Monthly Archives: August 2015

The Machine Crusade, by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

machinecrusadeAh, the profits must flow.
-Aurelius Venport

Twenty-five years ago, the death of Manion Butler incited humanity against the machines that ruled them; the conflict quickly ramped up into a religious frenzy-an attitude that Omnius is ill equipped to understand.  Regardless, though, the war between the Synchronized Worlds and the League of Nobles has largely remained a stalemate.  And after twenty-five years of war, things start getting interesting. The Machine Crusade covers a period of seventeen years-a span which sees the birth of objects and ideas that are destined to live on for hundreds of years.  Let me add, though, before I get into the meat of this review, that if you really want to see what went on in those missing twenty five years, there’s a handy appendix that hits the highlights.  I’d recommend reading the main book first, though.

And with that-on with the show!

The book opens with the Army of the Jihad getting ready to repel an assault by the thinking machines on IV Anbus.  The Army is ready on two fronts-ground forces held by Xavier Harkonnen, and the forces in space led by Vorian Atreides.  Their task is complicated, though, by the fact that the native population doesn’t really want them there-no matter how hard Xavier tries to convince them that really bad things are on their way; an example of the dangers of pacifism taken too far.  In the meantime, Iblis Ginjo has become the Grand Patriarch of the Jihad, mostly by manipulation-as Serena Butler spends much of her time in seclusion, as an occasional target of assassination attempts (not all of which originate from Omnius).  Iblis is quite happy with the power he has, and has worked very hard to keep it.

On other fronts:  Agamemnon and his band of Titans haven’t really advanced their goals of taking control back from Omnius…but they haven’t given up, either.  They are, however, in for some surprises in this book.  On the world of Poritrin, Savant Tio Holtzman is still cranking away at developing new inventions-or at least, trying to; the real power behind him, Norma Cenva, is consumed with the idea of an even faster method of space travel-one that would actually fold space in order to reach a destination.  This suggests some very interesting possibilities to Aurelius Venport, the head of a merchant company.  Erasmus is also still around, still in the good graces of Omnius (possibly because the Earth-update version of Omnius never made it back to the Synchronized Worlds…yet….), and ready to analyze yet another aspect of human behavior-an aspect that is highly relevant to the present conflict.  And the saga of Selim Wormrider continues…!

If one thinks of the Jihad proper as the main storyline of this series, then one could also point at lots of little subplots (and not so little) that flesh it out further.  Mercenaries of the world of Ginaz are a potent force in this war, and Jool Noret is very likely the first who could be called a Swordmaster-even though he crowds out everything else in his life to bring destruction to the machines (and he’s undergone a very interesting method of training, all things considered).  Zufa Cevna, a Sorceress of Ruvak, decides to bear a child from someone new, and her choice is an…interesting one.  Savant Holtzman and his benefactor’s treatment of the Zenshiite and Zensunni slaves leads to a predictable outcome, one which leads some of them to an uncertain destiny.  Vorian Atreides discovers the personal cost of fighting in a war in which-barring accident-he will outlive almost everyone he knows; he also has the wit to put a very clever plan into action against Omnius.  Norma finds that there’s a bit more to her than an extremely keen intellect.  Even the Cogitors take a hand-but not as anyone expects.

It’s fun to see how some things start to shape what will one day become the institutions seen in the original Dune book:  we still see the development of what may become the Bene Gesserit, but we also get a chance to see the very beginnings of the Guild, the technologists of Ix, the Tleilaxu (I think; I’m still not 100% certain), and the effects of that most rare of substances-melange.  And for the first time, somebody gets a hint of the far future-a future that resounds with a single name on the lips of his followers.  To be honest, there’s so much going on that has links with other goings-on in this book that it would spoil a whole lot if I went into any kind of detail at all; but the authors continue to impress me with how everything hangs together.

The book concludes with a number of turning points-some for the better, and some for the worse.  The Machine Crusade is an excellent continuation to the Legends of Dune, and has me looking forward to the next and final book in this trilogy; even now, I can’t begin to guess how things are going to fall out here.  Expect to spend some time reading this book, though, because it’s at least a heavy a read as the last one!

