Monthly Archives: September 2015

The Future War, by S. M. Stirling

futurewarRemember, we have no fate but that we make for ourselves.
-John Connor, closing the circle

The last book concluded with the Connor clan finally feeling that they’ve aborted Skynet (or at least the more malevolent aspect of it).  There was sacrifice, but at least humanity was safe from its own mistakes.


As it turns out (as readers of the last book will recall), John made a bit of a boo-boo, which kickstarted the very event he wanted to prevent.  As a result, Skynet becomes sentient.  And while it’s behind schedule, Judgment Day is about to finally fall.  And this is how The Future War begins.

It’s a little strange to be writing this review at this time.  Not too long after this book was released, Terminator 3 was released in the theaters, with its own take on the Rise of the Machines.  So in some ways, comparisons will be inevitable.  In my opinion, though, The Future War beats Rise of the Machines all hollow.  Granted, it had the advantage of having a couple of other books to set it up….

The book opens as the Connors and Dieter finally unwinding in Alaska.  John feels that the war has (finally) been averted, while Sarah isn’t quite as certain; she’s built up a great deal of paranoia over time, especially since she’s thought it was over before.  And she has good evidence to back it up-after all, if Skynet never rose, then Kyle Reese would never have gone back in time, and John wouldn’t exist (the fact that he’s essentially a miner’s canary for everyone in this book hasn’t escaped the author’s notice).  That proves to be all to correct when, somewhat behind the original schedule, Judgment Day kicks off.

Unlike the recent movie, The Future War is mostly involved with what happens after the nukes hit as opposed to trying to keep them from hitting at all; one of the things that really caught my attention (and impressed me) was the methodology of just how Skynet arranged to achieve maximum effect for low cost as far as using its nuclear arsenal.  To make matters even more cloudy, Skynet doesn’t kick things off with Terminators immediately-the Luddites, who have been around the edges in the previous books, are made into pawns of Skynet (unknowingly, of course; working for the machines doesn’t exactly fit their philosophies).  This allows the artificial intelligence all kinds of other ways of exterminating the human race.

While we don’t get to follow some of the surviving supporting characters from the last book, we are introduced to a number of characters, working with and against the fledgling resistance.  Standouts are Ninel Petrikoff, a young woman who is very much a member of the Luddite movement who crosses paths with John a few times, and Lieutenant Dennis Reese, who is not only in the army, but is also suspected to be the father of Kyle Reese, the man who started the ball rolling in time.

A great deal of this book deals with simply surviving Skynet’s initial gambits, and solidifying a resistance movement so that they can reach that future point in time where humanity finally defeats the machines.  The book also covers much, much more time than the other two; while those books could be measured in months, this one covers years of activity.  Seeing the changes in John is what stands out for me, as he finally evolves into “the great military leader” that he’d heard he would become all his life.  I also liked to see how a couple of important facts might have actually helped the resistance early on, thanks to the wonders of time travel.

And for those who are wondering where the book fits in with the recent film:  in spite of a throwaway paragraph near the book’s finale, there really isn’t any tie to the Terminator 3 movie (and that paragraph doesn’t really fit in with what we know from the events in Terminator 3).  Consider this series an alternative path in the Terminator series, and on that vein, consider reading these books.  They aren’t exactly filled with things exploding and blowing up every five minutes like in the movies, but they do have a bit more meat to them-and I’ve always been partial to that kind of thing.

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Annihilation, by Philip Athans

annihilationLolth has abandoned us.
We have abandoned her.
Well, what could she expect?
-The Lichdrow Dyrr, and Matron Mother Yasraena Dyrr

There’s a lot to cover in Annihilation, book five of the War of the Spider Queen.  So, I’ll get right to it.

