Great North Road, Peter F. Hamilton, Del Rey, Isbn 978-0-3345-52666-3, $30.00., 976 pages

filedesc Peter F. Hamilton signing his Night's...

filedesc Peter F. Hamilton signing his Night’s Dawn Trilogy Books in London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not sure Peter Hamilton knows how to write small books.  Small both in scope and in pages.  The Great North Road tells the story, essentially, of the North family.  The Norths, at this point, are clones.  There are first generation clones, second generation clones, third generation clones and a few forth generation ones.  Each generation degrades from the original and, like in breeding of animals, produces offspring that are often not viable.  The Norths are also industrialists and scientists and billionaires and developers of the tans-spatial connection, and generally a pretty horny bunch.  At the same time, political systems on Earth are taking advantage of these trans-spatial connections to solve any number of social problems on the planet.  Criminals are sent through the gate to a planet where they are given a homestead and left to their best devices.  The poor are also given transport to a planet where they can get a second change. The politically diverse–essentially anyone who does not agree with the present government–are given transport to a planet where each group had developed a geographically segregated haven.  Everything seems to be going great, until a body is found floating in the river.  And it’s not just any body but the body of a North.  Because of the money, the cloning, and the control they have of business, finding a murdered North is more than a big deal.  Unfortunately for everyone the murder creates a second problem.  Angela Tramelo, convicted of killing a North twenty years previously, has to be set free because the current murder replicates the methods of the first murder and this time, Angela was in prison, serving her life sentence.  Angela’s story, that the household of Bartram North was murdered by an alien seems to be true.  And Detective Third Grade, Sidney Hurst, recently back on the force after having his own professional problems, is going to be tasked with figuring out just what is going on.

So, this is a complex book, full of characters moving through multiple plot lines but all with a single threaded theme running throughout.  Certainly part of the fascination is wanting to know how Hamilton is going to bring everything together in some satisfactory way by the ending.  Of course he gives himself plenty of room to maneuver–almost a thousand pages.  The danger with giving an author that many pages is that they might fill it with minutia–detail that they find interesting but which does not serve the plot of story.  I’m glad to say that this does not happen here.  Incredibly, considering the page numbers, Hamilton creates quite a page turner–not that you are going to actually try to do this beast in a single sitting or anything.

This is space opera as I remember it.  But it’s also a thriller, and a mystery.  In some ways it is pure SF, paying homage to the imagination of Bradbury and the complexity of Asimov at the same time.  I really enjoyed the book and, as with most great books, I was left wanting more.  Whether or not I get it is irrelevant, the important thing is that the writing was good enough to create that want.

I would recommend this book highly.  Frankly they don’t get much better.

To get your own copy, click here: Great North Road

English: This image is a reproduction of an or...

English: This image is a reproduction of an original painting by renowned science-fiction and fantasy illustrator Rowena http://www.rowenaart.com/. It depicts Dr. Isaac Asimov enthroned with symbols of his life’s work. Français : Peinture de Rowena Morill réprésentant Isaac Asimov sur un trône décoré des symboles de son œuvre littéraire. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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The Griff, a Graphic Novel, Christopher Moore and Ian Corson, William Morrow, ISBN 978-0-06-197752-7, $22.99

Map of USA with Florida highlighted

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So, Earth has been invaded.  Not by giant robots or by little gray men or by huge spaceships but by eggs.  Turns out the eggs contain alien dragon-like creatures that immediately go on a rampage of destruction.  They take out infrastructure of importance and lots of people.  Lots and lots of people.  Turns out our defenses don’t work because they are based on attacking things made of metal and not meat.  (I’m going to have to check on that since I’m pretty sure the heat seekers would still work and there are plenty of missiles that are still point and click and lots of things are made of ceramics or carbon fiber and can still be targeted and destroyed pretty easily by missiles).  In any case, they don’t work here and soon there is aught left but big, alien dragon like things and a few humans.  Two of the humans are Steve and Mo in New York.  Two others are Oscar and Liz in Florida.  The trick they have to figure out is how to survive in a world that is nearly destroyed and which is now ruled by serious predators. 

