Year’s Best Military and Adventure SF Volume 3
Some of the contents of this collection are engaging and even unique takes. “Starhome” by Michel Z. Williamson is a study in business, marginalization, and familial loyalty. Contrasted with that, and very disappointing, are others, like the out-of-context snippet of his Cinnabar universe offered by David Drake, apparently an unedited early effort. “The Good Food” by Michael Ezell isn’t badly executed but reads like an outtake from a fifties pulp. Some pieces are obviously first runs at novel-length work and might be well worth revisiting in their proper matrix. I include in that category “Not in Vain” by Kacey Ezell. My general take on this cover was that I was stuck in a fanzine of thirty years back. There were glimmers here and there, with memorable bits occasionally hopping out…but none worth extolling when there are so many shining pieces available.
Baen should do better. They have so many times in the past, and in some of their ongoing series, that I’m a bit befuddled by the lack of rigor in this selection.
David Afsharirad, Editor
The Methuselarity Transformation
Raymond Mettler is a wealthy recluse, obsessed with his personal safety and staving off death at all costs. Marcus Takana is a poor athlete with big aspirations and no hope of realizing them. They would never have met, if not for a stranger named Terra, wielding an incredible offer: making Marcus’s dreams come true if he agrees to let Raymond’s mind inhabit his body when Ray dies. In a world where genetically engineered grass is choking the planet and aging can be held off indefinitely for the right price, both Ray and Marcus will discover the dark side of the secret Faustian bargain they’ve struck.
The Methuselarity Transformation feels like vintage sci-fi, tackling hard questions like social equality, economic disparity, and the consequences of genetic tinkering by crafting a human narrative around them. As Ray and Marcus’s bargain with Terra plays out, the reader slowly gains a foothold in this advanced – yet still very familiar – version of Earth.
That ambitious storytelling spirit also informs the novel’s pacing, as frequent jumps forward in time grant a glimpse of years in the lives of our protagonists, all told in the looming shadow of Ray’s eventual death and transfer into Marcus’s body. (Though, as the novel moves between the two main characters, it’s sometimes unclear how much time is passing.)
The various romantic and scientific subplots that weave in and out of our paired narratives help move Marcus and Raymond beyond being pieces on the gameboard, giving their stories a depth and resonance that move this beyond a simple “what if” scenario. But while the HibernaTurf crisis subplot provides intriguing insight into both Ray and Marcus’s individual histories (and adds a touch of backstory to the narrative), the SPUDs/sentient beings subplot never really gels with the novel’s major themes, adding color but little substance.
Cleverly, Moskovitz’s social commentary and scientific insight add a timeless quality to the book, preventing it from feeling too anchored to a 2014-fueled mentality. The Methuselarity Transformation is socially conscious sci-fi, something we could use more of these days.
Siege of Praetar
In the midst of conflict and the exploitation of one race of people over the other, determination, optimism, and resolve are tested. In Tales of a Dying Star, Book 1: Siege of Praetar, cosmic circumstances have pushed members of both races to a desperate pursuit for survival. In this first book in a series of books, the people of the planets of Melis and Praetar are faced with the imminent destruction of their star, Saria. Motivated by fear, the people of Melis are exploiting the people of Praetar as they prepare for the relocation of their empire.
Perhaps one of the books most compelling features is its ability to captivate, both right from the start and as the story progresses. The first chapter contains action, suspense, and an appeal to human sensibilities. This approach to story-telling continues throughout the narrative. With the introduction of every new character, there is early delving into each one. They become authentic and believable very quickly. And, with the complicated relationships among the characters and the looming natural disaster, it is, likewise, easy to readily care about all of the characters, regardless of any wrongdoing.
The writing is concise and picturesque. It is easy to imagine the abject living conditions that befall many of the people in the story. The author wields an impressive less-is-more approach to writing. With a wonderful balance between dialogue and description, this story is amazingly well-crafted.
As the first book in a series, this volume does a tremendous job of setting the stage for the conflict between the two races of people. The tension between them is established, and the looming destruction of their homes creates an impetus for action. Several key questions are posed, yet not answered, in this first volume, furthering reader interest in learning the ultimate fates of the planets and the people who inhabit them.
The promise of learning more about these characters and finding out what happens to them is almost seductive. This story has mass appeal as it taps into a universal fear that anyone could envision. For a story about perseverance and survival, look no further than Tales of a Dying Star, Book 1: Siege of Praetar by David Kristoph. This book is a gem.
Last Call for Caviar ( vol.1)
Destruction, death and blood cultsoh my! Maya Jade has been stranded in the Riviera during what can only be accurately described as Armageddon. Author Melissa Roen creates a rather convincing alternate reality in Last Call for Caviar, one in which the world as we know it is quickly and definitively coming to an end. The earth seems to have entered a purge mode, spewing, shattering and shocking humanity right off of her face. Earthquakes, tsunamis, fires, extreme weather of all kinds are testing the limits of mankind and the results are catastrophic. War rages everywhere as bands fight against bands, governments fight against their citizens, and individuals fight for their lives. The landscape is chaotic.
Yet, in the midst of all this devastation, there are places where champagne still flows lavishly and caviar is consumed in abundance. Tucked away on the beautiful coast of the Côte dAzur, the wealthy hide from the treacherous minefields of the disintegrating world. It is in this glittery, gilded backdrop that Maya finds herselfcut off from the security of family, the safety of civilization, and the love she found in France. Having traveled to the region for school and making a life there because of connections, Maya fell in love with the Riviera. When sexy surgeon Julian steals her heart, Mayas destiny is sealed. After a fated lovers quarrel leads to their separation, and tragic world events lead to a splintering of society, Maya becomes desperate. Should she abandon her hopes of happiness with the love of her life and run tail for home in the US? Should she stick it out on the slim chance that Julian will return to her? Should she cultivate her resources to find another way to survive the end of the world? Is survival even possible? The questions keep mounting as more and more craziness ensues.
With each new episode of insanity, a greater truth is revealed to Maya, a truth that only she seems to understand or see.
Roen is convincing here. Her vision of the end is so well crafted and executed, as I read, the news humming in the background, it seemed not just feasible but utterly possible that Roen herself is a seer. There is nothing overly farfetched here, which makes the fantastical elements of Last Call for Caviar that much more intriguing; any of this could happen at any moment. And thats what made me keep turning the pages (and watching the skies).
A fairly long volume at 302 pages, the book was a swift read, sucking me in from the very beginning. There is little fat here, this is a trim and tone narrative. Maya Jade is a kick-ass heroine, dynamic and organic, nuanced and complex. At turns shrinking violet and fierce lioness, damsel in distress and irreverent daredevil. The plot allows for rich interactions that lend cinematic interest, with intense action, gut-wrenching drama, sensual and haunting sizzle, well-placed comedy, and the type of fantasy/sci-fi that makes you think Could this really happen?.
There really isnt much to complain about here. A word of caution: read the whole book from the Prologue; its incredibly important to understand the story and set you up for Volume 2 (which I started before even finishing volume 1). Small deductions for: cover art, I found myself wanting to turn the book over, but I have never been one for messy eaters; typos, Im sorry to say but there were a few that pulled me out of the story occasionally; and an incomplete and hard to use glossary of terms. These are the smallest of complaints. The meat here is worth the price and then some. I just might feast on this tasty meal again and again. I hate caviar, but I loved Last Call.
Illidan: World of Warcraft
Novels that take place in role-playing games are a big business and can greatly expand the universe. Just look at the Warhammer series, the novels are incredibly popular and span both fantasy and science fiction. Now it seems World of Warcraft wants to get into the game and publish books that expand its universe. Even though one game is board based and the other is computer based. Honestly as an early effort this falls a bit flat, and William King is well known for his Warhammer books so this effort is surprising. We follow Illidan who has been locked up for thousands of years after betraying the people he was ruling, but now the darkness returns and Illidan is the only one that can stop it. He must gather together a fearsome army, but not everyone trusts him.
This feels like a weak Warhammer book and I will forgive people if they have a hard time telling the difference, the names are similar to what can be found in Warhammer books. If Blizzard is looking to differentiate itself from the other universe it could have done better.
Eons ago, the nation of Caladorn and the kingdoms of the Rhen existed in harmony. Those days are long past. Though they still share a root philosophy, at least so far as the nature of magic is concerned, relations between Bryn Calazar and Aerysius are far from friendly. Braden Reis is a Master of the Lyceum, sent to Aerysius as an ambassador in a last-ditch attempt to prevent war . . . but all is not as it seems. When an Acolyte from Aerysius Hall of Watchers stumbles upon an unholy conspiracy involving the demonic power of Xerys, Prince of Chaos, Braden finds himself embroiled in a struggle against the most powerful members of both Colleges of Magic for the future of his entire world. If he fails, Chaos will reign supreme. If he succeeds, it may mean the end of the world as he knows it.
The world presented in Darkstorm is fascinating, to say the least. I initially feared Caladorn would prove the stereotypical fantasy land where women are forced to rely on men to protect them, but this wasnt quite accuratethat only proves necessary if the woman in question has little status. There are many powerful women in Caladorn, though a good deal of their status and prestige seems to be founded in how alluring they are able to make themselves. Aerysius seems to be a bit more founded on equality, but as we spend a comparatively short time there I cannot say for certain. Fantasy tropes pop up left and right, but usually cast in a new light or employed in interesting combinations that dampen any potential annoyance.
The characters shown here are without fail three-dimensional and complex. One seems inconsistent at times, but that turns out to be intentional. Braden Reis is a man of convictions, with blood on his hands despite (or because of) his strong moral compass. Bradens lover, Master Sephana Clemley, holds a similarly steady morality despite serving a rival nation. Faced with evidence of corruption infecting both their orders, Braden and Sephana barely hesitate before seeking the truth. Also caught up in events is Sephanas apprentice, Merris Bryar, whose nosiness tips the Masters off to the conspiracy in their midst, and Bradens wine-sotted brother Quinlan. Even the antagonists prove complicated, and their motivations understandable even as we deplore their methods. We arent even entirely sure theyre wrong, in most cases.
Bottom line, this was an amazingly entertaining read. I do have some issues with the ending, but I cannot discuss them without courting spoilers, and so will leave off with merely that vague caveat. I look forward to seeing more in this trilogy when the time comes.