Review: “Nightflyers and Other Stories,” George R.R. Martin

Pros: Fascinating little nuggets of sci-fi
Cons: A seeming plot hole or two; could use more character depth
Rating: 4 out of 5

George R.R. Martin’s Nightflyers & Other Stories is a collection of a handful of science fiction stories, one of which (the eponymous Nightflyers) is getting turned into a TV series on the SyFy channel.

I’m fond of the Nightflyers story. A group of messed-up academics go out to gather some data on a mysterious and ancient race of aliens, hiring a ship piloted by a man who keeps himself wholly separate from them. There’s a strong telepath on board, and he gradually gets more and more paranoid. Or is he picking up on something strange that’s going on? The first death among the academics would seem to indicate that there’s certainly something foul afoot. Martin creates a very dysfunctional crew, with lots of ugly personalities and plenty of sex going on (no, this isn’t erotica–it’s not written to be ‘sexy’. It’s largely just a facet of the society). I enjoyed this story the most when it was a haunted ship story; toward the end, when it’s more sci-fi in nature, it lost some of its magic for me. Partly, however, that’s because it felt like it had a plot hole or two. Skip the next paragraph if you don’t want any spoilers.

SPOILER WARNING. Skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want any details spoiled. Most of the mysterious things happening turn out to be the result of very strong telekinesis. The telekinesis is even used to ‘animate’ dead bodies and use them to attack people. Okay, so, if telekinesis can be used for that, then why can’t it be used to just pinch off an artery in someone’s neck, or directly tear a hole in an environment suit rather than having to wield a knife to cut it? There was no explanation for why the teke was only being used in certain ways. END spoiler warning.

The stories reward paying attention: the names of alien races and certain events, for example, show up in multiple places. However, each story stands alone. There’s one in which a group of religious fanatics takes over an alien planet as a trader tries to find ways to protect the natives–who (so far) refuse to protect themselves. There’s another in which an empath and a telepath are hired to figure out why humans are starting to convert to a bizarre–and self-destructive–religion an alien planet. The world-building is interesting and the stories kept my interest. I would have liked more depth to some of the characters, but well, these are short stories.

I plan to watch Nightflyers when it comes out as a TV series, but I hope the show sticks more to the ‘haunted ship’ end of things and doesn’t lose the magic too early. So far the ads look promising.

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“Spores,” Ike Hamill

Pros: Fascinating story of horror-in-the-woods
Cons: Ending kind of goes off the rails
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Ike Hamill’s Spores is an entry into the world of horror-in-the-woods, with a heavy dose of possession and alien intent. Marie wants to support the carrying out of her dead husband’s last piece of work research, which he believed was very important. It means she’ll have to deal with condescending Nelson and over-eager Tyler, but she’s willing to do what it takes. Unfortunately, the research into some unusual and outsized fungal organisms will lead to something that is, yes, important, but also quite deadly. Meanwhile, four men are out on a leisurely hunting trip. They aren’t expecting to have to try to save a man who drives a snowmobile into a partially frozen lake. Their trip gets even worse, though, when one of them shoots a man who appears to be massively infected with something bizarre. The two groups are bound to intersect, and things will get crazy.

I enjoy the whole ‘horror in a rural setting’ genre. It tends to be moody and immersive and can take some interesting turns. Ditto on possession. Unfortunately, I kind of felt like Hamill painted himself into a corner and didn’t have a great ending planned out. The ending feels out of place and out of genre and is hard to follow.

SPOILER WARNING: Skip to the next paragraph to avoid spoilers. The ‘alien consciousness’ that the characters deal with is awfully close to omniscient. It explains this away as the natural outcome of having a great deal of knowledge, but never adequately explains how it comes by its detailed understanding of the world and the characters. Because of that, its knowledge feels like a deus ex machina–and honestly, I think that without that crutch, the author could have found a better ending. END spoiler warning.

Don’t get me wrong–Spores was a quick, fun horror/SF read, which is exactly what I was looking for when I read it. However, some of Hamill’s work is absolutely brilliant, so I wish this had added up to more. Still, you can bet that the next time he puts out a book I’ll be reading it!

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“A Peace Divided,” Tanya Huff

Pros: Wonderful character development; gorgeous world; excellent action
Cons: A bit slow in one chunk; a lot of characters to keep track of!
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Now that my Anatomy I class is over, I can fit a few books in before my Fall classes start! Naturally, after reading An Ancient Peace (book one in Tanya Huff’s Peacekeeper series), I had to read book two: A Peace Divided. I absolutely love Huff’s Torin Kerr novels, both her Confederation/Valor novels and her Peacekeeper novels. I’m a fan of military sci-fi, and Huff’s work is original, engrossing, funny, poignant, and pretty much every other positive adjective I can think of.

In the latest installment, Torin and her strike team have been made full Wardens by the Justice department. They’re having to adapt to being non-military, to having rules about not killing anyone unless absolutely necessary. (And oh, the paperwork if those rules get broken!) After cleaning up a group of gun-runners, they’re sent after a new target. A group of mercenaries has landed at an archaeological site and taken a bunch of scientists hostage. They’re trying to find a weapon that might be capable of destroying the sentient “plastic” that manipulated both the Federation and the Primacy into a long and horribly destructive war. Sure, everyone would want to get hold of that weapon, but Torin’s job is to save those hostages. Complicating matters is the fact that the mercenaries have members of the Primacy in their group, and Torin’s forced to take along some of the former enemy on her own team. Luckily she already knows most of them from her experience on the mysterious prison planet (be sure to read the Confederation novels before the Peacekeeper trilogy–you’ll need the background!).

After the initial wonderful battle with gun-runners, things get a little slow as we follow the archaeologists and their captors. This made it a little harder for me to get into the story at first, but it pays off later with character development. There are a lot of characters in here: Torin’s strike team, the Primacy members joining her, the mercenaries, and the archaeologists, and it’s hard to keep track of them all. Thankfully Huff is very good at developing strong individualistic characters, so even though I don’t have the best memory I was able to hang on by my fingernails. She succeeds at bringing new alien races to life, something she’d been doing for the Federation races before. This is a tribute to her fantastic world-building skills. I find her complex web of races, characters, and history a delight to read about.

Once Torin and her people get to the planet where the archaeologists are, the action picks up and it sucked me right in. Huff manages detailed strategy and tight fight scenes that capture the imagination. I never get tired of Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr, either. Even after so many books she still has growth as a character–as a former NCO, she’s finding she misses the security of having an officer to keep their eye on the bigger picture for her, and she has to learn to stand on her own in that arena. Don’t worry, though–she’s still a source of much attitude and amusement as well! She manages to be super-confident and skilled without ever coming across as a Mary Sue. She’s a fantastic strong character with good reason to be that way.

On the one hand, I’m so delighted to have come across more Torin Kerr novels to read. On the other hand, one more and then I’ll have run out! Oh no! I may have to fit one or two other books in the middle just to draw out that moment a bit longer.

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New Story Bundle Up!

I’ve gotten addicted to picking up packages of themed inexpensive ebooks, even though I don’t have time to read right now (unless you count my Anatomy textbook). The latest StoryBundle is the SciFi Plot Twist Bundle. I know I’m picking it up!

Posted in News & Musings

Note: more Tanya Huff to come!

I’m still in the middle of my intensive one-month anatomy course, so, no time for anything other than studying (although I did manage to spend a few hours at a food truck festival last weekend!). Definitely no time for reading, particularly since I prefer to get a book read in largely one sitting–or close to it–so it’s all fresh in my mind. I plan to read the other two Peacekeeper books by Tanya Huff once my class ends (and I finish off the medical terminology class I’m also taking this summer–luckily that one’s online so I can self-pace, so I managed to do enough in advance that I could concentrate on anatomy during that class). At this point I trust the quality of her writing well enough to recommend them sight unseen, but I’ll be happy to tell you once I read them what I particularly love about them!

Oh! Speaking of that food truck festival: if you’re looking for some awesome caramels, I must recommend the Annapolis Caramel Co.. SERIOUSLY good eats!

Posted in News & Musings, Reviews

Dark Fantasy Story Bundle

Storybundle has a new bundle of ebooks up in the dark fantasy genre, available for the next 22 days: dark fantasy bundle. 11 books this time, and they look interesting enough that I grabbed them. (When the hell am I supposed to find time to read them? I don’t know!)

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Review: “An Ancient Peace,” Tanya Huff

Pros: Still the usual amazing world-building and characters
Cons: Definitely read the Confederation novels first!
Rating: 5 out of 5

In Tanya Huff’s An Ancient Peace, the first book in her Peacekeeper trilogy, she returns to her Confederation world. This is wonderful military SF in which we follow the career of Torin Kerr, a space marine with a reputation for getting things done. Although this is a separate trilogy about Torin’s life after leaving the military, I highly recommend reading the Confederation novels first. Partly because they’re just that worthwhile, and partly because you’ll need the world-building background! No matter how good a job this book does reminding you of the basics, it’s still an incredibly complex and detailed world with galaxy-spanning wars, alien races galore, and amazing conspiracies. This book will throw you if you don’t have that background.

I’ve been busy with going back to school, and was foolish enough to take some hyper-accelerated summer courses (bio in one month! Gah!). This means I literally had no time to read for pleasure over the month of June, so, no reviews here. Finding I had time to read a novel was eclipsed only by the wonderful discovery that Tanya Huff had put out some Torin Kerr novels I hadn’t heard about before! I knew I was in for a good ride, which is a must when you have time to read precisely one book before jumping back into the grind.

Torin and her friends (her lover Craig, who was a salvage operator, an ally or two, and some of the marines that served under her) have become civilians after discovering that the big, important war they’d been serving in was based on one huge lie. They’re working for the Justice Department as a strike team, picking up criminals such as pirates in situations that might become too hot for the (traditionally alien) wardens. Even though they’re no longer in the military, the Corps Intelligence Service brings them in for a highly sensitive operation. H’san grave goods are being sold, and the only way the items could have been found is if the graverobbers had discovered the highly secret location of the H’san’s original planet. Why so secret? Well, because that planet was rendered uninhabitable when the H’san were in their warring days, and the weapons are believed to still be there! If one of the more violent Younger Races get their hands on the weapons–or are even known to be trying to find them–the Elder Races will have all the excuse they need to quarantine the Younger Races on their home planets, a measure that’s already been proposed.

We follow the story along on two threads. We see the grave robbers as they try to decode the location of the weapons while trying not to get killed by the H’san’s rather inventive traps. Then we follow Torin and her allies as they try to catch up to the bad guys and stop them. There’s some wonderful material detailing more about some of the Middle and Elder races, and we get to see a lot more about the (often-entertaining) sex-hungry Taykan and how their vulnerability to touch (or the lack thereof) isn’t always just fun and games. Torin and her friends also have to figure out how they’re supposed to reconcile their desire to uphold the law with the fact that they’re being asked to act as judge, jury, and executioner to these graverobbers–and whether the possibility of interstellar war merits the change in MO. The characters are wonderful as always, and there’s a ton of action, snarkiness, and wonderful SF goodness. I recommend all of Tanya Huff’s books on general principle, but I can say from experience that An Ancient Peace is well worth your time!

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Military SF Story Bundle

I’m fond of military SF (In particular Tanya Huff’s Confederation series), so I jumped on this military SF ebook bundle. Now I just need to find time to read it…

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Holy Handgrenades

When I signed up for an accelerated, one-month summer Bio class, somehow I didn’t realize just how little free time I’d have. Especially since I’m taking an online class at the same time. So, yeah. So far, no time for reading books for pleasure. Hopefully next month?

Posted in News & Musings

Review: “Space Carrier Avalon,” Glynn Stewart

Pros: Good space combat scenes
Cons: Starts slow
Rating: 3 out of 5

Glynn Stewart’s Space Carrier Avalon (Castle Federation) (Volume 1) follows Kyle Roberts, a war hero and pilot who’s been put in charge of the Avalon, a famous old ship on its way to being decommissioned. Obviously, the ship’s last flight won’t be nearly as uneventful as he expects. First he has to clean up the ship–it’s been used as a place to get rid of problem people (everything from rapists to drug runners). There’s also a piracy problem brewing on their route.

I really prefer a book that has a strong story arc right out of the gate. Space Carrier Avalon just didn’t grab me until well into the book. Also, while it’s nice to see women in strong roles, it would also be nice if their curves and sexual habits weren’t constantly on display (or at least, also tell me how handsome and virile the guys are so it’s even). For that matter, the characters as a whole could use more depth; they all felt a little thin.

All that said, the fight scenes were great. Stewart seems to have a handle on how to display fighter and ship combat, which aren’t easy things to get right! He’s also not afraid to have death and destruction rain down on his characters, so there’s something to lose. My guess is that the next book in the series would probably be better, since by nature it would start out with a story arc in place.

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