This week’s episode is brought to you by the Loft Literary Center. The Loft Literary Center, located in Minneapolis, is one of the nation’s leading literary nonprofits and offers a wide array of online and in-person creative writing classes for all levels and genres. Online classes are offered seasonally, so all you need is Wi-Fi to learn from experienced writers and go from blank page to completed story.
This week the Robots talk about Ernest Cline’s debut novel READY PLAYER ONE. We talk about what we liked, what we thought could have been improved, and what we learned from it. Enjoy!
This week the Robots sit down to talk about Peter Clines’ novel “14.” We discuss what worked for us, what didn’t, and if we’d recommend it to others. But, more than that, we marvel at the fact that we finally all agree on a review book!
Permuted Press’s Site for 14
This week’s promo – Orphaned Entertainment Podcast
City of the Fallen Sky by Tim Pratt is a Pathfinder Tales tie-in novel based on the wildly popular Pathfinder tabletop roleplaying game published by Paizo Publishing. It takes place in the world of Golarion which is a real kitchen-sink setting–think pulp sword and sorcery mashed up with Tolkienesque high fantasy. Paizo has done a fantastic job with creating a setting which is deep, rich and colorful. The background of the city of Starfall is pure science fantasy, It is a city built around the ruins of ancient large spacecraft which fell from the sky eons ago. It is from Starfall that our protagonist the arcanist Alaeron has obtained five strange ancient artifacts which figure prominently into the plot of the book.
Some of the notable characters include a beautiful exotic archer Jaya and the mercenary rogue Skiver. Jaya is a ranger with the kick-ass archery skills from a far off land. She gets caught in scheme to fleece a retired adventurer/ treaser-hunter Radem Valim. Aleron gets mixed up in this mess defending Jaya from Valim’s goons. He also finds his dark past from Starfall catching up with him by way of rather nasty fellow by the name of Kormack. Valim enlists Alaeron, Jaya and mercenary rogue named Skiver to obtain ancient artifacts from Kho ,the titular City of the Fallen Sky. We follow our heroes on an adventure that spans the Inner Sea Region of Golarion.
The ancient mysteries of Starfall and Kho are the kind of things that make an fun-filled role-playing game session. City of Fallen Sky feels like someone took their gaming session and made it into a novel. Unfortunately, this is where the problem lies for me. The novel reads like a fantasy role-playing campaign which was fun to play but very tedious to read in print. For example, I don’t understand why Radem Valim decides to send the protagonists on an epic adventure as punishment for Jaya’s con game that goes wrong. I know we need to get the plot moving but this reasoning is very clunky and much too convenient.
The characters in this book feel like stock characters from a course called Fantasy Gaming 101. The protagonist Alaeron becomes love-sick teenager when we get inside his mind about his feelings for Jaya. The rogue Skiver is a tough as nails rapscallion who happens to be gay man. I give Tim Pratt kudos for the inclusion of a gay character in a shared-world fantasy novel. This is something you would not have seen in a shared world novel back in the eighties or nineties. It’s nice to see some progress and inclusion in old boy’s club of gaming fiction.
Overall, I would have enjoyed this book more if the characters were better realized. I feel the star of this tale is the fantastic world of Golarion. The amount of stories that could be mined from the Pathfinder setting are too numerous to consider. I look forward to the future tales in the Pathfinder Tales series.
Born and bred in the City of Brotherly Love, Patrick DeLise has been a nerd /geek from an era (1980s) before young hipster clowns appropriated the terms and made them “cool” . By days, he works as a mildmannered clerk for the local library system. By nights he dons a cowl and fights the forces of darkness in the never ending struggle. Or maybe he dons a CPAP mask and fights the forces of sleep apnea? Either way, he is hero to his wife and two kids.
