Monthly Archives: July 2015

Review: “Battlefield Earth” by L. Rob Hubbard

Title: Battlefield Earth
Author: L. Ron Hubbard
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Galaxy Press, 2001

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. “Battlefield Earth? Isn’t that that movie that always tops the lists for the worst movies of all time?” Yes. Yes it is. It also happens to be a novel, which comes recommended by quite a few people including Neil Gaiman. Was it weird? Yes. Beyond a doubt one of the odder novels I’ve ever read, in a number of categories. But it was also strangely entertaining. For the record, I received a free copy for review purposes from Galaxy Press.

In the 1980s, Earth was invaded by the Psychlo Empire. Humanity was mostly exterminated, the few survivors retreating to the hills and other inaccessible locations. So long as they didn’t make trouble for the Psychlo’s mining operations they were mostly ignored aside from the occasional sport-hunting expedition, and over the next millennium human society slowly devolved back to the primitive. Now, as the year 3000 dawns, events are set in motion that will forever destroy this status quo. Terl, the greedy head of security for the Earth-based mining corporation, has hatched a scheme to make himself one of the wealthiest monsters on Psychlo when he makes it back home. This scheme, however, hinges on the obedience of captured human Jonnie Goodboy Tyler. But Tyler has his own plans, and they mostly involve kicking the Pschlos off his planet and making sure they never return….

On the one hand, Hubbard’s pulp pedigree is on full display here, offering a massive yet delightfully-readable adventure. On the other hand, this gets weird fast. The book clocks in at over a thousand pages, but it takes just over four hundred to reclaim the Earth. Then comes the hard part: preparing for the inevitable counterstrike from Psychlo. Hold onto your seat for a thrilling journey featuring such topics as diplomacy, vengeance, political scheming, and intergalactic finance! What, that doesn’t sound all that entertaining? You’d be surprised, actually. A lot of the time you just have to focus on the subplot at hand, shutting off that voice in the back of your head that is persistently asking what the heck this has to do with anything–it all makes sense by the end, I promise. Despite its reputation, the book didn’t involve nearly as much Scientology craziness as I’d expected–if you didn’t know what you were looking for, you might miss it entirely. On the other hand, referring to the field of Psychology as “an ancient cult” is about as subtle as a brick in the face. The characters are all pretty two-dimensional, but that’s honestly to be expected. This is a return to the pulps, after all, albeit on a grander scale. The names are ridiculous, but I think that was intentional. The science is surprisingly sound, from what I can gather. In short, this is a ridiculously amusing ride…if you can lift it.

CONTENT: Mild profanity. Mild sexual innuendo. Some violence, including the gruesome aftermath of a torture session.

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Review: “The Iron Assassin” by Ed Greenwood

Title: The Iron Assassin
Author: Ed Greenwood
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: TOR, 2015

Ed Greenwood is a legend in certain circles, having created the immensely popular Forgotten Realms fantasy world that serves as one of the primary settings for the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game series. I’ve yet to venture into this universe, but I’ve heard a good deal about it from friends and fellow geeks. Now Greenwood is venturing into a new universe, trading in Sword & Sorcery for Steampunk (or, as he refers to it, Gaslamp Fantasy.) The good news? Greenwood’s genius for world creation is unabated. The bad news? The book itself could have used a bit more work to bring it up to the expected degree of awesomeness.

In a world parallel to our own, the Empire of the Lion vies with the Spanish-based Empire of Amirondro and the Indian-based Rajahirate Empire for supremacy over a patchwork world of steam-driven innovation. Victoria III rules from seclusion, kept stubbornly alive with steam-powered heart & lungs while her son shoulders the responsibilities of government in a London rife with conspiracy and intrigue as the Dread Agents of the Tower seek to thwart the schemes of the villainous Ancient Order of the Tentacles. One such agent is Jack Straker, a brilliant (or reckless) inventor of numerous devices for protecting the Crown. His latest masterpiece: a clockwork-driven corpse to serve as the Prince Royal’s bodyguard…if it can be controlled. And if one man can control it, well…the Ancient Order is very interested in figuring out how to wrest that control away from the Crown and put the Iron Assassin to their own use….

