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.”

Book Review: The Risen Empire by Scott Westerfeld (One Star)

Book Review: The Risen Empire (Succession #1) by Scott Westerfeld

One Star out of Five

(Warning: Lots of spoilers.)

“There are no moral victories. Only real defeats.”

Talk about coitus interruptus. The whole book develops the coming big battle, slowed by dozens of point of view shifts and flashbacks, and the last sentence of the text is “The Lynx moved toward battle.”

What? That’s it?

“Humanity is but the raw materials of greater minds.”

Yes, we know the battle will resolve nothing, in fact may make things worse. This is only Part One after all. But building the reader’s anticipation for three hundred pages, then slamming the door in our face is inexcusable.

“All systems of sufficient complexity tend toward self-organization, self-replication and finally self-consciousness … as inescapable as entropy.”

Well, if erratically, plotted; well written. Headed toward a three or four star rating until the book ran out before the story. I say again, cheat! I generally do not post reviews this negative, but this is egregious. Authors have a contract with readers to deliver something at the end of each volume.

“With the revelation of Amazon’s first stirring, it became obvious why humans existed … to build computer networks.”

Quibbles? Sure, lots of twentieth century practices and technologies for cultures supposing to have conquered death, light speed, gravity, etc. Clumsy, but forgivable. Several developments had no apparent reason other than advancing the plot. Example: Two people are pursued by a two-person scout aircraft (even though both sides usually use remote or autonomous drones, so when they capture it, it’ll transport both of them.

“Death is the real thief. Love was fragile and hapless compared to it.”


Book Review: Sky Hunter by Chris Reher Three Stars

Book Review: Sky Hunter (Targon Tales #1) by Chris Reher

Three Stars out of Five

Enjoyable space opera/romantic adventure story. Apparently one of Reher’s early works. Not quit as good as her later work. The plot and storytelling is good, but it’s a bit sparse and contains numerous minor typographical errors.

Well-developed heroine who is neither perfect nor a super woman. Much more enjoyable.

Though this book opened a five book (so far) series) it is neatly self-contained, not leaving the reader dangling.

Book Review: Rumors of Glory by Dietmar Wehr (Three Stars)

Book Review: Rumors of Glory (The System States Rebellion Book 1) by Dietmar Wehr

Three Stars out of Five

Competent space opera. The opening round of an extended series (Wehr’s Synchronicity series ran to four volumes), this tale sets up the future conflict between am Earth-led Federation of planets and a breakaway group of planets, along the lines of America exiting the British Empire in the eighteenth century, all made possible by the discovery of faster-than-light drives late in the 21st century.

Wehr is a prolific author, but his writing begs for polishing. After reading the opening sentence of Chapter One, “It was just after dawn by the time …”, I almost closed the book. The storytelling is good, if rough. Wehr details the logic of each side’s position and allows the story to build, without taking sides.

Quibble: a 900-meter diameter troop carrier couldn’t possible hold 100,000 combatants plus 2000 vehicle (including tanks) and two months ammo and supplies, especially as those 100,000 bodies (plus the ship’s crew) must be fed, bedded, and exercised during the several months to get anywhere. (No hint of deep sleep options.)

Cover art quibble: all the vessels in the story are reported to be spherical, yet the cover art vehicles are quite angular.

Popcorn for the brain. A fast read; almost 200 pages. A good read.