Tuesday, August 25, 2015

No, it's not a Robin Williams treacle fest

In what will probably rank as one of the shortest reading times this year, I finished Edward Lazellari's Awakenings over lunch today.

I think this one came via library mailing, and I'm happy I ended up checking it out. Because, even if it does get caught in trope, it's well written and engaging trope.

We don't actually meet our protagonists right off the bat. No, first we meet Colby Dretch, a PI getting ready to be indicted and pretty much lose everything he has. A client sets up an appointment to get Dretch to track down a child 13 years missing. said child doesn't have a name or a location anyone knows. To insure his loyalty, the client removes Dretch's heart and puts it in a bag.

Cut to: Cal MacDonnal, a cop working the south Bronx in NYX. His memories start 13 years prior to the start of the boo. We also meet Seth Raincrest, a photographer of a sort who also has no memories older than 13 years. Coincidence? I think not.

Into this, Seth meets a striking woman named Lelani. Lelani manages to get Seth out of his apartment for tea and conversation, only to get him back to find his apartment had exploded while they were out. since he's now homeless and penniless, he ends up following her around as she goes to find Cal, who's being attacked by strange men in the south Bronx. (Indeed, his partner gets beheaded by the men.)

In interludes, we also meet Daniel, a young adopted man who's step father bats him while his adoptive mother escapes with pills.

As things progress, we find out that the three are all part of a "Game of Thrones" of a sort; Daniel is the child with the blood of the 12 Empires who could inherit the throne of Aandor. Seth and Cal were part of a party who crossed between worlds to protect him. Somehow, Seth screwed up the spell to help them adapt to the new world, thus giving everyone amnesia. Mind you, the flow of time between Aandor and Earth are much different (Something like 3 days to a week have passed that compare with the 13 Earth years), which makes things a bit more complex, particularly since in 13 years, Cal married, had a kid, and possibly has another on the way, while a few days ago on Aandor, he's bethrothed to a politically important woman.

This one ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, and according to the library, the next (and only other listed book) in the series came out in 2013. However, I plan on getting it ASAP, since I'm curious as to what happens next.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Good night, funny man

Here, we reach what is almost the end of Terry Pratchett's career, with one last post mortum novel due out later this year in an offshoot of a series I love.

Not that I don't love the Long Earth series, but I find it sad that we'll probably never see another book in the series, unless Baxter does what Mercedes Lackey did with Bedlam's Bard and gets a new co-author.

Anyway, once again, The Long Utopia picks up a few years after the events of The Long Mars, with The Next living in a hidden Earth known as The Grange. Lobsang and Agnes move way out in the West worlds in a community named New Springfield, where the folks keep permanent residences, but mostly step around to follow the herds. Joshua spends most of the first part of the novel looking for his father, while Sally continues to be enigmatic and under-developed.

Again, we have many disparate plots flying around, and again, they don't particularly line up that well, although they do eventually tie in at the end.

See, out in New Springfield, the current incarnation of Lobsang (now living with his adopted son under the name George) runs across a mystery the local children have discovered, involving vaguely humanoid beetle like creatures made of both organic material and metals. The Beetles seem to be able to Step "North" and "South" verses the normal "East" and "West" on the Long Earth and the Long Mars. Stepping "North" winds up in "The Planetarium", which is essentially something akin to the Delta Quadrant in Star Trek.

In the meantime, the Next are trying to recruit Stan, a Next living in Miami West 5, where they're building a space elevator that Sally's father brought back the idea for from Mars in the last book. Stan isn't particularly thrilled with the Next, who seem to be fighting amongst themselves about what essentially boils down to a "Divine right" verses a "Benevolent Despot" approach to humanity.

All of this is interspersed with Joshua's ancestor, Luis, who started off life in Victorian London performing illusions by Stepping "Widdershins" or "Diasil" (Well, to be fair, Luis starts off calling them "Dexter" and "Sinister", but the latter terms become preferred among the group Luis gets recruited to help take care of those who would work against Victoria's consort, Albert. Who isn't in a can.) Long story short, Luis and his compatriots have a bunch of adventures in stepping through World War I, and eventually set up an arrangement to marry off their descendants in perpetuity to help the Stepping Gene breed true.

So, we get a lot of thought experiments around the time we find out exactly what the Beetles are actually doing out in the High Meggers. Most of which ties in with the themes of expansion at any cost, death, and religion. Some of this revolves around the idea of creating a seed that could go colonize another planet then have that colony go off and colonize another in an ever expanding colonization process. The problem being, much like Civilization, that's unsustainable in the long run. Plus it becomes like the aliens in any number of sci-fi media, there to drain the resources of a planet, rather than coming in Peace.

