Book Review: “The Citadel of Lost Ships” by Leigh Brackett (Four Stars)

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Book Review: “The Citadel of Lost Ships” by Leigh Brackett

(Four Stars)

“Now the Kraylens were going the way of the others, straws swept before the great bloom of Progress.”

First published in 1943, this story reads well today, despite some anachronisms. Good plot and character development without data dumps and preaching. Yes, vintage SF authors were just as pulpit-prone as moderns. Brackett was sensitive to minority and native population rights.

“But Romany will be happier.” “We don’t ask to be happy. We only ask to be free.”

Some anachronisms: wooden ladder, cigarettes, the protagonist’s attitude toward the female lead. The idea that Venus might have a hot, wet atmosphere was common to older SF writers, just like canals on Mars long after we knew better.

“They take us and place us in camps in the great cities. Small groups of us, so that we are divided and split. We will die first.”

Trivia: Bracket wrote the first draft of Empire Strikes Back just before she died.

“Why do earthmen have to change everything they lay their hands on?”

(1944 Best Retro Novelette Hugo Award finalist)

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Book Review: “When We Were Starless” by Simone Heller (Five Stars)

Book Review: “When We Were Starless” by Simone Heller

(Five Stars)

“We didn’t change a thing, and all our sacrifices were just to survive another day. It was enough, mostly, as long as we pretended it didn’t tear our hearts out.”

“We can’t afford to believe in comfort. There’s only blackness.”

Excellent. Packs a bunch of storytelling into just a few pages. Bright and tight.

“If the winds are willing and you’re keeping us safe, I’ll eat the stuff that’s trying to eat me.”

Heller builds her world through the eyes of her protagonist. The reader learns Mink’s troubles and hopes–and those of her adopted tribe–as she experiences the. Good job.

“You deny me my contribution to our survival, just because you’re too sappy to accept what has to be done.” He might still get his chance to die alone.

Cover art is from Clarksworld October 2018 magazine, in which this story appeared.

“Just remember, beyond the blackness, worlds are waiting.”

(2019 Hugo Short Story finalist)

Book Review: Star Wanderer by Joe Vasicek (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Outworlder (Star Wanderer #1) by Joe Vasicek

(Four Stars)

“’There’s a real live girl with me on this ship.’ Few thoughts had ever filled him with so much terror.”

Reads like a throwback to the Golden Age of science fiction. Short, young-reader innocent, reflecting values of fifty years ago. Well done.

“You sure make better company than the stars.” “Stars.” “Yes, stars. That’s good.”

Peculiar that two intelligent young adults are together for three months with so little Continue reading

Book Review: The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley (Three Stars)

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(Three Stars)

”Everything that’s going to happen has already happened. You just haven’t experienced it yet. We are, all of us, caught within a massive loop of time, bouncing around in the spaces between things.”

Innovative fold-timeline, time-travel story. Narrative follows the protagonist as she tries to figure out when and where she is, what’s happening, and whether she can do anything about it. Hurley worked hard at this; it shows. It could have been the big story of this generation, but it isn’t.

“You all right?” “No. None of us is all right.” “I’m not the bad guy.” “No. We all are.” “I don’t think that’s true.” “Whatever helps you sleep.”

A few decades ago I would have found this cutting edge; now it’s just Continue reading

Book Review: Vanguard by Jack Campbell (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Vanguard (Genesis Fleet #1) by Jack Campbell

(Four Stars)

“[We thought] we’d all get along, and everyone else would leave us alone because it’s such a big universe.” “Did they ask anybody who actually lives in this universe whether that made sense?”

Best space opera I’ve read in years because it’s more than that genre implies. Team of Sullenbergers space opera, but so much more. I would like to have their luck.

“In a universe run by humans, drills over time often become self-licking ice cream cones that justify whatever purpose those in charge of the drills are looking for.”

Ignore the military stories written by non-veterans. Campbell has been there and done that. It shows. The military heritage is more than Continue reading

Book Review: Zer0es by Chuck Wendig (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Zer0es (Zer0es #1) by Chuck Wendig

(Four Stars)

“Everything is connected. And all of it is vulnerable.”

Ready Player One meets Terminator. A chilling morality tale about life in a connected society. Well-conceived and told. Complex cast of stereotypical, but believable characters, designed to rub sparks from each other. None of them fit, one doesn’t even belong among them, and then there are the cops.

“What I do these days is a victimless crime. Money isn’t money anymore. It’s all just ones and zeroes.” “We’re all just ones and zeroes. The trick is figuring out which of us are ones and which of us are zeroes.”

Why not five stars? Didn’t care for the framing story–told too much and served no purpose except as a hook to book #2. Over-the-top profanity–unnecessary and lazy.

“Feels as solid as a paper airplane. It’ll fly, but I don’t know how well it’ll land.” “Relax. That’s hackers for you. We kinda make the parachute after we jump out of the plane.”

