To Your Scattered Bodies Go (Riverworld 1)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

To Your Scattered Bodies Go (Riverworld 1)
Philip José Farmer, 1971

Hugo Winner - 1972

Premise: Sir Richard Francis Burton saw many things and had many adventures in life. He is rather surprised to continue doing so after death. All of human history has been mysteriously resurrected along the banks of the great River, although no one knows why.

This is one of those books where I found the premise really interesting but the execution lackluster. The descriptions of the Riverworld and the juxtaposition of people from different points in history was pretty neat. (Not as neat as in The Big Time, but still.)

Burton is an interesting choice as protagonist, a historical person whose life reads like fiction. However, because the narrative so closely follows Burton and his (dated, chauvinistic) attitudes, it has some issues with its female characters. They feel a bit like props used to prove a point when they are present at all. Somewhat oddly, the character of Peter (J) Frigate seems to function as a slightly awkward mouthpiece for the author to explain what is both great and problematic about Burton. (Problematic so far as racism goes. His behavior toward the women in the group goes unexamined.)

I very much liked the initial adventures as everyone explored the Riverworld, the early conflicts and solutions. However, then there was a huge time jump, and the character focus shifted, and the story becomes more about asking questions about how and why all the dead have been reborn here. This would be interesting if there were any answers in this volume. I have skimmed ahead on Wikipedia, and it looks like those answers aren’t much to be had until book 4. I’m not going to bother reading that far, given how tedious I found the second half of this book.

There are intriguing things hinted about the Ethicals (people in charge of the resurrection) and their mission, but there just isn’t enough pay-off for me here. I did enjoy the first half or so, and I was interested to find out that the book was adapted from two short stories. You can definitely see the seams where they were pasted together.

3 Stars - A Good Book, at least for the first half.

List of Hugo Winners

The Naming: The First Book of Pellinor

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Naming: The First Book of Pellinor
Alison Croggon, 2006

Premise: Girl has never known anything but the life of a slave. when a mysterious man claiming to be a Bard offers to take her away to a new life, she leaves without another thought.

Urgh. This is only sort of a review. I didn't finish this book. I was skeptical from the start, when the prose lurched awkwardly between too cliche and too purple. The mixed metaphors made me wince.

“Freedom was a fantasy she gnawed obsessively in her few moments of leisure, like an old bone with just a trace of meat, and like all illusions, it left her hungrier than before, only more keenly aware of how her soul starved within her, its wings wasting with the despair of disuse.”

I was having trouble putting my finger on what bothered me at first. It seemed okay for a while, I mean. Well until the characters luck into a crazy unbelievably perfect under mountain passage to a magically perfectly timed meeting of ridiculously good wizards, I'm sorry, Bards, (only they’re really wizards/elves because they love life! and they love music! and they love the world! yay!) and she immediately is super special and heir to mysterious powers and fated to be important and starts remembering her infant time in an impossibly good city of impossibly talented people. That...started to bug me. Sure there are suspicious characters working against the self-evidently good protagonists, and she sucks at swordplay, but the impression of unending wish-fulfillment was too hard to shake.

I just didn’t connect to her at all. The narration kept saying things about her like ‘she had never had a bath before’ and yet she never ever acted like that person. There was a evil bad guy who was obviously coming back, and yet, I didn’t care. I just had to stop, finally.

Plus if I wanted to read a badly disguised reworking of Tolkien I have other options. It was when Cadvan mentioned that his horse was from a race of magic horses and had come to his call that I had to put the book down and move on to something else before I flung my Kindle at something. There's just not enough hours in the day for truly boring books.


The Lost Fleet: Dauntless (The Lost Fleet, Book One)

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Lost Fleet: Dauntless (The Lost Fleet, Book One)
Jack Campbell, 2006

Premise: What should have been the Alliance’s greatest victory has turned to ash. What remains of the fleet is stranded in Syndicate space, out-maneuvered and out-gunned. Captain John “Black Jack” Geary is somehow suddenly in charge. Only he’s only recently been woken up from a century of hibernation, and his hopeless last stand became a galaxy-wide myth of heroism while he slept. Geary wants to rescue his people, save the fleet and the Alliance. But he’s not actually a hero of legend, just one soldier, out of his time.

You know, until I actually wrote it down, I missed the parallels with Captain America. Anyway, this is a fun military sci-fi piece with action, pathos, and some interesting world-building. The mechanic for space battles sounds like it would make sense, I don’t really care if the math works or not. The characters are interesting, although the story trips along so quick that we don’t have too much time to get to know them.

