The One: A Cruise Through the Solar System: A Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


This week’s #SPSFC allocation included The One: A Cruise Through the Solar System, by Eric Klein.

Join Armstrong on his all-expenses-paid 30-day cruise through the solar system on board the maiden voyage of the latest pleasure ship (complete with a beauty pageant and scientific symposium), as he tries to unravel an assassination plot and foil the biggest heist in history, the blurb for this story says. My immediate hope was that the beauty pageant and the scientific symposium be combined somehow, and I was ultimately not disappointed – even if the heist was a bit oversold.

Anyway, where were we? This story was a real classic piece of work and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a good hard-sci-fi look at the planets and moons of the solar system, a treatise on terraforming and colonisation, a look at space travel and technology, a solid weaving of past and future history, all stuffed into the framework of – well, like the blurb says, the framework of a dude named BJ Armstrong going on a luxury cruise like Corbin Dallas in The Fifth Element. Almost exactly like him, in fact, right down to the suspiciously convenient raffle prize and the adorable redhead. But I digress.

The story was also peppered with references to pop culture and golden age sci-fi, and sorry (not sorry) to say my notes while reading this book basically consisted of nothing more than me spotting references:

Helium, nice John Carter reference.
And a little Star Wars reference.
And a Torchwood / Doctor Who vortex manipulator reference.
Cute reference to Long Earth by Pratchett and Baxter.
The Mended Drum – Pratchett again? Wow there’s some references in this (but wait, it’s Callahans too?).
And a 2001 reference.
Aaaaand a TANSTAAFL reference, Heinlein.
Mildly disappointed Mimas was all about Star Wars and not Red Dwarf.
And an Invincibles reference.

It went on. You get the idea. It was very enjoyable to read, although I accept that this is probably going to be a matter of taste. I thoroughly enjoy a bit of referencing, although I generally appreciate them a bit more obscure or hidden in the story, these were fun. I also enjoy info-dump-style deep dives into the facts and figures of various planets and other concepts, so this was fun to me. I liked the illustrations and other stand-out texts and additions, turning this into a bit more of a multi-media experience. Really nice. However, someone in it for the space adventure or other storytelling elements may be let down by the depth of the raw information. I don’t know. I can’t speak for those idiots. I liked it.

The chapter openings, playing on the trope of quotations or other texts to introduce a chapter that can sometimes be annoying or otherwise skippable in many books, were great in this one. The little sequence of “one small step” quotations, and the way Klein blended history with fictional future-history, put a smile on my face (especially the Ganymede one). Really well done.

To move briefly away from the sciencey data stuff and the geeky-arse references for a moment, I will say that I enjoyed the plot itself. The characters were simple but entertaining, the ultimate villain was clearly broadcast very early in the story (I made a note of it, then another note that said simply LOL nailed it), and overall it was just a fun little adventure. I was not only struck by the unavoidable comparison to The Fifth Element which probably should have been lampshaded (maybe in the form of actual lampshades in the shape of alien relic-stones!), but I’d also just watched Avenue 5 so was unable to prevent the Captain from being Hugh Laurie and this inevitably led to BJ becoming Josh Gad and those comparisons do not hold up even slightly but it made it that much funnier, and frankly the characters in the book could have done worse. Anyway, the Avenue 5 one is on me, it was just amusing is all.

We even got a clever little meta-commentary on how modern sci-fi has changed from the golden age, particularly in the area of female character agency and attitudes in general, and the series of attempted-Captain-murders were funny right from the start. For the most part, though, the thinking this story requires is higher-level scientific and technology stuff, rather than the cultural impact of fiction and gender roles therein. Still, it did make me think. And I like a bit of that in my goofy space-cruise beauty pageant whodunnit.

Sex-o-meter

We get some sex in this one, but it’s all very tasteful. We also get your typical rapey space pirates but it’s more … well I can do no better than to read off the sex-o-meter, which gives The One: A Cruise Through the Solar System a single Wild West goldrush mail-order bride out of a possible Piers Anthony Space Tyrant book.

Gore-o-meter

Not really much gore here, most of the killings were prevented and what we ended up with was fairly civilised. One flesh-gobbet out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

There was some WTFery thrown in here even though most of it was well-explained and solid. What WTF there was, then, was mostly in the form of throw-away lines. Stuff like the Titanic arriving, and the Empire State Building being moved, were tantalising but I didn’t need a story about them. We have Clarke for that. The deep Sharia law colony out in the solar system boondocks was amusing and gave the opportunity to show more commentary on women’s rights without getting too preachy and bigoted. I’ll give this story an earth, air, fire and water stone out of a possible Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich making out on an altar while Chris Tucker screams really, really piercingly in the background.

My Final Verdict

The One: A Cruise Through the Solar System is a love letter to the solar system we call home, and the creative giants who terraformed the science fiction landscape we currently live in. It was just plain nice. Four stars!

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Rise: A Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


Week nine of the #SPSFC read-a-rama brought us Rise, Last Chance book one, by K. T. Hanna.

There’s a lot going on under the surface of this story that at first glance was maybe not explored very much, but it did leave a lot for the reader to enjoy on their own. For my part, I was immediately charmed by the small Doctor Who reference right up front – although I have to point out, that is not how you use a TARDIS, and it’s certainly not how you capitalise TARDIS, Hanna.

The opening of the story was confusing but definitely intriguing, and this theme continues throughout the book. The premise, in short, is that … someone or something … is enabling the resurrection of people just after death, giving them a second chance at life – provided they adhere to the terms of service. This delightfully chilling take on “nobody reads the terms of service” isn’t quite played as solidly as it could be, but the main moving parts are there.

