The Fifth Season by N. K. Jeminsin

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I was amazed at how much dust had accumulated on my copy of N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, the first in her Broken Earth Trilogy. I had purchased the book prior to its winning the 2016 Hugo for Best Novel after reading a few rave reviews. And then it sat, and judging from the dust, undisturbed. Having just purchased the first of the two sequels, The I felt it was time to read the first in the series.

Boy was I glad I did. I often find that books do not match the hype, and one of the warning signs I look for is if the blurb says something like “Lord of the Rings meets Terry Pratchett” or “Star Trek meets Star Wars.” However I tend to like the Hugo winners and really did this time.

The book is centered on Earth, it could be an alternate universe Earth or just one a millennium in the future. It is wracked by huge seismic upheavals that have the potential to destroy most of the life on the planet. These events are called The Fifth Season, essentially the season of death. Sky blocked for decades preventing plants from growing, infectious air, poisoned water; it happens over and over, often centuries apart. This has led to the rise and fall of multiple civilizations.

As these events continually occur a subgroup of humans develops the ability to stop temblors and help stop or alleviate the damage. In polite society they are called orogenes but most commonly they are referred to by the derogatory term rogga. Their powers extend beyond simply quelling shakes, and as the book progresses the full capabilities are starting to emerge, but I suspect we will see even greater capabilities in the future. There is also a non-human element of intelligent life called Stone Eaters who can assume human-like shapes and have powers, most of them mostly undefined, and a role that is intriguing and very unclear at the end of the first novel.

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The book starts at a time when an empire called the Sanzed Equatorial Affiliation centered in its capitol Yumenesa has learned to harness the powers of the orogenes and so help lessen or stop the damages caused by the temblors. They have additional powers, ones that they are not allowed to explore, and the Sanzed have developed a caste called the Guardians who are immune to the powers of the orogenes.

Thie ability of the orogenes, along with a set of rules called ‘stone lore’ have helped the Sanzed and the society it spawned to survive multiple Fifth Seasons. The planet has a single continent, called the Stillness as an obvious parody of what it is really like. Along the equatorial region, where there are no faultlines, there are real cities but elsewhere across the land communities, called comms, are smaller, with large food caches and a semi-rigid caste system that is ever preparing for the arrival of the next Fifth Season.

And another Fifth Season has arrived, and it looks to be the worst on record. As the book opens we see the events that lead up to the catastrophe in a quick summary. Then we are introduced to the cast of characters, some much earlier than the event, some a few years before and the main thread of the book which follows how people are dealing with the emergence of a Fifth Season.

The book follows the converging path of several characters, some orogene and some not. It provides the backstory to some of the characters in detail, some with a bit of backstory and none for others. and leaves you with some surprising conclusions as you progress through the book. You get a strong feeling of who the people involved are, if not what their individual motivations are.

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A feature that I really enjoyed was how the history of the world is fed to the reader in bits and pieces instead of a big data dump chapter. You have to figure out how the Earth and society have reached the point it is in at the start of the novel. As you read your understanding increases, but also changes as additional facts are added to established histories. There are continual surprises woven in all along the book that make any early presumptions about its direction very likely to be wrong. Mine were.

As I read the book I really had no idea how it was going to end. Every guess I made turned out to be incorrect, even when the book provided me with some healthy hints along the way. It ends with a huge question hanging unanswered and it was something that I had not really considered until it was mentioned.

I loved the book and hopefully will not wait several years to read the sequels.

 

The Black Company by Glen Cook

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I originally read The Black Company over 20 years ago, and then lent out the book, never to be seen again. So when I saw that Tor.com was offering a free download, I quickly took it up on its offer. Per my usual modus operandi I then forgot about it for around year. BTW if you do not get the Tor newsletter you should give it a look, I really enjoy it and it offers up a great deal of info on new books as well as old.

Having miraculously finished several books over the holidays that I had started long ago I was looking for something that was a bit different that the histories I had been reading and decided to take up the book again. A bit of background for those who are unfamiliar with Cook, or the Black Company series. These books are often viewed by some of the founding fathers, so to speak, of the Grimdark genre.

The company is very dark, using underhanded tactics to win. More than that it commits the crimes that ravaging forces often do on an innocent population. Although its rape, murdering and pillage are just mentioned as a minor note, the actions are present. However I cannot recall any book I had read up to the time I originally read this that had the side I was rooting for do such evil. Conan always talked about it in the past tense but whenever presented with an opportunity he usually took the chivalrous route. I have read that people put Corwin from Roger Zelazny’s Nine Princes of Amber series in this category but I don’t really see it. Written earlier, but read by me much later is Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane series and he is openly much worse.

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The Black Company bills itself as the last of the Free Companies of Khatovar, a band of highly trained mercenaries that has the ability to fight way above its weight class. The book (first in a series) follows the adventures of the company as it extracts itself from a sticky situation and into a much more dangerous one.

The story is narrated by the company’s surgeon and annalist Croaker. Keeping records of the company is something of a mania for both Croaker and the company as a whole as it carries around its histories and regularly has portions read to the men to remind them of their brothers who have passed before them. Some segments of its history have been lost.

The book opens with the company idling its time in a decaying city called Beryl, ruled (mostly) by a man called the Syndic. Wanting to depart the dead-end job they develop a work-around to their contract, which their honor would not allow them to out and out break. They facilitate in the killing of the Syndic, an action that gives you an idea about the men. To reinforce this image as they march out of town they cast a spell on one of the cities military units putting it to sleep and then massacre its men.

They have already agreed to a new contract with a visiting wizard that goes by the name of Soulcatcher. Soulcatcher is one of ten, called The Taken, that are ruled by a greater wizard, The Lady. They, along with The Lady’s husband the Dominator, had ruled a might empire, been overthrown and imprisoned for centuries until she was released, and then the Taken, but not the Dominator. She resurrects her ancient kingdom and meets with a revolt, just like old times.

The company is sent north to the fighting, wins many battles but the Lady is losing the war, due to the poor overall performance of her armies and the backstabbing of the Taken. The company does capture one of the enemy leaders. Named Whisper, she is their best general and one of its pack of wizards, named the Circle of Eighteen. The Lady turns her into one of the Taken and then she is sent to the Eastern front, where she instantly starts racking up victories.

However the outlook is very different on the Northern Front, as losses start to pile up. The company, along with remnants of the northern armies are forced to retreat back to a huge monolith called the Tower, where the final showdown will occur between a quarter million rebels and roughly 25,000 troops of the Lady. With the wizards on both sides making major contributions.

The final battle in many ways reminds me of David Gemmell’s Legend, which has a final battle that I have always found to be unsatisfactory.

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While I remembered the bare bones of the story I was surprised at how much I had forgotten, including Raven, who emerges as one of the main characters. I think that when I originally read the book I just devoured it because it was unlike anything I had read before and when I read like that I am waiting for the next page and not really thinking in detail about what is occurring on the page I am reading. I just want to see how it ends.

There are a number of minor points that annoy me about the book. Few characters are very well described. I have a mental image of almost none of them. The Lady is described as the most beautiful woman ever, but that is pretty much it. She seems to fall for Croaker, no idea why unless it has to do with the school boy fantasy that he writes about her.

Some interesting plot twists, one that I guessed but others that I did not and that you can see at the end of the book how they will influence future books in this series.

Another is distance and logistics. The company travels over 1,000 miles to the north, and later is forced to retreat, followed by a multiple enemy armies numbering around 250,000 men. Yet the retreat is very rapid and logistics for both friend and foe are not really mentioned. Yet they travel through one desert and a huge forest, both of which would put immense pressure on having adequate food for the men and the animals

Overall I found the book very readable and a great look back at the roots of what could be called the rise of the anti-hero. However not sure if I would recommend the book to friends because it has a dated feel to it, particularly the worldbuilding.

In The Company Of Ogres by A. Lee Martinez

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It is not often in fantasy that you have heroes with names such as Regina, Ward, Frank, Ace, Miriam, and Tate. It is even odder when the heroes are orcs, goblins, ogres, Amazons, sirens and so forth. But that is the way of the world in “In the Company of Ogres by A. Lee Martinez.

However the star of In a Company of Ogres is Never Dead Ned. Ned’s issue is not that he cannot die, he often does and usually in a grim manner, it is that he does not stay dead. He does not come back as a zombie, although zombies do exist in his world, but as a not too motivated human.

In a time of peace, providing troops for ‘emergencies’ and peace keeping is a very profitable business and Ned has found himself assigned to lead Ogre Company in Brute’s Legion. The reason for the promotion is his skill in coming back to life, since the unit, the last stop for misfit soldiers, has been loosing commanding officers.

Ned reluctantly takes over the command of the unit only to discover more death (not surprising), love, the most powerful force ever, conflict, leadership and a whole lot more. There are demons, evil wizards, combat and personal issues all needing to be overcome.

I have always enjoyed humorous books and this one has shot to become a leader of the pack in terms of how much I enjoyed it. The humor is constant and not forced. Not a lot of laugh out loud moments, it just keeps a grin on your face sentence after sentence.

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While other books of this style often give a sly wink to other novels in the same genre, but not this one. I had thought maybe a Lords of the Ring, or any of the similar type stories would be somewhere in the book but no, it seemingly blazes its own trail and the only reference, that I caught, was of all things, Arlo Gutherie’s Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.

Overall I really enjoyed the book, enough that I read it twice-the second time on a flight where a little girl in front of me was seemingly enamored or puzzled by the cover.

Just as a side note I recently watched what might be the worst Sword and Sorcery movie from the 1980’s. I was a fan of this type of movie, just for the corny fun, but Deathstalker II may have killed that enjoyment forever.

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The dialog was horrible, the sets and props apparently stolen from a failed Renaissance Faire, and the action scenes some of the worst I have ever seen. The climactic battle between Deathstalker and the evil wizard/swordsman will not bring to mind Errol Flynn versus Basil Rathbone in The Adventures of Robin Hood, or for that matter even the original Deathstalker. The female lead, Monique Gabrielle is possible the worst female actress I have ever watched. They should have made a Krull II, I mean look at the original cast!

Bloodstone by Karl Edward Wagner

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If someone recommended a book to me that combines Sword and Sorcery with aliens and space ships I would have nodded my head in appreciation and made a mental note to never ask them for recommendations ever again.

And yet that is what Bloodstone, one of Karl Edward Wagner’s five books on his immortal anti-hero Kane, features. Kane, cursed by an insane Eldur God to forever wander the earth after murdering his brother, does so in a sour and evil manner. Whereas Conan, a character in many ways close to Kane, solves everything with violence and hates magic, Kane often resorts to violent magic as well.

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In this book, really almost a novella, Kane is once again seeking to conquer, but this time he is thinking big. In the first of the Kane books I read, a collection of short stories called Night Winds, he was often trying to conquer a single kingdom but here he has set his sights on the entire world.

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To do so he is playing two nations against each other and using one to help him find and exploit an ancient city that was founded by a now almost dead alien race and then use the technology to help his erstwhile allies beat its foe. His allies in theory, at least .

In this book you see that numerous alien races had visited the planet long before the ascent of man, and that remnants of them can still be found. You also see Kane in a role that is often just hinted at in the short stories, as a man behind the scenes pulling the strings of others. Wagner does all of this in a smooth and believable manner, slowly evolving the aliens role in a believable manner and adding a few interesting twists.

One of the things I liked about Bloodstone was that it had a host of full fleshed characters and Wagner has the ability to paint a portrait of a person quickly and yet give you a clear image of them. Important since more than a few die pretty quickly after you meet them!

I greatly enjoyed the book, but I think that Night Winds was more stylistically more to my taste, but I can see how others might enjoy this story better. One thing about Kane. The man is untold years old, always seen plotting to conquer a town, a city, a region or a nation. Yet he always seems to fail. I wonder if this is intentional or just part of the development process and that if Wagner have lived longer we would have seen him as a planetary ruler?

Dancer’s Lament by Ian Esslemont

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Dancer’s Lament (Path to Ascendancy #1)

 

After reading Deadhouse Landing a few months ago I decided to reread Dancer’s Lament. It took me a month to locate the book in my (small) house, and then I had to finish the annual holiday magazine deluge before I could start.

