Reposting Just ‘Cuz: Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey

Last night I found myself reading when I “should have been” writing — which meant that by the time I finished, there wasn’t time enough to really get anything ready for today. Well, today, I find myself almost at the half-way point in the sequel to this outstanding book, the possibly more-outstanding (outstandinger?) Dragon Road. But I can’t talk about it yet, which is what I really want to do. So instead, let me once again post this little nugget.

SkyfarerSkyfarer

by Joseph Brassey
Series: Drifting Lands, #1
eARC, 352 pg.
Angry Robot Books, 2017
Read: August 11 – 14, 2017

I’ve read a few interesting mergers of SF and Fantasy this year — some that were just that, interesting, some that were good — a couple that were more than good. Thankfully, Brassey’s Skyfarer was in that latter camp. Even in those early chapters where I was still trying to figure out the world, remember which name lined up with what character, and get a handle on the plot, I had a sense that this was going to be one of those books I talked about very positively — and very often. That sense just only got stronger as the book went on.

I feel like could go on for pages about this book — but won’t let myself (so I can avoid the wrath of Angry Robot and you can actually get something out of reading it yourself — which you have to go do as soon as it comes out).

So you’ve got this group called the Eternal Order — a group committed to death, destruction, power, and plunder. When it comes to numbers, they can’t stand up to the civilizations around them, at least when they ally themselves against the Order. But when they (rarely, it seems) can come in with a quick strike against one people they can wreak much havoc. Which is exactly what they do here — they come in and demand that the rulers of Port Providence hand over the Axiom Diamond, or they will wipe them out — and it’s clear that Lord Azrael, the commander, isn’t being hyperbolic. The royal family responds with armed resistance, which has some measure of success, but is primarily fighting losing battles.

Into the midst of this looming genocide comes a wayward spacecraft, the Elysium. The Elysium is a small carrier with more weapons than one should expect (we’re initially told this, anyway). The crew has just welcomed an apprentice mage, fresh from the academy, to complete her studies with her mentor/professor. Aimee de Laurent has been pushing herself for years to excel, to be the best — if there’s a sacrifice to be made for her studies, she’s made it. All leading up to this day, where her professor, Harkon Bright has taken her as an apprentice on his exploration ship to complete her education. She joins a crew that’s been together for years and is eager to find her place within them.

When the Elysium arrives in the middle of this, it doesn’t take anything approaching calculus for them to figure out what this particular crew is going to do. There’s The Eternal Order on one side, civilians and the remnants of the military on the other. There’s a ravaged civilization on one side and the ravagers on the other. There’s a group trying to prevent The Eternal Order from getting something they want and there’s, well, The Eternal Order. So our band of adventurers tell the remnants of the royal family that they’ll hunt down the Axiom and protect it.

This isn’t exactly a revolutionary idea for a story — but man, it doesn’t matter. There’s a reason everyone and their brother has tried this — it’s a good story. Especially when it’s told well. And, I’m here to tell you that Joseph Brassey tells it really well. Not just because of his hybridization of SF and Fantasy, but because he can take a story that everyone’s taken a shot at and make it seem fresh, he can deliver the excitement, he can deliver the emotion. There is some horrible stuff depicted — either in the present or in flashbacks; there’s some pretty tragic stuff; and yet this is a fun read — the pacing, the tone, everything makes this feel like the adventure films and books that I grew up on. You want to read it — not just to find out what’s going to happen next, but because it’s written in such a way that you just want to be reading the book, like a having a glass of iced tea on a summer’s day.

The characters could uniformly use a little more fleshing out — which isn’t a weakness in the writing. Brassey pretty much points at the places where the reader will more details (especially when it comes to Aimee and Harkon), making us want more than he’s giving us. What we’re given, though, is enough to make you root for or against them, hope that they survive (or are subjected to painful and humiliating defeat), or simply enjoy the camaraderie. The good news is, that there’s more to learn about everyone — about their past and their present — and how those shape their future.