Then, suddenly, one of the ships crashes.  (Did I mention that the plot is a bit weak in places?)  No one really knows why, it just does, although we do sort of find out later.  The Griff (short for Hippogryph).  (I know, I know, if you follow this logic they should probably be called The Drag, but you see where that goes.)  So, Mo and Steve are in NY and meet up with Curt.  (They do meet other people but they tend not to last long as the Griff chew ’em up pretty fast.)  Off they go to Florida because they heard of the crashed ship.   (Look, I don’t make up the plot, I just report on it.)  So, in any case, off to Florida.  Along the way they meet a guy in a tank (who ends up just fading away after a few pages) and continue on until they get to Florida and meet up with Liz.  Oh yeah, Oscar gets eaten too.  Liz, it turns out, has imprinted a few of the Griff and soon they are merrily on their way to sneak into the new spaceship that has arrived, evidently to investigate how the old one crashed.

I won’t give any more away other than to say that this is a graphic novel, which  anyone over the age of twenty should recognize by the old name, comic book.  And, remember, comic books have never been the residence of solid plot or logic.  That being said, it does have pretty pictures and it is word light so you can finish it easily in one sitting and it’s pretty much a straight line from beginning to end so not that hard to follow either.  It is definitely entertaining which, if you are buying one of these I would think you are looking for.  I enjoyed it and if you consider it akin to a B movie then you will probably enjoy it too.  Assuming, of course, that you like B movies.  Hey what do you have to lose.  Well, $22 bucks, but you know that going in so use the information wisely.

I should also mention that Christopher Moore is known for his humor and this graphic novel is full of funny stuff (well funny if you are a fourteen year old boy or happen to have the brain of a fourteen year old boy).  I have two.  In their original jars.  Rarely used.

Sure, it’s easy to make mock but I’m built that way.  Which is to say graphic novels are built this way so you should go in expecting nothing less.

Click below to go to Amazon and buy.

The Griff: A Graphic Novel

Kraken, China Mieville, Del Rey, ISBN 978-0-345-497499, $26.00, 509 pgs.

Cover of "Kraken"

Cover of Kraken

The latest book from China Mieville finds him returning once again to the development of his city within a city theme.  This time it is London and the incident that drives the beginning of the journey to the alternate city is the theft of a Kraken from London’s Natural History Museum.  The Kraken is a large one and immediately draws the attention of the special police division tasked with investigating the strange and unexplainable.  Billy Harrow, curator, and keeper of the Kraken finds himself suddenly in the middle of a London that is strange, otherworldly and yet existing alongside the London he is familiar with.  He finds himself sought after.  The police want him to work with them, others just want his knowledge.   Some just want him gone.  He is introduced to a church that worships the Kraken, to a house inhabited by the sea, to cults both strange and wonderful, and to individuals too horrible to experience.  In the end it is Billy Harrow’s task to figure out the secret of the theft of the Kraken in order to save the world, if not the universe.  There are few he can trust and fewer who will tell him all he needs to know.  As he journey’s through the London of the dark and hidden he learns as much about himself as he does about the Kraken around which the universe now seems to revolve.

Mieville is a master at creating his double cities, the unnatural existing alongside the natural, the odd just off the narrow, rarely seen alley and the unusual inhabitants we rarely look at twice.  There is magic in his London and not all of it is pretty or controlled by humans.  But, it is all, wonderful to watch and to experience.  As Billy Harrow wends his way from beginning to end we get to journey along and marvel at those things we thought commonplace that are really imbued with the mysterious.

All of the above would make an interesting book but a dull one if not wrapped around a rousing adventure quest.  There is an end for Billy Harrow, a place he needs to get to and a journey he needs to reluctantly make.  It is this path that Mieville creates and develops that ultimately becomes hung with the fantastic and the unusual.  It is like entering a curiosity shop with a one way entrance and not knowing where the exit is and having to wander the strange aisles looking for a way out.

Kraken was a marvelous read.  Entertaining and enjoyable and worth every minute.  A fantastic adventure through a strange wonderland that is both familiar and foreign.  Well done and worth it.

To get the book, go here:

Kraken

Monster Hunter Vendetta, Larry Correia, Baen, ISBN 978-1-4391-3991-0, $7.99, 612 pgs.

Monster Hunter Shop

Image by jpellgen via Flickr

This is the second book in Correia’s Monster Hunters International series. It picks up where the first book left off with Owen Zastava Pitt settling in to his new role as a squad leader in the monster hunting organization and as husband to Julie, daughter to the werewolf leader of MHI and granddaughter to the founder of the organization. MHI hunts supernatural threats, collecting the bounties that have been placed on them and generally keeping the planet safe from things that go bump in the night. They compete with the governmental Monster Control Bureau who is also tasked with getting rid of monsters as well as keeping the general populace ignorant that monsters even exist in the first place. This sets up a highly competitive environment between the two organizations with no love lost between the two and friction aplenty. This time a former member of MHI has begun the process of world destruction by invoking the awakening of an otherworldly presence who will enter our world by destroying it. Needless to say the folks at MHI are eager to put a stop to this, especially since it’s the work of a former member. Owen and his crew get the front row seats and all of the characters from the first book return as well as one or two new ones. There are a few twists and turns but the story is a pretty straightforward one of killing beasties with large weapons, explosives, and bravado.

Correia writes in a very straightforward manner, telling the story without much obfuscation or misdirection. This is basically a what you see is what you get kind of tale. While there are some plot twists they are more of the anticipated variety than the kind that take you fully by surprise. For example, there is a spy in the organization that we know about from early on and the only surprise comes when we learn who it is.

This book is perfect for the reader that likes a story full of tough characters with big weapons taking on nasty beasts with just a touch of humor thrown in the soften the blood and gore. There is not a lot of internal dilemma or character development, more a sense of prophecy fulfillment or action taking on the role of fate.

This is not to say that the book is not an entertaining book to read. It is. Very. Just that you should be expecting a shot gun blast rather than the subtle stroke of a hidden stiletto. Definitely recommended if you like your action fast paced and direct.

To get the book go here:

Monster Hunter Vendetta

Nights of Villjamur, Mark Charan Newton, Ballantine Books, ISBN 978-0-345-52084-5, 437 pgs., $26.00

Ice age Earth at glacial maximum. Based on: &q...

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The city of Villjamur is home to thousands and capital of a mighty empire. But, things are changing; the darkness is coming and with it the cold and ice. As snow flies more frequently and as the ice begins to cover everything, people begin to flock to the city. Refugees gather outside the gates of a city that can not hold them and, from the perspective of many, should not even try. As a debate begins about what to do, the Emperor suddenly dies. A detail is sent out to gather the Emperor’s long estranged daughter as she is the heir. Along with her sister, the new queen struggles to come to grips with the politics and machinations of those born to power. She feels a certain kinship with those outside the gates and wants to do something. At the same time, her younger sister, long raised to entitlement, has come under the thrall of a new dance teacher who is not quite what he appears to be, although he does seem to know both the swordplay and the dance he is to teach her. While all this is beginning to play out, Inspector Rumex Jeryd, who is a rumel, a species of non-human that can live for hundreds of years, is tasked with investigating the murder of a councilor. As he begins his investigation he discovers layer and layer of deceit and misdirection, including some of it targeting him. Besides the humans and rumel in Villjamur, there are the birdlike garuda and the banshees whose cry always heralds death. All will be affected by the actions building within the city’s walls. Eventually all of the key players will also be threatened by this broad conspiracy and all must act in one form or another if they hope to survive.

Nights of Villjamur is Newton’s first novel and it is very well done. Newton’s universe (yeah, yeah, I know) is very complex and he presents it in a very understated way. His introduction of the rumel, for example, is through the interplay of the difference in longevity they have over humans and the conflicts such a difference can bring to such simple things as who gets promoted to a new position in the workplace. It is this understatement that pulls the reader deeper and deeper into the complexity of the city and the maneuverings of those who rule within the sheltering walls.

