the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘adventure

tropic of serpentsThe Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan

published March 4, 2014

where I got: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Tor!)

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This is the second book in Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent series. As such, there may be some plot spoilers for the first book in the series, A Natural History of Dragons, which I reviewed here.   This is a case where you shouldn’t worry about plot spoilers, because while the plot of the first book is engaging and compelling, it’s nothing compared to the glorious characterization and detailed worldbuilding.

In her first adventure, I imagine the younger Isabella thought she was being so adventurous, so very daring, so avante-garde (see how I talk about her like sh’’s a real person?). She had no idea how safe she was playing it. She was traveling with her husband on an expedition where everyone assumed she was the dutiful wife who simply had a hobby of drawing. Their assumptions were quickly proven patently false, but it was those exactly assumptions that protected Isabella from the cruelties of her peers.

It’s been three years since Isabella Camherst’s trip to Vystrana. Not yet Lady Trent, she is but a widow with a young son. With few friends, yet class and money on her side, she’s able to continue funding research into the preservation of dragonbone. In this pre-industrial world, there is some sly foreshadowing that preserved dragonbone would make the ultimate material for aeroplanes and other flying machines. With her patron’s granddaughter Natalie at her side, Isabella is nearly as happy as can be.

But she’d be much happier if she could study dragons up close. For the most part, the dragons won’t come to her, so she’s got to go to them. With Lord Hilford’s blessing and funding, a new expedition to the tropical jungles of Eriga is planned. It’s so helpful that there’s a Scirling fort at the bay, so Isabella and her fellows will have at least some compatriots to speak their own language with. But this is far more military force that could possibly be needed to protect some trade goods. Brennan not so subtly  embroils Isabella in the politics of the Scirling colonial intrusion into Eriga. She thinks that her Naturalist and Scholar status insulates her from the politics.

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Let’s kick of Vintage month with something nice and truly old, shall we?

A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs

published in 1917 (but serialized earlier)

where I got it: purchased used. This cover art is the version I bought it is from Fall River Press, printed in 2011, with cover art by Kekai Kotaki.

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A Princess of Mars is one of those sword and sorcery / planetary romances that I’ve been meaning to read for ages.  The movie came out in 2012 got mixed reviews, but I loved the visuals, thought the Tharks were great, and gently ignored the plotting that made no sense. Anyone who is anyone has named Barsoom as an influence to their love of science and science fiction – Carl Sagan, James Cameron, George Lucas, and Ray Bradbury, just to name a few.

Blending science fiction, fantasy, pulp adventure and western, John Carter is the epitome of the American Man – strong and independent, intelligent and well spoken, very handsome, keeps his promises and knows how to throw a good punch. Guys wanna be him and girls wanna date him.  If this book had been written today, John Carter would be conceited. He’d *know* he was the hero of the story. In the words and the mentality of nearly a hundred years ago, he’s just a man who does what needs needs to be done with grace and dignity.

This book is nearly a hundred years old.  The statute of limitations has run out on spoilers, so sorry, but I’m going to tell you what happens at the end. Copyright has run out too, and the book is in the public domain now and on Project Gutenberg, and an audio is also available as a  free download on Librivox.

After a mishap in Arizona, Carter wakes up on Mars, also known as Barsoom.  Thanks to the lower Martian gravity, Carter finds he can jump and leap incredibly far, and his muscles, developed for the gravity of Earth, offer him what is seen as super strength on Mars.  Shortly after arriving, he runs into a band of Tharks the 15 foot tall green men of Mars, led by Tars Tarkus, and is taken back to their camp as a curiosity/prisoner. He looks like the humanoid red men of Mars, but he can’t speak their language, and he hasn’t a clue about Barsoomian customs.   A Thark woman, Sola, is assigned to Carter to help him learn their language and customs, and he is guarded by Woola, a watch-dog of sorts.  I thought it was hilarious that Carter can’t bring himself to call Woola a dog, so he calls him a “watch-thing”.

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sidekicksSidekicks!  edited by Sarah Hans

published in March 2013

Where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Alliteration Ink!)

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This anthology is about yup, you guessed it, Sidekicks. And every hero needs a sidekick, right?  Someone who will support them no matter what, help them be the hero of our own story?  Even if you’re not a hero, we all need someone like that in our life.  I was expecting this anthology to be all stories starring super heroes having superhero adventures, cape and utility belt included. I was expecting the collection to be good, but not great, to speak to an audience of Batman and Superman and Thor fans that I just wasn’t a part of.  Hey, guess what? Batman, Superman, Thor, all those heroes that I’m not all that interested in? This anthology isn’t interested in them either. For once, they aren’t in the spotlight.  Sidekicks! wasn’t merely good or even great, it was flippin’ fantastic.

I’m not so interested in superheroes doing superthings and getting superattention, but people who’d rather save the day from behind the scenes? Yeah, that I can totally get into. Most of them are about people doing the right thing (or believing they are doing the right thing), and getting too little credit for it.  Not sure who the sidekick is in the story? It’s the person who is most selfless, the person least interested in the limelight. . . most of the time.    Many of the stories are packed with emotion and depth, others are filled with fear and denial.  In some the characters aren’t sure if they are on the good side or the bad side.  You may not recognize many of the authors in the table of contents, but I guarantee this is a collection you’ll be thinking about for a while.

Enough with the intro, let’s get to talking about just a few of my favorite stories!

Hunter and Bagger, by Alex Bledsoe – This quickie opens with Ellen, who is tied to a chair in a shed.  She realizes she’s been kidnapped by the infamous Headhunter, the serial killer who cuts women’s heads off.  But it turns out The Headhunter isn’t one man, but two.  The two men demand that the woman tell them which one of them is the villain, and which one is the sidekick. Is this a trick question? Does she get to live if she answers right?  But how to tell, since the two men seem more interested in bickering with each other than acting heroic or in this case very villainous?  If she’s going to get out of there, she’s going to have to think fast. And thinking fast is exactly what she does. These have got to be the dumbest, thickest idiot serial killers ever, and Ellen would be laughing her head off, if she wasn’t in her underwear, tied to a chair, in a shed with two lunatics.
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nov is scif month

This interview is part of SciFi Month, hosted by Rinn Reads.  Many of you have a smile on your face right now, because it’s always Sci Fi Month here at Little Red Reviewer (and fantasy month, and new weird month, and all-sorts-of-speculative-fiction month).

Today I’m thrilled to interview Gareth L. Powell, who is best known for his Ack Ack Macaque books. I’ve seen these books at the local bookstore, and every time I do a double take. is that really a gun toting monkey? why yes, yes it is.  Mr. Powell was kind enough to answer my questions, so let’s get to the interview!

ack ack maquace

Q. Please introduce yourself, and tell us a little about your Ack-Ack Macaque series. A fighter pilot who is a cynical monkey? This I gotta know more about!

A. I am the author of four novels – Hive Monkey, Ack-Ack Macaque, The Recollection and Silversands – and the short fiction collection, The Last Reef and Other Stories. I am currently writing my fifth novel, Macaque Attack, which should be out in January 2015.

 

Ack-Ack Macaque and Hive Monkey are the first two thirds of my ‘Macaque’ trilogy, dealing with the exploits of Ack-Ack Macaque, a technologically upgraded monkey who drinks, smokes and swears, and thinks he’s a World War II flying ace. The books are a mixture of murder mystery, thriller, and alternate history cyberpunk.

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the spirit thiefThe Spirit Thief, by Rachel Aaron

published in 2010

where I got it: the library

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The entire internet has been afire about Rachel Aaron’s Eli Monpress series for a while now, and it’s no secret I’ve a major weakness for thieves in fantasy environments, so how could I resist a story about the greatest thief ever?  The first volume wasn’t exactly what I expected, but surprises are always a good thing, right?

The infamous thief (and wizard!) Eli Monpress is certainly the focus of the story, but we learn about the world through Spiritualist Miranda Lyonette. She’s been sent to the Kingdom of Mellinor to keep Eli from stealing an important artifact.  Lucky for us, she’s rather unsuccessful in her mission, otherwise this would be a very short and rather un-fun book.

Upon her arrival at Mellinor, Miranda finds that Eli has completely ignored the artifact and has instead kidnapped King Henrith and is holding him for ransom.  Out of the woodwork steps the King’s brother, Prince Renaud, who claims the throne for himself and convinces everyone that Miranda is secretly working for Eli and against the kingdom.  As Miranda unravels what’s going on, she’ll have to choose which is more important: following the rules, or doing the right thing.

Miranda is a court-trained Spiritualist, which means she’s made binding agreements with the spirits she works with. She offers them physical protection and a portion of her own energy, and in turn she can use their magic upon request. It’s a very formal agreement, and she’d never think of using a spirit against its will, or hurting it in any way.  Wizards who go against their training, who take advantage of the strength of spirits, are known as enslavers, and should be destroyed at all costs.

