Posts Tagged ‘Science Fiction’

So here we are, after one year of reviews and Reading the lists of the top books of the years have started appearing all around and, since my first post was the top five books of 2013 (all of them amazing, read them right now), with the top five books of 2014 I celebrate a year on Thelordbaelish’s blog, again, thank you for taking the time to read my posts and thank you for the follows, the likes and the favorites.

Well, Time to get down to business! This year has been filled with wonderful books and deciding which ones were the best books of the year hasn’t been easy. Several times I have been tempted to make a top 8 instead of a top 5, but these lists’ aim is to choose a few books among many, so sacrifices must be made!

So, with a Spanish beer on my hand, a hat in my head to I can take it off to honor the writers in this list and my mouth stuffed with Christmas pastries (you have to try the Spanish ones [of course you would say that (shut up)])I present you 2014’s Top Five Books for Thelordbaelish blog!

5) The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuinn

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This position has been the toughest to decide, but, after much thought, I think The Left Hand of Darkness deserves to be named one of the greatest books I have read this year.

Ursula K. LeGuinn brings us the story of First Contact completely reversed. A human diplomat named Ai is sent by an intergalactic alliance to convince the inhabitants of the frozen planet Gethen to join after they have been deemed prepared to do so. What Ai can’t suspect is that this action will destroy the fragile political balance between Gethen’s most powerful nations, endangering both himself and every potential ally he may find.

The Left Hand of Darkness is an impressive, dark and well written political thriller which takes place in an unknown world, filled with wonders and with cultures so well created and developed that you will feel as if you were reading history rather than science fiction. As the story advances, we witness how these cultures change and become more radical in a wonderful cause-effect scenario, always answering to the stimuli provided by Ai’s presence, which creates a dynamic world subjected to constant change. By the end the reader will have witnessed several allusions to our own 20th century political situation: from the rise and fall of a radical, race-centered movement similar to Nazism to the political development of a nation similar to Stalin’s Russia.

I also enjoyed Ai’s figure, a man bent into doing the right thing even when he knows that it may have tragic consequences for himself and those who defend him, but I admit that I personally would have preferred for him to have a bigger internal conflict. Though it is true that he spends the novel trying to decide who can be trusted, it may have been interesting to see a darker side of his personality, or at least to see some preoccupation about his own well-being beyond the need to complete his mission.

If you enjoy political science fiction, vivid, beautiful and ever-changing worlds and well-written books, then The Left Hand of Darkness is the book for you.

4) The Postmortal by Drew Magary

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I feel that the idea Immortality and what it may entail for the human race is a subject which can produce really interesting debates just as long as it is not discussed in YouTube (seriously, when I am feeling adventurous I read YouTube comments and by the end I always feel that 90% of them are written by crack addict monkeys having a particularly bad day). How would it affect us? Would we be able to function as a productive society or would we sink into utter chaos? Drew Magary offers his own thoughts on this debate and the image he creates is not a pretty one.

The story takes place over 73 years, in which we witness the utter self-destruction of the human race from the point of view of John Farrell, a divorce lawyer whose life is changed forever from the moment he decides to become immortal. John Farrell will try to survive and find meaning to his life in a society without morals, ambition, decorum and, finally, without resources.

Let me tell you now, The Postmortal may be a tragic and depressing story, but it is also a deeply satisfying one due to its great quality and the amazing character work, which makes John Farrell vividly human, a character in whom the reader can see himself and with whom we feel connected.

The Postmortal is, at its core, a tale about humanity, and an intensely fatalistic one, at that. But it also shows us really beautiful moments which give us hope and provide some lights in the great ocean of darkness which is The Postmortal’s society.

If you enjoy dystopian societies, fatalistic futures or original apocalyptic stories, then The Postmortals is the book for you. A book which does not only entertain, but also gives the reader something to think about

 

3) Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

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You know a book is good when you read it on January and in December you still considering it one of the best books of the year. It can also be due to a bad reading year, but since that is not the case, we are going to agree that Emperor of Thorns is an amazing book filled with unforgettable characters and spectacular moments. Of course it is not only the story, but also the writer, Mark Lawrence has managed to be on this list for two years in a row (Prince of Thorns, the first installment to the trilogy, was one of my favorite books for 2013), and he has done it through his intelligent, sometimes witty, dialogue, his beautiful world and his great writing style

Emperor of Thorns offers closure to the Broken Empire trilogy and to Jorg’s story, and it does it masterfully, staying loyal to its main character without trying to make him more sympathetic or a better person. Jorg is still a complete bastard, a horrible human being who is one step away from being considered a psychopath (or maybe he is one by this point, not quite sure) and who sees almost everyone else as pieces to be played with to protect those he loves and to reach the throne.

The secondary characters are not much better, from his wife, a plotting young woman who could go toe-to-toe against Lady Macbeth in ruthlessness, to his men at arms. The book soon becomes a mix of complex, unpredictable characters that play to fulfill their own goals and ambitions.

The Broken Empire trilogy has been an amazing treat, a dark and thrilling tale which has given me hours of enjoyment, a vivid proof that the Eragon’s effect doesn’t always apply to book sagas with great first books.

I would recommend Emperor of Thorns, and the Broken Empire trilogy as a whole, to anyone who enjoys an original dark fantasy saga set in an enormous and dynamic world filled by possibilities and unpredictability.

2) The Thousand Names by Django Wexler

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As I said when I was reviewing this book, I love it whenever I find a strong female protagonist capable of staying away from overused clichés and who doesn’t need a man in her direst hours. Female characters and fiction have had a complicated relationship, and usually we find the so-called Trinity Syndrome, strong female protagonists who end up helplessly depending on the male hero in the final part of the story. Therefore, it was a great surprise when I read The Thousand Names and found that not only it has a strong female character, but she also keeps her strength throughout the novel.

