Review of Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee

Leave a comment

This is the second novel in the Machineries of Empire series, following Ninefox Gambit. It was published in 2017 by Solaris and runs about 400 pages.

Picking up from the rubble left at the end of the previous book, Cheris/Jedeo uses her rank to invoke the Kel formation instinct and take over a fleet of ships on the way to defend against the Hafn. She/he overcomes the commanding General Kel Khiruev, and then continues the battle and pursuit of the Hafn fleet. Because Cheris/Jedeo has Jedeo’s mannerisms, everyone assumes he is in control of Cheris’ body, and responds accordingly. Cheris/Jedeo also mounts a propaganda campaign against the Hexarcate, planning a radical challenge to the reigning system. Will she/he be able to carry it off?

This novel is much more conventional than Ninefox Gambit. It assumes you’re familiar with the themes, the calendar and doctrine system the Hexarchate runs on and the concept of formation instinct, so the author doesn’t spend much time reviewing these. Instead, we get character development for the major characters, including General Khiruev, the instinct-resistant Lieutenant Colonel Kel Brezan and Hexarch Mikodez. There is nothing from Cheris/Jedeo’s point of view, and we see her/him only through the eyes of others.

On the positive side, I think some readers may like this book better because it offers fewer challenges and more intimate personal views of the decadence within the empire. Cheris/Jedeo is attempting to replace this system, which means he/she is working against slavery and torture. To the degree she/he is successful, we’re gratified.

On the negative side, I miss the blazing pace, action and drama in the first book—I liked those challenges. Having correctly interpreted the ending of Ninefox Gambit, I wasn’t led astray by the avoidance of Cheris/Jedeo’s viewpoint, which meant there wasn’t any drama in the attempt at a twist ending here. I suspect the author has made a mistake in revealing too many plot elements too soon in this series. The result is that nothing much happened in this book; most of it is taken up by gloomy ruminations from the various characters.

I’m also wondering how Cheris/Jedeo’s propaganda campaign was carried out. I had formed the impression that many of the citizens of this empire were isolated and unaware of what the ruling class and the military were up to. Are they actually connected on social media somehow?

Three stars.

Advertisements

Am gone again.

Leave a comment

Back in a week with more reviews and commentary. Take care all!

Review of Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Leave a comment

This is an urban fantasy novel published in 2015 by Arthur A. Levine Books. It falls into the young adult category. A second in the series is available called Shadowhouse Fall, published in 2017. Older is a multi-award winner.

Sierra Maria Santiago is out of school for the summer and expecting to use the time to paint a mural on the stark concrete tower that overshadows her Puerto Rican neighborhood in Brooklyn. There she meets Robbie, who is of Haitian ancestry and also very talented in art. The two strike up a romance, and Robbie tells Sierra about a secret society of shadowshapers. This is a kind of traditional sorcery that Sierra’s family has been hiding from her, but during this summer a new power has risen to stamp out the shadowshapers. Can Sierra, Robbie and their friends take up the mantle of power and fight back?

Good points: This book hits on several teen issues including racism, body image and self-esteem problems, offering an inclusive message that everyone is okay and valued for who they are. It reaches out to black and Hispanic teens often overlooked in young adult literature, providing powerful characters that they can identify with. It supports the view that teens need to stand up against the traditional discrimination against persons with darker skin. There are also lesbian characters, included like everyone else.

Not so good points: I thought there were fairly serious logical failings in this book, and I wouldn’t have finished it if I weren’t reading to review it. With very little evidence, Sierra assumes who is behind the mayhem going on the neighborhood. Once she knows about the secret shadowshaper tradition, she blabs to all her friends on the train where random strangers can overhear the conversation. Without any kind of caution, she leads her friends in a war against demons, armed only with shovels and broomsticks. This plot just doesn’t hold water. Also, I don’t think it sets a good example for how budding sorcerers ought to conduct themselves.

We get glimpses of the neighborhood and quite a bit of street language, but not much of Puerto Rican or Haitian culture, or what it’s like to live in Brooklyn. The characters are fairly flat, and there’s also not much in the way of depth. I’d like to have seen the book investigate Sierra’s relationship with her mother, for example, or why her mother is so unsupportive.

I’ll give it a little for the teen issues.

Three stars.

Saying Good-bye to Jerry Pournelle

2 Comments

Jerry Pournelle passed away in his sleep on 8 September 2017. Dr. Pournelle was a long-time fan and writer of science fiction. He won multiple awards for his writing, and served as president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 1973. Wikipedia says he was noted as the first science fiction writer to publish a work typed on an electronic word processor. His most recent public appearance was as a presenter at the Dragon Awards last week-end in Atlanta.

Dr. Pournelle leaned to military SF and in recent years edited a series of anthologies published by Tor and Castalia House called There Will be War. As part of memorial activities, the first volume of this series will be free on Kindle for three days beginning on 10 Sep 2017. You can go here to download this from Amazon. You can also check in at Dr. Pournelle’s blog page here to leave a Well-Wishing message for his family and friends. RIP Jerry.

Review of Wicked Weeds by Pedro Cabiya

Leave a comment

This book is translated by Jessica Powell and published by Mandel Vilar Press in 2016. It won’t be eligible for the next awards cycle, but I thought it was worth reviewing, as it’s a little different for a zombie novel. It runs about 184 pages.

The setting is the area between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Isadore Bellamy’s scrapbook provides us with personal experiences and includes the upsetting circumstances that surround the executive vice president of the R&D division of the local branch of Eli Lilly where she works as a researcher. The material she has collected includes police interviews of herself and her co-workers Patricia Cesares and Mathilde Álverez, plus the diary of the doctor, who is convinced he is a zombie and constantly in search of some method to reinstate his soul. The narrative reveals the different realities people live, and cuts off suddenly as…

On the one hand, this is a philosophical work, as it’s about the nature of existence and the search for the self. On the other hand, it presents an amusing picture of the doctor who is either totally wacko or a zombie—because of his lack of emotions, he totally fails to understand the women he works with. The book also provides a compendium of zombie lore, and has an appendix of wicked weeds for preparation of the powder used in witchcraft rituals to create a zombie. Unfortunately, it doesn’t provide Isadore’s recipe.

This is a bit messy, and won’t suit fans of the usual zombie apocalypse.

Four stars.

The Red Panda Faction

57 Comments

It looks like there’s a new player in the Dragon Awards. A leftist group calling themselves the Red Panda Faction posted recommendations for voting during the last few hours before it closed. Here’s the description of their mission: “We are leftist fans of SF/fantasy/horror lit & film, gamers, & comic book nerds…who discuss & promote leftist, LGBTQ+, and feminist cultural works in SF/fantasy/horror.”

The Dragon Awards guidelines don’t discourage slates or campaigning, but it’s a little unusual for SFF justice warrior groups to clearly state their mission in political terms this way. Apparently there was a Facebook page, too, but when I tried to find it, it seemed to be down. Here’s the slate the Pandas posted:

Best Science Fiction Novel

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

Death’s End by Liu Cixin

Best Fantasy Novel

Blood of the Earth by Faith Hunter

Best Military Scifi/Fantasy novel

Allies & Enemies: Exiles by Amy J. Murphy

Best YA/Middle Grade Novel

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

Best Alternate History Novel

The Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville

Best Apocalyptic Novel

American War by Omar El Akkad

Best Horror Novel

The Changeling by Victor LaValle

Best Comic Book

Monstress by Marjorie Liu

Best Graphic Novel

My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris

Best SF/Fantasy TV Series

Stranger Things, Netflix

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Movie

Arrival by Denis Villeneuve

Best PC/Console game

Mass Effect: Andromeda by Bioware

Best SF/Fantasy Mobile Game

Monument Valley 2 by ustwo games

Best SF/Fantasy Board Game

Terraforming Mars by Stronghold Games

Best SF/Fantasy Miniatures/Collectible Card/RPG

Pulp Cthulhu by Chaosium

2017 Dragon Award Winners

29 Comments

The Dragon Awards were presented at DragonCon in Atlanta this afternoon. Presenters included Jerry Pournelle, Kevin Anderson, Jim Vince, Larry Correia, Mercedes Misty Knight, Eric Flint, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and Gil Gerard. Congratulations to all the winners!

Best Science Fiction Novel
Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey

Best Fantasy Novel (Including Paranormal)
Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge by Larry Correia and John Ringo

Best Young Adult / Middle Grade Novel
The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan

Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel
Iron Dragoons by Richard Fox

Best Alternate History Novel
Fallout: The Hot War by Harry Turtledove

Best Apocalyptic Novel
Walkaway by Cory Doctorow

Best Horror Novel
The Changeling by Victor LaValle

Best Comic Book
The Dresden Files: Dog Men by Jim Butcher, Mark Powers, Diego Galindo

Best Graphic Novel
Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files: Wild Card by Jim Butcher, Carlos Gomez

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy TV Series
Stranger Things, Netflix

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Movie
Wonder Woman directed by Patty Jenkins

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy PC / Console Game
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild by Nintendo

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Mobile Game
Pokemon GO by Niantic

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Board Game

Betrayal at House on the Hill: Widow’s Walk by Avalon Hill

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Miniatures / Collectible Card / Role-Playing Game
Magic the Gathering: Eldritch Moon by Wizards of the Coast

%d bloggers like this: