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Book Review – Artemis by Andy Weir

I had a chance to read an advance copy of Artemis, the new novel by Andy Weir, author of The Martian. Like his earlier book, Artemis is set in the fairly near future and is written with an emphasis on getting the hard science right. Unlike The Martian, Artemis employs a larger cast which gives the protagonist a direct interactions with other characters.

artemis cover

The story follows Jasmine (Jazz) Basheera, a young woman who has lived on the moon base of Artemis for almost her entire life. After an incident with her father and law enforcement, she is on her own, working as a type of courier, transporting goods around the base. Jazz is innovative and smart and has also set up a smuggling operation to help net her some extra cash.

When an eccentric billionaire asks her to destroy important equipment in return for a fortune, Jazz cannot refuse. Of course, her caper does not go as planned and there is more to the billionaire’s plan than she was told. The plot accelerates from there as Jazz is hunted by a vicious enforcer while trying to escape discovery by officials on the moon. Her personal life is also a disaster, and all of these aspects come together in a fast-moving and unpredictable conclusion.

I enjoyed the book quite a bit, and I particularly appreciated the scientific rigor of the moon base and the elements vital to the plot. The opening was slightly slow to set the stage for me, and everything kept going right for Jazz for a bit too long. However, her sarcastic personality kept me reading, and once things go wrong for her, they went massively wrong.

The book is structured with short letters between Jazz and her childhood pen pal interspersed with the rest of the narrative. These weren’t very interesting at first, but became a clever way to explain some of Jazz’s personal history, and eventually became relevant to the plot.

While the ending wrapped up the caper nicely, I think that it was somewhat unbelievable as far as Jazz’s resolution goes. If you’ve read the book, let me know what you think in the comments, as I don’t want to put spoilers up here.

I also had a chance to visit the Museum of the Moon while I was at New York Comic-Con last month. This was a promotion put on by Audible for the audiobook release of Artemis. They had some props from the book on display which I’ll share below. The museum also featured a gigantic realistic moon by artist Juke Jerram.

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Jazz’s EVA suit

 

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Most of the inhabitants of Artemis eat Gunk.

 

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The Moon – created with NASA imagery.

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Mini Book Reviews – October 2017

I haven’t had as much time as I would like to read and write reviews, so here’s just a quick attempt to summarize some of what I’ve read this past year:

Zero World by Jason M. Hough – part science fiction, part spy thriller, this book was a lot of fun. I particularly liked that I could never truly anticipate where the author was going with the plot. The twists were intriguing and the world set up by this novel holds a lot of potential for more. I can’t even describe it more without giving something away.

The Spirit Ring by Lois McMaster Bujold – a historical fantasy novel by one of my favorite authors. This story is set in Renaissance Italy and follows a young woman’s plight when she witnesses the murder of the local ruler. Using the bits of metal-magic that her father taught her, she has to rid the city of evil. I listened to this as an audiobook and enjoyed it, like most of Bujold’s work. However, it took me two tries to get through it, mostly because I was too busy to listen regularly.

Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals by Hal Herzog – I took a break from fiction to read this fascinating book about how people relate to animals in modern society. Even though I love the idea of non-fiction books, many are not written in a way that makes them easy to read. However, this book was engaging and allowed me to consider many new perspectives.

The Stand by Stephen King – It seems that this is considered one of King’s best works, but I did not enjoy it as much as some of his other books. I listened to this as an audiobook, and if I had read the physical book, I’m not sure that I would have made it through. I like the opening premise well enough: a deadly strain of flu escapes from a military research facility and kills most of the population. The spread of the flu and each character’s struggles as they deal with their friends and family dying, and the fall of most of civilization was a darkly fun read. However, most of the book then moves on to become a classic struggle of good versus evil with a lot of Christian mythologic overtones, which just isn’t very interesting to me. The antagonist is distant and never felt like enough of a threat, and the day-to-day activities of the characters dragged down the plot.

Codex Born (Magic Ex Libris #2) by Jim C. Hines – I started to read this series because I loved the concept of a class of magicians who could magically pull technology, monsters, swords, etc. from books. I listened to this as an audiobook and it went quickly. I found the narrator a little off-putting at first, but then grew used to him. The narrative sneaks in some backstory for one of the characters in small excerpts through the regular chapters. I couldn’t always follow the numerous rules about the magic, but the plot moved quickly and the characters are unique.

Here is what I’m currently reading:

Twelve Kings in Sharakai (The Song of the Shattered Sands #1) by Bradley P. Beaulieu – the first book in an epic fantasy series, set in a desert land with a well-developed mythos and world. I’m enjoying this one a lot so far, but I had to start from the beginning again when I had been too busy for several months.

