Thursday, October 25, 2012

Grand Central Arena

I snagged this one off the shelf at work on a whim for the title, odd cover art, and imprint. Baen science fiction, even and especially the cheesy over-the-top stuff, was part of what got me through the duller bits of high school.

Rating: 3 stars
Length: Quite long, but mostly for good reasons (671 pages)
Publication: April 27, 2010 from Baen Books
Premise: Ariane Austin, a manual-control space obstacle pilot in an age of AI steering, jumps at the chance to be a backup pilot on the first Sandrisson Drive test flight and see whether faster-than-light travel is possible. She, Dr. Sandrisson himself,  the mysterious power engineer Marc DuQuesne, and five other crew members anticipate seeing the far reaches of space. They don't anticipate almost running into a wall, or ending up in the cryptic Arena, where they have to compete to survive.
Warnings: portrayal of something fairly close to PTSD, but otherwise pretty clean
Recommendation: This is ideal airplane reading, since it's long and involved and avoids the problem I had of losing track of characters if I set the book down for a day or two. It's certainly not bad, but it's probably better if you've read lots of classic sci-fi and have a lot of patience with exposition.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Devil in the Details

The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 3 stars
Length: Short and sweet (307 pages)
Publication: July 6, 2010 from Roc Fantasy
Premise: Jesse James Dawson acts as a champion for those who have sold their souls and come to regret it, putting his own soul on the line to win back the souls of others. Not many people are willing to go into such a line of work, and now one of them is missing, without any of the normal signs to indicate that he has lost a fight. The duels always follow specific rules, but now those rules are somehow changing, and Jesse needs to find out what's happening before he's caught in the same trap.
Warnings: There's a bit of gore, but nothing too objectionable.
Recommendation: Give this a try, particularly if you're interested in a protagonist who really is living a normal life (complete with a child and a mortgage) instead of balancing an exciting career with his adventures.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

I've seen this one recommended on quite a few progressive/activist blogs as an example of epic fantasy without the normal faux-English trappings, so I may have gone into it with inflated expectations. It's solid, but not remarkable, so odds are I'll try something in the author's other series sometime next year. 

The quick and dirty:

Rating: 2.5 stars
Length: Solid but not interminable (432 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: February 25, 2010 from Orbit Books
Premise: When Yeine Darr's mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to Sky, the glorious civilization that her mother fled years ago in order to marry her father. She expects to make a quick visit and leave, but instead she is named as a potential heir to the competition with two heirs who have been trying to destroy each other for years. Ancient gods who have been trapped as enslaved weapons for the ruling Arameri family make the situation even more complex, and Yeine has to choose between more loyalties and dreams than she ever thought possible.
Warnings: graphic torture, implied child sexual abuse, past non-detailed account of rape
Recommendation: If you're really short on novels that place the gods as equal to mortals in some way, or sci-fi/fantasy with a non-white protagonist, this one might be enjoyable. Otherwise, enthusiasm for this one is tepid at best.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Madness of Angels

This one is another recommendation from Longshanks and Misanthrope. I read it maybe two years ago and didn't see the appeal, for whatever reason, but this time around it grabbed my attention and only rarely let go.

Rating: 4 stars
Length: Expansive (640 pages)
Publication: April 6, 2009 from Orbit
Premise: Two years ago, Matthew Shift died in a telephone box and didn't leave a body behind. Now he's alive again, with something extra along for the ride in his mind, and he's determined to take his revenge on both his killer and on the one who brought him back into mortal flesh.
Warnings: Some fairly nasty gore (described in moderate detail, we're not talking Saw here)
Recommendation: If you have the patience to wait for answers to show up, give this one a try. It's creative, dreamy, intensely dangerous, and unusual in a way that not many things I've read recently are.