Prison of Sleep – by Tim Pratt (Review) + Blog Tour!

I absolutely love the cover—especially that of the paperback version that I completely failed to illustrate above. Its glossy, black background and golden cage, overlaid with bright blue tentacles works in a way that this picture just can’t convey. Huge props to artist Kieryn Tyler for the design!

Journals of Zaxony Delatree #2

Scifi, WORMholes

Angry Robot; April 26, 2022

261 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author Website

8.0 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Angry Robot (#AngryRobot #AngryRobotBooks) for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

• Doors of Sleep Review •


“They invented multidimensional travel but they haven’t figured out how to make guns?”

At one time, Zaxony Delatree worked as a harmonizer in the Realm of Spheres and Harmonies. Then, following the death of a patient—who died in his arms, covering him in her blood—Zax fell asleep, only to awaken on another world.

About one month later, on his twentieth world, Zax met Ana. Less than a day later, he knew he never wanted to leave. Something that… could never be. So he fell asleep with Ana in his arms. And she travelled with him, through the place between, awake. Her mind couldn’t handle whatever she saw, and fled Zax immediately upon his waking. Though he searched for her, eventually Zax grew tired, and fell asleep—never to see her again.

On his 20th world Zax found love, only to lose it on the 21st.

Thirteen hundred worlds later, Zax found something impossible. He’d reunited with Vicki and Minna following the events of Doors of Sleep. The closest thing he’d ever had to a family was back together, even though he feared he’d never see them again. Shortly after, Zax found Ana.

Prison of Sleep skips forward a time from this meeting, so you’ll have to wait a bit to see how it went down. There are a pair of POVs within: Zax, who looks forward; and Ana, who looks back. We find Zax alone once more, traveling into the unknown. Only this time, while he may not have any idea where he’s going, Zax is following a specific path—a trail left by the Cult of the Worm.

The Cult worships the Prisoner: a god imprisoned in the place between worlds that can only whisper to its subjects as they traverse the place between. These followers it has gifted with the ability to Travel—done via a parasite injected into their bloodstream. It wants only two things from them: to Travel to new worlds and recruit further devotees who will do the same. The more Travelers, the more Wormholes in the ether. The more Wormholes, the weaker the stability of the Multiverse. Only when the Multiverse destabilizes completely can the Prisoner ever hope to escape.

When Ana found Zax she recruited him into a secret war against the Cult, one that he was only too willing to join. But now that he has, Zax is having second thoughts. Once more he’s lost Ana, Minna, and Vicki. He’s lost his new friends, his new home. But he has a plan—and while it may not reunite him with his friends, it may well save them all.



“What I’m hearing from you is that the Cult of the Worm is horrible and they suck.”

“They knew what they were getting into. When you declare war on everything, you have to be prepared for everything to fight back.”

Prison of Sleep explores one the biggest unanswered questions left by Doors of Sleep before it: what happened to Ana?

Ana, as it is known from the first few chapters of the first book, was Zax’s long lost love, first companion, and lost her mind after traversing the void while awake. When Zax and Ana are reunited at the end of Doors, we are promised the continuation of their story—but who would’ve guessed just how far the rabbit hole went?

While Doors was more of an adventure driven via exploration of its sole POV, Zax, Prison is more of a mystery, slow-paced thriller, and character driven title about the relationship between its two main protagonists: Zax and Ana. Now Doors does feature the same style of slow-paced thrill later on, so it shouldn’t be an entirely foreign concept. And… while I say it’s a “slow-paced” thriller, I guess it really isn’t. Both Doors and Prison are rather short books—running between two and three hundred pages—so once things start happening, they don’t have too long to lounge around before the story winds down. It’s more that these two stories feel more leisurely in their approach to telling. The stories were both good, immersive, interesting, highly entertaining, and no trouble to read whatsoever. It’s just that there… there aren’t a ton of heart-pounding thrills, pulse-racing action, or the like that you’d find in most good thrillers. Instead, it’s narrative driven; a tense, atmospheric adventure through the multiverse—on a mission to save the multiverse.

