Book Review – REVIEW

Red Rising (2014) Pierce Brown – Book One of the Red Rising Trilogy: Book Review

 

Cast

 

  • Darrow, a Red who is remade into a Gold named “Darrow au Andromedus” to infiltrate and destroy the Society. He is later called “The Reaper” by his classmates, for the sickle-shaped blade he carries as his weapon.
  • Eo, Darrow’s wife who’s hanging for treason ignites his desire for revenge against the Golds.
  • Nero au Augustus, the ArchGovernor of Mars who orders Eo’s execution.
  • Virginia au Augustus, daughter of the ArchGovernor and leader of House Minerva at the Institute. Initially not knowing her given name, Darrow calls her “Mustang”.
  • Adrius au Augustus, Virginia’s vicious twin brother, leader of House Pluto at the Institute. His nickname is “The Jackal”.
  • Cassius au Bellona, Darrow’s former ally and friend in House Mars who later turns on him.
  • Jullian au Bellona, Younger brother of Cassius who is paired with Darrow in “the passage”.
  • Roque, Darrow’s friend and ally in House Mars, a self-styled poet.
  • Sevro, Darrow’s friend and ally in House Mars, a low Draft with an antisocial attitude.
  • Antonia au Severus, a ruthless Gold in house Mars.
  • Titus au Ladros, a violent and tyrannical member of House Mars.
  • Pax au Telemanus, a massive warrior aligned with Virginia in House Minerva.
  • Tactus au Rath, a duplicitous member of House Diana.
  • Fitchner, Proctor of Mars at the Institute, Sevro’s father.
  • Narol, Darrow’s paternal uncle, rescues Darrow after his execution and sends him to the Sons of Ares.
  • Dancer, Darrow’s mentor in the Sons of Ares who first reveals to him the lies of the Golds.
  • Harmony, Partner of Dancer who helps train Darrow during his carving
  • Mickey, a Violet carver who remakes Darrow’s body and physically transforms him into a Gold.
  • Matteo, a Pink who educates Darrow all about the society, its history, politics and arts.
  • Octavia au Lune, the Sovereign of the Society.

 

Pierce Brown creates a solar system of hierarchal repression reminiscent of The Hunger Games. The world that Pierce creates is segregated strictly by classes designated by colors. Yellows are the doctors, blues are the pilots, pinks are the prostitutes and on it goes. The Golds are the tyrannical leaders (of course). The hero of this book (first in the Red Rising Trilogy Golden Son and Morningstar come next) is Darrow (a Red), a devil diver, who works (like all reds) far underground on Mars mining helium-3 that can be used to terraform Mars and the rest of the solar system. His wife Eo is a frustrated anarchist and when she and Darrow are arrested for a minor offense she sings a forbidden protest song for everyone, including Nero au Augustus (the Gold ArchGovernor of Mars), who orders her death by hanging. Darrow then cuts down her body and buries her, which also happens to lead to a death sentence, and he is also hanged. However, he is saved by his uncle Narel and sent to the rebel group, Son’s of Ares. Why? They plan to perform the ultimate plastic surgery and turn him into a Gold with the hope of his working his way into a position to topple the society.

 

Dance and Harmony are part of the Son’s of Ares and talk Darrow into going through with the carving to become a Gold. Mickey is a violet who is a carver who is on the sleazy side of plastic surgery in this world. He is also talented. The description of the carving of Darrow is interesting. Virtually every bit of his body needs to be modified to achieve the herculean stature of a Gold. Matteo is a pink who teaches Darrow all of the social skills necessary to be a Gold.

 

Following a written test, Darrow enters the institute- one of a thousand. He is drafted into house Mars along with 99 others. He meets many of the people that will impact his life moving forward. Julian and Cassius, Titus, Sevro, Rogue, and Antonia. The first night in house Mars they are each beaten by Obsidians and taken to a room with one other student. Finchner (proctor of house Mars) tells them that it is a fight to the death and only one student leaves each room. Darrow is paired with Julian and after much angst, kills him and joins the survivors.

 

They are then taken to a castle to enter the project that is the institute. That is that each house is battling the others for supremacy. Within each house the students fight to be the leader   – Primus.   I think Pierce Brown does a very good job with this section. He describes the miseries of having bad water or no fire and the results. Darrow becomes for all intents the leader of house Mars with Cassius as his right hand man until Cassius learns, through the Jackal, that Darrow killed his brother Julian in the Passage. He, seemingly, mortally wounds Darrow in the forest and leaves him to die.   Fortunately for Darrow, Mustang is also a refugee hiding out and nurses him back to health. Together they band the stragglers and misfits into an army and look to defeat the rest of the houses until they meet the Jackal who, because his father is Nero au Augustus, is getting help from all of the proctors. Darrow takes on the proctors and defeats them and then sends Mustang to bring back the Jackal who has just slipped away.   Finchner then confides to Darrow that Mustang is Virginia au Augustus the daughter of Nero and twin sister of the Jackal. He needn’t have worried as she faithfully brings the Jackal in and Darrow wins the institute. He then becomes the apprentice to Nero au Augustus that is the set up for the following book of the trilogy – Golden Son.

