the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘adventure

uncharted-stars-nortonUncharted Stars, by Andre Norton

published in 1969

where I got it: purchased used

 

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My favorite Andre Norton is The Zero Stone.  A fun space adventure story with a scifi twist (and an alien cat!), there’s everything to love about that book. So of course I had to read the sequel, Uncharted Stars.   Taking place shortly after the events of the first book, Murdoc Jern has purchased his own spaceship, now he just needs to find a pilot to fly it. Already down on his luck, Murdoc can barely come up with the docking fees for the ship, let alone money for a pilot’s salary.  Even worse, any pilot he hires might just be a spy for the Patrol.

 

He ends up hiring Ryzk, a man with his own secrets. Why is such a talented pilot wasting away on this backwater planet willing to work for pennies?  A question Murdoc files away for another day, as he is too busy ensuring Eet stays out of sight and keeping Ryzk from knowing the goal of their flight plan is to find the origins of the Zero Stone.

 

Eet knows a lot more about the zero stones than he’s willing to share, but he does share that the stone allows him to shapeshift at will, and that if he concentrates and practices, Murdoc can do it too.   After a while, Murdoc gets half way decent at holding a different face, and tries his new found skills out on Eet, turning the critter back into a normal cat. Miffed  beyond belief, Eet gives Murdoc the silent treatment, and they both realize after a while they are better off friends than enemies. But can Murdoc be trusted with the supreme power of the stone?

 

The plot felt very episodic, with the characters having one adventure after another.  They try to sell gems on a planet, fail and leave;  they visit a secret and famous pirate base, steal a star map and are able to escape;  they rescue an alien archaeologist who is forever in their debt; and other various adventures and escapes. I wonder if this novel is a fix-up of Murdoc and Eet short stories? Because that is what it felt like.  Not to say this is a bad novel, I was just hoping for better because I loved Zero Stone so much.

 

There were quite a few things I did enjoy about Uncharted Stars. It takes place in Norton’s “Forerunner” universe, which includes a whole ton of loosely related novels and short stories. If you’re familiar with any of those stories, you’ll find a ton of easter eggs in Uncharted Stars.  The story also has a really adorable twist  at the end, something I never saw coming but I’m happy it was there.

crashing-suns-edmond-hamiltonCrashing Suns by Edmond Hamilton

first published in Weird Tales in 1928

where I got it – Three volume Hamilton set was a gift

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That cover art looks familiar, doesn’t it?

 

Yep,  “Crashing Suns” by Edmond Hamilton is the cover art I screen-grabbed years ago for a Vintage SciFi image. At the time, I had no idea who Edmond Hamilton was, and I was too busy with my own things to start meaningful conversations with people who took a look at the badge I’d photoshopped and said “Hey, I know that book!”.   In my old age, I’m trying to get better.

 

A few years ago, I was gifted with a gorgeous three volume set of The Collected Works of Edmond Hamilton. The way our living room is set up, this is one of the first things you see displayed on top of the bookshelf when you walk into that room.   The back of the volumes feature cover art of novels, chapbooks, and magazines in which these novels, novellas, and short stories were originally published, and as I was flipping through, I saw artwork that looked mighty familiar to me (because I stole it). So OF COURSE I had to read the story!  The story behind the cover art is “Crashing Suns”, which is Hamilton’s first story in his Interstellar Patrol sequence of interrelated stories.

 

This was such a fun pulpy story! So many exclamation points, so many characters shouting, so many big bold adjectives. This is a story of big brassy sounds, saturated primary colors, and massive stakes (no there weren’t actually any brassy sounds or primary colors, but that’s my weird brain for you. But there are earth shatteringly large stakes for our heroes). At the beginning of the story, Earth gets news from an observatory that there is a star on a trajectory path towards our sun! And if it reaches here, obviously everyone will die!

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willful-childWillful Child, by Steven Erickson

published in 2014

where I got it: purchased new

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Are you a fan of the movie Galaxy Quest? Do you enjoy quoting Zapp Brannigan and quoting things he might say?  Are you a Star Trek fan who makes fun of the show in good fun and out of love?  If you answered Yes to any of those questions, Steven Erickson’s Willful Child is for you.

