Microview: “Off Armageddon Reef” by David Weber

oar-weberDavid Weber is probably my favorite author as far as fiction is concerned, but I admit that I had put off starting his “Safehold” series for a while because I was afraid it’d ruin my perception of him–that is, as the author of the greatest military sci-fi I’ve read, the Honor Harrington series (see a discussion of one of the books here). Finally, I gave in and read it and just had to share my thoughts here.

Let’s get it out of the way: this a phenomenal way to start a series. Humanity has been all but destroyed by the alien threat known as the Gbaba. The last vestiges of humanity have been brainwashed (voluntarily) into losing all memory of technology–the way that humans were discovered by the Gbaba–and were then established on a planet, Safehold, to try to start afresh.

Some of the humans who went with them as these memory-altered humans were being sent to their planet, however, changed the programming to include an extremely powerful church hierarchy. Other humans want to stick with the game plan and have the last home of humanity be a place where they could regrow and develop technology planetside to avoid detection by the Gbaba.

These factions clashed, and from the ashes came Merlin–the main character–a kind of human-robot whose goal is to guide humanity along the second path and away from the hierarchy established by others. And that’s where this book takes off.

Weber does a masterful job interweaving elements of fantasy, political drama, and science fiction in what was one of the most exciting experiences I’ve had reading a book. He sets the table for a truly epic series–one I hope will develop towards an ultimate battle with the Gbaba.

As is typical with Weber, lengthy conversations and insights into politicking are interspersed with battles–here they are battles on the high seas instead of in space. In-depth descriptions of new technology are also offered, but they add to the depth of the story rather than ever seeming dry. There are also a number of questions related to theology, philosophy, and politics that come up simply as aspects of the plot. This adds another layer of depth to a book already brimming with awesome.

When I finished this book, I stood (I was rocking my sleeping baby in a front baby carrier) and smiled as I contemplated the breadth and depth of the new world that David Weber had just introduced to me. It was an amazing moment as I realized the true scope of the plot to which I had been introduced. I hope the rest of the series cashes in on this promise, and that we get a centuries-long epic.

The Good

+Vast world with great depth to individual nations
+Huge potential for later in the series
+Seamlessly interwoven questions of philosophy, theology, and more

The Bad

-Perhaps just a bit too much technical language interwoven into the story
-A very steep initial learning curve

Overall

Grade: A 

Off Armageddon Reef is an awesome beginning, and I can’t wait to read more of Weber’s Safehold series. I’m hoping it’s going to be a centuries-spanning epic that the introductory portion seemed to promise.

Links

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!

Microview– Read more microviews to discover more materials to experience! (Scroll down for more)

SDG.

Advertisements

Microview: “Wind and Shadow” by Kathy Tyers

ws-tyersWind and Shadow is the continuation of the Firebird series (see my review of the Trilogy here) and follows the story of Wind and her struggle to survive in a changing world.

Wind is a descendant of the Shuhr, a people group that was a major threat to the stability and survival of humanity just thirty years before. She walks the line as a diplomat between the people of Mikuhr and the Federation which wants to make sure they never pose a threat again. Meanwhile, a plot is hatching to bring the Shuhr back into prominence and an evil Shadow has descended upon Kiel, a priest of the Sentinels–the people that the Shuhr have historically wanted to destroy.

There are a few pacing issues in the story which are largely due to some lengthy portions with little action. This is a bit surprising given how action-packed the premise is. That’s not to say there is no action–it is there aplenty–but it just isn’t as interlaced through the plot as it perhaps could have been to keep it moving.

The interplay between Wind and Kinnor Caldwell is interesting and Tyers once more does an excellent job potraying the difficulties of interacting among different faith backgrounds. Moreover, the worldview issues Tyers raises through Wind–such as loyalty to one’s own society, political intrigue, justification of genocide, and more–are of great interest.

As in the previous books in the series, the world itself–Mikuhr–feels fully realized with good descriptions and background. It feels like a world and not just a backdrop.

Wind and Shadow is a good sequel which isn’t quite as good as the Trilogy it follows. That said, its different tone and decided focus on worldview questions makes it a very worthy entry and interesting read.

The Good

+Lots of worldview questions are raised
+High stakes in a believable context
+Solid look at human nature
+Setting feels well-developed

The Bad

-At times difficult to follow the cast
-Not enough action to sustain the pace of the plot

The Verdict

Grade: B+

It doesn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of its predecessors, but Wind and Shadow is a worthy successor with much to commend it.

Links

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!

Enter [Science] Fictional Messiah- “Wind and Shadow” and “Daystar” by Kathy Tyers– I reflect on a number of worldview issues that Tyers brings up in the concluding parts of the Firebird saga.

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!

Microview– Read more microviews to discover more materials to experience! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Kathy Tyers, Wind and Shadow (Colorado Springs, CO: Marcher Lord Press [Now Enclave], 2011).

