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Review

Star Trek: Lower Decks

I like the concept of Star Trek a lot — some of my favorite books growing up were optimistic science fiction, and the majority of Star Trek falls into that category. That said, I’ve mostly failed to actually get very much into Star Trek; without the nostalgia of having grown up watching it, I (watching in the ‘golden age of TV’) struggle to get past the date aesthetic of the older series.

All that said, Lower Decks feels like it was specifically targeted at me — I love the “adult animated television series” as a form of media, and it’s nice to have a clear entry point into the greater Star Trek universe.

The concept is pretty simple: instead of following around the bridge crew, what’s life like for the regular folks on a Starfleet ship? It feels more like a space opera: from this perspective you get glances into the crazy sci-fi goings-on, but half the time it’s just background dressing for interpersonal stories. It’s fun watching the characters shrug off a member of the bridge crew returning from the dead because “oh, they always do that. Probably they got Borg’d, or it’s a transporter clone, or something.”

Having it as animation also works quite well. It frees them to do ridiculous scenes without blowing through an entire season’s worth of special effects budget. It’s a lot easier to animate the aforementioned transporter clone scene when you just… draw the person twice and have them record two takes. No compositing shots together, no body-double in a green-screen suit. And, I hope, it will allow the animation to remain much more timeless than the live action shows can manage.

All told, I quite like Lower Decks, and do recommend it. As of this writing, we’re about halfway through the second season, with new episodes coming out every week, so go ahead and check it out. Each episode is around half an hour, and they work well as a palate cleanser between heavier series. Check it out.

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Review

“Fine Structure”

Sam Hughes

I actually read this almost immediately after “Ed”, and it makes for a heck of contrast. Where “Ed” is mostly pretty light and quick, this is all kinds of convoluted in terms of what’s going on with the plot. But it also does that thing that Hughes does really well—it spans a massive amount of time and space, and covers a staggering amount of ground.

The basic concept is truly excellent, though: what if, every time you tried some Cool Science Fiction Thing, it worked—once. And then never again.

It’s a really interesting constraint for a work of science fiction, as well: how can you do enough Cool Science Fiction Things for a full book, when the core concept is that those concepts are consumable? It makes for, as I said, a sprawling world that must be built out—larger than “Ed” or “Ra” had to be, and bringing in some definite “higher-dimensional beings would look a lot like Cthulhu, wouldn’t they?” energy.

The end result is, I can’t recommend this as readily as I did “Ed”, because it’s boggling at times. But it’s a great payoff, and ties together things you wouldn’t at all expect, much better than you’d expect. If that sounds good to you, give it a read.

Categories
Review

“Ed”

Sam Hughes

I’m reading Hughes’ work all out of order, but happily, there’s really no shared universe from story to story, so it’s not an issue. And, having now read all four of his books, I can say that “Ed” would be my recommended starting place, if you want to give it a go.1 It’s the lightest – a very silly beginning, and told by a narrator who’s further outside the story than any of his other works. While it’s not quite to that space opera feel, with the big events happening in the background and the story following regular-sized people just trying to make it through, it’s more human in scale.

It’s also very episodic most of the way through, so it’s easier to pick up and put back down for a while, if that’s your reading style, though there’s enough callbacks that you’ll be rewarded for going right through. (And, because this is a web-first piece of fiction, if you’re reading it online, a great deal of those callbacks are hyperlinks to the correct chapter – an easy way to catch yourself back up without devolving into “as you know, Bob” territory.)

All in all, “Ed” is a fairly short read, and a fun one. It’s got that characteristic “sprawling across space and time” feel that’s characteristic of Sam Hughes, but at no point do you feel like you need to stop and take notes to try to follow what’s going on. I quite enjoyed it. Give it a read, and if it really captures your interest, buy a copy!