I started writing seriously about ten years ago, and I wish like hell I’d had Rachel’s book way back then. If I had I would have avoided years of pain, problems, and lost words. And, I probably would have more published books to my credit instead of just the one I have right now. Folks, I don’t care if you’re just starting out as a writer, of you’ve been doing it for years, this book will help you become better, faster, and more thoughtful about your craft. I know that from personal experience. This isn’t some fly-by-night book meant to make a few bucks with a few dusty creative writing cliches. The tips and advice she gives are tried and tested. Not just by her, either. After reading about her methods on her blog, I employed them myself, and they work. It’s also why we brought her on the podcast. Right now I have a new book that is due to be published soon, I have another book that’s in the editing phase, and yet another book that I’m blazing through the first draft of. Rachel’s words of wisdom have helped make all that possible. Do yourself a favor — buy this book. And if you have friends who are writers, do the same for them. Rachel Aaron is a wonderful storyteller and writer, and with this book she’s also helping to make a new generation of writers who will fill the world with many more amazing books.
Jack the Ripper. He is a legend among serial killers and the boogie man to the rest of the world. The brutality shown in the five murders attributed to him is almost as notorious as the mystery surrounding his identity and abrupt disappearance. However, what if instead of being a homicidal maniac, the Ripper was actually a mad scientist working for the British government? David Golemon explores that possibility in his latest Event Group book, “Ripper”.
Professor Lawrence Ambrose is an American scientist hired by Queen Victoria to create a formula able to turn British soldiers into intelligent killing machines. Using an early version of his concoction, later named Perdition’s Fire, the professor becomes more than anyone can imagine or control. Unfortunately, this forces the Queen to order the formula to be destroyed and the doctor terminated. After a battle reminiscent of the Mr. Hyde fights in both “Van Helsing” and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”, Ambrose escapes to America where he is eventually stopped by a contingency of US Army soldiers led by Lt. George S. Patton.
Per author, David L, Golemon, “The Event Group is the most secret organization in the United States, comprised of the nation’s most brilliant individuals in the branches of science, philosophy, and the military. Led by the valiant Major Jack Collins, they are dedicated to uncovering the hidden truths behind the myths and legends propagated throughout world history—from underground agencies and conspiracy theories to extraterrestrial life and UFOs.” The group is so secret, only the President of the United States (both past and present) knows of their existence. When a member of the group is captured by a ruthless Mexican cartel leader, Major Collins leads a small team to rescue her. During the course of the mission, a secret cache of Perdition’s Fire is discovered with terrifying results. The British government is willing to pay any price to destroy the formula and keep their involvement in its development a secret. Much death and destruction follow.
I freely admit that I hadn’t heard of this series before this novel. I am, however, a fan of Jack the Ripper stories, so I thought I’d give this book a go and am glad I did. The way the author weaved the story made the historical parts seem plausible, and got you caring about certain characters and whether they make it out of the story alive. (Not spoiling a thing, mums the word) As much as I enjoyed the story, however, there were some faults that proved a little bothersome. There were some recurring characters whose presence didn’t seem to add to the story. Also, while I expected a violent story since it is military sci-fi, the amount of headshots taken seemed gratuitous for a non-zombie book. Overall, I rate the story a 4 out of 5 and look forward to reading the rest of the series.
by Charles Stross, Reviewed by Terry Mixon
This book is part of a longer series of short stories, novellas, and novels featuring Bob Howard, an agent of the super secret British organization that protects the UK from the horrors that crawl in the night. This organization, called The Laundry, is made up of anyone unfortunate enough to become a danger to themselves and those around them by acquiring knowledge they can’t be trusted with.
In Bob’s world, magic is real. Unexpectedly, it is based on mathematics and calculations, making computer programming a dangerous proposition if someone chances on the wrong algorithm. That’s how Bob Howard, an unassuming computer programmer came to be an agent for The Laundry. It’s also how he met his wife after he saved her life and she was forced to become an agent.
Over the course of the previous stories, Bob has grown more knowledgeable and powerful. His superiors have tasked him with ever more dangerous tasks because he can handle them and they have little time to spare in preparing for something they call Case Nightmare Green: the end of the world. He’d rather they didn’t, but he rarely knows he’s in for it before they drop him in the soup.
It seems Earth is reaching a tipping point. There are so many people on the planet that the level of computational power (living minds) has almost reached critical mass. The lines between our world and the other places where cold, powerful, alien intellects live have grown thin. These beings would like nothing better than to come to our world and feed, for mankind is crunchy and good with catsup.
Of course, the bureaucracy of The Laundry is legendary. As a government organization, they have fits if you can’t account for your paper clips. Most of his agency does nothing but make-work, so those who can help hold back the darkness are far and few between.
Bob is assigned to monitor several contract employees who The Laundry has hired to look into an evangelical preacher from the US who has become too close to the Prime Minister. He has to walk a tightrope, because The Laundry isn’t allowed to spy on their own government. Hence the outsiders.
He’s only supposed to keep an eye on them as they do more in depth investigation of the minister. If they find anything, he can pass the word back up the chain to his superiors. A seemingly simple task. That should’ve been his first tipoff that something was seriously wrong.
When the preacher returns to the United States, the contractors follow. That presents some new challenges for Bob. The government occult organization in the US is called the Black Chamber for a reason. They’re less a sister agency than a psycho ex-girlfriend. The last time he worked with them, he almost lost his immortal soul.
When things go from worse to threatening the end of life on Earth, Bob has no choice but to ignore his orders to withdraw and join forces with the contractors to try and prevent the end of the world. He has to go places that mortals were never meant to be and fight horrors that threaten his very sanity. If he comes out alive, that might not be a blessing.
The Laundry Files stories are part horror, part technothriller, and very entertaining. Stross throws touches of whimsy and satire into a dark world, making it not nearly as like a horror novel as it could be. This isn’t surprising to me, as I’ve read a number of Stross’ science fiction works that were excellent.
The entire series is enjoyable and entertaining. It’s also required reading to understand what has come before. The events in the later stories cannot be fully grasped without reading the earlier works. It’s a good thing the series earns a sold five stars out of five from me. The Apocalypse Codex had more than one point of view, and while that was occasionally distracting, it still gets five stars from me.
I cannot recommend this series highly enough. Run, do not walk, and get your own set. Seriously, the fate of the world might hang in the balance.
by Jack Campbell, Reviewed by Terry Mixon
This book is part of a follow on series to the original six-book series The Lost Fleet. It is the second book of the Beyond The Frontier follow on series involving the same characters and thus is the eighth book in the saga of John “Black Jack” Geary.
When Justin offered this book for review, I jumped at the chance. I’ve been meaning to read the Lost Fleet series for a number of years, but just never seemed to get around to it. As part of a continuing series, I read the previous books to get the full flavor and story before reading this book. As those previous books were required to understand everything that had happened, they colored my review.
John “Black Jack” Geary was an Alliance ship commander woken from emergency cryogenic sleep a hundred years after his ship was destroyed in the opening rounds of a war with the Syndics. With little warning or preparation, he was thrust into command of a large fleet of ships when all senior officers were killed and his date of rank as Captain superseded the nearest officer by many decades.
He discovered to his horror, that the Alliance government had created a mythology around his last stand a century ago, making him almost a demigod to support them in the war effort. Those exceedingly high expectations and misconceptions of who he was caused him no end of frustration and problems in dealing with a navy that had had so many experienced officers killed and vessels destroyed that the institutional knowledge of his time was long gone.
Now fleets fought head-to-head in bloody melees that killed tens of thousands, where good tactics would save so many. Dealing with the inbred concept that bravery meant never retreating or doing anything less than going right at the throat of the enemy caused instant strife with his fellow Captains. That made the enemies inside his command almost more dangerous than the Syndics.
The original six-book series was one long story detailing his fighting withdrawal of the Alliance fleet from deep inside Syndic space to bring them safely home to the Alliance. It also dealt with his counterstrike to bring the century-long war to a conclusion.
The second series, Beyond The Frontier, followed now-Admrial Geary on to explore beyond Syndic space with the remains of his fleet under the orders of a distrustful Alliance Government. It seemed they feared he’d stage a military coup and seize political power. It quickly became apparent that some kind of secret orders were in play that made their return to Alliance space unlikely. In fact, they seemed destined to be destroyed in a way that let the Alliance government wash their hands of the troublemaking warriors.
In this book, they escaped the home system of a zenophobic alien race that was determined to destroy them rather than let them escape. In doing so, they met another race that might be more inclined to befriend humanity. They still had to return to Alliance space through yet another alien race’s space, with the clock ticking.
To my mind, this series had significant flaws. Some of them had been improved on by the time I got to this book, but if you can’t get to the island without walking neck-deep in a swamp, you talk about the swamp. I’ll briefly discuss the previous books and then discuss how my complaints and praise carries over into this book. My opinion is, of course, my own. Others seem to like the books much more than I did.
The story idea was original and inspiring. There ws so much possibility in waking someone from the past to command a war in the present. The scope of the canvas could have made for a grand story. The space technology and battle scenes were good. Unfortunately, the potential was squandered through, in my opinion, weak storytelling and poor characterization. I won’t dwell on all the things I hated about this series, but I’ll hit some highlights.
The story was told solely from the point of view of Black Jack Geary. That meant every other character was not as fleshed out as it could be. Many authors manage to give the supporting cast the feel of real people in similar circumstances, but that didn’t seem to happen for me in this series. With the exceptions of his Flag Captain and the Alliance Representative (whose names have already escaped me even though I read eight books with them in it), all other characters were two-dimensional cardboard cutouts.
This single point of view might have been relieved if Geary had left the single ship he was on more than a very few times. That lack of travel meant that the reader saw a lot of his control room, the conference room, and his quarters. That’s pretty much it. For eight books. The repetition of the same space and the same characters was like an anchor around my neck.
The motivations of the other Alliance officers and government officials were stereotypical and not nuanced in the slightest. The heavy handed way that they were made into foils grated on me.
The never-ending “I’m not really Black Jack” commentary by Admiral Geary got old fast, too. Sure, he’s not, but at some point he should have accepted that he couldn’t change how the universe saw him and stopped bitching.
The reflexive heel-digging resistance by every officer in sight to the tactical skills he brought from the past to aid them (when their own legends said he’d come to lead them to victory) got old in book one. After half a dozen more it was a significant negative to the story. It made everyone look like homicidal, suicidal idiots.
Lastly, a personal peeve. Geary married one of his officers when they returned to Alliance space. There was a small window where they were of equal rank and he was not her commanding officer. Great. It was one of the high points of the story.
The restriction imposed on them for the next several books, after he was named Admiral, where they couldn’t even be seen alone together, much less share a room or a marital relationship grated on me like fingernails on a chalkboard. A huge opportunity for making a secondary character more solid was squandered for a situation that added little real conflict to the story.
In all, the first seven books of this series did not entertain. They paled in comparison to any other military science fiction I’ve read, particularly the Honor Harrington saga by David Weber or The Heritage Trilogy (and subsequent books) by Ian Douglas. Virtually every other piece of military science fiction I’ve read made this series a very poor last choice. The series as a whole gets two stars out of five from me, with only the battle scenes saving it from a single star.
Invincible, the book I had to wade through the swamp to get to, showed some improvement. Not a lot, but enough to be mentioned. Not everyone inside the fleet was ravening to go kill everything in sight. The machinations of the government representatives felt a little more realistic. There were things other than combat happening that really mattered. Aliens were met and some depth was shown in other characters. A little.
This book earned itself three stars out of five, for what I would consider average quality. My recommendation to anyone tempted to read the series is to reconsider. You’ll never get those hours back. Find some different options to explore and save yourself the irritation.
SONG OF THE SERPENT by Hugh Matthews, Reviewed by Timothy Schneck
I am of two minds when it comes to SONG OF THE SERPENT. The part of me that enjoys a good fantasy novel finds this book just okay. However, my inner geek that grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons really enjoyed the book. This was a book that I found hard to put down once I got into it (about the third chapter). The book does not really have a slow start, but I am new both to the Pathfinder world and this author, so there was a bit of a getting to know each other period. Once I got comfortable with everything I had a really hard time putting the book down, as I stated above.
The characters were likeable and you quickly grow attached to them. Even the main character, who’s a scoundrel that is really only in this world to further himself along at someone else’s expense, grows on you to the point you find yourself cheering him on. The book flows along at a fast pace with hardly any lulls in the action. There is also a little comedy thrown into the mix. If you are a fan of other books based on role-playing games such as the Forgotten Realms novels or the Dragonlance novels you will greatly enjoy this book. Hugh Matthews did an excellent job of taking the fun and excitement of playing Pathfinder and transforming it into this story.
The strong point for fans of role-playing games will be the downside to those that are not. The book is quirky at times with a lot of magic that can pull a reader out of the story if they are not familiar with how the magic system in these types of games works. The magic can be over the top and almost mechanical at times. The same can be said for the combat in the story, as at times it seems almost like the recounting of a battle fought in the game the book is drawn from. There were times I could almost hear the dice rolling on the table as I read through a few scenes. However, I would still recommend the book to people that enjoy fantasy without have ever played the game because it is a fast, easy read that will draw you in and keep you turning the pages. And despite the game mechanics that can be seen poking into a few scenes, it still has a good story at its core.
Tim Schneck is a long-time listener of the Dead Robots’ Society podcast, an aspiring writer, and has been reading fantasy/sci-fi novels for over 30 years.
Magnimar is a city with personality, and one of the few people who truly understands its personality is Luma Derexhi. She is a “cobblestone druid,” a spellcaster who uses the city as her source of magic, and a member of House Derexhi, a prestigious family of mercenaries. Luma and her younger siblings form the elite company in the house. Unfortunately, although she is the eldest of her five siblings, she is also a bastard and a half-elf, and her siblings look down on her. Luma decides that she has had enough and stands up to her siblings, but they don’t take it too well. She finds that the people she used to trust aren’t trustworthy any longer, and she and a team of her new allies attempt to put a stop to the newest conspiracy in the city.
The best part of this book was Luma’s magic. It was interesting to see her experience every new trick the city taught her, and the possibilities seemed endless. I enjoyed reading how different the citysong sounded in each section of the city, but there was one thing about her magic I found annoying. The personification of Magnimar makes an appearance at one point in the middle of the book, and is then never heard from again. Luma doesn’t even think to consult her for advice or pray to her somehow.
The worst part of this book was the characterization. In the first chapter, we are introduced to Luma and her five siblings, and I had trouble telling them apart for a long time. Their dialogue isn’t very unique for each character, which was the major problem. Every group conversation that Luma was involved in had the other characters doing nothing but providing information with words that any one of them could have used. Luma’s one-on-one conversations usually had more unique dialogue with the character she spoke to, but I would have liked this to be the same for all of her conversations. Other than that, I could tell the characters apart through their actions and appearance, but dialogue is usually what really makes a character.
None of the events that made up the plot were surprising except for Luma’s complete change of character after she experienced a traumatizing event, but I guess it was slightly believable. Other than that, the ending happened mostly as expected with only Luma’s new found hardness changing anything. The last scene was surprisingly powerful because of it.
The strengths of this novel were based mostly on the world that had already been set up for it. I might try to look for more Pathfinder Tales after reading this one. Maybe some of the others will have more than just an interesting world. Still, it was an okay read, and I would recommend it to those who need something quick or are involved with the gaming world.
In the future, Gilberto Galvez sees himself as an English teacher writing in his spare at time. In the present, he’s a high schooler attempting to write in his spare time. He has a few unfinished novels in the cloud due to NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo, and he’s also written quite a few short stories. When he isn’t writing, he’s either working, reading, or on Twitter. It’s usually Twitter.
Book reviewed by Shawn Micallef
The Akinya family is one of wealth and prestige. It’s a family that has seen the labors of its matriarch, Eunice; grow the family to become rich and powerful. Eunice has put herself in seclusion and lives in a space station called, “Winter Palace”. It is here that she dies and we find the lives of the Akinya family may change for either the good, or be ripped apart.
These are some of the items that Alastair Reynolds introduces readers to in the book, BLUE REMEMBERED EARTH. This is first book in his Poseidon’s Children series.
The book opens up with a letter, of types, explaining slightly what may lie ahead in the book. It gives us a bit of a background into who Eunice was. We then are given a prologue that introduces to Geoffrey and Sunday Akinya. These two children are the grandkids of Eunice and at an early age we find them exploring around the family compound.
This exploration leads them into trouble when they come across an artifact from a forgotten war. The events of this prologue help to give a bit of foreshadowing of who Geoffrey and Sunday grow up to be. Geoffrey becoming a man obsessed with studying the elephants of Africa and flying his old Cessna airplane over more modern devices. Sunday moved out into the stars and lives in a zone on the Moon were the devices of their modern world are not always active.
These events all tie together into what will eventually become a mystery into the loose ends that Eunice may have left behind upon her death.
The family company is being run by cousins Hector and Lucas who seem to look for profit over so many things. Geoffrey and Sunday are seen as family outcasts as they have shunned their family obligations and have gone and done their own thing. Geoffrey receives a small amount of money for his elephant research, but Sunday is left to fend for herself.
It’s after Eunice’s death that Geoffrey gets an offer few could refuse. The cousins come to him asking him to clear up a family loose end and check out a safe deposit box that Eunice left on the moon. After much decision Geoffrey agrees to go after he is insured the cousins will increase his funding. As we follow the story along we find out the contents of this safe deposit box will lead both Geoffrey, and Sunday, into a mystery that could unravel the family, if not the world.
Reynolds goes into much detail explaining this near utopian future that people live in. People have the ability to “ching” with each other not just over miles but over planets. The ching being a way they can speak to each other using implants that all humanity is given. Along with this ability people can even be in two places at one time as they can control a golem of themselves in a different location.
Along with these wonderful abilities there is the mechanism that ensures people do not harm each other. If one attempts to take a swing at a family member in anger they are shut down forcibly through a mind attack. As one reads we will see this happens to one of our leading characters.
What Reynolds does with this book is open the reader to a whole new possibility for our future. We find that Africa has become a dominant power and that man has colonized space and are even mining asteroids and moons. The utopia is not complete as there are still conflicts between governments and more importantly family.
As you read this book you find that it will appeal to readers of different genres. The fans of sci-fi will find a lot to love about this book. There is the science of this world that is explained in some great detail. This detail is not just saved for the science but also the way the landscape and characters are described. There are elements of mystery also within the book as we read along we look at the same set of clues that drive both Geoffrey and Sunday along in their investigation. Along with those there is also some political intrigue as there are powers that are just as curious about what Eunice head.
Overall, BLUE REMEMBERED EARTH could be seen by some to be a slow read as Reynolds does such a great job in painting the world we find the story set. This could cause some to see the story as being to descriptive. The argument for that is that within those descriptions there is a beautiful well painted world. There is also the fact that the story, and sub plots, is told in a way that people should find it a great read. A book may be a departure from Reynolds other stories but is still worth a read.
Shawn Micallef is better known by fans of the HorrorAddicts.net podcast as Knightmist. Shawn has turned his talent for reviews from movies to now books. He has a varied, near eclectic, taste in his likes of music, movies, and books. Along with having written reviews for HorrorAddicts.net Shawn has begun writing short stories and has shared some of them on his personal blog. The blog contains other reviews and is a slowly growing work that is just as eclectic as Shawn. Visitors will find things from life stories, to personal thoughts and of course reviews. The blog is a place the 39 year old married man, places those odd moments of life that come to light when he has time to reflect. It just makes sense that a man who lives in Wisconsin with his wife and two cats may seem a bit eclectic. If you consider the man went from being a troll, to a yooper and now a cheese head can things get any more odd? To define those terms well you’ll just either have to contact him or just look them up online.