 

Summary

 

If you like other such books – Hunger games, divergent series, Ender’s Game – you will probably like this. If you don’t then you probably won’t like Red Rising either. I liked it. The next two books are not quite as good without the focus on the institute. They seem to be rushing for the end that we all know is coming.

 

 

Golden Son (2015) Pierce Brown – Book Two of Red Rising Trilogy

  • Darrow, a Red remade into a Gold named “Darrow au Andromedus” (The Reaper) Lancer of House Augustus.
  • Virginia au Augustus, nicknamed “Mustang”, daughter of Nero au Augustus and twin sister of Adrius.
  • Adrius au Augustus, Virginia’s sociopathic twin brother, called “The Jackal”.
  • Nero au Augustus, the ArchGovernor of Mars and father of Virginia and Adrius.
  • Victra au Julii, lancer of House Augustus, half sister to Antonia au Severus.
  • Roque au Fabii, lancer of House Augustus.
  • Tactus au Rath, lancer of House Augustus.
  • Ragnar Volarus, Stained Obsidian
  • Kavax au Telemanus, father of Daxo and the late Pax.
  • Daxo au Telemanus, son of Kavax and Pax’s brother.
  • Cassius au Bellona, lancer of House Bellona, brother of Karnus.
  • Karnus au Bellona, lancer of House Bellona, Brother of Cassius.
  • Octavia au Lune, the Sovereign of the Society.
  • Lysander au Lune, grandson and heir of the Sovereign and grandson of Lorn au Arcos.
  • Aja au Grimmus, the Sovereign’s Protean Knight.
  • Lorn au Arcos, the former Rage Knight.
  • Fitchner au Barca, former Proctor of Mars at the Institute, father of Sevro.
  • Sevro au Barca, leader of the Howlers, son of Fitchner.
  • Antonia au Severus-Julii, Darrow’s ruthless longtime enemy and Victra’s half sister.
  • Pliny au Velocitor, Nero’s chief of staff.
  • Dancer, Red lieutenant in the Sons of Ares.
  • Harmony, Dancer’s Red lieutenant.
  • Mickey, a Violet carver who remade Darrow as a Gold.
  • Evey, a Pink former slave of Mickey.

 

At the end of Red Rising our hero, Darrow, becomes a Lancer for his enemy, Nero au Augustus. At the beginning of Golden Son we see Darrow lose a mock space battle to Karnus (Cassius’ old brother).   This loss prompts Nero to tell Darrow that he is going to put his contract up for bid at the next summit of the great houses.   Before the meeting he sees Adrius (the Jackal) who has his own schemes. He also meets Harmony who tells him that Dancer is dead (a lie) and tells him that Ares wants him to be a suicide bomber at the House Summit. Darrow is about to do this and then has another idea. He challenges Cassius to a duel. It turns out that Darrow has been training with Lorn au Arcos (former Rage Knight) and is able to defeat Cassius and is about to kill him when the Sovereign calls of the fight to save him.   Darrow chops off Cassius’ arm in frustration and chaos incuses.

 

The Sovereign asks Darrow to join her and has a truth telling contest with him using special scorpion-like creatures called oracles. Darrow finds out that the sovereign was planning to destroy Augustus and give Mars to Bellona. Mustang signals Sevro and the Howlers who rescue Darrow and take the Sovereign’s grandson Lysander as a hostage.   As they are escaping Aja crushes Quinn’s head. On the escape, Adrius (the Jackal) pretends to operate on Quinn but actually (we find out later) kills her.   Now we have war!

 

Darrow attacks and takes the largest ship in the Sovereign’ s fleet. He renames the ship the Pax in honor of his friend from the institute.   Also of note is the appearance of a stained obsidian – Ragnar Volarus. Ragnar is one of the most interesting characters in the series. The whole culture of the obsidians is designed to make Golds as god-like figures and prevent the obsidians from uniting. For if they do they would be a massive force. Darrow, wisely, gives Ragnar his freedom. This is not an easy thing and Ragnar rejects freedom but Darrow finally convinces him. This, of course, makes Ragnar even more loyal to Darrow then before. He becomes a member of Sevrus’s howlers.   I would really like to see Pierce Brown write a book with an obsidian as it’s main character. Maybe a prehistory to this when the obsidians fought the Golds (and lost).

 

Darrow plans an “iron rain” and to take Mars from the Bellona for Nero au Augustus. First he needs more ships and men and seeks these with his teacher Lorn au Arcos who is forced to join Darrow when the Sovereign’s forces turn up to kill his family and Darrow saves them. Darrow’s former friend Tactus escapes Darrows first trap and is in position to kill Lorn’s family. Darrow convinces him to come back to him. A very positive moment which is very short when Lorn kills Tactus for threatening his family. Second Chances seems to be a theme for Darrow which occasionally gets him in trouble. I think it humanizes him and makes him a much more believable character.

