Monthly Archives: June 2015

Rising Storm, by S. M. Stirling

risingstormHis father is from the future.  He probably hasn’t even been born yet.  How the hell does that work?
Not too well.  At least as far as his dad was concerned.
Yeah.  Imagine sending your father back through time to become your father, knowing he’s going to get killed.
Do it to my old man in a flash.
-Brad, Carl, and Yam, MIT students

Well, once again, the Connors have managed to blow up Cyberdyne (or at least the all-important research facility).  When we last left our heroes, the I-950 Infiltrator was destroyed (or killed, depending on how you look at things), John Connor was on the run with Dieter von Rossbach, and Sarah Connor is headin’ back to the asylum.  But the future looked…well, safer, anyway.  Unfortunately, unbeknownst to our heroes, the Infiltrator left behind a backup plan….

Which brings us to Rising Storm.  There are four plots moving along all at once in the early part of this book; firstly, John has accepted that in spite of previous events, there’s an excellent possibility that Judgment Day-the day when the machines will rise to power via Skynet-is going to happen (although not on any previously known schedules).  So, he (with Dieter’s occasional aid) begins to set up a network of humans to “get out of the way” of the imminent apocalypse, one of whom is an attractive MIT student who is also an exceptionally skilled hacker.

Dieter spends some time away from the gang, because he’s being tracked-both by the CIA and by his old bosses in the Sector (and I still wanna know more about them, dammit!).  He does his part as well, setting up a couple of contacts in preparation for Judgment Day.  Of course, the fact that he looks identical to the original Terminator is a little bit of a stumbling block in establishing any bona fides….

Sarah, on the other hand, is back at the asylum.  She deals with this in a more level-headed manner than her last visit (as moviegoers may recall), but she runs into a potential stumbling block when she is once again face to face with the doctor who “treated” her the last time around.  Fortunately, she has a little bit of outside help to count upon when the time comes to get out.  Too bad that there’s individuals who really don’t want her leaving.

But the backup plan of Serena Burns is already in action; Clea and Alicia, the two clones built from the Serena template, are working to a) finish off the Connors (surprise surprise), and b) ensure that Skynet comes into being.  To this end, Clea (who has been force grown to adulthood) begins to get involved with Cyberdyne survivors, using the building blocks of the T-1000 technology as her ticket in.

There’s a slightly different tone in this book than in the last one.  Infiltrator was a book about prevention; realizing that the threat was not over after all, and trying to stop it.  This one contains the terrible realization that the future may be unstoppable, so the characters are more in “damage control” mode.  And since most people generally don’t believe that machines from the future are out to insure their existence, it makes matters more difficult for John and company.  Even so, some supporting characters from the last book continue to make their presence felt, such as the mysterious Tricker (whose failures in Infiltrator come back to haunt him early on) and Jordan Dyson, who has come around to the Connors’ point of view after the Serena incident.

We also get a bit more world travel in Rising Storm; we hop from South America, to North America, to-of all places-Antarctica.  What we don’t get, unfortunately, is the sense of menace.  While there are the traditional Terminator robots around, they don’t seem as unstoppable as the folks we’ve seen in the movies.  To be fair, these robots were built with inferior materials from past technology (from their perspective, anyway), but I always considered the appeal of the Terminator movies to be the fact that a single robot just kept coming for you, no matter what you did.  That feeling is only on a different scale here, concerning the inevitability of Skynet.

All the same, Rising Storm was a decent book, although it’s destined (probably) to be consigned to continuity hell when the T3 movie finally hits the theaters, and it’s got an ending which is sure to chill fans of the books and movies to the bone-and the process of getting there is pretty fun, too.

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Well of Darkness, by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

wellofdarknessBut you said that Lord Mabreton is loyal to the Shield.  Why place a spy on him?
The Shield rejoices in Lord Mabreton’s loyalty, Your Highness.  He rejoices in it so much that he never tires of receiving constant proof of it.
-Prince Dagnarus of Vinnengael and Silwyth of House Kinnoth

Weis and Hickman have put together a book very different than their usual fantasy fare.  In fact, in some ways, they turn some of the general fantasy conventions into very different things.  Imagine a land where dwarves are not the mountain people obsessed with gold, but as a race that plans to eventually rule the world (although they aren’t in any hurry) and travel as master horsemen.  A land where orken are a race of highly superstitious sailors who respect strength as well as cunning.  A land where elves are prolific breeders in spite of their long life-spans, who believe that even showing an emotion on their own faces would invade the life of another.  Humanity, on the other hand, continues to be the mixed bag.  This is the land of Loerem, and the setting of Well of Darkness.

It also manages to be a little different in that in most fantasy books, the protagonists would be considered the villains.  It matches up an unlikely duo.  Young Gareth, cursed with a rather significant birthmark, enters into the royal household of King Tamaros as the whipping boy for Prince Dagnarus, the second son of the king.  Dagnarus is…well, let’s just say that he’s not the nicest person around.  Then again, perhaps it’s understandable-he’s the son of the king’s second wife, and the first son-Helmos-is everything a king would want in a son.  While Tamaros doesn’t neglect Dagnarus, the boy nonetheless feels a great deal of jealousy and envy.  Worse, he wants to be the king, which would require that Helmos be removed.

