Legacy by Greg Bear

Filed under:Science Fiction,Series — posted by Randolph on April 1, 2015 @ 7:43 pm

Legacy by Greg Bear

The plot is the exploration of the relationship between a small human society and a new life form. The author seems to have envisioned a new idea for a new life form and used the book as a device to explore it. That said, the book is enjoyable.

Olmy is sent by the Hexamon to spy on the humans on Lamarckia, a planet with a unique life form that was to be left alone. As soon as he arrives, the focus turns to an exploration of the life, itself.

There is almost nothing that is really explored. Although Olmy sets out on a travel, which did not seem to fit with his mission, almost everything we learn about the life is provided by other characters. As the story progresses, the reader encounters characters more and more knowledgable.

Another plot line involves the relation of two factions on the planet. We open with outright warring, and eventually learn the underlying history behind the war, and the people leading it. We also learn a little about the cultures involved in this war. Personally, I found this more interesting than the life exploration.

Besides Lamarkia, referring to the planet and the Lamarkian-style evolution that seems to predominate its life forms, the author has thrown in references to mythologies. Other than just names dropped, there isn’t really a clue that there is a reference. I suspect I missed most of them, if there were more than a couple.

Early on, the book dragged. I really couldn’t identify with any of the characters in the book, the main character seemed to make some very odd decisions. The book really picked up in the second half. If the first half were just a little better, I would rate the book much better.

Blood of Wolves by Loren Coleman

Filed under:Fantasy,Series — posted by Randolph on May 18, 2014 @ 8:00 pm

Blood of Wolves by Loren Coleman

Set in Cimmeria and closely following the setting established by Robert Howard in his Conan series, Loren had created a new Cimmerian hero, Kern who sets out to defend Cimmeria from invasion. He gathers several followers in his quest as he chases a small group holding prisoners.

Loren set out to create a character similar to Conan, this book did not feel that much like the original series. Conan was mostly a loner, occasionally gathering one or two friends for an adventure. Kern feels more like a leader of groups. His followers are more like members of his clan than his close friends. To me, that is a big difference.

The setting does feel like Conan’s world. Conan is still alive, King of Aquilonia, and the characters frequently talk of his exploits. Even to the point of exaggerating their own adventures and retelling them as if performed by Conan. I found this fun.

The book has a lot of battles, described in moderate detail. It includes the supernatural and giants. Very much in the style of Howard.

The book was enjoyable, maybe I was expecting too much. Perhaps it if actually was Conan, I would have liked it more. I think Kern will grow on me. If you like the individual adventurer style of sword and sorcery, you should enjoy this book.

Brightness Reef by David Brin

Filed under:Science Fiction,Series,Uncategorized,Uplift — posted by Randolph on May 3, 2014 @ 7:24 pm

Brightness Reef by David Brin

This book takes place on an abandoned world intended to be natural and develop its own races, who would hopefully be available for uplift. A small population of each of six races, in turn, have landed small colonies on the world. Their intent is to devolve and be re-uplifted, and hopefully to avoid attention and possible punishment from the stellar community. Humans are one of the six.

These races have ancient antipathy for each other. And each brings unique skills and histories. They have overcome their differences, and their are pieces of culture of each that has worked its way into the others, yet they do maintain separate communities.

The story revolves around the arrival of a spaceship or renegade humans. Their intent is unknown, and seems sinister. They aren’t an official envoy, so they shouldn’t be here, either.

This story shows us a different side of each of the races, including the humans. It maintains its suspense on the invaders, and latent tension among the six races.

Unfortunately, this book mostly sets up the series and doesn’t resolve much of anything. The story is interesting, and a must read if you’re interested in the Uplift series.

The Monk Who Vanished (Mystery of Ancient Ireland) by Peter Tremayne

Filed under:Fiction,Mystery,Series,Sister Fidelma — posted by Randolph on March 17, 2014 @ 7:34 pm

The Monk Who Vanished (Mystery of Ancient Ireland) by Peter Tremayne

This story begins with an attempted assination of two princes, one being the brother of Sister Fidelma. It appears to be an attempt from a neighboring kingdom, one with which they have poor relations. In another event, a monk disappears with a holy relic. As Fidelma investigates, things get much more complex. In a story full of conspiracies, feints, and hidden agendas, it is difficult to discern exactly what is going on. During a court session, in a classic ending, Sister Fidelma clarifies and explains all the events.

These stories are good at teaching about life and the times of 7th Century Ireland. This story explores life in a small town, a monastery, and a little about courts and legal processes. In addition to being a great story, this is a good book for any mystery lover, and particularly those interested in historical settings.

Sacred clowns. by Tony Hillerman

Filed under:Chee/Leaphorn,Mystery,Series — posted by Randolph on March 4, 2014 @ 7:59 pm

Sacred clowns.
by Tony Hillerman

Joe Leaphorn asked Jim Chee to find a runaway schoolkid. During this investigation, he is on the scene of a murder during a Tano ceremony. This murder had similar characteristics to another murder, but they couldn’t be related. Of course all three threads tie together in a fascinating story.

Side stories include a hit and run accident. A relationship between Jim Chee and Janet Pete in which Jim has trouble resolving a possible clan violation in their seeing each other. At the same time, Joe Leaphorn is planning a trip to China with Louisa Bourebonette.

Tony Hillerman gives the reader excellent insights into the Navajo culture, especially in the way that Jim Chee resolves his personal issues. Through his investigations, we also get a glimpse into the Tano culture, a branch of the Pueblo tribes.

The book is a very good read, it keeps moving forward and has interesting developments in the mysteries.

Foundation’s Fear (Second Foundation Trilogy) by Gregory Benford

Filed under:Science Fiction,Series,Uncategorized — posted by Randolph on March 2, 2014 @ 6:52 pm

Foundation's Fear (Second Foundation Trilogy)
by Gregory Benford

This is the first of a trilogy billing itself as the second foundation trilogy based on Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. Although a three-book set, each can stand on its own very well.

The author explores some elements left up in the air by Isaac Asimov, and fills with more current knowledge and philosophy, such as addressing why there are no non-humans in the galaxy.

Some of the topics he addresses include expanding on Dor, who she is and giving her a little background. Her character is expanded, and perhaps changed a bit, at least from what I may have imagined. In general, he adds a lot about computers and robotics that Asimov didn’t go into, or couldn’t because the technology wasn’t available. Philosophically, he approaches the topic of computer intelligence and what could constitute life. In this, Hari creates two simulated people, Voltaire and Jean of Arc, to help him understand society and to help further his psychohistory, Voltaire and Jean of Arc act as a yin and yang, who’s arguments are designed to answer questions. But they evolve their own desires and take on life beyond their programming.

I found the book difficult to work through at times, but still an interesting addition to the Asimov series. I believe those fond of the Asmiov trilogy will enjoy this and find it interesting. It adds background to the trilogy and brings it a little more into the present. Otherwise I don’t think it may not be worth the effort.

W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton

Filed under:Kinsey Millhone,Mystery,Series — posted by Randolph on January 3, 2014 @ 8:16 pm

W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton

A homeless man died on the beach. Nothing that would interest Kinsey, except that he had her phone number in his pocket, a man she’d never met. With business being slow, and being the curious person she is, the had to find out who he was. But, as with many mysteries, little is as it seems. This story takes some odd and unexpected turns as Kinsey investigates.

In this book, Kinsey confronts past associates as unrelated stories begin to interlock. Kinsey gets to know some homeless people, Sue Grafton give them full and interesting characters that feel real.

Another portion of the book involves Kinsey’s relatives. She encounters relatives on her father’s side and starts to address he thoughts about family and her independence again.

The book moves well and has interesting characters and plot lines. It is a must for anyone reading the series, and would make a good stand-alone mystery.

The Beautiful Mystery: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel by Louise Penny

Filed under:Chief Inspector Armand Gamache,Mystery,Series — posted by Randolph on December 26, 2013 @ 9:01 pm

The Beautiful Mystery: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel by Louise Penny

A murder has happened in a monastery. A very private monastery that never accepts visitors. The suspects are all monks, the only clue is a small piece of a Gregorian Chant, except it might be modern.

To complicate the investigation, Superintendent Sylvain Francoeur arrived bringing his own baggage from a prior book. His conflict with Gamache comes to a head, and now involves Beauvoir. Although this conflict beats up, it isn’t resolved and promises to continue in the next book.

The mystery is slow for much of the book, and isn’t one the reader can solve. Clues flow in throughout the book, and is solved suddenly. The book is more about the characters and the chants. The chants are a spiritual influence on the characters. The monastic life of the monks is forefront in the novel. The monks have a natural ability to read people and understand unstated feelings, which provides a challenge to Gamache’s investigation as their skill seems to surpass his own.

Best quote from the book:
Following the arrival of an envoy from the Vatican.
“Jeez,” said Beauvoir. “The Inquisition. I didn’t expect that.”
“No one does,” said Gamache.

ALthough slow in the middle, I found the book very enjoyable. A must read for Gamache or Louise Penny fans, but read them in order!

