Tuesday 3 February 2015

Book Roundup #3: Science Fiction

I've noticed a tendency for authors to have "fanboys" just as much as videogames or wargames.  I feel these over-exaggerate their review scores.  Admittedly this is from someone who views Harry Potter as solid but hugely overrated, and thinks Tolkien merely average (great world building but non-existent plotting) so perhaps I have my grumpy hat on.  Anyway, time for the next selection:

Leviathan Wakes (James A Corey) Score 3.5
This is the pen name of Daniel Abraham, a very talented fantasy writer known for his excellent prose and rather slow-burning style, in collaboration with GRR Martin's assistant Ty Franck.  A Firefly-esque bunch of miners lead by an idealistic captain and smart-mouthed crew discover a derelict ship - and a deadly secret.  A world-weary detective is tracking a missing girl. Galactic conflict ensues, and a terrible threat to humanity is revealed.

Why you'd read it: Good writing, a well-thought-out plot, setting and characters. Space opera meets noir detective thriller.  Characters have tough choices - and sometimes make wrong ones.

Why you'd leave it: It's 600 pages long, and the pace only picks up in the last 50 or so. Though it was well-written, I found it hard to get invested in the book.  I feel this series only really kicks off with the sequel Caliban's War - and that's a huge time investment.

Eisenhorn (Daniel Abnett) Score 3.5
Most Warhammer 40,000 books read like a bad internet fanfic written by a teen.  Dan Abnett bucks the trend and is actually a reasonably competent writer. The Eisenhorn trilogy (Xenos, Malleus, Hereticus) is arguably his best work for the Black Library (and has the distinction of being the only Black Library book I've read twice). A detective story of sorts, about a Inquisitor (basically a morally ambiguous Jack Bauer meets Sherlock Holmes meets Judge Dredd with an energy sword) and his team who hunts down chaos cults throughout the galaxy. Gothic space opera fantasy.

Why you'd read it:  You don't even need to know anything about Warhammer to enjoy this book. It's a decent sci fi novel on its own, and makes me feel a bit sorry for the other 40K hacks tie-in writers.  The individual books are shortish (250 pages) and good pulpy fun. First class man fuel.

You'd leave it: Because you'd be embarrassed to be caught reading a book based on a miniatures game.  Whilst initially impressed, by the third book it feels a bit same-y. It also ends a bit abruptly.  Whilst Abnett isn't your usual Black Library hack, his language and writing is a bit ropey in places. Abnett also overuses. Short sentences. For dramatic. Action scenes.

Risen Empire (Scott Westerfeld) Score 3.5
An Imperial frigate captain must rescue the Child Empress, sister of the immortal undead God-Emperor who has been worshipped for milennia.  The enemy: cyborgs who worship AI hiveminds. It sounds corny, but here's the surprising bit - it's hard, hard sci fi.  Time dilation impacts politics and space combat - which is among the most "realistic"and "relatavistic" I have come across.  Most technology is extrapolated from stuff we have today. 

Why you'd read it: This will be a pleasant surprise.  A great deal of thought has gone into the combat and technologies and it's an interesting variation on the undead Emperor trope.  Huge imagination and scope.  I'd compare it to Dune and Lord of the Rings. It's unique.

Why you'd leave it:
It cuts off abruptly - it needs its sequel and I'd strongly recommend you get the omnibus version. It's a bit too focussed on technologies, and moral concepts and left me feeling a bit - disengaged?  A bit too much tech, too little character building.  There were also a lot of different 'points of view.' It's hard-sci focus probably won't appeal to the Star Wars/Star Trek crowd.  Also, the big secret isn't that big.

Dauntless (Jack Campbell) Score 3.5
Epic space warfare, between two great space empires.  An officer, rescued from a lifepod after a century-long hibernation finds he must lead a trapped fleet to victory.  Huge fleet battles? Reluctant hero?  Interesting battle scenes?  Check.  The teacher in me cringes at the writing style but my inner wargamer rejoices.  A guilty pleasure.

Why you'd read it:  Great fleet battles that seem epic in scope but make you care for each ship.  Entertaining, kick-ass space opera.  I enjoy the factor relativity/lightspeed has on tactics - it would make a very interesting wargame. Easy reading with a bit of a 50s style to it.  Probably my favourite space battles.

Why you'd leave it: Wooden, cliche characters.  The writing has a lot of telling, and not enough showing.  The book spends a lot of time talking about concepts of honour and morality, and how the war has become less "honourable" in the century since the hero was in cyro-sleep - interesting, but repeated so as to be tiresome and artificial.  The hero broods and overthinks things a bit much.  You can tell it's going to be spun out into a series.


  1. +1 for Jack Campbell's Dauntless series and I think you might like his "Stark's War" series as well. Different setting, and some thought provoking social commentary in it (as well as some nice action sequences)

    1. I think I read one, (under another name, like John Henry or something?) but it didn't have the saving grace of cool space battles to cover the rather mediocore writing. Also if I recall correctly, all military were either idiots or evil overlords and it was a bit rahrah-freedom-space 'Murica. (Admittedly this was a few years back - I'll retry the series sometime soon)

    2. ^ Although the "idiots or overlords"may be accurate? I think the author is ex-Navy ;-)

  2. I would recommend the Forever War, by Joe Handelman. Clearly written during the 60s so the dates are all a little off (interplanetary space conflict in the 90s etc) but if you can forgive that its the first Sci-fi book I read that dealt with time dilation and the effects it might have on warfare and attempts at peace. The sequel Forever Peace, is rubbish!

    1. That's a goodie! But read a few years ago so my memory of it is hazy.

      Haldemann recently did another time travel book which I read recently - definitely not a wargaming book though....

  3. I also recommend Jack Campbell's whole Lost Fleet series. He has a gift for coming up with interesting tactical situations.

    1. I quite enjoyed the first series. I did roll my eyes when it spawned TWO (markedly inferior) spin off series, both of which show no signs of ending.

      "Jumping the Shark" I think the saying is.

  4. Rather fun, the whole Jack Campbell Lost Fleet stuff. I agree it's far from George Eliot when it comes to characters - or even Jules Verne, say - but it has a certain fundamental charm - "George Washington meets King Arthur meets Xenophon's Anabasis" was always going to grab my attention!

  5. Strangely, I have read all of these (having just finished Leviathan wakes), and pretty much agree with your opinions.

    I do however like Abnett's stuff, but then I am a 40k fan, so I would, wouldn't I? The Ravenor books are very similar, but bigger in scope so some might like them better.