Newton’s writing style is both direct and straight forward, not leaving the reader to suppose what was meant but also not bringing everything to one’s attention all at once. Newton moves from character to character, pushing the story forward a part here and a part there and all the time developing an atmosphere that is consistent, moody and oppressive, as one would expect with an encroaching ice age at the door.

I enjoyed the book and Newton is working on a sequel which is good news as this first book leaves quite a few loose ends. Definitely recommended.

Click the link below to buy the book.

Nights of Villjamur (Legends of the Red Sun)

The Blade Itself, Joe Abercrombi, Pyr, ISBN 978-1-59102-641-9, 543 pgs.

Cover of "The Blade Itself (First Law)"

Cover of The Blade Itself (First Law)

This is the first book in The First Law series. Superior Glotka, inquisitor, torturer, former sword master, military hero and cripple, works in the hot, sweaty belly of the empire ripping truth from the mouths of those deemed enemies of the state. The Bloody Nine, also known as Ninefingers, has become separated from his men during battle and now must make a new path if he is to survive. Bayaz, magician, in fact, first of the Magi, rests in his keep, waiting for the time when he must venture forth, back into the world he helped make. Around them all swirl secrets, mysteries, betrayals, found alliances and personal failures. As these three stories intertwine with a number of others, all leading to the shaping of major events and minor, yet key, interventions, the empire, and the world begins to crumble under an onslaught that comes from all sides. If the world is to survive each of these key players must let go of their pasts and move to new positions on the stage of destiny.

Joe Abercrombie has created a very intriguing world for his fiction debut. It is full of character and intrigue and smothered in rich background. The story is definitely character driven and that is perfect as these are some very interesting characters. That is not to say that the world that these characters inhabit is not equally interesting, what with a crumbling and aging empire, the intrigue of court, an invasion threat from the north and enough deceit and deception to fill a castle.

I like the way Abercrombie writes.  I like his character development, his pacing and his plotting.  Certainly his Superior Glotka character is more fun than one can imagine, and the guy is a torturer.  This should be a clue that The Blade Itself and the series is full of dark humor and observation on the human condition–albeit a twisted and cynical observation.  The story is one that stretches across the centuries which lends both a fatalism and a sense of epic to the proceedings.  This book is highly recommended.  More so if you like Dave Duncan or Steve Erikson.

Dragongirl by Todd McCaffrey, Del Rey, July 27, 2010, 464 pages, $26.00 ISBN 978-0-345-49116-9

This is the third book set in the Pern Universe by Todd McCaffrey, who is the son of Anne McCaffrey, the woman who created Pern. But, if you are a fan of the series, you already know all that. This book picks up where Dragonheart (the previous book) left off. Fiona, who, in the previous book fled to the past to cure the wounded and raise a new crop of dragons, has returned. She’s only been gone three days but has aged three years. Just after her arrival the entire complement of dragons at Telgar Weyr go between. There is a sickness that has been infecting the dragons and killing them. With Telgar empty, Fiona gathers what dragons and riders she can, along with some support personnel and heads to Telgar to take charge. At first there is friction as this young woman with odd ideas implements change after change, not the least of which is sleeping arrangements. But hope soon arrives with Kindan and Lorana who bring a cure for the dragon plague. But, is the cure too late? So many have died that Pern may have reached a tipping point where there are now too few dragons to fly thread without leading to extinction. How Fiona tries to cope with this while coming into her own as a Weyrwoman provides the push behind this novel.

Todd McCaffrey has done a fine job in maintaining the tone, feel and pacing of his mother’s series. While one might argue that Pern embodies a fairly simplistic view of the world, almost as if Faire folk had taken over a volcano somewhere and created a society with no crime, no major social dysfunctions, no personality disorders other than the occasional grumpiness and the entire population continuously working toward the common good, the ability to maintain that worldview requires no little amount of skill. The book was fun, a fairly quick read and a welcomed addition to the Pern universe. It should be noted that there are many things left unresolved here so it appears as if at least one more book is forthcoming. I’m not a big fan of books that don’t state right out that they are not complete, but that’s the case here so if you require your plots tied up by the last page you may want to wait for however many books that will take.

Recommended. The cover is by Les Edwards. More info at http://www.delreybooks.com