Category Archives: Book Reviews
Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is a novel that I will never forget. It has the distinction, for me, of being the first ever full-on space opera/science fiction novel that I ever read (I am not counting the young adult Animorphs novels). It was also the first novel I read at my new school in Dubai when we moved there in July 2001 (I read the book sometime late September 2001). To this day, I remember the book very fondly. It started off in an amazing place, and it ended with the most wondrous climax that I’d read to date, and that applies to all the hundreds of novels I’ve read since then.
There is something about nostalgia, and that first book. Frank Herbert’s Dune will always be an amazing masterpiece for me and a true space opera classic, but 2001: A Space Odyssey is a great companion at the top of that table. Clarke’s novel is the one that really set me on the path to reading the wider science fiction and fantasy genres, and that is why it will always have a special place in my heart. Just a few days ago, I re-read the novel for the first time ever since that first reading almost twelve and a half years ago. The sense of wonder and grandeur in the novel is just as compelling today as it was to an inexperienced reader all those years ago. A timeless classic.
Note: This novel is part of my 25 Series To Read In 2014 challenge.
Django is one of the authors that I discovered through Twitter. And I meant to read his debut last year itself, but didn’t really get a chance to do that. Which is why The Thousand Names is one of the first books that I read this year. I’d long been interested in it, especially given the premise and since it had been getting a lot of positive buzz in the part of the blogosphere that I frequent. And that’s actually quite important to me. If my friends like something, then I am much more liable to check it out, just because of all that buzz.
And with The Thousand Names, the first in Django’s The Shadow Campaigns series, I was quite impressed with it. I’ve been noticing, among all the debuts I’ve been reading in the last two years, that the quality is often quite high indeed. Some really talented authors are making themselves known and I feel really excited to say that Django is right up there too. The Thousand Names is easily one of the best novels that I’ve read since becoming a reviewer and thinking about books and stuff critically. So that’s quite an achievement on a personal level, all things considering.
Author and artist team of Tim Marquitz and J. M. Martin got together last year to form their own publishing company, the small press known as Ragnarok Publications. As one of their first projects, they launched a kickstarter for an anthology of science fiction and fantasy stories with a very common theme: kaiju. The man with the idea here was Nickolas Sharps, a fellow blogger and writer who had recently seen the movie Pacific Rim and after enjoying the hell out of it, he got the idea to do an anthology about kaiju since it seemed as if the genre was rather sparse in terms of original fiction.
Needless to say, the kickstarter was mightily successful and just yesterday I finished reading the anthology in its entirety. As someone who had a tiny hand in bringing the project together (I suggested some of the authors who were accepted for the anthology), I’m really pleased with the final product. The anthology has exceeded my expectations and I’m quite happy to say that it is one of my most fun readings of the year so far, and we are only like 36 days in! Tim and Nick assembled some great talent for this anthology and their hardwork and that of J. M. has definitely paid off I think.
Matt Forbeck, one of my favourite SFF authors, has a new book releasing today. I Will Not Eat People is the first book in his Monster Academy trilogy of young adult novels which he has written as part of his 12-for-12 writing program. It was his writing challenge for 2012, where he did four kickstarters, one for each trilogy, and was to write a book for each month of the year. Due to delays, some outside his control, he wasn’t able to complete the challenge in the same year, but now the overall project is finally seeing its completion. Monster Academy is the fourth trilogy, and it is off to a great start.
I’ve enjoyed all of Matt’s work that I’ve read to date, some thirteen or so novels at the least, and with each book he has impressed me even more. I find the idea of Monster Academy really fun and seeing the execution of it last month was really fun. The humour is always front and center with this book, but that’s not all of course, and just as with the previous trilogies Dangerous Games and Shotguns & Sorcery there is a strong sense of a murder investigation here, which is thrilling.
If I remember correctly, the last Star Trek novel I read, prior to James Swallow’s quite good Cast No Shadow last year in June, was some time in 2004 and it was one where the author focused on Spock and his relationship to a niece or some such character who was coming of age quite soon and was intended to be married off soon after in a bit of family politics. So its been a long time, to be generous. Cast No Shadow really got me in the mood for getting back to the setting however, and around the same time I rewatched The Undiscovered Country for like the umpteenth time. Soon after I heard that there was going to be a new series of Star Trek novels, part of a multi-author series and that the first book would be set in the DS9 continuity.
I could not have been more excited, to be honest. All the Star Trek shows, yes even Enterprise which I enjoyed quite highly and have rewatched multiple times, were good and the fact that DS9 was a very action-packed series was all the better. What I didn’t expect when I began reading Revelation and Dust however was all the changes. And there have been many of them. But at the same time, with an almost fresh cast of characters, I found that I did enjoy the novel quite a bit and that I’m really keen to read more. More, more, more.
It is quite fitting that I post this review today. I’ve just finished watching a movie that had me really emotional in its final act, and Ive been going through some rough times lately which means that my emotional bar is pretty low at the moment. And yet, this is the holiday of good cheer, and its the day of good cheer too, what with Santa dropping by shortly to deliver some Christmas presents for people who believe. In many ways, Frank Herbert’s sequel to his award-winning, critically-acclaimed and completely untraditional Dune is perfect reading material for Christmas because of what it symbolises.
I’ll admit that three weeks back is the first time that I ever read Dune: Messiah. Since my high school library never had the book (the one copy we did have was extremely battered and completely unreadable as a result) and I never went back to read it for some reason. Always skipped it when I read the other books. Then last year I listened to the audiobook from Macmillan, and I was blown away by how poignant it was. The second half of the book really hits you hard with the emotions, and it never stops, even unto the end when you turn the last page. Its a novel about sadness and hope and a resurrection of sorts even. Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year, comparable to to Dune itself.