This book was marketed as “gamelit dark contemporary science fiction,” and I have to admit I have no clue what that means but if any book is gamelit, it’s this one. You die, you wake up with an essentially virtual reality augmentation feeding you instructions and data, telepathically and also through a kind of heads up display built into your eyesight. Also, you get moderate-level superpowers based in some way on how you died. You are given assignments. They start small and easy and get gradually more difficult. If you pass an assignment, you advance in grade and unlock new abilities (complete with VR HUD padlock icon), and get paid. If you fail, or refuse to comply, you are in violation of your terms of service and your “contract” is terminated. That means y’dead. Gamelit. I’m with it.

A very interesting premise, I’m sure you’ll agree, and one that raises just – God, so many questions. Prepare for an awful lot of them not to be answered. You don’t get much information about your first life, so why would you expect any about your second?

I was interested to see whether anyone refused to be part of the Second Chance program, thus choosing death over service. Would a person do anything they were told, given that second chance? Or is it too abstract an idea to convince someone? Would you tell yourself you hadn’t really died, that you’d just been knocked out or injured – but now there is an agency inside your head, capable of killing you, so you’d better do as you’re told?

This wasn’t necessarily explored very much as a concept – but it was the point at which it started to dawn on me that this whole story was a brilliant, if slightly rub-your-face-in-it, allegory for life. Specifically, life in the service sector (or just upper-middle-class-or-lower life in general).

I saw some complaints about this book, and its failure to address the idea that the characters were being forced to do things they didn’t want, under threat of death. And the fact that nobody said “this is slavery, I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees.” Anyone making this complaint, seems to me, is very privileged, very naïve, and hasn’t actually stopped to think about how life works. Because when you live paycheque to paycheque, and depend on a job for the roof over your head and the food on your table, and are one missed shift away from homelessness and starvation, there’s pretty much no difference between first life and Second Chance. You’d rather die on your feet than live on your knees? Chances are you’re already making that choice already, every day. And you choose to live. For enough money to survive but never to be free.

Look, I’ll circle back to that, but there were some other really interesting facets of this story that I like more the more I think about them. For one thing, it was told in first person and the protagonist was never (as far as I saw, and after a while I was looking for it) identified as male or female. It honestly doesn’t matter, and that was a really interesting choice for Hanna to make – there was a lot of fluidity in Dare’s relationships with friends and potential love interests, allowing the reader to really make up their own minds about what was going on. I would have thought it’d get awkward or difficult to maintain, and it certainly went on well beyond the point where I could tell myself it was an unintentional bit of vague-outery … but it held up really well.

On the less entertaining side, we have a character who is six feet tall and still gets irritated when he can’t reach things? Fuck outta here. If you’re six feet tall, you’re tall. You don’t get to be annoyed at stuff like that. Also, the kids have names like Orion, Cyan and Dare. And I think only Cyan had the “weird hippie parents” excuse. Oh well, it helped them stand out a bit as characters so can’t argue with that. There were a few small technical issues, for example some parts where Dare communicates with the SC and it’s not italicised to show internalised communications, but it’s easy enough to figure out.

Some parts did a bit of a number on my suspension of disbelief. Some of the things that Dare brings to SC’s attention, and SC  winds up thinking and hearing about for the first time, is really basic stuff. What have all the humans drafted into the SC program up to now been doing? Is everyone else really a sheep, and Dare is the first one to question things?

Other parts straight-up enraged me, until they developed further and I saw them for what they were. The SC draftees are expected to continue to live their normal lives and blend in, while doing this additional bullshit secret agent work. This is really only possible in a small network (or terrorist cell?) of SC agents covering for each other, and this sort of works out. I’m still not clear on how many people get brought back. Is it everyone to have an accident and “survive”? It’s one of many unanswered questions, but the SC program is apparently latent in all of us. So go ahead, have a fatal accident. You get one free one! Pro tip: If you recover and don’t start hearing a voice in your head and get superpowers, that means you still have a free one!

But yeah – to circle back to the point – it was the very stage at which I was almost shouting at my Kindle that I realised this had to be an intentional allegory. At one point, our protagonist is overwhelmed and has no reasonable way forward. Performing missions means discovery. Discovery means death. Not performing missions means death. The SC says it will take Dare’s name off the mission roster for a few days, to rest. They’ll only activate Dare in the case of emergencies, the SC says. And what do you know, twelve seconds later there’s an emergency.

Anyone who’s been told they can take time off, and only need to come in to the office / restaurant / supermarket if there’s a desperate need, only to be immediately informed there is a desperate need, will find this familiar.

Don’t like it? Die on your feet, cunt.

Sex-o-meter

This was another essentially young adult outing, with some mooning and speculating with a side-order of affectionate description … but not really any sex. I imagine it’s going to be difficult to go there without opening the box and finding the cat dead or alive, if you know what I mean. Anyway, as you might expect, I give Rise a small piece of radioactive matter and a haphazardly half-assembled gadget for detecting atomic decay and breaking a vial of cat poison out of a possible awkwardly strained metaphor.

Gore-o-meter

As the missions grew more serious, as in many video games the stakes were raised and the body-count increased. Also the book started with the protagonist literally getting smoked by a falling power line and dying grossly en route to the hospital. That was the prologue. Still, for all that, there are definitely gorier books. Two-and-a-half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

There was tons of WTF to be had here. The SC program is a failsafe built into humans and has been around for thousands of years? What’s with all the random file retrieval tasks? Is it just how gamelit works? For that matter, does the game reward system just happen to mirror the rat race futility of real life, or is there a deeper lesson that was intentionally planted here? The shadows, the portent ability and glitches, the fate of the other electric-supers, it was all very interesting. I still had no real idea what was going on in the story at the 80% mark, and I like that. Others might not. I’ll give it a Cyan out of a possible Neo Was The Impostor on the WTF-o-meter.

My Final Verdict

The SC program’s sad, almost wistful attempts to be Dare’s friend, while simultaneously being the (heh) author of every shitty thing that’s happening in Dare’s life and being utterly beholden to the SC’s higher directives, had middle management written all over it and convinced me this couldn’t be anything but an intentional dig at life in the service industry or other high-value, low-paying jobs. Either that or it was all subconscious and Hanna desperately needs a vacation. All in all a really interesting story that left me feeling thoughtful. Three stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale.

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House of the Dragon

Well well well, if it isn’t another HBO series from GRRM. The “GRR” stands for “GRR I wish I had just a fucking fraction of the money and audience he did.”

But is that … Matt Smith?

And who is this? Steve Toussaint as Lord Corlys Velaryon, perhaps, according to IMDB. I do want to see more of the Velaryons and Old Valyria in general. Coolest part of Fire & Blood.

I haven’t been following the news of the series, so all this is news to me. But it looks about as cool as GRRM’s exorbitant paycheque and HBO’s monstrous production values can lead us to expect. And the book (one of two, at least as far as I know, and no sign of #2 yet) was actually pretty good.

So this could be worth checking out.

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Elijah’s Chariot: A Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


This week I read Elijah’s Chariot, first book of The Forgotten Children series, by Andrew Griffard.

I’ll level with you and get the worst of it out of the way right up-front: I was a little put off by the title here. It just … look, Elijah just isn’t an interesting name. It isn’t. When you see a book with Elijah in the title, it makes you feel like you’re about to get preached at by an Amish dude. And I’m here to read some goddamn sci-fi. I know Elijah Bailey was named Elijah but the thing you need to know about that is, that was the worst thing about Asimov’s Robot books and it still bores me enough to make me not want to read them even though I already read them when I was like ten. The name Elijah is so boring – if you’ll continue to indulge me for just a minute – it makes me want to travel back in time thirty-odd years and beat up a small Australian boy and take away his Asimov books. For his own good.

Okay, phew. That was harsh but we got through it. Elijah’s Chariot is a really pretty fucking good book and I wholeheartedly recommend it. Maybe I should have led with that. Oh well, too late now.

I was drawn in by the little nicely-done interactions between the kids and their families, there was some excellent character-building right off the bat which made this really engaging. Irina was a real piece of work. Viktor seemed like a nice kid and it was super interesting to see a protagonist with cerebral palsy, even if that ultimately wasn’t really the point it was a fascinating intro and a nice bit of setting and atmosphere work. I was concerned that something gross was going to happen with Svyeta, but it was another good piece of buildup. Her big ol’ vodka chugging drunk dad was a classic. All in all, really nice. From there, it was easy to get pulled along by the story, which begins to unfold good and fast and oh boy, what happened? What was that? Why was that?

What am I talking about?

Well, since the blurb in Amazon and other product descriptions already basically spoil this, I guess Griffard will be okay with me going there. This book begins as a nicely subdued, slow-burn low-key-menace story about a meteorite (Jerry, named Ilya in Russia and thence came the titular Elijah – no wait come back, I won’t say that name again, don’t beat up ten-year-old me anymore, I was a very frail child) about to hit Earth. Not an extinction-level meteorite, but a this-is-cool-let’s-study-it-yay-science-level meteorite. Sean and his dad travel to Russia where the rock is projected to hit, and we watch it all unfold from there. Will the meteorite be full of killer alien wossnames? Goop that turns everyone into shambling green slime-monsters? This was my guess.

So, the meteorite strikes, and it slows down before landing so we know it’s not natural, but then suddenly people just start to die. Headaches, then death. Boom. It was mildly amusing to see a book written in 2015 dealing with a “pandemic”, incidentally. Interesting. But again, the pandemic and the deaths weren’t really the point, although as far as I’m concerned they could have been. I was perfectly content seeing a new look at an alien invasion through the clever method of spaceborne kill-rocks, and a global collapse like we see in The Stand.

Of course, like The Stand, this book had to go and get weird. Only the adults die, and the surviving kids suddenly get superpowers. That was unnecessary to the story. It’s always unnecessary to the story! But okay, fine, this is where we’re going with this one. I see. Okay. Viktor’s ailments go away and he becomes some kind of genius. And the main protagonist seems to have “everything powers”. Alright. At this point in the story I made a review note for myself that read simply, “what the absolute fuck is going on.”

It was that kind of story! It turned into a New Mutants reboot and it absolutely didn’t have to, but damn it, it was still interesting and so I read on. And you know what?

It checked out. Griffard, you mad crazy sonofabitch, you actually tied it together and explained what was happening in a way that made sense. Un-fucking-believable. I was not expecting that. I was all ready to roll my eyes and call this a superhero novel that was 85% origin story. Which … okay, in one way it kind of is, but damn it, it works.

Sex-o-meter

The book’s mostly about kids, so. You know. I mean there’s a bit of creepiness at the start and obviously once you end up with all the adults dying and the streets getting taken over by a bunch of Russian gangbangers there’s going to be a bit of hankski pankski, but it was ultimately fairly sanitary. It certainly could have been a lot worse and I was bracing myself. I’ll give it an Amish dude out of a possible Amish dude with an ice-cream smooshed in his face, uh, in a sexy way. What, are they going to read this? It’s on a fucking computer.

Gore-o-meter

Not much gore here, although the body-count may be in the top five body-counts for the #SPSFC so far. A whole fucking ton of people die, but it’s pretty bloodless. One flesh-gobbet out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

This story’s WTF curve was like an exponential sequence graph. It started slow and then went vertical, fast. And just when you think there’s no way you’re ever going to understand what’s going on, that’s when Griffard yanks the tablecloth away and not only does everything on the table remain more or less upright and untouched, the tablecloth turns into a flock of pigeons that fly out of a possible now I actually look at this properly, I realise I’m just reading out the feedback I got from the WTF-o-meter. And I’m okay with that.

My Final Verdict

A really enjoyable read, even if we’re left lacking a little bit of closure on some of the plot threads – that’s why it’s part one of a series. This one gets four stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale.

Posted in #SPSFC, Edpool | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The Threat Below: A Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


Team Space Lasagna’s Week 8 reading round threw The Threat Below, first book of the Brathius Legacy series, by J. S. Latshaw, to the literary wolves next.

The opening chapters of this book will either put you off or draw you in, I think. In my case, I was drawn in. And I wasn’t expecting to be! The style of storytelling and characterisation somehow reminded me of Jane Eyre, with a dash of Bridget Jones’ Diary, and all of it taking place on top of a mountain like if the soccer team from Alive had just stayed up there and built a village and leaned into the class divide for like three hundred years. And if that has either put you off or drawn you in, then I guess I’ve accurately summarised what the start of this story was like.

But yeah, I really quite enjoyed it and found that I liked the characters and cared about their strange, vaguely unsettling little lives. The use of Latin, starting with the labelling of the Before Times people as the Apriori, was very neat. It gave a sort of intellectual timelessness to the setting, which made sense given the way society had been divided into the upper-class Cognates (the intellectuals) and the essentially slave-class Veritas (the muscle). And no, that doesn’t go the way you’re thinking and it’s actually really well thought-out and constructed. The Latin also subconsciously planted the idea that modern civilisation as we know it is a fleeting and doomed thing, and that this is what the future holds. Full circle. Kind of. It’s weird. And it gets weirder.


“I’d rather something else, but this had to be.”

– hilarious yet very meaningful Brathius family motto

So I was drawn in, and with every new chapter came a new and slightly disturbing piece of information, all nicely woven into an almost joyously tropey “sheltered princess forbidden love set against backdrop of post-apocalyptic world gone mad” story. We find out that the average lifespan is little over forty years. We are left uncertain as to whether “ultralions” and “ultrabears” are terrifying new genetic hybrid monsters or something else (I won’t spoil it but it’s fucking great). We’re introduced to this broken-arse mountaintop community living in fear behind a log wall and weird mist-ring, telling stories about the horrors that destroyed the word that was.

And then of course our protagonists go down there because that’s the story. By that stage, I was already invested. I cared about Ice and Ad, and even (God help me) Rainy towards the final act. That’ll fucking teach me, I guess.

But yeah, it was a good read! I was not expecting any of what happened, and that’s super cool. When (again, not to spoil but) you start seeing point of view sections from characters you would not have expected to get any kind of point of view, it gets interesting. And then it continues to get more and more interesting from then on. And, as a brief aside, “mountain madness” (the Threat Below cannot get to the people on the mountaintop because of the lack of oxygen, that’s all you need to know) is the best name for altitude sickness ever. I’m going to call it that from now on, although admittedly my day-to-day life does not typically include much mountain climbing so it’s going to be an effort to slip it into conversations.


“In order to survive, you may someday be forced to take the form of a worm. But at least try to be an eagle first.”

– this book is very quotable

I had my doubts. When I found out the mountaintop folks didn’t even know what a hammer was, I had to wonder how they’d managed to last three hundred years. When the story seems to Shyamalan on us at the 45% mark, I groaned a little but kept reading. When Adorane desperately needed to get his head pulled off and shoved up his arse to symbolise the way he lived, but that didn’t happen, I clenched my teeth and fantasised about it until the end of the page, and then the next, and then the next. Sometimes you just have to do that, okay? It’s fine.

The love triangle was silly but oddly compelling, and at least there wasn’t a clear OH MY FUCKING GOD ARE YOU BLIND YOU DEFINITELY NEED TO GO WITH THAT ONE in there. I mean, like most love triangles the answer was “feed the male / males into a wood chipper and just go off and be awesome,” but while the uncertainty existed it was at least readable uncertainty. What was even more uncertain was whether that kiss that happened was actually a fuck, and I guess we can debate that until the next book and the arrival of the baby because it was definitely a fuck. But whatever.

Now, following the not-exactly-Shyamalan (or Shyamalanalike) at 45%, by the 70% mark this book kind of becomes fucking amazing, and the whole backstory and setting falls into place. This, of course, sets us up for a heartbreaking ending I really should have been ready for but wasn’t. It was gut-wrenching, but at the same time strangely liberating. I have to know more! Fortunately, there is more.

Sex-o-meter

Well like I said, there was a kiss in it that I think a case can definitely be made for actually being a fuck, but aside from that there was a bit of teenage canoodling and a bit of fun non-human “ah, this is the thing we call the mating grapple” style clinical deconstruction. I’ll give this a “mountain madness” out of a possible “ocean madness … aqua dementia … the deep-down crazies … the wet willies … the screaming moist…”

Gore-o-meter

Considering this is a post-apocalyptic survivor-story featuring biogen-hybrid killing-machine beasties that have wiped out most of humanity, there wasn’t a huge amount of gore in here. Just enough, really. Two-and-a-half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five for The Threat Below.

WTF-o-meter

Look, I said the same thing during Waterworld and I’ll say it here. Three hundred years is not long enough for sharks to have gotten bigger. They’ve been pretty much the same for a decent chunk of a quarter-billion, they’re not about to change now. But I’m just saying that because I couldn’t think of anywhere else to put it. This was a deliciously WTFfy story and I really enjoyed it. At every turn, the reader will at once think they know what’s happening but also know there’s more to it. Frequently, when I read a story and feel this way, I know I’m going to be disappointed and there will turn out not to be anything going on under the surface, so I’ll have to make shit up. Not so this time! I’ll give this a furrythief out of a possible ultrabear. If you know, you know.

My Final Verdict

This story was actually amazing, but you do have to be drawn in by the small-scale and slow-burn social / personal stuff at the start, because it takes a while for that pay-off. It was different enough not to be boring, and even though it had a lot of clichés in there, it was self-aware and showed some solid chops. Also, since I already referenced Futurama, I’m with Bender. Kill all humans. For fuck’s sake. Four stars!

Posted in #SPSFC, Edpool | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

The Binding Tempest: A Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


Next up for the #SPSFC we have The Binding Tempest, first book of The Luminance Saga, by Steven Rudy. For the purposes of this contest, let’s agree that it was sci-fi but I’ll go into more detail below.

I felt for this book, I really did. I identified with it. This book … this book is me. Complete with the arguably unnecessary padding. More of us to love, that’s the justification.

There’s more of us to love.

Okay, this started weird, so let’s get into it. The Binding Tempest is not a science-fiction story, but then it’s not a fantasy story either. It’s kind of a steampunk outing but that’s just because of the New World and Revolutionary War theme, not to mention the horses and guns and zeppelins. Don’t be misled by the horses and guns and zeppelins, as the old Aztec saying goes. They exist only to lead you into strange rooms where men with odd facial hair

This is not getting any less weird. Sorry. I blame the Aztecs. My point is, this is a distinctly genre nonbinary story and I love that. It’s inspiring. When I read a book and it makes me want to get back to my own writing, it’s either because the book is terrible (this wasn’t) or because the book reminds me of why I love to read, and love to write. This was that.

So, there was magic and early industrial stuff as well as high energy weapons and portals and automatons. Awesome! There were different lands and histories and relics and politics and the whole tapestry was so incredibly rich. And the maps! I loved them. Extra credit for the maps, I want an A3 glossy print edition of this book just for the maps, the Kindle really didn’t do them justice (who zooms? Not me).

There were a couple of great characters in it. Qudin, from the moment he first does his quantum magic thing and bleeds from the ears, absolutely charmed me. The setup of his backstory with the Sagean Emperor felt a little bit like Szeth in the Stormlight books by Sanderson, but so what? Tali, and her magic pressure-blowouts, well she’s just purely epic. Loved it. And Ellaria Moonstone, aka Ms. Moonstone, is amazing (in fact compared to her, most of the other characters were a bit run-of-the-mill and she could have been edited into being the most central, perhaps even lone, point of view). And she’s in her late fifties! Mature female protagonists, represent.

So what was the problem?

Okay, so I have to say there was a bit of clumsy language throughout, that made it difficult to engage with. The story had a lot of exposition and description, and you have to combine that with readability or it’s going to be really obvious there’s pages and pages of exposition and description. Take it from a known waffler. It’s nothing a round of good hard editing couldn’t improve, but this is a very big and very dense book so said edit would be a large undertaking. The story needs the exposition, because ultimately this book is an exploration of a world and its history set against the backdrop of a motley hero group on a quest, rather than the other way around. But that means a lot of it needs to be stripped and cut down and washed out.

I am a big fan of the Massive Worldbuilding Infodump metagenre, so keep in mind that I suspect my tolerance will be higher than average. This book is a very deep, very loving tour of a world that obviously took a ton of creative effort. Our heroes seem to do a lot of treasure hunting and digging up of old knowledge, which to me was quite enjoyable to read for its own sake – but it does tend to leave the overall plot feeling messy and difficult to quantify. The titular Binding Tempest is the result of the Quantum Man and the Sagean fighting, which generated the power to unleash the Wrythen, and I think that’s what they were trying to do something about? Considering that the action keeps clipping along, it is at once busy and aimless. Also it’s a part one, so the ultimate story arc is incomplete anyway.

I had a smile at the Hex-like computer and I definitely enjoyed the big old guard robot thing towards the end, that was when it really started to feel like a science fiction story (the epilogue was almost entirely sci-fi) but like I say – I don’t believe in stories having to be one thing or another. Stories don’t work that way. Sorting machines do.

After all the build-up, the final showdown and revelations seemed strange and abrupt. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but it is a symptom of the Massive Worldbuilding Infodump metagenre. Overall, I quite enjoyed this but I think maybe the best way to tell the story would be to just have the characters exist in that world, and let the reader know the author is intimately familiar with it rather than attempting to upload the same level of familiarity to the reader. That will happen organically over time and (I hope) many books.

Sex-o-meter

This, again, wasn’t that sort of story. Stop trying to have sex with me, we’re in the middle of a deep dive through an entire science fiction / fantasy atlas, history book and encyclopaedia here! Goodness, there’s a time and a place, okay? Anyway yeah, you get the point. The Binding Tempest gets an atlas, a history book and an encyclopaedia out of a possible one sexual intercourse.

Gore-o-meter

There was some good action, some thrilling and violent wolverack attacks (loved the critters in this book!), some blood and fighting. But overall there wasn’t much more gore than there was sex. It was fine, one flesh-gobbet out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

A rich, heavy vein of WTF runs through this story, as it should when we’re talking a genre-defying spray of unconstrained creative juicery. Most of the WTF is explained, of course, so TF is quite solidly quantified by the time we’ve explored Rudy’s impressive world. We know exactly WTF TF is all about, if we’ve paid attention while TF is being outlined for us. So stop asking. The WTF-o-meter gives this a Spearpoint / Godscraper out of a possible Dark Tower.

My Final Verdict

I can only admire the scope and ambition of this story, and reiterate how great the maps and illustrations were. Ultimately there was just so much worldbuilding and exposition to fit into the story, the story itself got lost in the woods. And that’s saying something, coming from me! Three stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale.

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Earthweeds: A Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


This week also brought me into the strange world of Earthweeds, first book of the Sons of Neptune series, by Rod Little.

This book was a lot, so let’s get started.

We begin our adventure up in a forested mountain national parky type area, where brothers Sam and Shane are enjoying a hiking / camping vacation to escape their woes for a time. Things go awry when they find a man who has committed suicide by gunshot sitting dead against a tree. He’s left a suicide note in his other hand that really got me intrigued, even if the couple of lines of Sam’s and Shane’s dialogue immediately following said note over-explained it all and kind of spoiled the effect. Less is more, people!

Anyway. Sam, who is six feet one inch tall and has been ever since he was a kid in high school when it was weird but isn’t so weird now he’s a college freshman, and his older brother Shane who is five feet eleven and more athletic, are distressed by the discovery of the dead body and return to town – and that’s where everything starts to go really crazy.

I admit, at the outset I got a bit of a Supernatural vibe from the two brothers, but that was only because one of them was named Sam and was quite tall (6’1″, as stressed a couple of times in the opening chapters) and his older brother is less tall but a bit of a tough guy who says “awesome” and calls his car “sweetheart” and doesn’t let Sammy drive it and their parents are dead. But these moderately amusing similarities took a back seat, if you will, to the fact that Sam can also summon electricity from his hands.

Why do we learn that Sam is a prematurely 6’1″ freakazoid before we find out about the lightning hands? One of life’s mysteries. And speaking of one of life’s mysteries, Sam and Shane are about to get all the rest of life’s mysteries thrown in their faces, one and two at a time, some of them wrapped in enigmas and some of them just damp and balls-out naked, so strap the fuck in.

The result is a highly entertaining, action-packed, twist-and-turn-filled adventure of a truly boggling scope and intensity. I may make light, but I was genuinely entertained and who can really ask for more than that? There were legitimately creepy moments (like the suicide and the things in the basement) and interesting premonitions (a narrator telling us what’s to come) and a whole lot of craziness (too much to do parenthetical justice to) folded into an apocalyptic monster thriller that keeps the beats coming.

We have a horde of flesh-eating lizards. We have monster spiders. We have a band of heavily-armed doomsday preppers and some creepy scientist-types. We have a guy who communicates with animals. We have electric powers. We have flying saucers from Neptune (this might constitute a spoiler but come on, look at the name of the series and try to keep your eye on the ball here). We have a lot. And this is just the beginning!

A few things didn’t add up, but they were mostly little things. The way a … certain event … occurred “over a millennium ago” and yet predated the dino-killer asteroid is one of those things that’s technically true but still sounds odd. It took them way too long to realise putting on Tina’s perfume was a good solution to the scent issue they were facing, rendering them “invisible” to the lizards. And once they did figure it out, it stopped being a plot point shortly afterwards. There was comedy gold to be dredged out of that … but I get it. There was too much else going on, no time to stop to pick up loose nuggets. I also didn’t get why words like Earth and Neptune were part of the lexicon when their etymology … gah, never mind. There’s a few little nits to pick but they’re not a big deal. What’s the odd nit when we have so much going on?

Sex-o-meter

There’s a lot of lingering and insistent description of the … three? … female characters, two of whom need to be rescued from a doom prepper rape cage at the start, but there’s no actual rape and not really any sex. It’s all about the action, not the action, you know? It’s kind of charming in its own way. One perfectly normal attractive step-sibling who just does normal stuff out of a possible set of attractive step-sibling triplets who get themselves trapped in implausible sexually vulnerable positions all the time because the plot demands it.

Gore-o-meter

Y’know, for a violent apocalyptic horror action story with killer lizards, there’s surprisingly little gore. A bunch of people and a whole fuck-ton of lizards get killed in an assortment of ways, some of them reasonably bloody, but we can’t get the gore-o-meter to go above two-and-a-half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five no matter how hard we whack it.

WTF-o-meter

Overall this book was an amazing, dizzying festival of WTFery. What a trip. At every point Little had a chance to say “this is it, this is what the story’s about, let’s continue,” Little instead said “fuck it, that happened, now something even more balls-to-the-wall crazy is going to happen.” I don’t know if the WTF-o-meter could handle the rest of the books in this series. As it is, it’s giving Earthweeds a Percy Jackson out of a possible Samuel L Jackson. I think … I think you broke it. Yep, it’s broken. Well that’s not going to be cheap.

My Final Verdict

The words Earthians from the Earthian Empire moved to Earthus should be absolutely stupid … but I really like it. And I don’t know why. I’m sitting here covered in smoking pieces of WTF-o-meter, and I don’t know why. What a wild ride. Lot of fun. Four stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale.

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Isoldesse: A Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


Up next was Isoldesse, of the Aevo Compendium series book 1, by Kimberly Grymes.

Banna idir dufiur et gohdeo … hey, I think I know this one. Something about there being a frog in my bidet, isn’t it?

I kid. I really enjoyed the uncompromising, deep-end plunge that Isoldesse pushes on the reader right from page one. It made me feel like one of the characters, confused and lost and overwhelmed. And at least we get a glossary! Yeah, there was a little world-by-world glossary of terms at the start of the book, so we have a little more information than the protagonists, but it is just enough to keep our heads above water. And, like I mentioned, the quasi-incantations of the sci-fi space magic were delightfully fantastical and reminded me of John Carter of Mars.

Yes, this story opens hard, with a lot of study material by way of an intro, and overall the narrative read like a science-fantasy in the John Carter or even Flash Gordon style. High fantasy with planets instead of ye olde realms, and while these may all add up to a problem for some readers, I liked it.

That being said, I did very nearly hurl my Kindle across the room early on – and I only didn’t because it was a pretty expensive little doodad. See, each world being studied for the Aevo Compendium (which I consistently failed to imagine as anything but Megadodo Publications, one of the great publishing corporations of Ursa Minor, and their renowned guide for hitchhikers) is divided into four regions and a researching agent – well, look:

Spiaire – (spy-ir) A Sendarian who lives a double life on an alien world during an Aevo Compendium trial. There are four total Spiaires assigned to four different regions of whatever world is undergoing observation. A Spiaire’s job is to befriend the subjects without revealing their true identity and prepare the subjects for extraction to Priomh.

Okay, so the “four different regions” of Earth were Florida, California, the Midwest, and “north” – and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t talking about beyond-the-US north. I decided this was a hilarious surreal joke of some sort, and laughed rather than angry-purchasing a paperback just so I could throw it into the Gulf of Finland. Well played! But seriously, the rest of the planet exists, y’all.

Anyway, from this rocky but endearing start, I found myself rapidly overtaken by events and was left with a persistent feeling that I was reading a young adult drama like Beverly Hills 90210 but with some characters randomly swapped out for alien researchers and others swapped out maybe for some opposing alien group that’s hunting the researchers, and one of the humans is bonded with an alien ghost in a crystal and also the aliens seemed to have alien parents / handlers? I was quickly lost, but like Darci and Gemma and Meegan and Kenna (I’m afraid their names and descriptions made them all a teensy bit interchangeable to me) I was dragged along from one scene to the next and ultimately it was rather enjoyable even though it gave me a mild arrhythmia.

Through it all, I was able to focus on a couple of things. First, the Beast was an utterly disgusting character and the only implausible thing about him was that he was somehow employed by the Aevo Compendium people. There’s more to his story but frankly the fact that he wasn’t shot in the face and buried out back somewhere to enrich Priomh’s biosphere before the book even began was a real danger to my suspension of disbelief. Also, not to spoil things, but towards the very end of the book we find out that he sports a man-bun (it is mentioned briefly around the halfway point but it’s easy to miss) and I’m going to be honest, the reader deserves to know this a lot sooner. Like, a lot sooner. I’m just saying.

Other highlights included drunk Ally calling Xander a poopy-head, the Beast and his sudden but inevitable betrayal, and the moment I found out basically an entire alien species (or at least the females thereof) were redheads. That’s almost certainly someone’s idea of fun, but it’s not great when you’re trying to tell characters apart and hair colour seems to be the main characteristic mentioned each time.

Anyway, it was great. Let’s see what the meters have to say about it all.

Sex-o-meter

A chaste and thoroughly decent outing, Isoldesse had a few traces of leery nastiness and one genteel curtain-drop to cover a hypothetical hour-long human-on-alien boinkfest. I’ll give it an “isn’t that technically bestiality?” out of a possible “oh boy, that’s definitely bestiality, get that sheep out of here and why do you have a man-bun you’re just the worst” on the ol’ sex-o-meter.

Gore-o-meter

One-and-a-half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five for this one. There wasn’t much gore or violence, although the story didn’t want for action. Nicely balanced.

WTF-o-meter

Like I said, this story had some excellent surreality and a colourful Flash Gordon aesthetic and John Carter system of high-tech space magic. The absolute relentless speed at which life comes at Julianna and Prue and Rian and Sabine (and Nick and Matthew and Liam and Ben…) adds a whole new level of enjoyment to this highly imaginative roller-coaster of a story.

My Final Verdict

Well now look, I just said “highly imaginative roller-coaster of a story,” so I can hardly do better than that here, can I? Isoldesse is Grymes’s debut novel and may she write many more! It was never boring, it showed a butt-ton of creative prowess and introduced us to a very complex series of worlds. Three stars! Thanks for a fun read.

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Children of Vale: A Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


The next book on my #SPSFC list was Children of Vale, by D. A. Anderson.

Reading this book was like having sex right down in the back corner of a Sean Connery video library. Yes, it’s fucking close to Zardoz. But that’s a good thing! No wait, hear me out. Come baaack…

Look, it really was just nailed into my head the moment our protagonist, Tyana, is born in a Matrixian artificial womb field and then spat out of a giant Goddess-head into a compellingly agendered future world where advanced and enlightened people (living in a city with another big giant carved head motif) are struggling with their own stagnation and the incursions of “barbarians” outside. It just immediately struck me as a kind of homage, and that’s actually part of why I liked it all so much.

The story itself is fascinating, as we follow Tyana’s point of view literally from before birth and learn – as she does – about the strange world she lives in.