Eli’s relationship with spirits is completely different. He doesn’t offer protective contracts with them, but he doesn’t force them to do anything either.  He just talks to them, almost as if they were just other people he was having a conversation with. He’s certainly not a spiritualist, nor is he an enslaver. The Spirit Court isn’t sure what to make of him.  And that’s just one reason why there’s a huge bounty on his head.  Eli Monpress, the man who steals everything that’s not nailed down, and when he wants something that’s nailed down, he convinces the nails to give him a hand.

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SAM_2597A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan

published Feb 2013

where I got it: purchased new

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In early 2012 I found my favorite book of 2012. I figured it was a fluke, as how can you read something and know nothing else could compare? it’s only March of 2013, and yet again, I can tell you without a doubt, Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons is one of my top reads of this year.

Not into fantasy? Don’t think a book with a dragon on the cover is for you? I don’t care. Read this book.  Like its main character, it transcends expectations.

Marie  Brennan has written a book I’ve been waiting a very long time to read.  All this talk about strong female main characters? Women who fight for what they want, who are strong yet impulsive, intelligent, vocal, protective towards their loved ones? Brennan gave me all of that and took it one step further. She gave Isabella Camherst the most important personality trait of all: she made Isabella completely realistic.

How to describe Isabella? A naive and sometimes thoughtless (not out of malice, simply out of ignorance and impulsiveness) woman who sees nothing odd about being only woman in the room,  and who can’t possibly understand the unintended consequences of not caring about societies expectations for her gender.  forgive the presumptuousness, but it’s as if Brennan spied on me when I was nineteen years old and wrote a book about my imaginary alter ego.  Dragons were never my forte, but I do recall many a college course where I was the only female, being secretly jealous of other women my age who made looking and acting feminine so easy, while at the same time knowing their lifestyle wasn’t for me.  I feel like this book was written just for me.  Like Isabella, I often felt confused and trapped by societies expectations.

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Ayelsford Skull Main 2_1.jpg.size-230The Aylesford Skull, by James P. Blaylock

published January 2013

where I got it: purchased new

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Langdon St. Ives had plans.  Those plans involved spending as much time as possible in the country, enjoying the company of his wife, and raising his children in peace. His most recent case ended badly, and St. Ives needs time to reassess, to recover, to figure out what went wrong.

So much for having plans.

In short order, a grave robberry is discovered near his country home, a woman is murdered, his wife is nearly poisoned, and his son Eddie is kidnapped. All these crimes were perpetrated by Dr. Narbondo, with whom St. Ives has had previous dealings. The Aylesford Skull is just the most recent in Blaylock’s Langdon St Ives adventures, but thanks to some concise yet very well presented character introductions, the readers knows everything they need to know to enjoy the story without having read previous tales involving Professor St. Ives.

Narbondo didn’t just dig up a random grave, he chose one involving a particularly horrid family secret, and took the skull of the child’s corpse.  Using tiny machinery and photos of the deceased, Narbondo makes creeptastic ghost trapping lamps out of the skulls he has stolen over the years.  It’s believed his final goal is to open a pathway between the world of the living and that of the dead.

And that’s the just the beginning! Once the action gets started in this steampunk thriller, it doesn’t stop! While St. Ives and his trusted friends set out to rescue Eddie, the medium Mother Laswell endeavors to save the soul of her own son, and even side characters have their own missions and goals. From the tunnels and alehouses of London to the marshes and rivers of the surrounding countryside, Blaylock whisks the reader along through an all immersive and atmospheric adventure.

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zero_stone_1969_95960The Zero Stone, by Andre Norton

published in 1968

where I got it: borrowed

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Can someone please tell me why it took me so long to read this book?  Nearly every Andre Norton I’ve picked up has been excellent, and The Zero Stone is no different. Skillfully written and wonderfully imaginative, I think this is my favorite Norton so far!

The story gets rolling right away when Murdoc Jern’s patron is assassinated.  Raised by a gem dealer with shady connections and then apprenticed out to the legitimate gem merchant Vondar Ustle, Murdoc knows everything there is to know about gems and stones, but he’s woefully naive about everything else. When Ustle is murdered Murdoc finds sanctuary and then takes the first available ship off planet.

All this time, Murdoc has been in possession of a singularly strange ring. Too large for any human finger, the ring holds a weird lusterless stone. It was found on a corpse in space, and it seems to offer guidance to specific people. What does the ring point to? Is this why Ustle was killed? Is Murdoc in danger?

