I read a lot and keep a book journal on Goodreads/Liviu
I co-edit the leading sff review site Fantasy Book Critic
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Smashwords book reviews by Liviu Suciu
on Jan. 30, 2011
INTRODUCTION: "Encrypted" is another indie novel I found out about through a review inquiry; the author actually let us know about her series debut The Emperor's Edge and while I liked its blurb/excerpt and asked for a review e-copy, I also noticed her other novel Encrypted which tempted me so much that I bought it on the spot and read it soon after.
Of course I plan to read The Emperor's Edge too - it starts great with the same engaging style of Encrypted - so in a month or so, I should have a review of that one here too, but for now I will talk about Encrypted since it resonated with me quite a lot and I want to explain why - the essential reason is because of its very close similarity in spirit and style with one of my all time favorite duologies.
Encyrpted is set some 15-20 years earlier in the same universe of The Emperor's Edge and it is a standalone with mostly different characters, though one of the main characters from the latter one appears here too in a pretty important role, so from that point of view it makes also a great introduction to the universe.
"Professor Tikaya Komitopis isn’t a great beauty, a fearless warrior, or even someone who can walk and chew chicle at the same time, but her cryptography skills earn her wartime notoriety. When enemy marines show up at her family’s plantation, she expects the worst. But they’re not there to kill her. They need her to decode mysterious runes, and they ask for help in the manner typical of a conquering empire: they kidnap her, threaten her family, and throw her in the brig of their fastest steamship.
Her only ally is a fellow prisoner who charms her with a passion for academics as great as her own. Together, they must decipher mind-altering alchemical artifacts, deadly poison rockets, and malevolent technological constructs, all while dodging assassination attempts from a rival power determined the expedition should fail... "
OVERVIEW: Encrypted is set on a secondary world with a mix of paranormal stuff like telepathy and teleportation and early industrial tech.
There is a militaristic empire - Turgonian - that shuns magic and which faces the "magicians" of Nuria, the "mysterious" scientist from the formerly neutral and pastoral islands of Kyatt who helped the Nurians once the empire offered the islanders a deal it would not take no as an answer on, Tikaya Komitopis, a socially awkward woman with a talent for languages who breaks the Turgonian codes leading to their containment and reluctant truce, the mysterious artifacts that prove deadly in the Turgonian capital forcing them to kidnap Tikaya from her peaceful island and try and convince her to help them, the prisoner known as Five on the Turgonian ironclad that speeds towards the frozen wastes were the artifacts had come from, the Nurian saboteurs and later the expedition to find the artifacts and the surprises it encounters.
As you can see from this overview, substituting "paranormal" with advanced biotech and the one-world of this book with a multi-stellar polity and you get something that resembles in spirit the superb pre-Miles dulogy of Lois Bujold that starts with Shards of Honor and more than once when reading Encrypted, I thought the comparison apt in quite a few ways.
While today "Encrypted" fits under secondary world fantasy mainly for its elements of paranormal, for most of sff's history it would have been considered pure-sf since teleportation, telekinesis and telepathy have been staples of sf for a long time, so this is a book that should appeal to both lovers of fantasy and sf.
ANALYSIS: Why read Encrypted?
The first reason is that the novel is written in a very fast, page turning and fun way, alternating action, discovery with great dialogue especially between Tikaya and Rias - as this is the name the prisoner known as "Five" gives her once they get to know each other - but with several other compelling characters, most notably Bocrest, the Turgonian commander of the ship and expedition, the "good" corporal Agarik vs nasty sergeant Ottotark and later the young boy/assassin Sicarius, personal representative of the emperor and a familiar acquaintance of Rias and Bocrest.
As the main lead of the novel, Tikaya carries it well end-to-end and she makes a very compelling heroine - an almost genius philologist in her mid-30's with a talent for languages and patterns, neither beautiful, nor graceful but with a talent for bow shooting and courage and wit to match, while the Turgonian men around her - whether resenting or even hating her for her role in their defeat in the war, being neutral, or being friendly and more - offer a great contrast and variety. Rias slowly develops from the almost savage Five to the charismatic war-hero he used to be and later in the novel he almost takes it over, while Sicarius - who seems to be the main lead in The Emperor's Edge 15-20 years in the future -is excellent in his role of enigmatic boy-assassin here.
So despite starting as the enemies and with their militaristic and patriarchal culture to boot, the author's portrayal of the Turgonians is quite nuanced, while Kitaya's supposed allies the Nurians actually want to kill her - maybe for good reasons from their point of view - and this reversal of roles and expectations was another reason I enjoyed the book.
The expedition, its discoveries, the mysterious runes and deadly artifacts are also very well done combining the familiar with twists that were partly predictable, partly surprising, but that never failed to entertain, while the action builds up with both physical and psychological components until the excellent finale. I would not want to spoil more about the core of the novel since a large part of the enjoyment of the book lies in trying to figure out what's what before the heroes experience it...
Encrypted (A+) is a fun romp, an adventure in the Lois Bujold Barrayar spirit, with a clear ending though ample scope for more and which I highly recommend if you like your sff fast, page turning with action, mysteries and a dash of romance.
- Dancing with Eternity
on Sep. 24, 2011
INTRODUCTION: "A 40th-Century drifter follows a beautiful woman across the galaxy. A funny and thought-provoking novel that challenges our traditional beliefs about love, sex, immortality and spirituality."
When I saw the blurb of Dancing with Eternity which is published by the new Camel Press, I was intrigued so I downloaded the 20% Smashwords sample and I read it and was so impressed that I immediately bought the ebook. The more I progressed through the novel, the more impressive it became and while I will explain some of the reasons later, I will say that Dancing with Eternity turned out to be the first mind blowing 2011 sff novel I did not previously know about.
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Dancing with Eternity stands out in three areas: world building which includes both natural philosophy and strange societies, voice and characters.
It is the 40th century and Mo aka Mohandas born on Mars in the 22nd century and named for the famous 20th century Indian leader, has been a lucky man. Born on the cusp of the great revolutions that transformed humanity for ever - the understanding of mind which led to the "net of human minds" and then to effective immortality and ftl by harnessing the power of minds traveling near light speed - he became a relatively famous architect, wealthy enough to afford the very expensive immortality treatments and weather the three centuries of turmoil when humanity adapted to this radical change.
Led by the amoral but efficient multinational corporations known today as "syndicates", the human race's ruthless expansion into the universe created enough wealth to afford everyone's "rebooting" - as the immortality treatments came to be known - at a price though. And Mo has not passed unscathed through the turmoil, so despite becoming even wealthier, from the stabilization of the 25th century on, he started drifting through life, exploring the ever expanding human reach, mostly as a musician or actor with occasional "domestic lifetimes".
Two other major events disrupted the continual expansion: the brutal "gender war" of the 30th century - the millennial anniversary of its cessation has been celebrated some five decades before the start of the novel and was partly the impulse motif of the book's plot - in which the worlds of the Pleiades tried to secede under the Yin radical feminist movement, expelling all males under the "new gender laws" and creating their own "net". The main human polity, now known as Draco from the humanity's expansion in that direction, responded with armed intervention and the ensuing war was terrible, finally ending in a truce under which the Pleiades remained politically independent but repelled the gender discrimination laws and reintegrated into the original "net" - this last being crucial since the net's effectiveness depends on the number of minds logged on.
Even scarier was humanity's "first contact" in the 35th century with a mysterious alien civilization on what is now named Brainard's Planet. Despite the best efforts of the expedition led by the aforementioned Brainard, humans could not initiate contact with the natives, but instead a mysterious "plague" destroying all Earth originated lifeforms at cellular level - and with rebooting accelerating the destruction, the death is final unless the personality is stored on the net and the body cloned from earlier genetic material, happenings that are not computationally feasible on a large scale - started to spread with the return of the expedition to human space. Only the brutal quarantine of several planets and the ensuing billions of deaths spared humanity. Today Brainard's planet is under strict quarantine and orbital observation, though nobody is insane to go there anyway, while five hundred years of observations produced some startling results and even more mysteries...
So back to the late 40th century and Mo now an actor with a lizard-like scaly body form gets marooned on a resort planet 350 light years from Earth over a tax dispute with "the system". Not only that but he is kicked off net and has to practice daily to keep up in shape, while providing "physical comfort" to a local shopkeeper for shelter and food.
When a mysterious beautiful woman going by the nickname of Steel makes him an offer to pay his back taxes and take him to space in return for him completing her seven member starship crew and being able to go ftl again, Mo cannot refuse and the adventure starts - as mentioned ftl aka freewheeling happens by the melding of minds at near light speed and each starship has a required minimum crew - here there is a little niggle since I would expect that each starship to have an "extra" just in case, the way today's airplanes have copilots, though maybe the all around existence of the "net" made that seem unnecessary.
I hope the above tidbits about the superb world building of the author intrigued you to try the sample at least, but I want to discuss the characters starting with the narrator himself. Mo's voice is very distinctive and sounds pitch perfect within the universe of the novel and as one of the oldest humans around, his experience and store of odd knowledge comes in handy on occasion also. Here he is at a party "celebrating" a local woman who goes to pay for her needed "reboot" the usual way:
"Everybody started somewhere. Most of them were between six and ten ’boots old, products of the Great Expansion of the early thirties. They’d all been hatched by the corps or syndicates to be used as labor to hew habitable worlds out of the raw material of creation. And for most of them that’s what they’d done every other life. It’s what they would do.
Somebody said, “How many verses?” and I replied, “Nineteen.” A kind of ripple went through the crowd and I looked around to see if I could find Steel or Yuri or Marcus. I spotted them; they were all in one of the gazebos. They’d evidently been following the action, or they’d heard the crowd hush. They were all looking at me, looking for the groove, trying to match my energy. I realized that, even though I hadn’t said anything yet, I’d already started. My silence was the beginning of my first verse. I saw Matessa smiling at me and I didn’t want her to be lonely before she left simply because I wasn’t in the habit of letting people know who I was. Even so, it was hard to start. What do I tell them, I thought, who are so much younger, who had not experienced the world before the net, before re-booting, before freewheeling, before...
