Tag Archives: book review

Ciara Ballintyne Reviews the Daedalus Incident By Michael J Martinez




A refreshingly original sci-fi/historical fantasy mash-up, with an incredible premise. The Daedalus Incident combines sci-fi set on Mars in the 22nd century with historical fantasy set in the 18thcentury of an alternative reality.

The story contains two major threads. The sci-fi thread, as I thought of it, featured Lieutenant Shaila Jain, a member of the Royal British Navy (and the JSCwhich I took to be some joint cooperative between the UK and USA) posted on Mars as part of a small military operation supervising a mining operation. When they begin experiencing earthquakes where there should be none, she discovers a subterranean cave in which rocks move of their own accord. There she discovers a journal that is writing itself.
 
The historical fantasy thread features Lieutenant Thomas Weatherby, a member of the Royal British Navy in the 18th century on board the HMS Daedalusas it sails through space between planets. I was initially confused by this, but quickly decided this wasn’t our past, but had to be the past in an alternate reality, one where alchemy really can turn lead into gold and allow ships to sail through space on the solar winds. Of course, in our reality, the solar wind is something that would tear apart an 18th century frigate, but placing us in an alternate reality allowed me to suspend belief and accept that this might be possible in a world with working alchemy.

The journal Lt. Jain has found is, of course, that of Lt Weatherby and she and her team watch in disbelief as words literally appear on the paper, describing what to them seems a work of fiction. Only when they run out of other possible explanations do they begin to think this might be real.

Lt. Weatherby, in his world, is on the trail of an evil alchemist, Cagliostro, who is in the process of collecting the various alchemical essences of the solar system so that he might perform some great alchemical working to achieve his nefarious purposes. It is unclear what his intentions are to start, but it was at least apparent to me that whatever he was doing was what was causing the blurring between universes.

The story threads and the universes do eventually merge so that Lts. Jain and Weatherby meet each other, but I won’t say more than that so I don’t ruin the ending.

Apart from the spectacular story, the thing that struck me most was the ‘voice’ of Lts. Jain and Weatherby. You could open this story anywhere and know immediately which thread you were in by the ‘sound’ of the narrator. It was so incredibly distinctive I think I’ve even learnt something from it.

That said, having established these distinct voices, it frustrated me that later the story fell more into an omniscient style POV. I didn’t find this as obvious at the beginning of the book, where we seemed well-entrenched in either the head of Weatherby or Jain, and the first time I found myself in the perspective of Dr Finch, alchemist to the Daedalus, I was badly jarred, and even more so when we switched back to Weatherby when Finch wandered away. This same issue then began to crop up in the other story thread, and became even more jarring when the threads merged, as I could find myself in the thoughts of either Jain or Weatherby without warning, and my brain evidently wanted to settle into one or the other unless very clearly signalled to switch.

While I am not a fan of omniscient, I usually find it distances me more than jars me, where in this case I found it particularly disorienting, perhaps because often I did feel I was inside the character’s head. I think this was largely because of the distinctive ‘voices’ of the two main characters, so the sudden switch between characters was about as pleasant as a bucket of cold water. Additionally, each Weatherby segment opened with his journal entry, written in the first person, so there was a tendency to want to stay with Weatherby and inside his head. While the genre mash-up was effective, I found this ‘POV mash-up’ less desirable.

I enjoyed the characters, particular Weatherby who had a very strong sense of ‘British stiff upper lip’. The story had a romance sub-plot, with French planetologist Stephane as Jain’s love interest, and budding alchemist Anne Baker as Weatherby’s. Stephane’s character was the more compelling of the two for me, funny and flirtatious but sincere, and I wanted Lt. Jain to be happy with him.

By contrast, Anne Baker fell flat. She seemed a woman out of her time, and while Weatherby chided Jain for her behaviour being unseemly for a woman, Anne seemed accepted even though she behaved almost completely contrary to the expectations of a woman in her era, and this felt odd to me. Her backstory never rang true to me, or the romantic conflict with Weatherby – I don’t feel the significance of her past was explored deeply enough. But mostly, I just didn’t find her likeable, and so didn’t particularly want the romance to blossom. Perhaps this was deliberate and this will develop further later.

This is a superb story, and my gripes are only minor. With a sequel (The Enceladus Crisis) due out next year, I’ll be waiting to scoop it up for sure.

Club Fantasci Discusses The Daedalus Incident by Michael J Martinez

Here it is, the long-awaited September Hangout for Club Fantasci where we discuss The Daedalus Incident by Michael J Martinez. We also farewell Dionne Lister, who is sadly departing.

We were initially delayed by technical difficulties (I have ongoing internet problems thanks to a heartless telecommunications company) and then Dionne and I were overseas. We managed to get this one working, but again due to technical issues, we had to switch from G+ Hangout to Skype, and while everything seemed fine at the time, now the recording has our lips and voices out of sync *sigh*. Nothing is ever easy… We do apologise for the quality on this one. Don’t even talk to me about the dramas I had getting my microphone to work, which resulted in a headset and a desire to smash something!


Michael J Martinez is absolutely lovely, and his books rock. If you haven’t read The Daedalus Incident already, go out and buy it now, and keep an eye out for The Enceladus Crisis, coming in (northern hemisphere) fall. Oh, and follow him on Twitter – @mikemartinez72






















On a sad note, I must announce that I have been forced to decide to leave Club Fantasci. My husband is part of the bushfire division of our National Parks department, and has been more or less absent for the last 4 weeks fighting the Sydney bushfires, and I don’t even have enough time to manage two kids and still work my job. Reading and writing has more or less fallen by the wayside, and I just don’t have the time to commit (which is at least part of the reason it was November before we did the September review…). That being the case, it’s just not fair for me to remain with the club.

I may be able to revisit my options once the bushfire season is over.

Roughly how my technology has made me feel lately!

Book Review: Waylander by David Gemmell

Waylander



The basic story idea of Waylander is like a picture of a Big Mac – perfect, juicy, mouth-watering, and oh so tempting. The book itself, unfortunately, is the sad, squashed reality handed to you in the drive thru.

Waylander is an infamous assassin, whose conscience is touched – literally – by the purity of the priest Dardalion, whom Waylander incidentally saves in pursuit of his stolen horse. Waylander’s walk towards the light would have been more compelling if it had been by conscious choice rather than appearing to be by ‘infection’ with Dardalion’s purity. At the same time, Dardalion is tainted by Waylander’s amorality and abandons his pacifist stance, taking up weapons in defence of the innocent – to the horror of most of his brother priests.

Waylander is approached by the old King of Drenai, and father of the king he murdered, to find and retrieve his fabled ‘Armour of Bronze’. The armour has no special powers, but could serve as a rallying point for Egel, the general leading the failing Drenai army against the invading Vagrian forces. Although there is no particular reason for him to agree, Waylander does so, even though he is assured of almost certain death in the attempt.

While David Gemmell clearly has some understanding of the elements of a good story, his execution into the written word is clumsy at best. There is rarely any sense of setting, and then when there is, it is insufficient for the reader to feel they are present. Many of the characters are poorly defined and indistinguishable from each other. Some minor characters seem to have received more development than they should, while some major characters languished from neglect. Dialogue was short and sharp, with no identifying characteristics to identify the speaker; it suffered from ‘talking heads syndrome’ and the characters were indistinguishable. Some characters act in ways which defy logic or reason, apparently behaving in that way solely because it suited the author. The romance is handled clumsily, and the characters fall into each other’s arms with a suddenness that is unconvincing. In fact, I was more convinced she’d happily cut his throat and never shed a tear.

Some of the most interesting parts of the book are Waylander’s explanation of the nature of fear, and his philosophical attitude towards it, and Dardalion’s exposition on why taking up arms in defence of the innocent is more of a sacrifice than merely allowing himself to be killed for the benefit of no one.

While I was not impressed with the book this time around, I did enjoy it a lot more when I was a teenager, and David Gemmell is amazingly popular, so his books do appeal to a certain audience. If you’re in your teens, or simply enjoy your fantasy straightforward, uncomplicated and limited to a single book, this may still be worth your time.

Book Review: Wizard Squared by K. E. Mills



In this, the third installment of the Rogue Agent series, in another Ottosland, in a parallel dimension, the events of The Accidental Sorcerer didn’t play out quite as we know them. There, Gerald didn’t make a dragon to battle Lional. Instead, he turned to Lional’s grimoires of dark magics, and combined with his powers as a rogue wizard, became unspeakably dangerous… and unspeakably evil.

Not satisfied with corrupting Bibbie, shadbolting Monk, imprisoning Melissande and Reg, and committing atrocities against various government officials and others who crossed him, not satisfied with conquering Ottosland, or his plans for world domination, the other Gerald turns his mind to all conquering all the other alternate realities.

The first our Gerald and his friends know of it is when Monk answers the door… and finds himself. Frightened by the events described by the other Monk, and with Gerald off on secret government business, Monk and the girls of Witches Incorporated turn to Gerald’s boss, Sir Alec.
It is agreed that only Gerald can face Gerald… but our Gerald is missing. He stepped into a portal bound for Grand Splotze – and didn’t step out the other end.

The concept of this story is good, with the potential for crackling tension, but in my opinion the execution missed the mark. The first quarter of the book is a recounting of the final events of The Accidental Sorcerer, but from the perspective of the other Gerald. I found this boring, since I knew much of these events already, barring the parts where events deviated, but I also found it confusing. I quickly suspected that perhaps these were events in an alternate reality, but I wasn’t sure, and so I was confused. Also, if I was right, then I was completely uninterested, because I couldn’t see what possible relevance this had to my Gerald. I was too busy wanting to get back to my Gerald to care much about this other Gerald.