 

With Lorn’s forces they initiate the battle for Mars. In the fight he is rescued at one point by Fitchner who reveals himself to be Ares. Turns out that his wife (Sevrus’ mother) was a red who was put to death. Sevro had already told Darrow that he knew his secret. He tells Mustang his secret and she considers killing him until Ragnar intercedes.

 

As Sevro becomes closer to Darrow, Rogue is pulling away. He blames Quinn’s death on Darrow (as Cassius blames him for killing Julian).   So it is not a big surprise when at a victory feast he stabs Darrow with a tranquilizer. They present him with a box containing Fitchner’s head (Cassius killed him) and Adrius (the Jackal) kills his father, Nero. Rogue, Cassius and Adrius are in a plot with the Sovereign Octavia. Antonia shoots here half-sister Victra in the back. They know Darrow’s secret and plan to dissect him to find out how it was done – we will see what that means. Probably torture and eventual death for Darrow (and Eo’s dream).

 

Why would Rogue betray Darrow? He blames Darrow for Quinn’s death. The sovereign ordered Aja to kill Quinn and Adrius finished the job. Well maybe to maintain the Gold’s way of life.   But if Rogue didn’t betray Darrow then what would be the plot of the third book? Sort of an odd plot twist that didn’t make good sense to me. I could see Rogue fighting against Darrow but not betraying him.

 

Remaining Questions:

 

Will Darrow give Rogue and Cassius another chance to get on the right side?

Where is Mustang?

Are the Son’s of Ares gone?

How will Ragnar and Sevrus fit in?

Where is Darrow and how is he going to escape and lead the revolt to victory?

 

Next up: Morning Star

 

 

 

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 thehelium-3 refineries on
  • 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.

 

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.

Seven “Eves”

  • Dinah MacQuarie – Roboticist working for Arjuna expeditions (a private asteroid mining company). Her robots specialize in asteroid iron mining. Her father is the leader of an effort to weather the hard rain underground.
  • Ivy Xiao – Born in Los Angeles, California, Xiao graduated from the United States Naval Academy before obtaining a PhD in applied physics from Princeton University. At the start of Seveneves, Xiao is the Commander of the International Space Station. She is demoted after allowing Sean Probst to utilize ISS resources, but becomes commander again after the death of her successor, Markus Leuker.
  • Julia Bliss Flaherty – Frequently referred to as “JBF”, Flaherty is President of the United States during the events of Part 1. In violation of an international accord, Flaherty saves herself by fleeing to the ISS aboard a Boeing X-37, along with Pete Sterling, her science advisor. Flaherty attempts to re-assert her leadership and persuades a large number of cloud ark inhabitants to abandon the ISS. Disaster and internal dissent lead to her being replaced by Aïda Ferrari. Her descendants are more attuned to and adept at social and psychological manipulation.
  • Moira Crewe – A geneticist sent aboard to ensure humanity’s heterozygosity, Crewe was raised in London and obtained degrees from Oxford and Harvard, and had previously worked on the de-extinction of the woolly mammoth. Due to the loss of the physical Human Genetic Archive, Crewe’s talents make her extremely valuable. Being the only person understanding the changes Aïda requests for her descendants, she responds, through seven failures, by giving her only surviving child the ability to undergo epigenetic shifts in order to counter all the changes Aïda makes in her offspring.
  • Tekla Alekseyevna Ilushina – A Russian cosmonaut, Tekla was a former Olympic heptathalete, and was sent in the initial wave of suicide workers to retrofit the ISS for its role as the cloud ark hub. Rescued by Dinah when her suit life support system malfunctions, Tekla became the head of security aboard ISS. Her descendants have increased discipline and physical ability.
  • Camila – Student and activist (implied to be from Afghanistan or Pakistan). Earlier in her life Camila survived an assassination attempt that necessitated extensive reconstructive surgery, and she was granted asylum in the Netherlands. Camila was chosen as an arklet as a rebuke to conservative Muslim countries that refused to nominate women in the Casting of Lots. While initially a close friend of former President Flaherty, Camila grows disillusioned with her during the events of the novel, ultimately preventing Flaherty from murdering Tekla. Camila has Moira imbue her descendants with non-aggressive traits, in order to be better suited to living in the close confines of space for generations.
  • Aïda Ferrari – An Italian “Arkie”, Aïda first appears after having lead a revolt against Julia’s control of the arklets that rebelled against the ISS. Deciding that future humans will look down upon her descendants due to the cannibalism she participated in while cut-off from the ISS, she gives each of her children markedly different qualities, to best counter the attributes selected by the other Eves.

 

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.