The Thousand Names is a tale of survival set on a colonist-like period in a fantasy world. Trapped on the middle of a religious uprising, the imperial army stationed in a faraway colony tries to stay alive by any means necessary while the wait for the ships which will get them home. To their surprise, they are not to abandon the colony, but try to retake it following their new commander in chief, the mysterious and eccentric coronel Janus. By his side, Janus will have Captain D’Ivory, a man struggling with his own sense of self-worth, and private Winter, a girl posing as a man who would rather not being noticed.

The author manages to create a set of unpredictable, likeable characters and an entertaining and carefully-built world which offers a realistic reflection on our own colonial period. All of it while managing to develop one of the most enthralling stories I have read this year. The Thousand Names is a book I could read over and over again without getting tired of it, a book I recommend to anybody who enjoys a good fantasy story.

1) The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

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This year has been filled by marvelous books and unforgettable stories, but sadly only one can be considered the Top 1 book of the year. That honor belongs to Patrick Rothfuss’ The Wise Man’s Fear.

An amazing tale of adventure, worthy of classical heroes such as Conan or the Company of the Ring, The Wise Man’s Fear continues the story of Kvothe as he remembers the incredible adventures which led to his tragic and mysterious downfall.

Patrick Rothfuss has managed to create a breath-taking world which will entrap the reader because of its enormity and the detail by which it has been created. Once you put down the book, you feel as if you had just contemplated the work of a master craftman, who has managed to pour life into an inanimate object, transforming it in a spectacular work of fiction filled with humane characters and magical situations.

As I said while reviewing this book several months ago, The Wise Man’s Fear is an ambitious tale which will provide any reader with hours of enjoyment, whether they usually read fantasy or not. If you are looking for a book to start 2015 on a high note, look no further: This is it.

So, those are, in my opinion, the best five books I have read on 2014, but I do not want to finish my post without three honorary mentions to the runner-ups which didn’t make it: The Scorpio Races, Steelheart and One Second After.

Now all that is left is wishing you a Happy New Year and I shall see you on 2015

¡Hasta la próxima!

Since the book I am reading right now has got quite a healthy number of pages I think The Better Part of Valour will be the last book completed on 2014. I am not going to go on and on about the other books because I need something to write about in the Top 5 post’s introduction but I just wanted to thank you for the reads, the comments, the faves and the follows, we are getting near the year’s milestone

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The Better Part of Valour, by Tanya Huff, tells us the story of Staff Sergeatn Torin Kerr, an efficient and heroic soldier who is assigned to a dangerous mission under the orders of a uselss, arrogant, would-be-hero after she gets on the bad side of her superior. The mission. To explore a recently discovered space ship which design has never been seen before. What starts as a routinary mission will soon become a living nightmare as they struggle to survive the dangerous structure and to get everyone out alive.

The Better Part of Valour has got  some positive points, one of them being the setting. Ms Huff knows her busines when it comes to trapping the reader in a carefully designed setting. In one hand she manages to create an enthrilling galactic civilization in which the most “advanced” races used those which they consider more savage (among them the Humans) to wage war for them, the races are amazingly different and the bureocratic and social aparatus manages to be interesting as she describes de different cultures and believes. (Though I must admit that some of these races remind me to those of Mass Effect’s, but hey, Mass Effect is awesome [No, I am not going to talk about its ending])

On the other hand, the military aparatus is precise and dinamic, up to the point that I investigated if she had served in the military at some point (she is canadian, so she is too nice for that). Her decriptions of the relationships between military personel and the complexity of the chain of comand stroke me as realistic and interestind, and she manages to show us this without boring the reader. The result is a realistic (as far as I can tell, never served in the military myself) and fast paced story which provides for several hours of enjoyment

Sadly, while the setting has been amazingly well worked, the characters are not as complex nor interesting, the only character which stands out is Torin, who sadly feels underdeveloped during the story. She has got some basic conflicting qualities such as her social akwarness with everyone who isn’t military mixed with her undying loyalty to those who earn it and her coldness when it comes to yielding satisfactory results, but beyind that she fills a role and her actions become greatly predictable as the novel advance. She is a likeable character, that’s for sure, but by the ending it feels as if her potential hasn’t been used as much as it could.

The res of the crew fares mauch worst. The platoon’s soldiers lack personality and are so underdeveloped that in most cases can’t be told apart. Other characters are just there as the embodiment of a role: the undeserving comanding officer, the annoying journalyst whose death every reader wishes, the pain in the ass general, and several unnecesary secondary characters who made you wonder what’s their role in all of this.

If Torin is predictable, this guys are worse. The lack of flexibility on their nature and of development makes it very difficult not to guess the exact ations these characters will have done by the end of the novel. Some of this events are forced (Ryder overcoming his fears in such a fashion didn’t make much sense) while others earn the prize to the biggest clichés of the year, like the “mandatory” love story.

Over all this novel doesn’t go beyond enjoyable. It gives you hours of entertainment and makes up for a nice read while you are in a waiting room or in pulic transportation, but if you are looking for a rich, character driven, science fiction story you will have to look elsewhere.

FINAL SCORE: 5/10

¡Hasta la Próxima!

So, with the New Year almost upon us soon we will have to choose the top five books for 2014, and let me tell you, it won’t be easy. There have been many great novels I have had the pleasure to read in the last twelve months and, while it is true that in the last three months my posts have become irregular, I am ready to retake this beautiful tradition for a whole new year. But, before I announce this year’s greatest books in barely 21 days, I will quickly review those which I haven’t been able to write about due to my tight schedule:

The Woman who rides like a Man

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This year I have discovered the amazing adventures of Alanna of Trebond, a young girl whose deepest desire is to become a knight. Both Alanna, the First Adventure and In the Hand of the Goddess got a 7/10 punctuation because, even if the books usually don’t offer as a deep account of the stories we are presented with, the characters, the writing style and the sheer imagination of Alanna’s world make up for it.

The third installment of the tetralogy  begins with a very promising start, in which our protagonist and her manservant must battle hill people just to be taken prisoner by the dessert tribes and the situations which take place from this point are heartwarming, optimistic and enthralling for the reader, captivating both adults and children alike as Alanna struggles to be accepted and change an old society which ignores women.

Sadly, we find again that the writer just scratches the surface of all the situations she creates without offering us a deep look at the reality which these characters are living in. What’s more, several conflicts which have been several books in the making, such as the love triangle between Alanna, George and Jonathan, are abruptly ended and solved without stopping to think twice about it.

Finally, for the first time in the series I believe character development becomes a weak point of the novel. The characters don’t answer to external stimuli as they have in the last novels and their reactions seem forced. Just a way for to create drama at the expense of a sensible storytelling. One example of what I am saying is the moment in which the male apprentice grabs the sword. Yes, he is proud, but we never seen a trace of sexism in his behavior until the moment in which there needs to be a new conflict.

Final score: 6/10

Annihilation

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Annihilation, written by Jeff VanderMeer, is a delightful thriller which tells us the story of an all-female expedition  to an area known as the Southern Reach, a piece of the United States which, because a never explained natural mutation, has been closed to the general population. After the tragedies which have struck the last expeditions, this group of four women is sent with the mission to observe and categorize everything they see, but their mission will soon be jeopardized as it becomes clear that whoever send them there never thought they would make it back.

Annihilation is a mostly fast paced, captivating thriller, which present us with amazing and complex characters, all of them working to achieve their own goals because of their own selfish motives.

One of the greatest achievements of this small novel resides in its writing, which really creates an atmosphere of tension which surrounds the reader and allows him or her to feel the anguish which these women are experiencing in their own flesh.

The main character is also a complex creation, filled by conflicts between the best and the darkest parts of her personality, debating at every step whether to behave selfishly or help her mates. This makes for an enthralling read which will have the readers on the edge of their seats.

The only weak point that I see to the novel is that the pace sometimes loses its strength and fastness with no apparent reason, leaving us some sections which may interrupt the otherwise great reading experience.

Final Score: 8/10

The Scorpio Races

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The Scorpio Races, written by the incredibly talented Maggie Stiefvater (thanks god I don’t have to pronounce that, tells us the story of a young man and a young woman who leaves on a mythical situated near northern Europe, where every year there is a race in which the inhabitants try to compete against each other by riding cannibalistic sea horses. Each of them has his or her reasons to want to compete, but only one of them can win.

This spectacular novel is a mix of amazing storytelling, enthralling main characters and beautiful writing style which have transformed the Scorpio Races in one of the best books I have had the pleasure of reading this year.

Both characters are complex figures which will captivate the reader, who by the end will just be trying to decide who does he want to win the race (not an easy choice, I am still not sure myself). They are likeable, but at the same time they are far from perfect, creating a couple of human beings with whom you may identify.

The imagination an amount of work put into this novel have been rewarded with several well deserved awards, which are just one more proof of the literary value of this amazing YA novel.

Final Score: 9/10

The Left Hand of Darkness

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The Left Hand of Darkness, written by Ursula Le Guinn, tells us the story of a human ambassador calles Ai who arrives to the frozen planet of Gethen with the mission to convince the autochthonous sentient hermaphrodite race to join the Ekumen, a trade alliance of worlds. Ai will have to maneuver in order to fulfill his goal while surviving among the conniving alien species, being witness of how his presence alter the social and political status quo of Gethen.

The Left Hand of Darkness is a gritty, realistic tale of political science fiction which, if you enjoy the genre, is a must read. The complexities of the characters and the situations in which they find themselves  make for a brilliant experience which always leaves the reader wondering what will happen next.

Probably the strongest point of the novel is the way by which the setting changes and evolves, allowing us to bear witnesses as a society evolves responding to the presence of a recently discovered alien who they consider a sexual freak. The way the different countries react to his attempt to contact their governments, becoming more radical in their own ideals as said government tries to maintain the illusion of absolute control: We witness the rise of a movement similar to Nazism, a government which acts as Stalin’s communist regime… all of it told through a beautiful evolution of events which don’t feel forced or overly dramatized.

Final Score: 9/10

NPCs

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What happen when four NPCs witness the untimely death of the heroes of the story? That’s the premise that Drew Hayes uses in order to create a somewhat enjoyable but sometimes superficial and uninteresting novel. NPCs takes place in a role playing game world ruled by a mad tyrant who goes around giving impossible quests to heroes and murdering anyone who may stand in the way of his little game. Fearing to be blamed by the heroes’ death, the four NPCs will take their places and live the adventure of their lifetime

The premise is enjoyable, and some parts of the book are incredibly funny, especially if you have played classic RPG be.  NPCs  is filled with internal jokes and crazy theories that you may appreciate and it has a fine sense of irony, offering to even the most casual player something to laugh about.

Sadly, that only constitutes a part of the book and the pages between these jokes are filled with a superficial storytelling, sloppy conflict management and non-existent character’s development, which makes this book a slow and irritating page turner with no interest whatsoever for those who have never played role playing games before.

Final Score: 3/10

Do any of you have a contingency plan in case of apocalypse? I admit it, I started working on mine as soon as I read the Zombie survival guide but until this moment I hadn’t really understood how unprepared I am. When it comes to Apocalypses, the Zombie apocalypse is probably the easiest to survive, think of it: Zombies are slow, which means they aren’t good at hunting, this constitutes an advantage for two reasons: they can’t hunt animals, lowering the risk of starving us out and they have troubles catching up with you, climbing, swimming… apart from that you have an earth with a perfectly normal climate, electricity during the first months until you figure out a way to hook up your own small generators and several places where you can find refuge. Now, we go to an EMP, an Ice Age or an international pandemic and that’s like playing the game in the higher difficulty levels, and you only get one life. No electricity means of heating systems or air conditioning, highly reducing the places on earth where you can live, eternal winter means no spring, meaning no food, animals would starve out and so would we. International pandemic… well, that would just be mean an unnecessary.

I find certain romanticism in the concept of the apocalypse (theoretical apocalypse, of course, I thought it would be better to clarify it for our friends in the Interpol and the CIA). Think about it, humanity thrown back to its darkest ages, trying to survive and fight its way back to civilization while the political and social map changes forever. There is certain optimism in these stories, no matter how tragic they are, which always helps me recover a little of my lost faith in humanity.

In ten years, in the middle of an actual apocalypse, you will remember me saying it is romantic while you are working hard to survive… that will get some fun reactions.

OSA

Strong Points: Characters, Realism, writing style.

Weak Points: pace in the final part of the novel.

One Second After, written by William R. Forstchen, brings us the catastrophic consequences of an EMP attack over America from the point of view of John Matherson, a military history professor working in a college located on a small community in North Carolina. As it becomes more and more obvious by each passing day that electricity is not going to come back, John must help rally and organize his community if any of them is going to make it through this ordeal alive. Facing tough, immoral choices, sickness, starvation, violent gangs and the impending death of his diabetic daughter John must fight with the help of his neighbors in order to survive until external help arrives… If it ever does.

Undoubtedly, one of the greatest achievements of Mr. Forstchen in One Second After is his characters. The author manages to create exactly what he is looking for: an ordinary man thrown into an extraordinary scenario. John Matherson is a delightful, carefully built character which resembles a man who could very well be your next door neighbor or your college professor: past, believes and personality are mixed in order to create a could-be-real entity with whom the reader will soon relate, there are things about him you will like and others that you won’t, and that makes him human. Possibly the fact I found more interesting is that while he has tragedies in his past, as a real human being he is not entirely consumed by them though they have strongly affected his personality.

Other characters, such as Charlie, Kate or Tom also enrich the novel by their presence and their evolution, and that is one of the beauties of this book, it doesn’t matter how small the character is, he or she will change in a believable way, answering to the external impulses they receive. The city council’s member’s evolution is subtle through the whole novel, but is there and in the moment you reach the final pages of the novel you discover the great personal travel each one of them has made. Maybe John is the main character of the story, but they are all heroes in their own way, breaking with the old tradition that the main character is the only useful person in the story and leaving us with a sense of community seen in very few novels.

When you are reading the novel it becomes obvious that Mr. Forstchen is that he has done his homework, not only is the novel filled with actual data extracted from the commission to assess the threat to united states from electromagnetic pulse, but the novel is filled with clues of how to survive without electricity, of the different sicknesses and their consequences and of other details which really allow the reader to submerge in the author’s wonderful world. But it goes beyond that, behaviors, character psychology, what each season means to the survivors… all is recorded to the utmost detail and is showed in such a realist way that readers will notice shivers imagining themselves in that situation. This is not a book filled with heroics, this is a book about survival in which morality takes a step back so we can see how our values collapse as they surely would in that situation.

One last positive quality in this novel which I must point out is the Mr. Forstchen writing style or, to be more precise, his talent to convey emotions and awake feelings in the readers. I have ended up teary eyed more than once reading this book because of its superb dramatic economy and the subtlety of some of the tragedies the characters live throughout the novel. It is not a poetic language, filled with style or beauty, but a simple, every-day one filled with emotion and human sympathy.

The only downside, in my opinion, is the dramatic increase in the pace of the final part of the novel. Blurring the details and, instead of accompanying John through the different tragedies described, the author refers through them as a memory in the past, just skipping through two hundred days of disease and starvation that decimates the survivors. I personally would have been interested in discovering how John lived those difficult moments and which decisions did he have to make in order to ensure the survival o the highest number of people.

One Second After has been an amazing surprise, a delicious treat that kept me reading from the beginning to the very end of the book while suffering with its characters and desperately hoping for their survival. I would recommend it to all of those people who enjoy apocalyptic literature and science fiction, for it will surely provide you with unforgettable moments and hours of enjoyment.

FINAL SCORE: 9/10

¡Hasta la próxima!

Disclaimer: I have read an advance reviewer copy, some details may change in the final commercial copy

I want to thanks Angry Robot and Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book.

I have been wondering lately what makes a story good. In the Spanish film industry we are living right now a unique moment that no one saw coming, for the first time in Spanish history a Spanish movie has made more money than any American film has ever done (except for Avatar). This movie, 8 apellidos vascos (which in English has been translated as Spanish Affair), is a comedy about the cultural differences between the south and the north of Spain. It isn’t something entirely new and, while it is true is really funny, it is not one of those movies one would expect to do almost 50 million Euros in Spain alone (not even Titanic did that). So, is it the story itself? The actors (the Amazing Carmen machi, Dani Robira and the talented Clara Lago)? Or is it maybe the economic crisis and the social tension between the north and the south? I don’t know, I feel I need more beers in order to find the answer.

Peacemaker-CR

Strong points: the setting.

Weak points: Clichés, some events feel forced.

Peacemaker, written by Marianne de Pierres, tells us the story of Virgin Jackson, a ranger in the last natural landscape on earth. Now, her beloved Park has become a murder scene during her watch and is up to her and her new partner, the enigmatic Marshal Nate Sixkiller, to find the killer before the obsessive detective Chance manages to frame Virgin herself for the murder and to discover why Aquila, Virgin’s eagle-shaped imaginary friend from her childhood, has reappeared the same night said crime was committed.

