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
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.
The Shards of Heaven
Julius Caesar is dead, assassinated just before his finest moment, and now the civilized world is ripped in two. Tensions run high between Rome and Alexandria, with the fate of an Empire hanging in the balance. In Egypt, Antony has aligned himself with Cleopatra and her son Caesarian, the blood-heir of Julius Caesar. In Rome, Caesar’s adopted son Octavian gathers his forces for a war that seems inevitable. Meanwhile, the Numidian prince Juba scours the Earth for an object of power that will allow him to avenge himself on Rome for the subjugation of his people. What he finds could bring the world to its knees….
The Shards of Heaven is the first in a new series that takes the real-life history of the birth of the Roman Empire and infuses it with a healthy dose of historical fantasy behind the scenes for a fast-paced romp full of engaging characters. If you know your history, then you know certain characters are doomed from the start, but that doesn’t stop you from rooting for them. The central conceit here is that there are several artefacts that have shaped history through the ages, giving rise to myth and legend, always half-remembered versions of the truth. Poseidon’s trident/Moses’ staff, Zeus’ Aegis…and the Ark of the Covenant, the most powerful Shard of Heaven in existence. Some things were not meant for the hands of man.
Dreamtime: The Gil-Garem
Dreamtime: The Gil-Garems story involves Edmund Mortani, a soldier who fought for the Sorisentine Dominion during the Garemoth Wars. In those wars, he lost his wife, Eurydice, on a mission. He continues to be haunted by dreams and visions of her 10 years after the war ends. When robot attacks begin again, Edmund suspects the Gil-Garem have come back to life, even though they appeared to be eradicated a decade earlier.
From the start, it is clear that Dreamtime: The Gil-Garem was once a screenplay. Character actions are written in the present tense, and several errors in grammar, spelling, and formatting show that a good spell-checker and the Chicago Manual of Style were not contributing resources to this sci-fi epic. Upon finishing the book, I found out the author had created a hybrid tense system for writing around his screenplay format. While it was a good effort, subverting English grammar didnt completely iron out the difference in experience between screenplay and novel, and, ultimately, the author would have done better to start from scratch and use proper storytelling conventions.
Its difficult for a reader to grow attached to a character without even knowing what they look like. If this book were to be made into a movie, viewers would have the luxury of seeing what Edmund looked like, as portrayed by an actor, along with the other characters and the scenery. For the first several chapters, I felt blind, like I was feeling my way along the narrative with indistinguishable human beings and nondescript robots doing things. While it might have slowed the pacing, I would have enjoyed the book more for its ability to paint a clear picture of the action in my mind.
The atmosphere of the book reminded me of a Star Trek fan fiction, intriguing in its development and ideas, but amateurish in its execution. However, a major strong point the book has going for it is its action sequences. Edmund and his crew go on missions to determine what the robots are and where theyre coming from, and the fight scenes are described in richer detail than many of the other elements of the book. Clearly depicted scenery, deeply developed characters, and a coherent adventure plot are the cornerstones of a good sci-fi novel.
I will gladly enjoy a several-hundred-page space opera because I know from its in-depth world and character building, as well as the narratives ability to paint clear pictures and develop tension and conflict that its good science fiction. In addition, good science fiction addresses deeper themes: the search for utopia, the human condition, the hubris of man, or leadership under duress. While some broader ideas were touched upon, such as Edmunds sense of loss and the relationship between artificial and organic intelligence, the themes werent completely clear.
Dreamtime: The Gil-Garem was a good start; the shell of a more developed story, but it is sure to leave readers wanting more.
Dr. James Tenace is not your typical doctor. The head of the Falkennest Clinic Faculty, Tenace has a preoccupation with those nearing the final stage of life. Working principally with comatose patients, Tenace hopes to capture that very moment when souls leave bodies. A brilliant scientist, Tenace is also undoubtedly eccentric. There is another side to the mad scientist that no one totally sees nor understands and that is his bouts with what appears to be schizophrenia. Tenace constantly finds himself traumatized by his past, particularly with his mother’s death, and his broken marriage, and often carries imaginary conversations with could be demons or simply his younger self. Yet amid his problems, Tenace’s life and experimentations take an unexpected turn when he gets into a car accident.
Yves Bernas’ debut novel incorporates all the elements of a modern-day Frankenstein tale. Bernas’ plot features Tenace, a man who initially has taken all the correct steps to become a caring doctor. But quickly shifting gears to present a different persona, Bernas’ third person narrative reveals another nature to Tenacethe one that he is becoming and truly a product of his own manifestation. While chapters are replete with the expected medical lingo associated with a story such as this, Bernas creates balance by focusing on the human aspect of this supposed madman. Indeed, readers may find themselves easily sympathizing with Tenace’s struggles, but, hopefully, that compassion will be short-lived because many of Tenace’s illegal medical practices are nothing less than unconscionable. To make these medical scenes complete, Bernas even throws in an assistant, Ralf, whose role is reminiscent of Frankenstein’s Igor.
Bernas keeps his story moving by utilizing the aforesaid elements and placing them within alternating character scenes sprinkled with humorous moments, as well as unexpected situations. For all mad scientist aficionados, add Dr Tenace to your reading list. You won’t be disappointed.
Dream Waters is the first book in the series and I really hope the next one is released soon as this is a must read!
Charlie Oliver is a lifelong psychiatric patient, labelled a schizophrenic who suffers from paranoid delusions due to his visions of the people around him morphing into creatures. The nice ones he can handle, but every so often, he sees a horrific looking creature and passes out with a spine tingling scream. But what if Charlie remembers the world of our dreams and the mysterious calming waters that carry us there, and during his waking hours, he catches glimpses of the dream forms of others in this world? Who could believe something so fantastical?
When new patient, Emma Talbot, is admitted to the ward, Charlie takes an immediate like to her, and offers her a friendship she is too terrified to decline. They soon become close friends, and confide each other’s darkest secrets. On seeing the budding friendship, an elderly patient is concerned for Charlie, so confesses that she, too, has the curse of Dream Sight. This new knowledge opens Charlie’s mind to see what is actually around him, and he notices that a horrendously frightening dragon actually shadows his new friend. Charlie pursues the beast in his dreams in order to find out more about its connection with Emma. On his travels, he makes new friends and realizations about the people he knows in the real world.
Dream Waters will draw you in, and swirl you around in a whirlpool of desire, fantastical beasts, and forever friendships. I cannot wait for the next book in this series. It really is one of those books that you do not want to put down, and once you have finished it, you want to restart it. This is not a book for young readers, due to some adult content, but everyone else should certainly give this book a read.