The crew from Menzoberranzan has managed to capture a ship of chaos (complete with demonic captain), which they plan to use to travel physically to the Abyss and determine what has become of Lolth.  On the downside, it’s not quite ready to go, requiring some additional “fuel”.  The demon, on the other hand, doesn’t really feel like serving a bunch of dark elves, and demons have a sense of treachery equal to that of the drow.  At the same time, Quenthel is finally losing what little grip on reality she has left, and Danifae Yauntyrr finally gets the opportunity to rid herself of a long-standing irritant.  In the meantime, the siege on Menzoberranzan has come to a waiting state, with the minor exception of two extremely powerful wizards who look to finish each other off.  On another front, Ryld Argith is having trouble on the surface reconciling his feelings for Halisstra Melarn and the fact that she’s been chosen to kill off his goddess.

And ahead of all of them:  the Abyss, and the Demonweb Pits-and possibly, the fate of Lolth the Spider Queen.

As the penultimate chapter of this series, you could expect that big things are in store for our characters.  Considering that the expedition consists of a bunch of drow elves, some of whom were ready to kill each other in the last book, one shouldn’t be surprised that nerves are frayed.  Pharaun gets a chance to renew his “acquaintance” with a fiendish friend-who he’s not really willing to trust too far, since she’s marginally involved with forces attacking Menzoberranzan.  Quenthel is…well, she’s at the end of her rope.  She wasn’t exactly a personality well suited for extended waiting, and that does take up a good portion of this book.  To say that the Mistress of Arach-Tinilith is losing her grip would be a kind way to put it-and among the drow, if you don’t exercise your power regularly, somebody is always happy to step in and claim it for themselves.  Valas begins to wonder if he has too much more purpose in the expedition, while Danifae puts plans into motion to both gain in personal power and claim a heaping of vengeance at the same time.

On the surface, Halisstra is just about ready to roll in her appointed mission to do the impossible-but her lover, Ryld, has only stuck around for her; the swordmaster really doesn’t have any desire to worship Eilistraee, and he has a serious dislike for the World Above as well.  Adapting to the dangers of the surface proves difficult-however, the problems of the surface pale in significance compared to the danger unleashed upon him later in the book.  In Menzoberranzan, Gromph Baenre is about to have his rematch with the lichdrow-after regaining his sight in a rather…messy…manner.  Let’s just say it’s a bad idea to be a captive of the archmage, and leave it at that.

While this book spends much time getting the ship of chaos up to speed, Athans does an exceptional job of keeping it from being boring.  The captain of the ship is cunning enough to cause a number of problems for his “crew”, and really rubs Jeggred the wrong way (and the final resolution of this little conflict was one of the high points of the book-I just loved Jeggred’s last word on the subject).  Danifae’s plans demonstrate a skill with treachery that show that the battle-captive is as skilled as any high priestess in plans for revenge.  A fight on the World Above is a marvelous set of sequences that brings in not only Ryld and his relentless opponent, but also some folks who were unlucky enough to be on hand to add more confusion to the fight.

The real fun in this book (besides the climax, which I am not even going to hint at) is the duel between Gromph and the lichdrow.  Reading about Gromph’s preparations for this conflict, and then the actual battle itself between two extremely powerful wizards was a joy.  The methods of magic in the Forgotten Realms setting has always seemed ill-suited to a one-on-one battle between wizards, but Athans pulls it off perfectly.  As a bonus in this conflict, we finally get to see the true nature of Nimor Imphraezl and those of the Jaezred Chalssin; I’m not ashamed to admit I didn’t see it coming, but it makes sense.

In the end, I can say that Annihilation has set a high bar for the final book in the War of the Spider Queen to reach; the climax of the book changes the tone of everything.  But even before that end, the book keeps a lively pace, and has set up the series for what I anticipate as a stellar ending in Resurrection.