You’ve got magic — various schools of magic, too, each with its own understanding of what magic is and how it can be used; you’ve got swords and lasers (and similar kinds of weapons); you’ve got space ships running of magic (not just hyperspace drives that act like magic); objects and persons of prophecy; beings and intelligences that aren’t explicable — tell me why you wouldn’t want to read this? Especially when you throw in epic sword fights, magic duels, and spacecraft action all written by someone who writes like a seasoned pro. Sign me up for the sequel!

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

—–

4 1/2 Stars

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Picket Town by Chris von Halle: An Age-Appropriately Creepy SF for the MG reader in your life

Picket TownPicket Town

by Chris von Halle

PDF, 178 pg.
Clean Reads, 2018
Read: July 31, 2018

Amanda is bored. Every day is the same — her life isn’t bad, she actually likes it. But she wants more. She’s not sure exactly what it is that she wants — but it’ll be found outside the city limits of New Pines (she calls it Picket Town). She and her friend Sam spend their days after school playing a computer RPG, eating with their families, playing the game some more and repeating the whole thing the next day.

Then something starts happening — some of the kids in town come down with some sort of bacterial infection that requires them to be hospitalized while a cure is worked on. Amanda starts to wonder if everyone is going to be okay — no matter how often she’s assured that the grown-ups have everything under control. She wants to strike out, she wants to learn something — and on the way home from school, they pass the same sign forbidding them to enter the forest that they walk by every day. But this day, this particular day she decides she’s had enough — and then she convinces Sam to come with her. They climb over the fence and explore the forest. This is the most thrilling thing they’ve ever done. Right up until the point that they find a what appears to be a flying saucer (well, a saucer that’s landed). Pretty much everything they’ve ever known ends right there. What follows is exciting, dramatic, and unexpected (well, at least for the target audience — Middle Grade — adult readers will have a pretty good chance of seeing what’s around the corner, most of the time).

I wasn’t so sure that I was going to enjoy this at the beginning, I’m not sure why, it just didn’t seem like it clicked. But it honestly didn’t take long before it reminded me of the better SF I read in grade school, and I was in it for the long haul. Although, honestly, I’m not sure any of the books I read when I was that age would’ve gone where von Halle took this. That’s a compliment, by the way, it may not look like one.

I’m not crazy about the conclusion, I have to say, as much as I liked almost everything that came before. There’s a good twist to it — and I really liked it. But the ending itself? I don’t know — it relied too much on a big info-dump, and then the reveal for Amanda and Sam could’ve been executed a little better. But I think those are quibbles, and I really don’t imagine that there’s a Fourth Grader out there that’ll say the same thing.

This isn’t a MG novel that transcends the label and that’ll appeal to adults — in other words, not everyone is J.K. Rowling. I’ll give you a moment to digest that revelation. This is a MG novel that knows its audience and that will deliver what it wants. Were I in that audience, I’d be re-reading this a few times. I’m not, so I’ll tell people to give it to someone who’ll appreciate it more.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion, given above.

—–

3 Stars

Ophelia Immune by Beth Mattson: The feminist Zombie Book you didn’t know you were missing

Ophelia ImmuneOphelia Immune

by Beth Mattson
Kindle Edition, 304 pg.
2018
Read: July 21 – 22, 2018

We come into this world sometime into the Zombie Apocalypse — or at least Outbreak, it’s tough to say. Most of our information is given to us second or third-hand through the narration of a young girl. Actually, it’s probably more like 52nd or 53rd-hand. North America (who knows what the rest of the world is like) is filled with people traveling from camp to camp trying to make it just another day. Some families drive from camp to camp, others have to risk walking.

These camps, by the way, have fences around them — including overhead. Because at night — the Zombies come. And if you aren’t in a camp, you’d better hope you’re at least in a car, because you’ve got nothing else to stop them than whatever weapon you might have.

Ophelia lost an older sister to the infection, and then her parents had a couple more kids (for people who never leave their car, this is quite the interesting proposition) that she has to look after. At some point, her family is able to get pretty far north (Canada somewhere), where at least in the cold winter, the infected can’t move. They have a house, they start to make a life for themselves — and then disaster strikes.

The title of the book is Ophelia Immune and there’s really only one way to find out if she’s immune, so this isn’t really a spoiler — she gets bitten. But she doesn’t become a mindless people-eating machine. She gets the strength, she gets the ability to carry on while wounded (details are in the book), but she keeps her brain, her personality. Sadly, anyone who looks at her won’t see that unless they get to talk to her.She runs from her family, finds her way to a city and tries to survive. Along the way, she encounters people selling young women — girls — to join polygamous families “for their protection.” She finds corrupt Rangers, who are to protect people from the infected. And much worse. She also finds some scientists, who are happy to experiment on her blood — actual infected blood is hard to find, blood of an immune person? Priceless.

I told Mattson that I didn’t like Zombie stories — by and large it’s the truth, too. And I didn’t like most of this book, because it was a really good Zombie story. It had all the elements and was downright creepy and disturbing. At a certain point, the tenor and focus of the book became something more — it was still creepy and disturbing with mindless ex-humans wandering around eating humans, don’t mistake me — but it shifted. I liked a lot of that.

Next to M. R. Carey’s Melanie, Ophelia is the most interesting Zombie I’ve ever encountered (well, maybe Gwen Dylan . . . ). She’s naive, she’s innocent — which is just strange to say — and idealistic. If you give her half a chance, she’ll win you over. It’s hard to judge the other characters — because Ophelia’s perspective is pretty strange, and you only see them from hers. But there are some good people, and some horrible humans in this world. So many horrible ones that you start rooting for the infection, really. But the rest of them, like Ophelia, give you hope.

Mattson’s writing itself is clear, strong and effective. I’d prefer if she buried the ideology under a couple more inches of narrative, plot and character – but that could just be me. I would definitely check out her next offering.

I’m the wrong person to ask really if you should read this book. If you like Zombie stories, yeah, give this one a shot — I doubt you’ve read anything like it. If you don’t? Ehhhh, think about it anyway, you probably haven’t read anything like it before.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion — and I warned her ahead of time that this was an uphill battle.

—–

3 Stars

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers: A charming, earnest and frequently delightful space opera that pretty much matches the hype.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry PlanetThe Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

by Becky Chambers
Series: Wayfarers, #1

Paperback, 443 pg.
Harper Voyager, 2018
Read: July 18 – 20, 2018

We are all made from chromosomes and DNA, which themselves are made from a select handful of key elements. We all require a steady intake of water and oxygen to survive (though in varying quantities). We all need food. We all buckle under atmospheres too thick or gravitational fields too strong. We all die in freezing cold or burning heat. We all die, full stop.

Ohhhh boy. One of yesterday’s posts was easy — I state the premise, say the book lived up to the premise, and there ya go. A finished post. Today? I’m not sure I could succinctly lay out the premise in 6 paragraphs, much less say anything else about the book. It’s deep, it’s sprawling, it’s fun and full of heart. What isn’t it? Easy to talk about briefly.

So I’m going to cut some corners, and not give it the depth of discussion that I’d like to.

So you know how The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy starts off with the Vogon Constructor Fleet constructing a hyperspace bypass right through our Solar System? Well, if the Vogons were the megacorp doing that, the crew of the Wayfarer is your mom & pop-level company doing the same kind of work. But there are no Vogons, and it’s not a hyperspace bypass they’re constructing, but the metaphor works — the Wayfarer is building/cutting/creating ways for spaceships to make it from point A to point B faster — I’ll leave the detailed explanation to Sissix or Kizzy to explain when you read it (I think it was Kizzy, but I could be wrong — my copy is in another state, so it’s hard for me to check things like that).

The Wayfarer is made up of a mix of species — including human (some of which were raised on a planet, others not), the others? Well, they’d fit right in with the customers in the Mos Eisley Cantina (with names like Sissix or Kizzy) — too difficult to explain, but they’re all radically different from pretty much anything you’ve seen or read before. Chambers’ imagination when it comes to their physiology, culture, mannerisms, beliefs is just astounding. Really it’s fantastic. And the crew is a family — when a new crew member joins, they’re greeted with “welcome home.” And that’s just what they mean.

This new crew member is Rosemary Harper, our entry point into this world, too. She’s never been off-planet before, doesn’t understand the science behind the work they do, really only has textbook knowledge of most of the species they run into. As she learns, so does the reader. Phew. Essentially, the plot is this: the captain of Wayfarer gets a chance to make history and make more money than he’s used to — he jumps at it, but his crew has to take a freakishly long trip to get to the (for lack of a better term) construction site (see the title). This long trip is filled with dangers, encounters with family members no one has seen in ages and old friends. And pirates. Even when they get to the construction site, the challenges are just beginning and everyone on board is going to be put through the wringer just to survive.

In the midst of all this is laughter, love, joy, pain, sorrow, and learning. Rosemary becomes part of the family — by the actions of the crew bringing her in, and through her own reciprocal actions. Now, many parts of this book seem slow — but never laboriously slow — it’s the way that Chambers has to construct it so that we get the emotional bonds between the characters — and between the characters and the reader — firmly established, so that when the trials come, we’re invested. I was surprised how much I cared about the outcomes of certain characters at the end — it’s all because Chambers did just a good job building the relationships, nice and slow. The book frequently feels light — and is called that a lot by readers — but don’t mistake light for breezy.

I want to stress, it’s not laboriously slow, it’s not boring. It’s careful, it’s well-thought out. It’s your favorite chili made in the slow cooker all day, rather than dumping the ingredients in a pot an hour or so before dinner. It occasionally bugged me while reading, but by that time, I was invested and had a certain degree of trust for Chambers — and by the time I got to the end, I understood what she was doing in the slow periods and reverse my opinion of them.

I frequently felt preached at while reading this book. There were agendas all around and these characters did what they could to advance them. Most of the speechifying and preaching worked in the Wayfarer Universe, but not in ours. When I read it, I had no problem with it — but the more I think about it, the less I agree and the more annoyed I get. The opening quotation was one of the themes pushed, another had to do with family and/or brothers — but the best lines about those involve spoilers or need the context to be really effective, so go read them yourselves. I don’t want to get into a debate with the various characters in the book, so I’ll bypass the problems I have with just the note that I have them. But in the moment and in the context of the novel, the writing behind the characters’ points/values, the emotions behind them are moving, compelling and convincing — and that’s what you want, right?

It is super, super-easy to see why this won buckets of awards — and probably deserved most (if not all) of those awards. This is one of the better space operas I’ve read in the last few . . . ever, really. It’s easy to see why it got the hype and acclaim it did, and while I might not be as over-the-moon as many readers are with it, I understand their love. I heartily enjoyed it, and can see myself returning to this universe again soon.

As far as the star rating goes? I’ve vacillated between 3-5 a lot over the last week or so (including while writing this post), usually leaning high — so take this one with a grain of salt, it’s how I feel at the moment. (that’s all it ever is, really, but I’m usually more consistent)

—–

4 Stars

Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time by Paul Cornell: Saying Good-bye to the Twelfth Doctor All Over Again

Doctor Who: Twice Upon a TimeDoctor Who: Twice Upon a Time

by Paul Cornell
Series: Doctor Who

Paperback, 156 pg.
BBC Books, 2018
Read: July 24, 2018

He sent a wide-beam sonic pulse at exactly the right frequency all the way down that path between him and the tower, and was rewarded with a very satisfying series of detonations. The First Doctor skipped about at every fireball that burst into the sky. Finally, the smoke and flame died down. ‘There you go, all done.’

‘There could have been one right underneath us!’

‘Yeah, but it’s not the kind of mistake you have to live with.’ That was the other thing about his centuries of additional experience, he was a little more willing to roll the dice. Or perhaps it was just at this point he didn’t give a damn. What the hell, his clothes were already ruined, might as well mess up the bodywork too. It wasn’t like he was planning to trade the old thing in.

Okay…if you want to read me ramble on a bit about the place of these Target novelizations of Doctor Who episodes to me as a young’un, you can see my post about Doctor Who: Christmas Invasion by Jenny T. Colgan, one of the other new releases in this old and cherished line. Which means we can just cut to the chase about this one, right?

