Wednesday, September 30, 2015

**Emily J. McNeely's Peragua was published on the Microstory A Week site

Emily J McNeely's entertaining nautical story, Peragua, graced the Microstory A Week site today.
 
 Peragua, as she describes it, is a "an excerpt from a longer story, about a pirate crew in the Caribbean in the 18th century and the tensions between the captain and his first mate, who is looking to leave his service."

This is a great read, one you should check out -- and don't forget to check out next Wednesday's tale, Kurt Newton's dark and cryptic Black Dog.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Rama II by Arthur C Clarke and Gentry Lee

(hb; 1989: second novel in the Rama quadrilogy)

From the inside flap:

"Decades have passed since Commander Norton and his crew met with the enormous alien ship dubbed Rama and declared it an intelligent robot with no interest in the creatures of our solar system. In those years the world has undergone dramatic changes -- from the wild prosperity immediately following the Raman visit to the cataclysm of the Great Chaos, also spurred by Rama. And then, near the dawn of the twenty-third century, a spacecraft is identified hurtling across our solar system. A crew of a dozen is assembled to rendezvous with the massive ship. And mankind has a second date with destiny.

"Some of the best and brightest minds on Earth are assembled to intersect with Rama II just inside the orbit of Venus. Among them are the brilliant engineer Richard Wakefield, scientist Shigeru Takagishi (author of The Atlas of Rama), heroic life science officer Nicole des Jardins, stern commander in chief Valeriy Borzov, and the duplicitous video journalist Francesca Sabatini. But even though the crew is equipped with every piece of information that is known about Raman technology and culture, there is nothing that can prepare them for what they will encounter on board. For while Rama II appears to be much like its predecessor, the crew will discover startling -- perhaps even deadly -- differences."


Review:

Rama II revisits an initially familiar, century-plus-later, new Rama, but differentiates itself from its source novel by -- plot-wise -- moving quicker, injecting more intrigue and human darkness, and showing brief violence. There is plenty of "hard" science, new (and updated) creatures and elements that reveal more, but not all of, Rama's intentions. The writing is excellent, the story more personal (if sometimes word-chatty) and its scope more expansive.

The ending is open-ended, sequel-friendly. Worth owning, this. Followed by The Garden of Rama.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Fortress of the Pearl by Michael Moorcock

(hb; 1989: seventh book in the Elric series) 

From the inside flap:

"[Fortress] is set early in the warrior's career, opening as the Lord Gho Fhaazi seeks the principal seat on the ruling Council of Seven of the city of Quarzhasaat. He lures Elric into seeking the Pearl at the Heart of the World -- the price of admission to the council -- by addicting him to a slow-acting poison to which he, the Lord Gho, has the only antidote. Moorcock leads Elric over a course of monstrous and horrifying obstacles, pits him against the Sorcerer Adventurers, servants of Quarzhasaat's jaded rich, and then thrusts him into a dreamworld within the mind of an adolescent girl. Trapped in a comatose state by the Sorcerer Adventurers, she is undergoing her own rite of passage into adulthood. Through the vast and turbulent landscape of the Dream Realm, guided by the Dreamthief Lady Oone, Elric seeks the Pearl."


Review:

Note: Fortress -- written and published as the seventh Elric book -- is a prequel, which chronologically happens in a period of time between Elric of Melniboné and The Sailor on the Seas of Fate (the first and second book in the series).

This word-spare, surrealistic and metaphor-deft prequel shows Elric not only trying to save himself from a poisonous death, but also a Quarzhasaatim boy (Anigh) and a Bauradiam "Holy Girl" (Varadia, a citizen of the Silver Flower Oasis) from equally horrible, if different, fates.

In order to do so, he must travel down the deadly Red Road (where bizarre, armed attacks can take place at any moment), as well as the expansive Sighing Desert to the Silver Flower Oasis, where the wise folk of Bauradim hold vigil over Varadia, a "Holy Girl" whose dream-coma fragility and inevitable disintegration threatens all of existence. This compels Elric and Oone (an experienced Dreamthief, who may be more than a traveling companion) to astrally traverse the seven, surrealistic lands of the Dream Realm to not only find the Pearl, which will save Elric's life and end Anigh's captivity, but shatter the paralyzing hold of whatever layers Varadia in life-draining slumber.

What sets Fortress apart from most of the previous Elric books is that it is a whole novel: it is not broken up into a series of tightly linked novellas, like Books two through six. Elric, in this seventh work, also possesses a hope that he lost early on in the series (Cymoril -- his fiancée -- is still alive and Melniboné has not yet fallen), which lends a different side-tale feel to these new adventures -- adventures whose events further shape and deepen readers' understandings of what was previously shown in Books two through six.

This, like previous Elric works, is excellent, word-efficient and otherwise masterful, a book worth owning.

Followed by The Revenge of the Rose.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

(pb; 1973: first novel in the Rama quadrilogy)

From the back cover:

"In the year 2130, a strange object is discovered, hurtling through space on what could be a collision course with Earth. What is it?

"Where did it come from?

"And, most important, what does it want?

"Those are the questions scientists on Earth have to answer -- and fast -- if Mankind is going to be ready for its first encounter with an alien intelligence!"


Review:

Rendezvous is an intriguing, steady-build story, its first quarter dedicated to giving its readers a chance to see (in cinematic and word-tight prose) the technological beauty of Rama, as well as the reactions and personalities of the humans witnessing this anomalous and history-changing ship -- or planet.  (Those looking for immediate, wall-to-wall action sequences may be disappointed by this, though curiosity, caution and danger are constant tonal elements throughout Rendezvous.)

The latter part of the book picks up, action- and intensity-wise, as Rama begins to show visible signs of waking, and its in-this-moment intentions. As always, Clarke's writing is crisp, plot-progressive and well-edited (within its gradual escalation situations) and engaging, making Rendezvous -- which is clearly a series set-up work -- a worthwhile and gently provocative read.

Followed by Rama II.

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According to IMDb, a film version is forthcoming. I will update this information when -- if -- more information is available (and I have the time to do so).

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz

(hb; 2015: fourth novel in the Millennium series. Translated from the Swedish by George Goulding.)

From the inside flap:

"Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist return.

"She is the girl with the dragon tattoo -- a genius hacker and uncompromising misfit. He is a crusading journalist whose championing of truth often brings him to the brink of prosecution.

"Late one night, Blomkvist receives a phone call from a source claiming to have information vital to the United States. The source has been in contact with a young female superhacker -- a hacker resembling someone Blomkvist knows all too well. The implications are staggering. Blomkvist, in desperate need of a scoop for Millennium, turns to Salander for help. She, as usual, has her own agenda. The secret they are both chasing is at the center of a tangled web of spies, cybercriminals, and governments around the world, and someone is prepared to kill to protect it."


Review:

Lagercrantz's pick-up of Larsson's Millennium series maintains the same steady-build-then-explosive feel of the first three books in the series. Again, the characters -- some of them familiar, some of them new -- are worth rooting for or hissing at; the intensity and intentions of those characters are alarming and thrilling, lending additional urgency to the physical (sometimes fatal) action. These elements are further heightened by the cinematic (but character-true) jump-cut editing, especially during the multi-character cliffhangerish sequences.

Spider's Web is a fun, reader-hooking-from-the-get-go and deepening-of-the-familial-storyline read, one worth owning -- as are the previous Millennium books. (For those who have not read the first three books, Spider's Web also works as a stand-alone read.)

Followed by The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye.