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.

1633 – David Weber & Eric Flint

The sequel to 1632, not unexpectedly titled 1633, is just as good as the first novel, if not better. Mr Flint now has the cooperation of David Weber. For the experienced Weber fan, this is discernible in the sometimes slightly long-winded expositions on politics and religion. No matter. The book is very good, especially the last ten chapters. The theme of predestination (or lack of it) is very well developed and thought provoking. The battle scenes are, as one would expect, very well written. The trademark Flint humor is still there, along with, sometimes, a certain gravitas.

Ministry of Space – Warren Ellis, Chris Weston & Laura Martin

This graphic novel assumes that the British gained rocketry knowledge after WWII instead of the Americans and Soviets. The British Empire prevails and establishes a substantial space presence. The art is crisp and brings to mind of 1950s space visions. The plot and characters are caricatures of the British. Lots of daring and stiff upper lip. Plenty of fun but it felt a little short.

The Bonfire of the Vanities – Tom Wolfe

I had been curious about Wolfe for a while and this one was lying around my wife’s bookshelf staring at me. Hooked within three pages! Despite the introduction (which is not really connected to the novel itself) being on the borderline of annoyingly self-serving, I liked that too. It mirrors many of my own feeling about navelgazing literary fiction, although of course Wolfe puts it far better than I could. What’s the point when the “real world” is so much more appealing?

The story is set in New York during the great roaring eighties, and Sherman McCoy, a bond trader on Wall Street, finds himself in big trouble with the law. The story sprawls over a vast territory, following lawyers, activists, reporters and socialites as they lead their lives. Each person’s life is affected by the McCoy case. For some, the encounter is gentle; for some, it is career enhancing; for some, it is disastrous. The characters are wonderfully described and Wolfe manages to get inside the head of each one, describing and explaining their fears and motivations masterfully. A truly magnificent work and, in it’s own way, a declaration of love for New York and it’s wondrous diversity.

The Weapon – Michael Z. Williamson

This novel is set in the same universe and time period as “Freehold“. It is the story of Kenneth Chinran, the man who led the attacks on Earth during the Freehold War. It is a long novel divided into three parts. In the first, Ken enlists and is trained as an “Operative”, meaning an elite black ops soldier. The second part deals with a deployment to Mtali, a planet locked in faction warfare. It is here that first learns of the atrocity or war. The third part deals with the training for, and actual covert attack on Earth, in which billions of civilians die as a result of his team’s action.

The story is told in the first person. We see the world through Ken’s eyes. The transformation that he undergoes makes for an unusual bildungsroman. From innocent youth to trained killer, to disillusioned soldier, and finally on to mass murderer to some and possibly faceless hero to others. The frightening message of this book is that he is well justified in doing what he does. His nation of Freehold has been attacked for the crime of merely existing. Freehold believes in libertarianism to the extreme. There aren’t any elections because there simply isn’t very much government. Everyone is free to do whatever he or she wants, but on the other hand there is no safety net. Freeholders tend to be self-reliant and independent. This is contrasted with Earthlings, who are passive inhabitants of a corrupt system where egalitarianism and “fairness” have been taken to absurd extremes. Ken Chinran contemptously refers to them as “sheeple” who wait for “someone to do something” in a crisis instead of standing up and improving their lot. Williamson’s characterization is extreme, but these are clear jabs at many present day  societies, where people wait for handouts and are happy to give government more power over them as long as they are given food and entertainment (“bread and circuses” is of course an ancient concept). While the book can get a bit preachy at times, the fact that Ken is telling the story makes it very direct. This is one person who comes into contact with things that disgust him, and how he reacts to them. It is easy to see his point of view, especially in these times where supposedly democratic and free countries have seizures without trial and a myriad pointless laws.

The development of Ken himself is as frightening as the story. His training is designed to make him a killer. He and his fellow Operatives take pride in their skills, taunting their enemies as they themselves take insane risks. In the end, though, his conscience catches up with him. He hates himself, he hates his commanding officer for ordering him to do what he has done. Nevertheless, he knows that it was necessary. He knows that what he did, the mass killings and the destruction of society on Earth, were necessary things in order not only for Freehold, but for free people to survive. It is interesting, and Williamson touches on this several times, how Ken survives his suicide mission, but finds out that giving his life would have been easier. He has given more than his life. He has sacrificed his soul.

Freehold – Michael Z. Williamson

Not since I first read “On Basilisk Station” have I been quite so captured by a Military SciFi novel. Williamson’s first Science Fiction book is in many ways controversial in it’s views (for the record, the author does claim they are not really “his” views in his comments on Amazon.com) and will no doubt disturb some with its sexual content. Some part will probably shock you at one point or another, but it remains a great adventure story.

Kendra Pacelli is in the UN Military. Earth and a few colonies are ruled by a deeply socialistic UN (evolved into a nation) in which incompetence and mediocrity are the norm. Crime is so common that women have learned accept rape and muggings as just another part of life. Accused of a crime she did not commit, she is forced to seek asylum at the Freehold of Grainne. Unprepared and dropped in at the deep end, Kendra has to adapt fast to her new home. The Freehold is an example of almost pure capitalism/libertarianism (and thus basically the antichrist in the eyes of the UN). The government consists of a small police force, the military, the courts and nothing else. The tiny taxation is optional but does carry some benefits. “Rulers” (and they are not really) have to give up personal wealth in order to ensure they do not have ulterior motives. Without big government there is no pork barreling or corruption. Residents tend to carry weapons. Crime is very low and standard of living is very high. Kendra is very confused by such things as the fact that no one will molest women who wear racy clothing (or even walk around in the buff). Of course, these women will typically carry guns or knives, an illegal thing on Earth.

As a thought exercise, the society is very interesting. I don’t know if it would work, but many aspects are appealing. It is my experience that big government typically fosters incompetence, inefficiency, meddling where it is not needed, high taxation levels and mediocre services. I don’t know if I would go quite so far as the Freehold, but as I said, it definitely has appeal. Before you start flaming my inbox, however, I would point out that the system does have many rather obvious flaws which I will not bother to enumerate here.

While the novel is part social commentary, it should not be seen as any sort of manifesto. It is a bit slow (but quite enjoyable) in the first half, and then becomes action-packed (and even more enjoyable) in the second half. Williamson shows that he can really describe military training and combat. Kendra joins the Freehold military and the story follows her through training, a grueling guerilla campaign, a big climactic battle and finally the hell of urban combat. All this without any dressing up or glorification of combat itself. The “good guys” torture and kill out of necessity, often rage, sometimes even pleasure. The aftermath of battle and war, so often glossed over in this kind of story, is explored in gory detail. While we may seek to (and indeed should) glorify valor and bravery in defense of comrades and homes, Williamson also reminds us of the deep personal and social toll that war enacts. For this alone, he should be commended.

The evolution of Kendra kept me turning the pages. Her personal odyssey through initial rejection, dejection, disillusionment and the furnace of both partisan and line combat is what elevates this novel from a mere adventure story to a minor Military SciFi classic.

If you like Military SciFi, do yourself a favor and pick this one up. Just ensure you have tissues handy for Chapters 11 and 54, and clear your calendar for the next days or two. It is very hard to put down.

The Honor Harrington Series – David Weber

Space Opera in the spirit of Horatio Hornblower. Action, adventure and all that. And really good. Although I feel that Weber has lately slackened off a little, and is given to perhaps excessive verbosity in his tangents, I still eagerly await each new release.

  • On Basilisk Station (HH I) – Arguably still the best Honor book. Lots of action, but also humor and great characters. This kind of editing would do the books after 6 good..
  • The Honor of the Queen (HH II) – An incredible ride.
  • The Short Victorious War (HH III) – Long on the action, short on the characters. But that’s fine 😉

  • Field of Dishonor (HH IV) – Weber shows how even Honor has a dark side, and it’s very dark.
  • Flag in Exile (HH V) – An interesting character study of Honor.
  • Honor Among Enemies (HHVI) – Perhaps my favorite Honor. A great story of redemption.

  • More than Honor (Anthology)
  • In Enemy Hands (HH VI) – Very exciting but not quite as good as books 1 through 6.
  • Echoes of Honor (HH VIII) – Great storyline, but unfortunately Weber’s style is slipping by this point, with overlong exposition and contrived dialogue among the still great action.

  • Worlds of Honor (Anthology)
  • Ashes of Victory (HH IX) – Losing steam, which unfortunately stays lost in “War of Honor”.
  • Changer of Worlds (Anthology)

  • War of Honor (HH X) – Pretty ho-hum compared to the others. Definitely an interim book.
  • The Service of The Sword (Anthology)
  • At All Costs (HH XI) – This definitely shows a partial comeback of Weber’s old form. Although he still hems and haws his way through dialogue, the action is great and the stakes are high.

Some of the stories in the anthologies contain background for later novels, so it is rather important to read them as part of the sequence.

Around War of Honor (HH X) The Honorverse branches off with the “Saganami Island” and “Crown of Slaves” series.

The Crucible of Empire (Jao II) – Eric Flint & K.D. Wentworth

This direct sequel to The Course of Empire takes up the story two years after the events of the previous book. The nascent Terra taif consisting of both Jao and humans finds clues that the Lleix, a race practically exterminated by the Jao during their time as an Ekhat slave race, may have survived, but is in imminent danger from the Ekhat. Terra taif’s newest ship, the gargantuan Lexington, is dispatched to the system in question.

It is a rare sequel that is as good as the original, but Flint and Wentworth have managed to pull it off. The inclusion of the fascinating Lleix and the telling of sections from their point of view is excellently done and brings a necessary new wrinkle to the story. Flint is a master at telling a story from various points of view and really getting into the psychology of various people and races. While, of course, neither the Jao nor the Lleix are truly alien, they are different enough to make the contrasts and interactions interesting, especially when written with a good measure of humor as here. There is even a passage written from the point of view of the Ekhat, as frightening as they are powerful and utterly mad. A real page turner, this.

The Course Of Empire (Jao I) – Eric Flint & K.D. Wentworth

This is truly an undiscovered gem of a novel. Almost discreetly thrown out there, it will unfortunately be missed by many readers thinking it just one more of Baen’s (admittedly mostly excellent) military scifi offerings. It is much much more than that.

The story draws closely on the history of the English occupation of India. The Jao conquered Earth twenty years ago in their struggle to hold ground against the powerful and enigmatic Ekhat. Since then, Earth has suffered under an abusive Jao viceroy. Humans still do not understand the Jao and their complex society. Most Jao see humans as lesser beings to be used up in the war against the Ekhat. But things change as a new Jao commander of ground forces arrives with fresh ideas. Meanwhile, the Ekhat are closing in and the mysterious Jao faction known as The Bond of Ebezon watches closely, ready to intervene.

The book is a page turner with plenty of action, but I did struggle with the alien Jao in the beginning. They are not written to be easily understandable. Flint and Wentworth have made them complex and truly alien without succumbing to the temptation of explaining their quirks and affectations in human terms. It’s a bit of a hump but well worth conquering. The Jao are fascinating creatures that misunderstand humans as much as humans misunderstand them. Not since Niven & Pournelle’s The Mote in God’s Eye have I encountered aliens that are truly alien and not just humans looking different.

Flint & Wentworth masterfully take the reader from simple beginnings and purposeful confusion to understanding and enlightenment. This journey parallels that of the main protagonists, both Jao and human. Excellent!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Joss Whedon et. al.

I came very late to Buffy. I watched the original movie, and thought it was vaguely fun but brainless, so that put me off. I now know that Joss Whedon hated what they had done with his script. After many positive comments on io9.com, I thought I would give the series a shot.

On the face of it, Buffy is a pretty silly show. A high school girl has a destiny. She is the latest in a long line of “Vampire Slayers” who keep the world safe from evil. Vampires and demons are real. All the classic tropes like wooden stakes, drinking blood, burning up in sunlight, crosses are also real. Very silly. But delving a bit deeper, one notices that Buffy isn’t just a copy of countless late night TV horror movies. It is an unexpectedly intelligent show with strong themes such as love lost, death, the danger of absolute power, hate and fear but despite all that is not afraid at poking fun at itself or the characters.

Buffy’s greatness comes from several factors. First is the subersion of classic tropes. In the typical horror movie scenario, the dumb but pretty blond is being chased by vampires, or demons, or zombies. She shrieks and dies a horrible death. In Buffy, the blond is pretty but certainly not dumb (granted, not very academically minded either). She turns around and kills the vampire. The series is full of this reversal of the accepted order of things, often done in a humorous ways. It thrives on our knowledge of pop culture, offering up recognition moments without just copying old ideas.

Second, The Slayer (capital T, capital S) starts out is a high school girl with a head full of boys, make-up and clothes shopping. She is not an aloof superhero, but an approachable teenager saddled with way more responsibility than she could ever want. Buffy is an action hero, but not like a man at all. She isn’t a strong woman who acts like a man. She is strong but still feminine. She is also strong because she must; becoming a hero very much against her will. She realizes that she must save the world regardless of the personal price to herself, since no one else can or will.

Third, it is an ensemble show with strong characters. The “Scoobies”, as Buffy’s friends call themselves, are not just sidekicks. They drive the show as much as she does. Buffy is protagonist but not lone gunman. In fact, the Scoobies often have more interesting character development than Buffy does. The interaction between the characters and the wonderfully witty dialogue makes scenes spring to life in an uncanny way.

Fourth, it is easy to identify with the characters and really feel for them. Empathy for the characters unfortunately seems to be an underrated quality in television. I tried to watch the pilot of Lost but after an hour I really thought everyone did deserve to die in the crash. On the other hand, shows like Friends, Firefly (Whedon again), Farscape, Babylon 5, Warehouse 13 and The West Wing get to me. The creators make me care about what happens to these people, despite the shows sometimes being weak in other areas.

Fifth is character development. Identification with the characters is not enough. There must be a real sense of character development. After watching all seven season of Buffy, I went back to episode one just for fun. I was shocked to see how the characters seemed so young and naive, so different from what they would become. It was like imagining I was a teenager again and looking forward to who I am now. Just like real people, Buffy and the Scoobies had changed, and their environment had changed around them. I had been dragged along in this process, watching the kids grow up and the adults watching them, frequently in despair.

Sixth, the creators aren’t afraid to make awful things happen to the characters. The fact that they make us care for them makes it poignant, even heartbreaking at times. At the same time, the love between the main protagonists becomes all the more beautiful because of the adversity they must face.

Seventh are the all-important story arcs. Shows that press the reset button after each episode (e.g. The Mentalist) can be fine, but will never be great. The story arcs that flow through Buffy are nothing short of astounding, with foreshadowing of themes and events sometimes three of four seasons before they happen. Despite that, this isn’t a show that requires note-taking or obsessive attention. It does not make the mistake of being only about the arc, and most of the episodes are just fine as standalones.

The eighth and final element is the dialog. It is snappy, witty, intelligent, and frequently interspersed with unexpected and clever little jokes. There is rarely boring exposition. The words feel as if they mean something, and go deeper than just moving the scene along.

The first season has its fair share of corniness, but right from the start, the characters and their interactions feel “real”. The dialog is witty and incisive, very often crossing over into brilliant. Most importantly, I started caring for Buffy and her friends in the very first episode. The first season certainly has weaknesses, including a couple of pretty crappy episodes, but there is enough fun to keep things going, as well as a strong feeling that this is a diamond in the rough. By the middle of the second season the show has hit its stride, evolving from its initial “Monster of the Week” format towards ever greater awesomeness.

I recommend Buffy to anyone who loves television. Yes, the subject matter is silly, but this show is both fun and engaging. If you give Buffy a chance she will amaze you.

If you are really skeptical I recommend getting a taste with one of the best episodes of television of all time: Season 4 episode 10 – “Hush”. In this one, the town of Sunnydale (where Buffy is set) is invaded by strange evil men who take away everyone’s ability to speak. For about half the episode, there is no dialogue at all! Despite this, the acting is stellar and the story gripping. The fact that the characters cannot speak, but it is perfectly clear what they are trying to say. Most shows can’t accomplish such clarity even with dialogue.

Good-bye Buffy, Willow, Xander, Giles, Cordelia, Spike, Faith, Anya, Angel, Joyce, Tara, Dawn, Riley, Kennedy, Andrew, Principal Wood and the rest. But not farewell. I’ll come back to visit soon.

Children of Apollo – Mark R. Whittington

In this alternate history novel, a CIA analyst figures out that by 1969, the space program is having a small but noticeable negative effect on he Soviet economy. Nixon, who never has to resign, decides to massively expand the space program. As the years pass, we follow spies, politicians and astronauts in the years following the first moon landing. While there certainly is a lot of wishful thinking in the plot, with Apollo missions continuing to 23, with private space stations and space shuttles in the seventies, it has a solid foundation. If NASA funding had remained at Apollo levels or increased, we might well have seen all those things.

This book, for me, represents the best and worst about self publishing. The best because sometimes good books simply are not picked up by publishing houses, and this one deserved to be published. The worst because a commercial publisher would have cleaned up the prose and made this book really shine.

The plot is really good. Well crafted. Exciting. Good pacing. But the text is rife with spelling and grammatical errors. I didn’t count them but I estimate more than one per page on average. Even a mediocre copy editor could have fixed 99% of the problems with the text. Now, if this book had been crappy in general, I wouldn’t have cared. But it is actually a great story. Thus, my frustration stems from the fact that a very good book is dragged down by easily fixable stuff, most of which a word processor would have picked up. That’s just plain sloppy.

Some examples of what I mean: Berkeley is incorrectly spelled “Berkly”. Camaro is spelled “Camero”. Taut is spelled “taunt”. Aide is spelled “Aid”. Applause is spelled “applauds”. Champagne is spelled “champaign”. Asti Spumante is spelled “Asti Spurmanti”. Las Cruces is spelled “Las Cruzus”. Alan Shepard (the astronaut) is spelled “Alan Shepherd”. To add insult to injury, the author does actually spell that name correctly once. Baikonour is spelled in three ways in the book, all incorrect. Grammar errors include phrases like “going to fight for if-no when-you send me to Congress.” Stylistically, there are gems like “They looked at each other in for a moment, sharing the awful truth they had just shared.”

Then we have the technical errors. I will grant that the author is not an aerospace expert but since the book is about the space program one would think he could get the basics right. Finding a pilot to answer a few questions would have greatly improved the test flight passages. Certainly no pilot would ever “jerk the joystick”. There’s no jerking involved. In fact no pilot would EVER call it a “joystick”. It’s just a stick. ARGH!

Finally, we have the politics. Whittington makes Democrats/liberals out to be misguided and short sighted while Republicans lead America to a brighter future. Even though I might not completely agree, I have no problem with the sentiment being expressed. However, it is all so heavy-handed that it weighs down the plot.

In conclusion. I would say that Mr. Whittington has some real talent. What he needs is a real editor to review the text before publication. Without the errors and with a few style adjustments, this one could have scored four or more Rosbochs.

Do Unto Others (Ripple Creek II) – Michael Z. Williamson

In the sequel to Better to Beg Forgiveness, Williamson revisits his team of six elite bodyguards. This time around, they’re not only a well oiled machine, but an experienced and perfectly meshed well oiled machine. They are tasked with protecting the twenty-something year old daughter of the richest man in the world(s). The action starts in Wales but soon moves to a gargantuan mining operation at the heart of the customer’s business empire. Not completely unexpectedly, there are multiple threats.

Just like the first book, this one ramps up slowly and spends a lot of time focusing on technical skills. Williamson takes what is often a very tedious and mind-numbing routine and makes it sound interesting. He is also very good at describing characters who do not act entirely rationally, who act out, who think they are doing good while in fact completely misguided. By the end, the book is a total page turner, moving the reader deftly through some rather amazing and well-crafted locales. If I have one big gripe, it is that the team itself is perhaps a bit too perfect. Fascinating to read about, but do such superhumans really exist? Or more properly, can disbelief be suspended? I certainly found mine cracking at times.

Into the Light – Jane Wallace

The story is about Tem Sevin, who as a child saw his entire family killed by an evil group of humans known as the Gharst. Twenty years later, Sevin is a major in the special forces, and the Gharst are slowly winning a war of conquest against the Coalition. Eventually the Coalition surrenders and Sevin and various hangers-on are accused of war crimes. During the last mission, they conveniently find a Gharst prototype ship advanced well beyond the current state of the art and off they go to try and fix things.

I’ll confess that I didn’t finish the book, managing only about one third. The story is set firmly in the space opera camp, with an almost Star Wars feel to it. Physics are conveniently in support of the story and economics are ignored. Now, I’m ok with that, but since there is little science in the science fiction, the characters, plot and setting need to compensate. A prime example is Lois McMaster Bujold, where technology is not a crucial part of the story but the setting and characters are so stellar it doesn’t matter at all. Ms. Wallace, on the other hand, goes into the technology to the point that you think it would matter, then proceeds to whip out a convenient deus ex machina that negates the rules she set. There is also little sense of the military being, well, a military. The decision making process, command structure and tactics are completely out of whack. I understand that some militaries are incompetent, but at this level of operations that just wouldn’t be possible. I’m even ok with the military being unrealistic, the aforementioned Star Wars is a prime example. But in that case it shouldn’t be a primary driver for the story. And then there are the logic holes. At one point Sevin needs an emergency bandage for a buddy. Despite being surrounded by fresh corpses in uniform, he cuts up his own trouser leg. Also, since the corpses belong to soldiers presumably they would all have at least basic first aid packages on them.

Having said all that, I did enjoy the rich Universe that Ms. Wallace has created. I’m also very much in favor of Science Fiction from women, and authors who are not based in the US or the UK. If the characters had been just a bit more fleshed out, I probably would have finished the book. But I had a hard time identifying with their motivations.

Contact with Chaos – Michael Z. Williamson

Set in the “Freehold” universe, this novel is about first contact with a planetbound race that has almost no metals. They turn out to be quite advanced in ceramics, steam and other sciences, all developed without metals. Humanity, in the form of a joint Freehold/UN mission, makes efforts not to expose the race to metals. This inevitably causes tension.

While not as action packed as other Williamson novels, I found this highly enjoyable. The plot is both smart, entertaining and clever. The characters are perhaps somewhat unoriginal, but do the job adequately. I did have a hard time keeping track of some of the secondary characters. A dramatis personae would have been great. Williamson is at his best when describing the effects of weapons and other technology. Many other authors would have turned this book into a boring scholarly piece, but Williamson manages to keep the technology discussions both entertaining and fascinating. The story has many interesting twists to keep it going.