 

Faller (2016) Will McIntosh

 

A story that violates both physical and biologic laws cannot be all bad. Or can it? Our hero finds himself on a floating bit of Earth with no memory of how he got there and only a few clues (including a toy paratrooper) to guide him. Soon he is making his own parachute and the adventure begins. In it he finds his past and his mistakes and gratefully forgets them again. He meets the love of his life (multiple times) and learns the truth of his worst enemy.

 

A perfectly delightful book with a surprisingly, satisfying ending.

 

Not usually my piece of cake but I got it and liked it.

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

Dark Matter (2016)   Blake Crouch

 

Ever feel like you were your own worse enemy?

 

Well I bet you never had another version of yourself pop out of the multiverse and switch places with you swooning your lovely wife and sucking up to your 15 year old kid – much better then you ever did. That is how it all starts off for Jason Dessen. A middling Physics professor at a small Chicago college who threw a way a promising research career to support his marry a beautiful and talented artist who was pregnant with their child. She too sacrificed her career for the family. In another part of the multiverse, Jason 2 apparently made the other choice and invented multiverse hopping but wanted his cake and eat it too by taking over the sweet family life the Jason 1 had created.

 

It is a fast action adventure and takes the multiverse spin in a much different direction then Bennett’s American Elsewhere. Here the monster is you – or almost you.

 

Once Jason 1 realizes what has been done to him and that Jason 2’s universe is going to be lethal he heads out on his own multiverse hunt eventually finding his way back home. But he is not alone in wanting what Jason 2 stole from him and that is where the adventure really begins.

 

Jason 1 does not make the choices that I would make – at least up to the end. For a genius he sure makes some bonehead mistakes and nearly gets himself and his personal shrink – Amanda – killed.

How do you fool yourself? When each of you knows basically the same things and minds work pretty much the same. Except, of course, that there are varying degrees of homicidal tendencies in all the Jason’s who have survived the labyrinth of the multiverse to arrive in their “home” Chicago.

 

Which makes me wonder, what happened to Amanda(s). Should there have been more than one if there are so many Jason’s? Just saying. She liked Jason so you might think that at least one version would have tried to follow him.

 

Finally, what will be the key to getting out of this world with so many Jason’s?

 

 

Ready Player One (2011) Ernest Cline

 

I listened to the excellent audiobook narrated by Wil Wheaton a few years ago and thought a review might be timely since it is slated to be released as a movie in 2018 (I think that is good thing).

 

It is 2044.   A lot of problems in the world. People take refuge in a virtual world called Oasis developed by James Halliday. Halliday is now dead but has left behind clues for people to find and eventually open an “Easter Egg” that will give the finder ownership of Halliday’s fortune. Wade Watts (avatar – Parzival) like many others around the world is trying to find the keys to the puzzle. Not surprisingly, he does. Wade is a good guy and helps his friends navigate the puzzles and it is this generous attitude that enables him to form a group to like mined friends to eventually get to the promised land.

 

Cline seems to have a nack for this sort of thing. See Armada (AKA Last Starfighter)

 

Armada (2015) Ernest Cline

 

Ever see the “Last Starfighter”?   Yes? Well there you have it. Kids playing video games that are actually preparations for space battles. Armada has a few interesting turns but is basically the same plot devise as that underrated movie. Don’t get me wrong – I love that plot – could read / watch it over and over. Just don’t except something else. You could read this and Ready Player One in a single weekend.

 

War Dogs (2014) Greg Bear

 

Skyrine (Marine in the sky – get it?) Michael Venn is the here of this series. Aliens land on Earth and give us many new things but there is a catch. Remember the Twilight Zone where generous aliens help us and the “Holy Book” is called “To Serve Man” -Turns out it is a cook book. Well this is almost that bad. The catch here is that there is another alien race which was thought to be hostile and have the convenient name “Antags”. While they are fighting on Mars, Venn and his troup find an artifact called the Drifter which leads to interesting side effects and the next two books –   Killing Titan and Take Back the Sky.

 

I found the description of life in a suit, fighting the elements as well as the Antags for their lives, well done.   Some of the plot got confusing but I hung in there and it made sense. You should hang in there too . It is worth the effort.

 

The Jesus Cow (2015) Michael Perry

 

What is the secret to a happy life?

 

Wait for it…

 

The answer (according to our Hero, Harley) is:

 

Low Overhead.

 

And so it goes in the Garrison Keillor-ist tale of Swivel Wisconsin and factory worker, volunteer fire department member, gentleman farmer, bachelor – Harley. Who one Christmas eve is the recipient of a calf with the likeness of Jesus Christ on its side. Big trouble he thinks. Sure enough Big Trouble ensues. As well as some much needed shaking up of the town of Swivel. From his friend Billie to the town bully – Clute Sorenson –   people and things change due to this ill-fated calf.

 

Most books – I think “why are they making these choices? It doesn’t make sense.” Perry constructs a plot where I can see each choice that Harley makes and why it makes sense even though it seemly leads to more trouble. Like Keillor, Perry steers (get it “steer”) clear of the truly tragic and of course everything turns out in the end.

