An Ancient Peace, by Tanya Huff

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An Ancient Peace, by Tanya Huff

Published October 6, 2015 by DAW

An Ancient Peace finds Tanya Huff returning to Gunnery Sargeant Torin Kerr and her team of Marines, as they continue to work to keep the Confederation safe from a new threat. This might seem a little surprising, as their last outing brought an end to the intergalactic war the Confederation was taking part in. For Torin and crew, this mostly just means the name on their paycheques have changed form the Marine Corps to the Justice Department, but otherwise things are very similar.

For a lot of series like this, that amount of similarity would be a sign that the series was starting to get stale or boring. That’s definitely not the case here, though; Huff manages to keep the story fun and engaging throughout, primarily through her ability to create interesting characters that it’s easy for the audience to empathize with. It’s clear who the villains are and who we should be cheering for, but all of the characters are given equal treatment on the characterization front.

For readers new to this series (it’s labelled as part one of the Peacemaker series, but is really a continuation of the five part Confederation series by the same author), An Ancient Peace might be the most fun you’ll have with a book this year. For entrenched fans of the series, it’s more of what you already loved, with just enough of a new direction to keep things interesting.

(editorial note: a special thanks to the folks at Penguin Publishing Group for providing a copy of this book for review)

The Peripheral, by William Gibson

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The Peripheral, by William Gibson

Published October 2014 by GP Putnam’s Sons

Things have been rough for Flynne and Burton since the end of the war. Fortunately, Burton gets benefits from the VA, so he and his sister can still make ends meet, but it hasn’t been easy for them. So when what seems like a simple job comes up – fly a drone around in the beta for some new game – it seems like a perfect opportunity. What they don’t realize, though, is that playing this “game” is going to suck them into a world of time travel, alternate realities, and remote-piloted automatons.

At its core, The Peripheral is classic Gibson – as always, he approaches sci-fi and technology from an immersive, street level perspective. There’s no hand-holding for the reader, and Gibson discusses concepts like haptic feedback, automata, and nanotechnology with the understanding that the audience will already be familiar with them. In the hands of a less competent author, this might become confusing, but Gibson tells his story well enough that the audience remains intrigued until they’ve become fully familiar with them. It’s not necessarily an easy novel to get into from page one, but the payoff is absolutely there for readers that stick with it.

The future Gibson presents in The Peripheral is a terrifying dystopia, but a fascinating one as well. Climate change and other disasters have decimated the global population, with only the wealthiest and most corrupt surviving it. At the same time, it doesn’t really present as a dystopia for those living in it, which creates a unique moral tension when reading the scenes set in that time period. History might be written by the victors, but the future is determined by them.

While Gibson is often known as being a concept-driven author, one of the most enjoyable aspects of The Peripheral is the character-driven focus. Many readers have commented on how engaging of a protagonist Flynne is, and Netherton provides a fun straight-man to her while being an intriguing, empathetic character in his own right.

Smart, challenging, and engaging, The Peripheral is a wonderfully put-together piece of science fiction.

Echopraxia, by Peter Watts

Echopraxia, by Peter Wattsechopraxia_FC

Published August, 2014 by Tor Books

Horror and science fiction have a long history beside each other – one that stretches back as far Mary Shelley defining the modern science fiction novel with her Frankenstein. Often, though, when the two genres mix the horror is formed from taking the science fiction a step too far – we make contact with aliens, but they’re parasites that burst through your chest, or we perfect cloning technology, and create dinosaurs that kill us all. In Echopraxia Peter Watts manages to merge these two worlds in a very different manner, instead taking his usual penchant for hard, fact based science fiction and trying to understand concepts such as vampires, zombies, and alien blobs through that lens.

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A Turn of Light, by Julie Czernada

A Turn oA-Turn-of-Light-Coverf Light is the story of Marrowdell, a small community at the edge of the kingdom of Mellynne. It’s also the story of Jenn Nalynn, a young woman born in Marrowdell who wants nothing more than to leave home and explore the world, and of the arrival of a series of visitors that threaten to interrupt Jenn’s plans.

