Friday, November 30, 2018

James Review -- Willful Child: Wrath of Betty

This week I decided to review Willful Child: Wrath of Betty by Steve Erikson. 

The adventures of the Terran Affiliation Engage-class starship Willful Child under Captain Hadrian Sawback continue. However, Klang captain Betty has vowed revenge on Sawback for foiling his plan to surrender so his people can infiltrate the Affiliation and wreck the economy, and a group within Affiliation command plan to send the Willful Child into impossible or near impossible situations until Sawback fails, leading to his death or removal from command, with the AFS Century Warbler under Captain Hans Olo secretly following the Willful Child to clean up the resulting crisis.

The Willful Child is sent to investigate a several-parsecs-wide energy anomaly driven by an unknown ship which is destroying everything in its path and heading straight for Terra, AKA Earth. Sawback leads a team to the unknown ship and finds that it is under the control of Sparky, the robot guard dog who guarded the junkyard owned by Sawback’s grandfather. Sparky is on a quest to find Sawback so the crisis is swiftly resolved.

After this, the Willful Child is assigned to explore a solar system where another Engage-class starship vanished. They arrive to find an inhabited planet showing signs of recent nuclear weapons use and orbited by the AFS Hateful Regard which has been stripped of components and sprayed with graffiti. Sawback leads a team to the planet, finding it inhabited by descendants of humans transported from Earth long ago. The planet has split into two societies, the Dims and the Pubs, with the Dims besieging the last Pub stronghold. Sawback and his team quickly discover that the Pub’s leader is Richard Rabidinov, former captain of the Hateful Regard, who imprisons Sawback’s party so he can seize the Willful Child. Sawback and his party swiftly escape, freeing a captive Dim envoy in the process.

Almost immediately, the Willful Child is attacked via a slow-traveling giant spear launched from a nearby planet. Sawback sends a unit to investigate, but the shuttle pilot accidentally jettisons his craft’s fuel supply, leading to a crash landing. While Sawback is planning a rescue, the Willful Child receives priority orders to rendezvous with a freighter, pick up the lubricant the cargo ship is transporting, and transport it to the planet Women Only. Sawback realizes this is a mission specifically assigned to him to prevent him from rescuing his stranded crew but concludes that if he violates regulations concerning how long an Affiliation ship can use its faster-than-light T-drive without a break, he can both rescue the stranded crew members and meet the freighter on time.
I give this book 4.5 out of 10. I still find some of the characters interesting, as well as Sawback’s continuing quest to fix human society, but I found a rather noticeable editing error early in the book. Also, the title doesn’t fit because Betty never actually interacts with the Willful Child until the story’s climax. Also, I feel this would have worked better as a short story collection than a novel. It feels like a collection of disconnected episodes linked together by the thinnest threads. The threat posed by the villain could have tied the adventures together better but he only starts acting during the emergency lubricant run plotline before being sidelined until the climax. And again, this series commits the worse sin a parody can--namely, I don’t find it very funny. It reads like a long series of jokes, most of them very poor ones, with only a few points that amuse me at all.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

James Review -- Vatta’s Peace: Into the Fire

This week I decided to review Into the Fire by Elizabeth Moon.

Determined to find and rescue any other imprisoned survivors, Ky contacts her great-aunt Grace Vatta who is Rector of Defense for the planet of Slotter’s Key. Grace launches an investigation, but is soon critically injured by a poison gas attack in her home. And Ky soon finds herself, and her fiancée, and allies who traveled from off planet to join the search when Ky was missing, wanted by Slotter’s Key Immigration because new laws mean her citizenship has lapsed and because their visas have expired. Forced to stay in the home of Stella Vatta to avoid detainment, they continue seeking the locations of the other imprisoned Miksland survivors.

Stella is approached by Benny Quindlan baring a message from the head of his family swearing to kill Grace, Ky, Stella , and Stella’s young niece and nephew as vengeance for Grace’s actions during the planetary civil war that unified Slotter’s Key under one government, with signs that the incident on Miksland is tied to still active remnants of the old Separatist movement. Eventually, Ky and her allies launch a multi-front operation to liberate the remaining Miksland survivors, but Stella, unaware that her guests have left, finds herself facing assassins in her home while they are gone.
In the aftermath of the rescue, the new commandant of the Slotter’s Key Military Academy, replacing the commandant killed during the Miksland crash, who is a key member of the Separatist conspiracy, flees. Ky is named as a temporary replacement, but she soon discovers that in the event of a crisis, the military cadets are supposed to deploy to reinforce the defenses of key government installations and officials. But the plans for such an action are woefully outdated and, with Separatist forces closing on the capital city, Ky is forced to race to update and implement the defense plans…

I give this book 7.5 out of 10. The characters are interesting as are some of the conflicts and factions, but the story spends far too much time planning and in setting legal problems with not nearly enough action IMO. When I reached the part with the Separatist attack on the capital and the cadets deployed to aid the defense, I was looking forward to a grand climatic battle, but instead we got a short battle scene with little time spent on the viewpoints of the frontline soldiers for my taste. And I wish they had included at least a little space combat in the story. Maybe a training sim, or the Separatists deploying a small armed ship or two.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

James Review -- The Dreaming Stars

This week I decided to review Axiom: The Dreaming Stars by Tim Pratt. 

The story begins shortly after the previous book ends. Captain Callie Machedo, the remaining members of her crew, and the survivors from a wrecked sleeper ship they recovered, are in hiding, widely believed to be dead. They are hiding because they are the only humans who know about the Axiom, ancient and highly malevolent aliens who are in stasis but left numerous projects running while they are unaware. The Liars, the first aliens humanity made contact with, were once slaves to the Axiom, and they include a small sect known as the truth tellers. Most that know of them, including the majority of truth tellers, believe their goal is protecting the galaxy from their former masters but their actual purpose is preventing outsiders from interfering with Axiom projects.

Machedo’s crew is also trying to treat Sebastien, one of the sleeper ship passengers whose mind was altered by Axiom technology, leaving him a violent megalomaniac. During a secret trip to obtain supplies and new medications to treat Sebastien, Machedo receives word from Lantern, one of the few high-ranking truth tellers who truly oppose the Axiom, that it is safe for her crew to come out of hiding. Lantern also requests that they investigate the Taliesen system where contact has recently been lost with a truth teller cell.
Machedo crashes her own funeral, meeting her ex-husband Michael.  Michael’s family owns the Almajara corporation, and a number of the corporation’s personnel have vanished in the Taliesen system, so Machedo’s crew is hired to look into their fate. The investigation leads to a swarm of Axiom nanomachines consuming anything in its path for resources, only sparing the White Raven, Machedo’s ship, because it carries Axiom technology, thus leading the nanomachines to believe the ship is crewed by servants of the Axiom. The swarm is slowly making its way towards the system inhabited world where it will consume the planet. Upon entering the station, the nanomachines are linked, too; they discover dozens of Axiom playing a form of virtual reality 4x game. Players in the game can start tournaments, and whoever is in first place when the tournament ends becomes Emperor until the next tournament. The Emperor gains many perks including control of the nanomachines.

Sebastien claims to have recovered, so  he and Machedo infiltrate the game in a desperate attempt to gain control of the nanomachines before it is too late. But when Sebastien requests to be left in the game after the swarm is shut down, can he truly be trusted?
I give this book 8 out of 10. It has a wide variety of both ethical dilemmas and physical problems for the characters to face. Also, some of the challenges are mostly unique in my experience, However, I feel the story could use more combat sequences, especially when characters are active in the Axiom VR game. Also, the final solution to gain control of the nanomachines seems a little too easy to me. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Book Review -- Heroine Worship

Previously, I reviewed Sarah Kuhn's Heroine Complex and even interviewed her on this blog. Today I'm reviewing the follow-up, Heroine Worship. Is it any good? Let's find out.

It's been three months since our heroines defeated Shasta and saved the world from a demon invasion. Since then, peace has reigned. Pretty good, right? Not for Aveda Jupiter. She's going out of her mind from boredom and feels she now lacks purpose. Thankfully, excitement is reintroduced when self-proclaimed reformed demon princess Maisie Kane asks them to come take a look at the demon portal in her lingerie shop. She claims the portal is showing signs of activity. They investigate and suffer a close call when the portal comes alive. Nate sees this as the right time to propose to Evie, and she quickly accepts. 

So, now Aveda is in charge of planning Evie's wedding. She wants everything to be just right, but the perfectionist in her may jeopardize their friendship. And if that weren't bad enough, a rogue puppy demon is latching onto the other brides in the city, making them enraged. Why is this happening? Who is responsible? Can anyone stop the bridezillas? And will Aveda hook up with Scott already?

Heroine Worship, unlike the previous book, is told from the POV of Aveda. This has allowed Kuhn to greatly flesh out her character. Instead of an egotistical spotlight hog, we get a caring friend who just needs to ease up. We see why Aveda and Evie are such good amigas. We can finally root for her, whereas in the first book, I wanted Evie to smack her.

Those hoping for another worldwide threat may be disappointed. The stakes here are much more personal. It's really about a group of friends working on their relationships. Yes, there is an antagonist behind the bridezillas, but it's an intentionally low-key character who just doesn't have the same presence as Shasta or Maisie. It's important to go into this with the understanding that the focus is on character development and interpersonal conflict.

Would I recommend this to fans of the first book? Hell, yeah, I would. Sarah Kuhn has delivered a more human story and kept the quality aspects of its predecessor. The real star of the show is the characters; they're well-realized and their personalities shine. The reader can easily dive in and inhabit this colorful world.

Bottom line: Read this book.


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

James Review -- The Gods of Sagittarius

This week I decided to review The Gods of Sagittarius by Eric Flint and Mike Resnick. 

The story begins with two main plotlines that eventually meet and join. One begins with security specialist Russell Tabor being assigned to guard absent genius Rupert Shenoy. Shenoy is one of humanity’s greatest minds able to develop revolutionary idea but in some moments but he is quite literally capable of forgetting where he lives over the course of a day as well. Shenoy wishes to journey to the planet Cthulhu in an attempt to research the Old Ones, incredibly ancient and powerful aliens that he believes once ruled much of the galaxy or universe.

However, the journey does not start smoothly. First, the party’s ship refuses to activate after being told that the group wants to travel to Cthulhu. Then Andrea Melander, one of Shenoy’s aides, is stricken by an unidentifiable medical condition. Eventually, the party manages to reach Cthulhu where they travel to the planet’s primary human habitation, a prison. There they review security footage of an incident where something invisible killed and ate three prisoners. After this, the party begins searching for more clues but Basil Stone, Shenoy’s only remaining assistant, is struck down by an unknown force, but Shenoy finds a clue that makes him believe that either the secrets to the magic of the Old Ones or the Old Ones themselves can be found on the planet Cornwallis IV otherwise known as Chuxthimazi.
There they make contact with the native inhabitants Paskapa who quickly live up to their name by chagrining exorbitant fees for anything. While there, Tabor gets into a fight with police while defending Shenoy whom the police were planning to calm via beating with clubs. He finds himself thrown in a cell with Jaemu, a murderer belonging to the Vitunpelay species, who claims to have information on the Old Ones. The two forge an alliance to escape prison then set out to find Shenoy. Jaemu reveals that there is something linked to the Old Ones in the highly militaristic Mank Empire.

The second plotline follows Occo, a shaman of the Nac Zhe Anglan and her familiar Bresk. The Nac Zhe Anglan include a number of religious creeds with the differences in beliefs usually tied to whether the Old Ones were good or evil and their fates during an ancient war with an evil force. Occo finds the home cloister of her creed destroyed, and after examining the site, she determines that the attackers were either using Old One weaponry or a close copy. She declares herself a Gadrax, a form of quasi-legal outlaw unrestrained by many of the restrictions imposed on all her people’s creeds, seeking vengeance. She gains permission from the Envacht Lu, the order responsible for punishing the story from being creeds that violate the Dessetrai Pact, laws designed to prevent surviving Old Ones, or survivors of their destroyers, from discovering Nac Zhe Anglan as well as defending the Nac Zhe Anglan from hostile species, as long as she provides progress reports on her quest when able to do so.
The first step of her plan is to seize the Warlock Variation Drive, an Old One artifact held in a well- guarded storehouse of such artifacts belonging to another cloister. She pretends to join a highly dangerous religious rite occurring nearby, deliberately wrecking her ship then crashing into the storehouse. Once inside, she finds the drive, an organism rather than a device. It displaces her into a number of increasingly dangerous predicaments before she somewhat masters its use. Eventually, her journey takes her to Cthulhu then to the Mank Empire.

After the parties join forces, they must still face the defenses of the Old One Depository, whatever is inside, and the Morganites, charlatans secretly the power behind the Mank Empire who have long sought beings to brave the depository for them.

I give this book 7 out of 10. It has some great world-building and interesting characters and situations, but there are also some parts that are very slow. Also, I wish the conclusion felt more like an ending instead of seeming like just an opening chapter to a bigger story. Finally, the story needs some battle sequences badly. There were lots of interesting puzzles faced by the characters, sure, but I feel like a good fight or two would have stopped the story from feeling so boring at times.