SPSFC Book Review: “Derelict” by L.J. Cohen

I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and have been delighted to see the wide range of offerings authors have shared with us. Check out all my posts on the SPSFC here.

Derelict by LJ Cohen

What happens when you’ve got a bunch of smart kids locked on a space station with a derelict spaceship and not enough to occupy their time? Basically, you get the plot of Derelict, a coming-of-age/hard sci-fi mashup.

The plot centers around that eponymous derelict ship as several characters find themselves in life-or-death situations struggling to figure out how to survive when they accidentally launch the ship. There are enough of these situations to draw comparisons to The Martian with its constant “what goes wrong next?” chorus, but the way the characters move through the challenges feels a bit more realistic even as the focus is less on the science here.

What’s especially impressive is how very real each of the characters feel. Even when I wasn’t sure I liked some of them, it was hard to deny that their motivations and concerns made sense in the moment, and that they were clearly learning and changing over the course of the novel. I also enjoyed that physical pain and injuries had more of an impact on the story than they often do. Too many times, I’ve seen characters in novels suffer debilitating injuries only to be fine a chapter or two later. It doesn’t happen here.

My main complaint with the novel is that it can seem to drag through some sections as characters face a challenge, defeat it, and then have something else go wrong that makes it feel like the original challenge wasn’t really resolved. Honestly, this is pretty realistic, but at times I just wanted the magic plot wand to get waved and for things to get settled down a bit. The combination of so many Things Going Wrong with the occasional slice of life narrative made a few chapters slow to a crawl.

I do want to note one other thing I enjoyed, which was the way antagonists were developed here. I can’t say too much without spoiling anything, but every time I thought I figured out why a certain character and another had so many issues, Cohen introduced a new thread that made their relationship even more interesting. It’s quite well done.

I listened to the audiobook of this one, and it was read well. It would be a good way to experience the novel.

Derelict is an entertaining read that ends with a flourish. Fans of coming-of-age stories and hard sci-fi should give it a try.

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I was provided with a copy of the audiobook for review

Links

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the SPSFC here!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Iron Kingdoms Chronicles: “Acts of War I – Flashpoint” by Aeryn Rudel

Iron Kingdoms is a campaign setting from Privateer Press that has enthralled me for almost two decades with its fantastical steampunk world and deep national histories. I spent hours upon hours poring over sourcebooks and thinking of all the stories that could take place in the setting, but still haven’t found a group that wants to play in it (alas). It was to my great delight, then, that I discovered there were novels in the setting that I had never heard of. I was surprised that they’d gone under my radar because I thought I’d been following Privateer Press fairly closely. When I saw Flashpoint by Aeryn Rudel at a bookstore, I grabbed it without any further deliberation. It was enough to know it was a novel in a setting that I’d been in love with for years. I was deeply gratified as I read the novel, though, because it cashed in on that setting in ways that I knew were possible.

Flashpoint starts off with a bang as we follow a desperate, undercover noble trying to escape from an assassination attempt. From there, we get kicked into a setup for a diplomatic showdown between the Empire of Khador (a kind of play on Imperial Russia, but with magic and steam-powered mechs) and Cygnar, a powerful Kingdom that has too many enemies. Rudel introduces readers to a cast of characters including Lord General Coleman Stryker of Cygnar, a warcaster who commands a mech in battle, Asheth Magnus, another mage-like character who is willing to do whatever he thinks it takes to win the day, Maddox, Beth Maddox, a warcaster just doing her duty, and more. The cast is full of strong enough characters to carry the plot, which is itself full of political intrigue and, eventually, squad and battle level combat.

I hugely enjoyed the mix of politicking, character interactions, and combat Rudel uses throughout the novel. It reads like a truly excellent campaign, with battles interspersed at somewhat predictable intervals as action to break up the story exposition. There’s enough conflict here to make things interesting, and both sides of the conflict have sympathetic characters. It’s a great fantasy read, and for readers who enjoy steampunk, there are new wonders in abundance.

It’d be remiss of me to not mention that there are several editing errors in the book. On at least 3 separate occasions, I ran into a sentence that very clearly had a word missing. In two cases, I was able to easily supply the word because it was a common phrase. In the third, the sentence was left somewhat ambiguous by the missing piece. These errors didn’t destroy my enjoyment of the novel, but they did take away from my immersion at points.

Overall, Flashpoint was a delight to read. I loved seeing the Iron Kingdoms come to life. I hadn’t read much from my campaign settings books in a while, and was gratified to see that I could have easily dived into the novel with no prior knowledge of the setting. I recommend the novel to those interested in a fascinating steampunk world.

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SDG.

SPSFC Author Interview: KT Belt, Author of “Monster of the Dark”

I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and wanted to spotlight some of the authors in the contest! KT Belt is now one of the finalists for the contest.

KT Belt, author of Monster of the Dark

How did you get into speculative fiction? What made you decide to write it?

Like most authors I read a lot growing up. But unlike most authors, I suspect, what led me into science fiction were non-fiction books. My first love is aviation and I’m also interested in cars and history. I spent countless hours reading how the machines worked both in broad and specific detail. As example, I remember when I was at a summer camp and rather than play in the pool with everyone else I was reading turn performance charts for an F/A-18C [an American strike fighter].

If you’re curious they look like this:

One of the camp counselors (highschooler) saw me and asked in amazement if I could actually read that. Never thought what I was doing was strange until then. It wasn’t much of a leap for me to go from studying cars and airplanes to studying future vehicles, then far future vehicles, then vehicles that don’t or can’t exist. My bookshelf was filled with science fiction before I knew it.

As for the second part of your question, I love telling stories and I find the craft and mechanics of storytelling endlessly fascinating. However, what drove me in a lot of ways to write was dissatisfaction in the stories I read and watched. It wasn’t, “I can do this better” it was more, “what if you did it this way.” In many cases the key elements for me was/is intensity, deep character focus, personal in lieu of societal or civilizational threats, and world building that doesn’t require the story to stop to be explained. Everyone has their own personal preferences, for me the four pillars I mentioned are what I specialize in as a writer.

Wow! I have never even seen a chart like that. It’s fascinating how people come to speculative fiction from all kinds of different experiences. As I recall, vehicles don’t really feature much in “Monster of the Dark.” What inspired you to write that novel, with its visceral, psychological feel? 

You are quite right. The traditional elements of science fiction such as technology, otherworldly settings, aliens, etc are present in the next books in the series, but not “Monster of the Dark.” When I conceived “Monster of the Dark” (more than ten years ago) I made a very deliberate choice to eschew fantastical technologies or settings to instead keep an extremely tight focus on character. There are hints of it in the background, but I didn’t want any distractions from the central focus.

I was very interested in the tools and methods of social/individual control at the time I was working out the major beats of the story. You, me, everybody has been programmed from the moment we were born to think and act in a certain manner. That can be positive, though there are countless examples where it has been to an individual person’s or people’s detriment.

The main character of the story and the series, Carmen, is unique in that she ages from six to nineteen years old over the course of the story. That she is manipulated and some of the techniques used to do so are obvious, but there are many which are quite subtle. What is also subtle, and in fact was technically difficult to write, were the changes in personality as she matures. A lot of research went into childhood development, abuse victims, and responses to trauma. As Carmen ages I wanted the reader to see who she was turned into, what she could have been turned into, while seeing hints of what she was supposed to but can never be. The tight focus on character is what creates the visceral psychological feel. The reader is with Carmen every step of the way and is in her head as she feels and experiences everything. My intent was to have the reader empathize with Carmen to the point that it feels like they are going through the same trials she is. And while there are moments in the story that are genuinely funny or light-hearted, no punches are pulled.

The long preamble of the past few paragraphs was required for me to answer the question, “what inspired me to write the novel?” I’m an unabashed optimist. It is interesting to see how people fall, there is an entire genre dedicated to it (tragedy). I personally am more interested in how people rise. As I mentioned in the previous question, I like to try to do things differently. The conventions of storytelling have existed for thousands of years for a reason. I don’t wish to shatter those conventions, but to bend or warp them with a purpose and in a way that is meant to enlighten. As prime example, Carmen is written as an inverted power fantasy.

In the typical power fantasy, the character starts very weak then grows, usually in self-knowledge. The climax of the story is the character using the mastery of self (usually represented as martial skill) to overcome their obstacles which are usually an individual (i.e. the villain). Carmen wields extreme personal power even as a six-year-old. She is intelligent (though not knowledgeable), has extreme martial skill, and is described as physically beautiful. Her growth in the mastery of self is not expressed in martial skill but in the wisdom to know WHEN and even IF to use martial skill, as well as her other talents. With that in mind what “inspired” me to write “Monster of the Dark” was the hope it could inspire people to realize that in matters of the spirit, no matter their circumstances and no matter how impossible it might appear to be, they already have everything they need to succeed.

You’ve definitely given readers, including myself, something to look forward to! I was a big fan of the intensely focused narrative of the first novel. I like the notion that it is pushing back against some of the trope-flipping that is common in some corners of sci-fi. Now that you’ve whetted our appetites for the rest of the series, let’s talk about it a bit more. I had book 3 preordered, and it just released. Is the series a trilogy, or are there more books planned? If there are more, how long is the series planned to be? Do you have other writing projects coming up, too?

Thank you for preordering “Cause of Death,” I hope you enjoy it. The Mirrors in the Dark series is planned to be five books long. I’m working on book four (untitled) and it is coming along slowly but steadily. It is a very complicated story for reasons I’d love to say, but can’t mention without spoiling anything. It should be done in early to mid 2023. After this series is done I’ll probably write an epic fantasy trilogy. A lot of lessons learned from the Mirrors in the Dark books have gone into its conception and I very much look forward to writing it. After that I have a near future standalone that is basically a love letter to the pleasure of driving. I also have another standalone, this time dystopian sci-fi. Lastly, I have another sci-fi trilogy set in the Mirrors in the Dark universe but set several hundred years before “Monster of the Dark” takes place. It is about decadence and the fall of societies.

Those are the firm books that are plotted and read to go. All of them are character stories. Character-driven speculative fiction is my lane and no matter what changes with regards to setting, plot, or theme the central focus will remain the same. I don’t know how many stories I have in me, everytime I think I’ve run out of ideas something new pops in my head. For that I’m thankful. Writing books is fun!

Thanks so much for sharing some ideas for upcoming series! I’m sure my readers will be excited to see more. Where can they follow you to keep updated?

I can be followed at Bookbub: KT Belt Books – BookBub. Goodreads: K.T. Belt (Author of Monster of the Dark) | Goodreads. Though the best place is my website: KT Belt (ktbeltbooks.com).

This interview has truly been a pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity.

Thank you!

Again, be sure to check out the first book, and SPSFC Finalist (currently free on Kindle), Monster of the Dark

All links to Amazon are Affiliates

Links

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the SPSFC here!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

SPSFC Book Review: “Shadow of Mars” by I.O. Adler

We’re now in the round of semi-finalists for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and I’m reading and reviewing all of the semi-finalists! Check out my SPSFC Hub for all my posts and reviews for the contest.

Shadow of Mars by I.O. Adler

Carmen is starting a new job and just trying to make things work when she gets a message from her mom. The only problem is her mom was on a space mission and died. Almost immediately after this, Carmen is visited by government agents, which in this near-future setting include some kind of theocratic peace patrol type folks. Carmen is eventually captured by a weird alien spider thing and the plot gets going from there as she discovers what happened to her mother, and what else is going on in the universe.

I’ve got to say it, I thought this book was very strange. At times, I wasn’t sure if it was trying to be a lighthearted space adventure, a sci-fi horror story, or a kind of extended coming-of-age metaphor. Something just felt kind of off throughout the book. Is it supposed to be a comedic romp? Or am I supposed to be horrified by some of the really weird stuff happening? It was kind of disorienting. (SPOILERS the rest of this paragraph) One scene, in particular, stood out to me: Carmen and her mother are talking with each other shortly after Carmen has had her consciousness transferred to one of the spindly spider robots with TV heads, and I just sat there as a reader thinking “What the heck is going on?” At this point, I think the goal was to grab readers with a very odd, body horror-inspired mystery that would keep them going but it felt so off from the feel of the story to that point that I was just confused. (/SPOILERS)

There are significant elements of first contact here, as well. Adler does a fine job subverting some of the themes of alien contact and certainly making it feel more baffling and off-putting than many authors have done. There are almost elements of cosmic horror mixed in here, but going into that might be too spoiler-y. Suffice to say, these are some of the strongest elements in the book, but they come a bit too late into the story.

The questions about what’s going on back and Earth were the most interesting to me, but very little by way of answers were provided. Why are things so different when the tech base seems not that much into the future? What’s going on with the nigh-theocratic “police force”? Maybe this is just my own reflected biases in what I find interesting, but on the flip side I like first contact novels. It’s just that the introduction to the book (the first 10% or so) felt like there was some huge Earthside mystery happening, and then we completely leave that for the overwhelming majority of the novel. It made it feel a bit of whiplash about where the plot was going.

Shadow of Mars is the first in a series, and it feels like its just getting its legs under it by the end. Resolutions aren’t really provided here, as readers must wait for later books in the series to find out what is going on.

All links to Amazon are Affiliates

Links

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the SPSFC here!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

“The Quiet Pools” by Michael P. Kube-McDowell- A surprising, forgotten classic

This cover is so very 90s.

The only reason I read The Quiet Pools is because it was a Hugo Award nominee. I love lists, and I’ve been reading through every Hugo nominee and winner. I tried to track down a copy of this book through the library system, after discovering it wasn’t available as an e-book (at least not anywhere I knew to look). The library system, even through interlibrary loan, took a while to track it down. I was surprised at its apparent scarcity, given it was a Hugo nominee and also a fairly recent (1991) novel. Then I read it, and was thrilled. It’s books like The Quiet Pools that make me want to read lists like I do–they help me discover reads that I enjoy immensely that I’d never have encountered otherwise. 

Kube-McDowell has crafted a surprising look at the launch of a generation ship. Many novels set around the same idea focus either on the generation ship’s flight or on the apocalypse that leads to its launch. Here, though, the entire book is around the leadup to the launch of the second generation ship to leave Earth. The first one was met with adulation, but this one is seen by some as stealing the best and brightest from Earth for chasing a forlorn and possibly heretical dream in the stars.

What surprised me most, though, is that the part of the book I was most interested in was following the imagined family dynamics of the future as Kube-McDowell explores the concept of a “Trine” (family group with three adults married) or other groups with more people through the lens, primarily, of the male partner of three. Initially, Christopher comes off as foolish and jealous, but the way the group gets developed is fascinating, as is the look at counseling for Christopher. It’s a familiar idea with new developments , and it gives a strong basis for character development that actually goes somewhere in the midst of this novel with bigger ideas. In a way, the whole book reads like a kind of slice-of-life novel set around a major world event, and the main thrust of the novel–the launch of the generation ship–can almost fade into the background at times as we see not just Christopher but several other characters living their lives. Yes, these lives are centered around the ship in many ways, but they also are lives lived, full of flaws and tragedy and hope and development. 

There are also scenes centered around the selection process for who goes on the ship and who stays. There are some action scenes around terrorist-fueled attempts to stop the launch or disrupt the selection process. There is tragedy and loss, and triumph. It’s all written in a rather quiet way. I saw the reviews on Goodreads/Amazon placing it squarely in the 3/5 camp on average, and that doesn’t surprise me. One almost has to be in the right mood for this book. It’s an exploration of humanity, but not one that is as wide and vaunted as a space opera, nor one as hyper-focused as some hard sci-fi thriller. And it hit me at the right time, in the right way. 

The Quiet Pools holds up well. Kube-McDowell doesn’t try to predict the future, but simply reports a version of it as he imagines it. And it’s believable, almost to the point of being humdrum. It just feels like it could be the near future, especially the near future as viewed from the early 90s, when the novel was written. I’m not saying that it is dated–and it probably is, in some ways–I’m saying that it is the kind of book that gives insight into the view of the world at the time in which it was written. I mean this in a good way. 

The Quiet Pools ought to be considered a classic of science fiction. It’s a subtle story that reflects upon human nature in the midst of greater events. And it deserves a wider readership.

Links

Sci-Fi Hub– Come read many, many more posts about science fiction novels and shows. I look forward to reading with you and discussing more books and shows!

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Vintage Sci-Fi– Click the link and scroll down to read more vintage sci-fi posts! I love hearing about your own responses and favorites!

My Read-Through of the Hugos– Check out all my posts on reading through the Hugo Award winners and nominees. Tons of sci-fi fantasy discussion throughout.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

SPSFC Book Review: “The Immortality Game” by Ted Cross

I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest, and while the semi-finalists are out, I’ve been circling back and reading through books from other groups that looked intriguing.

The Immortality Game by Ted Cross

Zoya is working prepping corpses when her brother convinces her to bring him a package. When things go south as she goes to deliver the package, she discovers that she has been handed potentially world-changing technology–and that people are willing to kill to get it from her. The action in The Immortality Game starts off fast and very rarely lets the foot off the gas even a little bit. Front-to-back, action moves quickly, bullets are flying, and revelations come fast and hard.