Categories: Dune, Legends of Dune | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Nemesis, by Paul B. Thompson

nemesisCan you give me this strength, Kirril?
You have it already.  All that needs to be done is to delete what remains of your useless moral sense.
Then do it.
Are you certain?  What is taken away cannot be restored.
Do it!
-A conversation between a Phyrexian and Crovax the Cursed

It isn’t unusual anymore for a book to be written based on a game.  There are books based on computer games, role-playing games, and even trading card games.  The trading card game Magic the Gathering started was the first card game to get into the novel field.  Early efforts were sold primarily because of the free card offers (I didn’t think much of the books themselves.  A couple years ago, though, the makers of the game decided to start a long term storyline through their game and through their books.  It was the usual:  Good vs. Evil.  In this case, Good was represented by the crew of a flying ship called Weatherlight, and Evil was held by a race of demon/machines.

The background:  The world of Dominaria is in trouble.  Unknowing, the plane of existence upon which it resides is about to be invaded by a race known as the Phyrexians.  They plan to do this by mashing together the Dominarian plane and an artificial plane known as Rath.  A planeswalker (the next best thing to a deity) called Urza has spent a great deal of time and effort trying to frustrate them, and has failed to put an end to the Phyrexians in all that time.  He hit upon the idea of creating a bunch of artifacts and breeding a man who would be the final component of what he called the Legacy.

That man had no idea of his future prominence, although he understood that he was tied into the Legacy and its mysterious purpose.  He left his friends on the flying, plane-shifting Weatherlight because he wanted nothing to do with that purpose.  He returned to them to help rescue their captain, who was abducted for the express purpose of drawing him out.  With help, he succeeded in the rescue…but there was a cost.  The full story can be read in the book Rath and Storm.

Which brings us to Nemesis.  It’s the second book of the Masquerade Cycle; the first showed what happened to the heroes after their rescue of Weatherlight’s captain.  This one isn’t so cheery.  This centers on the folks left behind on Rath.  In the process of the rescue, two crewmen were left behind:  a really arrogant-but highly talented-wizard named Ertai, and a doomed nobleman named Crovax.  Crovax had a hard time of it in the Rath and Storm book; he killed the angel that he obsessively loved, and became twisted and evil.  It doesn’t get any better.  Ertai, on the other hand, ended up stuck on the flying warship Predator, just after he opened the portal allowing Weatherlight to escape…and the warlord Greven il-Vec, its captain, isn’t happy about it.

Ertai and Crovax aren’t the only ones who are involved in this book; there is the elf lord Eladamri, who led his rebels against the enemy Stronghold with no real success.  He has a fairly prominent role, as he hasn’t given up.  And there is Belbe, a Phyrexian shaped as an elven woman, sent by her masters to choose a new ruler for the plane of Rath (since the previous one went on a vengeance kick).

This isn’t a book with too many “good” guys.  Ertai has some flashes of morality, but his arrogance makes him hard to like for most of the book.  Crovax…well, I’d kinda hoped he’d find a way for redemption, since he got put through hell previously.  The Phyrexians had different plans, though.  The back of the book seems to hint at building someone powerful enough to take down a planeswalker.  Crovax may very well be it.  The story moves along as Ertai and Crovax attempt to meet their own goals:  Crovax to become the ruler of Rath, and Ertai trying to find a way to escape Rath and stay alive-not necessarily in that order.  Things get really complicated, though, once a third player begins to act in the background.  Throw Eladamri into the mix, acting on the words of an oracle, and you set the scene for a busy climax.

If you are looking for a book with a happy ending…I doubt you’ll enjoy this book too much (although one of the bad guys gets what he deserves in the end).  The protagonists are all tainted with evil in some way or another; some simply revel in their evil.  It does succeed in setting up the rest of the storyline, which will probably continue through the last of the Masquerade Cycle books and through whatever cycle follows.  This story got hung up a bit, I felt, with the year-long hiatus to fill in further back story with the Artifacts Cycle, but it seems to be back on track.  Think of this book as “The Empire Strikes Back“; just don’t think any Ewoks are going to come to the rescue in the next book.

Categories: Magic the Gathering, Masquerade Cycle | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Centauri Dawn, by Michael Ely and Robert Simpson

centdawnA Spartan would rather lose an ankle than lose a fight?
I didn’t lose either, Jahn.  I didn’t yield; you stopped.  The Spartans have an incredible tolerance for pain, and they don’t surrender.  If you had broken my foot and stood up to leave, I would have kept on fighting.
-Rankojin of the Peacekeepers, giving Jahn Lal some insight on Spartan thinking

Well, it looks like Earth finally did it.  Let me rephrase that:  Mankind finally did it-it managed to pretty much kill itself.  The year is 2100, and the last remnants of humanity are arriving at the planet Chiron, which is in the Alpha Centauri system.  Unfortunately, the landing is a little rough, as a mutiny on the ship Unity forces various landing pods to eject from the ship without plan or purpose.  Not a sterling beginning to mankind’s attempt to rebuild itself.  It is, however, the beginning of this book, Centauri Dawn.  This is book one of a series (don’t know how many there will be, though)-so this gets the dubious honor of being the first book that I’ve reviewed that is just beginning.

This book takes place across several years, centering mostly on the doings of one of the several factions of survivors, the Peacekeepers, although there is a strong emphasis on the Spartans as well; and yes, you can almost guess the general thrust of the relations between these two factions.  The leader of the Peacekeepers, Pravin Lal, is desperately dedicated to trying to keep the Unity survivors in a building frame of mind; cooperation, rather than coercion.  Corazon Santiago, on the other hand, is the ultimate survivalist, seemingly embodying the worst parts of that subculture, where the weak are allowed to die (unless they’re killed flat out, naturally) and the strong take what they want.  There are other factions, but they are only briefly touched upon.  This story really belongs to these two factions.

The characters are interesting enough.  Pravin is a idealist, even though his fellows haven’t really given him reason to be-his wife was virtually killed in the mutiny-but perhaps too much so.  His son Jahn is probably as normal as a guy can get growing up on another planet.  Corazon doesn’t come off too fanatical…in fact, she shows glimmers of good sense occasionally.  Her advisors, such as a fellow named Diego, don’t have nearly as much good sense, and are apparently spoiling for a fight.  Corazon’s son, Victor, lives off of borrowed time, as many within the Spartan faction don’t think he’s tough enough for their philosophy.

Okay.  That’s the synopsis.  Here’s my opinion:  I wasn’t all that impressed.

It seemed to me that roughly half the book was a war between the two factions; I suppose I really shouldn’t have been surprised:  after all, this book is based on the computer game, Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, and of course, it has a strong emphasis on battle.  On the other hand, given the events in this book and the implications of the future books, it amazes me how anyone capable of building a ship and sending it to Alpha Centauri could crew it with a bunch of mental defectives.  I mean, with the survivalist Spartans, and a faction called the Believers (which may or may not be acting with their boss’s awareness), and the hints of another one with less than honorable intentions-how could anyone think throwing all these people together would be a good idea?  The wonder isn’t that they mutinied-it’s that they did so at the end of the journey instead of in the middle or earlier!

It occurs to me that I wasn’t all that impressed with the other computer game-related book I’ve reviewed, Planescape:  Torment.  Perhaps I should take this as a hint that what might make good games don’t automatically make good novels.  I think when I see the next book on the shelves, I think I’ll leave it there. Alpha Centauri:  Centauri Dawn may appeal to the hardcore fans of the computer game, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

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Amber and Ashes, by Margaret Weis

amberandashesYou’re dressed like a monk.
Appearances can be deceiving.  You, sir, are dressed like a knight.
-Ausric Krell, death knight, and Rhys, monk of Zeboim

Before I get started, I’d like to point out that the cover shown here isn’t the cover of the book I picked up; either they’ve released two different covers, or it got switched last minute, so nobody write me about having up the wrong cover….!

With that out of the way:

Life sucks when you’re a god of death (okay, maybe that was the wrong way to phrase it).  You don’t get a good, healthy crop of worshipers-either they’re on their last legs, or they’re power mad in raising the dead to fight their battles.  And that’s not a great thing when you’re Chemosh, the death god of Krynn-especially if you’ve got grand dreams of becoming the king of the gods.  But Chemosh is capable of moving with the times-he’s got a plan, one that will be an image makeover for him, one that will increase the numbers of his worshipers.  All he needs is someone well suited for rallying people to his cause.  Fortunately, there’s a young woman who did just that recently for her goddess-a goddess who has recently become extinct.  Her name is Mina.  This plan drives Amber and Ashes, the first book in Margaret Weis’s solo effort in the Dark Disciple trilogy.

Of course, Mina isn’t exactly thrilled to receive visitors.  When last we saw her, she’d gone off to bury the deceased Dark Queen, Takhisis, after vowing to Paladine to go on a killing spree, targeting elves.  However, since placing the former goddess’s body under a mountain, she’s been afflicted by a numbing despair, only suffering the company of her longtime associate, Galdar.  Galdar can’t stay too much longer, though, as the minotaur god Sargonnas is getting antsy.  A number of gods have apparently stopped by as well-but only when Chemosh arrives does she believe relief is at hand-the relief of death.  But, again, Chemosh has other ideas.  He has a little test for her, and it involves a death knight.  And his plans involve giving his followers-led by Mina-the one gift that perhaps only the god of death can provide.  His plans don’t go completely unnoticed, though.  Sucked into the intrigue is a monk of Majere named Rhys-a monk whose brother becomes entangled in the intrigues of Chemosh.  He forsakes Majere for a new master in order to take action.

Of course, no plan ever unfolds perfectly-and Chemosh discovers a big detail with his.  The god of death is drawn towards one of the living-Mina.

In spite of the present day being an “Age of Mortals”, this story puts the gods front-and-center.  No less than four gods appear with speaking roles in this book, and those conversations are with the very mortals who worship them.  Given current events in Krynn, it’s probably not surprising.  After a pair of Cataclysms, each followed by a lengthy absence by the gods, I’d imagine that most of the gods have to do a great deal of convincing to gain worship again.  That means they have to go out of their way to gather followers for a change, instead of simply listening to prayers.  Chemosh’s plans are certainly a new tack-although it becomes apparent that his gifts do come with a price.  It’s also clear that he’s thought through his plans to become the king of the gods-but it’s still unclear that he’ll be able to overcome some rivals.

There’s a few new characters here as well (although there is a couple of cameo appearances with someone else who had much to do in the War of Souls series); The monk Rhys is a fellow who’s primarily interested in finding out what has happened to his brother, after his brother does some…well, let’s just say some not-so-nice things.  It’s the process of learning that he’s drawn into the plots of gods and goddesses.  It’s also how he meets one of the more interesting kender in Krynn-Nightshade Pricklypear, a nightstalker (which means that he speaks with the dead).  It’s a novelty seeing a kender who isn’t primarily interested in rooting through people’s belongings for a change.  And as for the death knight, Ausric Krell:  well, he’s one sick puppy, given his style of gaming.  He’s no Lord Soth; he may have power on his side, but I don’t get the same feeling of dread that Soth inspired (Soth didn’t exactly set the bar low, either).

Mina’s the big story here, of course-she is, after all, the dark disciple the trilogy is named for.  From a soul deluged by despair, to a servant of death, to the beloved of Chemosh, she’s undergone a great deal of transformation in this book (and in fact, we get a brief recap of her life prior to this book, which shows she’s no stranger to transformative events).  Reading about her trial in Chemosh’s service and her subsequent activity on his behalf, it’s easy to see why her service is coveted by many a god; well, at least the gods of evil.  She’s lost none of her ability to gather followers in the name of her chosen deity-although her methods have certainly changed a bit.

Amber and Ashes is a good start to this trilogy; I liked the new characters of Rhys and Nightshade, and I liked the increased presence of the gods.  But most of all, I liked the relationship between Chemosh and Mina-a relationship that is not nearly as unequal as it appears.  It’s not what one would expect from one of the evil gods of Krynn, and I’m looking forward to further exploration of Chemosh’s feelings towards Mina.  I’m also looking forward to seeing what happens next, because the book’s conclusion leaves a number of characters in some very interesting situations-and none of them are good.  The War of Souls may be over, but the war for the hearts and minds of the living is in full swing.

Categories: Dark Disciple Trilogy, Dragonlance | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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