Review of The Shootout Solution: Genrenauts Episode 1 by Michael R. Underwood (Tor.com, November 17, 2015)
Leah Tang is trying to be a comedian, but her nerdy routine is unappreciated by just about everybody in the bar except a very intense black guy in a coat. He turns out to be so interested that he wants her help to repair nerdy stories. She gets to travel to an alternate reality which is like the old west.
She ends up having the adventure of a lifetime while trying to sort out why a western story has gone off the rails. Her methods are different but she gets the information needed to sort out the problem and manages to not shoot anything she shouldn’t with her guns. The adrenaline-rushing events of the western shootout make her realize that this is indeed the job for her.
In future episodes Your Humble Reviewers hope that she gets to use her fencing skills, and perhaps her own Asian features instead of a high-tech disguise. The overall feel of the setting is near-future Baltimore with some cool tech but with some differences. There are alternate-genre worlds which influence our world when things go badly (for example, we get mass shootings when the western world is off-story). Each alternate world has a different feel so the settings Leah could visit are endless.
We like nerdy Leah and were able to immediately identify with her. She should return for many more episodes!
Most of the novellas in this first batch from Tor.com are fantasy, so more science fiction would be appreciated. This is humorous science fiction which is difficult to write but is pulled off very well here by Mike Underwood (who also writes humorous urban fantasy). We love the setting and the premise so bring us more Leah immediately!
Review of Domnall and the Borrowed Child by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (Tor.com November 10, 2015)
This is a delightful Celtic fairy tale about what happens to the Sithein of Scottish fairies and their Cu Sith when humans have populated the entire area. Domnall is old enough to remember times when it wasn’t dangerous outside. He is tasked to find bluebells but creating a faerie ring has been deemed too dangerous so they are going to take the dew back home to use in the celebration.
Their community has become so small that all the younger fae are coddled and fussed over and Domnall thinks that’s the wrong attitude. He’s getting so ancient that it is hard for him to scout and he certainly doesn’t want to come back at dawn to gather dew from the bluebells he found.
Domnall returns from hunting bluebells to discover that one of their few children is very ill and must be switched with a human infant right away so she can have mother’s milk. It is the only thing which can cure her. Although he is exhausted, he of course agrees to go out after moonset to make the switch.
He makes the switch but something goes wrong and he must switch them back and find another source of mother’s milk. His quest to save the fae child sends him traveling about Scotland having adventures.
Domnall is an interesting ancient fairy who loves his people and their ancient ways, but he is also curious about humans and perhaps not as fearful of them as he should be. His supporting characters are a varied lot from forceful females to cowardly young fairies. He does realize over the course of the story that if he doesn’t like the way the younger fae have turned out, then he should try to exert influence on their training and attitudes so one of them will be as fearless a scout as he is. Complaining about the younglings but not offering to help will never lead to a good outcome. He repeatedly thinks that only the cowardly fae survived their last war.
The setting is a very well-described rural ancient Scotland, with the plants and types of houses and landforms you find there even today. It is clear the author has spent time in the Scottish countryside and loves it. The human characters are Christian but still hold some pagan beliefs, like in fairies switching out their infants. This is accurate for many sections of Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Even after the coming of priests and churches, many found no conflict between the ancient beliefs of the area and the newer teachings of the Church.
The story has the feel of one of the old Celtic fairy tales and we certainly hope more appear in the novella program. It’s like a tiny Celtic fantasy travel adventure with a setting rich enough to be an epic novel. This is a must-read for fans of Celtic fantasy!
The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Rising Tide, Gold Throne in Shadow, Wake of Vultures and The GeomancerPosted: 5 November, 2015
Review of Rising Tide by Rajan Khanna (Pyr, October 6, 2015)
This is the second volume of the steampunk-airships-with-zombies series which started with Falling Sky. It is the adventures of Ben Gold (one of the few Jewish steampunk characters Your Humble Reviewers have ever seen) as he travels the western coast of the United States many years after a disease which turns people into zombies has hit. Society has fallen apart and it is basically chaos with a few places held by various groups.
Ben has lost his airship in a suicide attack to prevent some bad people from reaching a refuge that he and his scientist friend Miranda had just left. Miranda wants to develop a test to check for the zombie disease so the refuge will know if new people or traders are safe. She wants to get the data she has collected back to the refuge in order to merge it with data she has stored there, but the loss of Ben’s airship puts a damper on this plan.
So this volume is all the adventures they have while trying to get back to the refuge. They meet an old friend/enemy of Ben’s who holds them hostage. They are held in a facility with several airships and boats so eventually an opportunity arises to escape.
When they finally do reach the refuge, things do not go well. A new disease attacks people there and it appears to be a modified version of the zombie disease. They have to discover who made the disease and how they managed to get it into the refuge. There must be at least one traitor in their group. The hunt for the traitor makes everyone suspicious of each other and only slows progress to find the source and possibly a person with antibodies against the disease (they think the traitor must be vaccinated against the disease he delivered to the refuge). Read the rest of this entry »
The new location for this convention, Embassy Suites Concord, was quite an improvement over the crowded hotel of years past. There were more function rooms of larger size so all the panels had enough room, even those featuring John Scalzi. The dealer room was larger and had more vendors. The hallways are very wide so even with tables on both sides of the hallway people browsing on the two sides didn’t bump into each other.
The location is not far from Concord Mills and all the eateries surrounding it so food for every budget was easy to obtain. Also for those of us coming from north of Charlotte this location has plenty of backroads routes which allow you to miss the Friday afternoon horrible traffic. Arriving less stressed is always a bonus.
The author guests were more diverse than your humble reviewers had ever seen at a southeastern convention. Panels on many writing topics had authors of various backgrounds including self-published and traditionally published as well as some small press. Also the “diverse” authors were present on several panels for their appropriate areas and not just on the “diversity” panels. The “diversity” panels actually were about writing someone who isn’t you and were helpful in discussing resources and how to meet people with a background like your character. Also discussed was some things to do and not to do when meeting “others” so prospective authors can make new friends not just be accused of using people for their knowledge.
There were many great costumes including several Mad Max (which had just been released in cinemas) influenced ones. Also there were the standard superheros, TV characters and even a few giant inflatable beings used as advertising.
Next year’s convention will be at the same venue. Writer GOH is Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Ursula Vernon is Artist GOH. Special Author Guest Christie Golden has also been announced for next year. Special Media Guest is Bill Blair. Master of Ceremonies is Rich Sigfrit.
Review of The Builders by Daniel Polansky (Tor.com November 3, 2015)
As fans of Mouse Guard, Mice Templar and Redwall stories, Your Humble Reviewers were thrilled to find an animal adventure story among the novellas. The Captain is a mouse who wears a hero coat, boots and a hat. He is fierce looking for a mouse because of a scar running down his face across where his right eye should be. He calls all his old cronies to meet at a bar called the Partisan’s. The party consists of a French-sounding stoat named Bonsoir, an opossum named Boudica, Cinnabar the red salamander, Barley the badger, a very fat mole named Gertrude, and an owl called Elf who has an injured wing. They had all served in the war with the Captain and have skills which will contribute to a special operations group (or an adventuring party, depending on your perspective). They have all settled down to a civilian life in a country devastated by war but will meet the Captain and hear what he has to say because he’s their leader.
The Captain is planning one last attack in order to destroy their remaining enemy and to discover who in the group betrayed them the last time. They encounter an armadillo, and have an adventure on a train before heading to the bad guys’ impregnable fortress. It becomes clear that some in the group decided that they wanted to go out with a bang, so although some of the creatures die, they got to die in battle and on their feet.