What I found interesting was that the bad guys’ stories were the ones that slowed the pace down at all. Indeed, I’d say it’s arguably true that the villains got more development than Zoya through the course of the novel. I’m not saying that as a complaint. It’s rare that I actually am looking forward to seeing what the villains are up to. Cross makes at least some of the villains into interesting characters in their own right, and I thought it was an interesting move to have the protagonist be basically straight action scenes with the villains having explanations for their motivations and why they’re chasing her and fighting in the background.

Cross also uses the premise of the novel to raise a bunch of interesting questions. It’s got a lot of cyberpunk tech, but the kind that feels more possibly real than not. With that kind of tech, some of the questions are typical to this subgenre, but occasionally I was surprised by how Cross approached the questions from a different angle. Instead of having brains wired for receiving chips as a voluntary thing, something only the rich or privileged get, or some other twist, in this world it’s become compulsory. A few subtle turns of the formula make the book more interesting than it otherwise would have been.

As an aside for those who like audiobooks- I listened to a copy of the book on Audible. I thought the reader did a good job with different voices and cadence throughout the novel.

The Immortality Game is an action-packed cyberpunk thriller. While Cross never had me rooting for the bad guys, he did make them into more interesting characters than they typically are. I would recommend this book to fans of cyberpunk and fast-moving sci-fi.

All links to Amazon are Affiliates

I received a copy of the book for review.

Links

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the SPSFC here!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Star Wars: Expanded Universe Read Through: “X-Wing: Rogue Squadron” by Michael A. Stackpole

I’m on a quest to re-read all of my favorite (or least favorite that I kept for whatever reason) Star Wars novels in the Expanded Universe and beyond. Come along for the ride and check out my Star Wars Hub for more. There will be SPOILERS for the book discussed.

X-Wing: Rogue Squadron by Michael A. Stackpole

Michael A. Stackpole is one of those writers who spends most of his career writing in other people’s universes. Some people call authors like that “hacks.” I think that’s stupid. Let people enjoy things. Stackpole is actually quite good at capturing the feel of multiple different franchises. His BattleTech novels are fantastic (especially the Warrior trilogy). Here, he opens the Star Wars universe up far more than any other author has done so far.

X-Wing: Rogue Squadron follows the story of a squadron of, well, X-Wings that is brought together to fight the enemies of the Rebellion. The name Rogue Squadron has become legendary, and they are the sharp edge of the sword for the ragtag Rebel fleet. Familiar faces show up in droves, with Wedge Antilles and Admiral Ackbar being the most prominent. Readers who have explored more of the series know a certain Corran Horn is kind of a big deal, but in this book he’s a fresh face fighter pilot who gets commended and chastised for his daring bravado.

The plot includes some of the political meanderings and in-fighting of the Rebels that become par for the course in later development. Stackpole handles these scenes well, using them as true tension-building rather than info dumps. He also writes excellent action scenes. The final few battles are quite fun to read, and just as crazy and campy as one would expect from the flashiest Star Wars film.

What makes the book most impressive, though, is its lack of reliance on the big three characters (Luke/Leia/Han) and building its own core of names, some of whom go on to much bigger and better things.

I had actually never really delved into the X-Wing books before this read-through. I somehow missed the vast majority of them as they launched and by the time I noticed them there were enough that younger me was perplexed with how to find them before the preponderance of finding and buying things on the internet. So I came at X-Wing: Rogue Squadron fairly fresh and was very happily surprised by it.

For me coming at it the first time, the biggest strength of the novel is how strongly it evokes the feeling of Star Wars. What I mean by that is the novel has that sense of awesome wonder that the first few films truly bring out. It’s as if anything can happen. Heroes are heroes, enemies are evil but might have some lingering complexity. I don’t know how to describe it. The sense of “space opera” with heavy emphasis on the “opera” part is what I’m getting at. It feels like something far larger and grander than it truly is.

X-Wing: Rogue Squadron is a top-tier Star Wars novel that manages to really shine with many characters. Stackpole knocks it out again.

The Good

+Great action sequences
+Tons of new characters and side characters developed
+X-Wings
+Captures Star Wars-esque feel

The Bad

-Enemies are largely comic-book villains
-Droids- see below

Best Droid Moment

Very little characterization of droids here.

