The Otissito Review

Month: April 2014

Total 15 Posts

Book Review: "Deadman Switch" by Timothy Zahn

Deadman SwitchDeadman Switch was written in 1988 and I think it might be one of my favorite Timothy Zahn books to date. There was something about how this story played out that really resonated with me and I was really impressed when I was finished. Zahn has a knack for creating characters that play well off of each other in order to tell his stories with dialogue and interaction to go along with the action. He is in fine form with all of the characters he introduces into Deadman Switch.

The Solitaire system is rich with mineral asteroids, but there is a catch. The only way to get into the system is to sacrifice a convicted felon so that a mysterious force can take over the body and guide a starship through a strange field effect that surrounds the system. This means that for every ship that wants to enter and then leave the system two people must die. Obviously this creates an interesting situation for the ruling coalition of planets, the Patri. If they want to keep mining the Solitaire system, they better hope that people keep being convicted of crimes and sentenced to execution.

Gilead is a member of a group called Watchers. From a very young age he has been trained in the art of observation and has the ability to read facial expressions, behavior, and emotion to determine if someone is telling the truth or not. Watchers also have a very high level of moral altruism which means they do not support the idea of the Deadman Switch which requires a human life to operate. As a member of an expedition into the Solitaire system he has a difficult time watching a convict be executed to make the trip and after speaking with the convict scheduled to assist in their departure from the system he discovers that she is innocent.

With the discovery of the convict’s innocence, Gilead begins a vendetta to prove her innocence to the man he works for and find a different way to get their ship out of the system. His employer is sympathetic to Gilead’s cause and wants to help but his ability to do so is limited. He does help though, and in the end Gilead somehow manages to find the results he needs in order to blow all sorts of things wide open. During the investigation and search for a local convict to use instead of the one on his ship, Gilead discovers an as of yet undiscovered alien race that just so happens to be the reason the field effect exists around the Solitaire system as well as responsible for the operation of the Deadman Switch technology so ships can enter and leave.

Why these aliens have created the field, and why they have allowed humanity into the system to mine the minerals in the asteroids comes to light and Gilead discovers he’s unwrapped a very juicy morsel of misdirection. Deadman Switch deals heavily with morals and ethics as well as themes of religion and belief. Those are not themes you see in a lot of science fiction today. If you are a fan of Timothy Zahn you should definitely try to get a copy of Deadman Switch, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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Book Review: "A Coming of Age" by Timothy Zahn

A Coming of AgeOne of my many goals this year as I do my reading is to expose myself to a lot more of Timothy Zahn’s non-Star Wars writing. He is most well-known for his Thrawn Trilogy, but he has a lot of other stellar work to offer. A Coming of Age isn’t the first non-Star Wars book of his I’ve read, and hopefully it won’t be the last.

A Coming of Age takes place on a post-Earth world known as Tigris where the environment gives small children a very powerful form of telekinesis at the age of five that grows stronger up until puberty when it then vanishes. As a result, society has put a lot of strict controls on what children can know and do up until puberty in order to prevent a rebellion like happened when Tigris was first settled. Lisa Duncan is one of those children, and while she is not a threat to start a rebellion, she has a natural curiosity that is bound to get her into a little mischief. Stanley Tirrell is a local law enforcement detective who winds up working a kidnapping case that he quickly discovers is so much more than a simple kidnapping.

What I like most about A Coming of Age is that it’s a crime caper. The book is filled with scenes of finding evidence, extrapolating what the evidence means, and then following up on the various leads. On the side is Lisa getting involved with the case inadvertently, and thinking she has discovered something terrible happening to a friend. As it turns out her friend is fine, but some of the things she’s witnessed in her own amateur investigation helps Tirrell get to the root of what’s happening with his kidnapping case. The kidnapper turns out to be using the young boy he took for the good of society, but in discovering that, Tirrell discovers a different operation that poses great danger to everyone. This, of course, turns the entire story on its head in the final act.

There is a lot to like about A Coming of Age as a story on the whole, but it still is not as strong as some of the other Zahn books I’ve read. However, I did look up when it was published and it first hit the shelves in 1984, the year I was born. I have a feeling that this story might have had a lot more impact back then than it does today.

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Book Review: "The Hellequin Chronicles: Crimes Against Magic" by Steve McHugh

Crimes Against MagicEvery so often you run across a new author you haven’t read before and they tell you a story that’s unique compared to anything you’ve read recently. Crimes Against Magic by Steve McHugh was one of those books for me. I’ve read a lot of fantasy novels, seen a lot of magic systems, and enjoyed a good tale full of suspense and action plenty of times, but Crimes Against Magic, despite being all of those things, hooked me in pretty well and I wound up reading the whole book in the span of a day and a half.

Nate Garrett is a rather interesting character. He’s been alive for a very long time and he has some very powerful magic he can harness at will. Who he really is, and why he currently lives in modern times is a mystery for the reader, and it remains that way all the way through the end of the book. There are a few hints as to Nate’s past, particularly the flashback chapters that show him taking on evil sorcerers in the 1400s, but even with all of those hints and clues I was left with more questions than answers. Here’s the thing though, I did not mind the mystery in the slightest. It worked. In a lot of other books it would not have, but in this one it worked.

I also enjoyed the setup of Nate being a high-end thief, and being dragged into protecting a girl who lives next door against his will. He soon realizes why she is so important, and then he buys into why he needs to help. He still has a bit of a reckless side while doing so though, which kept things interesting while reading. Nate has a few friends that help him along the way, some of which are mobsters, some who are vampires, and others who just find him attractive. It’s a ragtag type of crew, but they manage to get the job done.

Nate’s past is filled with some very powerful people. Some of them good, some of them very bad, but all of them powerful beyond imagination. I liked how Steve McHugh took old figures of lore like King Arthur and the knights of the round table and reworked their history in a way to make the story seem a little deeper. I wasn’t planning on reading any more than this first book because I only had it as a free offer from Amazon, but McHugh built a world that seems like its worth following along on the ride for a little bit longer.

I don’t know if I can recommend that everyone will enjoy Crimes Against Magic as it does have a decent amount of sex in its pages for a book in this genre, but if that sort of thing is not going to bother you, it might be worth the time to read. It would make a great book to read on a vacation, or day away at the beach. Fun, engaging, and quick to finish, just what that the doctor ordered sometimes.

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Book Review: "Paradox Series: Fortune’s Pawn" by Rachel Bach

Fortune's PawnFortune’s Pawn is one of those books I never thought I would pick up, but I saw someone talking about it on another website and noticed it was on sale. After doing a little bit more looking into what the book was about I decided to give it a chance. What I discovered by doing so was a fun book with some cool science fiction technology, some crazy aliens, and a bit of whimsy all at the same time.

It looks like Rachel Bach has a fun concept going on with this book and likely the two books that follow it to this point. Fortune’s Pawn has all the elements of a good science fiction adventure with a mysterious captain, a brooding character or two, some strange aliens, and plot twists to keep things interesting. Added to all of that was an unexpected romantic element, but it worked really well. Most of the science fiction I’ve read does not feature a female protagonist, and the ones that have featured female protagonists that were set up as very intense, serious, and not inclined to romance. To have Devi Morris, the main character, be a badass mercenary who can still be a bit of romantic was a breath of fresh air. It added a new dimension to the adventure in my mind.

There are two more books (so far) that follow Fortune’s Pawn. The next in the series is Honor’s Knight, followed by Heaven’s Queen. I had no intention of adding yet another new series to my list of series I need to finish someday, but I can’t deny that I really had a lot of fun with Fortune’s Pawn, so these other books are going to have to be added to my ever-growing list of books to read.

Devi Morris is a very dynamic character as the driving force behind the story in Fortune’s Pawn. She’s a highly successful mercenary with years of experience who wants nothing more than to serve as a power armor soldier in her king’s personal guard. To do so she needs to set herself apart from the crowd in a way that even her stellar record can’t do. So, she takes a job as security on board a trading vessel known for its terrible track record at staying out of trouble. The captain of the ship goes through crew members at an alarming rate, but those who can hold their own make a big splash.

Along the way Devi begins to discover some strange behavior by the captain, a budding romance with the ship’s cook, and something about herself she did not see coming. All of that mixed together leads to some very exciting action. Devi finds herself having to make some unexpected choices, and she ends the book with all sorts of new plot developments that should provide juicy adventures for the following books.

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Book Review: "Hollow World" by Michael J. Sullivan

Hollow WorldHollow World is the first book I’ve had sent to me directly from an author with a request for an honest review. Michael J. Sullivan sent me an email a few months ago asking if I’d like to receive an advance copy of the book in exchange for a review around the time the book was supposed to be released. I read the synopsis he had sent along and decided the book looked interesting enough, so I told him to drop a copy in the mailbox and to pick a date he would like the review to be published. As it turns out, the book made it into the hands of readers a bit earlier than he originally planned with an early release by Amazon and the like, but I stuck with the date he had asked for anyways.

As it turns out, I really enjoyed Hollow World. It’s not a long book, Amazon lists it as being 416 pages in length, but it does not feel that long as you read. The narrative is crisp, moving ahead right when it needs to in order to keep the attention of the reader and avoid the pitfall of getting too verbose about mundane things. The cast of characters is kept to a reasonable number, really just a handful, and that helps to make each interaction feel meaningful and significant. Some books get bogged down in supporting characters, but Hollow World keeps the attention on those that matter most, Ellis Rogers and Pax, the two central figures to the story.

I feel like Hollow World fills a unique position in the genre of science fiction. The story begins with a classic time travel element as Ellis Rogers uses a homemade time machine in his garage to travel into the future in search of a possible cure for his terminal illness. When he arrives in the future he discovers an Earth where nature has retaken the surface and society lives almost entirely underground. Known as Hollow World, the massive underground city is home to amazing technology, artificial intelligence systems, and a human race devoid of gender. All of this falls into the typical science fiction realm, but over the course of the book, the technology seems to take a back seat to the story Michael J. Sullivan wants to tell. On the surface that sounds counter-intuitive to the idea of science fiction, but it worked perfectly. The technology is put to use when it needs to be to further the action, but otherwise the author lets the story shine through instead of using technology gimmicks.

Hollow World also deals with a lot of other things not typically found as major themes in science fiction. Themes such as homosexuality, individuality, liberal vs. conservative viewpoints, religion, and many more. It was refreshing to see a science fiction novel deal with some of these themes head on instead of side-lining them as an afterthought behind sweeping action scenes and superior technology.

Ellis Rogers and Pax are two very well-conceived characters that I really connected with. Pax was my favorite of the two, but I think that was because I spent most of the book trying to put together all the details about what made him so special compared to the other genetically engineered humans in the Hollow World. I enjoyed Pax’s approach to plot events and loved the reveal of his secret towards the end. The time travel was also refreshing because it was not bogged down in minute details. Ellis found some research, had the educational background to see where the work had gone wrong, make the fix, and travel through time. Sullivan did not waste a lot of time on the intricacies of time travel, rather he used it as a mechanism to get the story moving and that was all.

Hollow World was a pleasant surprise as I read it and I’m glad I took the time to give it a try. I read a lot of mainstream science fiction and fantasy and often begin to feel like I’m reading the same thing over and over, but Hollow World broke me out of that cycle for a few days, which was nice. I would be very interested in reading a follow-up to this book, or maybe another book set in the same universe that isn’t a direct sequel.

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