Prison of Sleep features a back-and-forth, alternating POV structure that I’ve seen before in books like the Boy With the Porcelain Blade, where the first perspective takes place in the present and the second takes place in the past—1, 2, 1, 2, in that order, until the end. Now, I have some qualms about this approach—as I’m not sure I’ve really read anything that deploys it very successfully. At a certain point what has happened in the past becomes clear in the present long before it’s time for the big reveal. Prison can’t escape this particular issue, as long before the end I had figured out what happened when Ana finally caught up to Zax, along with the aftermath. What I had NOT figured out, however, was that while I’d assumed this to be the big reveal, it um wasn’t. Instead, there’s a twist come Ana’s final chapter—one that caught me completely by surprise.

Otherwise, it’s more of the same exciting adventure from Doors of Sleep. Only Zax knows he’s not alone anymore. And instead of wandering aimlessly, he’s a man on a mission. While the mission itself feels a little forced, a little cliché—it’s still a great read. I really can’t object to anything too strongly or find much of a problem with any of this. If you enjoyed the first book, I’m fairly certain you’ll enjoy the second. If you were bothered by cliff-hangers, or empty threads in Book #1—well, #2 ties everything up quite nicely. No major issues, no problems getting through it, or getting immersed in the tale. I’d certainly recommend checking it out!

Return of the Whalefleet – by Benedict Patrick (Review)

Darkstar Dimension #2

Fantasy, Dark Fantasy

Self-Published (Kickstarter Edition); December 12, 2021

length/page count N/A

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4.0 / 5 ✪

Please beware minor spoilers for Flight of the Darkstar Dragon (Darkstar Book #1)! Or maybe just check out my Review for Flight of the Darkstar Dragon first;)

Just what is the price of survival?

This is the very question First Officer Choi Minjun and her crew have been trying to answer. For months they’ve been trapped in the mysterious Darkstar dimension, with its violet oceans and glowing fish, floating rocks and peculiar gravity, turtlemoths and gigantic dragon alone for company. They’ve made a kind of home for themselves with the rift’s only other human resident—Brightest, an old man who was been living in the dimension for decades—but it is a far cry from New Windward.

Although… they’re not technically “trapped”. Min and the crew of the Melodious Narwhal can leave whenever they want. In fact, they’ve been doing it for months—traveling to and from the Darkstar dimension via the numerous rifts that orbit the star itself. Unfortunately, while these rifts visit upon untold worlds, none of them will return the crew to their home.That can only be reached through a particular rift, one that only comes once every few years. And until it does, the Narwhal will be staying put.

But Min and the crew have been busy.

There’s not enough to live on in the Darkstar dimension. Other than a few tiny islets and oceans full of tasteless, glowing fish, the place is fairly sparse. Thus the crew have been busy scavenging from other dimensions—while chronicling their experiences within.

While traversing the rifts is rife with danger, it is also myriad in wonders. The best example of this is the Whalefleet: a race of interdimensional travelers sailing across the sky upon the backs of massive, luminous whales. Their passage has continued for months; a constant and aloof, untouchable by the crew despite their best efforts.

But it turns out Min and her crew weren’t alone in the dimension after all. When a mysterious force reaches out and attacks the Whalefleet, the crew is faced with an impossible choice: stand-by as these peaceful travelers are wiped out, or intervene and risk the attention of the ancient horror that haunts the Darkstar—one not even the dragon is willing to face.

“He?” Min said, looking at Loom again, unable to find any… features that would suggest a particular gender. “Loom is a ‘he’?” She lowered her voice, feeling the colour rush to her cheeks. “How can you tell?”

“Silly. He’s glowing green, isn’t he? Clearly a boy.”

If you haven’t read any of Benedict Patrick’s Yarnsworld before, know that his novels often have an eerie, unsettling feel, complete with dark overtones and a story that doesn’t always work out too well for anyone. It’s often not bleak enough to be grimdark, but it’s certainly not your classic “and they lived happily ever after” fantasy. It’s dark fantasy-horror, pure and simple. When Flight of the Darkstar Dragon released, it seemed as though the author might be graduating to something else. This book featured a perilous but triumphant story, with themes of hope and perseverance playing a major role. But if you took that as a sign the author was turning over a new leaf, Return of the Whalefleet has just adequately dashed these hopes.

But while Book #1 seemed to be presenting the Darkstar as a temporary prison, it was one with limitless potential for adventure, exploration, and discovery. Sure, there would be danger, but also thrills, boons, and maybe even a new way home within the rifts. And if everything else failed, the crew could always escape to the (relative) safety of the Darkstar.

Only the Darkstar isn’t the haven that it appeared. Sure, there’s the dragon the size of a small moon to consider, but it turns out the real horrors have always been there, lurking just out of sight the entire time. There’s definitely more of a horror vibe to Flight of the that seemed to be absent from Return of the. But again, if you’ve read the author before this series, this shouldn’t surprise you. And shouldn’t disappoint either.

It’s not a huge leap, and one that returning fans should take in stride. I found that this darker overtone made the place seem like more of a challenge, more a test of survival than the adventure its predecessor depicted. It’s a little like the jump from Lord of the Flies to Pincher Martin. If you loved one, you probably loved the other; but which did you enjoy more? Both are about survival, but one has much more to distract the reader from this—and the other is much darker. But even if I were challenged, I’m not sure I could say which I enjoyed more. Yes, I know they’re unrelated story-wise, but both books are in the same vein and by the same author. Plus they relate really well to the question at hand. That being: Flight of the was inauspicious but ultimately hopeful while Return of the is much more morose albeit with the same adventure and thrill—but which is better?

While I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as I did its predecessor, it wasn’t down to the darker twist to the tale. Instead, it’s how the story seems to get sidetracked from the main event, particularly by exploring the rifts themselves. And this shouldn’t be the case, particularly because there’s no reason this should be a problem. If the plot to this was simply “explore and survive” á la William Golding—I’d be down with it. But the main setup at the end of Flight of the Darkstar Dragon really implied that the Whalefleet would take center stage—something that the title itself all but confirmed. And yet, we’re too distracted to notice it for way too long.

The beginning and the end focus on side issues, details that—while interesting—don’t directly connect to the tale Return of the is trying to tell. That being the return of the Whalefleet. Also I think the buildup in the previous book about the Whalefleet’s majesty and awe was a bit of a letdown, as this just didn’t wow with its description of the travelers’ procession. That said, had Flight of the not built my expectations quite so much, and the title of Return of the made me anticipate these more—I don’t think it would’ve let me down quite like it did. Just like I doubt I’d’ve noticed the off-topic distraction but for the book’s size. Yet there’s more than enough to love about Return of the Whalefleet: new allies, new enemies, new adventures, history and development of our returning cast and crew. The ancient horrors themselves were a particular favorite of mine; the entire buildup was amazing, but when they were described in detail it cast a noticeable chill up my spine. The haunting descriptions of these will stick with me, I think, more than so many one-offs in other books. Not that these are a one-off—that remains to be seen.

TL;DR

If you’d never read Benedict Patrick before, you might be forgiven in thinking that the Darkstar series took an abrupt 180 from its start in Flight of the Darkstar Dragon. If you had, on the other hand, the creepier, darker tone to Return of the Whalefleet shouldn’t surprise you. In fact, it might even come as a relief; a sign that the author still has it, can still tell a spine-tingling tale. Either way, this entry certainly marks a turning point for the series. But just where it’s headed exactly… I don’t know. Despite the change of tone (or perhaps because of it) this is still a great read. While held back by a slightly longer detour from the main plot than you might see in other books of its length, when the author does focus on the Whalefleet and the story surrounding it, I had no problem becoming immersed in it. The setting continues to be vibrant (albeit a wee bit more shadowy than before), the plot intriguing, and the overall adventure a thrill. While it’s not quite as good as its predecessor, I have no problem at all recommending Return of the Whalefleet! If you’re new to the series, I would definitely start with Book #1, but returning fans should be able to dive right in. Look out for Book #3—The Game of Many Worlds—hopefully releasing sometime in the next year. Can’t wait!

Salvation – by Peter F. Hamilton (Review)

Salvation Sequence #1

Space Opera, Scifi

Pan; September 6, 2018 (UK)
Del Rey; September 4, 2018 (US)

552 pages (hardcover)
19hr 3m (audiobook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

2.5 / 5 ✪

Salvation begins another Peter F. Hamilton special: a grand space opera where humanity has expanded across the stars via wormholes. As always, this grand plan is very complex, very detailed, and prone to convolution. In fact, Salvation may be the best example of this out of all his work to date. Let me explain.

The Olyix were welcomed to Earth during our brightest hour—a Golden Age of effective human immortality where our influence spans the universe, and our colonies stretch across the stars. They required fuel for their pilgrimage across the galaxy—for which they offered to help advance our technology with their own. But is this another instance of humanity’s hubris sure to bring about our downfall, or is it a friendship that will last until the end of time as the resulting empire spans the stars?

Only time will tell.

AD 2204

When an alien shipwreck is discovered on a planet at the edge of human-explored space, its cargo finishes what its very existence began in raising a few eyebrows. The cargo however, stokes humanity’s wildest dreams, and their most terrible nightmares.

17 humans, taken from Earth, held in suspended animation, bound for and taken by an unknown threat that at the very least was not human.

Security Director Feriton Kayne is tasked with investigating this anomaly—and he handpicks a team to help him assess this threat. Kandara Martinez, corporate mercenary; Yuri Alister, Kayne’s director and architect of the whole mission; Loi Zangari, Alister’s technical advisor; Alik Monday, FBI Special Detective; Callum Hepburn, senior advisor within the Utopial culture orbiting Akitha; Eldlund, Hepburn’s utopial assistant, genetically altered to be both male and female; Jessika Mye, Hepburn’s second assistant and renowned exobiologist. And, of course, Kayne himself. Together, the eight form the most impressive team the director could imagine—he just hopes it will be enough.

Kayne needs every member of the team if he’s to address this new threat. All of them, but especially one vital member. He doesn’t know which member this is, exactly, but he does know one thing about them: they’re not human.

THE FAR FUTURE

Dellian and Yirella lead a team of genetically engineered super-soldiers with but one purpose in life: to confront and destroy their most hated enemy, the one that caused mankind’s near-extinction and resulting flight across the stars. Their goal is simple: destroy the enemy. Otherwise, humanity will be wiped from existence.

Salvation is the kind of story you’d never see from a debut author. The way it is told—through extended narratives and flashbacks, occurrences in 3+ different timelines with a story that constant jumps between them, and threads that didn’t seem to relate at all right up until the end—makes it so tortuous, and in many ways convoluted, pretty much assures that no mainstream publisher would touch it. But if you’re Peter F. Hamilton; established, famed, known for stories that span multiple time-periods, and a love of wormhole technology—well, you can get away with such things.

It’s not that Salvation tells a rotten story—the plot is very immersive and entertaining, at times—it’s just that it’s really hard to see just where the author is going with it, and incredibly easy to get lost in the labyrinth of the author’s narrative. Upon picking it up, I was spellbound for a time, but it soon wore off.

See, it’s the way this is told that’s the problem. The Assessment Team occupies the majority of the text. But their plot is divided between the present day (AD 2204) and the stories they tell about their experiences in the past (i.e. why Kayne has chosen them for the team), which can be set anywhere from 2092 to 2199 AD. These stories averaged about 2.5 hours per chapter, or 75 pages, but in the case of Callum-Yuri: Head to Head lasted over 5 hours. While these tangents were often quite interesting, they had mostly little to do with the overarching plot. In fact, it was Callum/Yuri’s that was the biggest issue. Set 60 pages into the book, this flashback lasted over 150 pages, so when I got back to what was happening at the present, around 6 hours had passed.

Now you may have noticed that my math didn’t exactly square up in that last example. This is because while the story jumps in time between the Assessment Team’s present and past, it also jumps between the Assessment Team’s narration and events in the far future, following a team of super-soldiers. So imagine you’re less than one-tenth of the way into a book: the plot has just got going, the setting keeps changing, and time has jumped from the present to the far future and back once or twice. Now, you spend the next quarter of the text off in a random memory that doesn’t connect to anything you’ve read thus far. And then you’re back in the future, where it expects you to remember what the hell is going on.

I enjoyed the stories. I enjoyed the book, to a point. I mean, that’s the only reason I finished the stupid thing (that and I’ve heard the second is much more linear). But I couldn’t for the life of me remember what was going on. It was infuriating.

The sheer disconnected nature of this book requires either intense patience and fortitude, fond familiarity with the author, or a complete leap of faith on the reader’s part. The sheer size of this is also an impediment—I mean, this was an interesting book; the life stories of each of the characters, the grand plan coming together thread by thread, the situation in the present indicating at least some of the crew had survived that long. But damned if it didn’t take its damn time getting to the point. I was interested in everyone’s stories, but taking them like that—while just abandoning whatever plot there was—was an incredibly bold, arrogant and stupid move.

TL;DR

So, I’ve heard good things about the second book in the Salvation Sequence—Salvation Lost. And I do plan to continue with the series. Those who’ve read to the point might be surprised, but there are a couple reasons. First off, I actually left Salvation wondering what was going to happen next. Second, I legitimately enjoyed the story. Third—and most importantly—I’ve heard that Book #2 is much more linear. There are still time-skips to the future, but these are spread out between 4-6 chapters set in the present, with nary a flashback in sight. If you just skipped to this point: yeah, I kinda don’t blame you. I went off on a pretty good rant there, but this book deserved it. I maintain that the author never would’ve gotten away with publishing this mess had he not already been well-established and much-loved. So, instead of rehashing my thoughts, here’s this: If you’ve not read Peter F. Hamilton before—DO NOT READ THIS BOOK! GO back and read some of his other stuff first. If you’ve read some Peter F. Hamilton and are familiar with the way he does things, and you’re a fan of space opera, and long drawn-out stories, and don’t mind a time-skip or two—go ahead and pick this one up.

Audio Note: As always, the narration by John Lee was amazing. Heck, it probably rescued this one from the embers of what should’ve been a fire long dead. He was likely the only reason I continued with this story, and even then I had to switch between reading the hardcover (where I focused on the far future) and listening to him narrate the exploits of the Assessment Team. If you’re not familiar with John Lee, dude is a legend. He’s the reader for all the Peter F. Hamilton and Alastair Reynolds space opera. I would totally recommend giving him a try. Just, maybe, not this book.

The Last Human – by Zack Jordan (Review)

Standalone

Scifi, Space Opera

Del Rey; March 24, 2020

432 pages (ebook)

3.5 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Del Rey and NetGalley for the review copy! All opinions are my own .

Part metaphysical, part philosophical, and part action-adventure science fiction, The Last Human is Zack Jordan’s debut novel, following a human in an universe without them, and her search for acceptance on behalf of herself and her species.

Sarya is an orphan, adopted and raised by a Widow. She goes through life pretending to be nothing more than the wayward Spaal, an intelligence so low on Tier One that it barely merits being classified as ‘intelligent’ at all. Indeed, none of her classmates treat her as anything more than a joke, and a particularly dull one at that. Sarya commands little respect, what she does have courtesy of her mother, Shenya the Widow. Shenya, a widow and as such a killing machine both feared and respected the galaxy over. That Sarya is her adoptive daughter is not taken lightly. Only Sarya is taken lightly. But Sarya has a secret. One that, if any other but her mother knew, would have her ejected from the nearest airlock then pushed into the nearest sun so that not even ashes remained.

Sarya is a human. The LAST human, near as she can tell—the most feared and hated species in the universe.

Near a millennia past, the humans waged a war against the Network—the system that accepts and balances life throughout countless galaxies and realities. One species against untold billions. And they very nearly won. Now humans are presumed extinct, but are hunted mercilessly to ensure that theory. Trust, but verify.

Watertower Station is the last place anyone would expect a human to be. A nothing station in the middle of nowhere, overlooking a world good for nothing but the ice it provides. Here Sarya has accepted her life; to be seen as nothing but a Spaal—a slow, pedantic alien worth nothing aboard a worthless station. But her life is about to change.

When a hive mind, a fourth Tier being, visits Watertower, it recognizes Sarya for what she really is. Recognizes, and promises to reunite her with her own kind. Sarya is ecstatic, nervous, and skeptical all in the same instant. Bu entert a bounty hunter, a stolen ship, a kinetic missile and an adventure she never imagined she’d get. Sarya ends up alone—surrounded by a crew of misfits—and homeless, with only the vague promise of humans on the horizon. A promise, that like all else, might well turn out to be nothing more than the lies she’s been fed her whole life. But what else can she do?