I really enjoyed the second reading more than the first as I caught a good deal on the second reading that I missed the first time. Names and events that are just mentioned once often loom much larger in later books by both Esslemont and his partner in the Malazan universe Steve Erikson. The same with how people develop into friends and foes.  Just as Dancer and Kellanved undergo name changes as they mature and their roles alter so to do the names and identities of people that they interact with in this book as they emerge as allies or enemies.

Overall, just as Kellanved emerges as a more fully developed character in Deadhouse Landing, Dancer is filled out in this book. Originally named Dorin he was the last pupil of the last practitioner of a legendary school of assassins. He has big ambitions, but they are relatively undefined. He has all of the arrogance of someone who is young and inexperienced but very talented.

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Just as so many do when they are young some of his actions puzzle him, as they go against what he desires, or thinks that he desires. Even his eventual partnership with Kellanved, named Wu in this book, is mostly involuntary and he cannot quite understand how it comes about. Eventually he gives up and just starts following where Wu leads.

The basic plot is that the two are traveling on the continent of Quon Tali and both end up in the city of Li Heng, which has been shielded from outside conflicts for ages by a might wizardess called the Protectress, who is aided by a cadre of mages in guarding the city.

Close behind the two travelers is a young man sworn to Hood, the god of death and further behind is an invading army from Quon Tali that has been slowly subjugating half of the continent.  After the two arrive, separately, they get involved in everything from petty crime to helping to deal with the invaders. We also see Wu’s first steps into Shadow, and a hint at some of the forces behind him leading him there and the potential forces that will seek to thwart him.

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I was interested in the degrees of potency that the different mages had, as compared to some of the other characters that inhabit the pages namely the elder races and elder gods. It is much clearer here than in any opf the other books in the series and helped me understand the balance of power between different forces in later books.

Overall once again the one trend that really leaped out at me and greatly impressed me is how well the overall Malazan universe is knitted together. With the huge existing body of work split between two authors I would expect some gaping holes in plot lines and character motivation, and yet if there are any, aside from no doubt some very minor ones, I did not find them.

Originally this series was set to be a trilogy but it now looks like it might go longer, something I hope it does. Here is an interesting read on the creative process from the author given to Fantasy Book Review. If you are a fan of the Malazan novels this is a great read and if you are new to it, it’s also a great place to start.

Deadhouse Landing by Ian C. Esslemont

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Deadhouse Landing: Path to Ascendancy Book 2 is the second installment in the prequel trilogy being written by Esslemont that will serve as a prelude to Steven Erikson’s ten volume Malazan Book of the Fallen. While Erikson’s name is the byline for all ten books, he and Esslemont are partners in this universe, codeveloping the ideas and now splitting writing duties on different offshoots from the main story.

I did not review the first of this series, Dancer’s Lament: Path to Ascendancy Book 1, but may at some future point. I did greatly enjoy it, which is hardly surprising since the Fallen series is probably my second favorite fantasy series. The focus of the newest trilogy is on how two of the main characters amass their original core of people who help conquer a good deal of the known world and create the Malazan Empire.

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I said that I enjoyed Dancer’s Lament but Deadhouse is even better. Esslemont started building momentum in introducing the cast of characters that will play both important and minor roles in the Fallen series in Dancer’s Lament but quickens the pace considerably. It had been some time since I had finished the Fallen series and needed to keep notes to remind me who some of the players were.

The first book revolved around how Dancer and (the soon to be named) Kellanved met and their first moves towards empire and first steps to ascendancy. In hind sight it is interesting that two of the central characters in a ten volume series have rather minor appearances in the series, and yet all revolves around them. Very little information about their back story is provided. This trilogy fills in the gap.

One of the things I have enjoyed about the original Malazan series and in this trilogy as well is that there is no information dump. No long interludes that gives the background of events or people. Starting with Gardens of the Moon you are almost instantly thrust into action with a cast of characters you know nothing about, and little idea what their motives and plans are. I have always hated the info dump in many books because not only do they rehash previous events in case you had started in the middle of the series, but may do it in each volume of a series. Ugh.

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In Deadhouse Landing the two have reached Malaz Island and proceed with developing a crew to take over the island and much more. At the same time the two are in search of clues as to how to enter the Deadhouse, and start the path to ascendancy, or godhood. The book jumps around to multiple characters and starts to bring the different threads together.

