Review: Sarah Gailey’s Magic for Liars

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I’m a big fan of the magical school trope. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series was one of those life-defining books from high school through the end of college, and Lev Grossman’s The Magicians books came right in after as I was starting my career as a college administrator and writer. Sarah Gailey’s debut novel Magic for Liars is like a third part of that transition, and I blew through the book in just about a day. 

The story introduces us to Ivy Gamble, a woman who works as a private investigator, and who has a bit of a secret: her estranged twin sister is a brilliant magician. She’s hired by the headmaster of the Osthorne Academy of Young Mages in California, where her sister works. The two haven’t spoken in years, and when a teacher at the school is found dead in the library, they’re unexpectedly reunited. 

Gailey is the author of the American Hippo novellas, and while I loved the concept, I felt that they were a bit weak, character-wise (one of the downsides to Tor.com’s novella line: sometimes, a story is too slimmed down, and could have been a bit longer.) That isn’t a problem here. Gailey brilliantly sets up these two sisters, and Ivy is a phenomenal, bitter character who is pretty much burned out on everything, stemming back to some deep-seated family history that drove her and her sister apart. 

This book succeeds in two ways. First, it’s a fantastic mystery, and Gamble, an outsider to this magical community, is the perfect person to solve it, because she can approach it from that unknowledgeable angle, but who knows how perfectly messed up people are, and what sorts of bad decisions they can make. Secondly, it’s a great magical school entry. Hogwarts is delightfully twee, Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy is realistically cynical, and the Osthorne Academy of Young Mages is… a typical high school. There’s plenty of details that show off that kids — even magical kids, will be immature, do stupid things, are egotistical, and crave attention. 

What really makes this book stand out is that it revolves around a couple of things that fantasy (and science fiction, for that matter), typically ignores: wOmEnS IsSuEs. I won’t spoil how this plays out, but it’s a mystery that comes down to teenage and family drama in ways that feels utterly realistic, and I’m guessing entirely relevant and relatable to any woman who picks up this book. Gailey also keeps the mystery entirely fresh throughout the entire read, throwing me off in a couple of places, and nailing the book with a fantastic (and frustratingly ambiguous) ending. She tells me that she’s not planning on a followup, which is also refreshing? There needs to be more standalone novels, although I would dearly love to see more of this particular world.  


Review: Elizabeth Bear’s Ancestral Night

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I finally finished Elizabeth Bear’s book Ancestral Night a while back, and it’s a really superb work of space opera, one that did a lot of interesting things. It’s set in a distant future where humanity is part of a larger, galactic civilization, and where everyone pretty much gets along. There’s no real big war that’s driving humanity against a plethora of alien civilizations: they’re coexisting as best they can. The novel follows a team of space salvage operators, Halmey Dz, her partner Connla Kurucz, and their AI, Singer. They’ve had a rough go of it in recent years, and they search space for lost wreckage, hoping to score it big. They end up finding a massive alien ship, and a terrible secret onboard, which puts them into the path of a band of space pirates, and galactic authorities. 

There’s a real retro feel to this book, but one with a nicely modernized set of sensibilities. Bear includes everything from commentary about the value of communities, includes plenty of LGBTQ characters, and muses on the nature of intelligence and nature vs. nurture, especially when it comes to augmentation and free will. Halmey comes from a particular cult that focuses on consensus decision-making, and was involved in a terrorist plot earlier in her life, and has been trying to pick up the pieces ever since. She’s constantly trying to find her place in the universe, and a good part of the book is how she’s re-learning who she is after a pretty traumatic past. She’s an excellent character, as are her two companions — especially Singer. 

While I loved all of the component parts of the book, there was one big flaw: there’s a lot going on and it feels really unfocused at points. Bear throws a lot of good stuff in there, and I’m not sure it always meshed. At one point, Hamley gets stuck on an alien ship with a pirate, and they spend a lot of time talking and going over her past. It’s interesting stuff, but it slowed the book down, and felt a little out of place — almost like it could have been the focus of another novel set in the same world. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and it isn’t poorly executed; it just feels as though the book could have been slimmed down just a tad. It took me a little longer than I would have expected, given the subject matter and story. Folks who liked Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series or James S.A. Corey’s Expanse series will love this one. 


Spiders! In! Space! Adrian Tchaikovsky's Children of Time

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In December, I put out a call for recommendations for standalone science fiction novels — in part to assemble a list for The Verge — but also because I was looking for something along those lines. I got a bunch of recommendations, but one that stood out was Adrian Tchaikovsky’s 2015 book, Children of Time. A friend of mine had already highly recommended the book, so I picked it up, and when we did a bit of traveling over the holidays, we listened to the audiobook. It’s a magnificent, epic story, and it’s well worth reading if you’re in the mood for book that deals with big ideas.

The story begins in the distant future. Humanity has begun to spread to the stars, and has enacted a variety of terraforming projects on several planets. Dr. Avrana Kern is the researcher overseeing the final efforts on a planet that she’s called “Kern’s World,” which has been made habitable for human life. She’s also about to kick off an experiment — two cargo capsules are to be dropped to the planet’s surface: one carrying a monkeys, the other a nanovirus that’s designed to uplift said monkeys in a handful of generations. It’s a grand experiment on evolution, and it goes drastically wrong when a crew member sabotages the mission, sending the monkeys to their doom. At the same time, a war breaks out on Earth, destroying space habitats and wrecking the planet’s surface. Kerns barely escapes, driven by the desire to oversee any hope that her experiment might work out.

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That’s just the prologue. The story then jumps ahead. Remember those monkeys that were supposed to get uplifted? They burned up in the atmosphere, and the nanovirus jumped to another creature: a jumping spider. Tchaikovsky introduces a spider named Portia who has an uncanny realization while she’s hunting a larger spider — she can get help from others like her, and by working together, they’re able to get a tiny evolutionary foothold.

Tchaikovsky then jumps to another perspective: the crew of a human starship called the Gilgamesh, and a “classicalist” named Holsten Mason. Humanity, as it turns out, wasn’t wiped out completely in that war, but it was set back, with a new civilization blossoming on Earth during an ice age, only to realize that when the ice recedes, they’re going to be left with an uninhabitable rock. The survivors cobble together a generation ship, and set out into the depths of space, trying to find a new home. Mason is awoken a thousand years into the voyage, when they come across a beacon — Kern’s signal over her planet.

The novel alternates perspectives, first with a new generation of spiders, and then the crew of the Gilgamesh as they try and find a suitable place to set down. By shifting perspectives, Tchaikovsky shows off two things: the rise of the spiders, who are quickly evolving a sophisticated society as they overcome their neighbors, and figure out how to survive and thrive by coopting the skills and directing the evolution of other creatures, like ants and beetles. On the other hand, we see the downfall of the humans, who quickly devolve to an almost feudal society aboard the ship. They’re turned away by Kerns when they reach her world, and are directed to another, only to find that it’s unsuitable, and are forced to turn back in order to safe civilization.

Gerry Canavan (the scholar who spoke highly of the book) mentioned somewhere that he was reminded of Cixin Liu’s Three-Body Problem, and there are a lot of parallels between the two works. They’re both huge, epic stories of evolution and the rise and fall of civilizations, much in the mold of authors like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, or Frederik Pohl. Tchaikovsky builds on this trope by exploring a wide range of topics that complicate any civilization — gender roles (the spiders form a matriarchal society), and he flips arguments about sexism and culture nicely.

The juxtaposition between humans and spiders also plays out a larger story about how a culture is composed. Over the centuries, Kerns is deeply concerned with what she sees as failures of humanity: that they’re prone to warfare and balkanization, arguably poor footing and habits to extend out into space. We see that play out on the Gilgamesh as well — the ship’s captain becomes obsessed with his assigned task to shepherd humanity to safety, which causes its own problems as he works to keep the ship going, and as new generations of people appear over the millennia. By the end, the two cultures will have a pretty epic clash, and those differences force a resolution between the two. The book has shot to the top of my hypothetical “favorites” list.

Canavan compared the books to Three-Body Problem, and i’ll toss in another comparison: The Expanse. One of the things that’s attracted me to James S.A. Corey’s series is its focus on humanity’s tribalism and how we’ll likely bring some of our inherent issues with us if and when we begin to establish a foothold in space. Tchaikovsky doesn’t specifically look at racism in the same way that Corey does, but there’s a number of parallels that ultimately stack up to “humanity has the capability to improve itself, and it should.” Children of Time really makes a good argument that propagating out into space means that there are major issues that need to be addressed if humanity wants to survive long into the future — not necessarily in the depths of space, but here at home, too.

Ian McDonald's Time Was is a haunting time travel romance

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Ian McDonald has become one of my favorite science fiction authors in recent years: his novel Luna: New Moon kicked off a fantastic trilogy (the third installment has sadly been delayed until next year), while River of Gods and The Dervish House used the intersection between cheap technology, poverty, and politics to present a really intriguing set of futures for Earth. McDonald's latest, Time Was, is a change from that model, but it's no less a gripping read. 

Set during the Second World War, it follows two men, Tom and Ben. Ben is a scientist working on a secret project, and as he and Tom fall in love, the project goes wrong, sending both men to wander throughout time, trying to find one another through messages left in books. The story ping-pongs between the story of a man named Emmett Leigh in the present, who discovers letters from the two men and embarks on a mission to try and find out who they were as they intersect throughout time, and the story of the two men leading up to their accident.

McDonald does something impressive over the course of its short length, blending hard physics with a really tragic romance that comes full circle in a sort of reciprocating way — a form that I really love reading, as in Lev Grossman's The Magician King and Joe Hill's Horns. But McDonald also treats his characters well, showcasing a gay couple that feels natural, and not playing to tired tropes. It's incredibly well written, and is well worth picking up. 

Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest

Very rarely do I come across a book that literally keeps me up nights with a flashlight, reading into the late hours, just to finish one more chapter, just one more, before sleep overcomes me and I'm forced to place my bookmark in place to continue reading the next day. There are a lot of books that I'm interested in, fascinated by, but there are very few that capture me with a interesting story and a writing style that makes the pages blur as I read. Cherie Priest's 2009 novel, Boneshaker did just that over the past couple of days. Boneshaker is one hell of a story, one that left me wanting more whenever I set the book aside. Capturing a trio of geek obsessions, Priest's novel is a compelling work of alternate history that blends zombies with steampunk, villains and mad scientists, all swept together in a story that was quite a bit of fun to read. Nominated for the prestigious Nebula and Hugo awards (It lost out to Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl for the Nebula), and armed with a good number of critical praise, Priest has quite a bit to be proud of with this book. Set in an alternate past, where the American Civil War has dragged on for nearly fifteen years, the city of Seattle is dying. Sixteen years prior to the beginning of the story, a machine, designed to mine gold in the frozen Klondike, destroys part of the city, unleashing an unimaginable horror upon the city: the Blight, a corrosive gas that kills all who breathe it, and reanimating their bodies and awakening them to a hunger for human flesh. The survivors of the catastrophe walled off the infected area, and began to move on with their lives. Sixteen years later, Briar Wilkes and her son Zeke eke out a meager living, plagued by their associations with the man responsible for the disaster, Levi Blue, Wilke's former husband, and Zeke's father. Determined to clear his family name, and to get some answers for himself, Zeke descends into the broken and poisoned city to uncover clues of his family's heritage, while Briar follows. Both discover that behind the Wall, survivors of the disaster form their own living, escaping the Blight and its victims, and living under their own rules. Briar is the only one who can save her son amongst the pirates, criminals and survivors in the dead city. Boneshaker is a fun story that draws upon a number of strengths to really succeed. While the book is an incredibly easy sell to anyone marginally interested in science fiction, fantasy, horror and other speculative fictions, its strengths lie more in Priest's storytelling and world building than the zombies (or Rotters, in this instance), steampunk brass or the action. Rather, she places all of these elements within a compelling alternative United States, and populates it with characters that are both well conceived and caricatured, forced into action with a story that fits everything together nicely. I really like the alternative America that Priest sets up, especially as a historian with a background in military history. Here, the Civil War has stretched on for over fifteen wars, with the Union slowly winning. Key military leaders remained alive, and because of the continuing war, technology continued to advance. As a result, there's airships, machines and other pieces of technology that somewhat makes sense with the events of the story. In doing so, an entire world has been created, with quite a lot of background information that Priest can draw upon, not only for Boneshaker, but for other books that are forthcoming in this world, titled the Clockwork Century. Last year, I was certainly aware of Boneshaker, but personally, I'm not a huge fan of zombies or steampunk, and the entire notion really turned me off, simply because most of what I've seen of the Steampunk genre really doesn't make logical sense to me. Simply adding glass and copper attachments to something mundane for the sake of making something historical 'interesting' just bothered me, because of the historical precedent behind it. What Priest has done, however, is put the advances in technology into a historical context that makes quite a bit of sense: historically, warfare is a major incubator for new technology, generally beyond the weapons used on the battlefield, and with items that have a number of uses that can be applied to a post-war period. Duct tape, the microwave oven, jet planes and radar, all technologies that are in commonplace usage today, owe their existence to warfare as a catalyst for their development. Priest seems to understand this, and in interviews that I've read, it seems that she's done her homework. The result really shows with a fantastic world that works. With that world in place, Priest sets to work with her story. At the heart of the narrative is a story about a family, one who's been split apart by the Blight that was unleashed when Blue's "Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine" ripped through part of the city. Forced out into the Outskirts, away from the Blight, people are left to their own devices. Briar and her son live their lives, but they are haunted by what had transpired before. Zeke, in particular, knows little about what had happened to his father and grandfather, and because of his mother's unwillingness to really address the problems of the past, he gets no answers from her. To find them, he ventures into the dead city to find the answers. What happens next is a sort of journey of understanding and rite of passage, where both characters must learn to adapt and accept certain things about themselves. Things are complicated when both discover that there's a lot more to the walled off portions of the city. An entire culture and society of survivors has sprung up in the sealed off buildings, where people are largely ruled by a Dr. Minnericht, who resembles Briar's former husband. This is another area where the book really shines, and that's the use of this dead city. I've long been fascinated by what happens to buildings and societies when they're left to die, and books such as World Without Us and various galleries of empty cities are things that I seek out. Her creation of her own sort of underworld, lost and forgotten by the world around it, is really neat, and while there are a couple of flaws here and there, it serves as a fantastic setting for her tale. Boneshaker does have its share of problems, from some of the caricatured characters, namely Dr. Minnericht, who is essentially posing as Briar's former husband throughout the story. Built up through most of the book, the actual character was a bit of a letdown, and his element of the story seemed rather forced in, as did a subplot about the Wall's inhabitants rising up against his rule. Zeke's characterization worked most of the time, but at points, his dialogue just annoyed me, and pulled me out of the story just a bit. In the end, though, these are minor gripes that didn't impact the overall story too much. Boneshaker proved to be a quick read for me, and it was well worth the impulse buy when I was in the bookstore the other day. With a fast-paced story, with plenty of exciting twists and turns, interesting characters and a fun story, set in a very fun world, I'm eagerly looking forward to the next installments out of the world that Priest has set in motion. This book is pure dynamite, and while I'm still rooting for The Windup Girl for the 2010 Hugo, this book is certainly deserving of the heaps of praise it's already garnered. This was a fun read, one that held me up at night, distracting my thoughts at work, waiting for my next fix. More books need to be just like Boneshaker: fun, exciting, thoughtful and interesting.

Third Class Superhero, Charles Yu

A forthcoming book caught my eye last month: How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe, by Charles Yu. It had a slick cover, and I got my hands on a copy to review. While I was waiting, I did a bit of background research on the author, coming up with only one other work to his name, Third Class Superhero, a collection of short stories. Yu, who was selected by the National Book Foundation as one of the '5 under 35' authors to watch in 2007, and seems to be a promising writer to keep an eye on, demonstrates an exceptional skill throughout Third Class Superhero.

The book is a collection of eleven short stories, each of which covers a broad range of subjects, but each with a very poignant style that goes right to the heart of contemporary and speculative fiction. Reading over the book, there's clearly an edge towards speculative fiction, but if anything, it's the subtle touches and even the style of the prose that pushes the book over the genre edge, allowing Yu to tell a number of stories that are highly relatable in any setting. The title story, Third Class Superhero, is by far my favorite, one that looks to a struggling superhero, something that would fit well in the worlds created for Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog or the UK show No Heroics. It's a story that's singularly human, demonstrating the temptations and dreams of the more average, overshadowed by others who are more skilled. A couple of other stories, such as 401k, and Man of Quiet Desperation Goes on Short Vacation look to some of the problems in a modern, commercial world, where we are so connected with everybody, but so alone at the same time.

What struck me far more, however, was not necessarily the content of the stories, but the style in which they were laid out. Thinking back to the stories that I read, the only word that can adequately sum up the books is 'Surreal', something that seems to be incredibly difficult to accomplish for any writer. Moreover, where it's difficult to get subject matter across in such a fashion, the presentation itself is generally difficult to accomplish, and Yu manages to accomplish both excellently, using the stories, characters and content in most of the book to specific methods where tailored towards specific ways in which the story was written, by changing the tense and even physical appearance of the story to suit his needs. The result is content and the physical delivery of the content that go towards approaching specific themes that the writer is trying to convey to the reader.

What Yu does here is what every story, (long or short) should be doing: presenting a problem, in a fictional setting, that allows for someone to relate to and examine said problem outside of the regular contexts. This way, they can come across avenues of thought that might be different with the differing contexts. Allegory comes in any number of means, and I’ve often thought that the science or speculative fiction genres offer one of the more unique ways for people to address problems that they face, either with major, global events, of intensely personal ones that they might otherwise not see an answer to.

The result is a very good collection of short stories, and the praise that Yu has received for already, with only a Third Class Superhero under his belt is very noteworthy indeed. The stories themselves were very interesting - if a bit on the pretentious side of things - and go very much to the heart of critical and contemporary literature. In anything, the series of stories, plus Yu's approach to speculative fiction (subtle, pointed elements, supporting the story, rather than the other way around) leave me very excited to see what's in store for his upcoming How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe in September.

Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi

Last year, I was totally blown away by Paolo Bacigalupi's debut novel, The Windup Girl, which has since gone on to win a Nebula, is in the running for a Hugo award later this year and was named as one of Time Magazine's top ten books of the year. The book certainly deserves that attention, and Bacigalupi has rapidly established himself as a rising star in the genre, already with the Theodore Sturgeon award for his short story The Calorie Man in 2006, as well as several Hugo and Nebula nominations for The Calorie Man and The People of Sand and Slag. It comes as no surprise, then, that Ship Breaker, his first foray into Young Adult fiction, is a high quality and fast paced novel, one that is both thought provoking and exciting to the reader.

Set at some point in the indeterminate future, Ship Breaker could easily fit into the worlds that have been established in Bacigalupi's other stories. The age of cheap energy has ended, and the consequences of that time have caught up to civilization. Global warming has caused the oceans to rise and society's boundaries to shift. In the former Gulf Coast region, Nailer Lopez is a Ship Breaker, a young man who is part of a team that goes onboard abandoned and decaying oil tankers and transport ships, stripping them of their wiring and anything of value, which is then turned into a sort of company boss, who sells them to someone else. The citizens in this region are an indentured workforce, unable to move away or to seek out a better life.

For Nailer, his prospects shift dramatically when a major storm (nicknamed a ‘City Killer’, something akin to Katrina, most likely), comes through the area, blowing to shore an advanced clipper ship, one with the daughter of a wealthy company owner onboard. Nailer must navigate through a complicated set of events, each of which can fundamentally change his life for better or worse. Throughout the story, he is faced with choices: to take a monumental risk and hope for something better to happen because of it, or act on his instincts, preserving what is familiar. This is a theme that permeates the book throughout, and for that reason, it’s a solid addition to the Young Adult market, because of the lessons that can be learned from it.

What truly stands out for Ship Breaker, much like The Windup Girl, is that Bacigalupi’s vision of the future, one that seems firmly rooted in reality, transposing current issues into the future. Ironically, I picked up this book around the same time as the ongoing Deepwater Horizon explosion and read it during the resulting oil spill that has since contaminated much of the Gulf in the past five weeks. With that in the back of my mind, it’s clear that Bacigalupi has a point throughout his stories: we need to care for our environment, and his biopunk stories (including the fantastic People of Sand and Slag) really look to this theme.

Like The Windup Girl, this story also integrates a fantastic cast of characters into the environment that he’s put together. Nailer is highly relatable for a protagonist, someone caught in the middle of a vast number of changes outside of his control, and provides a very heroic figure throughout, but one who is tortured by his choices, such as his relationship with his abusive and violent father, and some of his fellow workers. ‘Lucky Girl’, or Nita, plays a sort of damsel in distress, whom Nailer discovers after the storm. Tool is a ‘half-man’, a bioengineered guard, composed of human and canine DNA , who’s broken away from his genetic programming to assist Nailer. All of these elements blend together in a notable book, one that is likely to really win awards.

What struck me the most, however, is the detail and care that has been put into the world-building of this future. While the plot left me wanting a bit more (and keeping in mind that this was a YA novel), what left me far more interested in finishing was the society and issues that Bacigalupi has put into the story. There’s a major stratification of society between the rich and poor, with major industrial powers rising, and with people looking to survive off of whatever they can find. There’s an immense amount of relevant commentary within this book, even though at points, I found the plot to be somewhat predictable. Despite that, it’s certainly far superior to most YA novels that I’ve read recently, and it’s certainly something that will bring more attention to Mr. Bacigalupi.

In the end, Ship Breaker is an exciting and rewarding read, one that is good, and should bring new messages and meanings to a variety of age groups, whether it is to the young adult demographic or to adult speculative fiction readers. Bacigalupi presents, once again, a frightening vision of the future, one that seems very likely to me. While I did not feel that it’s up to the same caliber as The Windup Girl, it stands very well on its own, and leaves me wanting much more from Bacigalupi’s world.

Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

N.K. Jemisin's debut album, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a novel that blew me away with its writing and storytelling. Set in a fantasy world where The Three gods have been entrapped with humanity, Jemisin crafts a world that is intricate and delicate, with a complicated set of politics and religions, where the story reaches a crossroads between morality and revenge.

At the dawn of history, the three gods (Nahadoth, Enefa and Itempas) warred against one another. Nahadth, god of the night, was imprisoned, while Enefa, god of Dusk, and creator of all life in the universe, was killed, and Itempas, god of the day, overcame both, and became the supreme ruler. Nahadoth, in punishment, was chained and sent to serve the Arameri, a ruling family that, with the power of a god at their disposal, came to rule the entire world.

Yeine, the story's central character, becomes entangled in this story when she is recalled to the city Sky, the ruling seat of the Arameri family, from which her family had been cast out. Growing up in Darr, a far north kingdom, and whose inhabitants are often regarded as barbarians, Yeine finds that she is in an entirely different world all together, and finds that there are a number of different plans and expectations of her, from both the Arameri family, to which she is the heir to the entire throne, and the imprisoned god Nahadoth and his offspring themselves.

Jemisin creates an extremely strong, well-written character story with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Between the incredible amount of world building, political and family structures and intricate plot lines, this story is wonderfully original, intriguing and thought provoking. Yeine's character is something wholly different in the fantasy genre, far from the adventurer or reformer in a fantastic world, she voices her story, with her own confusions and objectives throughout. Pulled into a vicious society and power struggle, Yeine begins to seek out her mother's killer, only to find that that particular story is far more complicated than she imagined.

Over the course of the story, the various characters and their motivations and plotlines begin to merge. Yeine's mother's story is the connection between all of them, from elements of lost love and the actions borne out of desperation, to family obligations that set much of this in order, to the workings of the gods and their struggle to break free from their slavery to the Arameri family. Reaching the end, when the final pieces fall into place, this story resonates with the shear scale of the drama and society that Jemisin has set up.

In the middle of it all is Yeine, who must navigate the various agendas and complete her own journey. At times, it becomes clear that she is merely a pawn in a much larger game, with little choice in the actions that happen around her, especially with the manipulations from the gods and family, but looking deeper, it becomes clear that despite being used on a number of fronts, her saving grace is her character - her own lifetime, experiences and motivations are hers alone: this becomes a large part of the story, and where she surrenders to fate, she becomes a force of her own, quite literally.

This story is set amongst a fantastic, wonderfully thought out world that stands up amongst many other comparable fantasy novels. Too often, the only real innovation comes with the actual land. Here, Jemisin has put together a world that is very complex. The title suggests the world itself, composed of a hundred thousand kingdoms. Of these, only a handful is really looked at, with the city of Sky hovering above. There is a real sense of political struggle between the worlds, with the Arameri family overlooking the organized fiefdoms below, with an enforced peace that seems as if it is ready to break apart.

The Arameri family is in a world apart, far above their subjects, unable to leave their city. Within their own territory, there is a horrifying set of rules and characters as internal politics runs rampant amongst the family, where internal fighting and squabbling turns family members against one another, as they attempt to use the gods in their own favor, ordering them around to carry out their whims.

Still yet is the detailed mythology that is constructed for this novel. Jemisin has really outshone others in this regard, creating a fantastic world with its own creation myths, where the gods walk amongst the people, with all of their own problems and motivations. The caricatures of the gods, especially Nahadoth, are intriguing, loosely based off of Freud’s theories, which in a weird way, makes quite a bit of sense. The portrayal of these gods is what is really interesting, especially with how they interact with the numerous characters that appear in the story. In the end, the story is crafted in such a way that all of their motives and agendas come out organically, as the story unfolds, building up to the end of the story, making this an exceedingly rewarding read, one that proves to be an extremely different sort of fantasy novel. Gone is the sword and sorcery style of fantasy writing. Here, the magic and power is in the society, the politics and the wills of the characters, akin to the way a strong film will rely on its story, rather than the gimmicks that make it look good.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a well written, conceived and plotted story that is sure to turn a number of heads over the course of the year. The end of the book provides the first words from the follow up novel, The Broken Kingdoms (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is the first of the Inheritence Trilogy), which is already too far off to bear. This book contained so much in the way of characters, world building and story that it is a relief to see that it will be continued. Hopefully, that will come sooner, rather than later.

The Monuments Men

The Second World War is possibly one of the most studied conflicts in human history. Recent efforts in the academic and popular writing market, as well as large budget productions such as Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, coupled with the rapidly declining numbers of World War II veterans has only increased our appetite for stories from this monumental conflict, and as a result, a large number of books, television documentaries and movies have capitalized on the events of 1939 to 1945.

Robert Edsel and contributor Bret Witter have put together a monumental (no pun intended) book entitled The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History that paints a vastly different picture of the war than has been seen before. While much of the attention paid to the soldiers involved with the fighting, Edsel presents a mission that had far larger connotations: while the fighting forces were preoccupied with saving Europe and containing Nazi aggression, a small, relatively unknown group of soldiers were tasked with the almost insurmountable task of saving something far greater: the elements upon which European culture rests. The Monuments Men were the ones who would locate, preserve and document the artwork that the Nazi military stole from the countries that it conquered during the course of the Second World War.

Over the course of this book, Edsel tells the story of a small, dedicated group of individuals who, with very little support and even less authority, set out as the Allies invaded the European mainland and worked accomplish their impossible task. In doing so, he not only talks about the people who are involved with this venture, but also examines some of the crimes that the Nazis perpetrated during the war: the theft and destruction of art, using artwork as evidence of Nazi superiority (and of other races inferiority), but also the blatant disregard for the care and well being of artwork. Moreover, the lesson that is never quite forgotten over the course of the book is the casualties of war, especially amidst the destruction in Europe.

Thinking back to when I was in England in 2006, I remember hearing about some of the efforts that went into preserving some of the cultural artifacts around the country: ancient cathedrals were reinforced, stained glass windows were taken down and put away and artwork was stashed far from where they could be harmed. Other places weren't as lucky, and as Nazi Germany rolled into the rest of Europe, artwork was captured or destroyed. Edsel starts off his book quickly, looking at some of the concerns that museum officials and art professionals had as the war started, and looks at the highly public effects of the destruction of history had upon the Allies and Axis powers. A particular case in point was the Allied destruction of Monte Cassino, which helped to prompt a greater awareness of the sheer impact that heavy-handed militaries might have, and how wonton destruction of targets could be harmful in the long run, something that would impact the conduct of war later on.