Quibbles: Brains may be computers, but that doesn’t mean that they’re all wired alike or that you can just plug in and upload and download thoughts. Twice refers to Sidewinders as air-to-ground missiles; they aren’t.

“If Typhon was designed to protect America, she must first invokes chaos … because they have to be willing to accept us, she said. Because in chaos is opportunity.”

As we become more connected, not only does privacy, but accountability disappears. The real power in Washington lies with the bureaucracy, not the three constitutional branches. And a scenario such as Wendig describes–out-of-control AI concocted by quasi-official agencies two or three times removed from public visibility or control–is possible. Or soon will be.

Quis custodiet custodes?” Juvenal (“Who will guard the guardians [themselves]?”)

Book Review: “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal (Four Stars)

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Book Review: “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal

(Four Stars)

“What do I have to be depressed about?”

Short story opening with a Wizard of Oz tie-in. Creative tying of Baum’s classic to previous novels set in Kowal’s Lady Astronaut universe.

“It shames me that my first reaction was anger. How dare he?”

Quibble: “They’ve got a slingshot that can launch a ship up to near light speed.” Maybe someday, but not with then-current technology. These folks still use punch cards to program computers.

“The decision would be easier if I knew when he would die. I still hate myself for thinking that.”

Movie Review: Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve (Four Stars)

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Movie Review: Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve

(Four Stars)

There are days that define your story beyond your life. Like the day they arrived.

Excellent hard science fiction. Despite that–and several Academy Award nominations and a Nebula and Hugo Awards–it was ignored at the box office. Probably because it was too cerebral.

Everything you do in there, I have to explain to a room full of men whose first and last question is, “How can this be used against us?” So you’re going to have to give me more than that.

Amy Adams makes the movie. She has the best part, best lines, and despite having only one glamour scene looks believable through it all. Whitaker and Renner stumble through their parts.

“Language is the foundation of civilization. It is the glue that holds a people together. It is the first weapon drawn in a conflict.”

There’s also a spiritual parable quality to Arrival which can’t be ignored. Let each make of it as he or she will.

“Despite knowing the journey and where it leads, I embrace it, and I welcome every moment of it.”

 

Book Review: Starseers by Lindsay Buroker (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Starseers (Fallen Empire #3) by Lindsay Buroker

(Three Stars)

“Are you reading my mind?” “Of course. Would you trust anything that comes out of your mouth?” “Perhaps not in this case, no.”

More space opera adventures of Buroker’s fighter pilot turned pacifist and herder of strays. Alisa seems a magnet for conflicting and conflicted companions and all the trouble which floats in their wake. The storytelling is fast paced and snarky.

“Did you expect something else?” “From you? I’ve come to expect inappropriate humor when it would be … inappropriate.” “I don’t always make a joke.”

Previously noted the parallels to Star Wars stories, perhaps a more apt comparison would be to Martha Wells’ murderbot stories, though in them the snarkiness and cyborgnetics are in one package.

“I won’t do anything cyborgy.” “Cyborgy? What would that look like exactly?” “I don’t know, but I assure you it’s very menacing.”

Quibble: “Her ship, which weighed thousands of pounds … was resting on a sheet of ice.” No, any kind of space freighter would weigh thousands of tons. And it just crash landed on that ice. If it was going through the ice, it would have been when velocity multiplied its mass.

“A tool is only as good or evil as the man who wields it.” “Says the man smithing a sword.”

Book Review: Razor’s Edge by Martha Wells (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Razor’s Edge by Martha Wells

(Four Stars)

“You can’t be responsible for every survivor of Alderaan, Leia told herself. It was worse than being the Alliance’s shining symbol and figurehead.”

The best Star Wars book I’ve read in years. Leia gets a story to show what she’s made of, and it’s quite a bit. True believers may argue whether this story is Expanded Universe or Legends or canonical. IMHO, it fits the canon well enough to make the discussion moot; read and enjoy.

“See, this is the part where you yell at me and prove with, I don’t know, brilliant logic or secret information, how of course we can trust them and I go away embarrassed but reassured.” Leia smiled wryly at her. “I wish.”

Set two years after Star Wars Episode Four (movie). Leia seems to have matured fast, and her relationship with Han more developed. Oh, it’s going where we know it will go, but it seems to already be there.

“Knowing too much about Han and Chewbacca’s non-Alliance-related businesses, past and present, just made her left eyelid twitch.”

Quibbles: “Terae stepped forward and pulled a fusioncutter out of her tool satchel.” Beyond imagining what a fusioncutter is, we’re told it’s pocket sized. “The asteroid riddles with tunnels that followed the paths of what must have been veins of various ores.” Most small asteroids are amalgams of material, not layers.

“When your decisions affected people’s lives, it was important to have the advice of someone who didn’t think you were always right because of who you were. Or who your father was.”