If there is anything that makes Peacemaker a worthwhile reading it is, undoubtedly, its setting. Marianne de Pierre has managed to create a wonderful world which mixes science fiction and urban fantasy creating something unique: a society which mixes technology and shamanistic magic in a way that feels natural and is rapidly accepted by the reader. It is also worth it to note that the urban landscape where the novel takes place is varied and full of life, being similar to a real city in its complexity and social rules instead of the overly used clichés we find out in fictional cities such as “the zone where no one under any circumstances should enter which you know the hero will have to enter” or the “uppity zone where everyone is a heartless bastard”. Ms de Pierres manages to create a megacity which feels real and which serves as home to a group of unforgettable inhabitants.

Sadly, the story-telling fares worse. The novel goes from cliché to cliché and by halfway through the book it has lost its original flavor. The relationship between the characters is one big cliché, dividing the male group in two categories: those who are in love with Virgin and those who have a paternal relationship with Virgin. This makes the novel a highly predictable love pentagon (really?) between Virgin and her cohorts of male suitors, which works fine with her due to the fact that every one of her four admirers have a unique skill that gets her through the story: Sixkiller shoots things, Totes hacks things, Heart charms things and Hamish drives things (and runs them over). The events don’t escape this effect either and are soon a predestined chain of events which doesn’t manage to finish catching the reader’s attention, even the ending, unexpected as it is, seems borrowed from other books that come before it.

As a result of the story walking an over-used path, some of the events feel forced in order to create a result. The whole relationship Sixkiller-Virgin goes in a cycle distrust-trust-distrust-trust without any apparent motive as do their feelings, one moment they are colleagues and the next they are giving the other person “The Look”. Sometimes they feel more like puppets than actual characters, just fulfilling the necessary functions to reach a decided result.

While this may not be Angry Robot’s best book by a long shot (Age Atomic and The Lives of Tao hold that title for now and they are difficult to top) Peacemaker is not a bad book either if all you are looking for is to relax and enjoy your free time. After all, what makes a good story? Is it the story itself? Or is it the moment when you read it?

FINAL SCORE: 5/10

¡Hasta la próxima!

There seems to be a trend right now which consists in reimagining classical works of fiction to create a whole new novel giving a completely different point of view or a whole new setting to the story. I have talked with some people about this, and while some seem bothered by this apparent lack of imagination I don’t think it is a negative trend as a whole. There are some of these reimagined worlds which, in my opinion, show a real display of imagination both in literature and in movies (then we have “Hamsel and Gretel witch hunters”, I am still trying to figure out what the heck was that). While not exactly a reimagining of The Time Machine, Hollow World is heavily influenced by the classic novel, especially at the beginning of the story, but goes beyond it to create a brand new story that, even if it isn’t the best book I have read this year, it is quite an enjoyable one.

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Strong points: The characters, the setting of the novel.

Weak points: the developing of the story

Hollow World, written by Michael J. Sullivan, brings us the story of Ellis Rogers, an average citizen obsessed by the theory of time travel who has built a time machine in his garage. When he learns he has a fatal disease he decides to use his invention to travel two hundred years to the future, hopping a cure would have been found by then, but nothing has prepared for what he will find: The Hollow World.

The strongest point of the novel is, undoubtedly, its characters. They are complex beings which offer a faithful reflection of their circumstances and their surroundings; they are a long way from perfection, each of them burdened by the ghosts of his past and the consequences of his actions. Ellis Rogers is an ordinary man, born in the fifties, who has been heavily influenced by his parents rigid education and his view of society his whole life. He is a man whose mistakes have taken their toll and is tired of his present existence, and who sees the time machine not only as a mean to reach salvation from his terminal disease but also as a way to scape his torturous life. He is not a hero, most of the novel he is moved by his own selfish impulses and that gives us a fresh character, an interesting creation who is really an ordinary man forced to do extraordinary deeds. His counterpart, Pax, is not less interesting himself; an asexual futuristic clone in a society where everyone looks the same, Pax’s obsession to be unique is understandable and well written, managing to transmit us a genuine need which will make us sympathy with him. Finally, Ren is also a product of his time and his circumstances, a man who sees his entire life as a failure, blaming those who have surrounded him for it, and who now finds himself with the power to change the world and mold it as it should be; though at some points he becomes superficial, he is able to pick the interest of the readers and sometimes even cause pity.

The future imagined by Mr. Sullivan can only be defined as magical. The Hollow World is a complex creation, product of two thousand years of human evolution, tragedies and historical moments, all of which have been meticulously created and recorded by the author. This social evolution is so well built that it manages to convince us that the Hollow World is the logical conclusion to the chain of events which Mr. Sullivan describes. This result is a completely different society with its own fashion, code, political system and behavior which I found rich and refreshing. It is something completely new, and that is hard to come by.

Some events in the story feel forced and out of place, as if the author had used them in order to create the drama and the suspense he needed and then had forgotten about them. For example, when Ellis Rogers first meet the Hollow World inhabitants they are terrified of him, even saying that some surface dwellers were cannibals; at this point it seems as if the Hollow World will be similar to The Time Machine, telling us the story of a cannibalistic society who preys upon their peaceful neighbors. The thing is that the cannibalistic surface dwellers are not mentioned again in the whole novel and other characters even talk about the surface as if it wasn’t inhabited. Then we have Pax, who has a gift that allows him to emphasize with people, understanding their feelings and how they think, but then feels lonely and is surprised when people tell him he is unique. How can he be surprised when thousands of people think that way and love him for it? There are some other examples which I can’t go into without spoiling the novel. As a result of these events the story is sometimes confusing and lacks sense and continuity, leaving us the feeling that we have read a brainstorm of plot ideas rather than the final product.

The Hollow World has some faults that make it a little bit dense, but in the whole is an enjoyable book which I would recommend to those readers that enjoy science fiction and modern reimagining of classical tales.

FINAL SCORE: 6/10

¡Hasta la próxima!

I admit it, I like depressing novels. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine, the darker and more dramatic a story is, the more I like it, and maybe that’s why I love Game of Thrones so much. There is something about these stories that keeps you reading despite yourself, because if a dark story is approached right, it becomes unpredictable and that’s something that as a reader I appreciate. Let me tell you, The Postmortal is as dark and depressing as Science Fiction gets and I very much enjoyed that.

TPM

Strong point: Characters and their development, the setting.

Weak points: the ending felt rushed.

The Postmortal, written by Drew Magary, invites the readers to ask themselves a question: What would happen if everyone in the world had access to a cure against aging and, therefore, against dying of natural causes? From the point of view of divorce lawyer John Farrell we witness around 73 years of history in which the human race plunges in a world without morals, ambition, decorum and, finally, without resources.

John Farrell is an amazing character: complex, introspective and deep. The author has managed to create a personality so rich in fears and dreams that makes us wonder if we are not reading about a real human being. He is likeable, or at least charming, from the very first moment that we meet him and since then he becomes probably one of the most alluring characteristics of the novel. He doesn’t want the cure to make history or live an extravagant life, he is just terrified of the idea of death and this fear, along with his desired of being loved, are the main forces that move him through the story making each moment we spend with him a touching and unforgettable experience. The amazing cast of secondary characters who surround him is not less, they are excellently built, each of them with their unique charismatic personality that will either make you love them or hate them: Katy, John’s father and sister, Allison, even small characters such as Keith make this book a treat you will hardly forget.

John´s development is also quite interesting, following a well-built story-arc and having a cause-effect relation with the changes around him and the decisions he takes during the novel. From a naïve young man to a cynical old man living in a young body, John delights us with his story and his point of view´s evolution. Believe you me, rarely have I witnessed a character development so well defined and as intense as John Farrell’s, making me turn page after page to find out how the character would react to the different events the world had to offer.

And what a world, ladies and gentlemen, it is alive; there is no other way to put it really. Mr. Magary has not only created an space where the story take place, but he also have surround it with a complex net of side information that are told to us through newspaper headlines and blogs every few chapters, making us really el as if we were reading about a real event. But it goes beyond that, the changes on the cities and on the people are carefully described through the book, the idea of the evolution of trolling, for example, was interesting and terrifying, which starts consisting in blinding people or leaving marks they won’t be able to remove for their entire existence. The level of completion reminds me to Hawkwood and the Kings, the world didn’t begin with the story and neither will finish after the last page, is a world which we feel will live on.

The only downside of the entire novel is that after the even-paced narration we enjoy for almost the whole novel the ending is rushed and sometimes confusing. It doesn’t spoil the novel. I won’t go into detail in order to avoid spoiling the book to anyone who wants to read it, but suddenly we are presented with a fast chain of events which makes us lose perspective what is happening.

The Postmortal has been a real treat to read and I have enjoyed every single page of it. The ending, though a little blurry, doesn’t affect my opinion on a book which hooked me up from the first paragraph. The Postmortal, along with Emperor of Thorns, is undoubtedly one of the best books I have read in 2014.

FINAL SCORE: 9/10

¡Hasta la próxima!

Am I the only one who gets a deep feeling of enjoyment whenever I pick up a debut novel? I feel as if each one of those was a whole new world (which sometimes involves flying carpets, yes), like it was a pathway by which a brand new author brings something new to the genre through his or her point of view. But there something I enjoy more than discovering a new author and it is to read the debut work shortly after it gets published, before the reviews and the subsequent books that follow the success of the first one. Echoes has been one of those novels that by luck has fallen into my hands a couple of weeks after its release and I must admit that I have enjoy the book from the beginning to the very end.

Echoes

Strong Points: Characters and their development, the plot, the writing style.

Weak Points: Some punctual moments of the story feel somehow superficial.

Echoes is a novel written by Therin Knite which tells us the story of Adem Ademend, a 23 years old prodigy who solves crimes for a living in a futuristic society where countries don’t longer exist. Adem has become the best criminal investigator in the police force thanks to an uncanny skill to rebuild the crime’s scenes and figure out the identity and motives of the killer almost instantly, but a new murder has occurred in town and Adem’s gift is not proving useful this time for all his senses are saying that the victim has been killed by a dragon.

Undoubtedly the characters are the strongest point of the novel, especially Adem. From the very beginning the author manages to create a character that entraps us and wins us over due to his sassy sense of humor, his well-deserved arrogance and his need to find logic in everything he sees around him; Therin Knite has masterfully written a psychologically scarred character who at the same time is capable of maintaining a light tone throughout the novel. Adem is also surrounded by a strong cast of secondary characters who fulfill their own unique function inside the story and who have been created to the utmost detail, showing each one a unique personality that entraps the reader. All the characters, from the hateful socialite Regina Williams to the rough SWAT veteran Briggs, manage to trigger a reaction on the reader, making sure you won’t be indifferent to any of them by the time you turn the last page over.

Aden’s development is even paced and it doesn’t feel forced at any point. It answers to the events of the novel, changing through the story and being affected by the world that surrounds him in a plausible and believable. It is enjoyable to find a development so well written, both in Adem and, of course, in his secondary counterparts, especially the development of Dynara Chamberlain, who the author manages to evolve without making her loose the mystery that makes the character so alluring in our eyes.

The plot will entrap you from the very beginning and will keep you reading until the moment you finish the novel. While the book reminds us to some already well-established series such as The Twenty Palaces Society or The Dresden Files it stills offering something new to the genre that makes this novel something exotic. The mystery that surrounds the crime, which will make us suspicious of every character we meet, is alluring enough for the novel and the inclusion of the Echoes don’t feel out of place and are explained through science, making sense by the rules we have been given by the author about the world of the novel.

Therin Knite shows an elegant writing style which adds up as a quality to the novel. The author doesn’t fall into the irritating habit of explaining everything as soon as it happens, preferring instead to unravel it step by step, helping this way to create a mysterious atmosphere through the novel. Her way of giving information to the reader helps to underline its importance, such as the moment when we discover that Aden’s mother was murdered when he was six. Ms Knite could have told us that from the very beginning, but instead she waits to the right moment, once we have gotten to know her main character and using a digital picture’s frame to approach to the right moment. This example of a built-up, which happens more times through the novel, is an impressive example of timing which makes Echoes an enjoyable experience.

The only downside of this otherwise great book is that sometimes the characters’ reactions or the lack of them when it comes to some events or words of other characters take away some of the depths that they show through the rest of the novel. For example, there is a chapter in the book where Dynara criticizes Adem for trying to figure out his mother’s murder through logic and data instead of going out there and finding the murderer by himself, when that happens we are not given a point of view of the characters, we don’t know how he feels and he acts as if Dynara never mentions his mother, but her murder is what drives the character through the story.

Echoes has been a delightful reading from the very beginning to the last page, it is easy to read, well-built and interesting. I shall await Epitaph and any other book that the author writes in the future with great expectation. I raise my glass for a long and fruitful career, Ms. Knite, may you give us many good novels.

FINAL SCORE: 8/10

¡Hasta la próxima!

From time to time it happens that I find in the bookstore a novel which I have never heard of but that at the same time makes me incredibly curious. Sometimes those books turn to be a delightful surprise, such as Empress. Other times, though, they become bitter disappointments. Well, this is the risk one takes when he lives his life to the limit (at least where books are concerned)

aam

Strong points: one of the main characters is a talking, one-eyed, cynical monkey that fights against ninjas Nazis using two oversized Colts; the initial setting of the novel.

Weak points: it all becomes an over-dramatized cliché, developing of both characters and story, really predictable and without surprises.

Ack Ack Macaque is a novel written by Gareth L. Powell which tells us the story of three unlikely heroes who find themselves on the middle of a conspiracy against the Commonwealth’s royal family. A journalist who is recovering from a terrible accident that has left her unable to read or write, the heir to the throne and a talking monkey with a knack for mischief and violence must join forces in order to stop the cult of the undying from fulfilling their plans.

Gareth L. Powell brings us an original setting that manages to entrap the reader for the first quarter of the book. The author has designed a complex society with its own rules, rewriting the history of Europe to create this new world in which France and England have joined under the British throne in order to create the Commonwealth, a powerful political block. Technology has evolved differently with airships called Skyliners replacing airplanes as the main mean for air transportation, being each one of this transports considered an independent nation. Humans also have been planted a machine which connects to the brain and produces a backup copy of the host so he or she can say their farewells in the event of sudden death. In short, the amazing society has been created to the utmost detail, including its citizens’ behaviors making it a believable experience which is undoubtedly the strongest part of the story.

Sadly, after the first chapters we witness the Sleigh’s Effect: it starts going downhill and can’t be stopped. The whole story becomes a sequence of clichés badly pasted together, an overdramatized chain of events that makes less and less sense the further you read into it. Some scenes seen copied from Hollywood’s basic scenes and are scattered across the book leaving the reader confuse about what are they doing there in the same place, such as the scene in which Julie talks to her father or any short of romantic interaction between her and the prince, which feels superficial and unrealistic, not for the nature of the romance itself but because of how it is approached and the dialogue used.

The story’s development feels forced and sometimes even improvised by the author on the spot, some example of these moments are the identity of the saboteur of the skyliner or the meeting with K8. There are even some sequences that don’t make sense by the rules we have been given by the author, like Vic’s liberation, which seems just a way to advance the plot whatever it takes. Some characters or events are forgotten during the books, and others, such as the commodore’s sudden death one chapter away from the ending (which is never explained how it comes to past, it’s just a radio message saying “oh, by the way, he is dead”) are just means to reach the predictable ending of the novel. As said before, by the end of the book you are left with the feeling you have been witness to a collage of raw and disorganized ideas that may have given an amazing result if only they had been neatly ordered.

The three main characters are original in their design and quite promising when you start reading the book, being both original and fresh. When it comes to their development, though, they may disappoint the reader. In some cases , such as the Monkey’s, this development is non-existent, being a completely linear character with some insecurities from time to time which he soon forgets and have not weight whatsoever on the story . Victoria’s and Merovech’s development is irregular, sometimes even chaotic. They don’t seem to follow a plan. For example, at the beginning Victoria seems comfortable with her implants, but suddenly half way through the book suddenly she is worrying that it makes her less human. The main events’ effects on these characters wear off soon, leaving no mark in their personality
Also, the author falls in the (what I personally find) irritating habit of explaining everything several times, such as the plans of the antagonists, which are described five or six times throughout the novel. As a result of this over-explanation the reader has all the information from the very beginning, which makes the book predictable to say the least and, sometimes, dense.

Getting published is hard enough nowadays, so I myself like to read a book always taking into account the fact that the author has been able to get someone to publish it. I sincerely believe that Mr. Powell is not a bad author, he has got some really interesting ideas and his imagination runs wild through the pages, but the book has been a slow read which from time to time I was tempted to abandon. Probably the writers I have been reading lately have spoilt me with their good work, or maybe I am too demanding as a reader but Ack Ack Macaque was a disappointment.

FINAL SCORE: 3/10

¡Hasta la próxima!

Ps: If you have any Fantasy or Science Fiction book recommendation, feel free to write it down on the comments. I am always open to new books and appreciate any titles you send.