And in the end, we get what I'd like to think of as Pratchett's benediction for us, his readers. A vision of his Utopia, and a strange meditation on death and sacrifice.

While I would love to see another volume in the series, where this one ends is probably where the entire thing ends, except in the hearts and minds of the readers, to whom these characters will exist in perpetuity.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

No more ****ing ABBA.

I somehow missed that Seanan McGuire had released a new InCryptid novel. I have since remdided that situation and finished Pocket Apocalypse on my lunch hour today.

We're back with cryptozoologist/herpetologist Alex Price as he and his girlfriend Shelby wind up leaving Ohio for a trip back to Queensland Austraila to help her family deal with a lycanthropy outbreak. Because in Australia, even the invasive species want to kill you.

Shelby's family is part of the Thirty-six Society, who also dislike the Covenant of St. George, although they're not particularly fond of the Price family either. Particularly Alex, whom Shelby announces she's engaged to. Not to mention the Thirty-Sixers seem to be more interested in conserving indigenous non-sapient life, thereby ignoring the sapient cryptids in their own (metaphorical) backyard.

This being Australia, we also get funnel spiders, drop bears, and bunyip to go along with the problems of a lycanthropy issue. (In this world, Lycanthropy is a virus that affects mammals and spreads via fluid transfer. It evidently evolved out of the therianthrope community. Non-mammalian spec ies are immune, making the wadjet doctor invaluable for treatment.) Australia, being an island, has a fairly big issue with invasive species.

Anyway, the whole plot revolves around new werewolves surviving the first change (which tends to kill smaller mammals) and keeping their human rationality to attempt to take over. We also get to watch Shelby's family dynamic and Alex dealing with being the outsider, flipping around the dynamic of the last book.

As a side note, two books back, I complained a bit about the "Strong woman being put in 'woman in jeopardy'" territory. In this one, we get to see the not quite as strong male lead get tied up and taken hostage at a few points. Kind of a nice turn on the trope.

I enjoy InCryptid. According to the autho, book 5 will return to Verity. Which is good, although I hope Alex does return sooner or later. Also, I'd love to see a book centered on the youngest sibling, antimony, since she's quite the secondhand character.

Monday, August 10, 2015

No gung ho lizards, but yeah...

Evidently not long before I started this blog, Ernest Klien released an absolutely fabulous book filled to the brim with geekery and a neat message or five named Ready Player One. I won't go into it here, but yeah, if you haven't read it, go do so now.

Anyway, he recently released a second novel, not set in the same universe, but with similar themes of geek saving the day. Armada starts with our narrator, Zach Lightman introducing his life as a Senior in High School in the Pacific Northwest. He has a reputation as a bit crazy, his father died not long after he was born, he works part time at a computer gaming shop, and he, like most of the world, is playing one of two MMO games by the same company. Zach is more involved with Armada, which is the space combat against the Europans, while most of his friends prefer Terra Firma, which involves the Europan invasion of Earth on the ground. It bears mentioning that Zach is number 6 on the pilot leader board.

Things get shaken up first by Zach seeing a real Glaive fighter flying around his hometown, which makes him doubt his sanity. He re examines some of his dead father's conspiracy theory filled notebooks. Then a real life ship from Armada lands on his school's lawn, his boss walks out and recruits him for the real life Earth Defense Agency that had supposedly only existed in the twin MMOs.

We come to find out that the Europan invasion is real, they're invading, and all the people who've been playing the MMOs have been being trained to pilot the real drones into combat both in space and on Earth when the first wave of the Armada arrives. We find out that we discovered the existence of life on Europa when Voyager 1 dropped by and found a giant icy swastika on the southern hemisphere. We sent greetings, and in return got warning that we had committed a hostile act, and that they were prepared to destroy humanity.

Mind you, the occasional invasion attempt has left humanity time to reverse engineer our own technology to better combat the Europan invaders.

If elements of this plot line sound really familiar, it's supposed to be. Seems that most science fiction has been designed to prepare the world for the oncoming invasion.

And what fun it is. The characters get mostly fleshed out enough that we care about their fates, we feel for Zach and his daddy issues. We even get to deal with one of the dumber tropes that plague genre fiction, wherein the noble gay folk sacrifice themselves to save the heterosexuals who can stop the whatever the big bad winds up being.

It's a really fun book. It reminded me quite a bit of the movie Scream, even if no one tried to fit a massive chest out a dog door. But the idea of characters knowing they're trapped in a trope and then trying to figure out ways to work within that trope or break out of it entirely

Well worth reading, even with it's few brief RUSH references.