the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘space opera

The Emperor and the Maula, by Robert Silverberg

available Sept 30th 2017

Where I got it: received advanced review copy from the publisher (Thanks Subterranean Press!)

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Robert Silverberg’s The Emperor and The Maula is exactly what it says on the tin: this is a space opera version of the story of Scheherazade – in which a woman is sentenced to die at dawn and purchases another day of living by spinning a compelling tale for the emperor with dawn as her cue for a cliffhanger.

 

I love the idea of a space opera Scheherezade. Just think of how far an author could scale things up!  A number of years ago, there was a scifi anime made of The Count of Monte Cristo, with aliens, and travel to other planets, alien technologies and a very cool artistic style.  The writers took an earthly story and scaled it way the hell up, and it was brilliant.

 

What gives this wonderful little novella the “more” factor are its publishing history and the galactic scale a space opera environ allows. If you’re one of those readers who always skips introductions offered up by authors or their friends, make an exception for this one.  The history of this novella as seen through the logistics of the publishing industry is an adventure itself – rife with cliffhangers, cancelled publishing projects, word count requirements, adventures in selling the same story twice, concluding with the original novella being shoved in a file and forgotten about.   And now after twenty five years,  Silverberg fans can finally read The Emperor and the Maula in its nearly original form.  Funny, compelling, suspenseful, and given the space opera scale-up, this is exactly the kind of story an Earth woman might tell to an alien overlord on a planet far, far, away.

 

The Ansaaran Empire, benevolent ruling power of the known galaxy, brings culture and civilization to all planets.  Races living on backward planets are known as maulas, a word that translates to “barbarian”. If these people can ever find it in themselves to become cultured, perhaps one day, hundreds of years from now, they may be welcomed into the empire as citizens.

 

As an Earthling, Laylah is a maula and as such is forbidden from stepping foot on the sacred homeworld of the Ansaarans.   Knowing that the punishment is death, she travels far and wide, every year getting closer to her goal, and finally stepping off a starship and on to the sacred planet. Where she is summarily arrested. And then passed from one bureaucrat to another in a bureaucratic comedy of errors, as all of them know the punishment for her crime is death, but none of them want to be associated with the poor loser who will actually be responsible for someone’s execution.

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The Gate to Futures Past (Reunification #2) by Julie Czerneda

published in Sept 2016

where I got it: rec’d review copy from the publisher (Thanks DAW!)

 

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The Gate to Futures Past is a tricky book to review, because not only is this the middle book of the Reunification trilogy, it is the penultimate book in Czerneda’s long running Clan Chronicles series. I actually read this book last summer when it came out, but I didn’t have time to review it. What better time for a review, than when the next book is about to come out? I also have the benefit of having already read the final book in the series, so I am cheating  more than a  little bit.   With the final book in this series releasing in just a few months, readers new to this series will have an opportunity no one else has ever had – you’ll be able to read all three Reunification books, This Gulf of Time and Stars, The Gate to Futures Past, and To Guard Against the Dark, one right after the other. That’s to your advantage, as these last three books do read as one long novel.  Click here to read my spoilery review of This Gulf of Time and Stars.  And by the way, both This Gulf of Time and Stars and The Gate to Futures Past are now available in mass market paperback.

 

Did you cringe when you read that phrase “long running series”?  I know some of you did! Yes, the Clan Chronicles is a space opera epic that spans three trilogies. If you’ve read any of Robin Hobb’s interconnected trilogies, you know you can jump in at any Book 1, and do just fine.  I’m sure there are readers and fans who will disagree with me, but I believe the same is true for Czerneda’s  Clan Chronicles series – so long as you jump in at any Book 1, you’ll be ok, with the added bonus that if you enjoy what you read, you can then start again at any other book 1!  It’s neat, because if you and your friend each start at a different point, you’ll have a different timeline and a different perspective of the entire story.

 

I preamble with all of that so you’ll be understanding that this review will involve references to events that occurred outside this novel, that there will be unavoidable minor spoilers. It’s all to the greater good though – if you enjoy space opera with healthy dose of romance, family drama, cosmic mystery, humor, and aliens that work, anything Julie Czerneda writes is for you!

 

“Aliens that work”, that’s a weird phrase.  You ever read a book with aliens and think to yourself these are just humans with blue skin, or elephants that talk and think just like a human?  A biologist by trade, Czerneda’s aliens act differently than humans because they have biological evolutionary histories completely different from anything that evolved on Earth.  They have different physiologies, different brain patterns, different reasons for doing what they do and how they do it. If you want to write aliens that aren’t humans in disguise, quit watching Star Trek and start reading Czerneda. (Actually, keep watching Star Trek. I keep hoping Huido will show up in an episode of DS9 or Voyager)

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It’s time for another installment of five books 50 pages!  This is where I grab 5 books that I’m kinda sorta intrigued by reading just the first 50 or so pages.  The goal is that hopefully at least two will really stand out as something I want to keep reading. I’m going into these books knowing barely anything beyond them other than the back cover blurb. But I have high hopes! Last time I did five books 50 pages I discovered a book that ended up being one of my top reads for 2016.

The contestants this week are:

Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Nine Fox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Cold Iron by Stina Leicht

Dear Sweet Filthy World by Caitlin R. Kiernan

What was YAY,  what was NAY, and what was MEH. Let’s find out!

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nemesis-games-coreyNemesis Games (The Expanse #5) by James S.A. Corey

published in 2015

where I got it: purchased new

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When Leviathan Wakes first came out, I just about forced my husband to read it. We were both starved for space adventure/space opera, and Holden and his crew felt a lot like our other favorite space adventure crew, that of Serenity.  Hubs and I took turns devouring the books. I stalled out at book four, so much so that I wasn’t interested in continuing with the series. But my better half powered through to Nemesis Games, and promised that a) I would love it b) it was completely different than the previous books in the series, and c) It went some dark, dark places.  He was right on all counts.