Artemis by Andy Weir – I just snagged an ARC of this book by the author of The Martian at New York Comic-Con. It’s really good so far, and is the book I’ve been reaching for first this week.

Tongues of Serpents (Temeraire #6) by Naomi Novik – It’s been quite a while since I read any of this series, basically because there hadn’t been any more out yet at the time. It looks like Novik is up to nine books now, so I’m going to catch up. Dragons fight alongside human soldiers in the Napoleonic Wars. This volume sees our main character and his dragon sent to Australia after committing some treasonous acts in the previous volume.

How about you? Have you read any good books lately?

The Shannara Chronicles Recap – Episodes #1 and 2

So I’ve decided to write up a brief recap or review for season 2 of The Shannara Chronicles because: 1) it’s a fun show, 2) I read the books a long time ago, 3) I like to write things, and 4) I love Game of Thrones, but there are already plenty of sites that write about it (and really, there’s not much to cover for it between now and 2019).

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Photo courtesy of Spike TV.

Season 2 starts off quickly with the episodes Druid (#1) and Wraith (#2). The first episode shows us Eretria in the immediate aftermath of season 1 before jumping ahead to events a year later. We see that Eretria has found a new place in the world and a new lover, Lyria, yet she still wonders why Wil and Amberle never came looking for her.

Wil has also found a new life, training to be a healer with the gnomes. Trouble starts when a stranger comes seeking healing, but turns out to have other reasons for seeking out a Shannara.

By the end of the first episode, the show has already set up two antagonists. General Riga is an elf who believes that magic is too dangerous and wants to rid the world of magic-users. The other enemy is one of pure magic, as Bandon, corrupted by an evil sword, tries to resurrect the Warlock Lord, originally destroyed by Wil’s father in the book, The Sword of Shannara.

The action moves quickly as Eretria and Lyria are kidnapped by rovers, who are then interrupted by a bounty hunter, Garet Jax. Wil is pursued by Mord Wraiths, summoned by Bandon to seek out the Warlock Lord’s skull, necessary to bring him back. Interesting associations start to take shape as more is revealed about the new characters.

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Photo courtesy of Spike TV.

Lyria is revealed to be a princess, daughter of Queen Tamlin, ruler of the human kingdom of Leah, while Wil’s companion is Mareth, who can use some type of illusion magic and claims to be the daughter of Allanon. Where is that pesky druid, anyway? Well he’s been busy running back and forth to everyone trying to keep the world safe. He flees Skull Mountain to meet with King Ander before ending up back in Leah with most of the rest of the cast.

All together, the season is off to an intriguing start. The show is just as beautiful as season 1 was, both in the locales, special effects (I really like the fiery Mord Wraiths), and costumes. And like season 1, The Shannara Chronicles doesn’t shy away from killing off characters we like in season 2 either.

What were your favorites scenes so far? What do you think of the new characters? Let me know in the comments below!

Book Review – The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

I picked this book up about a month ago when I was looking for something fun and easy to read. Set in a fantasy land, The Lies of Locke Lamora follows a group of thieves on their adventures in a complicated city.

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For the first third of the book, they caper about plotting a grand heist, with nothing more at risk than what would be expected from such thievery. The novel is structured as a series of alternating timelines as well, detailing the current day events beside those of protagonist Locke Lamora’s childhood and training.

The characters tended to blend together at the outset and were all too nice to feel like real thieves – with an ethical code of stealing from the rich, avoiding killing anyone, and then keeping the treasure locked away in a vault, seemingly in the business more for the thrill than for pure greed. While it took a while for the greater story to be set up, once the true antagonist of the plot arrived, things became much more interesting and the stakes were worthy of an epic fantasy tale.

I’m glad that I stuck with this book, because the characters felt more real as they were thrust into mortal danger. People die and nothing goes as planned. Locke is devious, but his scheming nearly becomes his downfall as he has to improvise around his own lies and deceptions. When facing adversity, even his more brutal actions become understandable, and I found myself truly rooting for him in all ways by the end. The plot is satisfyingly resolved and the novel can be read as a complete story, even though I know there is a sequel available. If you can work through the slower opening, the main story is a solid and entertaining read. I’ll be looking to pick up the next installment soon.

A Brief Review – Star Trek: Beyond

I missed seeing Star Trek: Beyond in the theater, but was able to watch the latest installation of the franchise a week ago. While I’ve never been a dedicated Trek fan, I do appreciate the themes in Gene Roddenberry’s creation and I make an effort to keep up with the latest releases. (One day I’ll go back to watch all of the original series and that Next Generation thingy).

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I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive about this film because I hadn’t really enjoyed the previous one – Into Darkness. To me, you can’t remake (reboot?) The Wrath of Khan. I also think that I’m one of the few people who doesn’t fawn over Benedict Cumberbatch in everything that he appears. I don’t think he’s terrible, just overrated, so seeing him as Khan was odd.