I think that Esslemont does an excellent job filling in the motives and back story to many of the people involved in the main series, and in doing so answers a number of questions that I have always had about the series. Just one instance is that Kellanved is always portrayed as a powerful mage in the Fallen series, but does little compared to a number of others mages in the Fallen series. In Deadhouse Landing you see why he is considered powerful.

What I have always found amazing is how Esslemont and Erikson keep track of all of the people, places, races, gods, powers etc…and how they all interact. They provide a Dramatis Personae at the start of the books but you really need to reference the excellent Malazan Wiki page to stay abreast. Minor events in one book can have a major impact later so focus is required.

I think that this is the best off shoot book yet in the growing number of books in the Malazan Empire series. If you are new to the series I think starting here would be best, the problem being that you would have to wait until the third volume is available before starting the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. Of course that would give you time to read the Kharkanas Trilogy that covers other important events prior to the Fallen series. The trouble with that strategy is that only the first two books have been written, this time by Erikson, and he is delaying finishing the third to start on a different, but related series called the Karsa Orlong Trilogy, with the first book tentatively entitled The God is not Willing. So good luck picking a starting point.

The World’s 11 Most Unique Bookstores?

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Somehow I started receiving e-mails from Fodor’s Travel the other day. I do not recall signing up for its newsletter but then I compulsively sign up for contests without reading the terms so it is probably that I agreed to get the news letter as part of the terms. There are worse fates in life.

Anyway it had an interesting piece entitled “The 11 Most Unique Bookstores in the World” mixed in with what to do in Cabo and similar pieces. I live near Powell’s City of Books, one of the largest independent book stores in the world (according to Powell’s) and was interested in what made the list.

A pair were also bars as well as bookstores, BookBar in Denver and Kramerbooks & Afterwords in Washington D.C. and while that is not a bad thing, I think I would prefer to do my drinking and reading combination in a more secluded environment such as a cozy café or at home after I have purchased a book. I could easily see drinking too many beers while ready some comedy. However they both look very comfy so maybe I should give them a try next time I am in the area.  A third was a champagne bar, Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar.

A slight variation on this theme is the Brazenhead Books in New York, where after his rent became to high the owner moved the store to his apartment and made it by appointment only. Oh, and he also made the place into a speakeasy as well. Kudos on creativity.

The largest is the Book Garden in Tehran, with 700,000 square feet and a rooftop park where you can go read. It even offers 1,000 free books to read on the roof. The photo supplied has a spacious, open store. I have to admit that I prefer crowded, stuff places that have the interesting book aroma.

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Bart’s Books

It has entries for most colorful in Saraiva Bookstore in Rio de Janeiro, the most outdoorsy in Bart’s Books in Ojai, California, and the most romantic with the aptly named The Ripped Bodice in Culver City, California. None of those really grabbed my interest to be honest. Another unique looking place, La Caverne aux Livres, in a former home of Vincent Van Gogh as well as in a train station and a few rail cars. In Auvers-sur-Oise, France it looks interesting but not sure I would go out of my way for it.

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Livraria Lello

The one that I would really have liked to visit, and had no idea about when I was there was the Livraria Lello, a gorgeous bookstore in Porto, Portugal. Purportedly the inspiration for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books and movies it is a combination of Neo-Gothic and Art Noveau stylings.

So check out the article and see if any appeal to you and if you have a favorite drop me a line and let me know about it. Not that I have anything against drinking and reading but four bars in the top 11? One fun fact is that in reading all of the bookstores’ web sites I found that Fodor had previously run a World’s 20 Most Stunning Bookstores article. I did not check it out but it seems to me that it’s cheating to then run one on 11.

Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja

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I love looking at overstock and discount racks at the local bookstores. The problem is that I buy more than I will ever read- I guess that just gives me a goal to live forever. At Powell’s Books in Portland I noticed a book entitled Mechanical Failure (Epic Failure Trilogy Book 1) by Joe Zieja. I liked the cover art (amazing how much that can influence a decision to look closer) but what got me was the small tag line –Please Restart Your Warship. Humor, when done well is always appreciated

Mechanical Failure follows the trials and travails of one R. Wilson Rogers, an ex-space fleet sergeant mechanic that is forced back into the service due to some very unusual circumstances. Life in the service had been an interesting bore for Rogers, basically one long party, a time in which he sold watered down beer, ran fixed poker games and races and generally idled away his with the fleet as it in turned idled away its time due to the  200 Years’ (and counting) Peace.