  1. I’ve previous reviewed “Ra”, and will at some point write up my thoughts on “Fine Structure”, but my stance on “There Is No Antimemetics Division” is the simple “if you like SCP, you’ll like this; if you don’t know what that means, this isn’t a good starting point.”
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Review

“Knaves”

I was going to start with “it’s been a while since the last anthology I read and reviewed,” but, as it turns out, it hasn’t. I wonder if it’s the variety of stories that makes an anthology feel further away in my memory? No single story has as long to get lodged in my memory, or something. Hmm.

Still, I do like the anthologies – they’re fun in the same way that a 22-minute-long TV show is, a great way to fill a bit of time without getting yourself too invested in something.

Knaves is, admittedly, less fun than some of the other ones, because the focus is on villains. So, by the nature of their stories, it’s a bit of a gloomy topic.

Which isn’t to say the stories aren’t interesting, because they absolutely are. “All Mine” is heartbreaking, as is “Hunger in the Bones”; “The Bloodletter’s Prayer” is a fascinating piece of dark fantasy; “Cat Secret Weapon #1” is a delightful spin on the Bond archetype; “The Hand of Virtue” is sweet and a touch melancholy; and “Old Sol Rises Up” is… well, honestly, mostly confusing. But I suspect that was the intent, so I won’t fault it.

And, of course, there’s an introduction – every anthology has to have one. What caught my eye and, frankly, got me to actually read the introduction was who wrote it – Howard Tayler, the man behind Schlock Mercenary, another delightful piece of media that I’m happy to recommend. Read the intro – it’s weird, and silly, and fun.

In fact, read the whole book. It’s a good use of time.

Categories
Review

“Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space)”

I do love a good anthology. It’s all the fun of starting a new book, several times over, and with much less of a time commitment each time.
This did have some of the downside, though – about halfway through, I found myself getting rather bored of the concept of pirates. It’s a bit too coherent a theme, I feel; the book had a lot of the variance that makes anthologies fun, but keeping everything tied to ‘pirates’ limited it a bit more than is really healthy for an anthology.
After that midway nadir, though, it recovered nicely, going off into some interesting science fiction bits, and ending on a delightfully weird fantasy (or, possibly, extremely-distant-future?) piece.
So hey, have some fun with a variety of pirate stories.

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Review

“Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets”

I’ve actually read several of the stories in this anthology before, in other anthologies. Which, I suppose, is a statement about my taste in books.
Of the ones that were new, however, a couple of them were sufficient to make a partial repeat purchase worth it.
So, which stood out to me?
Far and away the best was The Lantern Men, which was a mildly interesting take on the Sherlock story (he’s an architect this time around!), but was one of the creepiest things I’ve ever read. It followed The Rich Man’s Hand, which was creepy enough that I thought “oh, I can’t go to bed on that, I’ll read one more,” and that turned out to be a mistake.
A Woman’s Place is a delightful little cyberpunk kind of thing, and my favorite take on Mrs. Hudson that I’ve seen… quite possibly ever. The opening scene, of her delivering tea and sandwiches while Sherlock and Watson interview a client? Oh, I won’t spoil a thing, but within the first page I was enraptured, and by the end, utterly delighted.
The Small World of 221b turned into a different genre than I thought it was, which was a fun twist, and I like the story that it told.
The Final Conjuration, too, was a genre-blending version of the story, and one I quite liked.
Finally, The Innocent Icarus was a great piece of world-building, and I’d quite like to read more in that setting at some point.
And that’s more than half the stories in the anthology; there’s also, as I mentioned, a few that I’d read before and quite liked, so it’s well worth the price. Check it out.

Categories
Review

“Ra”

Sam Hughes
This is one of the most interesting pieces of fantasy/science-fiction I’ve read recently. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, in these book reviews, that I like world-building and systems of magic, and this delivers in spades. Magic, in Ra, is a type of engineering, and involves a great deal of math and rules and planning ahead. It’s a system to be uncovered, and scientists around the world are doing science at it, figuring out the rules. Why isn’t natural mana usable? What’s up with the weird dreams that all mages share? What happens to waste energy — magical friction — and why hasn’t anyone managed to detect it yet?
Basically, this is a book that takes solid aim at the mindset of someone like me, who will sit down and read through a veritable textbook on the workings of a magic system. And then, instead of just being a textbook, it comes with a whole story, that answers some of those questions in a way that makes for a solid story. (It helps that there’s a good amount of in-jokes for computer nerds — I mean, Wheel? That’s a neat touch.)
So, if you’re at all this sort of nerd, go give it a read. (You can also read it for free on the author’s website, but, y’know, pay people for their work.)

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Review

“Children of the Eighth Day,” or, “but at least nobody cares that the prince is gay”

Don Sakers
I mentioned in my last review that I was reading this omnibus; I didn’t review the short story in the middle, as it seemed a bit too short to be worth the effort, but did enjoy it. And it provided a good introduction to the characters here, eased the transition of skipping forward half a millennium or so.
I’ll start off by saying that I enjoyed “Children of the Eighth Day,” but temper that by saying it wasn’t as good as “Dance for the Ivory Madonna.” It’s more removed — it’s a space opera, and I’m much less familiar with the goings-on of an interstellar empire than I am of the modern world.
The overall flow was interesting — the first half of the book wraps up far more than I thought it would, and the second half has an entirely different set of issues for the characters to confront.
In retrospect, I think the short story leading in to this is not just helpful, but perhaps necessary, to be able to at all follow the events of the first few chapters. Things kick off very quickly, and trying to figure out the context of the Empire and the Family would be a bit much in addition to the actual events of the plot.
Final verdict: I do recommend the omnibus as a whole, but it might be worth reading it out of order — there’s a bit of spoiler effect for “Ivory Madonna,” as historical context, but I don’t think it gives away enough to really ruin the book for you, if you do read it in that order.

Categories
Review

“What Dreams Shadows Cast”, or, “the cave isn’t haunted, but it does hate you”

Barbara J. Webb
So, a year and a half ago, I read the first book in what I assume is an ongoing series. At the time, I was quite clear on the fact that I loved the setting of the book. If you want all the explanation, hit up that link; for now I’ll just say it’s a new take on post-apocalyptic, where the apocalypse was being abandoned by the gods who’d previously been quite happy to intervene on people’s behalf.
That gap between reading the first and the second wasn’t the greatest thing for my enjoyment of the second — I spent a bit too long trying to remember where we’d left off, and some of the references back to the first I gave up on trying to remember. Things are in a slightly better place than they were in the first, though in order to avoid spoilers I’m not going to explain how, but you still get the sense that the world is deeply broken. Which, true, it sorta is; they’d based their entire economy and governmental system around an external force, which one day decided to up and leave. Maybe not the best way to have done things.
Honestly, I’m a bit annoyed with the handling of business in Miroc, the city where the first book took place; in the aftermath of that one, it’s set up to begin recovering from the Abandonment. In this book, we’ve skipped forward six months, and aside from a couple references to tentative recovery, nothing much seems to have changed. Sure, it’s only six months, but it’s also a metropolis that just finished making itself entirely self-sufficient, there should be more happening.
Which is rather the crux of my opinion on the book: “there should be more happening.” There’s background details — mentions of an influx of immigrants, as well as an increase in emigration — that aren’t explored very well.1 Instead, there’s a digression, ignoring the leftover villains from the first book to go have an Indiana Jones adventure in the desert.
This book feels like it was supposed to be either the second of two books, or possibly the second of a trilogy, but halfway through someone decided they wanted it to be an ongoing series. And to match the expansion in scale, they tried to expand the setting — the already compelling villains from the first book are almost entirely ignored, despite having been clearly set up to be the main antagonist throughout the series, and what was set up as the background for the whole setting got awkwardly retconned.
It just didn’t work as well as the first book. Which is a shame, because that first one was amazing, and this, while still captivating, left me disappointed at the end. Nonetheless, here’s the link; that said, if you haven’t yet read the first one, go do that instead.


  1. That specific example is actually a huge plot thread that’s just… entirely dropped partway through. Everyone is all secretive about where they’re emigrating to, and then something new comes up and the characters decide to leave that Chekhov’s Gun just sitting on the table, ignored. 
Categories
Review

The Long Cosmos

Normally I let the spoiler warnings for these be implicit, but this is the fifth (and final) book in a series, so I’ll go ahead and put it here again, to be clear: spoiler warning.
Good? Good.
So, I was a little bit sad to find that, as I’m writing this, I only have a single post tagged ‘Terry Pratchett’ on here. Which makes sense, I suppose – my love of his writing predates my writing book reviews. A bit of a shame, really, because that would be more than 60 reviews – he was a rather prodigious writer.
Now, I mentioned in my previous Pratchett review that it was his last book. That wasn’t entirely accurate – it was his last Discworld book, but the Long Earth series hadn’t wrapped up yet, either. And for this, he had a coauthor – Stephen Baxter.1 I’m going to drop in a chunk of the foreword, written by Baxter, here:

The books have been published annually, but we worked faster than that; time was not on our side, and Terry had other projects he wanted to pursue. Volumes 1 and 2 of the series were published in 2012 and 2013 respectively. But by August 2013 we had presented our publishers with drafts of the final three volumes of the series, including the present book. We did continue to work on the books subsequently. The last time I saw Terry was in the autumn of 2014, when we worked on, among other things, the ‘big trees’ passages of The Long Cosmos (chapter 39 onwards). It has been my duty to see this book through its editorial and publishing stages.

Having just finished reading the book, I know now what the ‘big trees’ passages he references are, and it makes me happy in a quiet, sad way to know that Pratchett had his hands on those directly. My first experience with Terry Pratchett was the Nomes trilogy.2 I’ve no idea where I got them – it was long enough ago that that memory is entirely gone – but I know that it captured my imagination in a wonderful way. The books were silly and sweet, and the characters even more so. But they didn’t quite capture my interest the way the Discworld books would later. I do distinctly remember how I found my way into that series – the Kindle had just come out, and I really wanted one. While we were on vacation, a family friend who had one offered to let me play around with it to see what I thought.
I’ll interrupt this story to reference the fact that I tend to be reading a lot of books at once – one or two paperbacks, something on my Kindle, and something else in the Kindle app on my phone.3 On this vacation, I hadn’t brought the paperback I was reading, but I remembered the title – Dark Watch. Except I didn’t quite remember the title, and put in Night Watch instead. I’m sure the Kindle Store tried to show me the cover, but low-resolution grayscale images aren’t super helpful, so I wound up downloading the sample of the wrong book.
But hey, never look a gift horse in the mouth – I figured I’d read the sample, it’d work just as well for figuring out if I liked the Kindle or not.
And I did – I’ve mentioned before that the original Kindle was, in my opinion, the Best Kindle, and the fact that when it (sadly) died, I replaced it immediately. When I got mine, the first book I downloaded4 was Night Watch. I finished reading it, and I’ve loved Terry Pratchett ever since then.5
Finding out that he was working on a science fiction series? I was intrigued. I’ve read The Dark Side of the Sun and Strata6 They were both characteristically hilarious, but more importantly, interesting takes on the genre.
The Long Earth series is quite a bit more serious than those, but it’s nothing the less for it. It’s also lacking in those characteristic footnotes, which makes it feel less like a Pratchett work than any of his other stuff, but it’s still deeply fascinating. The world building throughout is marvelous, and the degree to which they extend it is, I think, my favorite thing about the series.
It basically starts off with a single premise: stepping. A device is invented, the blueprints published online for all to see, that allows the user to step, moving from one Earth to another in an apparently-infinite chain of Earths. Only ours, referred to as the Datum Earth, has a human population: the rest are pristine, untouched natural wilds. From there, it’s extended: each of these Earths is something akin to a quantum probability mesh, and the further out from the Datum you go, the stranger things can get. One step away, the only difference is that there’s no industrialization-aftereffects from humanity. Go ten million steps away, and you hit worlds where life as we know it never evolved, and instead there are slime colonies the size of small buildings wandering around. Ten million steps in the other direction, and you can climb a tree five miles high and fight giant lizards in the forest of its canopy.
Of course, this does Bad Things to the governments of the world – who’s going to stick around and work a 9-to-5 when they can hop over a couple worlds and have a hunter-gatherer lifestyle? Who’s going to pay taxes if they live on a homestead ten thousand steps West7 that doesn’t see a dime of government services?
And Pratchett and Baxter play with that – as the series goes on, and by the end it’s spanned nearly 400 years of history,8 you can see the way the United States reacts to the paradigm shift that is stepping. It’s fascinating.
And then you get to Book Three, and explore the Long Mars. Because somewhere along the infinite chain of Earths, there’s one where the asteroid impact that formed the moon hit at a different angle and the Earth never formed. Which is a terrifying way to die – you think you’re going to step normally into another world, but instead find yourself suddenly in interplanetary space. But people are creative, and it’s possible to bring materials with you, so the Long Earth’s equivalent to SpaceX forms up on the world just this side of what becomes known as the Gap. Forget about expensive rockets – just hold onto your spacecraft, and then step right out of the gravity well. Once you’re free-floating, step back, and you’re suddenly in orbit, at about a billionth the energy cost. Space exploration is suddenly a lot easier.
And then a bonus twist on the concept: Mars is Long too, but in a different direction. Sure, it’s still stepping East and West, but a step West from Mars gets you to a different reality than a step West from Earth.
Book four is where things get spooky. (Spoiler warning again, because what I’m talking about now is from closer to the end of that book, rather than early-on reveals as above.)
Given a multiply-infinite series of worlds, certain things become inevitable. Von Neumann machines are one of these – somewhere out there along that infinity, there’s going to be a sentient lifeform. Given that it’s truly infinite, there’s probably going to be an infinite number of those. And at least one of them will have been smart enough to come up with the idea of a von Neumann probe, and dumb enough to actually build it. And then the problem with von Neumann probes shows up, one that we here on our Earth have been dealing with for centuries: self-replicating systems will eventually have a problem. For humans, with our self-replicating cells, we call it cancer. A von Neumann probe system will similarly eventually become cancerous, which makes it a massive threat to the entire galaxy.
And that’s all I’m going to say about The Long Utopia. I’m 1,500 words in, I should probably start talking about the book in the title.
The Long Cosmos takes another spin on that “given an infinite universe, there will be sentient life” thing. With the von Neumann probes, we never actually saw their creators, nor even any evidence that they’re still alive. In The Long Cosmos, though, we get proof of life: a signal that blows SETI’s “Wow!” signal out of the water.
“Join us.”
And that’s all I’m going to say about the story, I think. Suffice it to say it’s in the same vein of the rest of the Long Earth books – a delightful look at a truly large-scale world, and the people who inhabit it. It’s those characters who really make the story, and it’s a nice way to check in with all of them again.
Overall, it’s a wonderful book. Each one gets larger in scale than the last, and that’s what I like about them – it’s such a huge world to play around in, and the underlying concept is simple and understandable. It’s a veritable playground for the imagination.
As with every single other Terry Pratchett book out there, I highly recommend it. Start with the first, of course, but when you’ve read the rest of the series, read this one too.


  1. There’s nothing tagged under his name, as of yet, but I figure I’ll link to it anyways. Might read more of his work in the future, you never know! 
  2. I’ve actually still not read the first one in the series, but once I’m home and have access to my library I might go back and reread the second and third. 
  3. And yes, Amazon’s WhisperSync service does function to keep me in one place in the book if I read it on both devices, but I like this way better. 
  4. Aside from a bunch of free stuff from Project Gutenberg 
  5. And been heavily influenced in how I write – I like to say my use of footnotes has a lot to do with David Foster Wallace, and there’s some of him in there, but it’s a lot closer in style to Sir Terry Pratchett’s. 
  6. And I want to get a copy of Strata for myself, but it’s still hard to get in the United States. Ooh, maybe I’ll find a used book store while I’m abroad… 
  7. As opposed to East – knowing which is which is apparently an instinctive sort of thing for people when they step. 
  8. From the actual start point to the end point, it’s closer to 80 years, but there’s a good bit of prequel-type action in the earlier books. 
Categories
Review

Colt Coltrane and the Lotus Killer

I’d forgotten how much fun detective novels can be. Who doesn’t like trying to figure out a mystery? It’s a good bit of intellectual fun. And there’s something unique about being the reader – not only do you know what the detective knows, you also know what scenes are important and which ones weren’t. You know the difference between Checkov’s gun and… a regular gun.
Colt Coltrane takes place in an alternate-history setting, with the divergence having taken place sometime during WWII. There’s a brief mention of the fact that the U.S. never actually dropped an atom bomb, despite having the capability, and the Takahashi corporation, formed by someone who managed to escape from Japan to get back to the States, manufactures semi-sentient robots for police and military use. The aesthetic of the book falls somewhere between film noir and Lost in Space. It’s very interesting.
I’m definitely interested in the sequel that apparently exists, because I want to know what’s going on with Petey, and I think there’s plenty of room for expansion on some of the different things that appeared in this. Plus, with some of the stuff that happened with the background characters, it feels almost like the pilot to a TV show – kinda like Odd Thomas, actually.1
So yeah, that’s about all I’ve got to say. A gorgeous alternate-history setting, some fun robotics, and an interesting mystery at the heart of it. I recommend it. Go have a read.


  1. That’s not the best comparison, as Odd Thomas was a solo movie, but it was based on the first book in a series and it really felt like it could’ve made a nice spin-off TV show. 
Categories
Review

City of Burning Shadows

Okay, this book was gorgeous. Like, seriously, one of my favorite settings for a fantasy/science-fiction book I’ve read.
The basic gist of it is that this is a world where the gods are real and happily intervened in the world – the best example I can think of is that the whole thing takes place in a mega-city in the middle of an uninhabitable desert, made possible by the occasional rainstorm that just appeared over the city in response to prayers from the priests of the air goddess. And it was a pretty good world, where their Favored Children, something like high priests and priestesses of each of the god’s religions, were celebrities. Right up until, with no warning, the gods vanished. Without them, the world began to fall apart. One of the most immediate problems was that, in response to the fall of the world’s capitol city,1 the various megacities severed ties with one another. And not in the political sense – they destroyed the mass-transit ‘tubes’ that linked them for freight and personnel traffic, and with the tubes went the communications lines. They cut themselves off from each other.
That was years ago, now. The main character, Ash, was once a priest of the Zeus of the world, a trickster spirit who apparently ushered humanity along their evolutionary path out of something like boredom. The other species of the world were created, to varying degrees, in the image of humanity, though each with the unique flavor of their own parent-god. So there’s the shapeshifters, children of the shapeless god of magic, and then there’s the vaguely-elvin Jansynians, the corporate powerhouses of the world. Following the Abandonment,2 priests became rather unpopular, and the majority of his friends were killed. Ash himself was hospitalized for six months, and woke up in the drought-stricken, cut-off city.
He landed on his feet, though, becoming a glorified filling clerk for a private investigator’s firm. It’s there that the plot picks us up – an old friend, one he’d thought dead, came to ask for help.
Of course, it’s never something simple, and suddenly he’s embroiled in all sorts of fun politics. Turns out that someone wasn’t going to take the Abandonment lying down, and had put together plans for a satellite that could do the sort of thing only the gods had done before – it could make it rain in the middle of the desert. It could save the city. They’d handed off the designs to the Jansynians, hoping their resources3 could push the project through before the already-strained water reserves could be depleted. And then, for no apparent reason, progress halted on what should’ve been a simple “launch and press activate” type of process.
Then the assassins came for the inventor, and her sister stepped in to protect her, sending for the slightly-more-than-investigative PI firm.
That’s about enough of the plot, I think – it gets really interesting, there’s a couple of fun twists4 that I’m going to tell you absolutely nothing about.
But I will touch on something else – the setting is, like I said, a gorgeous world. Aside from the magic, it’s also science fiction – the Jansynians, taking advantage of their global business acumen, have built themselves the Crescent, a massive enclave from which all of their companies operate. They’re the ones everyone is jealous of, in the increasingly-parched desert – the Crescent, built 100 stories above the ground, is domed-in and has its own facilities to provide power, water, and food to the inhabitants. Basically, in their gleaming dome above the rest of the populace, they can ride out the apocalypse in comfort. When they deign to visit the city below, they do it in hovercars that they don’t even bother to lock, because nobody is stupid enough to steal from them.
Basically, it’s a delightful blend of fantasy and science fiction, and I loved reading it. Go get it.5