SDG.

Microview: “Red Rising” by Pierce Brown

red-rising-brownAnytime I read the phrase “it’s the next Hunger Games” I get excited. When that is combined with comparisons to Orson Scott Card’s phenomenal Ender’s Game (my look at the book here), it’s time to read that baby! Pierce Brown’s Red Rising fulfilled both of these criteria, so I rushed to get it from the library (well, I had to wait about two weeks, but you get the idea). What did I think? Read on! There are minor SPOILERS below.

Brown has done an excellent job world-building. The Society dominates the known universe and different castes are maintained through a Color system. The eponymous Reds–of which Darrow, the main character, is one–live on Mars and terraform the planet in brutal conditions. They don’t even know the extent of their plight, as the book later reveals whole layers of reality beyond the narrow confines of the beginning.

Violence often seems offhand, but Brown writes it in such a way as to speak to the beauty of human activity and love even in times of great sorrow and stress. He has a way of capturing emotions in just a few sentences that is fantastic. The book packs a heavy punch in the emotional category.

The story also feels like the start of something epic. The injustice in the system must be taken down! The way Red Rising sets the table for later books is great, and the story is extremely compelling. The book is definitely a page-turner.

All of this is not to say there aren’t any negatives. First, the fact that this book does draw so many comparisons to the aforementioned Hunger Games and Ender’s Game means that readers will compare themselves, and Red Rising doesn’t quite reach the heights of these other books. That’s not an awful thing–Ender’s Game did win the Hugo and Nebula awards after all!–but it does set up a bit higher expectations than the book reaches.

In particular, the book flows quite a bit like Hunger Games. Darrow exists in a world dominated by a hierarchy and he is on one of the lowest rungs. Whenever resistance raises up, it is violently suppressed. He ends up inside a created world for a game that determines peoples’ places in society. There are many comparisons to be made, and this makes the book feel derivative at times. The “game” portion of the book also seems at least 50 pages too long, as we read about raids, violence, and more in a seemingly endless cycle.

The world which is so promising never quite gives readers the access to it they desire, but this is the first in a trilogy so hopefully we get to explore more later. Also, the crude language and violence seems a bit over-the-top for something deemed “Young Adult” and although the latter is often integral to the plot, they both seem unnecessarily ubiquitous at points.

This book is really a good read. It could have been shorter, and it has a few other pitfalls, but it is quite compelling. I look forward to reading the next one.

The Good

+Interesting main character
+Intriguing universe
+Emotionally powerful

The Bad

-The “Game” portion of the book feels very drawn out
-Side characters feel somewhat underdeveloped
-Feels derivative
-Unnecessarily crude/violent in places
-Lack of exploration of the world makes it feel smaller than it should

The Verdict

Grade: B-

Pierce Brown’s Red Rising has much potential and several unique aspects, but doesn’t quite rise to the same level as its inspirations.

Links

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!

Red Rising: You Must Live for More– A look at the worldview issues behind the book from Anthony Weber. I highly recommend you follow his fantastic blog!

Microview– Read more microviews to discover more materials to experience! (Scroll down for more)

SDG.

Book Review: “Never to Live” by Just B. Jordan

ntl-jordanNever to Live is madness. The main character, Elwyn, is tortured into madness after she agrees to try to stop an ancient evil. The book then follows Elwyn and a cast of characters on an adventure which seems as disjointed as Elwyn’s mind. There will be SPOILERS below.

Terms are introduced with little-to-no definitions anywhere in the book. Things like “loxasta” are mentioned but their role is never clearly defined nor is there ever enough description to know what they might be motivated by. Locales are as bare bones as possible, often with no description so that it comes as a surprise when someone steps out from behind a tree (after all, how did we know trees were here when there was no description?). Characters similarly have almost no detail, with readers left to try to fill in the pieces of their motivations, descriptions, and backgrounds. All of this is a bit surprising in a book that comes close to 700 pages.

What is done with those 700 pages? The first 100-200 pages are largely a trip through the mad mind wanderings of the main character, Elwyn. There’s not enough detail to explain why these memories are chosen or what context they might have or how, exactly, the torture is happening or even really for what reason. Yes, hints are dropped, but they never meld together to form anything coherent. The next 400+ pages are basically just following the set of characters–largely without motivations–through a journey through the land. During this journey, one character discovers the ability to turn into a dragon, another starts sprouting roots (!), others discuss their thoughts with a demonic character, a dragon shows up, a were-panther follows Elwyn around (why?), and more.

