Friday, September 23, 2011

Review: Warriors edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

In the opening Martin states that this is a collection of stories about warriors that rather than be defined by a specific genre are an eclectic mix. That is certainly the case with every from Fantasy, Historical fiction, science fiction and contemporary fiction represented. The editors' goal were to simply have a collection of well written stories and in that they have succeeded.

The King of Norway by Cecelia Holland. Historic fiction piece on Vikings going raiding. Holland utilizes an authentic and appropriate 'voice' for this piece and creates an impressive atmosphere. 7/10.

Forever Bound by Joe Haldeman: Science fiction piece that recounts the tale of a group of young people drafted into the army and surgically linked together to operate war machines. Emotionally satisfying but the lack of action prevents it moving from very good to great. 7.25/10.

The Triumph by Robin Hobb: Historic fiction with a touch of fantasy. Recounts the last hours of a Roman general captured during the first Punic War. Very well structured and good use of POV shifts. 8.5/10

Clean Slate by Lawrence Block: Contemporary fiction. Tale of a serial killer's deranged attempts to reclaim her innocence by killing every man she has ever slept with. I really struggled to relate with the protagonist in this one. 6/10.

And Ministers of Grace by Tad Williams: Science fiction thriller. An assassin, from a society of religious fanatics, is sent to kill a political figure from an atheist one. The amount of world building and character development Williams manages to cram into this one is impressive. 8.5/10.

Soldierin' by Joe R. Lansdale: Historic fiction piece about a group of Buffalo soldiers' clash with a group of Apache. Humerus and another one with an interesting and unique voice. 7/10.

Dirae by Peter S. Beagle: Urban fantasy. Tale about a mysterious vigilante thrown into dangerous situations seemingly at random. This one starts out a little strangely but I absolutely loved it. Interesting with a great twist. 9/10.

The Custom of the Army by Diana Gabaldon: Historic fiction. An electric eel party goes wrong and ends in a duel where John Grey accidentally kills a man. Grey is shipped to Canada while things cool down and aids in the taking of Quebec. Generally well written but feels cluttered with too much going on. 6/10.

Seven Years from Home by Noami Novik: Science Fiction. Recollections of a woman sent to an alien planet to play both sides in a conflict but ends up going native. It's nice to see Novik expand her range and there is some impressive world building in this one. 8/10.

The Eagle and the Rabbit by Steven Saylor: Historic fiction. Tale about the capture of a group of Carthaginian fugitives and the game a Roman soldier uses to try and make them slaves. Powerful and well written. 8.5/10.

The Pit by James Rollins: Contemporary fiction. A dog is kidnapped and forced to compete in a fighting pit. At first glance I wouldn't have expected it but this is by far the most emotionally intense story in the collection. Brilliantly written and perfect ending. 8.75/10

Out of the Dark by David Webber: Science fiction. An alien army arrives to conquer earth and finds some unexpected resistance. This was well written if not exactly highly original. I found the twist a bit unnecessary. 8/10.

The Girls from Avenger by Carrie Vaughn: Historic fiction. Follows a group of WASPS as they try to found out the circumstances of one of their own dying and stumble onto a cover up. Moves along nicely but a touch predictable. 7.5/10.

Ancient Ways by S.M. Stirling: Fantasy. Follows an unlikely pair of warriors as they attempt to save a princess. Fun and light read. 7.5/10.

Ninieslando by Howard Waldrop: Historic fiction. An allied soldier is caught in no man's land and discovers a society of Esperanto speaking men. Certainly the oddest story in the bunch and one of the weaker ones. Very little action and possibly trying too hard at sending a political message. 5.75/10.

Recidivist by Gardner Dozois: Science Fiction: Another one of the weirder ones. AI's have broken away and humanity has become their plaything. Two men attempt to strike back. 6/10.

My Name is Legion by David Morrell: Historic fiction. The French foreign legion find themselves on opposite sides of a conflict. Another emotionally driven piece with great character development. 8.75/10.