At first glance, A Turn of Light appears to be a rather standard telling of the hero’s journey – the character of Jenn, especially, feels reminiscent of a Luke Skywalker or Taran character, desperately waiting for the chance to explore the kingdom. When we learn of a curse placed on Jenn, preventing her from leaving, it seems like the next step of the story is going to be obvious – that she was going to defy the curse, and go on a grand adventure with Wil to the far corners of the kingdom.

What happens instead is a fascinating examination of the hero’s journey that is accomplished by inverting it – Jenn stays in Marrowdell, and instead the hero’s journey comes to her. All of the hallmarks of those classic adventure stories are there, including a dragon, a knight, and a quest; what makes A Turn of Light different, though, is that it removes the actual journeying from the story. This allows for a greater examination of the characters involved, rather than just describing a series of events, and Czernada manages to keep true to the emotional core of those stories throughout this tale. The conflict and threat faced by Jenn and the other main characters  feels real, their choices feel meaningful, and the plot moves uniquely while also feeling familiar.

In addition to the plot and characters, A Turn of Light is worth reading just for the pure pleasure of Czernada’s luxurious prose. At over 800 pages, it’s not what one could consider a quick or light read, but a reader willing to stay dedicated to the story will be well-rewarded for doing so.

Some readers might find A Turn of Light difficult to get into, as the book opens at leisurely-enough pace that some might find it off-putting. As one continues to read, however, it becomes clear that this pacing was not only a conscious choice on Czernada’s part, but a necessary one. Marrowdell is an idyllic, pastoral environment, and the pacing of the storytelling does an impeccable job of illustrating that in a way that creates an emotional connection for readers – a connection that makes the eventual conflict of the novel much more resonant for readers than it would have been otherwise.

A Turn of Light is a wonderfully-written novel that takes the oft-told story of the hero’s journey and retells it in an innovative and novel way. Author Julie Czernada manages to do so without turning the story into an academic exercise, keeping a strong emotional and thematic core to the story that makes it an enjoyable read as well.

With A Little Help by Cory Doctorow

With a Little Help, by Cory Doctorow

Pub9861571lished 2010 by Lulu Publishing

Short story collections by a single author can often be awkward things – the stories collected in them were often written at very different times, and intended for different markets, which tends to leave the resulting collection fairly disjointed. That’s not the case here, though – Doctorow’s got a strong authorial voice that carries through all of the stories, and gives them a unified feel.

Science fiction has often been referred to as the “literature of ideas”, especially in the short story medium, and Doctorow has shown mseld a capable capable heir to that tradition. The stories he prestents in With A Little Help are all based on unique, complex ideas that draw from fields such as counter science, economics, neuropsychology, and sociology. This syncretic approach allows for some fascinating ideas that really encourage interesting discussions among readers.

Perhaps Doctorow’s most interesting idea is that the present era is an aberration, and that a key feature of the future will be a return to older social structure. Whether it’s cloistered monasteries that act as data managements centres, or arts patronage as a venture capital opportunity, Doctorow seems fascinated by the idea of tomorrow as a glitzier digital reflection of yesterday.

The main downside of With A Little Help is that Doctorow is so focused on expressing these ideas that he spends less time focused on developing characters. With a few notable exceptions (“Visit the Sins”, for example), the characters in Doctorow’s stories are stand-ins for Doctorow to expound on his thoughts on technology, capitalism, and social organization in a series of techno futuristic Socratic dialogues. The Socratic dialogue is a difficult style to master, and as times it leaves the reader feeling that they’re being preached at instead of being engaged with. That lack of engagement ultimately leaves the collection with an unsatisfactory reading experience.

In the end, With A Little Help is filled with idea porn that would likely appeal to people who are attuned to Cory Doctorow’s views on science and culture; however, the way in which those stories are presented would leave all but the most entrenched fans feeling disappointed.