  1. Named something imaginative like “City of the Gods” 
  2. Which, I’ve gotta say, is probably the best-case scenario for naming something like the events this world had to go through. 
  3. And talent for management, something the inventor wanted nothing to do with. 
  4. And a couple of heartbreaking ones, because why wouldn’t there be? 
  5. And in looking up the link to put here I’ve found out there’s a sequel which I now desperately want to read. 
Categories
Review

A Beginner’s Guide to Invading the Earth

I had fun with this book, y’all. The first few chapters are just seriously silly, there’s a bit of a lull in how interesting it is, but then it picks back up, and I finished the entire second half of the book in one sitting, unable to put it down.
So, the context: you’ve got the Commons, which is something vaguely akin to the United Nations, but at the galactic scale. A rather common trope in science fiction of this specific dint. The “Happy Alien Welcome Committee”1 are preparing to induct humanity into the Commons as the latest member species – a somewhat run-of-the-mill operation, considering that there’s thousands of different species in the Commons by now, and rejection has happened precisely once before.2 Except, us being humanity, we manage to mess it up pretty spectacularly – the first envoy gets hit by a truck. Second one tries to help a crashing Cessna and instead the drunk cowboy flying the thing makes a surprisingly accurate potshot. It goes on from there.3 Ten attempts later, the Committee gives up, having never made contact with their selected Human Ambassador. Instead, the various member species who lost people start planning their various revenges.
So the cast of characters is already a wide-spread group of aliens and one very antisocial human. The chapters alternate back and forth, for the most part, with the first being the Committee planning their first meeting, the second being Jeff, their selected Ambassador, going about his normal life, and then back. It makes for a fun mechanic – there’s one or two chapters where you can see Jeff being his nomadic self, leaving town right after the latest media frenzy in response to another dead alien being found.
And then things start to get weird. The ‘alien’ plot ditches the Committee and starts following Oliop, the Committee’s tech support guy. He’s largely invisible,4 but decides to go take a look at this troublesome human for himself. And makes contact without any trouble.
But then the Plot kicks in, and you realize that, from all the silliness at the start, we wound up with something like ten different groups all trying to achieve different things. And that’s without introducing one of my favorite characters,5 who doesn’t show up until quite a ways into the book. It’s a delight.6
I’m going to stop myself now, though, because there’s just too much fun going on with the plot for me to spoil any of it. I enjoyed the heck out of it, so here’s the link. (It’s a remarkably cheap book, as well, considering how good it was. Seriously, go read it.)


  1. Or some similarly ridiculous name – a couple of the characters poke fun at it in the book once or twice. 
  2. The Bunnie, described as “as if someone had taken two giant spiders and then glued them back-to-back.” 
  3. The high point, in my opinion, being the trio of flying-squirrel-like aliens who managed to get impaled by a kite. 
  4. Not in an “alien superpower” way, in a “nobody pays attention to the IT guy” way. 
  5. Think “Sam Vimes from the Discworld series” but as a mold colony growing around a robotic endoskeleton. So cool
  6. To the degree that I’ve already bookmarked the other book this author has written, for when I’ve worked my way a good bit further through the long list of ‘books to read’ I’ve got going. 
Categories
Review

