Book Review: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn (Four Stars)


Book Review: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn

Four Stars

“Is this what Chiss do? See a trap, and just walk into it?”

Good science fiction–albeit a space opera–not just good Star Wars fiction. The reader need not have any previous exposure to Star Wars nor Thrawn to enjoy this origins tale in which Zahn skillfully weaves the many threads of existing stories into a fresh, original story.

“There’s no trust in politics. Never has been. Never will be.”

Thrawn is there in all his glory, but he is also limited and occasionally tone deaf, so he’s less superhuman.

“All Eli could see in his face was that maddening confidence of his.”

The two primary threads interweave convincingly. Bad people see themselves as serving a greater good, just a good people are often blind to their own faults. Good Holmes-Watson interchanges. Understanding an opponent through his art is Continue reading


Book Review: Galactic Bounty by William C. Dietz (Three Stars)


Book Review: Galactic Bounty (Sam McCade #1) by William C. Dietz

Three Stars

“Now the stars no longer seemed mysterious. Just beautiful points of light, none of which were home.”

A product of its times (first published in 1986) can be seen in both the portrayal of women, though Dietz did better than many contemporaries, and the cigars. Today such a work would be boycotted, if not banned. Did I much the cigars?

“Somehow it seemed important to finish what he’d started.”

It’s space opera. Not much socially redeeming quality; more popcorn for the brain. Better than average. (Except for the cigars.)

“The wise man trades words before blows.”

Book Review: Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (Three Stars)


Book Review: Ninefox Gambit (The Machineries of Empire #1) by Yoon Ha Lee

Three Stars

“Her instructor was full of shit. There was no comfort to be extracted from the dead, from flesh evaporated from bones.”

Slow start. Dumps you right into this universe with little preparation and less explanation. Apparently not a translation, but awkward reading at times as you figure out calendarials, sentient servitors, and exotics amid not-quite-American syntax. A space opera with all the tech, jargon, language and blood that implies.

“Immortality was like sex: it made idiots of otherwise rational people.”

What is the meaning of suicide and mass murder–or even immortality–in a culture which does not value life? From context you discover that the actors are not Continue reading

Book Review: Conqueror’s Pride by Timothy Zahn (Three Stars)

Book Review: Conqueror’s Pride (Conqueror’s Saga #1) by Timothy Zahn

Three Stars

“When lives are at stake, you do what you have to, whether it’s personally comfortable for you or not.”

Typical Cold War-era space opera. Independently-minded heroes take on bumbling bureaucracy as well as the heinous enemy. Standard space opera opening: new alien obliterates friendly human greeters.

“No empire looks oppressive to those in power.”

Well conceived (first published in 1994) and well written. The technology and science aged well: despite being written before the advent of smart phones, tablets, and the internet. Not great literature, not even great science fiction, but a good read.

“We don’t always create the wars. But whether we do or not, we always win them. Tell your Elders that.”

Trivia: The Conqueror’s Sagas immediately preceded Zahn’s enormously popular Admiral Thrawn Star Wars books.

“It’s that ‘supposed to be’ that I worry about.”

Book Review: Behind the Throne by K. B. Wagers Three Stars

Book Review: Behind the Throne (Indranan Wars #1) by K. B. Wagers

Three Stars

“I could have come home. My whole life could have been different.” “We all live with such a burden.”

Well-written science fiction adventure that rises above mere space opera by Wager’s fully conceived and presented non-Earth Hindu female-dominated culture. The narrative follows the protagonist closely, so the reader is dragged along with the rapid pace of the action, but the cultural, religious and technical details are melded in expertly.

“Practically everyone is hiding something … including you.”

Quibble: Bodies in space do not implode.

“Now I was finding out that my timing was as [bad] as my judgment.”

Telegraphed many of her punches. While the protagonist was kept off balance by the rapidly evolving action, she picked up on everything and everyone too quickly, robbing the story of uncertainty. It’d have been nice if she’d been wrong about someone.

“Concentrate on what you know. The rest will sort itself out, or it’ll kill you.”

Satisfying close for this opening episode in a greater story.

“We don’t get to say everything that needs saying before the end.”

Book Review: Of Treasons Born by J. L. Doty (Three Stars)

Book Review: Of Treasons Born (Treason Cycle) by J. L. Doty

Three Stars

“Victory was never sweet; it was merely a relief.”

Better than average pace opera. Hard science fiction. Run Silent Run Deep meets Starship Troopers.

“His emotions were all sharp edges and angry corners.”

Good feel of shipboard operations. Decimal time reminds the reader of the otherness of this era.

“Only when he got back to the edge of death did he feel alive.”

