Category Archives: book reviews

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child


I wasn’t going to read HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD, but someone loaned me their copy, so why not read it?

Obviously, it’s not an actual novel, but a script of a play (though from the way the publisher marketed it, you would never guess it). That said, it’s a pretty good story. I once heard it said that the best Young Adult fiction is about either 1.) children dealing with the absence of parents, and 2.) children coming to terms with their parents, and the script does both entertainingly.

It must have been a hideously expensive play to produce – all those special effects, and all those quick scene changes!

That said, I do think it’s something of a missed opportunity. Instead of a play script, it should have been adapted into a trilogy of books. It has exactly the right structure for a trilogy, and it would have made a mint.

So, a good story, just be aware it is a play script, and not a novel.

-JM

 

RIDING THE RED HORSE, an anthology of military science fiction

A review of RIDING THE RED HORSE, an anthology of military science fiction, published by Castalia House of Finland. The publisher sent me a copy of the book for review, and since I am down with getting stuff for free, here we go.

“Only the dead have seen the end of war.” – George Santayana

One of the insolvable problems of human nature is that the social nature of humanity encourages humans to form groups that engage in conflict with each other. The social dynamic, indeed, seems to proceed the reason for the conflict. You can see the dynamic at work in arenas as banal as the committee in charge of a church potluck (perhaps as vicious a field for politics as any in history) to cold wars between powerful nations. The specific reason for the conflict, whether nationality, or ethnicity, or money, or religion, seems almost an excuse, a tool for whatever it is within human beings that cause us to form groups and fight each other. Indeed, this cannot be fixed, only ameliorated. I suspect that if some well-meaning yet nonetheless deranged social engineer were to wave a magic wand and change humanity so that everyone was the same race, the same religion, the same height, the same ability, and the same level of income, so that all the traditional reasons for war were gone, we would still find ways to form into groups and fight each other.

“You see, hidden within the unconscious is an insatiable desire for conflict. So you’re not fighting me so much as you are the human condition. All I want is to own the bullets and the bandages. War, on an industrial scale, is inevitable. They’ll do it themselves, within a few years. All I have to do is wait.” – Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows

So war, as part of the human condition, has always been a topic of fiction, and speculating about what wars might be like in the future is the subject of both military analysts and scholars and military science fiction. The English Civil War of the 17th century was nothing like the American Civil War of the 19th, and World War I was a radically different war than World War II despite a gap of a mere twenty years, so what might a 22nd century war be like? The basic principles of winning a war never seem to change, but the tactics and the weapons are reinvented endlessly.

“Get there first with the most men.”  – Nathan Bedford Forrest

In the 19th century there was a genre of literature called “Invasion Literature”, where writers would speculate about what would happen if Britain were invaded by a foreign power (usually Germany, sometimes France). The US had its own tradition of that during the Cold War, speculating about what would happen if the Soviets took over the US or if Communists came to power. The movie RED DAWN, about a Soviet invasion of the US, is perhaps the most well-known example. Military science fiction, in some sense, is “invasion literature” of the future, speculating on the nature of war in the future using theoretical or hypothesized technologies.

“This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don’t know what you’re talking about. War is a terrible thing!” – William Tecumseh Sherman

RIDING THE RED HORSE is an anthology of military science fiction, speculating on what the wars of both the immediate and the distant future will look like. It alternates between nonfiction essays on the nature of war and short stories. None of the essays or stories were bad, but my favorites were:

-Jerry Pournelle’s HIS TRUTH GOES MARCHING ON takes place on a distant colony planet. Later some refugees are assigned to the planet, to which the original inhabitants take offense, and the situation unfolds with predictable violence from there.  Basically, it’s the Spanish Civil War IN SPACE! The story follows an idealistic yet nonetheless capable young officer who gradually loses both his illusions and his innocence during the fighting.

-William S. Lind’s essay on “The Four Generations of Modern War” rather presciently pointed out some of the serious problems with the Iraq War. His thesis postulates that we are entering a period of history where technology enables non-state organizations or even individuals to wage wars effectively, much like the Middle Ages when the state did not have a monopoly on war. (A good example of that is the Hanseatic League,  an organization of merchants which actually defeated Denmark in a war during the 14th century, or the various civil wars of medieval France and England where powerful noble families fought each other with no central authority able to restrain them.) While I lack the expertise to determine whether the essay is actually correct or not, I nonetheless think it helpful in trying to understand the various conflicts in the world today. Admittedly the hack around THE INTERVIEW film, which took place after I started writing this review, caused millions of dollars in economic disruption and is likely a good example of fourth-generation warfare, regardless of whether a government, a non-state group, or simply a group of disgruntled employees did the hack.

