay tribute to the award-winning creator of The Book of the New Sun, The Fifth Head of Cerberus, Soldier of the Mist, The Wizard Knight and many others, with entirely new stories written specifically to honor the writer hailed by The Washington Post as “one of America's finest.”

Shadows of the New Sun features contributions by Neil Gaiman, David Brin, David Drake, Nancy Kress, and many others, plus two new short stories by Gene Wolfe himself.

Earth Afire (The First Formic War) by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnson

One hundred years before Ender's Game, the aliens arrived on Earth with fire and death. This is the story of the First Formic War.

Victor Delgado beat the alien ship to Earth, but just barely. Not soon enough to convince skeptical governments that there was a threat. They didn’t believe that until space stations and ships and colonies went up in sudden flame.

And when that happened, only Mazer Rackham and the Mobile Operations Police could move fast enough to meet the threat.

Fans of Ender's Game will thrill to Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston's Earth Afire.

Queen Victoria's Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy Edited by Ellen Datlow and
Terri Windling

“Gaslamp Fantasy,” or historical fantasy set in a magical version of the nineteenth century, has long been popular with readers and writers alike. A number of wonderful fantasy novels, including Stardust by Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, andThe Prestige by Christopher Priest, owe their inspiration to works by nineteenth-century writers ranging from Jane Austen, the Brontës, and George Meredith to Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, and William Morris. And, of course, the entire steampunk genre and subculture owes more than a little to literature inspired by this period.

Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells is an anthology for everyone who loves these works of neo-Victorian fiction, and wishes to explore the wide variety of ways that modern fantasists are using nineteenth-century settings, characters, and themes. These approaches stretch from steampunk fiction to the Austen-and-Trollope inspired works that some critics call Fantasy of Manners, all of which fit under the larger umbrella of Gaslamp Fantasy. The result is eighteen stories by experts from the fantasy, horror, mainstream, and young adult fields, including both bestselling writers and exciting new talents such as Elizabeth Bear, James Blaylock, Jeffrey Ford, Ellen Kushner, Tanith Lee, Gregory Maguire, Delia Sherman, and Catherynne M. Valente, who present a bewitching vision of a nineteenth century invested (or cursed!) with magic.

Angel City (The Angelus Trilogy) by Jon Steele

It’s been almost three years since we left Detective Jay Harper and high-priced escort Katherine Taylor on the esplanade of Lausanne Cathedral, bruised and battered from a biblical showdown with the Nephilim. Katherine has retreated to small-town life in the woods of Washington State with her son, Max—and a close protection detail of heavily-armed, elite members of the Swiss Guard. Harper is living in Paris, haunted by voices in his head and bone-tired after what turns out to be two and a half million years on Earth.

Though Katherine and Harper have been prevented from remembering each other , baby Max has unwittingly stirred the interest of vengeful spirits—and only a worldwide (and cosmic) effort to save his life will bring Harper and Katherine together again.
Meanwhile, from the shadows steps a defrocked priest named Astruc, whose face looks as if it has been clawed by some terrible beast and who hides his eyes behind blue lenses. He and his brilliant young ward, Goose, have discovered something unfathomable in the Catacombs under Paris, something that will confirm that “the time of the prophecy” is at hand. . . .

Electrifying from its explosive first scene to its unexpected and shocking conclusion, Angel Cityreunites the unforgettable characters from The Watchers to reveal more of the earthly—and otherworldy—mysteries of the Angelus trilogy.

Antiagon Fire (Imager Portfolio) by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

The hard-won battles fought in Imager's Battalion have earned Quaeryt a promotion to commander, as well as an assignment to convince the Pharsi High Council in the nation of Khel to submit to Lord Bhayar's rule, which is key to Bhayar's ambition to unite all of Solidar. Joined by his pregnant wife Vaelora, who is also Bhayar's sister, Quaeryt leads an army and a handful of imagers deeper into the hostile lands once held by the tyrannical Rex Kharst, facing stiff-necked High Holders, attacks by land and sea—including airborne fire launched by hostile imagers from the land of Antiago—and a mysterious order of powerful women who seem to recognize the great destiny that awaits Quareyt and Vaelora, as well as the cost of achieving it.

Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone

Shadow demons plague the city reservoir, and Red King Consolidated has sent in Caleb Altemoc—casual gambler and professional risk manager—to cleanse the water for the sixteen million people of Dresediel Lex. At the scene of the crime, Caleb finds an alluring and clever cliff runner, Crazy Mal, who easily outpaces him.

But Caleb has more than the demon infestation, Mal, or job security to worry about when he discovers that his father—the last priest of the old gods and leader of the True Quechal terrorists—has broken into his home and is wanted in connection to the attacks on the water supply.

From the beginning, Caleb and Mal are bound by lust, Craft, and chance, as both play a dangerous game where gods and people are pawns. They sleep on water, they dance in fire...and all the while the Twin Serpents slumbering beneath the earth are stirring, and they are hungry.

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson: his debut novel for the young adult audience

More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Chosen by the Master in a mysterious inception ceremony, Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings—merciless creatures that leave mangled corpses in their wake. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.

As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students study the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing—kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery—one that will change Rithmatics—and their world—forever.

Bestselling author Brandon Sanderson brings his unique brand of epic storytelling to the teen audience with an engrossing tale of danger and suspense—the first of a series. With his trademark skills in world-building, Sanderson has created a magic system that is so inventive and detailed that that readers who appreciate games of strategy and tactics just may want to bring Rithmatics to life in our world.

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

J. K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, Anne Rice—only a few writers capture the imagination the way that Deborah Harkness has done with books one and two of her New York Times–bestselling All Souls trilogy. A Discovery of Witches introduced reluctant witch Diana Bishop, vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and the battle for a lost, enchanted manuscript known as Ashmole 782.

Harkness’s much-anticipated sequel, Shadow of Night, picks up from A Discovery of Witches’ cliffhanger ending. Diana and Matthew time-travel to Elizabethan London and are plunged into a world of spies, magic, and a coterie of Matthew’s old friends, the School of Night. As the search for Ashmole 782 deepens and Diana searches for a witch to tutor her in magic, the net of Matthew’s past tightens around them, and they embark on a very different—and vastly more dangerous—journey.

Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders by Richard Ellis Preston, Jr.

Welcome to Snow World, where alien intervention has ruined the land, rendered modern technology useless, and reduced humanity to warring clans that command steam-powered zeppelins and battlebots in search of the few remaining resources. This scarred world — once known as Southern California — is a frozen wasteland, smothered by cloud cover and infested with ravenous mutant beasties.

Romulus Buckle, captain of the warship the Pneumatic Zeppelin, is a dashing young man obsessed with his sister’s death — which he blames on the Imperial clan. And when several clan leaders, including an Imperial general, are kidnapped during a peace conference, Buckle and his crew launch a rescue mission into the heart of an impenetrable prison fortress known as the City of the Founders.

To survive, Buckle forges an uneasy alliance with the Imperials. But secret agendas and hidden loyalties could spark a new war that will plunge the remnants of humanity into another Stone Age.

A Private Little War by Jason Sheehan

He felt something in his belly twist up like cold fingers curling into a fist. This is it, he’d thought. This is when it all goes bad…

Private “security” firm Flyboy, Inc., landed on the alien planet of Iaxo with a mission: In one year, they must quash an insurrection; exploit the ancient enmities of an indigenous, tribal society; and kill the hell out of one group of natives to facilitate negotiations with the surviving group — all over 110 million acres of mixed terrain.

At first, the double-hush, back-burner project seemed to be going well. With all the advantages they had going for them — a ten-century technological lead on the locals, the logistical support of a shadowy and powerful private military company, and aid from similar outfits already on the ground — a quick combat victory seemed reasonable. An easy-in, easy-out mission that would make them very, very rich.

But the ancient tribal natives of Iaxo refuse to roll over and give up their planet. What was once a strategic coup has become a quagmire of cost over-runs and blown deadlines, leaving the pilots of Flyboy, Inc., on an embattled distant planet, waiting for support and a ride home that may never come….

The debut novel from acclaimed, James Beard Award–winning food critic Jason Sheehan, A Private Little War is the dark tale of a deadly war being waged in secrecy — and the struggle to stay sane in a world that makes no sense. A Catch-22 for a new generation, A Private Little War is sure to become a science fiction classic.