While Greenwood is an old hand at classical fantasy, The Iron Assassin is his first foray into the realm of steampunk. Greenwood’s genius is in world creation, and that experience and attention to detail is clearly on display here. The book was a ton of fun, and I will definitely watch for the inevitable continuation. Unfortunately, the book could have used a little more editing before publication. There are numerous fragmentary sentences scattered throughout, and not just in the dialogue where such things are more accepted. The Dramatis Personae section at the beginning is wittily written but overlarge, running ten pages and containing every character found within these pages—even those who appear only long enough to expire. In the end, it’s more harmful than helpful, especially since it gave away the identity of the Ancient Order’s leader (I assume this was meant to be secret, as he was only ever referred to by his title in those sections, and by his name when he was acting in public.) Another sore spot is the somewhat inconsistent characterization. One character is introduced as a complete badass, then dies with barely a whimper. Perhaps forgivable, as the scene itself paints her as caught off guard at the end of a pleasant evening…except that several scenes beforehand it was established that she had managed to deduce that her killer was a member of the Ancient Order, and so should be very much on guard while accepting unexpected dinner invitations from said villain. At another point a character assesses the situation facing him and decides to get out of Dodge…and then shows up pages later at an induction ceremony for the Ancient Order, very much the opposite of fleeing for his life. Finally, there is an unresolved mystery surrounding the former identity of the Iron Assassin, Bentley Steelforce. Or maybe not, as everyone seems to think they know who and what he is: the reanimated body of a chimney sweep by the name of Bentley Roper. Except that there is clearly more to his story–when a startled knight starts to blurt out something about Steelforce’s past to Straker and a group of assembled notables, Steelforce calmly rips out his throat without missing a beat. I kept expecting the matter to be revisited, but it never was. Like I said, I enjoyed the book, but it was merely good when it could have been spectacular.

CONTENT: Surprisingly mild on the profanity front, though the “PG” words get quite a workout alongside the more colorful genre/era-specific cursing that litters nearly every conversation. Strong, sometimes grisly violence, scattered all through the novel. There are not infrequent sexual innuendos, mostly non-explicit, interspersed with slightly more jarring instances of explicit material such as is usually not found in this particular genre (at least so far as I’ve seen), including a clockwork corset for improving the quality of a lady’s “alone time.” There is little occult content, aside from references to a bogus (or is it?) cult that worships an ancient deity that sounds suspiciously like H.P. Lovecraft’s legendary Cthulhu. The Ancient Order supposedly uses this cult to muddy the waters regarding their activities, but there’s a bit of evidence towards the end of the book that suggests there is more to that story than is being said….

This is a longer version of a review I did for the Manhattan Book Review.

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Review: ” Star Wars: Dark Disciple” by Christie Golden

Title: Dark Disciple
Author: Christie Golden (Novel); Katie Lucas, Matt Michnovetz, & Dave Filoni (Original scripts)
Series: Star Wars (Official Canon, The Clone Wars)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Del Rey, 2015

New Star Wars! Dark Disciple is based on a collection of scripts from the canceled Clone Wars animated series on Cartoon Network which serve to tie up the story arc featuring Asajj Ventress, Count Dooku’s former apprentice.

The galaxy-wide Clone Wars have raged for almost three years, but an end is nowhere in sight. Every Republic victory is matched by a corresponding setback, almost as if both sides were being played by a single entity bent on preserving the stalemate. The Separatist forces led by Count Dooku grow only more ruthless as the war drags on, committing atrocities that haunt the Jedi with their inability to prevent innocent bloodshed until even the Jedi council is ready to consider the unthinkable: assassination. This dangerous mission will forge strange alliances, forcing unorthodox Jedi Master Quinlan Vos to ally with Dooku’s former apprentice Asajj Ventress, a deadly assassin holding a grudge against Dooku for betraying her and slaughtering her entire people. Together, Vos and Ventress could just be powerful enough to take out Dooku…if they don’t kill each other first.

