Michael R. Johnston – The Widening Gyre

Author: Michael R. Johnston 

Title: The Widening Gyre

Publisher: Flame Tree Press

[Advance reader copy, due to be published on March 2019]

 

Synopsis: Eight hundred years ago, the Zhen Empire discovered a broken human colony ship. Given a place to live by the Zhen, humans are safe. But it hasn’t been easy. Not all Zhen were eager to welcome another species, and humans have faced persecution. One of the first humans to be allowed to serve in the Zhen military, Tajen Hunt became a war hero but he failed in a crucial mission and resigned in disgrace. When Tajen discovers his brother has been killed by agents of the Empire, he and his crew set out to finish his brother’s quest: to find Earth, the legendary homeworld of humanity.

Review: 

Every now and then the Space Opera genre wakes up from its current day mediocrity, and something good shines under the light of a different star. This is what happened with this book, which has the predetermined potential to become the first of a series. The basic concept (see the synopsis) is not new, and the setting is also a well-known trope in the business, what shines is the craft of the author and his ability to create a real page-turner that releases here and there moments of fun alternate with a lot of well-depicted action.

Quite frankly, it’s not a back-to-the-basics novel. Space Opera was pulp action set in a science fiction environment (back off, this is my opinion!), most of the time centered on a likable character and a set of useful cardboards supporting actors. The gist was the struggle against big enemies, with a flamboyant third act to prepare the final triumph. In this book we got plenty of conflict, drama and almost impossible odds; but the characters are all well-portrayed, believable and “real” enough to keep the reader close to every page. Plus, we have a current level of complexity in the world building and a lot of hints about the backstory of the whole alien civilization in charge.

The plot is a crescendo, which is a tradition for a Space Opera. The difference between this book and many others is about the plot management. Every step, every bump-and-grind moment of the story, flows naturally with ease. That keeps the reader comfortable, well set in the story. The use of the first person is often criticized in a story full of action, but it works just fine in this novel. It’s an old trick, a way to tell the reader that there is always a way out for the main character. Just stick with Tajen Hunt and ride shotgun in his spaceship, the ride will be worthy of your money.

The pros of this book are based on a magnificent world-building, with a believable alien race. The backstory of the Zhen empire is solid, and it’s functional to the comprehension of their civilization. The main character development is also substantial, and the same applies to the main cast.

The cons of this book are about tropes. I know, it’s tough to create something new in a subgenre explored for decades, not to mention the movies. Let’s say that the ghost of Han Solo and the spirit of the Millenium Falcon are in their places, OK?

Where to find it: Flame Tree Pressamazon.com

Vote: 07,50 / 10,00.

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National Science Fiction Day

I borrow this one from the US list of national days. I do it because science fiction is, and was, very important to me. From ground-breaking thoughts to differents points of view, from larger-than-life characters to incredible lifeforms, science fiction is a game changer for me. Learn what you “should” do here.

Today is also the birthday of Isaac Asimov. If you don’t know who he was, then you’re very young or very misinformed. Take a look around and get yourself on track. Ad Astra!

Daniel M. Bensen – Junction

Author: Daniel M. Bensen

Title: Junction

Publisher: Flame Tree Press

[Advance reader copy, due to be published on January 2019]

 

Synopsis: There’s a wormhole in New Guinea and, while much isn’t known, one thing is for sure – on the other side is a planet similar to ours, with a habitat suitable for life. Japanese nature show host Daisuke Matsumori will be one of the first to visit Junction, a patchwork planet of competing alien ecosystems. But his exploratory party crashes in the wilderness and members continue to die. What is causing these deaths? At first it seems clear that is must be an alien predator or the hazardous landscape, but Daisuke starts to wonder wheter human politics might be more deadly than alien biology.

Review: 

One of the significant challenges of science fiction is world building, a key factor for any novel-length work. If the author fails to deliver a believable world, then everything else fails, no matter how good could be the prose or how accurate could be the cast of characters. It’s a dangerous game, balanced between the need to portray something different from reality and the challenge to win the suspension of disbelief from the readers.

Daniel Bentsen apparently doesn’t like to play safe and starts this novel with a bang, placing a wormhole on Earth. That’s a bold move for sure, followed by another – on the other side of the wormhole (!), there’s a planet that connects an unknown number of wormholes (!!), each with a different ecosystem in the closeness.

Add to the mix one of the most peculiar cast of characters ever seen, set up as an exploration party in this strange new world, then put in a massive dose of well-built scientific speculation about different life forms and biochemistry (yay!) plus the familiar thrill of the adventure and a whodunit that leaves corpses scattered along the path. What do you get? Well, it’s one of the most unique science fiction novel in the last ten years or so. What’s even more interesting is that there is the potential for much more, for more novels or even a shared universe, all along the n-ways to get in and out of Junction.

The pros of this book are about originality, solid bases on real science (biochemistry), humor and some great choice in the development of the main characters.

The cons of this book are about a lack of perspective about the potential of such a discovery in the “real” world. We get a lot of hints about the tension between countries and such, but it’s the weakest part of the book.

Where to find it: Flame Tree Pressamazon.com

Vote: 08,00 / 10,00.

J.D. Moyer – The Sky Woman

Author: J.D. Moyer

Title: The Sky Woman

Publisher: Flame Tree Press

[Advance reader copy, due to be published on September 6th, 2018]

 

Synopsis: Car-En, a ringstation anthropologist on her first Earth filed assignment, observes a Viking-like village in the Hartz mountains. As Car-En secretly watches the Happdal villagers, she begins to see them as more than research subjects (especially Esper, a handsome bow-hunter). When Esper’s sister is taken by an otherwordly sworld-wielding white-haired man, she can no longer stand by as a passive witness. Knowing the decision might end her career, she cuts off all communication with her advisor and pursues the abductor into the dark dangers of the mountains below.

Review: 

Imagine a new world. Our planet came back to its wild state, the damages of the antrophocene almost undone. A score of well-maintained ringstations are all that’s left of our bold civilization and, on Earth, a few pockets of our descendants make a living in a pre-industrial culture much alike of their Viking ancestors. It’s a dream for any anthropologist to observe on the field one of these villages, hidden by magic-like technologies.

All around them, the memories from a long-gone past. Our civilization, the Builders, left ruins and strange things and more subtle memories of centuries of high-level progress. This is a post-human world, where a good sword and a swarm of insect-like drones may coexsist. But it’s also a very human place, where the love of a woman may move mountains and change the course of the future.

J.D. Moyer spares nothing in this story in his efforts to give us a fast-paced novel, where even the necessary bits of backstory are delivered smoothly until every piece clicks into its place. This book is the first I read from this author and has convinced me to keep in mind his name for the future. Read his interview at the end of the book, the guy got the right stuff.

The pros of this book are many, but the first place award goes to the worldbuilding. This version of our future, the differences between a pre-industrial society and off-world culture are fuel for many things to come (guess what, a second novel in the same scenario is on the way). The whole set of characters works fine, even for the more borderline, and the plot runs fast. I was more than a bit wary about the romance, but it works just fine.

The cons of this book are small stuff, details that are a bit cranky here and there. No spoilers here, but there is a fantasy element that entirely doesn’t work, and a couple of the minor decision made by Car-El looks more than a bit abrupt, not quite in line with the general profile of the character.

Where to find it: Flame Tree Pressamazon.com

Vote: 08,00 / 10,00.

An Open Letter To Science Fiction Writers

Dear All,

Have I told you lately how much I love your works? No? Well, this is a good time as any to tell you so. I’m reading good science fiction and enjoying some good TV show, thanks to your efforts. Thank you, straight from the heart.

Now, can we speak about a couple of serious problems?

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Harlan Ellison (1934-2018)

Writing about Harlan Ellison is almost impossible for me. I was a fan (I still am!), no matter how much controversial or bizarre could have been his behavior sometimes. His works are milestones for anybody who wants to understand what science fiction could be at the top of the game.

There is something special for me, anytime I pick up one of his stories. A sharpness of thought, the feeling of something stronger than words coded between the lines, and more than a bit of apprehension because the story will end up leaving me asking for more.

He will be missed. I can foresee a not-so-distant time in the future when some useful idiot in the publishing industry will blurb about “the new Harlan Ellison”. Well, there will boiling pitch and feathers poured all over this idiot, no matter how high-placed he or she could be.

Thank you, Sir.

The BBC and the 13th Doctor

Things change. The end of the Moffat-era as a showrunner and the change in the main character’s role could be sensitive for the fans, but after this season (the lowest ever in the ratings) the BBC was in for something more than a few replacements.

Steven Moffat did a great job, with some minor glitch here and there, until Peter Capaldi came in the show. I’m sure it’s coincidence, but it still troubles me to see that one of the best available actors has been set up with the weakest streak of episodes in the last few years. A new showrunner was needed and Chris Chibnall is a very strong choice.

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