Tunnel Out of Death by Jamil Nasir

Heath Ransom, former police psychic turned machine-enhanced “endovoyant” private investigator, is hired to find the consciousness of the rich and comatose Margaret Biel and return it to her body. Tracking her through the etheric world, he comes upon a strange and terrifying object that appears to be a tear in the very fabric of reality. He falls into it—and into an astonishing metaphysical shadow-play.

For Margaret is a pawn in a war between secret, ruthless government agencies and a nonhuman entity known only as “Amphibian.” Their battlefield is a multi-level reality unlike anything humankind has ever imagined. When Heath learns to move back and forth between two different versions of his life, and begins to realize that everyone around him may be a super-realistic android, that is only the beginning of a wholesale deconstruction of reality that threatens more than his sanity....

The City by Stella Gemmel

The City is ancient, layers upon layers. Once a thriving metropolis, it has sprawled beyond its bounds, inciting endless wars with neighboring tribes and creating a barren wasteland of what was once green and productive.

In the center of the City lives the emperor. Few have ever seen him, but those who have recall a man in his prime, though he should be very old. Some grimly speculate that he is no longer human, if he ever was. A small number have come to the desperate conclusion that the only way to stop the war is to end the emperor’s unnaturally long life.

From the mazelike sewers below the City, where the poor struggle to stay alive in the dark, to the blood-soaked fields of battle, where few heroes manage to endure the never-ending siege, the rebels pin their hopes on one man—Shuskara. The emperor’s former general, he was betrayed long ago and is believed to be dead. But, under different aliases, he has survived, forsaking his City and hiding from his immortal foe. Now the time has come for him to engage in one final battle to free the City from the creature who dwells at its heart, pulling the strings that keep the land drenched in gore.

Shadow People by James Swain

In Shadow People, national bestselling author James Swain’s brilliant follow-up to Dark Magic, magician Peter Warlock has a dark secret. A psychic who peers into the future, he is able to use the information to alert the authorities to pending trouble.

During a séance Peter is confronted by a group of evil spirits called shadow people, beings who have the power to kidnap a person’s soul. Peter is taken to another plane, where he confronts a serial killer about to claim his next victim. It’s a harrowing encounter that Peter only barely manages to survive.

Peter soon realizes that the shadow people are connected to the serial killer, and that he is a member of the Order of Astrum, a group of evil psychics who murdered his parents years ago. He must find the serial killer in real time before he claims his next victim. To save many lives, Peter may have to tap into a legacy that he has always dreaded…and a power that may consume him.

Dark Shadows: Wolf Moon Rising by Lara Parker

When a portrait is lost that has maintained Quentin Collins’s youthful appearance for over a century—and has also kept his werewolf curse at bay—Quentin begins to dread the full moon.

Meanwhile, David, the sixteen-year-old heir to the Collins fortune, has fallen in love with Jacqueline, a young girl living at the Old House who is the reincarnation of Angelique. David and Jacqueline are swept back in time to the prohibition era of the Twenties, where David uncovers the dark secrets of the Collins family history.

Most threatening of all, Dr. Nathanial Blair, an expert in the paranormal, has come to Collinwood because he suspects they are harboring a vampire. Fortunately, Barnabas Collins has returned to his coffin after a disastrous flirtation with life as a human. Nevertheless, what Blair discovers places the entire Collins family in jeopardy.

Box Office Poison by Phillipa Bornikova

What happens when exquisitely beautiful elves start getting all the roles in Hollywood? Human actors sue, that’s what. In a desperate attempt to keep the squabbling inside the Screen Actors Guild from going public, the president of SAG forces the two sides into arbitration.

Enter Linnet Ellery, a human lawyer working for a vampire law firm, to serve as arbitrator. Linnet discovers that there are sinister forces at work in Tinsel Town determined to shatter the fragile peace between elves, vampires, werewolves, and humans. Someone has been coercing famous elven actors into committing sudden and terrible acts of violence against humans in a series of tragedies that could turn the tide of public opinion against all the supernatural Powers.

During the course of her investigations Linnet realizes that a puzzling secret surrounds her, and that a strange power has been affecting the very course of her life. . . .

The Planet Thieves by Dan Krokos

The Planet Thieves is the first thrilling installment of a new middle-grade series by Dan Krokos.