-WITHIN THIS HORIZON, by Thomas A. Mays follows a Space Navy officer in a distant future where the major powers have developed space fleets, and therefore armed conflict has moved the the asteroid belts and the comets. Ground-based forces are left to wither. The Space Navy officer in question, after sustaining serious wounds, is reassigned to the terrestrial water navy, and figures his career is over. The enemy, however, has other ideas, and the story is an excellent tale of integrity in the face of cynicism.

-TURNCOAT, by Steve Rzasa, takes place in a far future interstellar human empire called the Ascendancy. A faction called the Integration has developed human-to-machine brain uploading, creating the first posthumans. The ascended posthumans are engaged in a war of extermination against normal humanity, but one AI warship starts to develop doubts about its mission of extermination. Usually stories about AI involve the AI going psychotic, so it was interesting to see an AI develop a conscience instead.

-My favorite story of the anthology is THEY ALSO SERVE by Tedd Roberts, about a brilliant military surgeon who pioneered the use of surgical nanobots. His techniques have saved thousands, perhaps even millions of lives, yet the surgeon is starting to unravel under the pressure, feeling guilty that he has healed injured soldiers only to send them to die in a new war. This is a common problem one sees in those who do good and noble work – the pressure of seeing so much pain and suffering eventually wears them down. A crisis comes that forces the surgeon to make some hard choices, and perhaps validate the choices he has already made.

In the end, RIDING THE RED HORSE alternates between entertaining science fiction and insightful essays. Definitely recommended. The tone of the anthology is at times grim, but it is good to remember the science fiction usually fails pretty abysmally at accurately predicting the future. William Gibson’s NEUROMANCER had pay phones, after all, and Jerry Pournelle’s story had the Soviet Union existing long beyond 1991. Perhaps it is best to close with the words of a man who, while not a science fiction writer, had nonetheless seen the worst that war had to offer:

“It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not.”

-JRR Tolkien, THE LORD OF THE RINGS

-JM

THE RAVEN, THE ELF, AND RACHEL by L. Jagi Lamplighter

THE RAVEN, THE ELF, AND RACHEL, sequel to 2014’s THE UNEXPECTED ENLIGHTENMENT OF RACHEL GRIFFIN, follows the adventures of Rachel Griffin, a thirteen-year-old girl at the Roanoke Academy for the Sorcerous Arts. (Roanoke, of course, having disappeared when the Parliament of the Wise, the governing body of wizards, hid the school to keep it from the Unwary, or non-magical mortals.) As is traditional for wizard schools, there is trouble afoot, with a sinister secret society of wizards plotting to bring about the end of the world. Much to her vast frustration, none of the adults in Rachel’s world seem to take the danger seriously, so if someone’s going to save the world, it’s up to her.

Rachel makes for a compelling protagonist, largely because she is a genius who nonetheless has the personality flaws and weaknesses of a 13-year-old girl without those flaws becoming annoying to the reader. She hasn’t quite grasped the fact that her emotional state is not necessarily reflective of the actual state of the universe, and her intellect and eidetic memory causes her to hoard secrets, refusing to give information unless she receives some in turn, which quite naturally causes trouble for her.

THE RAVEN, THE ELF, AND RACHEL is a entertaining fantasy YA novel with compelling protagonists and an intriguing setting, though I suspect the book will be more enjoyable to teenage girls due to the amount of space devoted to Rachel’s examination of her feelings.

-JM

AWAKE IN THE NIGHT LAND, by John C. Wright

AWAKE IN THE NIGHT LAND, written by John C. Wright and published by Castalia House (the publisher founded by Hugo-nominated SF/F writer Vox Day), is set in the world of THE NIGHT LAND, a science fiction novel written William Hope Hodgson, who unfortunately died in battle a few months before the end of World War I. Hope’s THE NIGHT LAND takes place upon a far-future Earth a billion billion years in the future, so far in the future that the sun and the other stars have burned out and the Earth is overrun by mutated abhumans and eldritch horrors of the outer darkness. Mankind only survives in the Last Redoubt, a seven-mile tall pyramid fortress sustained by technologies refined over a billion years of struggle, while the rest of the earth, overrun by darkness, is called the “Night Land”. The remnant of mankind fights against the horrors of the final darkness, even knowing that one day their power supplies will fail and their enemies will destroy them, that entropy and evil shall inevitably triumph.

AWAKE IN THE NIGHT LAND is a series of four linked novellas taking place over the last five million years of the Last Redoubt’s history, as the Earth and mankind draw ever closer to their final destruction. The first novella deals with a man venturing into the horrors of the Night Land to save his friend, the second with a brother and sister concocting an audacious and dangerous plan to tame some of the mutated beasts of the Night Land, the third is the tale a man venturing into the Night Land to rescue the spirit of his father, and the fourth centers around a 20th-century big-game hunter awakening from cryosleep on a spaceship that is hurtling towards the final instant of the universe as all of space and time and matter collapse into nothingness.

AWAKE IN THE NIGHT LAND is a dark book, but not in the adolescent, cartoonish sense one sees in much GAME OF THRONES inspired fantasy or BREAKING BAD-esque contemporary dramas. Instead it is the darkness of utter despair, of wondering if the universe is in fact a prison of ultimate entropy and decay from which there can never be any escape. Or if the universe is in fact ruled by powers of darkness that reincarnate men over and over to torment them again and again, delighting in their pain over uncounted thousands of incarnations. In the world of the book, the sinister powers of the Night Land, led by the terrifying and enigmatic Silent Ones, rule the Earth, and indeed the entirety of the universe. Only the Last Redoubt stands free, and its inhabitants know it will inevitably fall and be consumed by the eternal darkness.

And yet…

If that was all there was to the book, I would not have finished it and would not be writing about it now.

There is a literary technique called “eucatastrophe”. Just as a catastrophe is a complete and utter disaster, a reversal of fortune for the worse, a eucatastrophe is a sudden and utter triumph, usually worked by an outside force over which the protagonists have no control. J.R.R. Tolkien coined the term, and used as his example the Resurrection, when Christ triumphed over death and hell and saved mankind. In his fiction, the most obvious examples are  in THE LORD OF THE RINGS with the unexpected victory of the Host of the West at the Black Gate of Mordor when Gollum falls into the fire with the Ring, or in THE SILMARILLION when the Valar arrive to overthrow Morgoth Bauglir and destroy his realm at the end of the First Age. (Or more simply but more emotionally, the hobbit Pippin frozen with joy when he hears the horns of Rohan during the Siege of Gondor.) Tolkien himself put it like this in his essay ON FAIRY-STORIES:

At least I would say that Tragedy is the true form of Drama, its highest function; but the opposite is true of Fairy-story. Since we do not appear to possess a word that expresses this opposite — I will call it Eucatastrophe. The eucatastrophic tale is the true form of fairy-tale, and its highest function.

The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially ‘escapist’, nor ‘fugitive’. In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.

It is the mark of a good fairy-story, of the higher or more complete kind, that however wild its events, however fantastic or terrible the adventures, it can give to child or man that hears it, when the “turn” comes, a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears, as keen as that given by any form of literary art, and having a peculiar quality.”

However, writing a eucatastrophe is really, really hard to do well. Like, almost impossible, since the iron logic of stories demands that the protagonist succeed at least partly through his own efforts. Otherwise it seems cheap, like the author waving his magic wand at the end of the story to make things right. So a eucatastrophe done badly comes across as a deus ex machina, like Scotty saving the Enterprise in the last five minutes of the episode by reversing the polarity of the warp core or whatever. But done well, it is nothing short of amazing. Think of how much tension and darkness there is in THE LORD OF THE RINGS before the Ring falls into the fires of Orodruin.

Ah, how to discuss this without spoilers? Suffice it to say, despite the dark nature of AWAKE IN THE NIGHT LAND (especially the story of Antigone, Polynices, Draego, and Dracaina), you will not be disappointed if you read to the end of each novella, and especially if you read to the end of the entire book.

To summarize, AWAKE IN THE NIGHT LAND is an amazing and powerful book, science fiction, fantasy, and horror all blended together in one superb story.  Recommended without reservation or caveat.

As a final point, the mere existence of AWAKE IN THE NIGHT LAND proves some points I have made earlier, that the mainstreaming of ebooks has been an unmitigated good for both writers and readers. I believe Mr. Wright wrote most of the book long before ebooks ever went mainstream, but ebooks have helped AWAKE IN THE NIGHT LAND achieve a vastly wider audience than it would have otherwise. Traditional publishing has, with some exceptions, become moribund, ossified, and conformist (SF/F publishing is particularly bad in this regard), and I suspect the reaction of most acquiring editors at a major publisher to AWAKE IN THE NIGHT LAND would involve the word “apoplexy”. Ebooks have cracked open the old stranglehold of traditional publishing, and made it possible for worthy books like AWAKE IN THE NIGHT LAND to achieve a far wider audience than they could otherwise.