Back in the service after a strange battle between pirate fleets in which he is the only survivor, he finds the fleet completely changed. It is now on a war footing as it prepares for an expected incursion by the long time rival Thelicosans. As he returns to a fleet that he barely recognizes, with all of the men and woman serving devoutly believing in the preaching of the inspirational, yet strangely incompetent Admiral Klein, Rogers tries to just serve his time and once again depart. As he says all he wants to do is drink beer and play cards.  But fate has other plans for him- but maybe he can answer the age old question: Do the times make the man of the man make the times?

That is a rough outline of Mechanical failure, an amusing first book by the author who spent a decade in the U.S. Air Force , and his experience obviously peppers the book with  what feels like real life experiences from a career military man. The motivational posters, the transfer of qualified trained personnel into positions that they are unfit for, and so much more has a real world feel. I had the feeling that the scene where Rogers, just seconds after he arrived in his new quarters is subject to an inspection and he is found to fail a number of details has a basis in real life.

The book is a tongue and cheek poke at the military, but I did not get the feeling that it was anti-military, as many are portrayed as dedicated, intelligent and hardworking. Instead Mechanical Failure pokes a finger in the eye of mindless bureaucracy and how connivers can always find the gaps in a system, something our hero excelled at.

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Rogers is basically Sergeant Bilko in space, for those old enough to remember the old Phil Silvers show or the newer Steve Martin movie Sergeant Bilko. After departing the military he sets his eye on bigger scams, seeking to swindle pirates, something that goes strangely and disastrously wrong for everybody involved but himself. Forced to return to the service he manages to advance up the ranks while constantly wondering about the strange going-ons in the ship around him.

I found this to be a very entertaining book, and an excellent first effort. Humorous from end to end, with some jokes starting in the early chapters only to get punch lines much later. Some of the jokes seem to be overly obvious, a few could have been omitted and a couple would make better sight gags than appearing in written form. Also one seems to strongly remind me of a Mel Brooks bit, but I could be wrong.  Overall they did work quite well. If you tend towards serious military space novels this might not be for you, even though it has a semi-serious undertone. However it is a very good lighthearted read and I will certainly get the second book. It takes a bit to get going, at least for me. I was unsure where the plot was heading and initially was not interested in it but about midway you can certainly see a firm direction

Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl

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I have had a copy of Roald Dahl’s autobiography, Going Solo, for years but just have not gotten around to reading it, a common problem at my house. Then a friend mentioned that he had one about his childhood, giving me another reason to delay reading Going Solo. Then last week at a garage sale I found a very battered copy of Boy: Tales of Childhood available for a whole quarter.

Dahl clearly states that the book is not an autobiography, it is rather the top memories that he has from his childhood. For instance he does not reconstruct his family life, for the most part, or go into lengthy descriptions of many aspects of his life and family. There is no listing of all of the siblings and their traits, and just a brief description of his parents. Instead it is a collect as advertised, tales from assorted years that have remained at the top of his memory.

Instead it is really just an enjoyable collection of tales, few of them really interconnected, aside from Dahl being the omnipresent character in all of the tales. Almost all are humorous, none are really side splitting funny, and all are interesting. I have never read any of his other books but I suspect that his wry sense of humor pervades them.

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In some it makes you wish you were alive in that bygone age. When else could you ride your tricycle to school, unaccompanied by an adult, down the middle of the main street due to lack of cars on the street. Or taking a steam ship to Norway every year for a long summer holiday. Then you might have second thoughts on wanting to live then when you read about Dahl having his adenoids removed, sans pain killers, or his father having to have his arm amputated due to being treated by a drunk doctor.

The first family drive in a car results in his nose being almost completely severed, after the kids push his “ancient sister” to speed up to the unheard of speed of 35. His stories of public boarding schools make me very glad that I was not forced to attend them. You find out that he was a star athlete without any bragging, and a superb photographer, and did not like Latin. He wrote his mother every week of his life starting with school, and that has no doubt helped with his recollection of events as his mother saved all of the letters.