When I finished reading “The Rediscovery of Man”, my first thought was “how am I going to post a review of this book?”. The Rediscovery of Man is a timeless classic; a collection of short stories the first of which was written in 1950, and it has been already reviewed by some of the greatest writers in our time, such as Terry Pratchett himself. But then a simple thought stroke my mind, “why not?” and here I am, looking for words that may express my opinions about this novel.

TRM

Strong points: The writing style, the development of the society where the short stories take place, some of the characters where surprisingly deep

Weak Points: Most of the characters were plain and simple, without development whatsoever; some key details are left unexplained

The Rediscovery of Man contains 12 short stories which take place over a period of 10000 years (from 6000 AD to 16000 AD). During this time we are witnesses of how mankind, surrounded by endless commodities, loses its humanity and rediscovers it back thanks to the brave actions of some individuals. We are given a rich universe that is in constant evolution, which ever-changing technology and ever-changing ethical and moral code.

This ever changing universe it is one of the main qualities of this book, we see a society in constant evolution, a well-defined way of development that enriches the novel and connects all the stories allowing us to locate them in chronological order without much difficulty. The slow but terrifying loss of humanity is hinted and developed over the first stories, making man-kind more monstrous each short story we read. Slavery of the underpeopled (genetically engineer animals which are sacrificed as soon as they are sick or stop being useful), racism between words and, finally, genetically engineered humans designed to be happy, to love an already chosen person, to stay in their homes, doing small jobs the government gives them to make them happy and make them feel useful. As humanity changes so does its technology, going from cyborgs operating ships (as seen in the first short-story The Scanners live in vain) to human crewed vessels and other kinds of transport between worlds. This constant evolution is really the strongest point of this novel, what keeps you reading to discover what is to happen with this society which seems condemned to downfall, making this reading a rich and enjoyable experience

On the other hand the characters are usually plain and usually have a function of fulfilling what I like to call literary stereotypes: the tragic hero, the android rediscovering its feelings… they embody this functions and usually they don’t go beyond them. In my case I love characters, I want to feel things toward them I want to like them or hate them, I want to think about them as if they were living entities, cry (or celebrate it) when they die, feel excitement when they fulfill their objective… sadly I haven’t feel any of that in most of this short stories. The author seems to use his characters as mere tools, simple vehicles to allow that wonderful setting to evolve and take new forms. They are not agents of change but its physical representation, a consequence. This is Mr. Smith style and his choice, I am not saying otherwise, but from the point of view of this modern-day reader, I was missing deep characters capable of moving me.

In some of these stories, though, we find certain characters that are pleasant surprises to us. Pinlighter Underhill, who is the main character of the short story The Game of Rat and Dragon, is an example of one of those surprises. During most of the narrative we get to know a perfectly normal human being, but the sudden twist it the last page of the story makes this man an intense and delightful character which quite a psychological depth. That small line at the end of The Game of the Rat and Dragon made it my favorite out of the twelve stories, suddenly transforming Underhill into a tortured character. Other character that was quite interesting was Sto Odin, from Under Old Earth, an old Instrumentality (the semi-immortal men and women who govern humanity) that seventy seven days before the date he has decided to die starts having doubts about the validity of the system of mandatory happiness he has been enforcing for over a thousand years. His fears and actions made him probably one of the hardest characters to predict until the very end of the story, though sometimes they felt as if the author had decided to improvise some of his skills on the spot.

Now, one thing Cordwainer Smith excels in is his writing style. His use of words is hypnotic. An extensive vocabulary and a way with the English language difficult to describe pulls you inside this pages and leave you craving for more. His writing style is, in one word, beautiful. His vocabulary is as boundless as his imagination. All of us aspiring writers could learn much of this man.

Other detail that irritated me at some points was the fact that he leaves lots of important items of the story completely unexplained and without hints to help the readers to figure out what the heck he is talking about. Sometimes reading this book is like trying to talk with an expert aeronautical engineer who insists in using scientific terminology to refer to anything he speaks about! And who refuses to believe that you can’t understand what he is referring too! Sadly, we are talking about some machines, genetic mutation and physical rules created by the mind of the author, so we can’t double check it with no one else. What is exactly the Congohelium, a estrange artifact which appears in Under Old Earth?, or the Aba-Dingo from Alpha Ralpha Boulevard? Those are some questions we thirst to know but are never answered to us

Out of the twelve stories I have my own preferences: The Game of the Rat and Dragon because of the sudden twist at the end and because who doesn’t like a story of cats fighting on spaceships? Especially when one of said cat’s name is Captain Wow? Closely followed by Alpha Ralpha Boulevard, The first story which is centered after the rediscovery of humanity by mankind and has quite a comedic beginning in which the people are choosing what culture do they want to belong to (the main characters have chosen to be French and therefore decide they have to spend the afternoons on cafes), this story centers in the worries of finding who we really are when everything we want to be is on our reach. Finally The Lady who Sailed the Soul is a delightful story about a woman who enrolls as a sailor in a spaceship. Its ending is probably the most touching paragraph in the whole book.

If you are going to read this book keep in mind you are reading stories which were written in the 1950´s and are loyal to the ideology of its time. So keep an open mind and give the book a chance as much as it may sometimes be irritating.

I would recomend this book to those readers that consider themselves lovers of the science fiction genre. They can’t miss the wonderful world that Cordwainer Smith has created in this set of short stories. I also recomend it to any person who enjoys Reading classics, the autor grasp and skill with language can be compared to that of Tolkien. If you don’t like Science Fiction or you are new on the genre its probably better to skip this book at least for now.

I think I would give this book a seven out of ten: amazing setting and writing style, some interesting narrative choices but only with three or four interesting characters and sometimes a lack of information that exasperated me.

FINAL SCORE: 7/10

¡Hasta la próxima!