Quibbles: Like most faster-than-light or near light speed space writers, Doty forgets the impact of time dilation. It would next to impossible to synchronize so many actors and movements. “The best laid plans” can’t be synchronized. Twice uses “auspiciously” when he means “ostensibly.”

“For them it’s over. For us it goes on.”

Book Review: The Zero Stone by Andre Norton (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Zero Stone by Andre Norton

Four Stars

“Who may seize upon time and hold it fast?”

A space opera but much more, and it works. Some whine about the past dearth of recognition for female science fiction/fantasy writers. Andre Norton is proof against those claims, and this book backs to her reputation.

“We were late comers to the space lanes.”

“Planet time is measured in years, space time less easily.” In 1968, Norton got how time varied for those traveling at relativist speeds, why can’t modern writers?

“Never underestimate your opponent.”

A story that works today almost as well as when written, a claim few science fiction tales can make, this is at once a stimulating rollick through well-traveled space lanes and an introspective journey of a semi-antihero toward the quest of a lifetime.

“Sometimes right and the law are not one and the same.”

Curiously, for a female Grand Master of the SFWA, Norton does not feature a single female character, unless you count the ship’s cat.

“Do not seek out the shadows of the future; you will discover sometimes that the sun of tomorrow will dispatch them.”

Thanks to Open Road for making this classic tale available.

“A man’s hardest ordeal is waiting.”

Book Review: War Stories from the Future, edited by August Cole (Three Stars)

Book Review: War Stories from the Future, edited by August Cole

Three Stars

“There will be an end to war, but there will always be a need for heroes.”

A collection science fiction tales focusing on warfare in the near future. Not all are traditional space operas. Better than most anthologies, but variable quality.

“Nobody wanted to be responsible for the carnage that everyone constantly felt was imminent.”

My favorite is “Codename: Delphi”, though several try to explore how remote command and control and crowd-sourcing battle field analysis impacts combat. Some unintentionally funny.

“Just because the enemy is dead doesn’t mean you’re alive. Reality is simpler than games.”

Better than most SF/F anthologies perhaps because it’s more focused. Even the “Best of…” books tend toward diffuse and drivel.

“The trouble with foreign policy is that foreigners are so unpredictable.”

Book Review: The Butcher of Anderson Station by James S. A. Corey (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Butcher of Anderson Station (Expanse 0.5) by James S. A. Corey

Three Stars

A well-conceived and well-written short story which apparently sets up a great series. This is a good way to set the hook: a self-contained story which introduces the setting and perhaps the characters of the greater tale. The reader know what she is, and isn’t, getting.

“Centuries of warfare in the electronic age …”

That said, it reads as if it takes place late in this century, not two hundred years or more into the future. The weapons are current or under development. The technology and electronics is nothing beyond the reach of current science. In fact, the tactics—a “ground” assault on a space platform—seem incredibly archaic. I know space operas thrive on grand battles and fleet engagements, but it strikes as a failure of imagination to have nineteenth and twentieth century forms of warfare the norm.

“With the same information, I’d do it again.”

The issue of culpability is as old as mankind. Even folks who came back from “good wars”, like World War II and the 1991 Gulf War, have regrets and misgivings about the tactics employed to achieve the ends. Our protagonist earned the skeletons in his closet. For readers who have no engaged in combat or combat support, it’s a good stretch of their minds.

Nice set up for future reading.

Book Review: A Passage of Stars by Kate Elliott (Two Stars)

Book Review: A Passage of Stars (Highroad Trilogy #1) by Kate Elliott

Two Stars

“Set patterns never work. You have to make it up as you go along.”

This is another of those first-volume-is-merely-the-setup books. Sigh. It’s a nice set up, but the reader is left hanging. Episodic.

“Waiting takes the most discipline.”

Interesting characters, though several are so stereotypical as to seem like caricatures. Many decisions and branches of the plot seem forced, that is, the characters seem to be propelled by no logic other than advancing the plot. The people in the story shouldn’t act as if they know it’s a story; they should think and act as if it’s life.

“He ain’t like the other ‘bots. He be smart. Real smart, not fake smart.”

Another story where the robot or android or alien is the most fascinating character. Assuming Bach turns out to be the key to the story, not just a MacGuffin, he is developed slowly and enigmatically. His “singing” bits of seventeenth century music adds to his peculiarity.

“I judge injustice, not humanity.”

Lots of de rigueur Occupy Wall Street, baby Bolshevik philosophy and pompous rich entitlement bashing. Science fiction serves as a bully pulpit for many a preacher. Elliott is smart enough to keep the preaching at arm’s length, but it’s still tedious.

“Never be sorry for love. That is what sustains us.”