All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries I) – Martha Wells

The titular “Murderbot” is a robot charged with the defence of a survey expedition on an alien planet. The murderbot has hacked her (his?) governor module and is secretly no longer constrained by her programming. Nevertheless, in a crisis situation, she helps her survey expedition and wins their trust.

This novella is an interesting take on sentient created life. The murderbot, telling the story in the first person, has a humorous narration style, with dry wit used to lay bare questions of purpose in life, and the need for companionship, or not. Unfortunately, the story itself sometimes stumbles into tediousness due to a clumsy use of contrived technological constraints used to anchor plot points.

Artemis – Andy Weir

Jazz Bashara lives on Artemis, the only city on the Moon. She works odd jobs, but her main source of income is smuggling goods to Artemis.  It is a small town and Jazz has a deservedly poor reputation. One day, she is offered a chance to make a lot of money. Just one caper…

Following up the massive success of The Martian is a high bar. Mr. Weir seems to have completely ignored any real or implied expectations, and written Artemis much as he did his previous novel. He spent a long time meticulously researching the science behind his Moon city, and constructing a plausible, logical place to set the narrative. The world building is sometimes a bit intrusive, but for a hard science fiction fan, it remains interesting throughout.

Jazz is an interesting protagonist. She is a something of a loser. At the start of the novel, she hasn’t yet managed to lose the eyeroll attitude of a teenager who thinks the adults are out to get her. She does not always make the right choices, but her heart is in the right place. Her backstory is perhaps a bit too stereotypical, what with the hard-working, disappointed father, but it works.

Mr. Weir’s trademark dry humour and sarcasm are present throughout the prose, especially in the dialogue, making this a fun book that pulls the reader along easily.

Forged in Blood (Freehold) – Michael Z. Williamson (ed.)

This short story collection set in the Freehold Universe has an interesting twist. It follows the wanderings of a sword from prehistoric times to the far future, as she passes from owner to owner, sometimes by chance, sometimes by design. We also get to visit with Kendra Pacelli of Freehold and Ken Chinran of The Weapon and Rogue, taking up their stories years after the events in the original books. Neat.

The stories, some by Mr. Williamson himself, but by other authors, are all of high quality, with one glaring exception. The connecting device of the sentient sword, fleshed out with brief interludes by Mr. Williamson, works really well in connecting the stories and making the collection feel like whole.

Angeleyes – Michael Z. Williamson

angeleyes-9781476781860_hrAngie Kaneshiro is a Freehold-born high tech vagabond. She crews on commercial vessels trading between the various polities in Williamson’s Freehold Universe. She likes to dance, have sex and see new places. Then the Freehold War breaks out and things turn ugly fast. After barely escaping a major accident on a space habitat, she volunteers with the Freehold covert forces, acting as a guide for a group of elite special forces on covert missions.

Angie’s secret war is terrifying and gut-wrenching. She repeatedly puts her life at risk, is tortured, loses friends and has to kill innocents to protect herself and her team. As the novel progresses, it transforms from the chronicle of a fun-loving, easy going but streetwise woman to a much darker place as Angie sees her grip on sanity crumble away until there is only the mission first, and survival second. This transformation echoes the descent of the war for the Freehold from resistance to an unjustified aggressor to resorting to mass murder in order to survive.

Like The Weapon and Freehold, this book depicts the horrific effects of war on those who fight it without diminishing their heroism and bravery. The personal cost of killing innocents is very high, and in the end it all seems so wasteful.

Side note: There’s a lot of rather graphic sex in this book. In my view, it was not put there to titillate the reader, but because Williamson wanted to show that Freehold society is very matter-of-fact about such things, and more importantly because a female character can love sex without having to be a slut.

5Rosbochs

 

A Long Time Until Now (Temporal Dispacement #1) – Michael Z. Williamson

TemporalDisplacement1ALongTimeUntilNowWhile in a convoy in Afghanistan, ten soldiers are suddenly transported back in time around 15000 years to the Paleolithic Era. All they have is two vehicles, their weapons and gear. They must survive, ensure their own security and plan for the future. Meanwhile, other groups have been transported back in time, including a tribe from the Neolithic Era and a contingent of Roman soldiers.

As with most books by Michael Z. Williamson, this one is rather longer than other entries in the genre, almost reaching 700 pages. Much of this length is taken up by detailed descriptions of technological things, for example the construction of a forge or a palisade. For anyone interested in technology, it is a fun read. Williamson’s premise of a very small modern unit being stuck with a lack of resources in a hostile environment ensures our heroes cannot just brute force things with more manpower. They must use their skills as force multipliers. It is also interesting that even with all their modern technology, they are often at a disadvantage compared to more primitive peoples when it comes to hunting, forging and primitive construction. These skills are simply lost.

