Climbing Olympus – Kevin J. Anderson

The story starts with our hero on the slopes of Mt. Olympus, the largest volcano in the solar system…

Oh wait, no it doesn’t. In fact I have a hard time recalling if the venerable mountain was even mentioned before one of the characters began to climb it in the last 10 or so pages of the book.

Ah well, what’s in a name right? Kevin J. Anderson writes a pretty reasonable novel in my experience, and this one doesn’t let you down. Sort of the typical monster-of-the-week style story with the your average characters, and no real crazy plot-twists to throw you overboard, this one is a fun read. Poul Anderson did a quote for the cover:

An exciting story… one feels that this may very well be the way the conquest of Mars will happen.

Gotta agree. Unfortunately not much more to say. I enjoyed reading it, but I’m done reading it now and it doesn’t have anything else to offer me. I don’t even have a particularly memorable quote. With a very human quality to the characters, and an arid and dead feeling to the planet, it’s a gritty and realistic tale of homesteading the martian plain. Now, off to powells we go for a trade-in!

Anarchaos – Curt Clark

When this book was published it cost 40¢. Let’s see what it’s worth at the end shall we?

The cover is all flame and orange and yellow and zooming contrails + the main character’s name is Rolf Malone + chapter breaks are written in roman numerals. Presumption = brilliant.

Truth be told, I read this book for two reasons:

1) I had to make the decision to get rid of it (it’s only 143 pages),
2) The front cover tagline says,

On a world where nothing was illegal, the only crime was to be killed.

Can I pass that up? I think not!

The story starts out pretty well– our temper-ridden ex-con named Rolf is off to visit his do-no-wrong brother on one of the worst planets humans have decided to colonize. You see, this planet was born out of anarchistic ideals where one is out only for themselves. Syndicates created to provide services in exchange for goods have since collapsed due to (what ELSE?!) corporate takeover, so most of the planet lives in squalor killing and stealing to survive.

Of course, we find all of this out after our Plucky Ex-con™ suddenly kills his chauffeur. With his belt. Huh.

Turns out that the do-no-wrong brother was recently killed, and Plucky Ex-con™ now is on a mission of vengeance to Damn Well Find Out Who Did It.

What’s weird about this book is the character’s journey. On the one hand he’s Bad Ass enough that he can KILL A GUY WITH HIS BELT, but on the other he gets CAPTURED AS A SLAVE for FOUR YEARS and slowly loses his mind to numbness and drudgery. All throughout it’s as though things are happening to him, meanwhile he struggles with the idea that he no longer cares to survive. It’s not as though he voluntarily visited a planet with a 76% “What Ho! He’s gone missing– might he be dead good sir?” Return Rate™.

In the end Things™ continue to happen to him and our Plucky Ex-con™ continues to be iffy about it all. What is the reader supposed to do with that?

And here’s the really weird bit: at one point a character consoles himself with thoughts of his coming pension. But, but… I THOUGHT THIS WAS AN ANARCHISTIC SOCIETY? Since when is a corporation on a planet with no laws going to dole out pensions? Color me confused. I mean, if you’re going to go for a pension I think the most you can call yourself is Libertarian.

I will not give away the strange, detached ending that our Plucky Ex-con™ withstands except to say this: He makes a choice that has ramifications for the entire world because he feels that their system of government (or lack thereof in this case) is wrought with flaws and… bad morals? Something like that anyway.

But enough of that, it’s all a bit dreary isn’t it? Time for some scones, which we all deserve as this review is almost as long as the book itself.

CONCLUSION: SELL. TRY TO GET AT LEAST 30¢ FOR IT.

Best quote from the book:

Lingo looked like a shaved gorilla, wearing sunglasses and fondling an automatic rifle.

Time Blender – Michael Dorn

It’s WORF right? How could I possibly NOT read this book? So it’s been on my shelf for quite some time now, waiting to be read. In the first paragraph we find out that our character is black, handsome, academic, athletic, and troubled. (Several paragraphs later we discover that “troubled” comes from being an ex bomber pilot who dropped a 2000lb bomb on a building that turned out to be full of children. Also, that our academic, handsome, black, athletic hero was too much of a he-man to be able to stomach seeing a counselor for what sounds like a pretty run-of-the-mill case of PTSD.)