“I wasn’t started. I was born—”"
Of the other seven members of the crew, Steel aka Estelle the mysterious rich captain starts being the focus, but slowly we meet the other three main characters: Archie of the Yin, the Pleiades doctor/life scientist, Yuri, the tech/hard science wizard with a continual teenager like personality of the geek/genius that hides a painful secret from his early life in the terrible war of a 1000 years ago and Steel's protege, Alice who seems to be very young or to have had a very traumatic last reboot since she seems to be aware only of very recent events. And since for more than a thousand years, humans have not been born anymore, only being artificially brought up by the syndicates when/where labor was needed with the promise of the second life and capital in return for the first life of labor - one of the hard prices humanity is still paying for eternal life - Alice is indeed a mystery for us and for Mo.
Dancing with Eternity flows very well on the page and both the universe and the characters are revealed slowly with moments of tension, adventure, desperate situations and escapes, while twists and turns abound. The novel so impressed me that I had to reread it immediately after finishing it and then I appreciated even better the little tidbits whose full import the reader won't realize until much later.
Overall Dancing with Eternity (A++, top 10 novel of 2011) is a stellar debut that shows why science fiction is still the most interesting genre of today.
Note: this review has been originally published on Fantasy Book Critic and all the links and references are to be found there
- A Shore Too Far
on Sep. 24, 2011
INTRODUCTION: Here at Fantasy Book Critic we get tens of indie review queries a week, some with the full ebook included, some with samples and I dutifully open all that are not UF or YA but very rarely something hits the special combination of content/style I look for in any book I try. Usually the indies fail on content since there is so much "ancient evil, destined boys/girls" or their science fictional analogs coming in that I almost stopped opening such, but in the few cases a book has an intriguing blurb, the writing style needs also to hit it with me and that is a very subjective thing.
When "A Shore Too Far" popped in the inbox, the blurb below was interesting enough to make me take a look and it turned out that the novel was a first person narration which a bit to my surprise grabbed me from the first paragraph you can also read in the sample linked above.
"Kara Asgrand, daughter of the king, is the greatest military mind of her time, but now a wondrous fleet has approached her people’s shores. When this new people arrive, the visitors’ tale of woe doesn’t add up, and their plea for help may be a prelude to invasion. Kara must decide if her warrior’s instincts are keeping her cautious or are they betraying her and endangering thousands."
"A Shore Too Far" is advertised as the first book in "The Daughters of Damendine" series.
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "A Shore Too Far" is a very entertaining series debut which takes place on a secondary world with the usual pseudo-medieval society but with no magic so far. The novel is a first person narration from Kara Asgrand, daughter of the king of Avandi and commander in chief of the army.
Kara is also a rival to her two brothers, Eric, a very able administrator and current ruler of Abrigol, the most important city outside of the capital, and Kollus who is mostly a scholar, though as royalty he also rules a province - one of the conceits here is that in Kara's country the succession is decided by the king stepping down in favor of a successor that may or may not be one of his children - this is really unlikely to work and would lead to countless civil wars as history shows in any society without clear and accepted lines of succession and sometimes even in those, but that's more of a plot device so far to motivate the rivalry and subtext between Kara and her older brother Eric.
When a strange fleet is sighted close to Abringol, Kara summons her fastest cavalry and rides there to strengthen Eric's defenses, while the king and the rest of the army will tae some ten days or more to get there. What follows is a story of first contact between the Avandi and the mysterious strangers that call themselves the Kullobrini and claim they were blown off course to a colonization mission on some remote and less hospitable areas of the continent, while now a sickness developing on their fleet forced them to come ashore in the Avandi kingdom. Any misstep can lead to a deadly confrontation and Kara has to make the decisions as her father puts her unexpectedly in charge of the "alien diplomacy" over her governor brother
The main strength of the novel is in the first person narration of Kara. While the novel is predictable to some extent, the tension is maintained to the end and the pages turn by themselves since you do not want to stop until you find out the implied secrets of the Kullobrini and how things will turn out for both people.
As an added bonus there is some backstory recounted and we understand more about Kara's relationship with her siblings too. In addition to Eric, there are a few notable secondary characters - the Kullobrini leaders, a young ambitious and very wealthy merchant of Abrigol who is an on-and-off flame of Kara, while grizzled veteran Gonnaban plays well the role of the princess' master at arms and all around skeptic.
Overall, A Shore Too Far (A+) is another very promising indie series debut which I recommend for a fast and very enjoyable read. I also want to note that the novel wraps up its main storyline so it's a standalone from this point of view, but of course more is promised in the interesting universe created by the author.
Note: this review has been originally published on Fantasy Book Critic and all the links and references are to be found there