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review 2018-01-08 18:21
The Great Hunt / Robert Jordan
The Great Hunt - Robert Jordan

The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and pass. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow. For centuries, gleemen have told of The Great Hunt of the Horn. Now the Horn itself is found: the Horn of Valere long thought only legend, the Horn which will raise the dead heroes of the ages.  And it is stolen.

 

My second step on the Wheel of Time! The best part about it was that it got me feeling things about these characters. I mean, I wanted to bash heads together with Rand being all stubborn and Mat not helping himself a bit and Perrin not accepting who he has become! And despite that, I realize that these would be hard realizations to come to—they aren’t just country lads anymore. Plus, Nyaneve irritated me every bit as much as I appreciated her.

The echoes of the King Arthur story are strong—Galad, Gawyn, and Elayne have been added to the cast. And there was a reference to a sword in a stone that only the Dragon Reborn could use. References to the legendary warrior Arthur, who is born again in the Dragon—like Arthur Pendragon, who is said to be asleep and ready to return to the world if he is needed.

The Horn of Valere and its ability to summon warriors of the past reminded me of Tolkien’s Paths of the Dead. It felt to me like this was being used up awfully early in the course of the WoT—after all, this is only volume 2 of 14!

There are obviously many unanswered questions and I shall look forward to reading The Dragon Reborn as soon as possible. (One of the advantages of getting a late start on this series is that they are all available now.)

Book 270 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.

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review 2018-01-05 19:07
The Difference Engine / William Gibson & Bruce Sterling
The Difference Engine - William Gibson

1855: The Industrial Revolution is in full and inexorable swing, powered by steam-driven cybernetic Engines. Charles Babbage perfects his Analytical Engine and the computer age arrives a century ahead of its time. And three extraordinary characters race toward a rendezvous with history - and the future: Sybil Gerard - dishonored woman and daughter of a Luddite agitator; Edward "Leviathan" Mallory - explorer and paleontologist; Laurence Oliphant - diplomat and spy. Their adventure begins with the discovery of a box of punched Engine cards of unknown origin and purpose. Cards someone wants badly enough to kill for...

 

As many others have pointed out, this book is one of the first in what we now know as the Steampunk genre. It explores the question of what would happen if the Industrial Revolution and the development of the computer had coincided—what would Victorian society have looked like?

It’s a complex novel, with a lot of layers. I read most of it in airports and on planes and didn’t have the best circumstances to be able to concentrate on those details. On the other hand, if it had been really riveting, I wouldn’t have noticed my surroundings, so I apparently didn’t find it all that compelling.

I appreciated the re-structuring of British society, from being run by the blue-blooded to being administered by the scientific. It was nice to see paleontologists and poets being recognized for their skills and not just dismissed as soft science or whimsy. And there must always be a resistance movement, which was well realized and sported realistic details, in my opinion.

The story frequently got bogged down in the details, however, and then just eventually petered out, leaving me disappointed. After a strong start, the weakness of the ending was a let down.

Book number 269 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading project.

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review 2018-01-02 13:40
Children of Wisdom trilogy (Stephanie Erickson)
The Children of Wisdom Trilogy - Stephanie Erickson

Well that's about four hours of my life I won't get back, but since it was four hours spent on a plane, they were counted as lost anyway. This 3-chaptered novel (because that's what it is - the cliffhangers at the ends of parts 1 & 2 are even more egregious than is usual in a fantasy series) is set within a cosmology that includes elements of Greek mythology (notably the 3 Fates) merged with a version of Christianity, heavily filtered through American pop culture. God is a remote bureaucrat along the lines of "Heaven Can Wait" (or "Here Comes Mr. Jordan"), whence we also get the plot point of the too-early death. This God runs what appears to be a sort of human-processing shop, in an area of the heavens behind a third gate between those of Heaven and Hell. Purgatory, which we would expect to be that third gate, is disused (to say it's "in limbo" would just confuse everybody... ) and instead rather illogically housed within Hell, chiefly for the narrative convenience of allowing the principal characters to have Hellish adventures on their way to and from the Halloween castle shackled dungeon.

I don't mind cosmological fantasy, but this one is really not all that well thought through, and that makes the final trial and fate of the ultimate (human) villain a bit risible to me, I'm afraid. You will not convince this atheist that complete extinction, which is what she is doomed to, is worse than an infinity of the tortures of Hell, which would presumably be her "normal" fate. This is all the more uncomfortable when juxtaposed against her actual sin, which is going to extremes to preserve life in a suffering child who should be humanely allowed to die.