-JM

The Hour of the Dragon, by Robert E. Howard

Robert E. Howard’s THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON is now available on Project Gutenberg for free, so this seems like a good time to post a review of this classic novel.

THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON the original sword & sorcery novel, and indeed one of the best.

The plot: a band of disaffected nobles and a fallen priest gather together to overthrow King Conan of Aquilonia. The fallen priest uses sorcery to summon up Xaltotun of Acheron, once the chief sorcerer of a hellish empire now three thousand years dead. The conspirators plan to use Xaltotun’s powers to overthrow Conan and divide Aquilonia among themselves. With Xaltotun’s aid, the conspirators succeed, but quickly discover that Xaltotun has own ideas, and plans to resurrect his ancient empire of horror and necromancy. Conan manages to escape from Xaltotun, and it’s up to him to save both his kingdom and indeed the entire world from Xaltotun’s infernal grasp.

Howard wrote with a vigor and an energy that few modern writers can match. The popular image of “Conan the Barbarian” is of a muscle-bound Schwarzenegger-esque dullard, but the real Conan is cunning, prone to gloomy pondering, and a man of action. No postmodern angst for him; if Conan were to encounter postmodern angst, he’d split its head with his broadsword, loot the corpse, and keep going.

Consequently, the books crackles with narrative tension. Conan’s up against enemies his sword cannot harm, but he’s not about to let that stop him, and he jumps from greater danger to greater danger in his quest to save his kingdom. Xaltotun makes a formidable foe for Conan; the conspirators who summoned him from the dead seem to represent every idiot politician who conjured up a force (war, demagoguery, reform, whatever) that he can no longer control.

Interestingly, the novel replays Conan’s entire plot arc over Howard’s original stories. Conan went from a penniless wandering thief to King of Aquilonia, and when Xaltotun’s minions overthrow him, Conan once again become a penniless wanderer – but this time he’s going to get his throne back. THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON replays Conan’s entire arc in one novel, so if you’re going to read just one of the original Conan stories, THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON is the one to read. Though better by far to read them all. 🙂

-JM

The Altar of Hate, by Vox Day

There are two secrets about short stories. The first is that we writers primarily write them for each other – for editors of short fiction magazines and anthologies and award committees and so forth. In general, your average reader (that is, a reader who is not also a writer) tends to prefer novel-length fiction of 40,000 words and up, and will usually only read short stories that are part of a larger continuity, like tie-in short stories for a long novel series or a shared universe. Exceptions, of course, are numerous, but nonetheless still exceptional.

The second secret is that short stories are really hard to do well. It’s like packing a suitcase, really – there’s more room to work with in a big wheeled case, but if you’re packing a small carry-on bag, everything has to fit exactly right, with the sort of packing precision seen only in military deployments and traveling salesmen with 50,000 frequent flier miles.  This is true of short stories. Everything must fit exactly right or the story does not work – the story must hit all five of the Iron Laws Of Storytelling, and do it while staying short.

With that in mind, let’s discuss some short stories – specifically, the short stories in THE ALTAR OF HATE by Vox Day.

I’ve reviewed some of Vox Day’s books in the past, and so the author was kind enough to send me an advance copy of THE ALTAR OF HATE  a collection of his short stories.  There are some weaker stories in the collection, and oddly enough they are mostly in the front half, like the banquet master of Cana serving the poorer vintages before the choice wines. That said, there were some excellent and interesting stories in the collection, which we’ll examine now:

The Lesser Evil is an interesting combination of historical fiction and time-traveling sorcery. An evil wizard travels back in time to use the dark power released by one of the great slaughters of history (specifically, Genghis Khan’s conquests) to fuel his power, and an organization of good wizards travels back to stop him. The interaction of the wizards with the historical figures was interesting, as was the eventual resolution and twist at the end.

Contempt is a near-future military SF story. After the first few paragraphs I thought this would fall into the grossly overstuffed genre of Yet Another Tedious Short Story About The Role Of Women In Modern Combat (Whether Pro Or Con), but thankfully that was only an opening aside. The story concerns a group of computer-augmented soldiers attacking rebels, and what happens when their computer-augmentation fails. It is an interesting look at the IT-augmented warfare of the future, though 21st century warfare (drones and cell phone bombs and dueling NSA and Chinese hackers) has already begun to look like something out of a 1980s William Gibson novel. The US saw three major total industrial wars – what will total information wars look like? Hopefully we will not find out.

-Speaking of industrial warfare,  The Last Testament Of Henry Halleck is a combination of historical fiction and Lovecraftian horror. In it, William Seward (Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state) acquires a relic of dark magic, which he uses with Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, William Sherman, and Henry Halleck to win the American Civil War, albeit at hideous cost.  This was interestingly subversive, since the consensus view of the Civil War in contemporary American society was that Abraham Lincoln was the hero who freed the slaves and saved the country. However, the truth was a great deal more complex – between them, Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman created the concept of Total War (Sherman called it “hard war”) that would be used with such devastating effect during the World Wars – in many ways the tactics and strategies devised in the final years of the Civil War would be a dress rehearsal for the carnage of World Wars. 600,000 men died in the Civil War, so the idea that it was orchestrated as a hideous blood sacrifice is not much of a logical leap.

Logfile was the standout story of the collection, charting an artificial intelligence’s slow descent into madness. The AI wants to be helpful and efficient, and starts testing new ways to become even more helpful and efficient. Then it flies off the rails. Bad things ensue, as the AI logically and meticulously reasons itself out of morality entirely.

– Finally, The Altar of Hate was thoughtful meditation on forgiveness. Hatred is common, but forgiveness is rare, likely because it costs so very much of the giver. Which is why one solitary act of forgiveness can often wrench history onto a new course.

To sum up, if you enjoy short stories there are several good ones in this collection.

-JM

The Unexpected Enlightenment Of Rachel Griffin, by L. Jagi Lamplighter

Last year I wrote that the PROSPERO’S DAUGHTER trilogy, by L. Jagi Lamplighter, was one of the best books I read in 2012 (the other being WOOL by Hugh Howey), and so when she offered me the chance to read her new young adult novel, THE UNEXPECTED ENLIGHTENMENT OF RACHEL GRIFFIN, before it was published, I jumped at the chance.

THE UNEXPECTED ENLIGHTENMENT OF RACHEL GRIFFIN is a young adult novel targeted primarily at girls. The protagonist, one Rachel Griffin, is a twelve-year-old girl sent for her first term at a school for young wizards, run under the auspices of the Parliament of the Wise (what the wizards, rather immodestly, call themselves). Rachel has the good fortune of an eidetic memory and a constant thirst for secrets, which is both an advantage and a liability in a society of wizards. Rachel quickly discovers that all is not well in the world of the Wise, and soon finds herself dealing with a secret society of evil wizards called the Velterdammerung along with the normal concerns of a child.

Having never been a twelve-year-old girl myself, I suspect I am not quite the target audience for this book, but I enjoyed it, and I suspect the target audience would do so as well. Rachel spends a lot of time contemplating her feelings, as one would expect a twelve-year-old girl to do, but not enough to slow down the book. The parallels to Harry Potter are clear (children at wizards school, society of evil wizards, etc.), but this book’s setting has a good deal more depth than Harry Potter’s setting, since it is anchored in real-world history. Simon Magus and Aleister Crowley were among the society of evil wizards, for instance. Additionally, there is an intriguing scene when Rachel and her classmates puzzle over the meaning of the word “monotheism”, since they’ve never encountered the word before, which I suspect is a hook for the next few books in the series.

Beyond that, the characters are sharply drawn, and the book manages the trick of having the children be ignorant of their world without be idiots, and having the more gifted children (like Rachel) be intelligent without being unrealistically clever or precocious prigs. Not every writer can manage that.

Also, a big point in the book’s favor: no weird sex. Or any sex, which to be frank is a welcome change in a YA novel.  The trend of SF/F brimming with weird sex while the author blathers on about gritty realism has quite overstayed its welcome.

To sum up: in THE UNEXPECTED ENLIGHTENMENT, a plucky band of children join forces to fight evil, despite the best efforts of incompetent adults, at a school for wizards. Recommended

-JM

QUANTUM MORTIS: A MAN DISRUPTED & GRAVITY KILLS by Steve R

Recently, Vox Day and Steve Rzasa were kind enough to send me review copies of their new science fiction novel QUANTUM MORTIS: A MAN DISRUPTED and its attendant novella, QUANTUM MORTIS: GRAVITY KILLS (published through Marcher Lord Press), so I settled down to read them.

Short review:

Murder mystery with rayguns IN SPACE!

Longer review:

Both works are set in the distant future, and center around one Graven Tower, a military policeman in the Armed Forces of Rhysalan, an independent planet ruled by a Duke. The planet is a small power, neutral in the conflict between the imperial Ascendancy and the communistic, borg-like Unity.* Rhysalan’s neutrality is further enhanced by the planet’s status as a sanctuary – the Duke has an open invitation to any overthrown governments-in-exile to settle upon Rhysalan (so long as they can pay the fees). Tower’s job is to help police the various exiled alien governments and make sure they behave themselves, as governments-in-exile tend to get up to mischief on a regular basis. Tower has the assistance of an “augment” called Baby, a super-advanced artificial intelligence that acts as a personal assistant, research assistant, sounding board, philosophical ruminator, and targeting computer.  Since Tower is a bit of a shell-shocked veteran and not particularly restrained with his use of his trigger finger, Baby also tends to act as his conscience.

But Tower also has a secret. And someone has figured out his secret, and is ready to use it to enslave him and perhaps start a new war.

Interestingly enough, the space-opera aspect of the plot is almost window dressing – the core of the books is the murder mystery, and a murder mystery set in a society where information technology and networking have permeated every aspect of that society. The book could just as easily have been set fifteen years in the future on Earth, once Amazon figures out its delivery drones. Of course, every good science fiction book has a speculative question at its core, and in QUANTUM MORTIS: A MAN DISRUPTED the question revolves around the dangers of the information technology revolution.

It has been interesting watching SF wrestle with the question of the ongoing IT revolution of the last few decades, especially since society as a whole has not yet figured out how to deal with the Internet. If you read older science fiction, the computers of the future were supposed to be the computer from STAR TREK, Wintermute, and Tron-style virtual reality. No one anticipated the banal reality of YouTube, Hulu, Internet pornography, and people Instagramming pictures of their breakfast toast. All of a sudden, science fiction novels have to wrestle with a future containing smartphones and the Internet, and this book does a good job of grafting the IT revolution onto a space-opera framework.

Of course, the book isn’t all deep thoughts – there are a lot of battles with particle weapons, lasers, missiles, more particle weapons, and flying cars. Graven uses a lot of guns – the book achieves the rare trick of writing gun porn about guns that do not actually exist. It is an interesting look at the IT-augmented warfare of the future (or the present, really), when attacking the enemy’s computer systems is just as effective, if not more so, as attacking his troops and food supplies.

Tower’s relationship with the attractive Detector Hildreth was an interesting note – the adventure kicks off when Tower, hoping to get a date out of Hildreth, agrees to help her with a case. (Naturally, things go quickly awry.) The trick to writing effective romantic relationships (or failed attempts thereof) is to grasp the psychological differences between men and women without holding the differences in contempt or denying that they exist – a trick that too many writers never manage to master.

To sum up, GRAVITY KILLS and QUANTUM MORTIS: A MAN DISRUPTED are good adventure SF novels with a lot of action and a compelling mystery at the core, and I am looking forward to future books in the setting.

-JM

*Perhaps a stealth dig at Ubuntu’s Unity interface?

THE SILO SAGA, by Hugh Howey

I’m looking at some of the more interesting books I’ve read this year, and chief among them would be the SHIFT and DUST, the final two books of the SILO SAGA by Hugh Howey. Mr. Howey’s story is pretty well-known among SF/F writers and readers – the first book of the SILO SAGA, WOOL, started out as a self-published serial on Amazon, and eventually exploded from there. But in this post we’ll focus on the books themselves.

Put simply, the SILO SAGA is a uniquely American science fiction epic, touching on some of the themes that have defined American history – the common good vs. freedom, government corruption vs. one individual taking a stand, and the potential and dangers of technology transforming society and perhaps the world.

The premise is simple enough – some unknown disaster has ravaged the world, and the survivors of humanity huddle within a concrete “silo” (essentially a subterranean skyscraper), using advanced technology to survive. A webcam provides a view of the outside world, but eventually grime builds up on lens, and a criminal has to be sent to clean the lenses. Unfortunately, the criminal dies in the act of cleaning due to the corrosive atmosphere, which means the cleaning serves as sort of a ritual for the silo community, like a public execution in medieval times.

And then, one day, a cleaning goes wrong…and all hell breaks loose.

What follows is a well-crafted tale, populated by compelling characters, with well-hidden secrets layered throughout. Nothing is as it seems in the world of the silo, and those mysteries threaten to destroy everyone living within.

Definitely recommended – if you need something long to read over the holidays, the SILO SAGA is the way to go.

-JM