Eureka: Substitution Method by Cris Ramsay

Filed under:Eureka,Science Fiction,Series — posted by Randolph on November 12, 2013 @ 3:08 pm

Eureka: Substitution Method by Cris Ramsay

This book is based on the TV Series, Eureka. Set in a small Oregon town whose citizens are all descended from top scientists, and are all super-geniuses. And every day seems to encounter some disaster that threatens the world, or at least our comfort levels.

In this story, flowers, then people. and finally buildings start teleporting about. Sheriff Carter and Dr. Blake need to keep it quiet and avoid any military involvement. When a building teleports with its occupants, how do you keep them in the dark? They, and the rest of the crew of Eureka have to solve this problem quickly, and return the buildings to their proper locations before anyone becomes aware.

This isn’t hard science fiction, and has more than a few holes. But it is a fun and fast read, and it is true to the series. If you enjoy the series, this book fits in with the same color and pace.

Fatal Revenant (The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant) by Stephen R. Donaldson

Filed under:Fantasy,Series,Thomas Covenant — posted by Randolph on September 11, 2013 @ 8:18 pm

Fatal Revenant by Stephen R. Donaldson

This is the second book in the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, continuing the story of Linden Avery when she returns to the Land. In this story, Linden perseveres on her quest to find and free her son, who has been captured by Lord Foul. As the story unfolds, Linden undertakes a new quest to seek Thomas Covenant’s advice after he beckoned her through a vision. She is still unable to make decisions, wrought with frustration and anxiety, and she steadfastly believes that Thomas can provide some needed help.

The story is told in third person. However, we are very close to Linden Avery. We are in her thoughts and don’t experience any other character in the same way. Stephen Donaldson does a good job of keeping our sympathies with Linden, in spite of her inability to act. A significant amount of her time is spent worrying about her son, wondering what to do, or looking for Thomas.

Through the book Linden and her companions seem to accomplish very little, but the story still has good flow and deals with interesting issues. These include the politics of the world, a rift among the Haruchai, and time travel. We encounter some new characters and races, and explore some new regions in the Land.

The Haruchai are opened up to us more in this book, in the past I have felt that they were a one-dimensional version of a samura. In this book, we learn of their weaknesses and their history that lead to their current status of managing the Land. Stave, one of their number, was ostracized from the Haruchai in the last novel, now we learn a little more about what he has lost, and what he has gained. Our perception of what the Haruchai are from the first six novels is expanded and altered, and has become much richer.

We also learn a bit more about the Ranyhyn. These are a mystical race of horses who have incredible energy as well as some form of prescience. We wonder if they are sentient as well. The party includes several Ramen, a clan of people who have served the Ranyhyn for many ages and know them intimitely.

Stephen Donaldson’s world is rich in history and in its variety of denizens. This history comes out in much of the book through backstories that provide histories of the different people. Whenever we encounter someone new, they appear to need to relate a new story. These stories fill out the rich history of the Land. It feels as though Stephen has his world and wants to share as much of it as he can before ending the series. Sometimes, these stories feel that they are aimed more at the reader than the characters in the story. But they are interesting stories in their own right and do add value to the main story.

As is typical, all of his characters are deeply conflicted. As a group, they are secretive, most of her companions seem to keep information from the others. The party includes four Haruchai, this time. Three became somewhat reluctant companions at the bidding of the Ranyhyn. Other than Stave, we don’t understand the motivations of the Haruchai for traveling with Linden. Do they intend to stop her, or help?

Stephen’s writing style seems a bit odd at times. His writing is very descriptive, Stephen focusses almost exclusively on visual elements, but the other senses are rarely invoked. I don’t recall ever crossing a metaphor from him, and his rare use of simile is weak at best, such as comparing giants to Titans. They don’t offer any imagery, new ideas, or even help promote the story. Although his writing techniques are limited, his narratives can be compelling. As Stephen often reminded me, he possesses a very strong vocabulary and isn’t afraid to use it. The words he puts on the page are chosen carefully and convey precise meanings.

The dialog is usually straight forward, he does throw in phrases and words on occasion that give the dialog a formal and somewhat feel of the Middle Ages. The characters discussion are to the point, never to wander off point or to develop more complex characters. They aren’t necessarily short, at times they carry undertones of untold stories. Many of these come out during later encounters. Particularly with giants, who love epic tales. There is never a random conversation about other issues that typically concern the average person, everyone has a single purpose.

In other points, the book has a good glossary at the end that provides good references to the world and its massive data that you can’t track in your head. Some of the chapters seemed a bit long, they could have been cut down a bit without losing value.
In summary, the book is good, but a bit long. Anyone who has enjoyed the series should read it, but the books must be read in order. I am looking forward to reading the last two books. But when that time does come, I will be glad to be done.

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace