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- "Anticopernicus" by Adam Roberts (Reviewed by Livi...
- Spotlight on August Books
- Interview with Karen Azinger (Interviewed by Mihir...
- Winners of Kim Harrison’s “Blood Work” Giveaway!!!...
- "Steelhands" by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett (...
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- "A Place Called Armageddon" by C.C. Humphreys (Rev...
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Read FBC Review of Yellow Blue Tibia
Read FBC Review of New Model Army
Order "Anticopernicus" HERE
INTRODUCTION: I never made a secret of my admiration for Adam Roberts the science fiction writer, whatever disagreements I have with his opinions as a reviewer. Mr. Roberts will soon have out By Light Alone which is a big expectation novel of mine to be bought and read on publication and on a recent visit to his website to see if an excerpt of that one is available, I stumbled across the announcement for his first experiment in independent e-publishing, the "dwarf" novel Anticopernicus. Of course that was an immediate buy. Anticopernicus is available on Amazon or Amazon.uk for a very modest price and it is also available on Wizard's Tower if you want an epub.
"A brief novel by the author of "Yellow Blue Tibia" and "New Model Army". 4-chapters in total; only available for e-purchase. First contact: despite our cosmic littleness, the aliens have come to visit. But they have parked their interstellar craft on the outskirts of the solar system, and despite friendly interaction (their English if fluent and idiomatic) they will come no closer. So an Earth ship, the "Leibniz", crewed by the best and the brightest, begins the slow haul towards the Oort cloud, in the hopes that meeting these alien creatures will answer the most profound questions humanity can ask. “Anticopernicus” is not their story, though. It is the story of Ange Mlinko, an ordinary individual working the Earth-Mars trade routes, largely uninterested in the arrival of alien intelligences. And because the focus is on her, it remains to be seen whether this short novel can answer the following questions: why have the aliens come? Why won't they come any closer than the furthest edges of the solar system? What does this have to do with the nature of the mysterious ‘dark energy’ pervading the cosmos? What about the celebrated Fermi Paradox? And most pressingly: could Copernicus have been wrong all along?"
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: At ~15k words I would estimate Anticopernicus is the equivalent of about 40 print pages, but it reads like a true novel and it has enough stuff to satisfy. The novel is a story of first contact including a clever "explanation" of the Fermi paradox and dark energy with the title hinting at what those are, but being an Adam Roberts book, the strength are style, characters and his musings through the eyes on the main character, a solitary divorced pilot Ange Mlinko who was on the long list for the crew of Leibniz, the ship sent by Earth to the Oort Cloud where the aliens, named Cygnics parked their suddenly appearing vessel and sent a message to Earth to come to them.
While ultimately she is not chosen and in consequence she stops having much interest in the mission which is the talk of almost everyone on Earth, as potentially changing life and all as we know them, Ange's pov seems to diverge from the continuing alien saga- it takes a long time for the Earth ship to get to the Oort, so lots of time for the story. But there are bills to be paid, a house to be maintained, so she takes a routine cargo job to Mars with two quite different crew-mates, Ostriker of the loud voice and strong opinions and the elderly, quieter Maurice, and well things happen...
This part is the core of the novel and it combines action with musings about humanity's place in the universe. While the story keeps the characters at arm length emotionally, I really liked Ange and her seeming detachment and solitude, though as the story progresses we come to see her as really interesting and enjoying her life. Ostriker is clearly a foil for both Ange and the author's opinions, so we are inexorably drawn to dislike her, but ultimately she is still a crewmate of Ange and the heroine has to make peace with that.
Anticopernicus (A+) is very good stuff and worth all the money and more, since it offers in those 40 pages what others offer in 300, while it has a great resolution in true sfnal spirit. Despite being self published, the editing was top notch too, with only one typo that jumped at me. Highly recommended as a blend of literary fiction, space sf and musings on humanity and our place in the Universe. Since the style is so Adam Roberts, I think Anticopernicus serves as a very good introduction to the work of the author, so I also suggest to give it a try if you want to see why I rate Adam Roberts in my top 10 list of contemporary sf writers.
The release dates are US unless marked otherwise, though for books released in the UK and US in the same month but on different dates we use the earliest date without comment and they are first edition unless noted differently. The dates are on a best known basis so they are not guaranteed; same about the edition information. Since information sometimes is out of date even in the Amazon links we use for listings, books get delayed or sometimes even released earlier, we would truly appreciate if you would send us an email about any listing with incorrect information.
Sometimes a cover image is not available at the time of the post and also sometimes covers change unexpectedly so while we generally use the Amazon one when available and cross check with Google Images, the ultimate bookstore cover may be different.************************************************************************
“Cold Vengeance” by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child. Release Date: August 2, 2011. Published by Grand Central. (MISC).
“The Last Four Things” by Paul Hoffman. Release Date: August 4, 2011. Published by Dutton. (MISC / US Debut).
“Low Town” by Daniel Polansky. Release Date: August 16, 2011. Published by Doubleday. (FAN).
“Ready One Player” by Ernest Cline. Release Date: August 16, 2011. Published by Crown. (SF).
“The Third Section” by Jasper Kent. UK Release Date: August 18, 2011. Published by Bantam UK. (MISC).
“Bringer of Light” by Jaine Fenn. UK Release Date: August 18, 2011. Published by Gollancz. (SF).
“The Recollection” by Gareth L. Powell. Release Date: August 30, 2011. Published by Solaris. (SF).
Order Steelhands HERE
Read FBC Review of Havemercy HERE
Read FBC review of Shadow Magic HERE
Read FBC Review of Dragon Soul HERE
Read Jaida and Danielle's Post on Collaboration
INTRODUCTION: After taking a bit of a gamble in following "Havemercy" with "Shadow Magic" that kept the four narrator structure but changed all narrators, the location from Volstov to Ke Han, the theme from metal dragons and war to diplomacy and treachery and alternated the perspective of the "good guys" from the series debut with the one of their long time enemies, in the third series book Dragon Soul the authors returned to the magical dragons and the odd duo of Thom and Rook while expanding the universe to a desert scape and its people, as well as continuing to diversify the cast to include a Volkov magician and a Ke-Han treasure hunter who also were the first female narrators of the series.
Steelhands picks up where Dragon Soul ends but it returns to Volstov's capital, its main college - the Versity - and the Esar's palace while featuring all new narrators to bring the total to 14 in four books, though in this case two are old friends from earlier installments.
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: After visiting the desert and finding some startling facts, Rook decided he loves the clan life there and stayed with his new chieftain friend from Dragon Soul, while Thom obediently though not particularly excitedly, followed his brother's lead. However they needed to inform someone of the unexpected and potentially very dangerous things they had discovered, so who better than their former comrades in the Dragon Corps, most notably their chief, the steady Sergeant Adamo.
So we have the natural narrator choices of Adamo, now professor of strategy at the Versity and the biggest statue in the heroic monument commissioned by the Esar to mark Volstov's triumph in the war, and Balfour who has the steelhands of the title - a fusion of magic and technology that replaced the hands he lost in the climax of the war with Ke Han in the first volume.
As main non-pov characters we also see margrave aka magician Royston and his live-in boyfriend Hal who were the other two original pov's in Havemercy in addition to Thom and Rook, with Royston bobbing in and out of the Esar's favor, though now he is "settled" and stays away from the unconventional behavior that led to his exile in that book, while Hal has been appointed assistant professor of magic at the Versity.
But there is the new too, namely the country youngsters pov's: Laure(nce), a tomboyish girl with a boy's name and her "fiance", Toverre, a girlish boy with a crush on Hal, both just arriving from the sticks on the Esar's new scholarships that have been instituted to bring "new country blood" to the capital, a sensible choice on its face considering how Hal, another boy from the middle of nowhere, saved everyone's bacon in Havemercy.
Steelhands starts with Adamo receiving Thom's letter informing him about the events in Dragon Soul; since that is something that has huge possible implications, he starts getting in touch with the survivors of the Dragon Corps, Roy and Hal to discuss how to deal with the possible issues, while being clearly aware of the danger this entails.
In the meantime, Laure and Toverre get used to the capital and college life, make friends with their classmates, while quite unexpectedly Laure finds Adamo's unconventional teaching style very appealing, so she brings herself quite forcefully to his attention - as "an immortalized in stone" hero of the war, Adamo is untouchable by the Versity staid faculty who can only saddle him with a bumbling "graduate assistant", so these scenes offer both comic relief and a wry commentary on academia.
Of course soon things start happening with disappearances and discoveries and the two threads connect, though I have to say that happens in quite predictable ways and I was not really surprised by most of the later occurrences. However the POV's more than made for that since they were fresh and very well realized, while the writing style remained the same flowing and engaging one of the earlier three novels.
The strength of this series is in first and foremost in the "human interest" part, since the authors keep creating convincing and *very different* character voices each book and make us the readers really care for them; sure there is magic and a good world building and a fair amount of action, but getting to see the world from fresh perspectives and caring for the fates of Laure, Adamo and the rest is what makes this book stand out.
The ending is very good too, wrapping up the two converging threads though of course new vistas open and I am really curious where the two authors go from here since I definitely want more! I would also add that while the four books follow each other chronologically and their stories connect, each has its own resolution of its main thread or threads so they can be read as standalones with just a little brush-up on what's what.
As the other series novels, Steelhands (A+) was a book that once opened, it just took me in and I could not stop reading it until the end. There is something "magical" about these books, so despite their switching theme, location, narrators I need only to browse them to be entranced again and again...
ANALYSIS: It’s been five years since the events shown in “A Dance of Cloaks”. The city of Veldaren is slowly recovering from the catastrophic night in which the Guilds decided to remove the Trifect from the equation. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned for Thren Felhorn because of the valor and dedication of a select few. Since then, the Guilds have fractured even further and now fight amongst themselves in an attempt to regain their earlier powers. The Trifect also suffers, but fare slightly better than their rivals. Complicating matters is a new edition to the city: the Watcher.