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No Phule Like an Old Phule, by Robert Asprin with Peter J. Heck

nophuleIn a truly orderly universe, a once-in-a-trillion-chances event ought to have the common courtesy to wait for someone to make a few million attempts to bring it about before manifesting itself.  It says something very unpleasant about the universe we live in that such an event can just as easily occur the very first time someone tries to bring it about.
-Beeker’s journal entry #727

After my review of the last book in the Phule series, Phule Me Twice, one could be forgiven for thinking I’d give the latest, No Phule Like an Old Phule, a pass.  But I did enjoy other books in the series, and Robert Asprin has completed his Myth books (well, maybe; I could swear I’ve seen references to a newer book somewhere), so that’s no longer on the back of my mind-so I go into this offering of the Phule books with an open mind.  And one of the big reasons I wanted to read this one has to do less with Willard Phule, and more with someone with at least as much wealth:  his father, Victor Phule.  Victor has a few issues with his son’s business practices-particularly with the acquisition of the Fat Chance casino at Lorelei.  He just can’t accept that the casino makes money, and plans to prove it by hitting it big.  At the same time, though, a pair of failed kidnappers-Lola and Ernie-are coerced into giving it another try-and it looks like Victor’s the only Phule in town.

This is, however, the least of the issues facing the Space Legion on the world of Zenobia.  Captain Jester still has to deal with the ill-will of General Blitzkrieg; this time, the ill-tempered general has sent representatives from the Alliance Ecological Interplanetary Observation Unit to observe the environmental impact the Legion is having on Zenobia (yes, the organization really is AEIOU); worse yet, its most famous representative has come to see-Barky, the Environmental Dog.  In addition, there are a number of big-game hunters with connections who want to try to take some shots at the local wildlife.

But that isn’t all that’s going on!  We’ve also got the enlistment of a fellow named Zigger, a Lepoid who definitely isn’t the usual material for the Legion-he’s too good!  Such an aberration can only be assigned to one unit-Omega Company.  And there’s something odd about the Zenobians, who seem to be working on something that’s caught the attention of Sushi, Do-Wop, and Rev; the Rev’s trying to determine the mysterious connection between the King and an entity the Zenobians call by the curiously named “‘L’Viz”, and the search for that connection leads to some rather interesting revelations about the Zenobians.

In spite of all the various plotlines in this book, it helps that they’re primarily concentrated in two areas-Zenobia and Lorelei.  That fact is probably the only thing that allows Willard Phule to keep riding herd on everything-and even then it’s a close thing.  Once everything starts to come together, even Phule has some trouble managing the various crises.  I rather enjoyed most of the subplots in this book.  I enjoyed the boot-camp and subsequent assignment of Zigger, who takes on a Legion name that had me shaking my head; the mystery behind the Zenobians really got my attention, and the end result was hilarious.  I can’t bring myself to go into detail about how things fall out at Fat Chance.  Let’s just say that while certain gambles turn out fairly predictably, the aftermath is far more amusing (a classic example of the quote used for this review).  I was less interested in the big-game plot, although I was certainly amused by the resolution.  The big conflict on Zenobia is driven by the AEIOU and Barky, and the efforts to prove that Omega Company is far more environmentally friendly than the average Legion unit; not as easy as it sounds, as Barky tends to have a very, very sensitive nose….

I felt this was a more enjoyable book than the previous effort; I was pleased that this didn’t introduce too many new long-term characters at the expense of the characters already in Omega, because I still feel that the current batch has a lot of mileage still in them.  While No Phule Like an Old Phule isn’t quite as good as the first pair of books in the series, it is certainly moving back in the right direction.

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The Skrayling Tree, by Michael Moorcock

skraylingThere’s a madness in Chaos, just as there can be in Law.  These forces take many forms and many names across the multiverse.  To call them Good or Evil is never to know them, never to control them, for there are times when Chaos does good and Law does evil and vice versa.  The tiniest action of any kind can have extreme and monumental consequences.  Out of the greatest acts of evil can spring the greatest powers for good.  Equally, from acts of great goodness, pure evil can spring.  That is the first thing any adept learns.  Only then can their education truly begin.
-White Crow, student of the Kakatanawa

