Traveller – Inceptio by Rob Shackleford

Traveller – InceptioTraveller – Inceptio

by Rob Shackleford

Kindle Edition, 822
BookBaby, 2017

Read: April 19 – 22, 2017


There’s part of me that wants to go off on this novel describing all the problems I had with it — the uninspired writing, the bland characters, the unnecessary plotlines, the preposterous nature of so much of the story — after all, I did spend days stuck in this mire. But I just don’t care enough — and it’d just be mean.

So let me keep this brief, something Shackleford could try. There are few sentences that couldn’t be at least 1/3 shorter — the novel as a whole could be 1/3 shorter and would be much more effective. On any number of episodes of The Once and Future Podcast host Anton Strout has talked about young writers over-sharing their world building — this is a perfect example of it. I can’t tell you how many pages are devoted to the accidental invention of this time machine — how much drama surrounds it, how questionably the term “research” is tossed around, etc. — and beyond the fact that a time machine that can only transfer people 1000 years to the past and back is accidentally created, we don’t need any of it. Nothing else in the first part of the book (I’m guessing 200+ pages) devoted to that matters. At all.

The worldbuilding is the best part of the book, and it’s overdone. That’s all I’m going to bother with on this one — it’s just not worth it. This was clearly a labor of love, but sadly, not an affection that I can share at all.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for this post.

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1 1/2 Stars

Ignite by Danielle Rogland

IgniteIgnite

by Danielle Rogland

Kindle Edition, ? pg.
Inkitt, 2017

Read: March 2 – 4, 2017

Something pretty bad happened to the world (at least Europe) — we’re not really told what precisely, but it was fairly significant. From the rubble of society a man named Donovan raises and restores some order and stability — it doesn’t take long for him to become some sort of horrible despot, and becomes Emperor Donovan.

We come into New London some decades after this and meet a young pickpocket named Jacks. She’s been living on the streets for years now, after Donovan’s agents have killed her parents. She’s confident, scrappy and strong — but she knows her limits. One day, she’s trying to help some people from her neighborhood and encounters the legendary group The Flames. The Flames are known throughout New London (and further, actually) for standing against the Emperor and his agents. Where they strike, the leave burning candles behind — a symbol of hope — a literal light in the darkness.

Jacks can’t believe that she’s run into them and actually aids them. Slowly, she’s brought into their confidence and becomes one — just in time for The Flames to uncover a large new initiative about to be launched to eliminate Donovan’s enemies. The only question is: Are they too late?

In the midst of this, the Flames have to grow and evolve both as they bring Jacks into the fold, but as that results in secrets and weaknesses come to light. It’s not just Donovan’s troops that are a threat to the group, but problems from within could actually destroy The Flames. When Rogland is dealing with the relationships, the backstories and what those mean for the characters futures that she really shines.

We don’t get a clear picture just what makes Emperor Donovan worthy of being overthrown — other than bringing some sort of stability to the post-disaster world, we learn nothing about how he runs things as a whole. We do know that he’s horrible (at best) to the people that live and work in his household, and that he has his goons publicly execute dissenters. The Flames uncover an even worse solution that Donovan has for dissenters/protestors/rebels, too. But that’s all we’re given — I’m not saying that’s not horrible, but it’s not exactly a hugely oppressive general environment (that we know about).

The other thing we don’t know is how The Flames actually accomplish much — yeah, they have heart, they have a strategic whiz of a leader (I guess), and a heckuva computer guru — but beyond that, without getting into details, it’s hard to believe that the group you read about can be as effective as we are told they are. And really, we don’t know what The Flames (or any of their allies) are really for — we just know they’re anti-Donovan. But there’s nothing they’re rallying around, no principles, or guiding philosophy or anything.

Still, in the moment you don’t notice any of that much (if at all) — what you do notice is Jacks finding a place in the world — a place where she’s not alone, trying to scrape by. Rather, she has a family of sorts, people who care, people looking out for her, and who need her in return, people she can help. Moreover, she has a purpose, she’s part of something bigger than herself. I could say the same for most of the people in The Flames, actually. The flaws of the book fade into the background in the midst of the characters and their lives.

Could this book be better? Yeah — the plot, the internal logic, etc. could use some real work. But I’m not sure that Rogland could give us that while maintaining the experience of this book. Would I have preferred something more developed? Sure — but I really can’t complain about what we have here. It’s a very satisfying read, with a strong emotional hook, and that’s good enough for me. The ending begs for another volume or two, hopefully they’re forthcoming. But, unlike others of the type, it doesn’t demand a sequel, it could work as a stand-alone. I just hope it isn’t one. 

Disclaimer: I received this novel from Inkitt in exchange for this post — thanks!

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3 Stars

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

The Collapsing EmpireThe Collapsing Empire

by John Scalzi
Series: The Collapsing Empire, #1

Hardcover, 329 pg.
Tor Books, 2017

Read: March 28 – 29, 2017

I can’t think of a SF release more highly anticipated this year than The Collapsing Empire, the first in a new series (there’s a really good chance that I’ll be saying the same thing in 3 months about something else that I’m spacing at the moment). Thankfully, it surpassed my expectations (which were, admittedly, pretty low — this just didn’t sound that interesting) — I can’t speak for the rest of his fanbase who were anticipating it so highly, but I can’t imagine that most weren’t wholly satisfied, and predict he picks up a few fans from this.

The Interdependency is the empire that is made up of the descendants of the people of Earth, it’s been in place for centuries — and, as the title of the book (and series) states, it’s on the verge of collapse. Not from political pressures or outside threats, or anything of that nature. Instead, it’s the Flow. The Flow is the way that humanity travels between the stars — a extra-dimensional field that can be accessed to facilitate travel between planets. And it’s on the verge of changing — not disappearing, just connecting different planets and leaving millions of people without access to the rest of the Empire.

Tricky to explain briefly — but that’s okay, the characters in the book are (with 3 exceptions) learning this about the same time as the reader is and those who explain it do a much better job. Basically, the Empire as they know it is facing the End. There to help the Interdependency through this trying time (not that citizens know about it) is a brand-new, untried Emperox. She and her allies (intentional or otherwise) are going to have to deal with political, business and religious groups to try to help some of humanity survive.

I’ve gotta say that Emperox Grayland II (Cardenia to her friends) is a delightful character — you cannot help but root for her. She’s brave, smart, relatable and an underdog (how someone who rules several planetary systems can be thought of as an underdog is a neat trick). The scientist who travels the length of the Empire to help her understand what’s going on, Marce, is clever, overwhelmed, and the only one who really knows what’s happening (shades of Jor-El?). There’s another character, Lady Kiva, a junior member of a ruling family of one of the largest guilds who is just too much fun — she swears enough to make Marshall Mathers take a step back; has no tact, no diplomacy, and shows no mercy to her enemies (especially if they stand between her and a profit). Really, she’s a horrible person (at least in this book),but a fun, fun character.

These three are our focus, they’re who we cheer for and pin our hopes on. If they can survive the political, scientific, religious, and humanitarian turmoil that’s beginning to bubble — there’s a shot for humanity. Not much of one, honestly, but a shot.

Somehow, Scalzi’s able to take societal collapse and tell it in an entertaining, suspenseful and frequently funny way. He’s able to give a thinly disguised commentary on environmental catastrophe and keep it from getting preachy. Basically, he threads the needle just right to keep people enjoying themselves as they read what would be a heavy, off-putting book in many author’s hands.

Is it perfect? No. Am I crazy about everything he does/tries to do in this book? Nope. But man, such a fun, quick ride that I can’t help but like it and recommend it to everyone I can think of. I was so wrong not to be interested in this book — I’m more than interested in the sequel.

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4 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Defying the Prophet by Gibson Michaels

Defying the ProphetDefying the Prophet

by Gibson Michaels
Series: The Sentience Trilogy, #2

Kindle Edition, 370 pg.
Arc Flash Publishing, 2014

Read: February 23 – 27, 2017


The second installment of a trilogy has the hardest role — the first introduces us to the world, the characters, the conflict — basically sets the stage for everything in the series. The third has to tie up everything and give a satisfying conclusion. The second has to build on the first and make the audience want to read the end. There needs to be a clear arc to the book (or what’s the point), yet the conclusion has to make us thirst for more. It’s also bound to be the most overlooked entry in the trilogy (The Empire Strikes Back being one of the exceptions that proves the rule). As such, Defying the Prophet fulfilled most of the duties of the second installment, and was entertaining enough — but man, I just wanted more from it.