I have to say, I really enjoyed this one. Towards the end of the animated series Ventress was becoming one of the standout characters, gaining some real depth as she dealt with the consequences of Dooku’s betrayal and her private war for revenge. Add Quinlan Vos, one of my favorite characters from the Legends version of the Clone Wars, into the mix and you’ve got a winning proposition. If you followed the animated series, you owe it to yourself to check this out. If you’re a newcomer, you’ll probably be fine as well, though most of the references to past events will likely be lost on you. If you’re a veteran of the pre-Cartoon Network Clone Wars though…you’ll have to come at this with a clean slate. A lot of this, especially Vos’s storyline, is territory we’ve seen before, albeit through the looking glass. I’ll refrain from saying more in the interest of spoilers, but those who were reading Star Wars: Republic in the run-up to Revenge Of The Sith should know what I mean.

CONTENT: Some disturbing violence and torture. Mild profanity. Mild flirting/sexual innuendo, but nothing explicit.

This is a longer version of a review I did for the Manhattan Book Review. You can find that here.

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Short Story Review: “This Long Vigil” by Rhett C. Bruno

Title: This Long Vigil
Author: Rhett C. Bruno
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Perihelion Magazine, 2015

A while back, I gave a friendly review to Mr. Bruno’s debut novel The Circuit: Executor Rising. As a result, the author asked me to also review This Long Vigil, his first professionally-published short story. I was more than happy to do so, and only regret that life kept getting in the way and delaying this review. As of this writing, if you click on the title of the story up top there you can read it for free on the interwebs. Not sure how long that stays up….

Orion has spent twenty-five years as the lone conscious human inhabitant of the Interstellar Ark Hermes, his only companion the ship’s AI Dan as he monitors the various functions of the ship’s age-long trip to a likely new home for the human race. Now the time is approaching for him to be placed back into hibernation, there to sleep away the rest of his life before being recycled into fertilizer for the ship’s garden. Unless he manages to do something unthinkable…unless he manages to escape….

On the whole, I enjoyed the short story. It managed to get me to care about the main character despite the brevity of our encounter, and I definitely enjoyed the role reversal in the naming structure. Usually the AI/computer characters have the more exotic names, but not here. Here, we have a computer named Dan and a human named Orion. Would the constellation Orion be visible from Alpha Centauri? I kind of doubt it would, but the factual discrepancy didn’t actually occur to me until a moment ago, so I’ll let it slide. Most importantly, I was actually satisfied with the ending to this tale, which is not always the case.

CONTENT: No profanity. No sexual content. Some musing on death, but no real violence.

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Review: “A Storm Of Swords” by George R.R. Martin

Title: A Storm Of Swords
Author: George R.R. Martin
Series: A Song Of Ice And Fire, Volume III
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Bantam, 2003

Three down, two to go! Then I’ll join the horde of poor souls clamoring for the next book’s release…. Obviously, I loved this one. This is no real surprise, though, since everyone says this is the high point of the series so far. Given the awkward structure of the next two books, I can certainly understand that. Obviously, this will contain MAJOR spoilers for the first two books. You’ve been warned!