The next quarter of the book skipped back to Monk and the girls, where I, the reader, listened in boredom as the other Monk explained the state of events in the alternate reality – events I already more or less knew because of the backstory infodump at the beginning. In my opinion, there would have been a lot more conflict and tension if the reader didn’t know anything about the alternate reality when the second Monk turned up. Even his arrival wasn’t interesting because I already knew who and what he was.

While the back half of the book picked up, it wasn’t enough to make up for the incredibly slow start. Definitely the weakest of the three books in the series to this point. I really only stuck with reading it because I mistakenly started Wizard Undercover first. It became quickly apparent I was reading out of order, and I stepped back to Wizard Squared to fill in the blanks. If I hadn’t known there were events in Wizard Squared that I needed to know in order to make sense of Wizard Undercover, I probably would have given up on this book early on. 

Disappointing given how much I enjoyed the first two books in the series.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card: A Review by Ciara Ballintyne




What would you do if the fate of the world hung on a child, aged six? Would you make the hard decisions to subject the child to the trials necessary to give that child the capabilities, together with natural intelligence, to actually save the world? Could you?

Earth has been twice invaded by giant insectoid aliens. Casualties were horrific. We were outnumbered and outgunned. The first time we nearly lost. The second time we were saved by the genius tactician Mazer Rackham. Now we are preparing for the third invasion, and while our technology has advanced, so will have the ‘buggers’. Our hopes rest on a pre-emptive strike to the buggers’ homeworld, but we have no commander.

Ender is a Third – a third child in a world where couples are allowed only two. The government had great hopes for his older brother, Peter, but found him too cruel, too ambitious, to lead their fleet. Their hopes switched to his sister, but she was too gentle, and so, in hopes of a child with the qualities of both Peter and Valentine, the government authorised the birth of Ender.

Monitored almost since birth, Ender is taken from his parents at the age of six and sent to a school for talented children destined for great careers in the space fleet. While they make no secret of the fact they hope he will command the fleet in the attack against the buggers’ homeworld, Ender is subjected to incredible pressure in order to force him to learn to think his way out of almost any impossible scenario.

The majority of the training at the Battle School is mock training in zero gravity conditions between groups of other students, where tactics more than brute strength rule the day. Isolated, friendless, and made a target for bullies, Ender nevertheless demonstrates his ability to out think almost any adversary, defeating enemies or making them his allies. Each time he rises to the top, the instructors change the odds, change the stakes, and make the situation almost impossible for him to win.

He is advanced ahead of his age, made to prove his value to the older students, and then, when he does, he inevitably alienates some. When he gains acceptance, he is pulled out of his unit, made the commander of his own unit, and left to sink or swim with too many rookie ‘soldiers’. When he nevertheless turns them into an effective fighting force, the odds are stacked against him when the instructors stage daily battles, and then twice daily battles, instead of allowing the usual rest period.

While the training seems nothing short of cruel, and some of the instructors express concerns they may ‘break’ or ‘ruin’ Ender, if one looks closely you realise that the training is nothing more or less than actual simulated battle conditions. There is no mandatory rest period between battles in war. There is no guarantee that one will always have the upper hand, or that one will always have the best soldiers. A commander must make the most of what he has to still produce victory, and it is this for which Ender is actually being trained.

Will he succeed? At the age of eleven, is he capable of leading a space fleet to war… and winning? Should he even be placed in that position, made responsible for the lives of soldiers? While I, as a mother, mourn the loss of the childhood he never had, I can recognise that Ender’s youth makes him more flexible, more durable, than an adult might be. He comes with no pre-conceptions, no skills or beliefs to be unlearned, and has that resilience so common to children. While an adult might break under the pressure, a child may only bend, and so Ender bends, and is moulded into the tool that is needed.

But the moral question remains. Should a child be taken and moulded into a tool, at great personal expense of that child? Can such actions be justified to save the whole of humanity?

Maybe.

But what if you don’t even know if the enemy is coming? What if, maybe, the enemy has learned the error of its ways and has no intention of invading and attacking enemy space? What if it is now us who are the invaders?

I thoroughly enjoyed the direction in which the book led me, the questions it posed, and sharing Ender’s journey and personal dilemmas. While the book is written, at times, ‘simplistically’, and employs ‘telling’ in some cases instead of ‘showing’, it appears from the introduction that Orson Scott Card did this deliberately, believing it made the book more accessible to a wider audience. Perhaps he was right, and perhaps the style of narrative was appropriate for a protagonist aged between six and eleven anyway.

While not the usual type of book I read, I ripped through Ender’s Game in two days, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to read more in the Ender series in the near future. Highly recommended.