I also usually find it difficult to talk about the second installments more than the other two, so here are some general observations as I put off any real analysis off until I finish the series.

I was surprised — and pleased — at how quickly Michaels wrapped up the Civil War story in this book — I really expected it to go on much longer. I’m not entirely certain I liked the mechanism by which he did it — but I can’t say I disliked it, but it almost seemed a bit too easy. Oh well, he uses the state of military readiness of the various human governments to be able to respond to the looming alien invasion in an effective manner.

The battles between the human factions were good. The battles between Raknii and humans was great. Seriously great — particularly the first one. I’m not sure Michaels could’ve sustained things there longer without sacrificing quality, but I wish he did. Thankfully, there’s more to come on this front, and I can’t wait to see how things go there.

I didn’t find the plots involving the internal developments and movements with Raknii as compelling this time around — and they were my favorite parts of the first book. We also didn’t get as much of them this time. Still, I appreciate what he’s doing with the Raknii overall and would willingly read more about them beyond this series.

Meanwhile, at least a few people in the USA have started to figure out just how the AI that runs things for them undermined them in the lead-up to the Civil War — and during it. They still don’t seem to have a great idea what they’re going to do with that knowledge however . . .

My biggest problem with this book is that at a certain point it was like Michaels realized — “you know what I haven’t included in this series? Romance. I’d better fix that.” — and then, bang-zoom, we’ve got two love stories going. One page it’s all political/economic/military intrigue and action and the next it’s political/economic/military intrigue and action plus hearts, flowers, and anatomy. Which was awkward enough, but then those love stories just weren’t that well-executed. He reminded me of Aaron Sorkin’s attempts at romantic comedy in Sports Night, The West Wing, and The Newsroom — I loved almost every other thing Sorkin did in those shows, but man . . . romance just isn’t his thing (I’m not even going to mention Studio 60, because that was just bad all around) . Michaels tried — and I appreciate the effort, and could enjoy what he was going for, they were sweet, but I just don’t think he nailed the telling (and, yes, Mr. Michaels, if you read this, feel free to summarize this as “He favorably compared me to an Oscar Winning writer”).

So we’ve got an interstellar conflict to wrap-up; at least one species’ culture is going to be changed by this conflict; some internal shake-ups to go along with that among the Raknii; at least one human government responding to the sentient AI; the sentient AI up to something new; and a couple of other dangling plotlines — and 340 pages to do it all in. Wrath of an Angry God is going to be a busy, busy conclusion — should be a fun ride. This? This was good, but it’s clearly the middle volume and really the poof’s going to be in whether Michaels can stick the landing. My guess is that he can, but we’ll have to see.

Disclaimer: I received this novel from the author in exchange for this post — thanks Mr. Michaels.

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3 Stars

Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 by Marissa Meyer, Douglas Holgate

Wires and Nerve, Volume 1Wires and Nerve, Volume 1

by Marissa Meyer, Douglas Holgate (Art)
Series: Wires and Nerve, #1

Hardcover, 238 pg.
Feiwel & Friends, 2017

Read: March 1, 2017


So, in the months following Winter, life has progressed as one would expect — Cinder has strengthened her position on the Moon, Scarlet’s returned to the farm with Ze’ev Kesley, and Cress and the Captain are touring Earth. One of the loose strings that Meyer left hanging was the fate of the Lunar military troops all over Earth. They’re still out there, causing trouble.

Cinder can’t send any troops down — in the aftermath of a failed invasion, the optics alone would be bad. But . . . she can send a single operative, and Iko nominates herself for that. She spends weeks taking out pack after pack, helping local authorities take them into custody.

But they’re not just going to roll over, there are some that are preparing to strike back against Iko — and Cinder.

Throw in a love story, an examination of Iko’s true nature, and some nice catch-up with our old friends, and you’ve got yourself a fun story. It’s fun, but it’s light. If it were prose instead of a graphic novel, it might take 40 pages to tell this story. Which doesn’t make it bad, just slight.

The art was . . . oh, I don’t know — cartoonish? Not in a bad way, but I see why some people I know weren’t impressed. Once I got used to it (after about 30-40 pages), I even kind of liked it.

Basically, I’m saying that the book was okay — I enjoyed it, but man, I wanted more. At the same time, I think it delivered everything that Meyer and Holgate were looking for, so I can’t complain. Fans of the series may enjoy it, but it’s not a must read. People who haven’t read the books had best avoid it — but should probably go back and read the novels.

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3 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

Pub Day Repost: Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells

Hunger Makes the WolfHunger Makes the Wolf

by Alex Wells
eARC, 326 pg.
Angry Robot, 2017
Read: January 6 – 10, 2016

Let’s just get this out there — this is a very cool novel. If you dig SF that’s not beholden to space ships and lots of future tech — and can even handle a little bit of magic, you’ll want to read this one.

Tanegawa’s World is a little forgotten backwater of a planet — think Tatooine — so forgotten that none of the colonists there really have a clue that there’s an interplanetary government, or what’s going on with any other planet. The company that runs the mines (and by extension, the farming communities that support the mines) runs the whole show. There are organizations of workers in individual towns, and there’s a loose network connecting them, for mutual assistance and support. And then there are the Ghost Wolves — a band of mercenary bikers. They are a law unto themselves, but have strong ties to the miner groups. They may be supported by/sympathized with by most people in the towns, but officially they’re outlaws.

Hob Ravani is the lowest ranked member of the Wolves — she’s made some serious blunders that required her to go through the training/probationary process twice. But she’s a full-fledged member now, and the leader, Nick Ravani (no blood tie, but he gave her his name), seems to trust her, even as he’s still testing her commitment following these blunders. Making a routine run with a couple of other Wolves, Hob finds the body of Nick’s brother lying dead in the sand, shot in the back several times. This discovery — and the ensuing investigation, retaliation, and the side-effects of both — will end up changing Tanegawa’s World and the lives of many of its people in ways that no one can expect.

Which is not to say that this is a big, global story. It’s not. This is about Hob and her immediate circle. They just find themselves (and, eventually, put themselves) in some critical areas — and also don’t realize just what they’re getting themselves into. Mag, the dead man’s daughter, is Hob’s estranged best friend, and will be the favorite character of many readers. There are Geri and Freki — twins who are only slightly senior to Hob when we meet them, they’re not really friends of hers, but they are allies she can count on when she needs to — and on this world, that might be more important. There’s Coyote, who I enjoyed immensely, and a couple of other Wolves that we spend time with, but most aren’t factors in the story. There’s one more person in her circle, the Bone Collector — I’m not even going to try to sum him up in a sentence, but he’s worth getting to know.

On the flip side we have Mr. Green, who is just creepifyin’ (as Mal Reynolds would say), a Weatherman (not like Al Roker) and a couple of cut-throat corporate types who just this side of wearing black hats and twirling their mustaches They are absolutely believable and not cartoon-y, but reek of “bad guy.”

There is something that could be magic going on here — it’s definitely seen as magic by some. It might be radiation-induced mutation. It could be some sort of world-spirit/alien entity doing something to people. It’s tough to say, and it really doesn’t matter — some individuals on Tanegawa’s World possess abilities that others don’t. The ultimate cause of those abilities makes no difference to the story, it’s interesting to speculate about (and to see why various groups adopt their interpretation and how they use it) — but at the end of the day, it just means that there are a few characters walking around with extra abilities which don’t define them, but are definitely helpful.

The plotting is good, the pacing is strong, and there’s a strong voice throughout the work. This is just an impression — I can’t quote anything to verify it (were I a professional, I’d make the effort), but while the voice is consistent and strong throughout, I think Wells is a bit more aggressive about it in the opening chapters. In sort of a “come on strong and get you into the world” then dial back to “now here’s the story.” Or maybe it’s “throw you into the deep end” and then let you swim undisturbed. Or maybe I acclimatized Or maybe I should stop trying to make this point and move on. My overall point on voice — both the narrative voice, and the individual characters — it that it was strong, clear and engaging — the kind that you want to spend 300 pages with. Wells demonstrates the chops to keep and build an audience, if they’ll just give the book a shot.

I’ve seen a lot of comparisons to Dune and this world — I’ve never been able to get through much of the first book, and nor the adaptations — so I can’t comment. There’s a lot of sand, so, I guess maybe. Tanegawa’s World feels like something out of O’Keefe’s Scorched Continent or Firefly — a mining/agricultural society in what might as well be the Old West with (some) better technology than we have. Arguably, this planet is a little less hospitable to humans and The Powers That Be are a shade more corrupt.

