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ORBUS By Neal Asher – Reviewed

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2015 by stanleyriiks

This is the third book in the Spatterjay series, although this one doesn’t take place on the galactic version of Australia (ie the most dangerous planet in the universe!). If you’ve read the other books in the series you will know that Orbus is one of the old captains, the rulers of Spatterjay, a virtually immortal group of Captains who sail the leech-infested seas. But after the events of the second book, Orbus is happy to head off-planet, and takes a cargo ship travelling to a place known as the Graveyard, a no-man’s land between the Polity (human) empire and the Prador empire. And everything is going fine with this routine pick-up until a couple of war drones stow away on Orbus’ cargo vessel, a rebel Prador attacks at the pick-up, a civil war starts in the Prador empire, and a mythological nightmare creature proves to be very much real and alive…

Asher write SF with a good amount of action, with some of the characters already set up in previous books he has a chance to let rip without having to explain who and what they are. His books always contain great details that make them seem more real, and Orbus is no exception.

The different setting makes this barely a Spatteray novel, but the characters are what connect it to the other books in the series. This one works well enough by itself, but there’s a lot of history and backstory you would miss out on if you skipped the first two books.

The exciting SF adventure continues. The Spatterjay series is remarkable and unique. This slight change of direction for the series works well, bringing in a new environment, and further developing the  interesting characters, particularly the war drone Sniper.  I’ll be coming back for more in the fourth book in the series. The story of Spatterjay rocks!

LEGION OF THE DAMNED By William C. Dietz – Reviewed

Posted in Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 18, 2015 by stanleyriiks

Set in a far flung future where the Human Empire has colonised a number of planets, including the Legion’s adopted home planet of Algeron, and lives in a cosy and comfortable peace. Until the war-like Hudatha race obliterate an entire planet, the first in their deadly space-bound march towards Earth, intent on destroying every human being on their way.

Baldwin is a traitorous human guiding the enemy’s hand in his lust for vengeance; Booly is a Legionnaire injured on Algeron and left for dead but really a prisoner of war captured by the indigenous population; Chu Chien is a rich merchant intent on bringing his son home safe from one of the rim planets soon to be hit by the Hudatha’s deadly swathe; Scolari is the head of the Navy, hoping to persuade the Emporer to pull his troops back to defend Earth against invasion…

So Dietz provides various political intrigues and power-plays to go along with the more meaty action of the fighting and battles. Well, when I say more meaty, I mean more interesting, but Dietz spends a little too much time developing the machinations of not only the human powers but also those of the Hudathan, and the Naa (the natives of Algeron).

But the Legion and its history is much more in keeping with this book of battle, and really helps with backstory and characterisation (of which there is little). There is a lot going on and the lack of decent characters to grasp on to mean you can flounder around wondering who is what for the majority of the novel. Having characters called Booly and Baldwin doesn’t help, how about characters with names beginning with a different letter for a start.

If anything this book is a little too ambitious. Likely it is the set-up book for a possibly long-running series, and Deitz wanted to get as much in and introduce as many characters as possible in the first book. But ultimately there is too much in here, and it feels crammed in, and a little crammed down your throat, and it makes it a little hard to chew.

There are good bits, particularly the Legion’s history, and the story builds nicely but to a climax that takes just a couple of pages and feels a bit of a let-down.

It’s such a shame, I was so looking forward to this book, and it failed to enthral me, although it did marginally entertain it. I won’t be back for any more.

ROLLBACK By Robert J. Sawyer – Reviewed

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A brilliant, emotional, human SF novel.

Dr Sarah Halifax decodes a response from a SETI sent message in a far-flung planet, 18.8 light years away. She is instrumental in forming the response, and sending it, having little thought that she might be dead by the time the message is responded to gain in 37 years time.

But, in her eighties, Sarah is still alive when the new message from the alien race arrives.  She is celebrating her sixtieth wedding anniversary with her husband Don when the news breaks.

A wealthy SETI contributor wants Sarah to be around when the next message arrives and pays for a rollback, a rejuvenation programme that costs billions, to make her young again. Sarah insists that her husband receive it too, but when it works for Don and not for Sarah they have to struggle with her aging and his youthful vigour.

The SETI alien contact is only a part of this novel, the tension and emotional rollercoaster of the two main characters in the happily married couple tugs at the heart-strings. The moral dilemmas, the guilt, the hope, the sadness and loss are truly heart-felt. This is an emotional novel. The background of technology enhances the love story, twisting it and stretching it to breaking point. As much as this is a story of first alien contact, this is a story of family, of history, of love and respect, of youth and aging and old age.  Sawyer has written a truly insightful and inspirational novel.

This is SF with a human side, a brilliantly realised story of love set in a future world with robots and aliens. Intelligent, insightful, emotional and amazing.

THE VOYAGE OF THE SABLE KEECH By Neal Asher – Reviewed

Posted in Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 6, 2012 by stanleyriiks

This is the second book in the Spatterjay series, and sees us returning to the water-filled planet where the Hoopers or Old Captains (near indestructible, near immortal, super-strength men) run the planet, alongside the sentient sails they use for their ships. The waters of Spatterjay are filled with all manner of dangerous fauna, including virus-wielding leeches which burrow into their victims but pass on the virus which causing the superhuman strength and longevity.

It is ten years since the first book ended by riotous climax, and not a great deal has changed. Those familiar with the first novel will find this one remarkably similar, the same characters, the same style, the same snippets to let you know about the wildlife that inhabits the planet, virtually the same plot! The riotous finale where everything all comes together is lacking, as the various plots are this time individually wrapped-up, leaving the reader with an unsatisfactory bump in the excitement, rather than a mountain.

The Sable Keech is a massive ship aiming to re-run the epic journey of its name-sake as he ventured to the place where he was brought back to life using the virus. Bloc, the reification (a kind of technologically undead) in charge of the voyage, employs the old Captains to help out and a Golum sail (a crazy one intent on destroying death) to lead them. But there are also aliens and the deadly creatures of the deep intent on stopping them.

The first two hundred pages of the novel seem to go nowhere, feel like padding and could quiet easily be removed without any ill effect. The final hundred pages see almost a re-run of the climax of the first novel, but spread out so that there is little impact.

The ways in which this novel goes wrong are many: it is too similar to the first book, but fails where the first book succeeded. This isn’t a rubbish book by any means. It’s still pretty good, and only really falls down when compared with The Skinner, the first book in the series. Asher can write, the world of Spatterjay is epically explorable, and the old Captains are like cosmic super-pirates. But this doesn’t have the danger or the anger of The Skinner, despite similar plotting, and we’ve already visited this world. For those who haven’t read The Skinner you’ll enjoy this a great deal more than fans familiar with the first book.

Let’s hope Asher can redeem himself with the third book in the series.

THE SKINNER By Neal Asher – Reviewed

Posted in Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 18, 2011 by stanleyriiks

Three strangers meet on the way to the planet’s surface. That planet, which has little serviceable surface, is Spatterjay, a mostly water-filled world. And the seas of Spatterjay are filled with all manner of creatures all ready and willing to eat you and anything else that invades their watery home: including the strange leeches, whose bite, if not fatal, will change your body chemistry until you are immortal, or near as damnit.

One of the party of three is Sable Keech, several hundreds of years old, and finally returning to Spatterjay to complete his mission: to find the remaining survivors of Jay Hoop’s crew and execute them. They were an ancient gang who sold cored-human slaves to the alien Prador’s during the war. Despite the war now being over a Prador adult and adolescent have arrived on the planet in secret with one of Hoop’s old crew, intent on causing problems.

Another of the three is Janer, part of a hive mind that may have secret plans to colonize the planet.

Throw into this mix semi-immortal pirates; a monster that skins people alive; the various fauna that occupies most of the planet and is intent on eating everything else; an AI overseer that acts as the planet’s police and army; and a War Drone; and you get a massive amount of story, huge back-stories, and a huge amount of information that fortunately doesn’t slow down the plot too much.

It takes a little while to get into the book because of the sheer volume of stuff you need to know, but it’s so full of great ideas that you can’t help but keep reading. The book builds nicely, we have enough action and enough ideas to not only keep you entertained but make you want to discover more. Fortunately Asher’s produced not only more Spatterjay novels, but also Polity novels (based on the more organised part of the universe that only make a brief appearance here). Asher’s universe is massively detailed and cleverly put together, and the novel is the same. What it lacks in pace to begin with is swiftly made up for in the later stages, and you can forgive this because of the amount of detail expounded.

Full of great ideas, with a good solid story and plenty of twists and turns, this first book of Spatterjay is the ideal entry into this virgin territory, and I have high hopes for the other books in the series, which I will most definitely be seeking out.

GALAXY IN FLAMES By Ben Counter – Reviewed

Posted in Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 20, 2010 by stanleyriiks

The final instalment in the first trilogy of the epic tale of the Horus Heresy, sees the unleashing of the betrayal that has been building over the two previous books, in a furious battle.

On the planet of Isstvan III the space marines are sent to bring a planet back under the control of the Imperium, but they discover, too late, that they are being sent into a trap that will leave all of them dead.

Horus, the Warmaster, and his brother primarchs and other followers, act brutally to destroy any hope of rebellion against their plotting to take over the Empire and to kill the Emperor.

Loken, Tavitz, and our other heroes land on Isstvan III prepared for battle, but the traitors unload viruses and fire to blanket the planet and destroy everyone.

A brutal brother against brother battle erupts for their very survival, and the survival of the empire.

Counter managed to give this epic account a personal focus, whilst still imbuing it with an action-packed energy we’ve come to love from the previous tales. The Horus Heresy is the jewel in the crown of the Black Library, and they are pouring the talent into it. The story is massive and epic, and one book can barely give you a sense of what is going on, but this is a cracking instalment, all action and packed with death.

Counter produces a novel of integrity, that takes it beyond the simple action battles of other 40K sagas. Massively entertaining, tension-filled and desperately sad. Watching the empire fall apart is a truly torturing experience.

Can’t wait to find out what happens next.