The pot gets stirred when talk of war between races goes around the court.  In an effort to unify all the races of the land peacefully, King Tamaros appeals to the gods, and their answer is the Sovereign Stone.  The king gives a piece to a representative of each race, keeping one for humanity.  In the process, however, he inadvertently reveals a dark aspect to the gift of the gods to the last person he’d want to learn it.  And that drives the remainder of the book.

Well of Darkness has some of the classic trappings of fantasy, in spite of turning things on their head a bit.  There’s jealous rivalries, there are champions of good and evil (that’s really evil), there’s doomed romances, and terrible sacrifices.  There’s some interesting characters as well-the elf Silwyth, who’s a nasty piece of work, as well as Dunner, one of the dwarven Unhorsed-a dwarf crippled and so is looked upon with nothing but pity amongst his race.  Helmos and Tamaros are, perhaps, too good for the world, as they have the noblest of intentions.

We get some neat concepts thrown in, too.  The Portals that allow the races to actually perform trade with each other even though thousands of miles separate them.  The Dominion Lords, champions of the gods, and the Transfiguration they must undergo after a series of tests.  And the Vrykyl, who are really nasty, created as the dark side of the Dominion Lords.  And best of all, gods who try very hard not to meddle-who indeed see the races as children who have yet to learn not to play with dangerous toys.

Really, though, the stars of the book are Dagnarus and Gareth.  Dagnarus is the big mover in the story, as his desires are what drives the plot along.  Gareth is his willing ally, even though he was originally brought in to serve as a living lesson for the prince.  The two work together over the years to become….  Well, I can’t really give everything away, now, can I?

This book sets the tone neatly for the next book in the Sovereign Stone trilogy, while remaining a fairly self-contained story all by itself, which is one of the reasons I liked it.  I’m a big fan of books that end a story, even though there are remaining questions to be answered.  In that, Well of Darkness succeeds admirably.

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Jokers Wild, edited by George R. R. Martin

jokerswildDisgusting Alien Powers Used to Abuse Little Kid.
Juvenile Delinquent Uses Ace Powers to Aggravate City.
Aggravate?  Can’t I at least terrorize?
Maybe when you’re older.
-Conversation between Kid Dinosaur and Doctor Tachyon

Of this set of Wild Cards books, this is the one I found most enjoyable.  While the first book set the stage, and the second one had a theme, Jokers Wild is a mosaic novel, with all the storylines occurring simultaneously.  The only books that I’ve read that surpasses this one in blending multiple authors into a seamless story were the Star Trek collaborations (which covered all the television series in separate books except for Voyager).

Jokers Wild’s major plotline picks up from a plot from Fortunato’s stories.  The Astronomer, the mind behind the coming of the Swarm (or at least so it’s popularly believed) has decided that he’s going to finally repay all the aces that smashed his base of operations in the Cloisters-by killing all responsible, saving Fortunato for last.  He’s gathered a number of aces to give him a hand with it-although one notable exception who doesn’t want involved again is Demise.  That decision puts him up at the head of the list for the Astronomer.

The timing of the Astronomer’s rampage couldn’t be worse.  The date is September 15, 1986, the fortieth anniversary of the day the Wild Card virus was unleashed on Earth.  Wild Card Day has become New York’s version of Mardi Gras.  And there’s a lot more happening than just the Astronomer’s work.  A young thief going by the name of Wraith has stolen a pair of notebooks from a Kien Phuc (don’t laugh-it’s really his name!), and one of those notebooks is far, far more valuable than it looks.  This leads a number of individuals hunting for it, not the least of which is the most infamous archer in the city.

In the meantime, a mysterious organization is moving in against the Mafia, looking to take over organized crime in the city.  Rosemary Muldoon, an assistant DA and mafia princess, and her ace friend Bagabond become involved with that, while their mutual friend Jack Robicheaux tries to catch up to his niece Cordelia, who’s just run away to NYC-and she becomes involved with a bunch of the events of this book.

And just to keep things interesting, other characters are heavily involved in the assorted plots, such as Doctor Tachyon, Hiram Worchester-the owner of the restaurant Aces High-and his friend Jay Ackroyd, a character who I really enjoy reading!

This was, in my opinion, the best of this trilogy.  While there were some hiccups due to the number of writers, the story tended to blend well-characters from multiple stories interacted with each other seamlessly, and the tone of each character was maintained by all the writers.  There’s plenty of intrigue-as evidenced by Wraith and the notebooks, Demise in his attempt to make a living (not in a nice way) while evading the wrath of the Astronomer, and the Astronomer’s work to have each of the aces who ruined his plans killed.  And there’s enough action to satisfy-from a confrontation in Aces High to a fight in the sky above New York.

If the reprints stop here, at least Jokers Wild ends at a decent enough note-it’s a good stopping point for those who don’t want to continue paying the overpriced re-releases.  But if so, I’d still recommend hunting down remaining Wild Card books at used bookstores (or even online), because it gets better.  After all, this is a book series that isn’t afraid to do in characters (which will become abundantly clear), which sets it apart from the reset-button mentality of other super-hero genre novels (Batman, Spider-Man, etc).

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Jarka Ruus, by Terry Brooks

jarkaruusWhat is she like?
You’ve spent time with her.
Not very much.  not enough to know her well.  She doesn’t let you know her well.  She keeps you at a distance.
She does that even to me.  I can tell you that she lives with her past more than most.  She’s haunted by it, Penderrin.  She hates who she was and what she did as the Ilse Witch.  She would do anything to take it all back and start over.  I don’t think anyone understands that.  The Druids mostly think she hasn’t changed all that much, that once you have the kind of magic she does, you don’t regret anything.  They think she’s the same underneath, that she just masks it from them.
-Penderrin Ohmsford and Tagwen

You know, creating the Third Druid Council seemed like a good idea in concept….  But in the latest offering from Terry Brooks, Jarka Ruus, it seems that this noble goal has a few unpleasant realities attached, and they are about to come around and bite the High Druid.

Twenty years have passed since the return of the Jerle Shannara; twenty years where Grianne Ohmsford, once known as the malevolent Ilse Witch, has worked to fulfill the charge laid upon her by the Druid Walker Boh.  Grianne has done what he could not-she has formed a new Druid Council, an organization of learning of both magic and science (mostly magic).  Unfortunately, she’s also made a great deal of enemies in the process.  The Elves don’t like her:  she conveniently kept Walker’s fate from them when she returned, and once the Elven King found out, he wasn’t too well disposed towards her-and neither was his son.  The Federation remembers her well as the Ilse Witch.  The greatest potential danger, however, comes from within the Druid Council itself.  Too many people want her to step down as High Druid-willingly or not, and some are not choosy as to how healthy she is when she is removed.

The plans of one Druid are about to come to fruition:  one night, Grianne disappears-and the Druid Council suddenly undergoes a semi-hostile takeover.  Grianne’s most trusted aide, the Dwarf Tagwen, flees the Druid stronghold of Paranor to find the only man who might be able to find her-Grianne’s brother, Bek.  Who he ends up finding, however, is Bek’s son, Penderrin.  An encounter with pursuers who want to close off loose ends, as well as the intervention of a very familiar character to Shannara readers, sends the two on a journey to find a way to rescue Grianne from a fate that none have suffered since ages past.

Those who have followed the saga of the Ohmsfords will find much familiar to them; this is hardly the first time that a young Ohmsford has had to go on a quest that fairly drips with magic.  This time around, the quest is more personal than epic-instead of saving a race or a nation, Penderrin’s out to save his aunt.  Unlike the previous books, though, the primary antagonists are Druids.  Each of the Druids involved have various motives for wanting Grianne out of the way:  one of them remembers when she was the Ilse Witch, and joined the Druids to keep an eye on her, and he believes that the Four Lands still holds her past against her-and that’s hanging around the collective necks of the Druids.  One hates her for the humiliation that, really, she brought upon herself.  And one hates her because she wants the High Druid’s power and position.  But to keep things even more interesting, it appears that someone is moving behind the scenes, manipulating the players in the drama for very different ends….

There’s a number of additional characters who show up in this book as well.  For example, Ahren Elessedil is alive and well, and living in the Westland; his niece, Khyber, is very interested in the Druidic arts, which puts her most definitely in conflict with her parents’ plans for her.  The Rovers are also represented in this book with the father/daughter airship team of Gar Hatch and Cinnaminson (which is a bit of a mouthful); lest you be deceived by happy memories of the last book’s group of Rovers, keep in mind that not all Rovers are nice; think of the Rovers in Elfstones of Shannara, and you may get a better idea.

But the best parts of the book are the parts I can’t really go into without really spoiling some of the good stuff, but all are related to Grianne and her fate.  There are a pair of really great moments that had me thinking “Oh, this is so not-good”!  Suffice it to say that she has never been in this bad a position, not as a Druid, and not as the Ilse Witch-or even before that.  I was also really happy about some of the little things that tie this book to past books, between the return of the deadliest hand weapon in the Four Lands (and it isn’t the Sword of Leah), and the continuing presence of the most famous Elven magic in the series-especially when it isn’t used as a weapon but in its other aspect.

And just what is Jarka Ruus?  Well, I’ll give one hint:  it’s not a person.  But as a book, I have to say I liked Jarka Ruus.  It doesn’t have the same feeling of dread and danger that the Voyage of the Jerle Shanarra (well, not yet), but it does have a similar feel to the earlier Heritage of Shannara; and as it has a somewhat smaller cast than past books, it feels a little more focused as well.  I hope this continues on through the next book in this series.

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