Style-wise, the prose flows easily, and I found this to be a page-turner. However, the shifting strict point of view between characters could be confusing, and it often took me half a page or so before I realized whose eyes I was “seeing” through. A more explicit introduction to each point of view change, ideally with the character’s name as a title, would have made things more clear.

While the story does have a definite conclusion, there are many loose ends. This seems to be the first of a series, and a look forward to any future installments.

4Rosbochs

The Martian – Andy Weir

TheMartianEarly on during the third mission to Mars, the crew has to leave prematurely during a storm. Mark Watney is hit by flying debris, specifically an antenna, and carried away from the others. The rest of the crew have no choice but to leave him behind. He is presumed dead due to his bio-monitor being disabled by the impact. But he’s not dead. And now he has to survive on Mars with no communications and limited resources until, somehow, he can be rescued.

From the very first page, I could not put this book down. It grabs the reader instantly and leads him on a long and arduous journey with Watney. Most of the book is written as log entries by Watney himself, and that’s what really makes it shine. “Watney’s” entries reflect his character, which is that of a wise-cracking, self-deprecating, profane, laugh-out-loud funny smartass who is forced to become MacGyver on a planet that, as he puts it, is constantly trying to kill him. Even chemistry becomes funny when written like this, and the almost flow of consciousness style allows frequent and often hilarious tangents. After a log entry about how he will need to use his botany skills and experiment supplies to grow food, the next day’s entry simply reads, “I wonder how the Cubs are doing”. This personal voice makes Watney feel like a real person, not a superhuman hero, and it makes the reader connect with him viscerally. I can’t remember the last time I’ve laughed so often while reading a book, which is not bad considering that it is a story about a man who is an inch away from dying from the first page to the last.

5Rosbochs

 

 

 

Confirmed Kill (Target: Terror III) – Michael Z. Williamson

The second sequel to The Scope of Justice finds our two snipers, Monroe and Wade, dropped into the jungles of Indonesia, where they become involved in a power struggle between diverse anti-government factions, consisting both of terrorists and Indonesian Army. In a clever twist to the story, their new commanding officer, a born and bred bureaucrat Colonel, comes with them. Our heroes are Sergeants, but they have vastly superior skills and experience. This poses many challenges as the team attempts to complete its mission in a shifting local political environment.

I was afraid that this third book would be a mere re-hash or the first two in a new locale, but Williamson has managed to make it unique. The overall structure of a covert mission remains in all three books, but the missions themselves vary widely. Williamson also captures well, especially in this last installment, the good and the bad of the military. How some personnel is helpful, how some is annoyingly by the book, how some goes above and beyond. Most military fiction does not go very deeply into these interesting subjects. Overall, a satisfying read.

Targets of Opportunity (Target: Terror II) – Michael Z. Williamson

In the sequel to The Scope of Justice, the two snipers Monroe and Wade, have a new mission: Take out terrorists smuggling explosives through Romania for use in Western Europe. Once in place, they find themselves doing a lot of straight spy work, typically with little or no backup. To further complicate things, they are in place clandestinely, and must also hide from Romanian authorities.

The second book in the series is an improvement over the first. The prose is less stilted and the story flows better overall. The two main action scenes are very good. Williamson describes well how it feels to be a stranger in a strange land, needing to blend in but having a hard time doing so. I found myself caring more for the protagonists as Williamson explored their motivations in more depth. The technical parts about sniping are detailed and fascinating (at least to this reader). An enjoyable read if you have some interest in the subject matter.

The Scope of Justice (Target: Terror I) – Michael Z. Williamson

This rather short novel follows a US sniper and spotter team on an assassination mission in Afghanistan. It is set after the Afghan war of 2001 and the target is a terrorist leader. Needless to say, the initial attempt goes to hell in more ways than one. The two Americans then have to use their own ingenuity and local resources to both survive and to complete their mission.

This is competent but not great military fiction. A rather straightforward story, exciting but without any really unexpected wrinkles. Interesting reading if you want to learn something about modern snipers and how they operate. The dialogue is pretty awful at times though.

The Prometheus Project – Steve White

The idea behind this novel is simple and rather ingenious. Just after World War II, a mysterious man calling himself Mr. Inconnu plops down on Earth claiming to be from a lost human colony. He warns the US government that aliens pervade the galaxy and that if these should discover Earth in her present state, the planet will become a low status protectorate. Kind of like an Amazon tribe discovered by super advanced Westerners. But Mr. Inconnu brings advanced knowledge, allowing the newly created Prometheus Project to both kickstart human development and fool the aliens into thinking that Earth is advanced enough to merit at least the attention given a barely civilized polity.

But there is a traitor in the Project.

I wanted to like this novel. The central concepts and the plot are well thought out. The beginning is quite entertaining, but once the novelty wears off it starts to get pretty dull. The alien cultures are described in a sense of wonder style that fails to convey a sense of wonder. White is trapped by his own storyline, as multiple infodumps thinly disguised as stilted conversation give the story a clumsy shove in the desired direction. The characters are all one dimensional, even the narrator. I skimmed through the last fifty pages just to find out what happens. I found it a pity that this book turned out less than well, because in essence it is quite a good story.

Alien Emergencies – James White

This is the second omnibus of Sector General novels, comprised of three such. It is very plain Space Opera stuff about a huge hospital serving lots of alien races. The premise is full of potential but the stories are both corny and dull. Yawn…

The Apocalypse Troll – David Weber

In the future, mankind is winning the war against the Kangas. But the enemy attempts to send troops back in time to Earth 2007. Only one Kanga unit, a deadly Troll, remains alive in 2007 after mankind tries to stop the plan. But a human from the future also survives… And so it begins.

The idea of only one “future human” surviving is entertaining, and Weber on a bad day is still better than many authors on a good one. However, I did feel that Mr. Weber was treading water here. The plot is predictable and somewhat prosaic. The ending is a bit too syrupy and well tied up. The good guys are a bit too good. A nice way to spend an afternoon or two, but nothing fantastic.

The Shadow of Saganami (Saganami I) – David Weber

This is the first of a spin off in the Honor Harrington series. It starts off by dealing with the next generation of midshipmen. Helen Zilwicki, one of the characters created by Eric Flint for the Honorverse, is prominently featured.

I was disappointed with the first 300 pages but after that the book rapidly picks up the pace and shows true Honorverse form. It is a shame that Weber has descended into verbose overflow. Yes, David, I understood what you meant after the first sentence. You don’t need to re-explain and expand for another overly long paragraph. It slows down the action too much.

I would recommend this for the Honor Harrington fan, but not as a first taste of Weber. There is too much background information that needs to be known to make it enjoyable as a first foray.

Note: This series is also known as Saganami Island.

Crown of Slaves (Wages of Sin I) – David Weber & Eric Flint

This is the first of a spinoff series in the the Honor Harrington Universe. My guess is that Flint is doing most of the writing since he is the one who came up with the Zilwicki characters in the Honorverse anthologies.

All the way through reading the book, I kept thinking that Weber and Flint can do much better than this. While the characters are engaging, the plot is lackluster. There’s a lot of interesting material here, but it just doesn’t feel like the high adventure it’s supposed to be. The whole thing is rather construed and feels forced. The first half is very dull, but the novel thankfully picks up during the second half. And then there’s the endless exposition; just as in the later works by Weber, the explanations drone on and on. If I hadn’t been a fan of the Honorverse, I would probably not have finished the book.

We Few (Empire of Man IV) – David Weber & John Ringo

The final book in the Empire of Man series has the ever smaller band finally getting off the planet Marduk. But their problems aren’t over. The Empire is in the hands of traitors who claim that Prince Roger is the real traitor. The bad buys also hold Roger’s mother, the Empress, under psychological control. This one is a departure for the series, with space battles and high level political intrigue. While still a cracking read, it suffers from Weber’s datadump writing at times. The action will stop and one is subjected to two or three pages of long-winded explanation about some pet political or tactical point. Having said that, if you liked the first three books, you will enjoy this one just fine.

March to the Sea (Empire of Man II) – David Weber & John Ringo

The second installment of the Empire of Man series starts slow but gets much better towards the end. Weber’s obsessive verboseness unfortunately shows up here and there. Real people just don’t talk like that. There is lots of enjoyable discussion about weapons development, although a couple of drawings would have been nice for us mere mortals.

Note: This series is also known as the Prince Roger Series or the March Upcountry series.

March Upcountry (Empire of Man I) – David Weber & John Ringo

In the first book of the Empire of Man series, Crown Prince Roger is a spoiled, annoying brat. When his ship is sabotaged and crashes in the wilderness on a backwater planet, he is forced to rough it towards civilization with a company of Marines from the Imperial Guard. Very enjoyable military science fiction.

Note: This series is also known as the Prince Roger Series or simply the March Upcountry series.

The Dahak Series – David Weber

A human pilot finds out that the moon is in fact a giant warship left there by the mutinous crew that turns out to have originall colonized the Earth. Our hero inherits an age old conflict. The premise is way out there, but these three books are good military science fiction, and a great deal of fun. The series consists of:

  • Mutineers’ Moon
  • The Armageddon Inheritance
  • Heirs of Empire

The three books have now been republished in the Empire from the Ashes omnibus.

 

 

In Fury Born – David Weber

This is more or less an expanded version of Path of the Fury, with what can be considered a prequel to the original added at the start of the book. This fills out elements hinted at in Path of the Fury.

While Path of the Fury is a fun little book, this expanded version is horrible. Path of the Fury was written early in Weber’s career, when he was still writing hard hitting, fast moving, action packed military science fiction. Then he slowed down and became a word pooper. The new section is ponderous and verbose ad nauseam like his later works. I really tried but I could not get through the new material.

The Hero – John Ringo & Michael Z. Williamson

This story is set about a thousand years after the events in the Posleen War series. The titular hero is a Darhel. The Darhel are known as being the puppetmasters of humanity a millennium earlier, and also for being incapable of killing. He is assigned to a Deep Reconnaissance Commando team due to his psychic ability to sense living beings. The rest of the team is made up of humans. They are sent on a scouting missions to a planet held by the “Blobs”, a mysterious enemy. While there, they find an Aldenata artifact, and the team sniper betrays the team, killing almost all of the members in a bid to secure the valuable artifact for himself. The Darhel now has to evade the sniper and eliminate him as a threat, despite his racial inability to kill.

This book is a very tight knit drama of a few individuals. The psychological aspects are very interesting, delving into motivations and character. The story itself was unfortunately somewhat weak. The first half is basically a set up for the chase in the second half. The chase, though interesting, felt a bit long-winded. If you are interested in special forces and sniper operations, it is a decent read, but despite its exposition on Darhel physiology and psychology, it does not add very much to the Legacy of the Aldenata universe.

Mission of Honor (Honor Harrington XII) – David Weber

Book 12 in the “main” Honor Harrington series finds Manticore finally confronting the Solarian League. As Weber has been hinting at for years, Manticore (and to a lesser degree, Haven) have both achieved very significant technological superiority compared to the league with regards to military hardware. The Solarian League is huge and powerful, but also complacent, arrogant, and full of self-delusion. Added to the mix is the growing threat from Mesa/Manpower. The main action in this book is divided between Michelle Henke’s trouncing of a Solarian Navy task force, an attack on Manticore by Mesa, and most importantly Honor’s mission to Haven to broker peace. After the Battle of Manticore, Haven does not have much choice but to accept Manticore’s terms.

What with the two spin-off series (Saganami and Wages of Sin) and the increasingly complex macro plot, the series is spinning out of control a bit, in the sense that it is becoming almost too intricate for the action to shine through. Like most people, I started reading the series because it combined strong action with strong characters and an interesting but not too complicated macro story. While I do enjoy the additional facets to the Honorverse that are being uncovered, the whole thing does make for rather ponderous novels at this point. Long gone are the days of “On Basilisk Station” or “Honor Among Enemies”, where the mission was relatively simple and there was only one main plot.

Don’t get me wrong, I can live with the complications. Unfortunately Weber’s writing style has also become almost insufferably ponderous. There’s internal dialog after internal dialog, and endless conference scenes. The first third of the book is pretty much one meeting after another, with long breaks for internal dialog. To add insult to injury, about two thirds could have been cut. Every character seems to exhaust every option of every single train of thought or statement. “Oh I know this is not a perfect plan, but on the other hand this and that.” Ad nauseam. Mr. Weber, your readers are smart enough to draw those conclusions without needing them spelled out. There’s also endless summarizing of events from previous books. I did a lot of skimming at this point.

And don’t get me started on the conference scenes that start by introducing ten or twelve new characters with a paragraph or two each. How are we, as readers, supposed to keep track of all those? And why should we, given that most are never seen again?

The middle of the book mostly gets back to old form, with some nice action scenes. Weber really is a master of these. It’s a shame he still feels the need to pause the action for a page or two of internal dialog every so often.

Unfortunately, the last third of the book is back to conferences, though it is not as bad as the first third since by now the characters have something to actually talk about.

The real shame here is that the story and characters are really great. A good editor could have cut the fat and made this book half as long, at the same time transforming it into a gripping page turner like the early books in the series. Nevertheless, I suppose I shall have to continue reading. After twelve books I am pretty invested in this epic story.