Befriended by the ship’s cat, Murdoc accidentally allows the cat to eat a strange pebble. The pebble impregnates the cat (don’t worry, this isn’t my favorite horror scifi movie), and a weird little mutant cat is born.  The mutant cat, who calls itself Eet, is telepathic, intelligent, and refuses to tell Murdoc anything about it’s origin. Eet helps Murdoc escape from those who would do him harm, and a partnership is formed between the two. Not quite trusting friends, they do need each other.  Eet is stuck in a tiny feline body and needs a strong person to help, and Murdoc could certainly use some help avoiding certain death and learning more about the powers and origin of the ring.

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SAM_2431The Lost Continent, by Edgar Rice Burroughs (also published as Beyond Thirty)

published in 1916

where I got it: either bought used, or borrowed. it has my friend’s name stamped in the front, so I am not sure!

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Originally titled Beyond Thirty, and printed only once in an obscure magazine in 1916,  The Lost Continent wasn’t available to the masses until the late 1950s. In the introduction to the novel, the Ace editor mentions the only copy he saw until this printing was a fan’s typed version that had been laboriously cribbed from another fan’s typed version or the original magazine printing. For decades, this was the lost manuscript of a master.  To add to the mystery, the copyright page in this Ace printing contains only 4 lines, none of which specify the actual year this version was printed. If anyone can tell by the Frank Frazetta cover art or the suggested retail price of 60 cents, I’d appreciate knowing.

Since the outbreak of The Great War (that would be WWI, for those of us aware of its second incarnation), America has cut off contact with the other continents. For two hundred years Pan-America has kept it’s activities between 30 and 175 degrees longitude.  War ships watch the waves, prepared to slaughter anything that comes across. But nothing, and no one, ever does.

Lieutenant Jefferson Turck grew up reading hearing his grandfather’s stories of England and Europe and studying his grandfather’s forbidden maps.  Not everyone onboard the aero-sub agrees with Turck’s curious thoughts about the outside world or appreciates his ability to move up the military ranks. During a storm while patrolling The 30, his sub is sabotaged, and Turck soon finds himself stranded in a small motorboat with a few other seamen.  And they are, most certainly, beyond the 30.  With no possible way to survive the trip west over the Atlantic, the men row east towards England and the unknown.

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And yes, I am talking about *that* John Campbell. You know, the guy who edited Astounding (later renamed Analog) for nearly 35 years, the guy who kicked off the careers of many of the most famous golden age science fiction writers. This is the guy who in 1938 also penned a little novella called Who Goes There? which later became, among other incarnations, John Carpenter’s 1982 film The Thing.  Simply put, without Campbell,  science fiction would not be what it is today.

SAM_2425The Black Star Passes, by John W. Campbell

published in 1930 / 1953

where I got it: purchased used

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The Black Star Passes is a 1953 fix-up of three of Campbell’s earlier stories that were originally written in 1930.  I know that the stories were edited from their original forms to become a smoother novel, but I don’t know the extent of those changes. In Campbell’s introduction to this 1953 printing, he says the fiction he writes is for students (he specifies male students, but take it in the time in which it was written) who were discovering the joys of math, chemistry, and engineering while in high school or college. These stories were for people who enjoying thinking about problems and figuring out the answers. Basically, these are stories for science nuts.

In Piracy Preferred, the first story, the young inventors Arcot and Morey are challenged with catching an invisible thief. The pirate manages to gas entire airplanes with sleeping gas, get aboard, steal the valuables, and get away. the plane is able to safely land on auto-pilot, and no one is ever hurt in these attacks, except for the fact that the sleeping gas also cures many cancers and other ailments.  If a pilot begins to feel sleepy, it’s too late.  It’s quite entertaining when entire planes go up filled with the elderly and cancer stricken and all their money, hoping to bait the pirate into curing them.  This isn’t a mystery or a suspense story, and after a bit of experimentation in their labs, Arcot and Morey are able to make themselves invisible, break through the invisibility cloak of the pirate, and catch him. And what do you do when you catch a genius criminal?  you hire him, of course!

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About this redhead, etc.

Redhead is a snarky, non-politically correct 30-something who reviews mostly science fiction and fantasy and talks about all sorts of other fun scifi and fantasy geekery. She once wrote a haiku that included the word triskaidekaphobia.

This blog contains adult language and strong opinions. The best way to contact her outside of this blog is twitter, where she is @redhead5318 .

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