Cornell was tasked with bringing the Twelfth Doctor’s last Christmas Special to the page — which includes the challenge of dealing with his regeneration in to the Thirteenth Doctor, which is no small feat. But we’ll get to that in a bit. First, he’s got to deal with the challenge of having two Doctors meet up — and the extra fun of telling a story where two characters share the same name (and are sort of the same person, but not really), while not confusing the reader.

Cornell did a great job balancing the two Doctors, both going through some doubts about regenerating; while dealing with the question of Bill’s identity and the soldier from World War I. One thing I appreciated more in the book than in the original episode was the Doctor’s consternation when he realized that there wasn’t actually a bad guy to fight for a change. Not sure what else to say, really.

Now, the regeneration? Wow. He nailed that one, and got me absolutely misty-eyed in the process. I could hear Capaldi very clearly as I read these pages — the narrative added just the right amount of extra depth without taking away any of the original script/performance. It wasn’t my favorite part of the episode, but it was my favorite part of the book — he hit all the notes perfectly. The aside about the pears — great, I loved that so much. And then — a nice little bit with Thirteen, which has got to be so hard because we don’t know anything about her, so even those few seconds of screen-time with her have to be tougher than usual to capture. These few paragraphs, incidentally, made Cornell “the first person to have written for all the Doctors” — which is just cool.

In Twice Upon a Time Cornell has captured the letter and the spirit of the original episode, added some nice new bits and pieces for the fans and generally told a great story in a way that made you feel you hadn’t watched it already. This is what these books should shoot for, and Cornell (no surprise to anyone who’s read any of his previous fiction) hit his target.

—–

3.5 Stars

Arsenal by Jeffery H. Haskell: A Fast, Fun Intro to the Southwest US’s Newest Superhero

ArsenalArsenal

by Jeffery H. Haskell
Series: Full Metal Superhero, #1

Paperback, 256 pg.
2017
Read: July 17 – 18, 2018

Amelia Lockheart lost her parents — and the use of her legs — in a horrible automobile accident when she was a child. However, she knows (or thinks she knows) that her parents survived, and that every adult and authority has been lying to her ever since. What’s a girl-genius to do? Become a metallurgist, engineer, computer designer and many, many other kinds of expert, patent a revolutionary aerospace tech — and become rich off the proceeds. Then you turn some of that wealth into developing an Iron Man-esque suit of armor and an AI to help you run it. Finally, using that armor, become a super hero so you can use the connections you’ll gain to investigate your parents’ disappearance. Double duh.

Amelia’s super-hero alter ego, Arsenal, gets recruited to join her state’s super-powered militia. This is one of the best parts about Haskell’s universe — the supers are regulated (but in a better way than DC or Marvel have ever managed to pull off), each state has militia, with certain laws governing the activities of the groups, and there’s a federal-level group as well — these would be the top of the top, the Justice League of almost every era, while the state groups are closer to the Giffen/DeMatteis run. They’re super, just not super.

Anyway, for the first time in her life, Amelia has friends — plural. She’s made one friend from her normal life, but she’s never found acceptance by more than him, between the super-intelligence and wheelchair. She has a job, friends, a dash of fame — and she gets to save the day.

Amelia has in infectious, energetic personality — it’s a first-person narration, so we get plenty of it — I can’t imagine a reader not enjoying the book just because of her. I enjoyed the rest of the characters, too (I’m going to be skimpy on names, because my copy is a few hundred miles away from me) — but I’m honestly not sure how many of them I trust (well, maybe the goofball from before she was Arsenal).

The action is fast, and plentiful. There’s not as much depth to these characters as I’d like, but I don’t think they qualify as shallow. There are also a four sequels thus far, so I think we’ll get there. The plot could be a bit tighter, the science is probably as accurate as, oh, I don’t know — the idea that exposure to gamma rays could make an angry wimp turn into a giant, unthinking monster. In other words, it’s a super-hero story — sit back and enjoy it. Which is really easy to do, Haskell’s prose is lean, the voice is charming and the you’ll find yourself grinning throughout.