An interesting note is that at one school the candy maker Cadbury used to send the boys an occasional box of new types of chocolate to get feedback. He daydreamed of discovering the greatest chocolate yet devised. That was the kernel for the story Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, written over 30 years later.

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One thing about the physical book that I purchased which amused me is that one of the previous owners was named Amanda. Written in six different color pens on the top of the book, and in bold black letters on the bottom. I wondered if the book was owned by an Amanda, or if it was owned by someone who had a crush on an Amanda? Some questions we will never know.

I greatly enjoyed the book; it was a pleasant journey through some of the memories of a person who lived in what is increasingly long ago bygone era. It was a pleasant, short afternoon read I can now with a clear conscious go on to Going Solo!

Summer of Space Opera Sampler from Tor.Com

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I am a big fan of the Space Opera genre, although what actually constitutes a space opera as opposed to a run of the mill sci-fi book is a bit unclear to me. I think it needs more than one volume, a large cast of characters and conflict. I looked at Wikipedia’s definition and I was close:

Space opera is a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes space warfare, melodramatic adventure, interplanetary battles, as well as chivalric romance, and often risk-taking. Set mainly or entirely in outer space, it usually involves conflict between opponents possessing advanced abilities, futuristic weapons, and other sophisticated technology.

So earlier this year Tor.Com offered a Summer of Space Opera Sampler I snapped it up. It has five excerpts from pending or just released longer stories. All Systems Red:The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, Killing Gravity:The Voidwitch Saga by Corey J. White, The Ghost Line: The Titanic of the Stars by Andrew Neil Gray and J.S. Herbison, Starfire:A Red Peace by Spencer Ellsworth and Acadie by Dave Hutchinson.

 

Two of the excerpts have a very old school feel to them.  Starfire combines swords with blasters, a combination that I have always felt only works if you are a Warhammer 40K fan. I just find it hard to believe that a futuristic society would have space ships, space weapons but also armies fighting with swords. Aside from that I liked the dual plot lines that were introduced in the story. In one a cross breed human has defeated the pure human empire and is now pondering pogrom on the remainder of pure humanity. Also there is a mixed breed pilot who is being kidnapped to carry some pure breeds off planet.

The second old school story, The Ghost Line has to do with a ghost ship and a crew hired to possibly salvage it. Their mysterious employer is not entirely clear about their goals. Taking place in the not too far future it could almost be a side story from the world of The Expanse. Slow ships from Earth to Mars, Belters mining asteroids etc… Had a very strong feel from the Golden Age of Science Fiction, and I enjoyed it a great deal.

acadie

The third story (chronologically) was my favorite. Called Acadie, it’s about how some brilliant genetic engineers fled earth and started moding their bodies. While the topic in the book, Earth’s continual search to capture and punish these people, called Makers, the scene where the council is meeting is very funny. The sample gives a very good history of what happened previously and the challenges facing the Makers and the others that live with them when it looks as if Earth has finally found them. I will probably purchase the entire story when it is available; I liked both the humor and the dilemma.

All Systems Red reads as a detective story in space. Who is out to sabotage a project on a lonely planet? Can the assassin android, with a newly but secretly disabled governor, help solve the issue? The premise is interesting and the android is an almost instantly interesting yet complex character, it leaves you at a cliff hanger and makes you wonder, always a good thing.

The last in the excerpts, Killing Gravity, was probably my second favorite. It throws you in the action without a data dump and then slowly feeds you a lot of information in a smooth measured manner. The concept of PSI and other powers being taught to humans and used in space has a lot f interest as a plot device and it is interesting to speculate where the story is going.

killing

It should be noted that these are just a few pages from short stories. None of the tales that the samples come from tallies much over 200 pages and most are in the 160 range.

All Systems Red is a Kindle single available for $3.99, or $10.39 in paperback, 160 pages. Starfire: A Red Peace is in pre-order mode at $4.99 on Kindle and $11.66 in paperback, 210 pages. The Ghost Line is also a Kindle single available in that format for $3.99 and paperback for $14.97 at 146 pages. Acadie, another Kindle single is available for preorder at $3.99 or $7.60 for the print version with no page count (that I could find.) Killing Gravity, also a single, is $3.99 for the Kindle version and $1039 in print, 176 pages.