Order "A Place Called Armageddon" HERE
Read FBC Review of "Vlad: the Last Confession"
So when not that long ago, I found out about Mr. Humphreys' new offering "A Place Called Armageddon" about the siege of Constantinople in 1453, the novel became the number one expected non-sff of mine in 2011 and I bought it the first moment I could and read it asap. Ultra high expectations and what can I say: the author not only delivered but surpassed them and I will explain why next.
Before continuing, I would add two things: despite being a very well researched and reasonably accurate historical novel, "A Place Called Armageddon" is also brimming with the fantastic - there are prophecies, mystic books, alchemists and fortune tellers and while it is a stretch to call the novel speculative fiction, it should greatly appeal to sff lovers for those elements and the superb world building the authors manages in the book's almost 500 pages.
There a lot of nice touches in the novel that tie-in with “Vlad: The Last Confession” including recounting of some earlier events there and a prophecy about one of the main characters here that we know how it will be fulfilled in the earlier book. Of course the structure of the two books is very different since "A Place Called Armageddon" is about a moment in historical time, so it essentially takes place over some weeks with a prologue a year before and an epilogue years later, while “Vlad: The Last Confession” takes place over decades, so there is no particular order in which to read the two novels.
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "To the Greeks who love it, it is Constantinople. To the Turks who covet it, the Red Apple. Safe behind its magnificent walls, the city was once the heart of the vast Byzantine empire."
When looking at a novel like "A Place Called Armageddon" that is about a pivotal moment in world history, moment that has been studied intensively across time and has been fictionalized in many novels of which in English, Dark Angel by Mika Waltari remains my big favorite, there are several aspects to consider.
Paramount remains reasonable historical accuracy, meaning being accurate about all main events of the siege and getting right the atmosphere of the time since I have never understood why someone writing historical fiction alters major events and says: "well you know, it's fiction"; why bother writing about event "x" rather than write a fantasy/alt-history in which you can modify what happened to your own heart's content?
And here "A Place Called Armageddon" delivers in spades with an impressive recreation of the major moments of the siege; as one of many such examples, the naval battle between the four big Genoese vessels trying to break the blockade and the couple hundred strong Ottoman fleet and the reactions of both the besiegers and Mehmed and his entourage, as the fight turned literally with the wind is done in such a manner that despite knowing very well how things ended, it still felt like reading it for the first time. And I could go on and on, from the firing of the huge siege gun, to the Galata crossing, to the various wall battles, everything is memorable and true to the numerous accounts we have of the siege.
The world building and the little details are pitch perfect: weapons, buildings, ships, armies, historical characters and their psychological makeup - the untried, moody and easily angered but brilliant young Sultan Mehmet whose determination to become Fatih aka "The Conqueror" and practical ideas keep the siege going despite the early reverses and the long history of failed sieges across almost 1000 years, the last major one being led by none other than his father, the late Sultan Murat a warrior of much higher repute than Mehmet at the time, Hamza Bey, the tanner's son from the middle of nowhere who became the Sultan's falconer and confidant and who knows that the siege will make or break Mehmet and his "new men" like himself so he does his utmost to "manage" the Sultan, intrigue with possible Byzantine turncoats and lead soldiers when it comes to crunch time, or the relatively new emperor Constantine who wears the same name as the founder of the city - a bad omen as the last (western) emperor of Rome was Romulus Augustulus after all - a notable soldier but untried as politician and leader of a state and whose continual defiance and determination in face of the steadily worsening odds is also unforgettable.
But "A Place Called Armageddon" is also a human story with four major fictional characters at its center. The twin Lascari brothers with vastly different personalities and destinies: Theon, the smart diplomat, confidant of Constantine and Gregoras, the formerly handsome and valiant soldier, exiled as a mutilated cut-nose traitor, now moonlighting as the Ragusan mercenary "Zoran" in the famous' Genoese condotierre Giovanni Giustiniani Longo's army and who wants nothing to do with his erstwhile native city.
And the women in their lives: Gregoras' former fiance and secret lover Sophia, now (un)happily married with Theon, mother of boy Thakos and girl Minerva who is turning to God for solace and hope amid despair and fortune teller Leilah, a former slave who tries to make her own way in a harsh man's world and whose prophecies inspire Mehmet among others, though of course there is a huge risk in fortune telling for the mighty.
In addition, there are two more important characters: Johannes Grant a Scotland alchemist who is badly wanted by the Sultan (dead) and by Longo and the Byzantines (alive) for his presumed knowledge of how to recreate the famous Greek Fire recipe and Achmed, a huge but gentle poor Anatolian peasant whose much loved daughter Abal's death at 5 mostly due to poverty, leads him to enroll in the "canon fodder" troops recruited for the siege and whose pov shows the siege from the rank and file Ottoman side.
Each of the characters is very distinctive and the interaction between them ranges from the expected to quite a few twists and turns. All these personal threads mix in various ways and produce a lot of emotional moments, sometimes in quite unexpected places. Despite the different and often opposite interests and goals, the author is very skilled at making us care for all his main characters, including the ones who would have been so easy to depict as "evil", like Theon Lascari or the Sultan Mehmet.
Overall "A Place Called Armageddon" (A++) is a magnificent accomplishment, a novel that is both a recreation of a pivotal moment in history and a tale of interesting characters we get to care and root for.