All the creatures are highly detailed characters who each have their own introductory section where the Captain goes to find them at their civilian location to convince them to come to the appointment at the bar; then each enters the bar in the next scene. How the other characters act toward them reveals quite a great deal about the group dynamics. Their quirks and personalities make their relationships complex, and of course they don’t all agree on anything other than that they will follow the Captain. Many had thought him dead or at least finished with battle but all those he approaches appear even though some needed to be tricked. Read the rest of this entry »
Review of Supersymmetry by David Walton (September 1, 2015)
The physics-loving Kelleys of Superposition are back! This time Dad is retired, Sean is a Marine and the twins created in the last book, Sandra and Alex, are a cop and a physicist. Alex is working on a project with technology related to that which caused the incident fifteen years before. The brainchild behind it is a neurotic but brilliant man named Ryan Oronzi.
The varcolac return, of course, and for some reason seem really upset with the twins! Sandra and Alex eventually figure out why, but Your Humble Reviewers prefer to avoid giving away spoilers. The physicist gets taken over by the varcolac just like Jean was in the last volume. These physicists who think too much of themselves are really loved as takeover victims by the varcolac, probably because it doesn’t take much to push them over the edge into crazy actions against humans. They think other humans are inferior already so half the varcolac’s job is done before they even enter their brains.
We loved how Sandra the nerdy cop seems to actually have as much ease at grasping the concepts as her physicist sister. She spends much of the book feeling somehow inferior, but the universe as it is left at the end of the story leaves her in a much happier place than she was at the beginning.
The teleporting technology and the science behind all of the other technology used makes for a very nerdy quantum physics mystery. The female Kelleys are the main characters though, so the female engineer of our review team found it easier to understand their motivations and be sympathetic than with Jacob in the last book.
The book has a good mystery plot with many twists and surprises, which we have tried not to give away here. Sandra and Alex are much more developed characters in this story. They are quite clearly two different people although both were Alessandra until they were 14. They have familiar young adult woman issues and concerns, including having problems unique to siblings. Also they have the concern that they may someday merge back into one person. This hits Sandra particularly hard but she gets support from her new scientist grad student friend Angel.
This is an enjoyable, fast-moving hard science fiction mystery. If you like quantum physics or mysteries then this is the book series for you.
We have a military science fiction column this week because David Weber and Chris Kennedy will both be guests at Honorcon (www.honorcon.org) this weekend. This is a regional military science fiction convention which has many events centered on Weber’s Honorverse. [Editor’s note: This year, HonorCon has expanded its programming to truly become a fully-fledged general military science fiction convention, with additional guests including Taylor Anderson (of the Destroyermen series), Marko Kloos, A.G. Riddle, David Drake, Tony Daniel, and more.]
Review of Call to Arms: Book 2 of Manticore Ascendant by David Weber, Timothy Zahn and Thomas Pope (Baen, October 6, 2015)
This is the story of the further adventures of Travis Long, who has now been through officer’s training and is a junior lieutenant posted to a recruiting station. His former shipmate Lisa Donnelly puts in an appearance as the owner of a dog which needs a sitter, and later in the book as Travis’ sometime dinner companion. They aren’t posted together, so their relationship continues to grow as the book continues.
People from outside the Manticore system come sniffing around trying to see if there is a wormhole in the system, but no one finds it in this volume. The locals haven’t figured out exactly what was going on, but they find the ship rather suspicious. The ship gathers enough data that “pirates” raid the system in order to take Manticore.
The Manticoran fleet of course isn’t taking that lying down so we have quite an epic-level battle between the navy plus the system defense boats against the invaders. We see quite a few ships die, and see the King and other members of the government discover that they have lost family members. It is an interesting time because many Manticoran leaders had been trying to get rid of the navy, saying it was no longer needed. Suddenly, it is the only thing standing between them and a bombardment from orbit by pirate ships. It will be interesting to see how that shifts the government’s priorities in the next volume, particularly when the wormhole junction is finally found. Read the rest of this entry »