Monday, February 27, 2017

The Dispatcher (2016) John Scalzi

The Dispatcher (2016)  John Scalzi

Alright.  For the record I like reading John Scalzi.  I particularly like the Old Man’s War series.  The Dispatcher is a bit different.  Imagine a world where any death caused intentional does not stick.  People come back.  So if someone is about to die from natural causes you could hire someone to intentionally kill them and they will come back at a point where something different could be tried.  This is where our hero Tony Valdez comes in.  He is just this sort of person who intentionally kills someone to avoid their dying from natural causes.  Who hires such a person?  Well,  hospitals, of course,  for one.  If you are a surgeon who is about to lose someone on the table Tony can pull out his “gun” and off the person before they die a natural death and same the hospital the explanation. Another candidate might be a couple of college boys who decide to play at being medieval knights for real with swords and ball and hammers.  Once they have chopped off a few limbs the dispatcher can kill them and they will reappear in one piece. You can still kill someone if you are patient -  it is a little gruesome but ingenious.  You will need to read it to see how.


In this novella he must figure out why his friend and dispatcher has gone missing and why his last client did not come back as planned. It is an interesting premise that brings up a lot of questions – some of which Scalzi tackles.  Seems like an easy set up for a B-level Sci fi movie or short run series.  Wouldn’t surprise me.  It is sort of like Looper in a way but with a different premise. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

City of Stairs (2014). Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Stairs (2014) Robert Jackson Bennett


It is worth reading the first book of Bennett’s Divine Cities Trilogy,  City of Stairs,  for the character Sigrud.  He is the “assistant” for our heroine,  Shara Komayd,  a Saypuri diplomat / spy who uncovers a political and supernatural plot in the continental capital of Bulikov.  The former home to a ragtag group of divinities who ruled most of this world in a capricious and ruthless manner.  Some unhinged people want to bring these godlike creatures back and Shara with the help of “Norse-like” Sigrud work to uncover and stifle this plot.  Shara and Sigrud have personal histories that we begin to see throughout the book that are as fascinating as the main plot.  Sigrud’s fight with the supernatural river-monster is epic.  Like Mona Bright in American Elsewhere Bennett draws terrific characters that are consistent in their actions in ways that are at first unexpected but upon reflection make perfect sense.  

Thursday, February 23, 2017

American Elsewhere (2013)

American Elsewhere (2013)  Robert Jackson Bennett

Is it Science Fiction?  Yes
Is it Fantasy?  Yes
Is it Horror?  Probably
Is it religious allegory?  I think so.
Is it a love story? Maybe….

What a wonderfully weird book.   Our heroine, Mona Bright,  is terrific.  She is a kick-ass, take no prisoners ex cop who lands in a surreal little New Mexico town where a great night for a couple is for the husband to hook up toasters to the engine of a lime-green Cadillac while his wife stands by holding warm lemonade in high heels until her feet bleeds. 

Mona inherits a house in Wink New Mexico from her late mother after her drunken father dies.  Her first task is to find the town of Wink which is not on any map.  When she finally finds it the mystery deepens.  On the day that her mother killed her self the town of Wink was devastated by a lightening storm and the girl bathing in her old mother’s house was electrocuted. 

While Mona is getting her bearings in this weird place the inhabitants are at war.  Someone is killing off the leading (eldest) interlopers by pairing them up with a rabbit skull that somehow leads them to a supernatural killer – the Wilding.  

The love story comes in between Mr. First and his little friend, Gracie.  How is First going to try and save Gracie from the coming abomination -  MOTHER.  Oh Mother dear.  The question is whose mother is it.  Can this monster somehow be related to Laura Alvarez -  Mona’s mother?  Mona finds that her mother was once a brilliant scientist working in Coburn labs studying dimensional bruising.   Could an entity from beyond have taken over the body of Laura and led to her apparent schizo break and suicide?   Does this malevolent beast want to use Mona’s lost baby to transverse back to Wink and beyond?  Who will help Mona fend this threat off – Mrs. Benjamin?, Mr. Parson?,  Ganymede?,  Gracie?  First?,  the Wilding?  Or will Mona give Mother her pan-dimensional baby as a tribute?  Not a chance!


This book reminds me of Neil Gaiman, Steven King, HP Lovecraft, C.S. Lewis  but mostly the strange and lovely mind of Madeline L’Engle.  In any event enjoy! And when you are done try Bennett’s City of Stairs for something much different.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

SevenEves (2015): Neal Stephenson - When the world needs where (and with whom) do you want to be?




Seveneves (2015)  Neal Stephenson
First off there are two things you should know:
I like the writings of Neal Stephenson
This is a really long book
There is no way to give a truly detailed plot summary.


This book attempts to answer that age-old SF question:  What would you do if the world were going to end?  The answer for most people (according to Stephenson) is to help give a small group of people a chance to survive and possibly continue humanity. 

If you wake up tomorrow and the moon is in 7 (soon to be 8) pieces you had better get ready.   Those pieces are going to rattle together and chip off so many little pieces then in a couple of years they will start to fall to Earth (Hard Rain) creating an unlivable environment for thousands of years.  You must either find a way to survive way under the surface or get out into space above the turmoil. 

This book focuses on the process of trying to build a sustainable space station in a short time.  All of the political and technological barriers as well as the personalities and approaches to problem solving.  One would think that cooperation and compromise might be the best approach but not according to Stephenson.  For instance, the actions of Sean Probst to bring a comet to the party (dying in the process) had nothing to do with a committee but was essential for the success of the mission.  On the other hand, poor leadership decisions by the former President of the US almost results in loss of everyone. 

Most people will (like me) admire Dinah’s guts and bold actions which saved the whole effort.  The others Eves each have qualities that are key but Dinah was heart and soul of the group. 

I am not sure that Stephenson needed to add the Earth-based efforts to round things out.  It makes the Eves solution seem less important and less dramatic.  Also it is hard to understand how either of those gambles would have been successful.  I do not think that they would have been.  In any event, it is a thought provoking book  - another one from Neal Stephenson who is quickly becoming one of my favorites – Try Cryptonomicon.

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Morning Star (2016) Pierce Brown, Book Three of the Red Rising Trilogy


·       Darrow of Lykos, a Red physically remade into a Gold to infiltrate and destroy the Society, (The Reaper).
·       Virginia au Augustus, nicknamed "Mustang", daughter of Nero, the former ArchGovernor of Mars.
·       Adrius au Augustus, Virginia's twin brother, the sociopathic ArchGovernor of Mars, also known as "The Jackal".
·       Victra au Julii, Darrow's loyal lieutenant, half sister of Antonia au Severus-Julii.
·       Sevro au Barca, Darrow's best friend and second-in-command, acting leader of the Sons of Ares.
·       Cassius au Bellona, the Sovereign's Morning Knight, Darrow's nemesis and former friend.
·       Roque au Fabii, Imperator of the Sovereign's Sword Armada, Darrow's former ally and friend.
·       Antonia au Severus-Julii, Praetor of the Fifth and Sixth Legions, Victra's half-sister.
·       Octavia au Lune, the Sovereign of the Society.
·       Lysander au Lune, grandson and heir of the Sovereign.
·       Aja au Grimmus, the Protean Knight and the Sovereign's bodyguard.
·       Ragnar Volarus, Darrow's Obsidian lieutenant.
·       Sefi the Quiet, Ragnar's sister and leader of the Valkyries.
·       Holiday ti Nakamura, a Gray Legionnaire secretly working for the Sons of Ares, and Darrow's deputy.
·       Regulus ag Sun, nicknamed "Quicksilver", a Silver and the richest man in the Society through ownership of the helium-3 refineries on Phobos.
·       Dancer, Darrow's mentor in the Sons of Ares and later the Sons' liaison for the Reds.
·       Mickey, a Violet carver who remade Darrow as a Gold.
·       Lilath, Gold, captain of The Jackal’s bonerider’s (personal killers)

Morning Star begins with our hero Darrow being tortured in a box.  This has been te case for about a year.  Victra has been tortured by her half sister Antonia. Everyone in the solar system thinks Darrow is dead because the Sovereign stages a mock execution of some poor slob made up like Darrow.  Everyone but Sevro -  who never stopped believing.  He is possibly the most interesting character in the books.  Sevro sends Holiday and Trigg ti Nakamura to rescue Darrow and they get Victra as well but Trigg is lost in the battle – killed by Aja – She is a beast.

Mickey (the carver) is brought back to fix Darrow and Victra.  I was disappointed that Mickey’s character was not developed more as he is the key to this whole saga.  Oh well.  Once they are well they set off to kidnap Quicksilver (a rich gray).  They arrive to find Mustang, Antonia, and Cassius in a peace conference with Quicksilver.  After a battle, they capture Quicksilver and find out that he was a co-founder (with Fitchner) of the Son’s of Ares. Next up -  Sevro and the howlers serve up a distraction on Phobos while Darrow and Ragnar head to Ragnar’s home to try and enlist the Obsidians in their battle.  Along the way they are met by Mustang who joins them.  Aja and Cassius follow them and both ships crash land.  Darrow and Mustang caputure Cassius.  Aja kills Ragnar (hard to believe) and then escapes. 
Darrow and Mustang then convince Ragnar’s sister Sefi to join their cause.  They do this by unmasking the Gold’s in the temple who are pretending to be gods.  Sefi beheads her mother, Alia Snowsparrow, when she disagrees with Sefi.  There are a lot of themes about parent and child relationships in this series.  Mostly bad ones.

Next they convince Romulus au Raa, one of the moon lords of Jupitor, to align with them over a counter offer by Rogue representing the Sovereign.  So the big space battle commences.  Pierce Brown is no Alistair Reynolds when it comes to space battles but this one is interesting.  Darrow suckers Rogue in close thinking he has won and then Darrow and a team of reds take clawdrills across and tear straight to the bridge of Rogues ship (helped by Rogue’s Pink).  Antonia escapes leaving Rogues fleet exposed.  Rogue sees that all is lost and despite Darrow’s pleas for his to comeback to his side.  Rogue commits suicide.  Noble and poetic to the end.  Victra captures Antonia. Sevro stops an uprising of the obsidians who are hanging every Gold in sight.  He does this by first hanging Cassius for killing his father (Fitchner) and then (dramatically) hanging himself for his various murders.  Sefi cuts them both down and unites the obsidians (once again) under Darrow.  Sevro and Victra are married.  Their kids will be demons.

Before the final battle Darrow suggests letting Cassius go as someone is bound to kill him.  As he and Sevro and Mustang are doing this Cassius steals Sevro’s gun and kills him.  He lets Antonia go and they steal a shuttle and take Darrow, Mustang, and Sevro’s body (why?) to the Sovereign Octavia who is there with her grandson and Adrius (the Jackal).  Octavia orders Darrow’s right hand to be cut off.  This is done. Octavia orders Aja to kill Antonia because she fled the battle and left Rogue outflanked.  Adrius plans to kill Darrow with Sevro’s gun (why?) and discovers that it is full of blanks.  Cassius then reveals that he is actually on Darrow’s side after all. They fight Aja until they get in position to awaken Sevro (right Sevro is not really dead – big surprise).  Together they are able to defeat Aja and kill the Sovereign.
Then Adrius (that Jackal) has one more curve.  There are 100 nukes on Luna and he will set them off one by one unless Darrow commits suicide and Mustang and Cassius let him assume the throne.   Lilath is the button pusher in her space ship.  Instead of killing himself Darrow punches Adrius in the throat and rips out is tongue (Sefi is envious) .  With the help of the Ash Lord they pummel Lilath and prevent her from setting off all of the Nukes. 

Mustang becomes the sovereign and Darrow is her consort? Husband?  Cassius takes Lysander off to explore the solar system.  Sefi is off to unite all of the obsidians (trouble brewing).  Everything tied up very nice if you ask me  - but wait.  What was Mustang doing during that year that Darrow was being tortured in a box?  Having a baby apparently.  She introduces Darrow to his son – Pax. Now everything is tied up nice and pretty.  I think Eo would be happy – Bear the Chains.

Summary:

A good book along the lines of Hunger Games.  A much bigger geography with the whole solar system.  While not many space battles there are some terrific moments such as when Darrow and the Reds take the clawdrills into Rogues ship.  A lot of vicious politics, which is fun. Some of the situations escape belief but that is nature of these sorts of novels.  I liked it a lot and recommend it.