 

Did you doubt it?

 

This is must read for Lake Woebegone fans.

 

 

Killing Titan (2015) Greg Bear

 

This book follows – War Dogs. Our hero, Skyrine Michael Venn, is back on Earth after getting exposed to Green “Ice Moon Tea” in the ancient artifact – The Drifter on Mars. It left some of his comrades as black ice.   But not Venn and not DJ. Now Venn can hear one of the former comrades as well as the bug Karnack – ancient storage of bug knowledge.

 

As he is getting interrogated and about to be executed for what they think he knows about the Antags, the gurus and what this war is really all about – he is swept back to Mars and on the Titan where he learns more. Finally he must make a decision about who he trusts. His fellow Skyrines and their puppet-masters – the Guru’s? Or the Antag female that he mind melds with and who together receive tantalizing information from bug Karnack.

 

I like the first person narrative. It makes it more real to me. Although, a bit hard to follow some times. Reminds me a little of of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. I suspect that the next book – Take Back the Sky – is going to get even weirder – we’ll see.

 

 

Take Back the Sky (2016) Greg Bear

 

Weird, weirder, weirdest

 

War Dogs, Killing Titan, and now Take Back the Sky

Skyrine Michael Venn finds himself inside Titan waiting for the his friends in the corp from Earth and Mars to take him and his crew out and also to take out Bug Karnack and the archives of bug knowledge found on inside Titan. Their only hope? The Antags. His Antag connection from the Ice Moon Tea – Venn calls her Bird Girl – has arranged to save Venn and his crew. They are cut out of their armor and packed away for a journey to a large strange ship.

 

This ship is apparently the one used by the gurus (Antags call them “Keepers”) to travel around the solar system and beyond to plan and stage their war-shows for some unknown audience.   Turns out this ship constantly morphing in strange ways. The Starshina – Ulyanova – was also exposed to the ice moon tea and was linked to a guru. As such – she is apparently qualified as a pilot / commander of the ship. Which she proceeds to do. Is she a friend of humanity or is she a guru in Starshina clothing.

 

The book ends with an interesting whimper and not a bang. It leaves me with a lot of questions. What happened to Ulyanova and the ship? Did they fly into the sun. What is happening with Joe and Teale’s daughter on Mars. What does Ishida (the Winter Soldier) look like? Seems like a set up for one more volume of War Dogs. One can only hope.

 

Kill the Next One (2016) Federico Axat

 

This books starts off so cool.   Ted McKay is about to blow his brains out because he has an untreatable brain tumor but the Justin Lynch shows up and offers Ted the opportunity to knock off a true bad guy – Edward Blaine – who killed his girl friend and got away with it.   Then after that he was to kill Wendell – another poor sap who wanted to kill himself. Then he gets to sit at home until another poor sucker knocks him off. Sounds like a good set up for a switcheroo.

 

Will this is a real switcheroo – Apparently Ted is hallucinating and has been in a psychiatric hospital for the past 7 months. Why is he there? Dr. Laura Hall is his therapist / detective who sorts everything out for all of us. Who lives / who dies? Who is really the bad guy?

 

Weird…. A little disturbing. Highly Recommended!

City of Blades (2015) Robert Jackson Bennett

 

This story begins five years after the action in City of Stairs. Shara Komayd plays only a small, distant role in the book. Sigruid plays a significant, if somewhat unsatisfying role. We are introduced to his daughter. The lead character in City of Blades is General Turyin Mulaghesh. The action takes place in the continental city of Voortyashthan. While a harbor is being built in the city to increase trade a new ore is found with remarkable – if not miraculous – properties. Here we go again…   Bennett does much more than concoct a tale about long gone Gods who still have an effect on the present. He brings a complex character like Mulaghesh alive through her back story and the choices she makes throughout the plot. She is truly a much more interesting character then one would have thought from City of Stairs.

 

I found it interesting that the figure of the giant monstrous “mother” again echoes so similar to that seen in American Elsewhere. Bennett must have some sort of mother concept. Sigruid is apparently featured in the City of Miracles climax which I am looking forward to. This book leaves him on the run.