This is the first book in a series, obviously, and it does a good job with what it sets out to do. It’s not great literature, but it’s fun and well written. If you’re in the mood for pure military SF, this is a nice choice, and it was a perfect airplane book.

4 Stars - A very Good Book

Fantastic Four Vol 1 and 2

Monday, May 13, 2013

Fantastic Four Vol 1: Solve Everything
Fantastic Four Vol 2: Prime Elements
Writing: Jonathan Hickman, Art: Dale Eaglesham, et. al., 2010

Premise: Collects Fantastic Four 570-574, 575-578. Marvel’s First Super-Family stars in all-new adventures. In the first volume, Reed Richards turns his brain to the most intractable problem of all: everything. In the second, the Fantastic Four explore four alien cities, and struggle to make peace between Earth and different civilizations.

The Fantastic Four have been getting short shrift in the public consciousness recently. They’re a little stodgy and a little old-fashioned, and their movies really stunk. Hickman proves here, though, that there’s a lot to love about these characters. Everything that makes them really work is on full display here: their strengths and weaknesses and their rock-solid relationships with each other.

The first plot arc really reminded me what’s amazing about Mr. Fantastic, a guy often relegated to one-panel jokes in other books. The first volume only ran into trouble because the last two issues were done by a different, far inferior, artist. The rest of the art is really solid, which is good, because consistent art is often a problem for Marvel.

The second volume I liked quite a bit as well, although it’s mostly set-up for a larger plot that you can feel looming on the horizon. Each issue is still enjoyable to read on its own, though, so that’s nice.

What else... Sue is great, both badass and motherly, caring but not without her own scars, Johnny and Ben both have moments to shine, and the Richards kids! Oh my gosh I adore them! Valeria is new to me, and she is so. damn. awesome. Franklin’s birthday party happens at the end of the first book, and it’s pretty adorable, too. In case you don’t know, they’re both crazy powerful kids. It’s a great super-family dynamic of the kind that doesn’t get enough exploration in comics these days.

Both strong volumes which only continue my love affair with recent Marvel.

Volume One: 4 Stars - A Very Good Book
Volume Two: 3 Stars - A Good Book

Thuvia, Maid of Mars and The Chessmen of Mars (Barsoom 4 and 5)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Thuvia, Maid of Mars, 1920
The Chessmen of Mars, 1922
Edgar Rice Burroughs

Premise: Books 4 and 5 of the Barsoom Series, following Warlord of Mars. John Carter has built an alliance over much of Mars, but there are still plenty of dangers to challenge the younger generation. These are the further adventures of the children of John Carter and Dejah Thoris.

Yes, these books are dated and silly and really repetitive, but I love them anyway.

I enjoyed Thuvia, Maid of Mars, which follows Cathoris (John Carter’s son) and Thuvia of Ptarth. Others try to keep them apart, and Thuvia quickly gains a stalkery admirer who kidnaps her and blames Cathoris. The young lovebirds have to rescue each other, escape, and get home in time to stop a war. It’s more of the same from the earlier books, although I still found it a really fun read with some new supporting characters and enjoyable action.

On the other hand, I really adored The Chessmen of Mars, which I think is best described as a fairy tale retold as a space opera adventure with romantic comedy elements.

I mean, here's the beginning: A princess meets a foreign prince at a ball. He seems to be just a rich jerk, so she won't give him the time of day, but he falls hard for her. The princesses' transport is caught in a storm and she's stranded halfway around the world, so the prince rushes after her. He suffers his own setbacks, and by the time they find each other, he's in disguise as a common soldier, and he swears himself to her service. More adventures, escapes, new friends, new enemies, and romantic banter follows.

I really enjoyed Tara of Helium (daughter of John and Dejah), she was strong and brave and honorable. It takes her time to love Gahan of Gathol, and I have a better sense of their romance than of some of the others in this series. While she doesn’t get as much time to be badass as I’d like, she is badass, and she gets more time following her point of view than the other ladies of Mars.

The humor in Chessmen of Mars tickled me as well. At times the narration seems to be having a great deal of fun with its own heightened romantic style.

I have been a huge sucker for the blend of chivalry, adventure, romance and wonder in these books so far, and I very much enjoyed the fourth and fifth entries in the series.

Thuvia, Maid of Mars - 4 Stars
The Chessmen of Mars - 5 Stars

Both books are out of copyright in the United States. Download for Free: