Friday, May 14, 2021

The Dragon WaitingThe Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one is a World Fantasy Award winner and a heavily researched historical fiction with vampires, magicians, and even a dragon.

But oddly, it's not the vampire aspect, or the magician aspect, or the appearance of the dragon that makes this novel. Indeed, they are just complications to a rich, detailed world that ranges from Julian to the Medicis to Edward the 4th to the fall of the Byzantine empire. It's the real-world characters and intrigues and HISTORY that make this novel shine.

I can't stress this enough, but if you want to know what the book is about, it's all in the blurb. That's the prime driver. The fact that some of these famous personages happen to be vampires, magicians, or even dragons (and I'll let you have fun finding out the REAL history of the princes and Richard III, as told in this book,) is just spice to a deep, deep tale.

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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Navigators of Dune (Schools of Dune #3)Navigators of Dune by Brian Herbert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, out of the three books in this somewhat promising pre-prequel sequel trilogy, this last one did manage to wrap up most of the dangling plot threads competently but I suppose I finally got over my previously managed expectations and now I'm wishing it had more oomph.

I mean, sure, as a tale on its own, without being a part of the bigger Dune universe, it probably would have been a pretty decent yarn, but it suffers from very real issues that make it butt heads against a real classic that's very much in the same category.

And that wouldn't be much of a problem, either, if it didn't insist on opening up issues about continuity and even worldbuilding.

Still, it satisfied a craving for more info on these Great Schools. In a way. And the plots were pretty fun while they lasted. But now that it's done, I do feel the need to fold it back in with the greater Dune universe and... the original still must come out on top. Alas.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Deathworld 3 (Deathworld, #3)Deathworld 3 by Harry Harrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Eh, okay. This one is just fine if you want a bunch of horse-lords, an alien (read human) professional gambler, and a big hot mess of conflicting desires.

It really is more of the same of the Deathworld series in general, but this one just heads straight into warrior territory and that's FINE if that's all you want and/or expect.

Good points: the light tone is very familiar to fans of Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat series. Also, we get some good science tidbits thrown in for the fanbase.

Meh: It went straight into cliche territory but who cares as long as we get to beat some heads, right?

Final analysis:

It's ok, but nothing to write home about.

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Mentats of Dune (Schools of Dune #2)Mentats of Dune by Brian Herbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some generations after the Butlerian Jihad has us firmly in this brave new universe where technology-hating Butlerians tear down everything and anything (including safe space travel) in their religious fervor.

Honestly, the setup is pretty good and if it wasn't for the fact that this is riding on the coattails of a true genius of literature *DUNE*, I might even have thought that this particular trilogy is a strong SF title all on its own.

Schools of thought, each trying to battle an upcoming dark age in the far future, reminds me delightfully of Asimov's Foundation in a way. The particular schools, the Bene Gesserit, Mentats, and Navigators, remind me in turn of some other classic SF and it is very definitely packed with some interesting, if slightly crazy, characters. The scope is pretty cool and we don't have to live up to anything huge other than simple survival and early ambition. We already know where they wind up in the classic title, after all.

Mentats kept my interest through and through, and to be clear, this trilogy feels like it's much better than the trilogy that immediately preceded it. And it's better than the Great Houses trilogy that comes right before Dune, as well.

It's odd. I thought I managed my expectations better than this. Did I expect nothing much at all and came out of this ahead, after all? Maybe so.

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Monday, May 10, 2021

Deathworld 2 (Deathworld, #2)Deathworld 2 by Harry Harrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

More of a 3.5 rating, this Deathworld book is a special kind of classic SF.

There are a ton of SF that have those classic single educated characters landing on a planet full of uneducated only to eventually rule them all (or save, liberate, or whatnot). It's so old that it's cliche.

Of course, if you want that kind of thing, and want it done well, (hello planet of slaves and unabashed opportunism,) then this Harry Harrison is probably your thing.

Notable aspects: steam engine supremacy, a heavy-handed novel-long skewering of Ethos versus Ethics, and adventure.

Again, not bad, and there's nothing particularly ugly about this except the depiction of humanity, but we're pretty casual about that even now. Well, we're a bit more creative about it these days... and not only in fiction.

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Sunday, May 9, 2021

Sisterhood of Dune (Schools of Dune #1)Sisterhood of Dune by Brian Herbert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm a completionist at heart. That means that I even have to read this (ahem) pre-prequel-sequel if I am going to have any pride in my completionism.

So? Why? What? Ok, so, about 80 years after the Butlerian Jihad, we get the founding of the three big schools and their chaotic origins. The Bene Gesserit kicks it off.

I ADMIT that I would have loved the idea of reading about them anyway even if I was stuck reading another attempt to cash in on Dune. But I also admit that my expectations were not all that high, either.

So how did this one go?

All right, actually. I'm recalling the events of the earliest-timeline trilogy and the after-aftermath is actually a bit MORE interesting than the actual war that freed mankind. Early days is actually pretty interesting.

Throw in weak leaders, demagoguery, and Butlerian barbarians that want to take everyone to the stone age, giving us a massive cusp-of-the-dark-ages feel, and it actually works pretty well.

If I had read this novel as a standalone with different names, without the weight of the DUNE universe to back it up, I would have been pretty happy. As it is, I think it's slightly better than the run-of-the-mill B. Herbert/Anderson team-up.

It's still not at F. Herbert's level and there's a HUGE matter of worldbuilding continuity with the original series and a personal pet peeve about throwing family names about as if they're ALWAYS going to be a direct line of importance across ten thousand years... but *deep breath* fine. Whatever. This is fan service, I guess, meant for the low-bar name recognition stuff.

I'll still continue, but I just have to lower my expectations if I want to enjoy it.

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Saturday, May 8, 2021

Deathworld 1 (Deathworld, #1)Deathworld 1 by Harry Harrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I picked up this Harry Harrison, I did so in full knowledge of his general humor, his delightful action, and lighthearted adventure.

In this, we at least get a lighthearted adventure with a fair smattering of action. The characters are merely so/so. Even so, the tale progresses fairly nicely with a visit to an extremely deadly (and heavy) planet with all kinds of creatures so ready to kill you. The hardiness of the human race, survival, and being the biggest bad-ass being the heaviest focus.

Of course, when it comes to an outsider with an outsider's viewpoint, things take on a different kind of feel.

Let's just say this is a pretty feel-good tale that is a sign of its times. Sure, we get a bunch of bang-bang going on, but we also get a fair amount of peace, love, and communication, too. :)

Too bad that wasn't as interesting as I would have hoped. I'm a bit jaded now, I guess. I like more subtlety.

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