This was (I believe) a free Kindle offering, and I sometimes wonder with these things whether I should, instead of criticism, apply the much more generous standards of fan-fiction non-criticism, since it's essentially "gift literature."  But I do wish this author's kind, non-critical editors had explained to her that "opaque" does not mean "transparent". Worse, the error appears in both the first and the final book, so it was allowed to slide even after the first part was published.

Two stars as opposed to one, merely because, although the control of tone was iffy, the spelling and grammar were generally correct, and despite the occasional howler like "opaque", the only major objection I had to the diction was careless repetition of the same descriptive word within the same passage without any rhetorical justification.

You get what you pay for.

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review 2017-12-11 22:33
Magic's Promise / Mercedes Lackey
Magic's Promise - Mercedes Lackey

The wild magic is taking its toll on the land, and even Vanyel, the most powerful Herald-Mage to ever walk the world, is almost at the end of his strength. But when his Companion, Yfandes, receives a call for help from neighboring Lineas, both Herald-Mage and Companion are drawn into a holocaust of dark magic that could be the end of them both.

 

How wonderful to have a more mature and thoughtful Vanyel to narrate the second volume of this series. Not there is no angst, but it is dealt with in a much more adult way.

A depleted & exhausted Vanyel returns from the battle front, only to discover that his family insist on his presence at home—not the most restful place for the young man. His father is having difficulty accepting Vanyel’s sexual orientation and his mother frankly refuses to believe him, proceeding to push any and every attractive young woman at him. If that wasn’t enough, he has to deal with his former master-at-arms and the local priest, both of whom made his younger life miserable.

However, Vanyel is now a hero, his exploits sung about by the bards, and he & his companion, Yfandes, are called to rescue another young man & Companion during their visit. Demonstrating his magic, skill, bravery, and good judgement, Vanyel is able to start the healing journey for his family relationships.

Book number 268 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.

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review 2017-12-08 15:29
An Excess Male / Maggie Shen King
Excess Male, An: A Novel - Maggie Shen King

Under the One Child Policy, everyone plotted to have a son.

Now 40 million of them can't find wives. China’s One Child Policy and its cultural preference for male heirs have created a society overrun by 40 million unmarriageable men. By the year 2030, more than twenty-five percent of men in their late thirties will not have a family of their own. An Excess Male is one such leftover man’s quest for love and family under a State that seeks to glorify its past mistakes and impose order through authoritatian measures, reinvigorated Communist ideals, and social engineering.Wei-guo holds fast to the belief that as long as he continues to improve himself, his small business, and in turn, his country, his chance at love will come. He finally saves up the dowry required to enter matchmaking talks at the lowest rung as a third husband—the maximum allowed by law. Only a single family—one harboring an illegal spouse—shows interest, yet with May-ling and her two husbands, Wei-guo feels seen, heard, and connected to like never before. But everyone and everything—walls, streetlights, garbage cans—are listening, and men, excess or not, are dispensable to the State. Wei-guo must reach a new understanding of patriotism and test the limits of his love and his resolve in order to save himself and this family he has come to hold dear.

 

I have to hand it to Maggie Shen King—she takes several assumptions and trends, plays them out to their logical conclusion, and makes a dramatic book out of it. Plus I always enjoy speculative fiction that isn’t set in North America!

First, take the Chinese one-child policy. Add to that the preference for having a male child to inherit your goods. Mix in a good dose of authoritarian Communist party, which like most authoritarian regimes is ultra-conservative. This is the world that King introduces us to—where women are so scarce that men compete to be second and third husbands in polyandrous households. We meet Wei-guo, an excess male, who is rather desperate to become someone’s husband and the household that he aspires to join: that of May-ling and her two brother husbands.

Unattached young men are always a dangerous potential source of upheaval in a society, so despite the extreme shortage of women, the Chinese government frowns on single men. Many of these men, like Wei-guo, spend their free time playing war games out in the countryside, something that the government keeps close tabs on, seeing it as a potential challenge to the state instead of a way of venting aggression. Illogically, the government also disapproves of homosexuality, which really they should welcome in their demographic predicament. When the government disapproves of both of these safety values for their society, things are bound to go wrong.

All of these tensions come together to produce a human drama that is well worth your reading time.

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