I’ve also seen a lot of talk about the biker gang aspect of the book. It didn’t feel as prominent as I’d have liked — it was there, but it didn’t seem that vital to the nature of the mercenary crew the Ravani leads. If I had to compare it to anything, the Ghost Wolves felt more like a UF werewolf pack than anything else. That may say more about what I’ve been reading than anything that Wells wrote, still I got more of a Briggs/Vaughn/etc. vibe to the group than a Kurt Sutter-vibe. Outside of a handful of individual members, I didn’t get a clear feel for the Wolves. It’s understandable, Wells had a lot balls in the air and was doing just a good job juggling them that I didn’t notice. In retrospect, however, I’d have appreciated a little more time with this aspect.

I feel like I’ve gone on too long here, but I haven’t touched all the things I want to say. There’s just so much going on in these few hundred pages! Despite all that, you don’t get bogged down in the worldbuilding, the details, the backstories, or anything — Hunger Makes the Wolf is a fun, fast, gripping read. I trust there’s a sequel on the way. There just has to be. Not that this isn’t a complete story — there’s just a lot of threads that beg to be picked up. Either way, you’ll want to read this one.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Angry Robot via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this opportunity.

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4 Stars

Storm Clouds Gathering by Gibson Michaels

Storm Clouds GatheringStorm Clouds Gathering

by Gibson Michaels
Series: The Sentience Trilogy, #1

Kindle Edition, 366 pg.
Arc Flash Publishing, 2014

Read: January 28 – 30, 2017


There’s a sentient, autonomous AI running around the computers that run (essentially) the State and Defense Department for the United Stellar Alliance. It’s trying to learn how to act more like humans while carrying out its duties — both official and unofficial. The unofficial duties include caring for (and learning from) the descendant of its creator — someone who wouldn’t be allowed access to the AI by anyone other the AI. There are some officers in the Intelligence wings of the Fleet who think that there might be something going on with the AI running FALCON, and set out to find it (if such is a thing).

Meanwhile, long-term stresses and problems within the United Stellar Alliance are coming to a head and the planets that make up the alliance are on the verge of declaring war on each other. The moves that the various entities make — and the politics behind the moves — fed into my political and historical interests (and other readers will resonate with them, too, I expect).

But here’s the best part — as interesting as all these things are — it’s not the main story. The main story involves an alien race, the Raknii. The Raknii are a warrior/hunter society, one who conquers pretty much everything they encounter — without mercy, without pity, without consideration for anything other than victory. But many of the leaders of this race are questioning this — and fear that the culture has gone astray. About this time, they discover a new race in the galaxy — one that will prove to be the ultimate test for the Raknii, which may help their culture get back on track. That race, of course, is humanity.

Each storyline worked for me in just the right way — the Civil War story was good, the parallels to the US Civil War were maybe overplayed, but they were used well enough that I’m not going to complain too loudly. The story of the AI learning about human cultures was nothing but fun — ditto for the efforts of Fleet Intelligence to get to the bottom of things. All this going on with a large-scale alien invasion looming unbeknownst to any human was a great touch — any of these would keep me reading, mixing them the way that Gibson did was icing on the cake.

The cast of characters in this is so extensive that I can’t really comment on them all — let’s just say that I liked just about ever character — no matte how they threaten the fate of humanity. About the only people I didn’t like were those from the Consortium (a group of businessmen that have more of an impact on the USA’s government than anyone appreciates) — and there’s just nothing redeemable about them (or frightfully interesting outside of their role as antagonists).

Michaels writes with heart, humor, hope and a pretty good attention to detail. There are plenty of infodumps throughout — especially concerning the Raknii, but also getting the reader brought up to speed with humanity’s politics/technology — but these are almost always woven in well with character moments and the over all narrative. I just had a blast reading this.

This is the first entry of a trilogy, and is one of those that doesn’t come to any real resolution as such. It’s more of a pause in the action before jumping into the next volume. I’m not crazy about those kind of books, but I get the thinking — the point is to move on to the next two books. Besides, I enjoyed this enough that all I want to do is move on, I can live without that temporary resolution. I’m giving this a 3-Star Rating, but do so in the expectation that the following entries will be ranked higher.

Disclaimer: I received this novel from the author in exchange for this post — thanks Mr. Michaels.

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3 Stars