The newest movie picks up a few years after the events of Into Darkness, with the Enterprise returning to its roots, exploring distant space. The crew earns a break from the monotony of their duties, with a trip to the new Starbase Yorktown. An escape pod arrives at the Starbase, bringing a strange alien with a tale of distress. Kalara relates how she fled when her ship was captured in a nearby planetary system in a region of an unexplored nebula. The Enterprise is sent to investigate, but of course this doesn’t go well, and they fly into a pretty obvious trap.

The rest of the movie was entertaining and fun, and I enjoyed the new characters. I may even have to cosplay Jaylah if I can figure out the prosthetic makeup. A few plot holes existed, but none of those bothered me too much. The film included a brief reference to Leonard Nimoy’s passing, which blended tastefully into the story.

What did YOU think of the movie? I have to say that when the alien ship/conglomerate first appeared, I was reminded of the Shadows from Babylon 5. Did anyone else have that reaction?

Star Trek: Beyond releases on DVD and Blu-Ray on November 1.

Thoughts on The Bastard Executioner

The Bastard Executioner is a new television show on FX, and I had a chance to watch the two-hour pilot last night. While it isn’t billed as fantasy, but rather historical fiction, there are certainly some mystical elements at play.

The Bastard Executioner -- Lee Jones as Wilkin Brattle.  Cr: Ollie Upton/FX

The Bastard Executioner — Lee Jones as Wilkin Brattle.
Cr: Ollie Upton/FX

FX provides this description:

The Bastard Executioner is a blood-soaked, medieval epic that tells the story of Wilkin Brattle, a 14th century warrior, whose life is forever changed when a divine messenger beseeches him to lay down his sword and lead the life of another man: a journeyman executioner. Set in northern Wales during a time rife with rebellion and political upheaval, Wilkin must walk a tight rope between protecting his true identity while also serving a mysterious destiny.

Guided by Annora, a mystical healer whose seeming omniscience keeps Wilkin under her sway; manipulated by Milus Corbett, a devious Chamberlain with grand political aspirations; and driven by a deepening connection with the Baroness Lady Love, Wilkin struggles to navigate political, emotional and supernal pitfalls in his quest to understand his greater purpose.

The Bastard Executioner starts with a series of dreams that give the viewer a vague idea that the main character, Wilkin, was once a soldier who was badly injured in battle. Now retired from whatever cause or lord he fought for, he is dwelling in an idyllic village in Wales. His days are spent teasing his pregnant wife, teasing another peasant about his sheep, carrying water, and riding his horse around the countryside with the other men of the village.

** SPOILERS TO FOLLOW **

THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER - "Pilot" Episode 101/102 Pictured: (front) Lee Jones as Wilkin Brattle. CR: Ollie Upton/FX

The Bastard Executioner – “Pilot” Episode 101/102 Pictured: (front) Lee Jones as Wilkin Brattle. CR: Ollie Upton/FX

All of this is very nice (and the CGI shots of the village were some of the nicer ones), but the story drags until a conflict arrives in the form of a greedy baron who needs to collect more taxes.

Clearly, Wilkin’s happy pastoral life could not continue, so the first hour of The Bastard Executioner culminated in a predictable gory village burning and peasant stabbing reminiscent of Braveheart.

Now that Wilkin and his friends found motivation to do something more exciting, the show became more fun. The greedy Baron is pitched against the rebellious peasants. Swords clash in battle in some fight choreography that I didn’t completely hate. Like most battle scenes nowadays, there were plenty close-up shots (this is the part that I hate) where you can only see a blurry arm fly by or a bloody spurt. I get it – it’s easier to choreograph and easier to film – but I want to watch the larger view of the swordplay. The Bastard Executioner did pan out for a few nicer glimpses of this.

Although The Bastard Executioner brings some interesting ideas and the richness of a historical setting to it’s production, it tries too hard to emulate both Game of Thrones and Braveheart by throwing in random nudity and sex, a white-blond girl followed closely by a vision of a demon (looks a bit like a dragon), a witch who makes mysterious prophecies, a baroness (who I predict will fall suddenly in love with our bastard executioner in upcoming episodes), and a unique dagger (let’s guess where the blame where by placed).

I’m not sure that I like Lee Jones’ (Wilkin) emotional portrayal in the second half of the pilot. For a lot of it, his facial expression doesn’t change and he simply appears confused. Many of the characters were a little over-the-top and no one really surprised me in terms of breaking expectations. I hope that the Baroness redeems herself in this respect now that she’s a widow, and I’m interested to discover what will happen politically and whether she will be able to maintain power.

The plot had some holes as the show progressed, but they didn’t completely take away from my enjoyment of the second half. I’ll keep watching for at least a few more episodes.

