Yesterday I finished the fourth Best Novel (2016 Hugo Awards) nominee out of five. Butcher’s Aeronaut’s Windlass surprised me. I’ve previously read selections from his Dresden Files and from the Codex Alera series, but this novel, the first in his new Cinder Spires steampunk series, really impressed me. I simultaneously listened to the audiobook and read the ebook (more the latter towards the end because I read much faster than the audiobook progresses, although I don’t do voice characterizations nearly as well as voice actors do). I gave it a solid four stars out of five, but when compared to the other nominees, I’m afraid it will fall mid-pack behind Lemke’s Ancillary Mercy and Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. And I’m having trouble classifying this as fantasy or science fiction, although it does fit well within the subgenre of steampunk. Both scientific and fantastical elements abound.
That leaves me just one more novel to read to complete the Best Novel nominees for 2016 – Stephenson’s Seveneves. But before I bury myself in hard SF, I turned my eyes to the Retro Hugo Awards (for 1941) and started reading Slan by A.E. van Vogt.
I found a copy of this book via my local library’s access the regional library system in Northeast Kansas. Nearby Atchison kept an edition published as part of the Garland Library of Science Fiction (1975) described as a “collection of 45 works of science fiction selected by Lester del Rey.” I started the book early afternoon on Sunday the 3rd and would have finished it by ten o’clock if I hadn’t kept nodding off – not because I wasn’t interested, but just because I was up past more normal bed time. I picked the novel back up this morning with less than fifty pages to go to the end.
Slan kept my interest despite dated technology and the lack of technological development aside from the usual 1940s fascination with atomic power. The only interesting tech bit was anti-gravity, which was more of a plot device than an actual technological achievement. Colonization of Mars assumes water and a breathable atmosphere, both of which seem laughable to us today. The psi powers of the slan are pivotal to the plot, but not in the way you would imagine. I found Slan to be an enjoyable, fast read with a bit of adventure (typical for the time period and the rampant serialization in SF magazines). I gave Slan a solid three stars out of five.
Next up for the Retro Hugo Best Novel nominees will be T.H. White’s The Ill-Made Knight, which I found in audiobook format via Hoopla. I’ve previously read Doc Smith’s Gray Lensman, so there’s no need to re-read that one. The other nominees are on request via InterLibrary Loan and I hope will arrive soon to give me time to complete them before voting closes at the end of July.
Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff
4 out of 5 stars
Read in late August 2014
Synopsis from MacMillan’s site:
Stormdancer is the first in the epic new fantasy series The Lotus War, introducing an unforgettable heroine and a stunningly original dystopian steampunk world with a flavor of feudal Japan.
The Shima Imperium verges on the brink of environmental collapse; an island nation once rich in tradition and myth, now decimated by clockwork industrialization and the machine-worshipers of the Lotus Guild. When hunters of Shima’s imperial court are charged by their Shōgun to capture a legendary griffin, they fear their lives are over. Any fool knows the beasts have been extinct for more than a century, and the price of failing the Shōgun is death. Accompanying her father on the Shōgun’s hunt, the girl Yukiko finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in Shima’s last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled griffin for company. Even though she can hear his thoughts, even though she saved his life, all she knows for certain is he’d rather see her dead than help her. But together, the pair will form an indomitable friendship, and rise to challenge the might of an empire. Continue reading “Book Review: Stormdancer by Kristoff (4 Stars)”
Peacemaker by K.A. Stewart
3.5-4 out of 5 stars
Read January 2014
Caleb Marcus is a Peacemaker, a roving lawman tasked with maintaining the peace and bringing control to magic users on the frontier. A Peacemaker isn’t supposed to take a life—but sometimes, it’s kill or be killed…
After a war injury left him half-scoured of his power, Caleb and his jackalope familiar have been shipped out West, keeping them out of sight and out of the way of more useful agents. And while life in the wild isn’t exactly Caleb’s cup of tea, he can’t deny that being amongst folk who aren’t as powerful as he is, even in his poor shape, is a bit of a relief.
But Hope isn’t like the other small towns he’s visited. The children are being mysteriously robbed of their magical capabilities. There’s something strange and dark about the local land baron who runs the school. Cheyenne tribes are raiding the outlying homesteads with increasing frequency and strange earthquakes keep shaking the very ground Hope stands on.
Continue reading “Book Review: Peacemaker by Stewart (4 Stars)”
4 out of 5 stars
Winner of 5 Academy Awards including Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Visual Effects
I squeeed with delight when I got the e-mail from Netflix on Monday afternoon that they were shipping me the BluRay of Hugo. I really thought I would be forcing myself to watch the remake of Conan the Barbarian (starring Jason Momoa of Stargate: Atlantis fame). Since Hugo wasn’t slated for release to the public until Tuesday, I was very pleasantly surprised when Netflix opted to send it to me the day before the official release date (although I didn’t actually receive it until Tuesday, so perhaps that makes it okay).
I got home from work a few minutes early to find Terry concocting a new pasta dish with butternut squash and broccoli. He already had an appetizer in the oven so I removed myself to the great room to do some exercising while dinner finished cooking. I wanted to make sure that my evening was completely free of obstructions so Terry and I could watch Hugo in peace. I even remembered to feed the dogs.
I enjoyed Hugo and especially the story of Georges Méliès, excellently portrayed by Ben Kingsley. I knew of Méliès’ famous film (often billed as one of the first science fiction films) Le Voyage dans la lune (or A Trip to the Moon for us English speaking blokes). But Hugo exhibited more steampunk and fantasy elements than true science fiction, being based in a 1930s Paris railroad station. I would really categorize this as a historical fiction piece, since most of the information on Méliès is accurately portrayed. I did love seeing Christopher Lee again, albeit in a cameo-esque role as the bookshop owner. Terry remarked after the movie that he recognized the actor portraying the Station Inspector (played by Sacha Baron Cohen of Borat fame – ugh).
Now that I have seen all of this year’s Nebula Nominations for the Bradbury Award, I can make my selection for what I think the best of the lot. But not in this post.
I don’t want to detract from the magic that is Hugo. I highly recommend you watch this film. You won’t be disappointed.
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I read this in mid June 2011 as a member of the Fantasy Book Club group read. A quick, easy read, as I expected from a young adult novel, and one of my first (if not the first) steampunk stories. I learned quite a bit about pre-World War I Europe through my tangential research to better understand the alternate view of those events presented by the author. I definitely related to the Clankers, one of the political powers of this world represented by the familiar Austrian-Hungarian Empire. The Darwinists, on the other hand, fascinated but left me queasy (similar to how I feel now about genetically modified flora and fauna). The inevitable intertwining of the two worlds from our two protagonists provided good action and drama, and some character development, but the ending just frustrated me. If you don’t like very abrupt cliffhangers, you might want to have the sequels, Behemoth and Goliath, on hand when you finish Leviathan.
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