I just had a blast with this — there are a couple of things I hope get improved in the books to come — I’d like to see some of Arsenal’s teammates do a bit more to save the day — they did a good job before she came around, it’d be good to see how she augments the team, not supersedes it. I’d like things to slow down a little bit and deepen with the relationships she’s developing with her new teammates — I like every bit of these, I would just like things to seem a bit more realistic on those fronts. I’m not saying I’m out if Haskell doesn’t do something along these lines, those are some thoughts I had while reading, y’know? It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Haskell found a different and better way to address those topics than I listed, too.

Solid super-hero story, filled with action and characters you won’t be able to stop yourself from liking (not that you’d want to). This was just scads and scads of fun. I’m not sure what else to say, really. Bring on the sequel!

Disclaimer: I had a very pleasant chat with Haskell at Boise’s first Wizard World where I bought this book and he convinced my daughter and I to read our first Spider-Man comic since the end of the “One More Day” debacle. So I guess you could say I’m biased. But I don’t think so (but I’m very glad he brought me back to Spidey!)

—–

3.5 Stars

Doctor Who: Christmas Invasion by Jenny T. Colgan: Colgan Captures the 10th Doctor’s First Adventure Perfectly in this adaptation.

Doctor Who: Christmas InvasionDoctor Who: Christmas Invasion

by Jenny T. Colgan
Series: Doctor Who

Paperback, 176 pg.
BBC Books, 2018

Read: July 2, 2018
Back in High School, I remember attending an author event — some SF author that I’d never heard of (you probably haven’t either), but what did I care? He was an actual SF/Fantasy/Horror writer visiting Idaho (it happens a little more now, but back then I hadn’t thought it was possible). He discussed getting to write a novelization of a major Horror film thinking, “How hard can it be? Take the script, throw in some adjectives and verbs — maybe a few adverbs and you’re done!” He then went on to talk about all the things he learned about how hard it was taking a script of whatever quality and turning it into something that works in an entirely different medium. That’s really stuck with me for some reason, and I’ve always respected anyone who can pull it off well (and even those who get close to doing it well).

Before I babble on too much, Colgan is one who can pull it off pretty well.I discovered Doctor Who a couple of years before I saw that unnamed SF author, but didn’t get to watch much of it, mostly because I lived in about the only place in the States where PBS didn’t air old ones. I saw a few Sylvester McCoy episodes (mostly due to the magic of VHS and a friend who lived somewhere with a better PBS affiliate). Other than that, it was the small paperback novelizations of episodes. I owned a few, the same friend owned a few more — so I read those. A lot. Then comes Russel T. Davies, Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper, etc. and all was better. But I still remembered those novels as being Doctor Who to me.

So when they announced that they were re-launching that series this year, I got excited. I own them all, but I’ve only found time to read one — I started with Jenny T. Colgan, because I know how Paul Cornell writes, and I assume I’ll love his — ditto for Davies and Moffat. Besides, The Christmas Invasion is one of my favorite episodes ever.

I won’t bother with describing the plot much — you know it, or you should. On the heels of regenerating into the 10th Doctor, Rose brings a mostly unconscious stranger into her mother’s apartment to recuperate. At the same time, an alien invasion starts — the British government — under the direction of Harriet Jones, MP — and the Torchwood project tries to respond, but really is pining all their hopes on the resident of the TARDIS.

Colgan does a great job bringing the episode to life — I could see the thing playing out in my mind. But she doesn’t just do that — she adds a nice little touch of her own here and there. Expands on some things and whatnot. In general, she just brings out what was there and expands on it. Adds a few spices to an already good dish to enhance the flavors. Colgan absolutely nails Rose’s inner turmoil about who this stranger in her old friend’s body is.

I particularly enjoyed reading the scene where the Doctor emerges from the TARDIS, finally awake and ready to resume being Earth’s protector — between Rose’s reaction, the already great dialogue, and Colgan’s capturing the essence of Tennant’s (and everyone else’s) performances in her prose. Seriously, I’ve read that scene three times. I never do that.

I’m not particularly crazy about the little addition she made to Harriet Jones’ downfall, but I get it. I’m not scandalized by it or anything, I just didn’t think it was necessary. Other than that, I appreciate everything Colgan did to put her stamp on this story.

If the rest of these books are as good, I’m going to be very glad to read them, and hope that there are more to come soon.

—–

3.5 Stars