While Edsel doesn't dwell for too long on anything but the Allied conquest of Europe and followup actions after the war, or just a small number of characters out of the 345 or so men involved with this unit, what he does is highly effective by bringing both the larger themes of this struggle, but also enough human faces to the table to allow any reader to relate to what was going on after the front lines passed. Most notable is George Stout, of the US Naval Reserve, who was involved early on in the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives project. One of the first Monuments Men to travel into Europe, Edsel notes that he took only one or two days off during his entire time in the theater of operations, working tirelessly to document thousands of sites and items. Harry Ettlinger had fled from Germany and joined the US Army shortly after high school, becoming an important member during the operations in Europe. Captain Walker Hancock, Lieutenant James Rorimer, Captain Robert Posey, and more from the US Army make up a fascinating cast of characters, all of whom are not only written about, but do some of the writing themselves, as Edsel has included a number of their letters in the book. Beyond US Army personnel, Edsel also talks much about Rose Valland, a French woman who works tirelessly, as a volunteer at the Jeu de Paume museum and spied against the Nazi occupation to preserve the art in the museum, as well as Jacques Jaujard, the director of the French National Museums. Edsel takes only a small number of interesting figures that were involved, but just enough to ensure that the book isn't bogged down with an endless number of figures. Those who are represented are facinating, with a diverse number of backgrounds, all brought together by this extrordinary task.

These characters, while most never interact with one another, save for occasional mission, are intertwined with the Nazi plans for artwork as the war turned in the Allies favor, and Edsel pieces together the actions of this diverse group to show just what happened in Europe during the war. As the fighting passed over Europe, the Monuments Men were never very far behind, working to examine and to guide restoration and continuing preservation. At times, they helped to redirect Allied war efforts to better preserve sites, created lists of buildings that should be avoided and worked hard to locate missing works of art. Other times, they would document the damage, or rush in to try and locate a valuable statue that watched the fighting move past. Edsel traces their path through Europe, starting with Operation Overlord, and pushing through France to Paris, to Germany and Berlin between 1944 and 1945. In doing so, the reader is shown a different view of World War II than what has been largely popular: the aftermath of the fighting, when the Monuments Men largely went to work. They would task local villagers to help fix damaged structures, helped with logistical operations, would survey and document hundreds of sites, all with very little support, often with just one soldier in hundreds of square miles.

What has astounded me more, however, was not just the task that these men faced, but that their story has never fully been explored or told, as the ending of the book states. Their story was one that sat in the background, largely taken for granted and lost to the larger picture. It is a shame, because their story is possibly one of the more important, for this was what was at stake when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939. The Nazi government had sought to supplant all creativity by replacing it with their own, hording everything deemed important to the state, with everything that was seen as subversive destroyed by fire. Much was lost forever, and undoubtedly, much is still unknown and lost, waiting in dark shadows to be found once again. The efforts of the Allied forces demonstrates a broadening of thinking beyond just the next objective and enemy soldiers to be killed, and that there was a recognition of the importance of culture and buildings beyond their immediate impact on the battlefield. The battlefield, in a sense, was Europe, and those in danger were those made of paint and bronze, who look back and show us a glimpse into the past, into the minds of the artists who helped to make Europe what it was.

The Forever War and Military Science Fiction

Amongst one of the many books that has come highly recommended to me, especially from my fellow graduate students, was Joe Haldeman's The Forever War. Published in 1974, Haldeman's book is an interesting one, tying together a stiff criticism for the Vietnam War, in which he was a participant and recipient of the Army's Purple Heart, a look at the future of humanity and a romp through futuristic military battlefields. The book is scattered, to say the least, through these three larger themes, and while the book as a whole is a pretty strong one, reading it brought up some larger issues that I have with the whole of the military science fiction subgenre.

Branching off from the 1980s, humanity has taken to the stars fairly early in its history, travelling the galaxy via collapstars, which fires off a ship around the galaxy. During the course of humanity's exploration, they come into contact with a race of aliens known as the Taurans, and inevitably, war breaks out. The story's protagonist, William Mandella, is conscripted into the military, where he's trained and sent off to the distant front lines to fight, eventually becoming part of the first engagement against the Taurans. With that battle completed, he is shipped home, along with his lover, Marygay Potter, to an Earth that they hardly recognize. After a short period of time, they leave again, rejoin the military and rejoin the fight. Over the next several hundred years (only a couple for them, subjectively), they are retrained, and eventually separated, before one last battle brings Mandella back home, where he is eventually reunited with Marygay.

The book is ultimately lackluster as a military science fiction novel: the action scenes are nothing new, and anyone reading Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers or John Scalzi's Old Man's War will recognize the basics when it comes to this sort of novel - there are powered suits, the requisite training portion and rise of the protagonist, not to mention the action. Taken at face value, it's a bit of a miss for me. The biggest saving grace is Haldeman's conceptualization of space warfare, where tactics take days, weeks, even months to carry out, over hundreds of millions of kilometers. This gives the book a bit of a realistic edge that does make it stand apart from other military Science Fiction novels, something that I greatly appreciated.

However, where the book succeeds the most is in Haldeman's look to the future. As Mandela lives out his life through the military actions that he takes, long stretches of his life are relatively slowed down while travelling through space, allowing for jumps in time as he comes back into contact with Earth and sees just how society has changed over time. Upon his first return, humanity has united on Earth, under a largely repressive, Children of Men style world where human civilization has faced enormous hardship under the interstellar war. Leaving the world as it has changed too much for his liking, William and Marygay return to space, to find several major changes as they continue to jump around space. Eventually, the world as they know it has changed completely - humanity has gone from a recognizable society to one where homosexuality is the norm (as a form of population control) to a world where humanity has essentially merged into one asexual entity, with each generation cloned from the last. Elements of this remind me heavily of another book that I've been recently reading, Olaf Stapledon's The First and Last Men, published in the 1930s, and dealing with much the same thing: looking at how humanity as a species and culture will change in the future. Mandela's vantage point in the military is an interesting story element that allows Haldeman to not only tell an interesting story, but present a compelling future for humanity. Another book that I read last year, George Friedman's The Next 100 Years, noted that society and cultural norms can change vastly over even the period of just one hundred years, and to an extent, that lends Haldeman's and Stapleton's ideas some reality: what will happen to humanity over the next thousand years, with technological and societal advances altering what is normal? It is here that The Forever War is especially interesting.

Another major element of The Forever War is Haldeman's pointed look at the Vietnam War, no doubt inspired by his own experiences with the US Army. The book is considered a reaction to Starship Troopers, in that it takes a largely anti-military stance throughout most of the book. Mandella is a reluctant soldier, at best, often delegating his responsibilities away to subordinates and avoiding killing when he can help it. But throughout the book, there are examples of Vietnam, as humanity faces an enemy that is largely unknown, never knowing exactly what they are fighting for. More so, it is alluded to in the book that the war was fought simply because it was desired, something that was the main focus of a documentary, Why We Fight, that looked to that central theme in regards to American foreign policy. However, the core focus of this book isn't the Vietnam War itself, but the soldiers who fight there. Soldiers returning from Vietnam found themselves back home in a strange place, not as heroes of the war, but as murderers and criminals, something horribly unjust, considering that many were conscripted. This is a prime example of how science fiction should function: acting as allegory for current events, pulled out of context. Mandella returns home after hundreds and hundreds of years away from Earth; vast changes occurred while he was away.

The Vietnam comparison, however, is something that bothers me, and helps to underscore a larger issue that I have with military science fiction as a whole, something that I brought up with my review for Old Man's War: while there is a lot of discussion about the nature of war, there's very little discussion towards the institution of warfare. Tactics are almost always something out of the Second World War, with plenty of hand to hand combat scenes and all that, but there is very little on the overall impact of warfare. Sometimes, it's on the soldiers, other times, on society, but there's very little to bridge the gap. The Forever War does this in part.

Part of my issue comes from my training as a historian, and particularly, in military history. Amongst all of the theorists out there, a number of historians have come up with a number of theories on how warfare works - Clausewitz, Jomini, among others, who have both conflicting and interesting views on the nature of war. I particularly like Clausewitz's analogy that warfare is simply a duel on a larger scale, and that war is an extension of foreign policy. It makes little sense to me that humanity would simply go to war against an alien race, something fairly common in science fiction. Humanity seems to drop everything and take to the stars with lasers and rockets, but the goals of warfare are never clearly stated? Is it, as Clausewitz suggests, an effort to completely bend an enemy to one's will, something incredibly difficult when attacking someone profoundly alien and unknown to humanity, or is it something deeper, such as perceived competition for living space, ensuring that humanity will have space to grow? To date, I've never found a good military science fiction book that's really covered that territory, and at times, the genre makes me want to throw things, simply because warfare doesn't work like that.

Similarly, while powered robotic suits are very cool, the other problem that I have is tactical. Robotic powered armor laden down with guns simply doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, especially when the authors talk much about dropping soldiers onto the planet from orbit in a glorified Omaha Beach scenario, where these soldiers are not only placed into hostile territory, but usually without support: it reminds me very much of airborne doctrine during the Second World War, where highly mobile forces were used to secure areas and wait for heavier things, such as artillery and armor to arrive. It's a good concept, to be sure, but it's deeply flawed in that these soldiers are usually out matched by the occupying force. Science Fiction takes many similar themes, but fails to follow up these sort of tactical options in any way that makes sense. Thus far, the best thing that I've seen was here, The Physics of Space Battles, which talks much about orbits and how that aspect would work, on a tactical level. Haldeman gets some points for interesting scenes and more science to the battles than most, but still misses part of the mark.

Part of that reason might be that The Forever War isn't really a military science fiction book, despite some of the content. In that instance, the book works wonderfully, hitting all of the marks of a fantastic science fiction novel. Still, I enjoy a good romp with powered armor and shooting, so it works fairly well when it comes to that, but not as much as I'd like.

Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon

In the years following the Second World War, the world changed, with the balance of power fundamentally changing to polarize the world between the United States and the Soviet Union. The United States was virtually untouched by the war, with its infrastructure and industrial base, already booming from supplying the military with hardware, and allowed the United States to establish its power as one of the dominant forces in the world. The Soviet Union, while devastated by the attacks from Germany, with tens of millions of people killed, maintained a large conventional military with the desire to expand its influence. The roots of this conflict had begun much earlier, and throughout the Second World War, this began to rise between the two nations.

It is within this context that we see the dramatic and important rise of Maj. General Bernard Schriever, who helped to implement one of the greatest instruments that the United States could field against the Russians: a deterrent to their nuclear arms, the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), and an organization that could deploy and support this weapons system. Neil Sheehan outlines his story in his recent book A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon.While Schriever wasn't directly involved in the creation of missiles and the advances that brought them further into the sky, he was an early proponent of the technology, and correctly saw that this had the ability to change warfare by eliminating it. A missile deterrent system allowed for both the rapid delivery of nuclear warheads to any point in the globe, but also allowed for a smaller conventional force, a key element to cutting costs under the Eisenhower administration.

The key in this instance was to take the bombs that had been brought the Second World War to an end, and to expand and plan out their use. With the end of the war, the United States enjoyed an unprecedented control of the skies through the Air Force, a major step forward over the Soviets, who were mired with a massive conventional military. Under General Curtis LeMay, bombers were in the skies at all times, even over Russia, where they were untouchable, in a show of power. What Schriever, proposed, after learning of the technology, was a new style of warfare that was drastically different from what had been implemented before: the threat of warfare and mutually assured destruction.

Schriever's story is interwoven with numerous other Air Force officers and specialists who came together during the 1950s and 1960s to develop a viable delivery system and supporting organization, against all odds. Schreiver and his colleagues had to convince not only their superiors, but members of Congress and ultimately, the President of the United States. Sheehan captures a number of these scenes in vivid and exciting detail, keeping an eye towards history, but also towards keeping the reader riveted to the story that he was telling, from both the laboratories, launch fields and the White House. Numerous notable figures make their appearances throughout: General LeMay, President Eisenhower, Robert McNamara and President Kennedy, demonstrating the vast influence that Schreiver would gain over the course of his career.

For a biography, there is a lot left to be desired: Sheehan steers clear of Schriever's personal life, with few notes until the very end, focusing on his professional achievements. Instead, it's better to look at this book as a look at Schriever and his team, and how they changed the world. Johnny von Neumann, the brilliant physicist who helped create the first atomic bomb, and nuclear strategy, Lt. Col. Edward Hall, the difficult rocket engineer who helped to build some of the most critical systems and solve some of the daunting problems, and numerous others who contributed to the success of the program.

Rather than a biography of Schriever, this is a biography of the ICBM, from the Thor and Atlas IRBMs, eventually to the Titan and the Minuteman Missile. With the story of the development of these weapons, there is the story of the incredible struggle to put them into place, but also how the project grew in momentum to overtake Air Power as the dominant defensive doctrine. Sheehan weaves this story seamlessly over the course of ten years. The book is very well written, capturing numerous small details that ultimately flesh out all of the central figures and how they went about their work, but there are some small problems - Sheehan doesn't footnote (although there is an extensive bibliography) anywhere, and at times, the small details are dropped in favor of the overall story and big picture.

Where many military history books are about something that went wrong, this book tells the story of where almost everything went right. The style of warfare that Schriever and his team introduced predicated on the threat of war, rather than outright hostilities. The mere fact that this book was written is a testament to its success, as the United States and the Soviet Union, both rational international players, never would have gone to nuclear war with one another, despite several close calls. Indeed, Schiever was the right person for the job, and took the right risks and directions in which to take the program, while putting together a team of experts, rather than political and commercial appointees.

A Fiery Peace in a Cold War does more than just tell the story of the ICBM; it provides a detailed insight into the workings of the Cold War, one of the most significant times in United States history. As Sheehan points out at the end of his book, the missiles did more than just expand and hold U.S. power in the world; they prevented war, and brought about incredible advances, such as spaceflight. What Sheehan has put together is an incredible story that captures the people central to it and some of the major events that shaped the middle of the 20th century.

Building them one laser gun at a time

I just finished P.W. Singer's latest book, Wired for War, the other day, and I've spent the past couple of days thinking over what I'd just read. Through my work at io9, I've also written up a review for the book, but I had some thoughts that I wanted to write down for here as well.

Wired for War is an inherently geeky book, one that looks at how the world is becoming one where science fiction is rapidly becoming reality, a topic that fascinates me. The lyrics of Jonathan Coulton's song The Future Soon seem very appropriate, as there are a ton of references to numerous Science fiction works throughout the book:

It's gonna be the future soon I've never seen it quite so clear And when my heart is breaking I can close my eyes and it's already here

In a very interesting way, the recent introduction of robotics is a signal of things to come in the coming years, and Singer really highlights that in this book. While looking at the blurb, a casual browser might thing that this book is just about the robots on the front lines, this book covers so much more than that - it goes into depth to not only the robots that are on the battlefields, but how they are constructed, how the military utilizes them and how the technology is progressing. From there, he looks at what the battlefields themselves will look like, taking into consideration global economics and trends, and what will be happening between now and 2025. At times, I think that he gets a little alarmist, but the picture that is painted is frightening and wholly plausible.

What I found fascinating, even more so than the robots themselves, was the ways that the military has been wholly prepared for a revolution in this way. With the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, there were no robots on the line. Now, there are thousands, ranging from the Wall-E looking PackBot (ironically produced by the same company that makes the Roomba, iRobot)to the familiar MQ-1Predators to numerous others. Part of Singer's examination looked as the military hierarchy, and how that is essentially at odds with how the current generation of soldiers thinks and works in the digital age. Components of these robots, such as the controls, are modeled after play station controllers, but even more than that, there seems to be a far looser collaboration, rather than a strict chain of command when it comes to soldiers in these units. Singer recounts several instances of where Generals talk directly to privates, and where enlisted men are flying alongside officers and having trouble getting orders and clear chains of information across. Clearly, the military needs to catch up with the electronics trend.

This has gotten me thinking, along with my Master's studies, where I learned much about the evolution of warfare. Generally speaking, there are three generations of war - Massed infantry, firearms and maneuver warfare. Theorists have been predicting that a fourth generation is emerging, and where some people, such as Col. Thomas Hammes, who wrote the Sling and the Stone, think of urban warfare as the next generation, I believe that the introduction of computers will be the defining factor in this instance. To be sure, urban warfare plays into this, but the impact of computers and the advances in communications and coordination that they allow provide a far bigger impact than the actual battlefield surroundings. Singer looks at the possibility of much of warfare becoming automated, as robots have already proven that they can be more accurate and place less lives at risk. Instead of a soldier dying, an expensive machine is sent back to be rebuilt.

But to what extent is this a good thing? I don't want to seem like I like the possibility of soldiers getting killed in combat, I don't, but in a culture that is already heavily against war because of false expectations that technology alone can sanitize war. On one level, yes, but that is a very superficial one, and it doesn't address some of the bigger issues. Singer notes that at some point in the future, people will go to war because their televisions tell them to, a very disturbing notion. War needs to be brutal, it needs to be painful, and we need to learn from our experiences with it. Just after the First World War, there was a peace summit in Paris in 1919, where the negotiators attempted to make war a thing of the past. Unfortunately they failed, and allowed for the Second World War, but with all of this technology, war becomes easier, and that is something that really shouldn't be the case.

The book also looks at the future of robotics, one of the more science fictional elements of the book. It is predicted that humanoid robots will join the battlefield in the next ten or so years, alongside flesh-and-blood soldiers, that leaders might have robotic AI aides, and that the very nature of leadership is changing with instant communications. Like anyone who is a fan of science fiction, Singer also looks at the possibility of a robotic revolution, such as what has been seen in the Terminator, Battlestar Galactica and the Matrix, where machines come to know that they can be better than humans and push us aside. While this is taken a bit with a grain of salt, it's certainly a concern, and even some soldiers note that they're working on something that might end up causing problems for their grand kids. If robots do rise up, I don't know that we'd have a chance.

Something that I also found interesting was the perceptions that the military has for the drone pilots and crews. Fighter pilots and others think that the profession is extremely nerdy or geeky, and as a result, turn their noses up at it. The squadron commander of the first predator drone flight group recounted how he was literally kicking and screaming at his assignment, but after a little while, he grew to enjoy it. This brings up some interesting points about the military and perceptions of masculinity, and how that could also be changing, to some degree. Honestly, this book has me thinking that being able to pilot one of those planes would be a very interesting job. It is certainly at the cutting edge of technology and warfighting.

This is an interesting, scary and relevant book that Singer has put together. It is exceptionally organized and researched, with interviews from high ranking officers from around the world, to the enlisted men who operate them, to the people who build and design military robots. And it's chalk full of science fiction references, even opening with the line: Robots are frakin' cool.

So say we all.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

The first four pages of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, (at least in my edition, the 2005 paperback) is a list of praise and quotes from reviews as to the quality of this novel. Coming across this, and the size of the book, is extremely daunting to a reader, and the prospect of watching to see if a novel comes to the level of quality so proclaimed is a challenge in and of itself.

Susanne Clarke has fashioned a masterpiece of English literature, one that throws back to a Victorian style, rich in prose and story, and is easily one of the greatest works of fantasy literature that I have ever read, rivaling some of the great classics of the genre, from J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings to Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is a complicated, extraordinary and exceptional work, and I am very pleased to have read.

The story is one that is complicated and fascinating. It begins in 1806, and tells the tale of two magicians who come forward in England with the intent to return English magic to a nation that has long been without it. Mr. Norrell is the first to come forward, and begins to bring magic back into the world. He is shortly thereafter joined by a fellow magician under his tutorage, Jonathan Strange, and they begin to study and practice their new craft. Thus begins a tale of friendship, rivalries, prophecy and history. Some of the greatest themes of literature are present here, but the story plays out in a truly original manner. There is the story of the differences between the master and apprentice, and within that context we see a number of themes; old verses new, tradition verses innovation.

This story takes place during the Napoleonic wars, which play an integral part of the direction of the characters. Interwoven throughout the story are well known figures: King George II, Lord Wellington, Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, Lord Byron, and others, which give this story a rich historical context that borders on alternative history, but in a manner that far surpasses other known authors of the genre, such as Harry Turtledove, but in a way that far surpasses his works. Indeed, Clarke seems to pay as much attention to detail as J.R.R. Tolkien in his own works, with precise and detailed language to describe the events of the story.

The story takes place throughout England and continental Europe, and feels like it. From the dialogue to the characters and to the descriptions, it is a quintessential product of England, and draws upon its long history and literature. Oftentimes, I would find myself reading and feeling much like I was back in the country, something that I have longed for much lately. I know of a number of the locations in the book, as well as a good deal of the history of this time, and Clarke's novel falls well within the context of the time and history here.

This book is a very complicated one, and having finished it only a short while ago, I am still processing all that has happened. It is written far differently from most other books - much as in the style of Jane Austin, from what I've read and it takes some time to get used to. Indeed, I read this book in two parts - I had started reading it almost a year or two ago, and put it aside to read something more accessible. Returning to it just a little while ago, I found that once I got into the story and characters, the pages flew by. But beyond the normal story here is a book that is rich with story. Throughout the pages there are footnotes of references to the author's world, giving the readers insights into the surrounding history that helps to shape this story. A number of these footnotes could be an entire story within themselves, and Clarke has singlehandedly created her own mythology that not only stands well on its own, but is so detailed that one could almost mistake it for a mythological history in and of itself.

This book is a stunning debut of a new author. Looking back over the first couple of pages of praise that has been bestowed upon this book, I can see why it has been rated so highly by reviewers and fellow authors of the genre, and I am thrilled to say that this novel lives up to all expectations. Clarke has brought forth a complicated, yet intriguing, read to the fantasy genre, one that is most likely destined to become a classic, and one that, despite its real world historical contexts, is highly original, innovative and entertaining, one that I am sure to return to, and highly recommend to all fans of the genre, or a good read in general.

Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor

To be very honest, I've largely given up hope that there'll be a truly unique Star Wars novel, something that would surprise and be truly delightful. Over the past twenty-odd years, hundreds of the books have been published, and since high school, I've devoured them, and have really enjoyed the entire franchise as a whole. That being said, the books from the last couple of years have really lost their spark.

I've never been sure what it was that they were missing, but whatever it was, Shadows of Mindor has it. From the beginning of the project, I've heard author Matthew Stover talk about how he wanted to make this book a bit of a homage to some of the earlier novels, such as The Adventures of Han Solo and The Adventures of Lando Calrissian. I've read both sets of trilogies, but never really got into them to the same extent that I got into the Del Rey books.

Allusions to these books are fairly clear - there is quite a bit of fairly over the top action, tongue in cheek humor and a lot of similes throughout the text, not to mention a number of references to the two trilogies, but also to a number of other Star Wars books, including Shatterpoint, which Stover also penned.

This book isn't a copy of the older, somewhat cheesy novels. What Stover does do, however, is shed the overall seriousness and determination that a lot of recent books have clung to, and had some fun while writing this. For the first time in a very long time, I read a book that had the characters speaking in their own voices that really pulled me back to those earlier days when I would be sneaking books during class. In short, this book brought back the nostalgia factor for me.

In the universe, this is likewise a fun read because we haven't seen a whole lot of books that take place in the post-ROTJ period, at least the first year or so, and it was nice to see some of the aftermath.

Unfortunately, this is one of the inherent weaknesses of the book, at least up until the last pages, because this is the type of book upon which the entire franchise could have taken a number of cues from - there is an enormous amount of characterization here that could have easily brought the entire series up a notch (the Bantam Spectra era, while fun, was all over the place as far as storylines/characters goes). Unfortunately, this book is slid into the existing storyline, and it'll basically just sit there.

To some extent, Star Wars books have gotten away from some of the roots. The original trilogy of films was a homage to the old action movies and sci-fi serials, and this is evident in the text. In the years since its release, it's gotten old, and goes to bed early, and doesn't have any fun partying. Stover has kicked the franchise out of bed (or at least the lit part, for a couple hours anyway) and dragged it off to a bar for a round of drinks and at least one fight. It's a rejuvenation that I think is very needed. This book is Fun, with a capital F, and knows it.

This is not to say that the Star Wars franchise is getting too old for it's own good - a majority of the books that have come out recently are quite good, but at points, daunting. There are big, epic series that have little connection to the original films and themes, and at times take themselves far too seriously. Stover has sidestepped that and gone for a vastly different direction (the reveal at the end is something that I won't reveal) that really sets this book in a class of its own.

It's far too early at this stage to say whether this will become a favorite of mine, but it has resolidified Stover as one of my favorite authors that has worked with the franchise. There are only a couple of authors here that have really exemplified their storytelling with the Star Wars universe, and like each of his other books, Stover has outdone himself once again. I can only hope that he'll be around to shake up things once again.

The Tragic Life of Charles Schultz

I don't go to the library nearly enough to get books - my own reading list generally precludes me from this, and any book that I really want to read, I tend to end up buying. But, every now and then, I'll see something interesting worth reading, and will pick it up on a whim. This was the case with the first authorized biography of Charles Schultz, by David Michealis, called Schultz and Peanuts, which was released late last year.

The biography is wonderfully complete and extremely detailed, spanning the famed creator of Peanuts life from beginning to end. In addition to just talking about his life, this book is a discussion of how his life impacted his creation, and shows just how much of Schultz is revealed within the classic panels that ultimately defined his life.

Schultz was born in November of 1922, and was the only child of Dena and Carl Schultz. His early childhood seemed to be one of loneliness, isolation and insecurity - all themes which would be prevalent in Peanuts. He was extremely attached to his mother, and was devastated when she died when he was twenty-one years old. It was during his early life that he began to draw, through his time in the army to a course where he began to draw small cartoons. Li'l Folks began in June of 1947, to limited success, but which would slowly grow to be an enormous multi-media platform that would lead Schultz from his humble beginnings to becoming one of the highest paid entertainers in the United States.

In addition to an examination of Schultz’s life, this book serves as a sort of literary critique of Peanuts itself. Each character is examined, their personalities and lives compared to Schultz’s and storylines are looked at within the same context. I’ve never read over the entirety of Peanuts, but this look has really given me an extremely detailed look not only at the evolution of the comic, but its inspirations and the meanings behind each panel.

What struck me the most about Schultz was the degree to which he and Peanuts were intertwined. While he denied that he utilized his own life and his children in the comic strip, it is very clear that was just not the case, intentionally or otherwise. From the start, he seemed to be destined for art, and looking back across his life, Peanuts is the only accomplishment for which he was entirely dedicated to - his purpose was singular, but perfect. The end result is a cartoon that is widely considered one of the greatest works of American art/literature, certainly one of the greatest comics, for which we owe much of our nation's character to. Ironically, I have been reading about NASA and the lunar missions recently, and Schultz's influences are felt there as well, as the Apollo 10 Lander (which was the test craft to circle and evaluate landing sites for Apollo 11, which did land on the moon) was named Snoopy and the Command Capsule was named Charlie Brown. Schultz also designed the mission patch for the first Skylab mission, featuring Snoopy and the names of the three crewmen. (My review for Homesteading Space can be found here.)

While Peanuts is a widely known work, its creator isn't - this biography allows for an unparallel look at his life. In many respects, Schultz was Charlie Brown. Throughout the book, individual strips are presented, often highlighting elements of Schultz's personality at various stages of his life. Characters are examined, picked apart and revealed through their creator to largely be an extension of his own life and personality. In a way, it is extremely fitting that not only was Peanuts not allowed to continue after his retirement, the last strip and his death occurred on the same day.

Schultz's life was not an unhappy or miserable one - it was he that was unhappy and miserable for much of his life. He was self-deprecating, a little vain and incredibly insecure - not unlike his famed creation. He seemed to suffer from many phobias, and clung to people throughout his life, all the while maintaining a mild-mannered and quiet presence. His first marriage, which lasted twenty or so years, pitted him against his wife, who was far more assertive and combative, while his second was far more mutually friendly. Ironically, for a creator known for his portrayal of children, Schultz seemed to be fairly distant from his own, leaving the raising of his family to Joyce (his first wife), who dominated the house and family.