Like many original Star Trek episode scripts, Willfull Child is not as a whole what I would describe as a good book. The pacing is off, the characters are pretty flat, the dialog is stilted. And all of that is part of the joke.  Erikson is playing around with Star Trek tropes, science fiction tropes, humor tropes, and human exploration tropes and having buckets of fun with along the way.  Captain Hardrian Sawback is the bastard child of Zapp Brannigan and Eric Cartman, the Terran Space Fleet’s mission is to subjugate or maybe obliterate as many life forms as possible, and the further you get into this book, the more you’ll be laughing.   The country music programming joke is still my favorite.

kifandzapp

And Yes, this is the same Steven Erickson who is famous for his Malazan Book of the Fallen series. After writing that many heavy fantasy novels, I’d say he more than deserves a humorous palette cleanser of a novel.

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long way plantyThe Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers

published in 2016

where I got it: purchased new

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Remember the movie Titan A.E.?  Mash that up with four parts Firefly and one part Station Eleven, make it a little more lighthearted, and you’ll have something approximating The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.

 

The captain and crew of the Wayfarer doesn’t care much about Rosemary’s past. All they care about is that she’s a discreet and qualified clerk and that she understands shipboard safety. All Rosemary cares about is getting as far away from Sol system as possible.  The Wayfarer is tunneling ship – they tunnel wormholes the slow and hard way so a permanent wormhole tunnel can be used for interstellar travel.  It’s hard boring work, but it pays well and if you know what you’re doing it’s not dangerous. Well, not too dangerous.

 

Like the TV show Firefly,  it’s the crew and characters that makes this story shine. Among the crew, we’ve got hyper-chipper stoner engineers, polyamorous reptiles, a doctor from a dying race, a cranky algae tech, an overly polite AI, and a captain who’s got to keep the ship running and his crew fed.  Beyond the ship are space pirates, black markets,  arms dealers, and every opportunity to get a fresh start in life.

 

My favorite characters by far were Sissix and Dr. Chef.  This isn’t a human dominated galaxy, but it’s a human ship, and Sissix and Dr. Chef are the literal fish out of water. Sissix is of a reptilian race, and her people are are very touchy feely, very open about sexuality, and polyamorous. If she’s going to be accepted on a human ship, she’s got to dampen down everything about herself. Why would anyone from her homeworld torture themselves like that?  Dr. Chef’s actual name is completely unpronounceable, and the infant human race is a constant source of entertainment for him. His race literally destroyed itself, they are a cautionary tale.  Dr. Chef seriously needs his own book, I loved him!
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fable heroes hinesFable: Blood of Heroes, by Jim C. Hines

published August 2015

where I got it: purchased new

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My introduction to the Fable videogame series was playing Fable II until I nearly broke the disc. Kicking chickens, shooting gargoyles, solving riddles, completing quests, honing my skills, being friendly or mean to people, getting different clothes, getting rid of pesky highwayman,  increasing my character’s abilities, seeing how different decisions affected the game . . . I spent many a happy hour in Albion.  Fable II spoiled me: I expected all video games to be this fun.

 

If you’ve never played the videogame, there is still plenty for you to enjoy in Jim C. Hines’ new novel Fable: Blood of Heroes. You’ll get a well drawn story with a good balance of action and characterization,  heroes to cheer on and bad guys to hate on. This is not a heavy deep story, it is just pure fun, just like the video game I have fond memories of.  Having recently tackled Cixin Liu’s The Dark Forest,  I needed something that was going to take me for a great ride without frying my brain, and Fable: Blood of Heroes fit the bill.  For those of you have played any or all of the Fable games, you’ll get the in-jokes, recognize videogameisms such as getting information by talking to as many villagers as you can, see the level ups and HP count increases, recognize Will users and Strength users and Skill users, laugh when NPCs tap the fourth wall, and best of all you’ll recognize a fellow Fable fan in Jim Hines.

 

The story starts in the town of Brightlodge, where the young king has summoned four heroes to protect the town’s inhabitants from impending doom. Tipple is the tank of the group, Inga the warrior with an enchanted shield, Rook is the assassin, and Leech the life-force using healer who is a little too interested in how your insides work. A classic D&D adventure team, the heroes’ first quest is to rid the town of a smuggler who harbors more than a few secrets (and a secret identity!), and a boat of attacking redcaps.  The redcaps are foul little bloodthirsty creatures with bloody caps nailed to their heads. They thrive on havoc and on setting things on fire. The plot thickens when the heroes learn of concerns that are far bigger than one pirate and a ship full of redcaps.  In a style that George R R Martin made famous, Hines gives each hero their own point of view chapters, which helps flesh out certain characters and develop their backstories.  With a main cast that soon grows to eight, giving characters their own chapters was a smart move.

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interstellar movie poster

 

Last Saturday we joined another couple to see Interstellar.  I’ve made this review as non-spoilery as possible, but quick tl;dr is that I absolutely loved this movie.

 

Interstellar, Directed by Christopher Nolan, starring Matthew McConaughey, John Lithgow, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine , Davie Gyasi, and Jessica Chastian.  Rated PG-13

 

The premise of Interstellar is that Earth is doomed. A blight is killing the crops, and no matter what you want to be when you grow up, you’re gonna be a farmer, because it is now everyone’s duty to get as much food out of the ground as possible. Cooper, an ex-test pilot, lives with his father-in-law Donald, his son Tom and his daughter Murphy. His daughter is convinced there is a ghost in her bedroom who keeps pushing books off the shelves, and he tries to explain to her that ghosts and poltergeists don’t exist, she’s got to go about understanding what’s in her room in a scientific way.

Cooper still dreams of flying, and his daughter has inherited his love of astronautics and physics.  I won’t tell you how, but Cooper and Murphy come to the attention of a government agency who has a Plan A to save humanity, and a Plan B.  Plan A involves the cinematographic beauty of the movie: flying a ship through a worm hole and into another galaxy, in the search for another planet for humanity to inhabit.  Along with an old army robot, Cooper and a small crew of scientists take a small ship up to a mothballed space station to start their journey.  Plan B is the twist, and well, that would be a spoiler. Which is too bad, because it’s the big idea of the whole thing.

 

 

Interstellar was a gorgeous movie to watch.  The rings of Saturn, black holes up close and personal, a star frozen in an eternal moment of being on the event horizon of a black hole, the vistas of the planets the expedition lands on, all of the visualizations are stunning to behold. And this might be the best visual representation of we’ve ever come up with for what a black hole might look like.

Sorta looks like a no-ship.

Black hole sorta looks like a no-ship.

 

From the drawings we’ve seen in astronomy textbooks, a black hole is a disk that sucks stuff in, looking almost like the drain in your bathtub, right? but as Romilly explains, thats a 2d representation of something that is 3d. Whats a 3d version of a circle? A sphere, of course. So the  black holes are spheres, which at first blush,  looked to me like a Herbertian no-ships. And just wait until you see the black hole that has a star dying in an endless moment on the event horizon! For more info on that, check out this spoiler free article on how they designed the black holes at Wired.

Why yes, that is a star being eaten by a Black Hole. Looks  amazing!

Why yes, that is a star being eaten by a Black Hole. Looks amazing! oh, and there is a planet orbiting it. Wanna take a look?

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the scroll of yearsThe Scroll of Years by Chris Willrich

published in 2013

where I got it: purchased new

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On the run for murder, the thief Imago Bone and his poet wife Persimmon Gaunt find themselves halfway across the planet. They keep their heads down in the country of Qiangguo, in hopes the Night Auditors won’t be able to follow their trail. They need some friends, and fast, as Gaunt will be giving birth to their son any day now.  If they’d just stop running long enough to see that maybe there’s something bigger happening around them….

 

The parts of The Scroll of Years had so much potential – a scroll you can fall into, the political complications of a royal heir who is a foreigner, creeptastically cool villains, a parallel world where time flows differently, interesting characters, fun world building.  With all those fantastic pieces to work with, it’s unfortunate that the plotting and characters never came together in a  coherent enough fashion for me to really get invested in the story.

 

Let’s talk about the good parts first.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.