 

I’ve always referred to James Holden and his crew as “James Holden and his crew” because Jim was always the star of every scene he was in. Amos and Alex and Naomi seemed to instinctively shrink back when Jim opened his mouth.  It’s ok, he’s the protagonist, right? It’s a little like a Matthew McConaughey movie – did you even notice anyone else in that movie as soon as he shows up? No, you did not.   When Naomi, Alex, and Amos are with Jim, they are, as my better half so accurately put it, “Jim’s appendages”.  It’s an apt description.  Ok, so who are these folks when Jim isn’t in the room getting all the attention?

 

It’s a great question, and it’s exactly half the plot of Nemesis Games.  The other half of the plot is the space opera politics, action, and wheels within wheels this series has delivered from page one.  Warning: minor spoilers ahead!

 

Back from Ilus, and uninterested in ever leaving the solar system again, Holden and crew have enough funds to get their beaten up ship fixed up and chill out for a while. Amos gets a call that a friend has died, so he rushes to Earth to pay his respects.  Alex heads to Mars to look up his ex-wife and see if maybe they can’t patch things up. An Naomi gets a call afterwards which she refuses to tell Jim where she’s going and for weeks doesn’t answer his calls.

 

This is where things get interesting.  You, as the reader, think Jim Holden is a good guy, right? You, as the reader, assume Naomi, Alex, and Amos, by dint of association, are good guys, right?  What do you think their childhood was like? What do you think their young adulthood was like?  Holden, raised in a huge family, and given all the opportunities a child of Earth is given, assumes his friend’s lives were similar to his.  He assumes this because he is privileged.  He doesn’t want to know how different he really is from his best friends.

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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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Friends, I’m so thrilled to be hosting author Julie Czerneda today, I can’t even.  I know ya’ll remember when I went absolutely nuts over her Species Imperative trilogy (biology FTW!), when I wrote an accidentally spoilery review of the most recent Clan Chronicles novel This Gulf of Time and Stars, and how much fun we had with hosting her for an AMA.  Her newest Clan Chronicles novel, The Gate to Futures Past doesn’t hit bookstore shelves until September, but today is the big cover art release party!  I’ll be posting throughout the day with more artwork and more inside scoop, but in the meantime, let’s here from the author herself about how she keeps track of this generation and galaxy spanning epic. . .

Author Photo Credit: Roger Czerneda Photography

Author Photo Credit: Roger Czerneda Photography

scroll artwork

Holding Nothing Back

a guest post by
Julie Czerneda

 

 

 

The room could be in any seedy backwater motel. Inside, however, is an open suitcase, its contents strewn over the unmade bed: three hats; four cell phones in their original packaging; a small hatchet, its blade edged in what looks like rust. Oh, and a lab coat, scrunched into a ball.

By the bed is a night stand; on it are pieces of what had been the hotel phone.

Protruding from the bathroom are a pair of dirty boots, toes up. It’s only then you realize they contain feet.

Two things just happened. You guessed what you’re reading: a murder mystery, with clues being presented. And, perhaps without even being aware, you began a story of your own, a plausible scenario based on this room.

And those feet.

Now comes the test. What’s next? If your scenario fits the rest of what you read, for this is a book, it’s gratifying—so long as you didn’t see everything coming. In that case, you’re bored silly and probably won’t finish reading. On the other hand, if there’s an abrupt departure from what you expected, well, that could be fun. After all, who doesn’t like a startling revelation to tingle the imagination and make you read faster and faster—

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51FDYgEMAsL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_This Gulf of Time and Stars by Julie Czerneda (Reunification #1)

publishes Nov 3rd, 2015

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (thanks DAW!)

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If you’ve been following Julie Czerneda’s writing career, the phrase “a new Clan Chronicles novel!” is music to your ears. I discovered Czerneda through her Species Imperative trilogy, and quickly fell in love with her invitingly conversational  writing style, her characterization, and the way she writes alien species. Seriously, this woman is the ultimate master of writing convincing alien species. Formally trained as a biologist, Czerneda’s plots touch on evolution,  biology, ecology, and how it’s all related.  She’ll introduce you to an alien civilization and then prove their population isn’t living on their planet of origin, she’ll give a species a strong evolutionary process and then prove that it doesn’t quite work as planned. It’s true, physics and math will get us to the stars, but it’s biology that will give us the answers to whatever and whoever we find living out there.

I think the biggest question surrounding This Gulf of Time and Stars is can readers new to this series jump in here? The answer is it depends on the reader. If you don’t mind feeling a little in the deep end (some of my favorite authors have thrown me into the deep end, to fantastic results – looking at you China Mieville and Iain M. Banks!), or you’re willing to take 5 minutes to do a little research by reading Czerneda’s informative and entertaining Big Idea post over at Scalzi’s Whatever, you’ll do fine. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers to have everything explained right off the bat, you may prefer to start earlier in the series. Generally speaking, Czerneda is the kind of author who simply doesn’t explain things right away – part of her character’s journeys involves discovering for themselves what’s going on, and how, and why. and when I say “discovering for themselves”, I don’t mean coming of age (although some of her novels would qualify as coming of age), I mean discovering genetic secrets and information that  could tear apart an entire society and species. We’re talking big picture here.

This review does have SPOILERS for the first books in the series, and some SPOILERS for This Gulf of Time and Stars.

Here’s the very quick and dirty background of the series, the characters, and the world, in which I have grossly simplified everything in the name of brevity:

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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.