*————*

The Last Human works acceptably well as an action-adventure—but for a few issues we’ll get to later. If taken as a quest for acceptance, it works. Just as it’d work if viewed as a philosophical endeavor into the nature of what it is to BE human. But instead of settling for just one of these, the Last Human seems to be an attempt to explore all three, much like the Wayfarer books by Becky Chambers. Yet where those novels succeed in this, the Last Human fails. Essentially, it tries too hard. An over-ambitious aim from the outset, the book never dwells enough on just one of these to remain anything more than passable in all of them, with the exception of the adventure, which succeeds well enough.

Though I’ll allow that it succeeds as an adventure, the Last Human isn’t a perfect one. Not by far. I mean, there IS a definite adventure. But—especially after the halfway point—the story takes too many side-trips into the nature of being, of existence. I kept finding myself questioning what was going on in the universe and losing touch with what was happening in the story.

The first half of this tale is completely addictive; I read it in a couple days. After that, the story flounders somewhat, as new characters are introduced and new POVs considered. Tier 3 (Part 3) is almost entirely occupied by a single, new POV that proceeds to tell the reader how clever and advanced they are. Prior to this point, the plot was moving along nicely, alternating building and background with action and adventure. From here on, however, the pacing changes, alternating from action to reflection at the drop of a hat, frequently switching in the same chapter, sometimes with only a paragraph or so separating the two. It’s such a befuddling pace and one that’s so completely different from the first half that it slowed me—and the story—down.

Overall, the Last Human presents a mystery and plot that’s a worthwhile read, even if it takes some liberties getting there. Without spoiling anything I’ll just say that the plot wraps up nicely—except that its culmination splits time with a discussion of philosophy, the universe, and the nature of man. It was a bit… distracting, altogether.

TL;DR

Zack Jordan likely intended The Last Human to bridge the gap between science, science fiction and philosophy—much like authors Becky Chambers, Dmitry Glukhovsky, Joe Haldeman, and more did before him. It’s a highly ambitious plan—and one that nearly succeeds. But there’s just too much going on in the story. While everything fits together nicely for the first half of the book, it spills over somewhat in the second. The plot, the nature of man, the meaning of the universe all dance around one another but end up stepping on each other’s toes to the point where one and all threaten to cloud the others’ progress. While the story itself wraps up quite nicely, the philosophy ends a jumbled mess, provoking more questions than answers while losing me as I tried to make sense of it. Or, maybe, this was its intent all along. I’d recommend the story for the story, just don’t read too much into the metaphysics (unless you’re into that). All in all, The Last Human bites off a bit more than it can chew, and as a result, some elements get lost over its course. The plot, the story, its characters and world and description, remain mostly intact. As this is the author’s debut, I suspect these flaws will be hammered out in later books, and expect great things from him in the future! While some few elements distract from the adventure, the story is still very much worth the journey.

Book Review: The Cruel Stars – by John Birmingham

noob series #1

Scifi, Spaceships

Del Rey; August 20, 2019

416 pages (eBook)

3.5 / 5 ✪

NetGalley furnished me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Totally thought I posted this already, but I can’t find evidence of that anywhere, so… Huh. Well, here it is!

The Cruel Stars is a space opera set in a black-and-white world populated by vibrant and interesting characters. It chronicles the return of an old enemy, once defeated—the Sturm, a radical group of human purists set on purging the galaxy of any they don’t see as genetically pure. Where initially the world seems well-thought out and complete, it quickly becomes clear that the story is set entirely within the bounds of a single star-system, while supposedly the invasion is staged on a galactic scale. Plagued by uneven pacing and a fairly uninteresting story, The Cruel Stars is certainly an example of a piece that just would not come together as it was meant to.

Five regular POVs (and one infrequent) tell the tale of the Sturm’s attack: retired Admiral Frazer McLennan, the infamous hero known for defeating the Sturm hundreds of year prior. Princess Alessia, twelve year-old and heir to the Montanblanc Corporation. Booker 3-212162-930-Infantry, once soldier now prisoner and believer in the Code—a kind of digital consciousness that transcends the human body. Lieutenant Lucinda Hardy, initially assigned to the stealth corvette Defiant, a series of malware attacks soon sees her in charge of the ship, the entire mission hanging in the balance. Sephina L’trel, a pirate leader with a score to settle, must use all the tricks at her disposal to see her crew through the invasion. (Archon-Admiral Wenbo Strom of the Sturm is seen but a few times and makes a poor POV, due to a lack of depth and a heavily racist overtone that firmly entrenches him as a bad guy).