Two weeks ago, thirteen-year-old Mason Stark and seventeen of his fellow cadets from the Academy for Earth Space Command boarded the SS Egypt. The trip was supposed to be a short routine voyage to log their required spacetime for summer quarter.

But routine goes out the airlock when they’re attacked by the Tremist, an alien race who have been at war with humanity for the last sixty years.

With the captain and crew dead, injured, or taken prisoner, Mason and the cadets are all that’s left to warn the ESC. And soon they find out exactly why the Tremist chose this ship to attack: the Egypt is carrying a weapon that could change the war forever.

Now Mason will have to lead the cadets in a daring assault to take back the ship, rescue the survivors, and recover the weapon. Before there isn’t a war left to fight.

Tarnished (Silver) by Rhiannon Held

Andrew Dare has found his mate in Silver, but they haven’t found the pack they can call home. Some of his old friends think he should return and challenge Roanoke for leadership of all the werewolf packs on the East Coast. But Andrew has baggage—his violent history with the packs of Spain and the rumors of his lack of control. And then there’s Silver—the werewolf who has lost her wild self to a monster’s assault, and who can no longer shift forms. But perhaps together they can overcome all the doubters.

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

It is the year 2059. Several major world cities are under the control of a security force called Scion. Paige Mahoney works in the criminal underworld of Scion London, part of a secret cell known as the Seven Seals. The work she does is unusual: scouting for information by breaking into others’ minds. Paige is a dreamwalker, a rare kind of clairvoyant, and in this world, the voyants commit treason simply by breathing.

But when Paige is captured and arrested, she encounters a power more sinister even than Scion. The voyant prison is a separate city—Oxford, erased from the map two centuries ago and now controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. These creatures, the Rephaim, value the voyants highly—as soldiers in their army.

Paige is assigned to a Rephaite keeper, Warden, who will be in charge of her care and training. He is her master. Her natural enemy. But if she wants to regain her freedom, Paige will have to learn something of his mind and his own mysterious motives.

The Bone Season introduces a compelling heroine—a young woman learning to harness her powers in a world where everything has been taken from her. It also introduces an extraordinary young writer, with huge ambition and a teeming imagination. Samantha Shannon has created a bold new reality in this riveting debut.

The Red Plague Affair (Bannon and Clare) by Lilith Saintcrow

The service of Britannia is not for the faint of heart—or conscience...

Emma Bannon, Sorceress Prime in service to Queen Victrix, has a mission: to find the doctor who has created a powerful new weapon. Her friend, the mentath Archibald Clare, is only too happy to help. It will distract him from pursuing his nemesis, and besides, Clare is not as young as he used to be. A spot of Miss Bannon's excellent hospitality and her diverting company may be just what he needs.

Unfortunately, their quarry is a fanatic, and his poisonous discovery is just as dangerous to Britannia as to Her enemies. Now a single man has set Londinium ablaze, and Clare finds himself in the middle of distressing excitement, racing against time and theory to find a cure. Miss Bannon, of course, has troubles of her own, for the Queen's Consort Alberich is ill, and Her Majesty unhappy with Bannon's loyal service. And there is still no reliable way to find a hansom when one needs it most...

The game is afoot. And the Red Plague rises.

The fantastic follow-up to The Iron Wyrm Affair, set in an alternate Victorian world where magic has turned the Industrial Revolution on its head.

City of Bohane: A Novel by Kevin Barry

Forty or so years in the future. The once-great city of Bohane on the west coast of Ireland is on its knees, infested by vice and split along tribal lines. There are the posh parts of town, but it is in the slums and backstreets of Smoketown, the tower blocks of the North Rises, and the eerie bogs of the Big Nothin’ that the city really lives. For years it has all been under the control of Logan Hartnett, the dapper godfather of the Hartnett Fancy gang. But there’s trouble in the air. They say Hartnett’s old nemesis is back in town; his trusted henchmen are getting ambitious; and his missus wants him to give it all up and go straight. Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane combines Celtic myth and a Caribbean beat, fado and film, graphic-novel cool and all the ripe inheritance of Irish literature to create something hilarious, beautiful, and startlingly new.

Shortlisted for the 2011 Costa First Novel Award