Reading through the book, I was interested to find that there are a number of elements of Schultz's personality that match my own - to a point. I've illustrated the desire to change some aspects of this, and looking at Schultz's life, one can see the effects of his personality upon the direction of his life and the people around him.

In the end, there is no doubt that Schultz had created something wonderful, tragic and heartwarming. Peanuts is arguably one the quintessential American tales, rife with meaning throughout, something that inspired generations of people around the world for its simplicity and brilliant storytelling. This was Schultz's legacy to the world - unhappy, lonely, but enlightening.

Homesteading Space

The University of Nebraska Press has undertaken a huge series that I have been paying close attention to over the past year - the Outward Odyssey Series, which examines the human endeavors into outer space. The latest installment, Homesteading Space turns to a relatively unknown element, but crucial element of our trips to orbit, Skylab. Like the prior books, Into that Silent Sea, In the Shadow of the Moon and To A Distant Day, we are not only treated to a wealth of information about the technical aspects of the program, but the implications and human element of it.

Skylab was launched in 1973 after a number of years in development alongside the Apollo Program. While Mercury, Gemini and Apollo all had a singular purpose (to see if people could reach space and survive, to see if people could exist in space and if people could reach the moon, land and return), Skylab diverged from this main mission of lunar exploration and was essentially the start of the modern space program with vast implications: it was designed to see whether people could life in outer space. This mission has influenced our advances into orbit since - with the construction of the space shuttle, Mir and the International Space Station, and future missions to the Moon and to Mars, each owes (or will owe) much to the Skylab mission.

Skylab was interesting. As noted in the opening of the book, it was built from pre-existing parts, scraped from other programs and components. The station itself was part of the Saturn Rocket, an empty fuel tank, that was refitted and placed into orbit. From there, three crews were sent up and conducted a huge number of experiments that helped to see the effects of zero gravity on the human body during extended amounts of time (each of these crews set records for their time in space). Additionally, they were the first to conduct dedicated experiments and observations on the sun and while in the presence of zero gravity. The first solar flares were witnessed via the Apollo Telescope Mount, and a wealth of information about the Earth's atmosphere as well.

Homesteading Space is not just about the scientific knowledge that was obtained in orbit - this is the story of the astronauts who conducted the experiments, who lived in space for weeks or months at a time, and how they coped. Skylab provided an enormous opportunity for individual cooperation and perseverance, for there were numerous problems that could have easily prevented the program from happening at all. But, each time, the astronauts and their ground support were able to overcome each problem and continue onwards.

The station was almost doomed from the start - upon its launch, solar coverings and shielding was stripped from the station, leaving it unlivable until a solution (essentially an umbrella) was improvised to protect the living quarters. The solar panels were crippled and power was limited. The first space walks were essentially rescue missions to save the station. On the second mission, two thrusters from the command module broke, leaving NASA to quickly plan a rescue mission from the ground as well as a solution for reentry with the remaining thrusters (no rescue was launched, and the crew returned safely).

The astronauts themselves were also the center of attention, and from this reading, it seems like they had quite a bit of fun in orbit. A number of jokes were played with the zero gravity, from contests and acrobatics, to leaving space suits stuffed and floating around the station for the next crew to find. This book helps to exemplify the role to which the astronauts have played in space, and their importance to the program, and does so wonderfully.

The book is not without its flaws, however. At points, it is repetitive, as I would come across the same story of astronauts losing items and then finding them in an air vent numerous times. A number of other details throughout are replicated, as are long passages from diaries and communications logs, which were likewise reprinted in the back of the book as an appendix. While these passages do provide some insight into the astronauts' lives, it broke up the flow of the reading. Where I noted that the last book, To A Distant Day, was very short, this one seems to overcompensate and could have been stripped down a little more than it was. However, this is really the only major flaw here, and as a result, there is a rich amount of information about the Skylab program, almost literally minute by minute at points.

Homesteading Space highlights a crucial crossroads for the space program, the point between the drive to reach the moon, and the beginning of a new era. Skylab was caught in between Apollo and the Space Shuttle, and serves as a link to the two, drawing from knowledge that was obtained during the lunar missions, and influencing the future of spaceflight and habitation. The next book is due out next year, about Satellites, but I'm more excited for the following installment, Footsteps in the Dust, about the remaining lunar missions. This series is superior, detailed, exciting and enlightening, and provides a huge ray of hope for what's to come next for us.

A Little History of the World

In history, context is vital. Events seldom make sense when presented individually, and often, the only way to fully understand, comprehend and appreciate any given event in history is to know the chain of events that led to it. Learning about the Second World War is difficult without at least a basic knowledge of the First World War and how that was influenced by the Industrial revolution. Context is vital.

Over the weekend, I picked up a book that I've long wanted to read, shown to me by a friend several years ago when it was first translated into English: A Little History of the World. First written and published in 1936 (written in six weeks - SIX), this book covers a staggering amount of history, starting from the very beginnings of human history and culture, from the prehistoric eras, and running up through to the dropping of the atomic bombs in 1945. Needless to say, in 284 pages, this is not a book rife with specific details, names and dates. Rather, this is an extremely broad look at how human history progressed.

While there are plenty of details lacking, this book is not intended as a grand work of history. It's written simply, for a younger audience, to tell the tale of our existence - it helps to provide a broad context for our history to anyone who is mildly interested in the subject, and at this, the book succeeds wonderfully. As a student of history, I can appreciate the task at hand, and having read through the book in a day, I was astounded at just how much information is here. Almost every major era of human history is covered, and linked to the next - reading over the pages, we move from the Egyptian dynasties to ancient Babylon, to Greece, to Rome, to the Middle Ages and so on, up through to the present day. Most of the major events in the world are touched upon, but only so much to move the story along from point to point.

While there is a high degree to completeness to this volume, there are aspects of history that are not examined, even lightly - the American Civil War is talked about briefly, but only in the context of the role of Slavery (which is really not the right way to examine the war) nor is the European involvements in Africa really looked at, except in the context of the buildup to the First World War. This book is largely a view of the world through Western eyes, and talk from the Americas and Asia aren't really examined as much, which is a disappointment, not out of any sort of nationalistic sense, but to the degree to which some of the major events in US history have played in the world - the Great Depression is not mentioned (although the history here really ends after the end of the First World War), but there is very little about the history of Central and South America or Africa. Reading the preface, it was mentioned that Gombrich intended to expand the book with the translation of an English version that would have talked more about Shakespeare, the Bill of Rights and the English Civil War, but he passed away before he was able to do this. I would have been interested to see how he would have characterized the rest of the 20th century, with the incredible changes and advancements that we have experienced since the end of the Second World War.

That being said, this book is a good examination of the world from a very high level - while smaller details are largely not talked about (specific important battles, such as Marathon, Waterloo, etc, are mentioned), the notion of how all these events fit together is the dominant one - specific knowledge of battles is not really necessary at most points, save when they are truly decisive historically, changing the course of nation's histories. In my day of reading the book, I feel that I have a somewhat better understanding about how parts of the world fit together - while I knew most of the details of what had gone on, there were points in history where I was fuzzy on the broad details. This is a book that I wish I had read when I was in middle or high school, because of the broad examination here.

An interesting point that I found here was the voice to which Gombrich takes throughout - very light, and while military matters are covered frequently, warfare is never glorified - the preface notes that the publication of the book in Germany was halted because it was deemed too pacifist in Nazi Germany.

On an aesthetic level, the book is easy to read - the language is simple, intended for somewhat older children, and is divided into forty short chapters, each with a specific section of history. One of the most interesting parts here is the illustrations at the beginning of each chapter - a simple woodcut that is best representative of the theme or period of the chapter, which is very characteristic of the work here - it adds beauty and a bit of elegance to the pages here.

I loved every minute and every page of this book. While this is the broadest possible view of human history, it is done with skill and grace, with an impartial voice throughout, that points out our successes and our flaws as a race, with an incredible amount of wisdom behind it. To best describe this book is an introduction of history, from which any reader would be inspired to find more about any aspect of history that they so wished. I’m now going to make it a point to seek out his second major work, The Story of Art. In the meantime, this will become a treasured addition to my own library of books.

The title of this book can be somewhat misleading - A Simple History of the World might be more accurate, but A History of the World would be the best, because Gombrich has done a nearly impossible task - distilled the world's history into a concise, yet interesting story that is optimistic, critical and inspiring.

American Nerd: The Story of My People

My copy of American Nerd came in last night, and it proved to be a fairly short read, only 222 pages, which took me the better part of my evening to get through. While it is very short and somewhat abbreviated, it proves to be an interesting read that brings up some interesting points about American Nerd culture.

Ben Nugent's book seeks to examine the roots and definition of the Nerd. In doing so, he teases out two large factors in culture that have helped bring about the popular nerd image, and that's isolation from the main population and an affinity for rules and structure. From my own experiences and observations, these are relatively accurate assertions that these elements do help to influence those who call themselves nerds or geeks.

Nugent's book looks to history for some of the background on the subject. What I found most fascinating was his take on elements of the progressive movement on society and how this has some root causes for nerds and for why they are generally abused by popular culture in general. One thing that is made clear - nerd/geek culture is created, in part, by isolation from the rest of the population. Nugent goes back to the 1880s to the first Ohio school that introduced mandatory physical education, through to Theodore Roosevelt and building of a 'all American' sort of culture. Athletics in schools, by nature are exclusionary - they seperate out the weaker, meeker and smaller. There are many tales of the nerds/geeks in high school being picked off one by one by one in dodge ball.

One aspect of this is duality, a theme that comes up multiple times throughout the book, and through different means. Nugent brings up several racial and social theories to help explain this. One example of this is how he examines and compares geeks vs. jocks. Jocks tend to draw more from the animal side of the spectrum, tend to be more empathic and emotional while geeks tend to veer more towards the machine side, where logic and reason take precedent. The animal, emotional and empathic side of things, because of the progressive movement, has become the more accepted social position in the US.

While the book does take a good look at the background history of nerds in the US, there are serious flaws in the book's structure. It bounces from history to social theory to biography and guide to nerdom, with very little overall flow. While the book brings up a number of points, is up to date (items such as Robot Chicken, Freaks and Geeks, Battlestar Galactica and other geek fare) and is fun to read - it doesn't get drowned by the bulk and density of some historical events.

This book is too short and doesn't go far enough to examine the history and cultural factors in nerd/geek subculture. The history is abbreviated and the methodology is inconsistent. There is no bibliography, despite his criticism of another book of not having one, although there are some footnotes throughout the book.

While it purports to examine the story of Nerds in the US, there are some very obvious gaps here that undermine the history. There is no discussion of the rise of computers - I don't believe that Steve Jobs is mentioned with the creation of Apple computers, nor is NASA talked about, which seems like a huge thing to overlook when talking about geek/nerd history. Nor is there any discussion on the impact of Sci-Fi films during the 70s and 80s. There's some talk about Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, a little more about Dungeons & Dragons, but there's precious little talk about the impact of these huge juggernauts on the geek/nerd community. While it's unreasonable to expect that this book would be anything comprehensive (or any book on history, for that matter), leaving things out such as this seems to be a gross oversight.

To some extent, this book feels uncompleted. There are short sections that cover a broad range of subjects, so it feels like it covers a lot of ground. This is good, but unfortunately, it only seems to cover the surface of much of the issue. That being said, it is an interesting read. It's certainly a book that can be expected as nerd-culture has gotten far more popular in recent years.

The best thing that we have here is a good definition of the term, of the entire population that's out there. It's a good start, and hopefully, we'll be seeing some more work in this aspect of history soon.

Review: Order 66

Karen Traviss's four book series based off of the Republic Commando video game came to a close with the publication of her latest Star Wars novel, Order 66. The book is a slightly uneven affair, with a number of story lines coming to a close in a quick, complete fashion. The book is by no means a bad or uninteresting read, but it's not the best of the four.

I came across Karen Traviss when I was in High School, when I began to read Asimov's, a long-running Science Fiction magazine. Karen had published a couple or short stories through them, and I had found that I enjoyed them very much. When it was announced that there was to be a tie-in novel about the Republic Commando game, I wasn't all that interested until I heard that it was Traviss who would be writing it, and the first book didn't disappoint, introducing readers to a series of new characters and a moral element that has largely been lacking in a number of the Star Wars books that have come out recently.

Order 66 picks up where True Colors leaves off- Jedi Etain Tur-Mukan has had her child, Jusik has left the Jedi Order, Fi has been brought to Mandalor, the ARC troopers are working on infiltrating the computer systems of the Republic and Skirata is working to find a way to reverse the rapid aging in order to give the clones a full and normal life after the war is over.

One of my main concerns with the series as it's progressed over the past couple of books is the vast complexity that they have come to. There are a number of very diverse story lines that have largely taken away from the main focus of the original novel - Delta Squad, with Niner, Atin, Darman and Fi. The cast of characters has been expanded, and that goes for the story lines as well. To some extent, this is a good thing, and it falls in with what Karen has done with her other, non-Star Wars books - they've become extremely rich with plots and characters, turning them into books that really make you think. In the Star Wars universe, this is a rare thing, and Order 66 stands as one of the better books in the series for this trait. On the other hand, it feels somewhat overburdened at times. The first half of the book starts off fairly slowly, and its not until the last half in which the action really picks up, where Karen shows once again that she's one of the better writers when it comes to combat situations - Clone operations here are possibly the most realistic and logical than in any other book series, save for the X-Wing Series by Michael A Stackpole and Aaron Allston.

What also sets this, and her other Republic Commando books, apart is the care and devotion that is paid to the Clone Troopers. I've made this point in other reviews - the clones might be genetically the same, but Karen has expertly crafted numerous characters that are wholly different from one another in different situations and in the way that they approach problems. This comes particularly at the end, when one of the team members is left behind in a battle and presumed killed. Karen doesn't shy away from making the characters really hurt when she needs them to be, and the book ends on somewhat of an unclear and unresolved note, which seems very fitting, given how this book ends around the time of Revenge of the Sith.

The absolute strongest point is the morality of the characters, and constant questioning of right and wrong on the part of the Clone Troopers and the Jedi and Republic that brought them into battle. The reactions of many of the Clones during the order to kill the Jedi surprised me, given where I was thinking the story was going and the attitudes of the Jedi up to that point, and it makes me re-think some elements of the movie - the clones weren't mindlessly following their orders to kill their Generals - they had legitimate issues with the way that they were treated and used in the war, and genuinely saw the Jedi as a threat.

One of the big sticking points that I found in this was not the overall complexity, but the Mandalorian subplots that Karen has worked into the series. While it was running full tilt by the time this book came around, the plot took up a lot of the book in places, where it didn't really seem to need to. Karen pulled it out and made it a fully-formed and well realized idea, but at points, it seems a little out of place. This was one element where I wished that the sequels were a little more in line with the first book, in that they focused a bit more on the combat actions of the Clone Commandos.

One of the interesting parts is how the issue of only a couple million Clones has been resolved, and by doing so, ties in her novel with several other pieces of Clone Wars fiction, most notably Timothy Zahn's short stories, Hero of Cartao and his Heir to the Empire trilogy, with the use of the Spaarti cloning technology. Throughout the events of this novel, it's clear that a vast wave of Clone Troopers, including elements of the 501st, were a much larger, quickly grown generation of Clone Troopers, coming in during the months leading up to the final battle over Coruscant. This has been a sticking point for Karen and has caused some trouble for her on message boards by irritated and annoying fans. Despite the troubles that have been caused, it is nice to see that this issue is somewhat resolved, and it is fantastic to see mention of the 501st, of which Karen is an Honorary Member, and a group that she looked at a lot in her novelization of the Clone Wars. The 501st Dune Sea Garrison is honored with a thanks in the beginning of the book.

(This should have been the cover...)

Order 66 is a fine installment in the Republic Commando and Clone Wars series, and I'm sad to see it go. It is a rich and complex read, one that is far superior to most of the novels in the Star Wars line for its stand on moral issues, its writing and genuine care that makes me remember that these books are leaps and bounds above most of the tie-in novels that are on the market nowadays.

While the book is not a perfect read (or cover, for that matter. Side note - I'm not sure who thought that the current cover was a better one than the original, but it's not, and should be changed back. Like right now. Ahem.) but it's a superior one that stands out from the rest of the books out there.

Review: The Clone Wars

[This review contains spoilers for The Clone Wars]

Earlier this year, the Star Wars Lit community was abuzz with the news of a couple of things - that there was an untitled Karen Traviss novel coming, and that there was a Clone Wars movie coming out. A couple of months ago, fans learned that they were both connected, as Karen turned out to have been writing the novelization. The release of The Clone Wars brings about the first book released in the time frame since Traviss's last Republic Commando novel, True Colors, which was released last year, and once again shows that Traviss is one of the better writers for the Clone Wars.

This novelization isn't the best work that Karen has released. The book is a very short one, and plotwise, has a bit to be desired. In a nutshell, the Seperatists have kidnapped the son of Jabba the Hutt, hoping to anger the Hutts enough to ensure that the Republic can't utilize their space lanes.

The book is rife with action, which is Karen's strong point, especially when it comes to Clones. the main characters are introduced with a battle, where Karen puts her expertise gained from the Republic Commando books. What I really enjoyed was seeing an author put a level of military realism to this - the Clones talk and act like soldiers.

Karen leaves a lot of nods to the 501st, helping to further explain the role of Vader's fist, the battalion seen in Revenge of the Sith, named for the 501st Legion. One of the more interesting characters in the book is Captain Rex, whom a number of Legion members are building in anticipation of the film's release. Karen pushed these guys to a particular prominence in the book, which is a great nod to the group, of which, she's an honorary member. There weren't any mentions of Republic Commandos, which surprised me a little.

The plot of the book leaves more to be desired beyond the military sections. There are some interesting political ideas here, but the idea that the Republic would send two of their most highly regarded Jedi after a Huttling is somewhat ridiculous. While this is addressed somewhat at points, I found it hard to believe.

More so, I found the notion that the Hutts, or more particularly, Jabba, would completely base foreign policy on a kidnapped child a ridiculous notion. Granted, this is a novelization based off of an animated movie, so expecting something on the level of Karen's other books or other Clone Wars novels such as Shatterpoint is somewhat expected.

Unfortunately, the book is short, clocking in at around 250 pages, taking me a total of five or so hours to read. Fortunately, Del Rey seems to have realized this, and as a result, I only paid $12 for the book (yay for a 40% discount at Borders).

Overall, this is a decent enough read, despite the fact that it is short and not as good as her other books. However, with four more books to go in the series, there's plenty of room for more improvement and Clone action.

7/10