 

All Our Wrong Todays (2017) Elan Mastai

 

Another book about the multiverse. Unlike American Elsewhere and Dark Matter our here – Tom (John, Victor) Barren   – creates his different realities by time travel. His first reality in 2016 was the “World of Tomorrow” made possible by the Goettrieder Engine invented by Lionel Goettrieder in 1965. Not really an engine at all but a generator of unending power – like the perpetual motion machines. Barren’s father – himself an inventor – has designed a time machine and the first traveler is to be Tom’s dream girl Penelope. Unfortunately, Penelope is ruled out as a candidate because she becomes pregnant with Tom’s child and in remorse she kills herself. Tom’s reaction is to send himself on the journey. Back to 1965 to observe the demonstration of the Goettrieder Engine. Unfortunately Tom does not just observe but IS observed by Goettrieder himself and this results in some changes so that when Tom returns 20 2016 it is the 2016 of our lives – not the world of tomorrow that he is used to. The good side is that his father is kind, his mother is alive, he now has a sister -Greta – and the girl of his dreams – Penelope is alive and well – and better than ever. Tom (now John) is a world famous architect. What could go wrong? Well Lionel Goettrieder is still around and not too happy. He sends Tom / John back to 1965 to correct his intervention. Along the way (a very long journey it turns out) Tom / John discovers Victor. Another version of Tom that occurred when the worst case happened and the Engine exploded in 1965 creating a 2000-mile crater and havoc worldwide. Which world does Tom /John /Victor choose? Well read it to find out but don’t’ expect anything too dark. This is a funny book. It is undoubtedly the happiest multiverse book that I have read. Although none of them present a too positive view of multi-dimensional living.

 

The Collapsing Empire (2017) John Scalzi

 

John Scalzi does it again. Reels me in with great characters and plot. Not quite as interesting as the Old Man’s War but the premise of the “Flow” and how its demise might spell the demise of the 1000 year old interdependency. The new Empiro – Carthinia – Is up against it and she needs all the help she can get since her best friend and confidant is killed in a bomb at her inauguration.   The dead empiros are stored on computer for her to talk to and Flow Physicist Mars Claremont comes from the last planet in the Empire (conveniently named End) with the information that will change everything – and lead to many more Interdependency books for Scalzi. Oh brother   -not another series!

 

 

We are Legion, We are Bob. The Bobiverse Book 1 (2016) Dennis E. Taylor

 

Ok – This is NOT a book about multi realities (yet) like American Elsewhere and Dark Matter like the name implies. I think that is a good thing because I am a bit tired of that plot device. This is a variation of the “Brain in the Box” plot device (Thank you John Scalzi).

 

Robert Johansson (BOB) sold his software company for a bundle and was figuring out how to enjoy his new found wealth at a Sci Fi convention (really?).   Unfortunately for him, but fortunate for the survivors of a nuclear winter (about to happen) and also us as he (and his offspring –clones – are delightful characters) Bob is run over in a crosswalk. He awakens 117 years later to find himself a brain in box.   Well actually a replicated synaptic pattern in box. His brain was purchased by a deranged religious / political organization called Faith and then is destroyed in the creation of the computer based replicant. Bob goes through substantial training and must win the post as a Von Neumann Probe to study and protect space from other competitors on Earth. This he does quite well.   He is able to fend off murderous probes from the Brazil contingent while at the same time finding habital planets and fledgling intelligent life. He does these various duties by cloning himself. Interestingly each clone is somewhat different then the original which creates as interesting relationship that each must deal with. The do change their names so they are not just Bob1, Bob2, etc. Instead they are Bill, Ricker (no.2), Homer, Milo, Mario, Calvin etc. Each of these makes their own decision as to what they will do in this wide open universe while maintaining a Bob-Centric paternalistic view of the universe. This is a good thing for those of us who have managed to survive a worldwide nuclear war. I think you can take it from there.

 

It is obviously the start of a series.   Hopefully a Roberta comes into the picture so we can have a little robot romance. It is a fun book. It probably does not get all the science down perfectly but it is Science FICTION after all.

 

 

Algorithms to Live By

THE COMPUTER SCIENCE OF HUMAN DECISIONS

Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths

 

How many people do you need to date before you can be confident that this one is “the one”? 37.   You need to have benchmarked 37% of your potential partners and then take the next one who is better then the best of this benchmark group. According to Christian and Griffiths this is but one of the many algorithms that we use (or should be using) in our lives. They delve from human decisions, to computer logic to auction strategy. Spoiler Alert – The Vicar’s Auction is terrific.

 

How do we sort our work? What ways can we avoid procrastination? Why is a stack of papers on your desk a perfectly good sorting strategy?

 

Learn about the secretary problem and the traveling salesman problem. What is the prisoner’s dilemma? You will want to know!

 

Basically, a book on decision making and other nerd-like issues that most people will not be interested in – but should.

For We Are Many. The Bobiverse Book 2 (2017) Dennis E. Taylor

 

The Bobiverse expands! There is now Bob, Bill, Will Ricker (Number 1), Homer, Howard, Mario, Hungry, Sleepy – It goes on and on. They are making significant progress. Building androids, real-time communication over vast distances, new habitable worlds, and no budding civilizations.

 

Unfortunately there are some significant obstacles. There are some dissident elements in the Earth remnants that are causing havoc. They don’t think any humans should remain to foul up universe. Inconvenient concept when your purpose is to save humanity.   In outer space the “others” are becoming a BIG concern and will surely be the focus of Book 3. The Others are a hive mind that are bent on consuming the universe. Everything is either food, a pest, or to be ignored. Humanity has become both so is the next dish on the menu.

