The Otissito Review

Month: May 2014

Total 8 Posts

Short Fiction Review: "The Churn: An Expanse Novella" by James S.A. Corey

The ChurnTitle: The Churn: An Expanse Novella
Author: James S.A. Corey
Publisher: Orbit
Publication Date: April 29, 2014
Length: 77 pages

Obtained: I bought my copy from Amazon.

The Plot: A young man is trying to prove himself to a gang boss in order to make a life out of the meaningless, terrible pit that is the city he lives in. The world is falling apart as humanity expands into the stars and those left behind on Earth find themselves wallowing in misery on governmental assistance, or they try to survive on the streets.

This young man is Amos Burton, the loyal, hard-working, right hand of James Holden on the crew of the Rocinante. This story gives us a glimpse back into the boy he used to be and what kind of life he had before joining Holden’s crew. This young Amos has to kill, claw, and beat his way through life, not sure if the next day is a guarantee or not.

The Commentary: There is so much about The Churn that I want to gush about because I loved it so much, but the problem is, all of it will spoil the story in some fashion. The story isn’t long to begin with so I don’t want to risk ruining it for people. Instead, what I’ll say is that James S.A. Corey has put together a supporting story to the already established universe of The Expanse that really stand on its own. There could be a good argument made that it should have been a full-length book. I certainly would have devoured it in one sitting.

Needs More: Length. I loved everything about this novella and I just did not want it to end. I wish it could have been 150 pages instead of a mere 77 in length. Why, oh why can it not be longer?

Needs Less: There really isn’t anything I want less in this one. Everything was so tight and efficient when it comes to the writing that there wasn’t anything to find fault with.

Worth It? Yes. If you have read any of the other books in The Expanse, then you absolutely need to read this one. It provides some wonderful back story to a main character that you will not want to be without.

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Short Fiction Review: "Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome" by John Scalzi

UnlockedTitle: Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome
Author: John Scalzi
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: May 7, 2014
Length: 32 pages

Obtained: I bought a copy via Amazon.

The Plot: There is not a traditional plot to speak of with Unlocked. It’s an oral history, telling a story through interviews and statements made by the people who were affected in some fashion by the virus eventually known as Haden’s Syndrome. Some of these speakers are governmental officials, some are doctors, and others are the victims themselves in one fashion or another. The “plot” as it were progresses as the statements progress from ones detailing the initial outbreak through current practices for dealing with the syndrome along with every step in between.

The Commentary: John Scalzi is known for his addition of comedy to the stories he tells and the fun adventures his characters take you on when reading his books. With Unlocked, he is treading into a more serious, intensive world where people have been locked inside of their bodies, unable to speak or move, but with minds that are still aware of their surroundings and are still very much alive.

The novella’s format is not a traditional one, rather it’s a collection of statements or interviews made by various individuals involved in fighting the Haden’s Syndrome virus in some way. I have enjoyed this particular format ever since I read Max Brooks’ World War Z a couple of years ago, and to be honest, I wish it was used a little more often by authors who want to tell unique stories in a unique way. There is a distinct type of tone that using the oral history format bring out in a story and if done well, like in Unlocked and World War Z, it can really bring the story to life.

Going into Unlocked I wasn’t expecting to be presented with a world that is once again dealing with drastic and overwhelming human rights issues. I did not know from my limited knowledge about this world Scalzi has created that the rights of the handicapped, or the rights of the non-handicapped, etc were going to be a prevalent theme. I’m glad they are though because it added an immense amount of depth to the work. It also set the stage for Lock In later this year to deal more specifically with the issues. This approach really make Unlocked seem like a realistic possibility. It’s not just about fighting off a strange virus doing strange things to humanity. It’s a little bit about humanity itself.

Needs More: Clarification about who is currently speaking to the reader. The first time a character speaks their full title is revealed and each subsequent time the section only lists their name. The trouble is that with such short sections it is possible to get confused as to which official is speaking to you as the reader. In World War Z (a book of similar format) this problem didn’t arise because the interview sections were much longer and it was very clear when you were changing between individuals.

Worth It? Yes. The author has stated that reading Unlocked is not necessary in order to enjoy the forthcoming Lock In later this year, which is nice. However, I’m always a fan of more back story when it comes to the books I read, and at only 32 pages, this one takes a very small time commitment. I think it will have served me well when the full-length book set in the same world is sitting in front of me.

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Book Review: "A Sword Into Darkness" by Thomas A. Mays

A Sword Into DarknessTitle: A Sword Into Darkness
Author: Thomas A. Mays
Publisher: Stealth Books
Publication Date: January 10, 2014
Length: 302 pages

Obtained: I believe I grabbed a copy of A Sword Into Darkness because it showed up in an email from Amazon about books I might like. It looked intriguing so I gave it a shot.

The Plot: Gordon Elliot Lee is a genius aerospace tycoon with so much money he can afford to indulge in his obsession with outer space. One day he discovers what he believes to be some sort of alien craft approaching earth from a far away star. He tries to convince NASA about the “threat” of such a thing, but they laugh in his face. So, what does he do? He decides to bankroll the research, experimentation, and construction of his own spaceship. The thing is, his spaceship is going to be armed to the teeth because he is convinced that the aliens headed for Earth have no good intentions.

To assist him in his endeavor, Gordon Lee recruits Nathan Kelley and Kris Munoz to run point on all of the many spinning cogs involved in such a plan. They work for years and years putting together teams, funding projects, and discovering technological advancements that would put to shame the technology of the general public. They have a lot of time to get things right because while the mysterious aliens are making steady progress on their journey, they have a long way to go.

Eventually the military and NASA are forced to admit that Gordon Lee was right, so they jump in to assist, but that isn’t all they want to do and Nathan Kelley is forced to throw them out the door so to speak in order to make sure the mission happens as it was first envisioned, and not as some mockery of the original plan. What Nathan and Kris discover upon making contact with the aliens is so far gone from what they expected that they are unsure how to proceed. Events transpire that put the two of them in a position to make a very big splash when the climax of the story arrives.

The Commentary: To my understanding, A Sword Into Darkness is the debut effort of Thomas A. Mays. The best way to describe the book is as a mix of hard science fiction, military science fiction, and space opera. All of these pieces are woven together into a tapestry that for the most part, works pretty well. As a debut novel, it does have a few things here and there that could use some improvement, but oftentimes those kinds of things are distracting. In this book they are not distracting, and some of them are only noticeable to me as a result of just how many books I read. If I wasn’t so voracious in my reading a lot of those things would pass right on by.

The book is a rather quick read at 300 pages, so it isn’t something that’s going to bog you down as a reader. I liked that. I think more debut novels need to be that way, long enough to tell a decent story, but short enough to leave the reader wanting a little more to entice them to read that author’s next project. I was really impressed with Nathan Kelley as a character, but a little bit less so with Gordon Lee. The former had a lot more development as the story moved along and with the later I was left filling in a lot of gaps.

I’m glad I took a chance on the book though. I enjoy hard science fiction every so often and having that element mixed in with a more traditional science fiction tale was a nice perk for me as a reader. Balancing between the two could probably use a little work by the author, but that’s something I think can be worked out easily enough.

Needs More: Character development. The hard science portions were spot on and very well put together, but I think due to the length of the novel the characters suffered a little bit in order to fit in the science. That is something I expect the author can easily remedy in future projects without much trouble.

Needs Less: Repetition. I loved the science in the book, but in a few cases the same science was repeated over and over and it would have been nice to use that space for a little more character development, or some more action added to the scenes.

Worth It? Yes, I think A Sword Into Darkness is worth it. The science is interesting, at least a couple of characters mesh well, and the others that don’t still hold up okay. I liked that it was short and didn’t try to do more than what it was claiming to be. That worked really well in the end.

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Book Review: "The Seafort Saga: Children of Hope" by David Feintuch

Children of HopeTitle: The Seafort Saga: Children of Hope
Author: David Feintuch
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication Date: January 8, 2013
Length: 624 pages

Obtained: I received my copy of Children of Hope through the Cyber Monday sale on Amazon a few months ago. It is a reprint from early 2013.

The Plot: Randolph Carr has been stewing for a long time over the fact that his father was killed because of the friendship he had with Nick Seafort. He knows that his father, Derek Carr, idolized Seafort and would do anything for him, so when news arrived that Derek was dead and that Nick Seafort had let it happen he begins to harbor a grudge the size of a mountain. Then, Nick Seafort sails into orbit around Hope Nation and Randy has the chance to go up to the ship.

Randy sees the visit to Nick’s ship as the opportunity of a lifetime and when he takes a chance on trying to kill Seafort, things get pretty dicey. He spends some time in the brig, winds up back down on the planet, gets rescued by Seafort, enlisted into the Navy, removed from the Navy, re-enlisted once again, and ultimately claimed as Seafort’s new adoptive son. If that sounds like a lot of plot to wind through in one book, it’s because it was more to wind through than any of the books in the series to date.

Along the way through all of these events, Nick and Randy find a way to communication with the beings that use the fish from previous books as transport around the galaxy.

The Commentary: The final step in Nick Seafort letting go of his past, all of his guilt, and finding some peace for the rest of his life is the underlying theme of Children of Hope. While Randy Carr is the viewpoint character for the book, he does spend a lot of time in the presence of Nick and we get to see the changes take place through Randy’s eyes.

I’m not sure how I feel about Randy as a plot-driving character. His motivation for the attempt he makes on Nick’s life was kind of tenuous in my opinion. I had a hard time believing that was the course of action he would take. He is also a bit of a punk most of the time and I don’t believe that Nick would be as willing to overlook as much as he over the course of events.

The big moment in Children of Hope deals with the fish aliens returning to Hope Nation and this type trying to communicate with humanity rather than destroy them. Over the course of the book Nick and Randy, especially Randy, devise a rudimentary system of glyphs and images that they use to communicate with the outrider that the fish delivers to the system. The outrider reveals that they really don’t want to be enemies, that they have a much more benign reason for coming back after all the years since Nick defeated them near Earth. I admit, I was skeptical of this plot twist. One part of me felt like it was a bit tacked on to the end. Another part of me felt like it deserved its own book, but that the idea was solid.

Perhaps that book is the eighth book that the author was unable to finish before his passing in 2006. I’d be really interested to know if it was or not. Well, I’d be really interested to know if the unwritten book had more to do with the new relationship with the fish aliens and where humanity goes from there.

Needs More: Nicholas Seafort front and center. While Nick does take a somewhat prominent role in the story, I wish the book had been written from his point of view instead of from Randolph Carr’s. As the last book in the series it would have been nice to have one more book inside of his head.

Needs Less: Posturing. Towards the end of the book all parties involved with the conflict at hand do an awful lot of posturing to each other. I’m okay with a little bit of that for the sake of the plot, but it got a bit repetitive when it was all said and done. Most of the posturing came from the Church representatives in the final showdown with Randolph Carr. The Church folks really got under my skin by the time I was done.

Worth It? As the last book in The Seafort Saga, Children of Hope is probably worth it to anyone who has read the previous six books in the series. Is it the strongest of the books? I don’t think so. I’d say it’s 50/50 on whether or not the read was worth it.

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Book Review: "The Seafort Saga: Patriarch’s Hope" by David Feintuch

Patriarch's HopeTitle: The Seafort Saga: Patriarch’s Hope
Author: David Feintuch
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication Date: January 8, 2013
Length: 496 pages

Obtained: My version of Patriarch’s Hope is a reprint from last year that I grabbed during the big online sale Amazon had on Cyber Monday a few months ago.

The Plot: Following the events of Voices of Hope, Nicholas Seafort is once again the Secretary General and in full control of the government. He is working towards getting the navy back up and running while at the same time heading off attacks by countless governmental factions. The trouble is, there is a new environmental terrorist group that wants to force Seafort’s hand. They want him to change course on his political agenda and work immediately to restore the Earth and fight back the environmental decay. Seafort’s son ends up making a compelling argument and Nick does change his course, but at a price. The navy that Seafort loves so much revolts against the new politics and he is forced to make a plethora of sacrifices in the name of putting down the revolt and saving the Earth from its terrible fate.

The Commentary: This is the book were Nick Seafort finally breaks free from the Navy. In all the other books he has been consistent in sticking up for the Navy as the most honorable organization he’s seen, but this book puts all of that on the line. Truth be told, Patriarch’s Hope is really two books, smashed together into one. The first half is a book about Nick dealing with the threat of a terrorist group that wants him to switch from his political stance that favors the Navy to one that favors the environment of the planet. Once Nick makes the decision to make that switch, the second book begins and focuses on the fallout of such a decision and the revolt by the newest naval ship, Galactic. These were to very different stories and they featured two very different versions of Nick Seafort. I really wonder if David Feintuch intended for them to be two separate books at some point but then decided to combine them after the fact.

Patriarch’s Hope also features a much larger cast than the previous books. Nick Seafort is joined by adult version of several young characters from the past books, his wife, his son, his old friends, and even the leaders of the Church he previously held so dear. It’s a massive cast of characters to navigate, but it gave Feintuch the ability to really deepen the development of Nick as a primary protagonist. Seeing all of these individuals from past books convene together was a big catalyst for Nick as a father, husband, politician, commander, and human being. The transformation as he began to realize the impact for good he had on all of their lives was pretty significant.

This is one of the better paced books in the series so far. A couple of the others had portions where the action really slowed down and seemed to drag, but not this one. I was grateful for the improved pacing because this is one of the longer books as well and it had a lot of ground to cover.

Needs More: Derek Carr. He is featured a lot more in this book that I initially would have expected, but I was still left wanting a lot more of him. He was so fiercely loyal to Nick Seafort and he was not afraid to throw things back in Seafort’s face if there was a need. It would have been great if Derek Carr could have had an entire book to himself at some point in the series.

Needs Less: Retaking the Galactic after the Captain of the ship revolts. The act of retaking the ship was fine, but that piece of the story lasted about 30 pages too long in my opinion. It could have been handled a lot more efficiently.

Worth It? I think this was one of the better installments to the entire series. If you have already made it this far into The Seafort Saga then you should definitely keep going with this one. If you haven’t read any of the books in the series, this might actually be a decent place to start if you want to see what the characters are all about. If you like it you can always go back and read the first few books to get the back story, but it isn’t necessary to enjoy Patriarch’s Hope if you just jump right in.

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