Cover Score: 7/10 – captures some great Star Wars action but largely lacks camp or 80s-esque characters faded in the background.

Grade [measured against my super objective* Star Wars enjoyment factor]: A “Stackpole delivers an excellent novel that incorporates many, many side characters into a coherent whole.”

*Not super objective and in fact wholly based on my feeling at the time of this review. Not measured against any other sci-fi works or really any other literature. This score is purely because I like giving scores to things.

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Links

Star Wars Hub– All of my Star Wars-related posts can be found here. These include posts about more expanded universe books, the movies, and new canon novels.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

There are other posts on science fiction books to be found! Read them here.

SDG.

Short Story Review: “Citizen of the Galaxy” by Evan Dicken

Speculative North Magazine Issue 1: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror (Speculative North Magazine: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror) by [David Shultz, Nathan Batchelor, Gregg Chamberlain, Evan Dicken, Matthew Donahue, A.B. Eyers, Joshua Grasso, Diane Callahan, Christina Ladd, Lynne MacLean]

Speculative North is a relatively new (inaugural issue May 2020) Canadian speculative fiction magazine. Issues are free on Kindle Unlimited, and I’ve been getting into sci-fi/fantasy magazines so I figured I’d check it out. The first issue featured a story by Evan Dicken entitled “Citizen of the Galaxy” that had previously been published in Analog.

The story is set in Japan in a future after first contact. Humans aren’t the biggest players in town, and certainly not in the galaxy. We follow Mizoguchi, a professor of history who resists the push to teach history in a more universe-wide perspective. Her daughter, meanwhile, is much more interested in integration in the galaxy at large. What makes the story remarkable for me was that it hugely subverted my expectations.

This isn’t a story about how right humans would be to want to teach their own history, nor is it about how we ought to preserve our history in the face of challenges. It reads that way at times, but really there is a much deeper point, in my opinion. Specifically, that point is that we should potentially question those instincts, while also being wary of colonialism. It’s a subtle balance, and I’m not sure I fully captured all the nuance Dicken builds in to such a small space. It’s a great read, that I plan to re-read soon. I recommend picking up the magazine and checking it out yourself!

Amazon Links are Affiliates

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

My Read-Through of the Hugos– Read more posts in this series and follow me on the journey! Let me know your own thoughts on the books.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

“Destroyer” by Brian G. Turner – Self Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Book Review

The SPSFC started with 300 books and narrowed it down to 30 semi-finalists. I’ll be reviewing every semi-finalist, as well as several books from other group’s slush piles that looked interesting to me.

Destroyer by Brian G. Turner

Jaigar awakens from cryo-sleep to find things aren’t exactly what he expected on the colony ship. He should be waking up after 30 years, ready to settle a planet; instead, the power is flickering, the ship appears damaged, and he and others who’ve awakened with him have to begin exploring the massive colony ship to try to survive.

The novel has a gripping opening, and the premise and action are quite well done. At times, it’s got shades of The Martian with the kind of “figure it out or die” scenarios that happen. Those are few and far between, though, as a lot of the action is more subtle and centered around questions of what happened, who or what is to blame, and how to survive.

Each of the characters has hints of intriguing background. Jaigar awakens concerned he’s going to be arrested by the official he sees. Others give some shadowy clues about their lives before. Clearly, the situation makes it tough for them to sit around and make small talk, but as a reader I would have liked to know more about the characters. Many of them seem interesting, but the payoff isn’t there in this first book. We as readers don’t get enough to full dig in to their stories, motivations, or even history as people.

The concept of waking up on a colony ship in which you don’t really know what to do or where to go for supplies or help is fascinating. I haven’t really seen it done this way before. It’s also not really something I’ve thought about. When all the people who know about where stuff is and how to use it on such a massive ship are out of commission, what can the characters do? This hook had me going through the rest of the book and was enough to sustain my interest. That said, it reads at times as though Turner, the author, is rationing out information in the slowest possible fashion to keep readers in the dark. The characters are almost ridiculous vague with each other, the plot has one major reveal, but has introduced so many dangling threads at that point that it left me wanting much more. It’s almost a frustrating experience, because I do want more, but was feeling impatient about how little was being given to me as a reader.