 

I wondered how Dennis Taylor would handle a second book. I think adding the ‘Others’ will really give this project some focus and serve as a test for the replicants. The showdown loams in Book 3.

 

American Gods (2001) Neil Gaiman

 

I read (heard – audio book with George Guidall narration) this book in 2003 but with the new TV version thought it might be fun to review it now.

Characters

·      Shadow Moon – An ex-convict who becomes the reluctant bodyguard and errand boy of Mr. Wednesday.

·      Laura Moon – Shadow Moon’s wife who died in a car crash at the beginning of the novel a few days before Shadow is due to be released from prison.

  • Samantha “Sam” Black Crow- A hitchhiking college student Shadow meets during his journey.
  • Chad Mulligan- A kind-hearted chief of police in the town of Lakeside.

Old Gods:

  • Wednesday– An aspect of Odin, the Old Norse god of knowledge and wisdom.
  • Czernobog– The Slavic god of darkness, twin brother to Belobog, the god of light.
  • The Zorya Sisters- The Zorya Sisters, relatives of Czernobog, are sisters representing the Morning Star (Zorya Utrennyaya), the Evening Star (Zorya Vechernyaya), and the Midnight Star (Zorya Polunochnaya). In Slavic lore, they are servants of Dažbog who guard and watch over the doomsday hound, Simargl, who is chained to the star Polaris in the constellation Ursa Minor, the “little bear”. If the chain ever breaks, the hound will devour the world.
  • Nancy– Anansi, a trickster spider-man from African folklore. He often makes fun of people for their stupidity, a recurring aspect of his personality in his old stories.
  • Ibis– Thoth, the Ancient Egyptian god of knowledge and writing. He runs a funeral parlor with Mr. Jacquel in Cairo, Illinois. He often writes short biographies of people who brought folkloric beings with them to America.
  • Jaquel– Anubis, the Ancient Egyptian god of the dead and mummification. He is an expert at preparing bodies for the wake at funerals.
  • Easter– Ēostre, the Germanic goddess of the dawn.
  • Mad Sweeney– Suibhne, a king from an old Irish story. Though not portrayed as such in his story, he calls himself a “Leprechaun,” and is a foul-mouthed, a frequent drinker, and taller than expected.
  • Whiskey Jack– Wisakedjak, a trickster figure of Algonquian  He lives near a Lakota reservation in the badlands with John Chapman, where he is mistaken for Iktomi, a trickster of their culture.
  • John Chapman– Johnny Appleseed
  • Low-Key Lyesmith– Loki, the Old Norse god of mischief and trickery.
  • Hinzelmann- Hinzelmann, a kobold who was formerly revered as a tribal god by ancient Germanic tribes. He protects the town of Lakeside, in the guise of an old man, by sacrificing one child each year.
  • Bilquis- Queen of Sheba, as mentioned in the Bible.
  • Mama-Ji- Kali, the Hindu goddess of time and destruction.

New Gods:

  • The Technical Boy– New god of computers and the Internet.
  • Media– New goddess of television. She appears in the form of Lucy Ricardo from the well-known show “I Love Lucy” and a female news anchor.
  • The Black Hats– Mister World, Mister Town, Mister Wood and Mister Stone exist out of the US’ obsession with black helicopters and the men in black. They work as spooks for the new gods.
  • The Intangibles- New gods of the modern stock market, the personification of the “Invisible hand of the market”.

 

The main character in this classic Neil Gaiman book is Wednesday Moon. He is our guide and chief protagonist through this world of old and new gods based on belief. I thought that the “side stories” were in some ways more memorable then the main plot. I do especially like “media” as Lucy. What a hoot. It is purportedly about old versus new beliefs (gods) but in the end it is a tale of tricksters. It is one of the most interesting and remarkable books that I have read and after fifteen plus years I still think about it. I have yet to see the TV version and am reluctant to be disappointed as I frequently am when books are brought to video.

 

MoonBreaker (2017) Simon R. Green

 

Another installment of Simon Green’s SF/Fantasy spoof on 007 / James Bond. There are of course the references to Dickens – Edwin / Eddie Drood. It is a direct sequel to Dr. Doa in the Secret History series. Aided by his terrifying girlfriend – Molly Metcalf – Witch of the Wild Woods – our hero (Eddie Drood) has to battle his must dangerous adversary ever – HIMSELF. Well, not exactly himself but copy of him from another reality where the Drood family is not so community minded and goes by the name of Edmund Drood. Edmund not only fatally poisons Eddie but lets all the nasty surprises out at Drop manor. Things like Demon-Droods and Angel-Droods (guess which is worse). This book has a new feature – Morgana Le Fay. She has been trapped in the Merlin Glass and is key to the resolution of this book.   How does Eddie turn the tables on Edmund and stay around for the final book of the series – Night Fall?

 

Android’s Dream (2006) John Scalzi

 

Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sleep? – Phillip K. Dick

 

Scalzi is channeling Heinlein in this fun book that includes aliens (multiple), artificial intelligence, genetic experimentation, religious cults, and corrupt government officials (what’s new?).

 

Harry Creek is a war hero who now works delivering bad news to unruly aliens. He is now asked to find a special sheep (Android’s Dream) that is necessary for an alien ceremony. If he cannot find one the aliens will wage war on the Earth with their superior battleships. Fortunately, the sheep DNA is found in the junk DNA in a pet shop owner. Watch Harry and his best friend Brian (now an AI) maneuver to a possible solution to keep sheep-girl (Robin Baker) alive and protect the human race.

 

 

City of Miracles (2017)   Robert Jackson Bennett

 

Sigrud je Harkvaldsson

 

The “Man”

I have to say that Sigrud has been my favorite character in the Divine Cities Trilogy.   He just gets Stuff done. You have a divine sea monster in your river send Sigrud. When the monster swallows him whole (sending him to a personal Hell) he will carve his way out killing the monstor in the process. That is classic Sigrud.

 

In this story we see Sigrud working as a logger as one of the odd jobs that he has been doing anonymously since the end of City of Blades – 13 years. The apparent assassination of Shara Komayd brings him back to action. He is driven to find out who did this to his former employer and friend. He eventually runs into a near divinity – Nokov – a child of the original divinities   – Jokov and Ovos. Nokov is the embodiment of the first night. He grows more powerful by swallowing other children of divinities. His goal is to turn the world into a black night.   Shara’s adopted daughter Taty is taken under Sigrud’s wing and protected but we know there is more to her then we see.

 

The real story though is the transformation of Sigrud from a noble man of action to a happy old philosopher. Sad. I really liked the old Sigrud and hoped he would good down fighting rather than as a whimper. However, I would guess that most people will like Bennett’s conclusion to this trilogy better than I do. Conclusion? I don’t know. There seems to be a lot of open plot lines and interesting characters in this world that Bennett could tap for another volume or even another series.

 

Super Sales on Super Heroes (2017)   William D. Aurand

 

I didn’t think I would like it. Bought the audio book on a whim. Amazingly found it pretty funny and enjoyed it not a little.

There is one element that I find repellant and will describe that late in this review.

 

The basic premise is that the world is dominated by super heroes and villains (with little separating them). Our hero (Felix Campbell) is not much of one. The only “power” he has is the ability to improve the things that he owns. Unfortunately for him he does not have enough points to do anything with and these points reset every day. He has saved up money to buy some metal in hopes to slowly convert it to gold but instead gets a mostly dead super hero. He decides to keep the super hero and finds out since he “owns” it as a “slave” he gets to use their super hero points which are much higher than his. He gets the opportunity to buy two others that are equally damaged and uses their points to repair them. Once this is done he goes on a hero / villain buying spree and develops an organization based on using his points and the powers of the group to create money and upgrade the “slaves” as rewards for services.  This group – incorporated “We are Legion” (see “We are Bob”) – is on constant active from the Legion of Heroes. Finally with his back against the wall Felix must his enemies himself to preserve his slaves and his way of life.

 

Lots of fun in here – Andrea – who can multiply herself, is part wolf, and loves pancakes, Lily – the soul eating demon, and Kit – the mind reader are his chief companions and consultants in this venture.

 

My big problem with this book is the picture of the big-hearted slave owner. I do not think they exist. It trivializes the whole American nightmare that slave-holding brought over us. I wish Aurand had found another conveyance such as indentured servant – which he does use. Of course, Felix is ultimately a villain (has the souls ripped out of his enemies before they are sent (still alive) to the sausage machine. His slaves then eat the sausage to get increased power. Sounds like a villain to me. As long as the villains eventually loose or are sanctified and reborn.

 

 

Assassination Generation (2016) David Grossman

 

Preachy, pretentious, self indulgent and probably right….

 

Probably need an antidepressant before and / or after reading this.

 

The premise is that our media culture of movies and video games predisposes our youth to violence. Makes perfect sense. How can you spend day after day exercising virtual depravity without it affecting you mind and soul.

 

The solution is not so easy. Shouldn’t parents control the media, books, movies, TV, video games that their children consume? Sure. Unfortunately, they don’t have access to their own children all day every day and most eventually cave in. So, is the answer mass governmental control of this material?

 

I don’t know. Read it and decide for yourself   – take a Prozac first – its pretty depressing stuff.

 

 

Glass Universe (2016) Dava Sobel

 

Another great read from Dava Sobel. This one is about the fascinating group of women who worked in the Harvard Astronomy Lab during the period from before the turn of the century to the 1950’s. These women evaluated all of the glass slides created during the night by the telescopes that the lab operated in the US, Peru, and Africa. There were at the forefront of science but took a backseat to the men despite strong support from the director’s of the lab.

 

I highly recommend this book!!

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