Tag Archives: science fiction

Field of Dishonor

A thing worth noting is that I have only the barest memory of the plot of these Honor Harrington books. She’s supremely competent, and always correct in a ’90s hawkish conservative kind of way, and half the book is other people talking about how awesome she is. I read The Short Victorious War, let’s see, basically six years ago[1].

At that time, I correctly predicted that Field of Dishonor would immediately follow from a timeline perspective, while incorrectly predicting that I would therefore read it any time soon. The book is, as I also predicted, a complete deviation from the series so far, in that it’s 100% political (well, and personal), but 0% military, except insofar as it’s military politics. This is never quite offputting, but boy does it bring into sharp relief how much everyone (except the bad guy, obvs) in the book thinks Dame Honor is the absolute bee’s knees.

Despite the percent of the book dedicated to lavish praise of the main character (and despite the fact that Weber has decided that to be an effective conservative icon, one must be rich as well as titled, and therefore dumped nearly nine figures into her lap), there was ample intrigue and suspense to keep me entertained for the entire book, with one exception, which I am forced to drop below the cut due to spoilers for the finale and epilogue.

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Bitter Fruit

Eventually, I liked the plot for Bitter Fruit. Cryogenically frozen bioterrorists first rebuild the Celtic empire[1] and then plot to wipe out most of the already dregs of humanity that yet remain, a hundred years past the nuclear holocaust that already basically marked the end of the world. Luckily, we know who can probably stop them! (Oh, this is a Deathlands book, if you didn’t actually know yet who could stop them.)

I say “eventually”. While this was not the first book in the series to have a new author, it was the first book where I noticed. Characters subtly out of character[2], a big change in the way book transitions work[3], and most damning, a possible change in the gender egalitarianism of the series. I’m reserving judgment on that last bit, as one data point is not a trendline, but all the same, none of the female characters have ever used sexuality to extricate themselves from danger before this author, so. (The main male character has at times tolerated sex while in danger, which I suppose is technically rape, and also I do not object to using sex as a tool in the toolbox when required. I’m just leery of it from a first time to the series author, after having spoken so much about the quality of the books to date.)

Worst news: this new author will be popping up frequently for a little while. Man I hope someone smacks him around and sets him straight.

[1] Well obviously empire is not the right word here. People isn’t what I want though, and kingdom is nearly as wrong as empire is, albeit a little less inadvertently snide.
[2] Just because you call a dude laconic, if he talks all the time and in much more detail than he used to, I’m both going to notice that and also judge you for not having known what laconic meant in the first place, nameless (unless I went to wikipedia and checked again) Deathlands farm writer!
[3] Instead of “end a book, pick up the next book immediately where the prior book just ended”, this was “end a book, skip forward by about three chapters of what I would have expected to read, but those three chapters wouldn’t make any sense at all if they’d been written, which I guess is why they had to be skipped, but since I noticed, you didn’t actually accomplish much.”

Stoneface

What do you say after 34 books in the same series?

I guess the first thing I’ll say is that I like how they’ve added some new villains and secondary characters that will maybe pop up again in the future, because it’s important not to get bogged down and run out of new ideas. (Plus, one of them has cool mutant powers like the main lady character, Krysty Wroth, and it’s nice to have positive mutations as more often than a one-off, since they sure don’t skimp on the negative mutations. Thermonuclear radioactivity, what are you gonna do? shrug emoji)

The second thing I’ll say is that even though it’s arguably lazy to set a book a hundred years in the future and then rely on the present as grist for your novel mill, I really do like when we get bigger glimpses into the way the world was when it ended, and this is a big one indeed. What would you say to a mountain full of pre-nuke government officials who have been keeping themselves alive with cryogenics and constant organ transplants? I, for one, can dig it. …and then there’s a suspiciously familiar cult, too. It’s an embarrassment of 20th Century riches, is what.