Destroyer is an exciting first-in-series read, but doesn’t answer many questions. It’s a thrilling read, but light on character background and content. I’m curious about what happens next, but also wanted more from the first book to hook me for the second.

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Links

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the SPSFC here!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Watching Babylon 5 for the First Time: Crusade, Episodes 9-10

You’ve got some dirt on your nose. Right… there.

I am very late to the Babylon 5 party. As it came out, I was a bit young for the show and the few times we tried to watch as a family, it was clear we had no idea what was going on. After several people bugged me, telling me it was the show I needed to watch, I grabbed the whole series around Christmas last year on a great sale. I’ve been watching it since, sneaking it in between the many things going on in my life. It quickly became apparent that I’d want to discuss the episodes with others, so I began this series of posts. Now I’ve finished the series, but am working my way through the movies, related works, comics, and books. Please don’t spoil anything from other works here! 

9: Racing the Night

JMS sure likes the phrase “The Last, Best Hope,” doesn’t he? I appreciated this dream/flashback sequences that lets us get filled in on the extreme importance of Excalibur’s mission. Also I gotta say as cheesy as it is, I was delighted by the CG scene of Gideon flying through this abandoned city. It’s campy and insanely fun. But oh no! Not much time to think about that as some dude gets cut to pieces by a laser!?

And now we get space archaeology, too? As I said in the first-ish episode, this is one of my all-time favorite sci-fi tropes. I just love the sense of the vastness of space and time that happens when we get space archaeology. Someone having their internal organs pulled out seems like a bad sign on a planet that has no signs of living things despite clear evidence of massive civilization.

I loved our resident technomage’s one liner: “I thought you don’t hold a grudge…” “I don’t. I have no surviving enemies.”

This episode is full of cheesy stuff that somehow works because it’s hilarious and tongue in cheek. It’s also got some ominous parts, which it somehow manages to sell despite the silliness of some aspects of the episode. The big reveal here, that these aliens are dissecting everyone who shows up to try to find a cure, wasn’t terribly surprising, but it absolutely matches the theme of the whole thing. I loved it, to be honest.

10: The Memory of War

News from Earth is universally bad. Riots, food shortages, quarantines everywhere–it’s a disaster that just continues forever, apparently. Meanwhile, on Excalibur, they’ve found a planet that appears to have been ravaged by the Drakh plague or something similar. The crew thinks that it might show a way to fight the plague, but Galen warns them against touching down.

On the surface of the planet, they encounter no one, but some startling possibilities about degradation of materials that they dropped down to the surface are immediately encountered in the form of their probes surviving but crumbling to pieces. Dureena uses her parkour abilities to nab a data crystal, and Eilerson decodes it to see a message from the former inhabitants of the planet apparently saying something about a death that comes at night. Then, the crap starts to hit the fan as a few of the security detail die mysteriously.

Then, the revelation: it was a techno-mage who created the “obscene” (using Galen’s word) thing that is causing so much destruction on the planet’s surface. Galen races to the planet to beat Nightfall and work against the techno-mage’s powers on the surface. Galen encounters a kind of AI techno-mage fragment from one who went against the order because he had a “price.” He developed the virus for one side in a war, which ultimately destroyed all of the people on the planet by having them all kill each other. The AI confronts Galen saying that he, too, has a price. Galen manages to find its power core and destroy it with his staff, but it looks as though the staff is lost in the aftermath.

On Excalibur, Galen reveals the importance of the staff to him and his deep disappointment with its loss. Dureena, however, went on one last shuttle trip and managed to miraculously get through millions of tons of dirt and stone and recover his staff. Because she’s awesome. Meanwhile, Dr. Chambers takes the inert nanovirus and reprograms it to be used to essentially become immune to the virus for limited time periods without contamination. I’m hoping this or something else will give us some resolution for the main plot of the show, but I don’t have huge hope to hold out for that. There’s only a few episodes left and we need to wrap up a lot of threads, and since it was cancelled I don’t think we’ll get it. But still, I think in my head I can just think they adapted this tech to eventually provide a cure.

This was an okay episode, but the core plot was a bit too thin to carry the entire episode. Without any real B-plot, it meant that the action scenes had to make up for the time gaps, and so it dragged occasionally. Overall, though, it gave us some more respect for Dureena and a little bit of flair from Dr. Chambers.

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Links

Babylon 5 Hub– Find all my Babylon 5-related posts and content here.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.