Defenders of the Frontier by Robert Silverberg: Fantasy. The remnants of a garrison realize that the enemy has been defeated for some time and their own people have forgotten them. Different from the other Silverberg work I've read. Interesting concept and well-executed. 8.25/10.

The Scroll by David Ball: Historic fiction. A captured French engineer is tormented by a cruel Moroccan monarch who believes he has his life mapped in a scroll. Dark and well crafted tale. 8.5/10.

The Mystery Knight by George R.R. Martin. Fantasy. Sir Duncan and his squire find themselves at a tourney with some nasty undercurrents. 8/10.

Overall Warriors is undoubtedly the best anthology I've read to date, with many quality reads. Some people may only pick this up for Martin's tale but if offers so much more. 8.5/10.

Review: Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky


Years ago Stenwold Maker, a student artificer, and some of his fellow students discovered the existence of an expanding empire slowly devouring city after city with a highly trained and ruthless army. They attempted to halt the wasp empire's advance at the city of Myna but failed when they were seemingly betrayed by a member of their group. Stenwold escaped back to the city states of the Lowlands where he attempts to warn anyone who will listen about the coming threat. All his pleas fell on deaf ears. Now seventeen years later the Wasp empire has finally turned its attention to the Lowlands. Only Stenwold, his allies and a group of his students stand in their way; Stenwold's adopted daughter and spider-kinden Tynisa, his niece Cheerwell (who has some self-esteem issues having lived most of her life in Tynisa's shadow), The half-breed artificer Totho and the artistoractic swordsman Salma. However the wasps have grown far more cunning.

The first thing that hits the reader in Tchaikovsky's debut is the outstanding world building. in the early history of his world humanity was plagued by giant insects. Through some long forgotten means humanity bonded itself to these insects, gaining some of their attributes and creating a number of different races. We are treated to a good look at a number of such groups and the concept leaves lots of room for growth in future installments. In addition there is an interesting element with an industrial revloution having taken place and displacing the former moth upper class, with races like the industrious beetle and ant-kinden taking center stage.

The prose is highly accessible making for a fast paced and enjoyable read.

The characterization is also impressive. I particularly enjoyed Stenwold's perspective myself and liked the contrast with figures like a Gandalf or a Belgareth. While the aforementioned characters seem so in control Stenwold is much more fallible. There was obviously a risk of coming across too black and white with the wasp empire as the very obvious villians. Thankfully some of the story is told through a wasp officer, Thalric's, perspective and his motiviations while often conflicting are certainly understandable.

Overall an impresive debut highlighted by impressive world building and characterization. 8.5/10

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Review: Splatterism: The Tragic Recollections of a Minotaur Assailant (An Upbuilding Edifying Discourse) by CS Hand

Evander, the last living minotaur, attempts to commit suicide by throwing himself into a hole. The attempt fails when he instead lands on two witches and unwittingly saves a sorcerer named Scammander. The two then set off on a series of bizarre adventures presumably trying to destroy the world.

As a concept this one promises so much, a tongue in cheek look at fantasy villains should be hilarious, unfortunately it just doesn't deliver. The biggest problem with this novella is that it doesn't make a lot of sense. I am more or less inferring that the two protagonists are trying to destroy the world from what I read in the blurb rather than what is actually in the story. What we have is a series of bizarre adventures with very little to tie each other together or any rhyme or reason in themselves. This extends to the world itself which is cobbled together from cliche fantasy races.

There are too many info dumps, in the form of little stories about some of the supporting characters, for a work of this size. This gives the text a cluttered feel.

The only positive is the occasional funny and clever quip between the characters. Sadly the byplay of the two protagonists is overdone and wears thin after awhile. The story is told firsthand from Evander's perspective, who is the most realized of the characters introduced though sadly he is a rather tiresome group of contradictions. He is suicidal and continually drones on about how miserable life is. Despite this aside from his one failed attempt he never tries suicide again and kills anyone who tries to put him out of his misery.

I desperately wanted to like this one, the concept promises so much, but unfortunately it is disorganized and non-nonsensical. 4/10.