It has been a very long time since I’ve last read something by Michael Moorcock.  I had been in the right mood to pick up his books, having seen references to them on and off over the years, and went out of my way to pick up the books involving the Runestaff, Corum, and of course, Elric of Melniboné-who, in his little corner of the multiverse, is an aspect of the Champion Eternal.  It was the Elric book that I’d enjoyed the most (and more importantly, had the easiest time finding in bookstores at the time).  Well, once again, I’ve hit the right mood, and picked up a Moorcock novel-and once again, Elric has a featuring role.  The book is The Skrayling Tree; don’t make the mistake I did-I had no idea that this is kind of a follow up to The Dreamthief’s Daughter, because I didn’t bother reading the inside cover first.  Well, it’s not the first time I’ve reviewed a book without reading a predecessor….

The book is written in three parts; the first is written in the hand of Oona von Bek, wife of Count Ulric von Bek-who shares Elric’s soul-and the daughter of a Dreamthief and Elric; however, Elric isn’t really a part of this particular universe (more on that in a moment)-which is similar (if not actually) our own, approximately 1951.  The von Beks are working for the United Nations, but the two are taking a short vacation.  It proves to be a bit more exciting than one would wish-Ulric is kidnapped by Indians, and it is fast apparent that they don’t hail from this Earth, but from another.  However, with the guidance of a fellow by the name of Klosterheim (who apparently has history with Oona, and it ain’t good), and a medicine shield left behind in the kidnapping, Oona goes off in pursuit.  In the process, she meets a pair of unique individuals-Ayanawatta, who knows much of the future from dream journeys, and White Crow, a student of the Kakatanawa Indians, and a shaman as well.  Oona joins their journey to Odan-a-Kakatanawa, as the two believe that her quest parallels their own.

The second part involves Elric.  Elric-in his own universe-has lost track of his fabled black sword, Stormbringer, at a most inconvenient time (I’m not sure where it fits in with his own story, but I get the impression that it’s near the end of it-when he really needs it).  In an effort to recover it, he uses a magic known as a Dream of a Thousand Years, which allows him to travel many worlds-including the one of Ulric and Oona, although at an earlier point in time; there he seeks the smith who forged the original black sword, reasoning that if he should find him, he should also locate Stormbringer.  While in Vienna, he learns of a Norseman named Gunnar who had explored much of the world, and may know of the smith.  Gunnar, however, is a man as unique as Elric, as he remembers his own past, present, and future-and wishes to take the universe with him when he dies.  Their journey on the seas, however, is hardly uneventful, and takes them into yet another world (guess which one?).  As far as the third part goes-well, I’ll leave that a bit of a surprise, although I’ll say that folks familiar with other Elric stories will recognize one or two people encountered in this part.

In spite of the fact that I have not read The Dreamthief’s Daughter, I was able to follow the plot along pretty easily; while there are references and characters that undoubtedly came from that book, their presence and significance is explained well enough to understand their role in the story (I was particularly interested in a reference to a character as an Eternal Predator; wonder if that has the same kind of significance as the Champion…).  This helped a lot in following the story.  The book has things I find familiar about Moorcock’s writing mixed in with concepts that I haven’t seen in his other books-but are in many others (such as the presence of the Grail, which doesn’t make an appearance, but is referred to).  Add in the new characters like White Crow and Gunnar, and the mix is a fairly pleasing whole.

One thing that I had a little bit of trouble with at first was the general writing style; the book is written in first person, but as if recorded in a journal; as a result, you don’t see the level of dialog that one might expect in these books, but rather as one would describe a conversation in a journal.  This isn’t a bad thing, just took a bit of getting used to.  Likewise, you don’t see endless pages of action-but that’s not what fans of Moorcock are looking for.  The conflicts are as much philosophical as physical, and the consequences are no less real for it.

I’d have to say that I liked reading The Skrayling Tree, and it has helped me make at least one immediate decision-I’ve got to pick up a copy of the last book as soon as I can.  The other decision is to keep my eyes open for an expected third book (as is heavily hinted at in this one).  Moorcock managed to hook me again.

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