I’m pretty sure I was the only one annoyed about this, but: There is no perfect enemy. There are two short Sturm POVs, both using their ideology to just kill people. Not even those implanted, genetically modified, post-humans, but also the regular unadorned they came to “save”. Not that I’m defending the racists, but the author isn’t either. They’re the designated as the bad guys. While their ideology or beliefs or prejudices and such are never explained, or even briefed. By the 89% mark, there have been 3 Sturm POV appearances. All short, which totals to around one full chapter in length. So there’s really no dissenting opinion—one side is good, the other bad. I would’ve liked to see someone on the other side, some perspective into their thought process beyond blind doctrine-spouting. But hey, my opinion.

There’s also very little disconnect with the modern world. The weapons are fairly well thought out, but little else. The detail that Birmingham strives for in the first half soon departs, leaving the action and plot to carry the entire weight. I probably wouldn’t have minded as much had the plot been good. Sadly, what follows is a straightforward story with little to no character growth and frankly a lame ending. During the second half of the book, the author goes out of his way to remind the reader again and again of the characters’ motivations, backstories, and even why the Sturm are bad.

While the Cruel Stars was an excellent read over its first half, the following 200 pages struggled with identity, uneven pacing, and a slight, under-developed world. While the action is enough to carry the book to its outset—a subpar, unfulfilling ending leaves the audience awaiting the sequel just to figure out what exactly happened.

Book Review: Walking to Aldebaran – by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Standalone

Scifi

Solaris; May 28, 2019

Novella; 105 pages

5 / 5 ✪

I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

So many of my favorite quotes in this novella happen towards the end, and I’m unwilling to use them. That would give too much away, I think. But then, there are SO MANY good quotes everywhere! And Walking to Aldebaran was a good therapeutic read. Maybe this will get me to start talking to myself as I wander around life, too, though I won’t call it Toto. Never liked the Wizard of Oz—I know, that’s just horrible. Don’t judge me too much, please.

“If they didn’t want to be eaten, they shouldn’t be so delicious.”

Walking to Aldebaran is a hundred page novella from the master of, well, so many things: Adrian Tchaikovsky. This is only my third Tchaikovsky book—after The Tiger and the Wolf and Children of Time. Walking to Aldebaran reminds me quite a bit of Children, actually. Not so much the plot, as how it’s written. But that would make sense, wouldn’t it?

As for the plot, Tchaikovsky combines the erudite pilot Gary Rendell with some smart-ass in order to win my heart. Or, at least, I assume. Dude is quite possibly my favorite character of the year. Rendell is an astronaut tasked—along with his fellow crewmates—with exploring an alien artefact that hovers just at the edge of our solar system, known by him as ‘the Frog God’, due to it’s froggy visage. But, shortly after entering these Crypts (yeah, they’re the Crypts once he’s inside), a horrible fate befalls him and his crew, stranding Gary all alone in the darkness, forcing him to either curl up and die or traverse the Crypts afoot until he finds his way home. The narrative in Walking to Aldebaran picks up shortly after this (and after Gary begins talking to himself), but features frequent flashbacks that provide the reader with insight about how he got into this mess. And as the Crypts seem to bend time and space so that they can exit/enter into countless alien realms—he’ll be walking for a while. Hence the name.

Seeing as it only took me a handful of hours to finish it (albeit space across a few days), it proved less a journey and more a… jaunt. But still, with an adventurous and exciting novella like this, the length really doesn’t matter. I mean, I would’ve loved for it to have been longer… but it really didn’t need to be. Tchaikovsky knows what he’s doing, and Walking is fitted to match.

I seriously enjoyed this one. Loved it, actually. The narrator, the concept, the setting. The character arc. The quote-unquote “growth”. The cover was really nice, too. A solid 5-stars, I’d say. The real question is whether I’d justify the $10 ebook price, though. Now, normally there’d be no way I’d even consider it. $10 for a 100 page book, a couple hours read? Nah. But Aldebaran is really, really good. So… I’m torn. I guess, like, may…be? I’d definitely justify reading it, no matter how you get there.

Book Review: Forsaken Skies – by D. Nolan Clark

The Silence #1

Science Fiction

Orbit Books; September 6, 2016

570 pages

4 / 5 ✪

Aleister Lanoe is a living legend. A pilot without equal, a warrior without peers, the survivor of countless battles, etcetera. Through body enhancement and advanced neuroscience, the man has lived for centuries. Centuries which he has spent surviving suicide missions, winning winless wars, and generally being a total badass. Forsaken Skies finds him as the escort pilot for some planetary governor. Or, rather—former escort.

A series of chaotic events find him on the Hexus—a stellar Centrocor (a mega-corp that becomes important later on) shipping hub—confronted by its Chief Technician, Tannis Valk. Formerly known as the Blue Devil, the man is possibly the most famous pilot in history (excluding Lanoe himself), and once Lanoe’s greatest enemy. And yet things have changed.

Auster Maggs is interested in neither, up unto the point where both men have their weapons trained upon him. He’s the son of a respected admiral, a pretty face, a smooth operator, not to mention a petty cheat and con-man. When Lanoe and Valk crash his meeting with a pair of petitioners from the planet Niraya, it appears to be just another unfortunate event in a lifetime of them for Maggs, one that will finally lead to his head set on a platter—until something unexpected happens.

The petitioners—Elder McRay and her pupil, Roan—hail from a planet on the edge of known space. A world that is being overrun by something unknown. Something alien.

For all of its exploration and expansion across the galaxy, humanity has never once encountered aliens. And so the common explanations states: “well, if it hasn’t happened by now…”. But these beings, whoever they are have invaded Niraya, so the people have been sent to seek help. And they have found Lanoe.

And for reasons of his own, Lanoe is ready and more than willing to provide it.

He assembles a team of his best and brightest, calling in all the favors he has accrued over his long years, every man and woman he trusts, everyone from the Navy’s legendary 94th. Well, this amounts to two: Lieutenant Bettina Zhang—Lanoe’s former lover—and Caroline Ehta, a marine. The rest, dead or unwilling to come. Thus, Lanoe is forced to recruit a few more heads to fill out his team, a cast which includes Valk, Maggs, and Thom—son of the governor for which Lanoe used to work. Until the son killed his father.

They embark on a trip to the edge of known space, to a battle where they entertain mathematically insignificant odds to win, to meet a foe the likes of which humanity may have never seen before. Each man and woman carries a terrible secret, which naturally come out over the course of the text. But what they discover at Niraya may be more surprising than any of their secrets combined.

While the cast of characters is fairly solid, and their dialogue is okay, character development is sub-par. Not that the characters themselves are super deep and relatable. Lanoe was clearly meant to be the main focus of the book—a living legend who’s seen it all, up against something no one’s ever seen before. And yet he can’t pull it off. He’s… not dull exactly, but. Too big? Too much to be believed. Lanoe always seems a little to much legend, but a little too little human. His depth of character is soup can deep, however. The cast of characters around him is decent enough, yet none can ever interact with him in any unexpected way. Lanoe is too much a legend to ever act human—at least in Forsaken Skies itself—and his dialogue with any of the rest of them always feels… forced? Stilted. Annoying. Dull. This is something he works on in the subsequent Silence entries, though with limited success.

While the interactions between Zhang and Ehta and Maggs and Valk are so much better than any where Lanoe is involved, it’s the arc between Thom and Roan that carried the story for me. Well, them and the dogfights. The interaction between the two of them was more than enough to keep me reading at first, combined with the adventure and thrill of the unknown. Once the space skirmishes start in the second half of the book, I had no problem getting into it.

The action and adventure is the real reason to pick up Forsaken Skies. The premise is a rather lame—the Seven Samurai vibe being well and truly played out nowadays where every over book seems to run out its own ragtag band of misfits—but the execution effective, and it’s the dogfights and skirmishes that really steal the show. The writing of these is more than entertaining enough to make up for any lack of character development, a cliché plot or a few less than steamy romances.

All said, Forsaken Skies was actually a pretty good read. The story and development, while a bit of a slow build, was entirely worth it when we get into the thick of things, somewhere around the halfway point. Before this point, the setting and characters were interesting enough to keep me going. After—there were enough twists and thrills that it never got boring.