Tyana’s culture is divided into castes, from the lowly worker-class Artificers to the holy order of the Vestals. Each person is assigned a caste on a genetic level, and it is expressed in the colour of her hair. Tyana is a rare dual-class  anomaly – and unlike various other combinations that have popped out in the past, she is a blend of two castes that has never before occurred.

What follows is an exploration of the concepts of acceptance, respect, tradition, tribalism and one’s place in a world that abhors the not-readily-categorisable. And really a very interesting one. Each caste among the androgynous, female-pronoun-adopting higher race is given strengths and weaknesses – blessings and burdens, gifts and sins – but it swiftly becomes clear that not all burdens are equal. And not all sins are necessarily evil. And that some practices have been set in place entirely as a means of controlling a potentially dangerous population.

This was a philosophy that … definitely resonated with me.


“Our burden is to work. If we don’t, our muse – our madness, as she puts it – will take over. The work is meant to stave that off, to keep us busy and distracted.”


As Tyana learns more about her world and the shaky foundations on which it is built, her surroundings and her dreams become steadily more disturbing. There’s enough metaphor and symbolism in it to make the most coked-up, mushroom-addled Zardoz analyst throw away his red mankini, put some pants on and take a good long look at himself in the mirror. Presumably for the first time since he put on the mankini. But I digress. And I don’t know why. Stop me next time, I have regrets.

Tyana’s dream of a bleached and homogenised humanity, drained and safe, is unsettling to read. The action and events taking place in the narrative ultimately fail to live up to the imagery occurring on the higher plane of Vale’s and Thea’s ideological battleground … but isn’t that so often the way, with dreams?

This story combines fascinating sci-fi visuals and worlds with a delightful surreal aesthetic, and a compelling series of moral and sociological questions that really stayed with me after reading. It drew me in, and it kept me turning the pages as Anderson revealed the world a little bit at a time, in all its complex and often disturbing glory. Its solid sci-fi world and plot will appeal to some, while its out-there premise and artistry will appeal to others. It was all rather seamless and well-structured as far as I’m concerned, only a couple of little things really jumping off the page and yanking my moustache.

I loved the way the Artificers were introduced and discussed, the almost literal morlocks in this weird hypnopunk future, and the way they studied and synthesised the hallowed goddess-goo to the ultimate conclusion (which I won’t spoil, but it was very cool). Creativity and industry live on, even among a perfect theocratic utopia someone needs to keep the plumbing operational, and woe betide the theocrats when those poor grubby fucks finally look up from their labour and go “hang on.”

There was a throw-away reference to a “warp-capable” ship right at the very end, when the rest of the discussion of space travel had been either kept interestingly vague, or else seemed to use different terminology altogether. This abrupt bounce to (forgivable in its ubiquity) Star Trek lingo was jarring, but since it was basically the end of the story by that point it was easy enough to let it slide. Still, odd. But honestly, that was it.

Sex-o-meter

We’re confronted with a swift and furtive bit of androgynous self-touchy – oh, the wicked burdens of those pallid, slender Vestal hands! – but this is a pretty cerebral and asexual affair. And that’s fine. The sex-o-meter is detecting trace elements of whatever was going on in Zardoz, but not enough for me to give Children of Vale more than one-tenth of a whatever was going on in Zardoz out of a possible whatever was going on in Zardoz.

Gore-o-meter

There’s plenty of Warrior-caste violence and fight scenes, some pitched battles, the strange gryphons and the brutality with which the Artificers are treated, but all in all it’s fairly bloodless. Unless you count the ichor and the assorted black and white fluids of the Vale and Thea dreamscapes. And I don’t. And neither does the gore-o-meter. So there. One flesh-gobbet out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

Downright psychedelic, this one. Really cool, almost pure high-grade WTF from cover to cover. Children of Vale gets a great big bowl of slimy black ichor dribbling out of the face-holes of a tormented Vestal godpuppet out of a possible … I don’t even know what this thing is trying to show me. The same thing only a slightly larger bowl? Yeah. Yeah, that’s what it is.

My Final Verdict

I thoroughly enjoyed this story, a really artistic piece of work that left me feeling thoughtful and slightly detached for some time afterwards. Four stars for Children of Vale.

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Well, this sure ain’t great (Wheel of Time)

So we already have news of a main character being recast for season 2 of the show. Mat, no less.

Aside from the big “describe what’s happening in this series, wrong answers only” energy of the article’s description of the books (“The Wheel of Time, which was renewed for Season 2 in May ahead of its series premiere, is set in a sprawling, epic world where magic exists and only certain women are allowed to access it”, really?), this story doesn’t fill me with confidence. And I was by no means full of confidence, for all that the trailer gave me a big boost of optimism.

So, what this means is, they already need to replace a crucial character because of whatever-the-fuck reason, and from season 2 onwards we all need to get used to Mat being a whole different guy. And we know this already two months before the show even starts.

I remember when Daario was recast in Game of Thrones, but it wasn’t a big deal because nobody knew who he was meant to be anyway. Apparently the Mountain was recast a couple of times, and I didn’t notice that myself. But this is going to hit different.

I find myself hoping they work it into the story. Maybe Mat can vanish into the redstone ter’angreal at the end of the series, in Rhuidean, and emerge in a new body or something? And everyone, on-screen and on-couch, can be confused about it at the same time.

I don’t know. I want to just wave this off, and I am still trying not to get too enthusiastic about this, but it’s not easy with a second-generation megafan in the house. Oh well, Wump was kind of underwhelmed by the original casting anyway, so at least she’ll be happy. Maybe.

That’s it. That’s the news.

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