Bradley’s Lays of Anuskaya series was on my radar this year thanks to all my Night Shade Books reading last year and it ended up going on my “25 Series To Read In 2013” challenge. When I read the first book earlier this year in February, I was quite struck with the scope of the world-building and with the characters. Not to mention the fact that I loved the (inspired-by) Russian setting, despite sometimes getting lost with the names and the familiar names. The Winds of Khalakovo is definitely one of my favourite books of the year and Bradley one of my favourite authors.
The second novel, set some time after the events of the first novel, goes further with the world-building and deals in concepts and cultures and locales that we did not see in the first book. That gets some automatic points from me, for sure, because I love that aspect in a second or third novel. Fleshing out the setting created and introduced in the first book is one of the most important things in a sequel that I look for, and Straits of Galahesh is enjoyable for that fact. But, some of the characterisation and the pacing did suffer this time around, so it wasn’t as smooth sailing as the first book.
Ever since I started reading SFF for good back in high school, what I like to call my formative years of reading genre fiction, I’ve read some quite thick books. That was around the time when the Harry Potter novels were extremely popular as well and were following the trend of each new book being thicker and bulkier than the one before, so it was truly an interesting time. In more recent years, I’ve stopped reading big fat SFF novels all that much because I don’t really want to spend all that much time reading a book now. When I was reading like 3-4 novels a year, it was fine to spend a couple weeks on these books, but these days my daily life is far too fast-paced for me to be that slow.
While Scott Lynch’s debut novel The Lies of Locke Lamora isn’t quite the thicket fantasy novel I’ve read to date, its certainly one that’s taken me the longest, almost an entire week during which I barely kept up with my comics reading and blogging. The novel was that much of a slog throughout. I started reading it since I’d gotten caught in all the excitement of the release of the third book in the series, and I kind of wanted to see what all the buzz was about. So I had some high expectations going in, but few of them ended up being met and the novel generally proved to be a poor one with a lackadaisical plot, some uninteresting and bland characters, and limited world-building.
When I compiled my list of “51 Most Anticipated Novels of 2013“, I put Chris Wraight’s Blood of Asaheim on it because I had really liked his first full-length 40k novel, The Battle of the Fang for the Space Marines Battle series. He gave a really nice depth to the Space Wolves with that book, and he brought together the disparate portrayals of the 40k Space Wolves by William King’s classic novels and Dan Abnett’s Horus Heresy piece, Prospero Burns. I love the former, but I detest the latter. Chris Wraight gave me a nice middle ground between the two and that’s what I hoped that Blood of Asaheim would be. It wasn’t.
Blood of Asaheim isn’t tied to Battle of the Fang in any direct way. They are both novels about the Space Wolves Chapter, but where the previous novel is set 1,000 years after the Horus Heresy, Blood of Asaheim is set in the current 40k timeline, one where Ragnar Blackmane is the Wolf Lord of his own Great Company, as per the character’s history as set in the tabletop lore. Chris Wraight offers up several new characters and the premise itself is an interesting one, but unfortunately the execution turned out to be pretty flawed because it was essentially repetitive material.
This is the year that Wizards of the Coast goes really big. They are in the midst of launching the next edition of Dungeons & Dragons and to tie-in with that they are releasing a series of linked novels that tell of how all the changes to the D&D settings, such as the Forgotten Realms, end up happening. Each book is written by Wizards’ top talent and links to existing series. Bob Salvatore’s The Companions is the first tale of The Sundering and it is also the latest novel in Dark Elf Drizzt Do’Urden’s epic saga that has lasted for a great number of novels.
Paul S. Kemp’s latest, The Godborn, is the second book in The Sundering and it is also the latest in his Erevis Cale series that has lasted for seven novels thus far and doesn’t look like its going to stop anytime soon. I read the novel last month and it proved to be just as damn good a read as the previous two trilogies. There were a lot of plot threads left open at the end of the Twilight War trilogy, even as Paul provided a very satisfying, but emotional, conclusion. With the new novel, he addresses many of them and creates yet more mysteries, maintaining a healthy balance between the two.
In recent years, C. L. Werner has emerged as one of my favourite Black Library authors, especially through his short fiction. Primarily writing in the Warhammer Fantasy setting with an occasional foray into Warhammer 40,000 I think of him as one of the more technically sound authors and someone who can tell complex stories and complex characters really well. He showed that with Dead Winter last year, his first Black Plague novel for the Time of Legends meta-series. It was political epic fantasy at its best and showed a cross-section of the Empire and its enemies at one of the lowest points in the former’s history.
Earlier this year the second novel in the trilogy was released, which I got to read last month. I’ve been really neglectful of my Black Library reading this year, so I haven’t had a chance to read all the books that I’ve wanted to. But what little I’ve read has been quite good and Blighted Empire is a great example of that.
I’ve talked before about Matt’s super-crazy plan to write a dozen novels last year, a project that he called 12-for-12 which specifically called for him to write one 50k novel a month for every month of 2012. He didn’t quite get to complete the project, since he also undertook comic gigs and wrote novels as work-for-hire, aside from other events, but it was still a superhuman feat. He’s been working on the novels this year as well and has already released nine of the novels, three separate trilogies with different themes and settings, to great fanfare and a hell of a reception. While I loved his Brave New World trilogy and his Shotguns & Sorcery trilogy was another good one, its really his Dangerous Games trilogy that I have really, really enjoyed.
Set at the premier gaming convention in the West, GenCon, this trilogy is a thriller/crime novel that makes full use of Matt’s experiences as a tabletop/board/card game designer and his attendance of the convention itself for the last several years. If ever you needed a window into a geek con through the lens of a contemporary novel, this is the trilogy you need to be reading.