The Mote in God’s Eye is a classic of the genre and one of the most well regarded tales of first contact. The plot is fairly straight forward: in the future humanity has developed the ability for instantaneous transportation across the vast distances of space thus allowing the colonization of many worlds across countless systems. After a mission putting down a rebellion the vessel MacArthur is undergoing repairs and refueling when a probe from a distant system suddenly arrives. Dispatched to investigate the crew of the MacArthur find within a dead alien creature. This discovery sends the crew of the MacArthur on a mission to the distant Mote to discover the origin of the alien probe vessel.
The Strain is a book written by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan and first released in 2009. It’s the first book in a series followed by The Fall and The Night Eternal. I reviewed The Strain back in 2009 and you can check out the full review here, I also pulled in my friend Val to do another review which you can find here. If you don’t want to read both reviews let me give you the highlights. We both agreed that The Strain featured a fascinating update to the vampire myth. del Toro and Hogan took familiar elements of vampire folklore and gave them reasoned scientific approach (with the exception of the whole won’t cross running water thing) while at the same time equating the notion of vampirism with that of a virus or parasite. I found that del Toro and Hogan while having a fascinating take on vampires were not terribly great at their character creating a handful of characters that were boring and uninspired and several who were downright fascinating and woefully underexplored. By and large both Val and myself found the The Strain to be a enjoyable and entertaining update to the vampire myth.
Needless to say I was definitely excited about the prospect of The Strain as a television series. del Toro is a masterful visual artist and his distinct eye and unique vision are always a pleasure to watch. Given that the novel had a certain amount of cinematic flair to it it seemed certain that very little would have to be discarded in order to make an entertaining television show. Turns out I was a little bit wrong about that as the pilot episode of The Strain is an enormous mess.
The sequel to 2012’s Scourge of the Betrayer opens the world up quite a bit. Jeff Salyard’s expands upon the Syldoon and their culture giving readers a more in depth look at the culture and society that produced Captain Killcoin and his brothers. Picking up bare moments after the first novel Veil of the Deserter’s see’s historian/narrator Arki and his Syldoon employers holed up in an inn nursing over Captain Killcoin who still suffers under the grievous effects of his flail, Bloodsounder. With the loss of Lloi in the previous novel the Syldoon are desperately searching for a new witch to help the Captain deal with stolen memories that Bloodsounder forces upon its wielder. Unfortunately for the band of soldiers they are instead found by a pair of Syldoon memory witches, one of which is Captain Killcoin’s sister Soffjian. While part of the Syldoon power structure the members of Captain Killcoin’s company view the memory witches with distrust a fact compounded by the obvious bad blood between Captain Killcoin and his sister.
John Charming is the descendant of the renowned Charming line; famed for princess rescuing and monster slaying. Bound to defend the Pax Arcana (a magical enchantment that prevents humans from seeing the otherworldly, monstrous, and fey) John was trained, like his father, by the Knight’s Templar. Unfortunately for John his mother was bitten by a werewolf while pregnant and while she perished from the bite John was cursed with variant of lycanthropy; granting him many of the gifts and few of downfalls of being a werewolf. Despite these facts John was exiled from and sentenced to death by the Knight’s Templar and has been on the run since. Working under an assumed name John works as a bartender trying to keep a low profile to avoid the notice of the Knight. Things change when the beautiful Sig walks into his life and John is forced to confront a nest of vampires that has been growing right under his very nose.
After four planes crash simultaneously in geographically disparate locations, three child survivors emerge unscathed from the wreckage (the presence of a fourth child is possible but neither confirmed nor denied). Instant media darlings the Three, as they come to be known, are viewed as miracles by some and as harbingers of greater doom yet to come by others. The Three is presented as fact; the novel cleverly written as if it were a manuscript of a nonfiction book investigating the crash, its aftermath, and the survivors and their families. As I’ve said in the past this is a format that horror fiction leans on heavily stemming as far back as Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto in 1764 to the modern film equivalent of found-footage.
I would consider any horror novel beginning with its main character asking himself “What would Kurt Russel do?” to be well worth my attention. Thankfully, Jonathan Wood’s No Hero manages to back up his grin inducing first lines with a solid story full of interesting characters and an exciting, if somewhat bleak, world. In No Hero, Oxford police officer Arthur Wallace has a near fatal encounter with a sword wielding woman seemingly responsible for several murders across town. As he recovers from his injuries he finds out that the truth is far more complex and far more terrifying.
If I’m being honest this review is likely not going to do this book justice. I was going into Words of Radiance, the second book of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, fresh off a reread of Way of Kings and experience both novels nearly back to back definitely enhanced my reading. Much like with other long-running fantasy series re-reads of all previous volumes will likely become cumbersome at some point but at least with book two the option for a back-to-back read works quite well. When it comes to Words of Radiance most Brandon Sanderson fans know what they are in for and the return to Roshar is like coming home again. Where Way of King eases readers into the world, offering an introduction and exploration of Roshar and how it works Words of Radiance delves deeper into the greater mysteries of Roshar and explores areas of the world glimpsed in the first book. Some spoilers from the first book are bound to occur so if you’ve yet to read Way of Kings consider yourself warned.
Imagine, if you will, the perfect town; immaculately groomed lawns, quiet streets, perfect houses, smiling faces, and no crime to speak of. Wink, New Mexico is just such a town though as Mona Bright learns upon her arrival such perfection comes at a price. There are places in Wink that you just don’t go, things you just don’t do, and thoughts you aren’t aloud to think. There are secrets hidden behind the immaculate walls and picturesque homes and the Mesa it sits beneath, home to an abandoned research facility, casts a long and deep shadow on the denizens of Wink.
Robert Jackson Bennett’s American Elsewhere has one of the most perfect premises to get me interested. The novel’s opening chapter provides a tantalizing glimpse that things aren’t quite what they seem offering a nice taste of things to come before slowing things down a bit. American Elsewhere is a delicately paced novel focusing on atmosphere over action. Mona Bright, an ex-cop, discovers during the reading of her father’s will that her mother once owned a house in a town called Wink. With the inheritance set to expire soon Mona sets off to find Wink which is a town that has become rather difficult to find in recent years. Arriving in Wink, Mona is met with a strange vision of a town seemingly right out of the 1950s where everybody knows everybody and nobody ever leaves.
Peter Clines Ex-Heroes has quickly become one my favorite series in recent years. In fact, it is just about the only zombie-related series I’m currently reading or listening to. The Ex-Heroes series takes place in a world ravaged by a tide of undead (referred to in the series as ex-humans) where the last vestiges of humanity in the Los Angeles area are defended by a group of superheroes. Throughout the series Clines has done an excellent job of creating heroes who feel similar to more familiar comic book heroes while maintaining enough originality to let them stand on their own. Together with the people they defend the heroes of Peter Clines’ series have survived numerous ordeals from battles with former L. A. gangs, the obligitory hordes of zombies, to the remnants of s secret military project. Ex-Purgatory shakes things up a bit with a bit of a cold open. Readers are introduced to a young girl in the midst of a therapy session as she discusses with her doctor the fact that every night she dreams of a world full of zombies and heroes; a world that she insists is real. Immediately after readers are thrust into the life of George Bailey, who series regulars will immediately recognize as St. George/The Mighty Dragon, however this is a George whose life is fairly normal and who lives and works in a L. A. seemingly untouched by neither zombie or apocalypse. It is a clever play, clever enough to make even me wonder if what we had read before in the previous novels was reality or dream.
The sequel to Honsinger’s To Honor You Call Us continues the story immediately following the events of that novel. You can read my review of it here and much of the same commentary there applies here. Honsinger turns out another exciting and action packed story in For Honor We Stand, continuing the adventures of the Cumberland and her crew. Honsinger, walks a rather deft line between space opera and military sci-fi offering fast-paced action and interesting characters in universe grounded with a distinct sense of history. While the action of novel is intense and near constant the most vivid impressions left are from Honsinger’s deft characterization of Dr. Sahin and Commander Robicheaux. One particular moment, as Commander Robicheaux speaks to a bunch of middies about his time as a midshipman marked a major turning point for the Commander in his struggle PTSD. I think it well worth pointing out that in a novel packed with exciting naval combat and massive revelations about the human war effort that one of the novel’s standout moments came in a rather sedate scene of conversation. Similarly speaking, a quiet scene between Dr. Sahin and Commander Robicheaux about the fate of the war showed a strong sense of character and deftly illustrated how these two characters from wildly different cultural backgrounds have bonded over the profound loss caused by war. It is moments like these make this novel stand tall alongside more established authors in the field.
If you are a fan of military science fiction with a strong naval tradition H. Paul Honisnger’s Men of War series is definitely one you should be reading. My personal favorite duo of military science fiction authors: David Weber and Jack Campbell are now tentatively joined by H. Paul Honsinger (he has a rather large quantity of work to catch up with). To Honor You Call Us was an amazingly accomplished debut novel and For Honor We Stand builds upon a strong foundation of characterization, world-building, and action by raising the stakes in each regard. I am definitely awaiting the third Men of War novel Brothers in Battle with no small amount of excitement.