The chaos that has engulfed Westeros is abating slightly, in that the War of the Five Kings seems to be winding down a bit, but that in no way means that normalcy is anywhere on the horizon. In fact, for most of our favorite characters, things just keep on going from bad to worse. Stannis Baratheon’s bid to capture King’s Landing was foiled spectacularly by the cunning of Tyrion Lannister, but our favorite dwarf was nearly killed in the fighting. When he awakens from his wine-and-poppy coma, he finds himself without a nose….or his position as the King’s Hand. Instead of being hailed as the savior of King’s Landing, all Tyrion has earned is the hatred of the smallfolk. Now under the distrustful eyes of his father and sister, Tyrion is left little power to wield as he navigates the corridors of power. In the Riverlands, Robb Stark’s cause is dealt a deathblow by the loss of the North to Ironborn raiders. On the battlefield, Robb remains undefeated. In every other arena, things are looking dire. People are whispering about this young king who has won every battle, yet managed to lose the war. Heartbroken by the news of the supposed deaths of her two youngest sons, Catelyn Stark has committed treason, releasing Jaime Lannister from his captivity in exchange for the freedom of her daughters held captive in King’s Landing. Unfortunately for her, events have moved beyond such an exchange. While Tyrion would have honored that deal, Tywin has no such intention. Arya was never captured, escaping the city in the guise of a young boy headed to the Wall and now roaming the Riverlands trying to find her way to her mother at Riverrun. Sansa, on the other hand, has had a harsh time of things in King’s Landing. Now it looks as though she’s to be freed from her engagement to the young monster Joffrey, but such a stroke of good fortune can only last so long….Meanwhile, Bran and Rickon are far from dead. The treacherous Theon Greyjoy was unable to catch them, and so resorted to killing and mutilating a couple of peasant boys in the hopes that everyone would believe them dead. Now Rickon is being protected by the Wildling Osha while Bran travels north towards the wall with Jojen and Meera Reed in search of the three-eyed crow that haunts his dreams. North of the wall, Jon Snow walks a fine line as he pretends to be a deserter from the watch, all while watching for an opening to escape and report back to his brothers all he’s learned….if they don’t execute him for desertion when he gets there. Across the sea, Daenerys strikes a desperate gamble for the forces she will need in order to return to Westeros and reclaim her father’s throne….

Longtime readers of A Song Of Ice And Fire hail A Storm Of Swords as the high point in the series, at least as its been published so far. While I have yet to read A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons, I am inclined to agree. This was spectacular. Martin’s prose improves here, if anything. While some might describe the plot as rambling (a fair assessment, I suppose), I never got bored with it. The plot moved quickly despite various side roads, and the characters involved more than hold your interest through every up and down. And speaking of characters, Martin continues to shine here. The characters you already love get more complex, and new favorites are added to the mix…including one or two that you thought you hated. Believe it or not, all it takes to turn Jaime Lannister into an interesting character is the ability to get into his head. We got maybe a hint of his intriguing nature at the end of A Clash Of Kings, while he was being interrogated by Catelyn, but being inside his head takes the edge off his offensive tongue. Turns out he’s far more complex and conflicted than we’d been previously led to believe, and this reveal has been in the works since the first book. To say more would be to court spoilers, so I’ll shut up now. We also get a bit more insight into Tywin Lannister, though increased understanding does not necessarily bring with it increased affection. Tyrion is once again placed on the defensive, removed from his previous position of power and trying desperately to survive the machinations of his sister and father. As a result, he is somewhat less entertaining if no less interesting this time around. Without spoiling things, the major blows he takes towards the end of the book leave me holding my breath to see what happens to him next…and frustrated that I have to wait until book five to find out. In short, I cannot recommend this series highly enough. So go read it already!

CONTENT: R-rated profanity, not gratuitous, but not rare either. Rampant, disturbing violence, from hangings and decapitations to occasionally more grotesque fates–flaying comes up occasionally, though we don’t actually “see” that happen. There’s not-infrequent reference to torture though. Again, a fair amount of sexual content, including topics such as incest, rape, underage sex, and prostitution. Not really rendered in gratuitous detail, but often frankly and/or crudely discussed. There are also some elements that could be considered occultic, beyond the usual fantasy-based magic of dragons and monsters. The Others command an army of reanimated corpses, while the followers of R’hllor wield some very real power, including resurrecting the dead and reading the future (though not always reliably).

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