The third thing I’ll say is I have a disappointment, particularly because of how often I’ve been surprised by progressive egalitarianism throughout the series. When you call your book Stoneface, and it is partially set in and around Mount Rushmore, with characters[1] from the indigenous Lakota people, well, I was really hoping they would bring up the Six Grandfathers at all. But that’s a lot to ask of 1996’s authors, you know? In a lesser men’s adventure series, which let’s be honest is basically all of them on the “how progressive can this genre be?” scale, it would never have crossed my mind to be disappointed here.

Counterpoint, though, I really like to hope I would not have read 34 books deep into such an alternative series. Despite what it looks like, I do have standards.

[1] one of them even a potential recurring person from my prior mention

Prey (2017)

For all that it’s five years old, Prey is one of the best games I’ve ever played, and certainly the best one I’ve finished in recent memory[1]. (I need to get back to Pillars of Eternity. And also Horizon Zero Dawn.)

It is approximately like, what if Half-Life, but extremely modern and therefore with the ability to have and track quests and side quests, and the survivors you meet are actually able to, on occasion, take care of themselves a little bit instead of solely serving to keep you in a somber mood. You can play guns blazing, or extreme stealth, or anything in between, while being as kind or cruel or unconcerned as you prefer. In a different world where I didn’t have an infinite number of massive games I wanted to play, nevermind the smaller ones, I might be inclined to play this again with a different focus. I happen to know there are things I never saw because I played differently than what would have allowed me to see them.

As far as the plot: go in as blind as you can. All I knew was a) praise and b)… actually, I can no longer swear what I knew about b), so it would be unfair to say anything, wouldn’t it? But the game starts off on your first day joining your big brother in the family business. Wake up, get ready, fly across town in a helicopter while the credits roll, then take the evaluation tests you need to pass to go up to the space station where the real magic (by which I mean science) happens. Only, the tests don’t really make even a lick of sense? And why is that table running around, and why are the alarms going off? And then things get weird.

In conclusion, I liked it really a lot. The plot twists never really stopped, no matter how far into the game you think you’ve gotten. I am uncertain about the expansion? But I would play the hell out of a sequel.

[1] “Okay, but what about Hollow Knight?” It’s like this. They are both exemplars of their respective types of game, but Prey has the better plot. HK has the better mood, if that makes you feel okay about things.

Eclipse at Noon

A thing you would have no real reason to remember: Circle Thrice[1] ended on a cliffhanger. (Also, I read that a year ago?? I do not read enough. This is not the first time I’ve said this lately, but.) So anyway, though, cliffhanger.

That aside, Eclipse at Noon is mostly about old enemies and new riverboat rides. I’ve never been on a riverboat, but it mostly sounded like what I expected cruise ships to be like, except for the paddle and all. Also: smaller than that. This continues to make me wonder if cruise ships were just a lot fancier in the ’80s and ’90s versus how they are now, which is sort of middle class chic, for some reason.

Anyway: the story was approximately what I’ve come to expect, with guns and mutants and the promise of more teleporting around (although not any just lately). Also, some random old enemies that we’ve never heard of before, but as good a job as this series does of recycling old encounters into new ones, I cannot fault them for once in a while saying, look, guys, remember this stuff that happened to us before the series started?

The title thing, though: I can perform some mental gymnastics to force a metaphor about how just when things were finally going nicely for the first time in a while, with the cliffhanger resolved and some fancy big meals and a riverboat ride in the offing, oh no, their “high noon” is being “eclipsed” by this sudden old enemy machinations thing, but… yeah, I’d prefer more literal and less maybe metaphorical but maybe just “this sounds kind of cool, right?” titles, for my cheap men’s adventure sci-fi thriller series. I guess I’m just old-fashioned that way.

[1] That is, the previous Deathlands book.

Eternals

Retroactive continuity is a tool honed to perfection in two art forms[1]: soap operas and superhero comic books. These forms share a lot else in common. They are a) both extremely long-form storytelling where b) the people writing today do not have a plan past the next ten or twelve episodes at the most, c) they both have cliques of characters that mostly hang out together but occasionally cross over with other cliques, and even more rarely all come together for some kind of huge event, and they both d) have dedicated, opinionated fanbases who have stuck around for decades but e) are written so that someone can drop in at practically any moment and be able to catch up.

A “retcon” is when a writer comes up with a story idea that does not match the established continuity of the previous stories, continuity that may be established over years or even decades, but then decides that the story idea is good enough to run with anyway, and comes up with a way to mesh their idea into the long-term continuity retroactively, so that this new continuity was always true, it’s just that the audience and often the characters weren’t aware of it.

Which brings me to Eternals, the (if I counted right) 26th movie released in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (It is important to now note that this review will contain, and in fact for the eagle-eyed reader perhaps already does contain, mild spoilers. It’s not too late to stop. But it nearly is.) A movie which, early in the first act, reveals that for over 7000 years a group of cosmically-powered people called Eternals, at the behest of a group we’ve heard of before called Celestials (aka space gods like you might have seen out in space, at Knowhere or (possibly but probably not) Ego for example), were sent from the planet Olympia[2] to Earth to defend a barely established mankind from creepy mostly-made-of-tendrils monsters called Deviants, and that those Eternals have been here ever since. Yep, even then.

While that is not the only apparent retcon in the movie[3], it is the least spoilery one, and therefore I am at the end of my review, leaving only two details to add. First, the capsule plot of the movie is that, oops, the Deviants are back, so now the Eternals have to come out of the shadows they’ve been hiding in for at least the past fifteen years and who knows how much longer, to do their jobs once more. Second, to the extent that I am familiar with these characters, which is about half of them: yep, this was written by someone who understood the fundamental natures of the characters, and in particular the portrayal of Ikaris gives me hope that Mr. Fantastic will be done right someday.

[1] and almost certainly badly misused anywhere else. Not guaranteed to be, but it’s the safe way to bet.
[2] I think this is a little funny, but it’s hard to explain why.
[3] I have some opinions here.

Ancillary Mercy

I finished Anne Leckie’s Ancillary trilogy yesterday, and it comes with a realization that I had completely failed to anticipate what the story was actually about.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. I’ve been sussing out the thematic ground all along, but the plot? I thought I was learning about the end of something[1], when I was actually learning about the beginning of something else entirely.

Which is to say, now that I know what story I was actually reading, the trilogy does in fact have three strong, reasonably divided acts that tell exactly the story they were always telling, even though it took me until the end of the series to correctly order things in my own head and be able to see it clearly. Also, it’s a good story that I’m happy to have read, even though I’m sad I’ll probably never get a clear look at either the millennia old beginnings of the story nor the equally distant ending of it.

Perhaps because of my inability to grasp the picture until so late, I’m particularly spoiler averse here, so I will say only that issues raised in each of the prior books are well-resolved in Ancillary Mercy, and with more room than you can shake a stick at for Leckie to return to this universe and tell other, completely different stories, were she of a mind to.

[1] It’s not impossible for it to be both, but I doubt I’ll ever know.

Ancillary Sword

Look at me, cleaning up my partially-read series backlog. Woo! But also, it’s nice in this case because I still remembered at least a little bit of Ancillary Justice. Not nearly everything, but probably enough.

A thing about that book and about Ancillary Sword that I find disheartening in myself is how much importance I place on gender. I should not spend large swathes of a book who is purposely (by the author, at least) cloaking gender by making it completely irrelevant to the society the series portrays, I should not I was saying spend most of the book wondering as to the gender identity of its characters as they come and go. And yet I do. Not that non-binary is what the book is portraying, exactly, but it is definitely clear to me via this book (and okay, not only via this book) that it’s not a concept I have yet comprehended. Gender dysphoria, I comprehend. Rejection of the concept, I just… don’t. (And for all I know, that description of it may even be missing the point.)

That bit of failed self-examination aside, the book continues to concern itself with the concept of justice, albeit from a different angle. A particularly of the moment angle, although the fires[1] of BLM had not yet started when the book was being written, as it happens: what justice is owed by a government to its citizens, especially when not all citizens are considered equal, and the divisors are by (in this instance) planet of origin[2].

Anyway: it is a) a good book, once more, and b) a maddeningly sparse book in the sense of resolving what I had considered to be the prime issue of the series. Okay, that’s not right. You don’t resolve the issues of your trilogy in the second book, but you… you advance them, right? This barely felt like that at all.

But that’s a me issue, reacting to the structure with which I have been presented. Taken on its own, this book, just like the one before it, is one of the best things I’ve read in many a year. Would heartily recommend.

[1] Figurative fires. Don’t even with me on this.
[2] At least I think I’m reading this correctly, between the lines. It’s made explicit now and again that there are alien species, and how many. Therefore, everyone else must be human and just of different origins prior to the Imperial Radch swallowing them up, whether decades, centuries, or millennia ago. I think. Like a lot of sci-fi, things are left for you to figure out on your own, and therefore arguably this entire footnote is a massive spoiler.

Godzilla vs. Kong

After three previous movies, one of which I didn’t see, the second of which I liked pretty well[1], and the third of which I liked less, since it was so closely related to that first movie I never saw… after all those movies, it was inevitable that I would eventually see the capstone movie where the two main titans clash it out[2].

So yes, I saw Godzilla vs. Kong (at home, even though we’re seemingly in the home stretch), and yes, I liked it, because y’know… monster fights! But I didn’t love it, because of how I spotted basically the entire plot within the first ten minutes, and also because of a spoiler regarding characters[3]. But the set pieces were pretty great, and the monster fights!, and did I mention footnote one?

I think it’s because I like to root for the underdog, and, despite physical appearances, that’s who Kong has always been, in every role he’s garnered.

[1] But then, I’ve always liked Kong movies
[2] To be fair, I like Godzilla movies okay too, even if I did miss that one somehow.
[3] See footnote four, below the cut[4]

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Slaves Unchained

I started reviewing things here in September of 2004. The first two books of the Slave Trade trilogy were published in 2003, and Slaves Unchained was released in early 2005. My lack of reviews on the prior books indicates that I definitely read them in earlier 2004, and then just never moved on to the third one. But I’ve got this stack of old books I’m trying to get through, and so…

The problem with a trilogy whose first two entries I read 25 years ago[1] is, well, a) I barely remember why I read them in the first place[2], and b) I even more barely remember the plot. Which is why I went looking for my previous reviews in the first place and discovered that they just missed the temporal cut. Too bad for me.

What I know is: humans are treasured as pleasure slaves by the other species of the galaxy, because those other species cannot have sex outside procreative imperative, but humans can. And I know that a bunch of said human characters found a way to rebel and escape from their imprisonment, with the occasional help of sympathetic aliens, who are all involved in a two or three way war with some of each other. Not a lot to go on, but of course this third book was written with people who had not read the prior books in 25 years in mind, so… haha no.

Basically I stumbled from chapter to chapter following subplots that matched my memory, subplots that were destined to eventually tie into the plots I remembered, and subplots that seemed to have nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the book, only to crash headlong into an ending that was extremely open, but which has never been followed up upon.

Was it good? I legitimately have no idea[3]. Was it good enough to reread the first two books and form a real opinion? It was not.

[1] More than half my life!, at least for now.
[2] I believe they were recommended by Lara Beaton as having been written by her sister-in-law. No doubt she will immediately appear to correct me if I have this wrong. No doubt whatsoever.
[3] Notably, it was not actively bad. It was also not especially erotica, despite what the cover would have you believe. I dimly think the first two books were? But this one, huh-uh.