Did you watch The Bastard Executioner? What did you think?

I have some random links for everyone today!

 

Here is an article on tor.com discussing the recent 2015 Eisner awards and how comics are becoming more diverse in many ways.

I have several book reviews that went up over on Book Spot Central in the last few months. In case you missed them over there, they are:

Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress

ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times (graphic novel) by Andrew MacLean

Shattering the Ley by Joshua Palmatier

Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

Link

Looking for a Few Reviewers

Is anyone out there interested in becoming a book reviewer? I’m looking for a handful of new reviewers over at Book Spot Central for genre novels. The site covers mainly fantasy and science fiction, but books with some mystery or romance elements are fine. You can also review graphic novels.

Benefits include the ability to get a Net Galley account where you can find e-book advance review copies of the latest books. If you may be interested, fill out the form below explaining why you want to write book reviews and a link to anything similar that you’ve written (or paste it into the other box if it isn’t available online).

Book Review – Kingdom of Cages

Catching up on some book reviews now:

Kingdom of Cages
by Sarah Zettel
Aspect (2001)

Kingdom of Cages is an older novel by Sarah Zettel and is the only work of hers that I have read. Set amidst a space-faring society, the novel focuses on the plight of a single mother, Helice Trust, and her two young daughters, Chena and Teal.

Human society is in trouble, plagued by the Diversity Crisis. I had a tough time figuring out what this really was, and to the best of my ability it was a collection of afflictions that are supposedly brought on a lack of genetic diversity, akin to a bottleneck phenomenon. However, it acted more like something infectious, and that is how the characters treated it, so I found the premise unbelievable.

With society in fear of the Diversity Crisis, many flee to Pandora, a world which seems to be unaffected simply for the reason that the inhabitants are kept in habitats separate from the ecosystems. This also didn’t make sense to me, because in the villages people breathe the air from the world and live in the trees.

Amidst this setting, Helice Trust and her daughters manage to make it to Pandora, but are misled about their roles there. The ruling body on Pandora has other plans for Chena trust, but cannot convince her to play nice.

I had a hard time finishing this book for several reasons. The story mainly followed Chena and Teal Trust, but wandered without a clear plot for much of the time. I never cared whether either one of them accomplished their goals, and Teal struck me as a spoiled brat, so I was actively rooting against her. Also, the antagonists were too similar and I kept confusing them through the entire book.

The writing itself was solid and did not distract me, so I would be open to reading another book by this author, but it needs to have a more logical premise.

Book Review – Magic Teacher’s Son

Magic Teacher’s Son
Book 1 of The Magician’s Gold Series
By David Harten Watson
Pen-L Publishing 2014

In the debut novel by David Harten Watson, we are introduced to the land of Eldor, a place that contains both familiar and fresh elements of the fantastic. The magic worked by the characters is a creative invention, with just enough rules and structure to prevent a free-for-all of spell-slinging. White magic must be powered by either silver or gold, with spells of longer duration or greater power requiring gold. In opposition to this, sorcery uses bones, blood, or the death of a living creature to fuel its effects.

MagicTeachersSonFrontCover-200Pran is the magic teacher’s son of the title, studying in a one-room schoolhouse outside the village of White River Junction. The novel opens as Pran sneaks out of his home to participate in a Circle of Sorcery, at which neighborhood hooligans gather to practice illicit black magic. Accompanied by his friends, Pran watches Sekar, the leader of the circle, as the teen summons a fire nymph for demonstration. Despite the allure, Pran avoids performing any sorcery himself and manages to escape the ridicule of the older boys.

Pran’s home realm of Eldor is at war with Marakna, a place where sorcery is commonplace. While his older brother is a Magician in the Eldorean Army, the conflict itself has little effect on Pran’s day-to-day life. However, after a chance encounter with a traveling Truthseeker, Pran learns that a terrifying prophecy has just come to light. Within a week, all of Eldor’s gold will vanish, leaving the country powerless to defend itself against the Maraknese sorcerers and possible invasion. Pran has been designated to lead a quest to return some amount of gold to Eldor by traveling with three others to the legendary realm of Earth. As with most prophecies, there are hints and riddles, but not enough guidelines to make the quest a comfortable process.

The first volume of this series follows Pran’s quest to discover his companions and find his way to Earth. David Harten Watson describes this world with prose that is straight-forward, while capturing a true feel for the interplay between teenage characters. The military structure of the magical army was an outstanding touch that allowed the battle scenes to unfold with clarity. Pran is a likeable hero, and this book was a joy to read. It’s about overcoming challenges, friendship and trust, making choices, and protecting your home. Magic Teachers’ Son is a solid introduction to the world that the author has crafted, and I’ll be looking for the next book in this marvelous series.

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