All of this makes sense, in a way, because Never to Live never sets ground rules for how the world works. There are no apparent restrictions on the possible, so having characters randomly start turning into a plant only to reveal later a link between that and a covenant with the dryads–another faction without any background (along with the loxasta, the “kings”–apparently some malicious rulers of some land, though it’s never entirely sure which land where or why, etc.)–seems almost reasonable. The problem is that because there seem to be virtually no rules, no descriptions, and no background, the book never gets its feet grounded in a reality that readers can relate to. It seems entirely disjointed throughout, with little reason to care about what’s happening.

Even when the story starts to wrap up (page 600 and following), some threads are tied, but completely new open-ended thoughts are introduced, like a horse that apparently was Elwyn’s son the whole time. The ending is probably the best part, but it does little to tie up all the loose ends or even make sense of the world in which the story takes place.

On the plus side, there are some interesting points brought up by a character named Weaver–possibly a God stand-in but it is never clear–regarding theology and philosophy. Moreover, the exploration of self-worth and the concept of reducing a main character to madness is intriguing, it just doesn’t work as portrayed in this book.

Never to Live is a tough read. I re-read multiple sections, even going back and re-reading the introductory chapters a few times after things related to them popped up later in the book. Even after that work dedicated to the book, I am left with the conclusion that it is, unfortunately, a jumbled and faceless outline of a story rather than a complete story on its own.

The Good

+Some intriguing philosophical/theological points
+Interesting premise

The Bad

-Completely incoherent opening
-Characters receive almost no development
-Locales have almost no description to ground them
-Ideas are introduced seemingly at random
-Key terms insufficiently explained
-No motivations for characters

The Verdict

Grade: D

At times incoherent, and on the whole lacking in development, Never to Live is a sometimes tantalizing mess.

I received a review copy of this book from Enclave publishing. I was not influenced or required by the publisher to write any kind of review.

Links

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!

Microview– Read more microviews to discover more materials to experience! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Just B. Jordan, Never to Live (Colorado Springs, CO: Enclave, 2009).

SDG.

Microview: “Eternity Falls” by Kirk Outerbridge

efalls-outerbridgeEternity Falls by Kirk Outerbridge is a cyberpunk thriller with quite a bit of depth and insight. There will be some minor SPOILERS in this microview.

Rick Macey is a PI contracted to help find out whether there was something untoward in the death of a woman who’d received the Miracle Treatment–something which should have made it impossible for her to have died of natural causes. In the process of the investigation, he finds himself thrust into a struggle of deep import both in his personal life and to the world at large.

Alongside Sheila Dunn, a prominent executive for the company that makes the Miracle Treatment, he dives into a stirring adventure that will leave readers wonderfully breathless. There are themes of religious extremism and violence, mystery, questions about human nature, and action throughout.

A prominent theme throughout the book is that of faith (or lack thereof). Macey himself struggles with his own deconversion in a world in which belief in deity seems absurd. When confronted with someone else who is a firm believer, the book takes another surprising turn and the moral and theological questions it raises are remarkably interesting. There were several moments I was at the edge of my seat, wondering which direction Macey might go on questions that are of real life import for persons of faith.

Outerbridge writes great action scenes as well, and a climactic conflict is particularly page-turning. Not all authors do possess a  gift for making fights interesting, but Outerbridge succeeds here in a big way.

Two downsides in the book are worth mentioning. First, there are a few moments in which gender stereotypes are unfortunately perpetuated. Macey, at one point, complains inwardly about “how quickly their [women’s] feelings got hurt…” (87). Moments like this are few and far between, and may simply be blamed on a kind of stereotype in Macey’s own head rather than something Outerbridge puts forward, but they are still unfortunate. Second, the technology, at times, is not sufficiently explained. Of course with anything sci-fi, there will be suspension of disbelief, but too often it seems that something is “hacked” into or somehow disabled without any description of just how this might have been accomplished. This problem is made more evident by the times Outerbridge does offer such descriptions, because they are quite good and mesh well with the expectations for cyberpunk.

Overall, Outerbridge seems to have hit gold with Eternity Falls, and this reader, for one, will seek out his other works.

The Good

+ Great genre mix of cyberpunk, action, and detective drama
+ Fantastic action
+ Genuinely insightful moral discussions…
+ …paired with great reflections on faith

The Bad

– Some gender stereotypes perpetuated
– Some of the technology could have used more description

The Verdict

Grade: A

Kirk Outerbridge’s Eternity Falls is a unquestionably fun romp on a journey of mystery, faith, and exploration of the human psyche.

Links

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!

Microview– Read more microviews to discover more materials to experience! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Kirk Outerbridge, Eternity Falls (Colorado Springs, CO: Enclave, 2009).

SDG.

 

Microview: “The Annotated Firebird Trilogy” by Kathy Tyers

firebird-tyersPermit me a brief autobiographical introduction to this microview:

I remember when I was younger–probably about 12 years old–shopping a table at a book sale that was going on in the parish hall at my church. I saw the cover of this book that looked like science fiction and reminded me of Star Wars. I had to have it! There were three of them, a trilogy! I begged my parents and with some extra chores loaded on I received the books.

I devoured them almost instantly, used Legos to try to build spaceships from them. I went to a Christian bookstore and demanded more science fiction from the author. The bewildered staff searched in vain to find anything else from Kathy Tyers. Without any more to read, I forgot the author but the trilogy entered that hallowed place of unassailable nostalgic bliss that we create in our childhood.

Then, when I saw a newly released edition with notes from the author pop up in my recommendations on Amazon, I was instantly intrigued. Lo and behold, sequels were on the way! I purchased the trilogy again, but didn’t read it, fearful I would penetrate that nostalgic bubble and perhaps discover the series wasn’t as amazing as I’d hoped. Finally, after over a year of owning the book, I opened it up, read it, and will now offer my brief thoughts in the following microview with you, dear readers. I have written more on the themes found in the book on my philosophy and theology site.

There are SPOILERS in this microview.

Microview

Kathy Tyers’ The Annotated Firebird trilogy is undoubtedly a space opera. It spans several planets, three cultures, and the conflict in which they become embroiled. Firebird, the female protagonist, hails from a society with a monarchy that has developed a strong aristocratic power base while those in the lower classes are essentially serfs. She herself is a noble, but is far enough back in succession that she is considered a “Wastling” and is to dedicate her life to the eventual death in conflict or an honorable suicide. She is captured and falls in love with Brennan, a man with psychic abilities from a culture of people who have lost their home and believe in a coming Messiah.

The series traces the path of these two–primarily through the viewpoint of Firebird–as their societies are enmeshed in a conflict which also involves the Federacy, a government of loosely joined planets in alliance. Political intrigue, themes of faith, prayer, and prophecy, and action abounds throughout the series.

There is so much to love about this trilogy that I’ll name only a few major points. First, although Tyers uses the series to explore questions of faith, it is never preachy and the different belief systems presented in the book never feel as though they are a mere veneer for evangelism. Second, the story is extremely interesting as covers a wide range of locales which each are developed well. Third, the characters are entirely believable and experience genuine change and growth throughout the series that never feels forced.

I have to commend this trilogy highly to you, dear readers. It was a real treat to re-read the series and realize that my younger self’s joy in it was well-placed. It is the kind of story that sticks with you long afterwards and the characters are both interesting and endearing.

The Good

+ Epic space opera that spans across several planets
+ Fascinating account of faith in a science fiction universe
+ Interesting annotations from author (this edition only)
+ Never gets preachy, even while sharing genuine insights into faith and inter-religious dialogue
+ Spaceships blow up, assassins run free, and political intrigue abounds
+ Great world building with many interesting locations
+ Diverse set of characters who experience genuine character growth throughout the series

The Bad

– Plot occasionally feels rushed

The Verdict

Grade: A+

Kathy Tyers’ The Annotated Firebird is a stirring science fiction epic of faith and conflict in the far future.

Links

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!

Kathy Tyers’ “Firebird Trilogy”- Faith, Humanity, and Conflict in the Far Future– I look at a number of worldview issues in the Trilogy in this post.

Microview– Read more microviews to discover more materials to experience! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Kathy Tyers, The Annotated Firebird (Colorado Springs, CO: Marcher Lord [Enclave], 2011).

SDG.

Microview: “Star Trek: New Frontier” Books 1-4

new-frontierThe collection of four books of Star Trek: New Frontier is a great way to kick off an offshoot series. It starts slowly as the first book is really just collecting the crew members and providing a bit of background for each. Finally, in the second book, readers begin to get the real payoff of the development of the characters in the first and the ride doesn’t let up from there. These read like a single book instead of a collection of four and the adventure is rip-roaring, often stretches the imagination, and is backed by strong characterization.

Each book will take you about the time to read it that it would take to watch an episode of the TV show. They move quickly, and each kind of feels like an episode as well, but with (much) more continuity of story than the TV shows demonstrate at points.

In other words, it feels exactly like a Star Trek book should read. I quite enjoyed these books (apart from what seemed like a drag in the first one as there was little payoff until the second) and I plan on reading the next ones when I get the chance. I recommend it for fans of the Star Trek universe.

I do recommend these books to fans of Trek and would read them again.

The Good

-Rip-roaring, good fun
-Compelling characters and development
-Uses the Star Trek universe perfectly
-Feels like episodes of a Star Trek series you never got to experience

The Bad

-Slow to get going
-Disconnected at first
-At times it feels rushed

The Verdict

Grade: B

If you enjoy Star Trek, do yourself a favor and start reading the “New Frontier” novels.

Links

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!

Star Trek: TNG– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

Microview– Read more microviews to discover more materials to experience! (Scroll down for more)

SDG.