The best part about this book is how our character (along with several others) just manages to deal with anything. If a horde of chopstick-wielding velociraptors came parachuting out of the sky I believe our hero would take it in stride an ask them where the nearest chinese buffet was. Admittedly he does have to deal with some weird shit, but it never seems to take it’s toll.

Here’s a good example of how our intrepid little hero deals with things:

Samurai Warriors.
Samurai Warriors chasing a group of primitive Celts.
And the whole melee was headed straight at him.
There is a time to analyze and wonder, and a time to run for you life. Miller had absolutely no doubt that right now was a prime example of the second option. He turned and ran for the plane.

(It’s worth noting that shortly thereafter Bagpipes become involved. With gems like this, what’s not to love?)

A rousing tale of the adventures of archeologist Tony Miller, the first 25 pages seem a bit slow, but after that it never… stops… being… strange… If you read the cover page you find out that Dorn was only one of three credited authors for the book, something I didn’t know until I’d gotten to the end. Knowing that certainly clears things up a bit though, and I now have a reasonably good guess how the book was written: Each author took turns writing. And then they chose a schizophrenic ADD crack addict as an editor. I did find out an interesting thing about the co-authors though. From the GoodReads page for Jeff Lindsay:

Jeff Lindsay is the pen name of an American crime writer, Jeffry P. Freundlich, who lives in Cape Coral, Florida with his wife, author Hilary Hemingway, daughter of Leicester Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway’s brother.

Lindsay is best known for writing the Dexter series of novels. Many of his earlier published works include his wife as a co-author. Time Blender was written with Michael Dorn. He graduated from Middlebury College, Vermont, in 1975.

So this was co-written by the guy who wrote Dexter, and his wife. (Who happens to be the niece of Ernest Hemingway?!) That really surprised me. Now I really want to know what the writing process on this one looked like!

None of this is to say that I didn’t enjoy the book. I mean, in the last 25 pages the hero of this adventure finds out that the choice he has to make (allegedly to save all of the world and time itself!) isn’t nearly as simple or straightforward as he had been led to believe! New adventures await, exciting decisions are coming! The book ends! Book two was never written! Aaaargh! But what happened to Osiris the god of the dead, the giant quasi-friendly shark, the horde of druids, or the beautiful naked polynesian girl from the undiscovered island of doom? (Dr. Who would never let time get this unbalanced and rickety!)

Thanks. I can’t decide what’s worse, the mediocre execution of a really enjoyable idea, or the cliffhanger that never ends.

In the end, the novelty factor doesn’t make it worth keeping around, but if you have 2 hours to kill sometime and this book just happens to be lying in a pile somewhere there are certainly worse things you could read. I’d give it a good solid 3 out of 5 stars. Reading this book is basically be like watching the entirety of Star Trek: The Next Generation all smashed together, but it won’t take you nearly as long.

Mammoth – John Varley

So here we are again.

This time, our Intrepid Reviewer™ is reviving books from the dead to give them one last, hard look (before chucking them into either the featherbed or the furnace). Today we have Mammoth by John Varley– a book that I would argue doesn’t need much remembering due to the LARGE FUCKING MAMMOTH on the cover.

I mean, once you see that you have to read the damn thing don’t you? Some books just compel you to open them, almost as though they were controlling your mind…

Ahem. Essentially this is a book about time travel.

Wait. I mean, this is a book about being careful what you wish for.

Crap. It’s a book about someone named Susan?

This is what happens when you don’t write reviews right away, kiSTAY AWAY FROM DRUGSds. You end up forgetting most of the book like I have.

Was this book notable? I think not. It’s hard for me to get all emotional about characters named Howard, Matt and Susan. It just sounds as though a kiSTAY AWAY FROM DRUGSds TV program sponsored the book and wrote the plot pro bono. But hey, there is a mammoth named Little Fuzzy, a guy who travels back in time, cloning, and mammoths who get stuck in tar pits so it can’t be all bad. I’d just have to remember it first.

CONCLUSION: DRUG-FREE ZONE. SELL.

Best quote from the book:

Jack hurried out of the pit, flew up two flights of stairs, tried to walk calmly down the hallway but ended up almost running, slammed into the outside door, walked to his car, got in, headed for the exit at the posted limit of 15 mph, slowed down and waved his gate pass and smiled at Harry, who smiled and waved back … then frowned.

The Engines of God (Series) – Jack McDevitt

Book One, Ingredients list:

1. FTL drives
2. Decently easy interstellar travel
3. Single, hard-minded, I-do-my-job-because-I-have-nothing-else-and-anyway-I-love-to-do-it Star Pilot (named Priscilla “Hutch” Hutchins) with incredible skill that remains mostly undiscovered and under-utilized doing transport jobs for rich companies
4. Massive planet that is empty and thought to be better utilized as a replacement Earth (once it’s terraformed, that is)
5. Archeologists who insist that there is more to be learned from the ancients who once lived there
6. Money-makers and politicos who could give a fuck about archeologists or their work

But WILL IT BLEND?!

I suppose so. I mean, this book doesn’t really leave much to guess. Group 1 wants Group 2 to leave the goddam planet, Group 2 doesn’t want to. Group 2 convinces our plucky heroine to stick around and fly their butts out at the last minute. Ancient shit is found, planet is destroyed, and they wander around the galaxy following clues to see where their heart-I mean-information takes them.

Best quote from the book:

Janet listened skeptically at first, and then with mounting enthusiasm.

Book Two. Shit gets REAL.

In this stunning piece of literature, our plucky heroine (hereafter referred to as: Plucky McPluckersons) is minding her own goddam business when some stupid high-minded scientists start wetting their pants over the destruction of yet another planet. Sure, THIS time it’s due to another fucking planet smashing its shit up, but what does she care? Being the only nearby pilot with any skill, she gets wrapped into a scheme to go and “learn” about the lost civilizations of the planet anyway. Problems abound, including (but not limited to) their landers being destroyed, people being destroyed, and large fucking insects trying to kill them while they march to find a lander left by a previous expedition. Mostly it goes like this:

Tromp tromp tromp SMASH tromp SMASH SMASH tromp tromp OOH GUYS A LANDER FROM LAST TIME REMEMBER? tromp SMASHITY SMASH OOH WE MADE IT. WELL, SOME OF US AT LEAST. WHY AM I TALKING IN CAPS?

Best quote from the book:

Hutch drew him away and turned him over to the Asian.

Book Three, Synopsis:

Plucky McPluckersons was minding her own business when a group of crackpots with a “theory” hire her to be their pilot as they look for satellites around planets or signals from satellites around planets or some shit. At any rate the satellites end up forming a trail to somewhere. Zooming around space at the whim of crackpots-that-also-happen-to-be-right-a-lot-of-the-time seems to be a hobby of hers.

(Note that, from now on, Plucky McPluckersons’ character is essentially a bureaucratic paper-pusher who still manages to get roped into these off-world missions.)

Best quote from the book:

Nick made a face, signaling that he didn’t like zero gee, that his organs had begun to move around.

Book Four. It’s time to save the WORLD.

Some cloud shit brought up in Book One rears its ugly head when it’s discovered that the clouds not only move toward civilized planets, but they also FUCK THEIR SHIT UP. Naturally, humans won’t abide by this wonton destruction. Just kidding! Humans don’t care even when they realize that a shit-cloud is coming for THEM, and will be here in… 900 YEARS. Way to plan ahead humans. Go you.

Turns out that Plucky McPluckersons gets to test out any shit-cloud-removal theories on a nearby civilization about to be destroyed. Yay Science!

Best quote from the book, a tie between:

More applause.

and

On the surface of the threatened world, seas had become rough, in anticipation of the onslaught.

Book Five. (Psst! Not much happens.)

Okay sure so some lights start blinking and they wander off to follow them. Sure they start to see these now-called “raiders” adjusting the trajectory of nearby objects to impact with planets at a later date. And sure they get attacked at various points by the raiders themselves. So what? The record player that is the brain of most characters in this book is playing one, solitary loop over and over: OMG MY SPACEFLIGHT PROGRAM IS UNDERFUNDED. WE NEEDZ MORE MONIEZ. AND MAYBE THIS WEIRD SHIT WILL GET PEOPLE TO PAY.

Best quote from the book:

Everett was standing in his dark blue uniform, looking a bit older than the last time she’d seen him.

Book Six, aka: “Oops! We forgot to end Book Four!”

The shit-clouds are back ladies. And they’re closer than ever to swarming your little speck of a planet and… well… okay so it has only been a few years. But at least now spaceflight is all but extinct save for a few private organizations. And BY GUM are they some organizations! I mean, even Plucky McPluckersons is a fundraiser for one of them now! And now they have new technology to wander into the core of their galaxy! To finally stop the shit-clouds from shitting all over things!

It all gets kind of funky at the end but I can’t tell you or it’d spoil it. I don’t mean that it will spoil a good ending, but it’s the only one this book has got.

Best quote from the book:

Like any good high school teacher, she was pure showbiz.

Series end. And so my time thinking about it.

CONCLUSION: Whip out the big red SELL stamp and get crazy. (When the shit-clouds come your crap will be useless anyway.)

Reviewer’s Note: This book is suspenseful enough that you might, potentially, forget to evacuate your bladder and end up exploding in such a violent way that it’s felt by your ancestors. If you were a hamster. So adjust to scale accordingly.

Avalanche Soldier – Susan R. Matthews

ELITE. PARAMILITARY. FORCE. PROTECTION. RELIGION. SHRINES. MOUNTAINS.

What do these words say to you? What images to they conjure, what pictures do they paint? If it’s a fun romp through the perspective of an elite fighting force as they try to protect shrines and people from themselves while in mountainous terrain–you’d be wrong.

If it’s a serious look into the quagmire that is the human psyche when forced to choose between loyalty to your country and loyalty to your people and your god–you’d be wrong again.

Wow you’re not very good at this are you?

In fact, this book takes all of that and says, “Fuck everyone else’s idea of science fiction. Screw deeper meaning. I’m going to be the first book to show these Science Fiction sheep what it’s REALLY all about!”

Here’s how the book progresses:

1. Salli, a member of an elite paramilitary force entrusted with the task of protecting their religious shrines, is the best on her team. She knows it because she keeps complaining that although she’s The Best her mentor keeps making her work harder than everyone else.
2. Salli’s brother runs away after the accidental death of a tourist. He is now a deserter, presumably taken by the other religious faction on the planet. (oh noes)
3. SHE MUST FIND HIM AND TELL HIM THAT HE WON’T LIKELY BE PROSECUTED. PROBABLY. I MEAN, SHE KNOWS HE’S INNOCENT.
4. Oh, right. To find him she has to become a deserter herself. Woe is she!
5. She finds him after being caught by his ragtag group while she thought she was hidden. So much for her Elite Skillz™.
6. They convince her to go on some religious walk and she meets the messiah. Who makes her go all squishy inside.
7. She’s in love! (with the messiah. But then again who isn’t?)
8. I stop reading, as I’ve lost the desire to work for good and have gone off to further my newest hobby: kitten-smashing.

The End.

CONCLUSION: SELL

Best quote from the book:

And Meeka had embraced their thought; or at least they had embraced Meeka, and he seemed to feel that their view of the world and his accorded miraculously well with one another.

Darwin’s Blade – Dan Simmons

Cue music… Check.

Cue lights… Check.

Cue middle-aged discouraged, depressed and despondent man who lost his wife and child years ago to a preventable accident and hasn’t been able to get over the incident since… Check.

Cue loving couple who has taken previously mentioned middle-aged man under their wing who use snark and love to keep him from committing suicide because they LOVE HIM ON THE INSIDE… Check.

Now that the setting is in place, we can glean a bit about where the book is going. Character one (Darwin) has a story arc we can probably guess. Man who has spent decades futilely chasing the demons of his dead family has the free time to be the top accident investigator in the state. Man uncovers a conspiracy to defraud insurance companies that at the same time injure and sometimes kill the underprivileged poor. Man uses his bad-ass skills that he’s acquired through constant anger and mourning (and being a former Marine in Vietnam) to SOLVE THE FUCKING PROBLEM.

Oh, and in the end he finds a girl. Someone who has not lost her love of life, who is dedicated to her job, is strong, independent, kicks-ass, and happens to be a bigwig in the FBI.

So who wins in the end?

1) JUSTICE
2) HOT GIRLS WHO WORK FOR THE FBI
3) INSURANCE COMPANIES WHO NO LONGER HAVE TO PAY BOGUS CLAIMS TO CRIME GANGS THAT HIRE ILLEGALS TO GET INTO DANGEROUS AND SOMETIMES FATAL CAR ACCIDENTS
4) ILLEGALS (Oops, wait–They’re still poor and illegal)

CONCLUSION: SELL

Best quote from the book:

Darwin winced slightly at the use of the noun task as a verb.

Reviewer’s Note: This review makes no comment on the brilliant writing that is contained within any of Dan Simmons’ other books. Hyperion kicks this book’s ass and hands it back on a self-forged, gilded, shimmering plate of luminescent gold. Encrusted with rare gems. Stored in a sleeve of baby koala skin. Looked after by fair maidens.

Moonfall – Jack McDevitt

One sentence review: What every “scifi” action movie wants to be when it grows up.
I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone interested in an action/adventure space romp with just enough scifi to keep you interested and keep things realistic.

This book was an enjoyable action adventure set in a heavily science-informed setting, with enough excitement to make me want to skip work and keep reading. It’s the kind of book that would be an amazing movie, except that they never do movies like this right. The words “Lagrange Point Station” wouldn’t make it into the movie, nor would the discussion about improvising a spacesuit and how warm it is in the sunshine of space. The entire “cautionary tale” aspect of it would be utterly removed to add in a few more minutes of screen time for explosions, and they’d find a way to get some zero-g sex in there too. It’s better as a book, believe me, movies can’t be as big as your imagination.

I did include the word “realistic” there, and this one does a great job of it with a few minor exceptions that sort of make it feel a little Hollywood, but I’m willing to forgive them. For the most part the characters were believable, the events manage to be surprising (although the broad strokes were predictable, like almost any action story), and the pacing quite enjoyable. Public figures? Check. Political Intrigue? Got it. Explosions of horrific magnitude? hells yes!

So what’s the verdict for this one? It’s a great read, but I’m not certain that there’s anything to be gained from reading it a second time. I’m actually tempted to create a new category called “give it to someone who might like it” and toss it in there, but in the end I’d rather give it to powells and use the cash to by some other book that I might want. Sell, but maybe read again someday from Library or digitally.

Aftermath – LeVar Burton

LeVar has a fondness for Science Fiction, and why shouldn’t he? He spent so much time on the set of Star Trek that he must have some interest. But what kind of influence does that have on a person?

Not a science-y one, if this book is to be taken to heart.

Setting: Post-Racial-War in America, circa 2009-2019
Most-Uttered Sentence: “Fuck I’m hungry and cold and where the hell are my GODDAM PANTS?!”
Most Pressing Problem Aside From Lack-Of-Pants: All public and private nation-wide infrastructure has collapsed.

So we have a scientist. She has invented a magical (I mean, scientific!) box that, when hooked up to a brain, spurs that brain into overdrive utilizing all the “unused” 90%. What does this do? Well it cures cancer of course! And any other ailment you might be experiencing. Presumably you are just under-utilizing your own biological resources and she has managed to harness them.

This box is delightfully small and has been developed over a number of years by: ( ) team of scientists, ( ) pharmaceutical company, (x) herself

Yup, she has managed to invent this box on her own working for a small research institute. Her goal? To find some investors in the medical community to help her get this device into the hands of anyone in the world that’s sick or dying. How noble!

But, being that this is Science Fiction, where do you see this going? If you guessed, “Oh I’ll just invite a few powerful big-wigs to my private lab and show them how awesome it is and promise that they’ll even get one of their own if they just invest a little money and then I can sell it cheaply to everyone in the wooooorld…” you guessed right.

Refreshingly real don’t you think?

I mean, someone who has spent that many years working in the field of Science™ would surely know what the reaction might be when inviting a number of rich and powerful people to your secluded office and telling them of your secret invention.

After all, some of them even seemed interested in her device! (did I mention that it cured cancer?)

The book, past that, is mostly the story of a few characters on personal journeys that end up converging to solve one riddle and save our Intrepid Science Practitioner. Their stories, while interesting in themselves, don’t come together in way that really pushes the meaning behind the book home.

One more thing: Our lovely Intrepid & Stouthearted Science Practitioner has omitted from her written research some curious side-effects from her human studies on the device, namely the fact that a small percentage of people (read: one) BECOME TELEPATHIC. Naturally, she decided to try the device on herself to see if the TELEPATHY was a side effect on her as well. Which it was. How else do you think our Motley Character Posse got together in the end to save the day?

TELEPATHY WINS. EVERY TIME.

CONCLUSION: SELL

Best quote from the book, as thought by a 10 yr old:

Amy saw that someone had stuck a white cross in the ground in front of the tank, a memorial to the insanity of war.

Book Reviews, the first five…

The cleansing begins with 5 rather abrupt reviews. I hope to be more in-depth later, but I was able to grab some things off the shelf that I already knew the answer to, so let’s get them out of the way.

The Second Coming – John Dalmas

Read about 2/3 of it a while back, was pretty bored, no interest in picking it back up. I was really interested in it based on the blurbs and such, a combination of my love of post-apocalyptic storytelling and “debates about modern faith and spiritual philosophy” seemed like it a nice prospect. In the end though I found the characters flat, the pacing not quite right, and just was generally meh. I sort of wish I’d finished it, maybe I’m missing something, but I just don’t strongly enough believe that that might be true to try. Into the “sell/donate” pile it goes.

Grunts – Mary Gentle

This book was great fun. What’s not to love about a horde of orcs magically gaining military technology like Hueys and RPG’s? Discussing a Dark Lord and a Hind gunship in the same paragraph just makes me giggle.
Ultimately though it’s a single-read book. I don’t feel like there’s much more to get out of it, and even if there was I’d be more than happy to have a digital copy, so this one is going in the sell/donate pile as well. If you like military fiction, fantasy, or just an amusing read go grab it from your local library!

Northworld Trilogy – David Drake

Started reading, got about half way, gave up. Direct to the sell/donate pile. Ponderous and slow, I couldn’t tell if it was military fiction or fantasy. In either case, despite the use of battle suits and technology it’s definitely leaning towards the fantasy side of the scifi/fantasy question. I love Norse mythology, and this book seemed to draw quite a bit from that, however it was in this weird middle-ground between retelling/re-imagining and just borrowing some of the interesting bits. Ultimately I think it just felt too fantasy for me.

Gil’s All Fright Diner – A. Lee Martinez

Another fun book, which had it’s share of good quips, one-liners and amusing concepts. “Armageddon with a side of fries” is an amusing concept, and it was well enough executed, but it just felt like it lacked depth. Definitely not something I’d read again, which is how it earned it’s place in the buy/donate pile. Probably not a good book to be in general YA, but the writing feels a lot like YA. Got a giggle or two though, I’ll certainly admit!

Lord Valentines Castle – Robert Silverberg

This series came pretty highly recommended, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of it, but this first book goes to the sell/donate pile. The pacing is slow, except in some random places where it feels like more time should have been spent but wasn’t. The lost king’s journey of re-discovery, this book is very much fluff fantasy through and through, although I am interested in the characters enough to want to know more.? I may even read it again someday, but I’ll be more than happy to do so with a digital or library copy.

Wow, those were abrupt reviews! I think it’s time to pick a more interesting or challenging book to review rather than picking the low hanging fruit.