The Fleet (Fleet, Book One)

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Fleet (Fleet, Book One)
Edited by David Drake and Bill Fawcett, 1988

Premise: Anthology series in which authors (many well-known) write stories in a shared universe. The human-allied worlds are at war with the Khalia. We can’t understand each other, we don’t know for sure how it started, but The Fleet is the last line of defense against invasion and subjugation.

Ever since I randomly read the second one in this series in 2007, I’ve kept an eye out for the rest of the series. They’re anthologies, the quality is mixed, but there’s enough little gems here to keep me checking the dollar rack.

This first volume includes eleven stories very loosely strung together by a frame story about a news (propaganda) producer looking for a good story to boost morale.

The stories range widely, including a semi-hypothetical account of how the war started, a comedic piece about a quartermaster put in charge of a third-tier base who has to figure out how to convince a newly encountered species to ally with humans, and a piece about a young empath who joins the Fleet to discover an unusual use for her powers.

One of my least favorite pieces was by Gary Gygax, a wild-west-ish piece about a planet that had no use for the Alliance and the Fleet. It was just a little too simple and had a bit too much ‘yeah-American-exceptionalism-individualism’ about it.

Some I quite liked include a melancholic piece by Margaret Weis about walking away from war; Anne McCaffery’s contribution about a information mission run by a ship and an operative; David Drake’s final piece about the horrors of ground combat and the things you hope you never see; and Poul Anderson had a piece with great use of flashback about a group of people who had been physically altered for work on an alien world.

It’s not a brilliant work, but sometimes I just want some space fighting, with some decent little stories. The nice thing about the shortness of these stories is that the best ones are tiny human moments. There’s a larger story going on in the background with the grand sweep of interstellar armies, but we only see one person on one world at a time. I find the series overall to be a fun experiment in shared world-building.

3 Stars - A Good Book

Bones of the Fair

Monday, February 17, 2014

Bones of the Fair
Andrea Höst, 2013

Premise: Sequel to Champion of the Rose, but you don't need to read that one first. Gentian has been 14 long years away from her home in Darest. She returns for an irresistible job and the possibility that the miraculous return of the ruling family will have repercussions for her particular problem. She will stay to investigate a mystery that impinges on the future of her home, and its complicated relationship with the ones who lived there before humans...

Don't expect a direct continuation of the story of Champion of the Rose. While several characters are in both, and this is the continuation of the larger story, Soren - the heroine of CotR - only appears briefly.

Instead, this is Gentian's story, and she is marvelous. Quiet and self-possessed, she is heir to a line of master mages but she specializes is the relatively unflashy business of garden design, informed by her sensitivity to places. Her opposite is the other viewpoint character, Aspen. Aspen is well-meaning and good-hearted, but spends most of the book attempting to sleep with one character or another. Or one character and another.

This might be a good time to mention, if you haven't been to Darest yet, that it is in a fantasy world in which bisexuality is the norm. Just so you know.

We see a lot more of the world beyond the borders of Darest in this volume,and all the countries and cultures are intriguing.

I don't want to say too much more, because the gradual character and plot reveals are so much of the pleasure of this read. As usual, Andrea Höst does a splendid job balancing action, intrigue and romance. Although much of this story was relatively quiet, it is a deep quiet full of plans and emotion, much like the central character. If I have a criticism, it is that there is a large cast of characters introduced quite quickly,and I never felt I had the more minor characters separated in my mind.

I was certainly happy to visit Darest once more, and I hope there is more to tell about the country caught between its fae past and its human future.

4 Star - A Very Good Book

Locke & Key Volume 6: Alpha & Omega

Monday, February 10, 2014

Locke & Key Volume 6: Alpha & Omega
Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez, 2014 (issues originally 2013)

New Release: I received a digital galley of this book from Netgalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Sequel to Clockworks. The final chapter. Everything is in place. The Omega Key has been found. Evil forces are on the move in Keyhouse, and Tyler and Kinsey Locke are going to have to be very careful and very lucky to live through the end of the school year…

Ack. What is left to say about Locke & Key? I wasn’t sure about this series at first, but it really grew on me over time. The horror grows slowly and steadily, the characters and the backstory are built piece by piece.

This volume opens with a fully natural-feeling recap, just so you know where everyone is, and then launches full-tilt into the climax.

Everything that happens was set up. It all makes sense (for the most part anyway) with each character’s established motivations, but all the plot twists and turns were foreshadowed in earlier volumes. To me, parts felt too sad and parts too happy on my first read, but then I read it a second time and everything just felt right: like that was the way each piece had to land.

Now the story is complete, so if you were waiting, you can read it all at once. Start with Volume One: Welcome to Lovecraft.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

Avengers: The Enemy Within

Monday, February 3, 2014

Avengers: The Enemy Within
Kelly Sue DeConnick, Scott Hepburn, Matteo Buffagni, Filipe Andrade, 2013

Premise: Collects Avengers:The Enemy Within #1, Captain Marvel #13-14, 17, Avengers Assemble #16-17. Sequel to Captain Marvel: Down. Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel, has been having a rough time. Between dinosaur attacks and villains threatening her friends, her own powers might be killing her. She'll need the help of all her teammates to face down the force behind the plot against her.

I really enjoyed this, both for itself and on principle.

But first, my little quibbles. Because this story took place over two series, there are two art teams. The styles aren't too jarringly different, but one team has an obsession with bulging veins that I find really off-putting.

The dialogue might be just slightly too quippy. It's superheroes, so it should be quippy, but there were a lot of characters in this and their dialogue could have differentiated them just a bit more.

Okay, that said, my quibbles are bound up in why the existence of this story makes me so happy. The crossover that causes the small art clash? This may be just two series crossing over, both written by the same author, but it’s still an event focused and centered on a female superhero, her strength, her supporting cast, her villain, her relationships with other heroes.

Also, we have an embarrassment of riches with the characters here. Captain America, Wolverine, Hulk/Banner, and Thor all get nice moments, but we've got Carol, Spiderwoman, Black Widow, Allison Brand (head of S.W.O.R.D), Wasp, ... the book seems overflowing with women until you realize that all Kelly Sue did was give them equal screen time. Once you see that it becomes clear how rare it is to read a great team story where half the characters are women.

Aspects of the story are sometimes ‘oh I guess that works okay just go with it’ stuff. But you know, that might not fly in a novel but superheroics thrive on it.

Best aspects include the comradely friendship between Steve and Carol thats been quietly built up throughout this series. It’s nicely highlighted here. Not to mention how awesome Spiderwoman is! This series makes me want to know more about Jessica Drew like nothing else has. The friendships between Carol and her supporting cast are sweet and complex.

The story is fast-paced and you have to sprint to keep up, but I recommend you jump in at the start of this series (or this new spin-off series, starting this Wed?) for some excellent super ladies.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book