Calamity

I may or may not have stayed up a bit late so I could finish this book in one day. It’s the wrap-up to a series I’ve really enjoyed, and it was a good wrap-up, at that.
So, the Reckoners series is set in a world that has superhumans – they call them Epics. There’s a subgroup of those, High Epics, who’re the real superpowers – some people have, like, “can speak any made-up language” as their superpower. High Epics have things like “can turn anything he touches to steel, can fly, and is borderline immortal.”1
Of course, this is a world where the phrase “power corrupts” is just about a law of physics. The more of their power an Epic uses, the more they lose touch with humanity, becoming arrogant and cruel. There are no superheroes here – it’s just a new age of feudalism, where the lords are not just politically but physically orders of magnitude more powerful than the normal people.
It’s the sort of setting that I wish I could’ve thought of – it captures my interest in a way that very few other books (or media in general) can.2 I love this idea of superpowered beings having their weaknesses drive them to evil, and of the regular people trying to fight back against it. I dunno, I’ve just got weird interests.
Like I said, I really enjoy these books – I’ve got all of them.
Now, in this one, things aren’t going so well for the Reckoners – in the first one, they managed to take down Steelheart, the despotic ruler of Newcago. In the second, they went to Babilar3 to fight the ruler of that down. In the process, they lost their leader – a High Epic himself, he’d managed to stay on the side of the angels by not using his powers. Regalia, the ruler of Babilar, forced his hand, though, and in using his powers to save the city he rather doomed himself.
In the third book, the Reckoners are up against their former leader – with all his knowledge of them and their tactics, and a suite of powers that makes him one of the most powerful High Epics out there.
Oh, and that’s without mentioning that David, the protagonist, has his sights set on killing Calamity, the Epic in low Earth orbit that burns like a misplaced star and is the source of the powers and evil that shattered the world.
No pressure.

That’s about all I’m going to say for now – I enjoy the series a lot, and I think everyone should read it. If you haven’t read any of them, obviously start with the first. If you’ve read the others, I’d say go pick up the third now.4


  1. Technically speaking, I think the actual distinction of ‘High Epic’ means ‘borderline immortal’ for whatever reason – super-fast healing, indestructibility, able to dodge any attack, whatever. 
  2. The only other contenders I can think of are Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the DC Animated Universes, and Scott Meyer’s Magic 2.0 series. 
  3. The sunken remains of what used to be New York City – an Epic held up the towers with magical trees, basically, and it turned into one of the best places on the planet to live, actually. 
  4. And this is where I have to quietly admit that I just bought this book the day that I read through it – I know, I know, I’m supposed to not be buying more books while I work through the ones I’ve got, but I just got my payout from the Apple antitrust case and how was I supposed to resist, I got a Kindle gift card? C’mon. 
Categories
Review

Hold-Time Violations

This was written by one of the authors from the issue of Lightspeed that I read recently, and I saw that they’d written something for Tor.com, so of course I had to go find it and read it.1
That said, it was a short story so it’s getting a pretty short review. It’s an interesting concept – you’ve got a loop of universes, each of which contains the next one down, and is contained by the one above. Because it’s all in 11-dimensional space or whatever, the bottom-most universe contains the topmost one, and you get a nice self-contained loop. As it turns out, the way that the universes contain one another is the ‘skunkworks’ – a mass of pipes, ferrying data from place to place, generating the universe it contains. Physics within those skunkworks are rather different, allowing people to do interesting work to tweak the pipes and keep everything working right.
The main character, Ellie, was raised by her mother to be one of those repair workers, and though she’s still new at it she’s already being regarded as one of the best, it would seem.
From that context, it’s a story about family, in a way- you see a couple references to her sister, Chris, who never actually makes an appearance except for temporarily hijacking someone else’s body.2 Mostly it’s about Ellie’s relationship with her mother.
It’s kinda sad, I must say. But, based on the way everyone is described, I think it’s roughly the best-case scenario.
So, trying to avoid any further spoilers here, go have a read, it’s free.


  1. It wound up jumping in line in my reading list by dint of being in Pocket, rather than on my Kindle. 
  2. Texting would just be too easy, y’know?