Review: Domesticating Dragons by Dan Koboldt

Review: Domesticating Dragons by Dan KoboldtDomesticating Dragons by Dan Koboldt
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 345
Published by Baen Books on January 5, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Build-A-Bear workshop meets Jurassic Park when a newly graduated genetic engineer goes to work for a company that aims to produce custom-made dragons.
Noah Parker, a newly minted Ph.D., is thrilled to land a dream job at Reptilian Corp., the hottest tech company in the American Southwest. He’s eager to put his genetic engineering expertise to use designing new lines of Reptilian’s feature product: living, breathing dragons.
Although highly specialized dragons have been used for industrial purposes for years, Reptilian is desperate to crack the general retail market. By creating a dragon that can be the perfect family pet, Reptilian hopes to put a dragon into every home.
While Noah’s research may help Reptilian create truly domesticated dragons, Noah has a secret goal. With his access to the company’s equipment and resources, Noah plans to slip changes into the dragons’ genetic code, bending the company’s products to another purpose entirely.

My Review:

The blurb calls this “Build-A-Bear workshop meets Jurassic Park” and that does sum up the top level of this story – although in the end it turns out to be WAY MORE Jurassic Park than Build-A-Bear™.

After all, those bears aren’t real, but the dragons in Jurassic Park definitely are. Although the dragons that both do and don’t get domesticated don’t run quite that far amok. But they could. And they definitely do run a bit amok, but then, so do their designers – and their owners.

There are two situations at the beginning of this story, and they play into each other in ways that I didn’t expect at that beginning.

Noah Parker got into genetic engineering because his younger brother has a muscular atrophy-type disease that could be genetic. But nobody knows and with the source of the disease unidentified – and therefore medically “vague” – Connor Parker isn’t eligible for any of the experimental testing and treatment programs that are currently underway – or that ever will be.

Noah became a genetic engineer not so he could cure his brother – because that’s not possible – but so that he could identify the genetic component of his disease and get him into effective treatment.

It’s a noble goal – although the lengths that Noah goes to in order to achieve it are sometimes less than noble.

There’s also a secondary problem that most of the world considers more important than the progress of one man’s disease. A virus has killed off nearly the entire canine population the world over – and no cure has been found.

Strangely enough, that’s what leads to dragons. Because dogs fill a lot of roles in the human ecosystem, as well as making marvelous pets. There’s a huge niche that can be exploited by someone with the genetic engineering knowhow and the economic savvy to design and build a creature that can fill all those cages that used to be filled by barking dogs.

That’s where Reptilian Corporation comes in. And eventually, where it goes out. With more than a bit of help from newly minted Ph.D. Noah Parker and all of his little friends.

Escape Rating A-: Dragons may be the ultimate in charismatic fauna. They’re certainly right up there with the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park for just how much sheer “grabby hands syndrome” the idea of having one’s very own dragon would create in pretty much anyone.

Including a whole lot of people who are incapable of being responsible pet owners for one reason or another. The transcripts of the calls to the Build-A-Dragon help line and support department are hilarious and so very real. Tech support for computers and computer software sounds very much like that – without the possibilities of death and dismemberment for either the owner or the product. Usually. (If you’ve never read the probably apocryphal tale of nosmoke.exe, now might be the time. We all need a laugh or two this week!)

As much as I chuckled over the tech support bits, this is a story that began by giving me a terrible sad. Imagining a world where there were no dogs was depressing as hell. And I’m a cat person. But seriously, as many jokes as there are about asking the deity to make someone as good of a person as their dog thinks there are, the idea that the dogs were all gone was heartbreaking. Strangely even more heartbreaking than the situation at the beginning of Connie Willis’ quirky time-travel classic, To Say Nothing of the Dog, which begins in a world where it’s the cats who have been killed off.)

It also made me wonder, throughout the story, why no one seemed to have thought about engineering dog species who were immune to the virus. Discovering the reason at the end was kind of a relief.

But the story here is about one extremely nerdy guy who sets out to save his brother and ends up saving an entire species. Because as much as he wants to treat the dragons as if they are merely clusters of experimental cells, he can’t. They worm, or rather fly, their way into Noah’s heart every bit as much as they do the readers’.

So when Noah discovers the truth about what’s really going on with the company and the dragons, we’re right there with him in his horror, his disgust, his fear and his determination. We cheer him on as he does what’s right instead of what’s easy.

And it’s marvelous that in the end, rather like the way that dogs (and cats) save us as much as we save them, Noah’s dragons save him every bit as much as he saves them – if not just a bit more.

Lab-based science fiction, with its grounding in the real world, real situations and people who feel like friends rather than out-of-this-world superheroes is a lot of fun when it’s done right. It’s done right in Domesticating Dragons, with its geeky hero who saves the day, gets the girl and fulfills all of our dreams of dragons.

Review: Putting the Science in Fiction by Dan Koboldt vs. The Science of Science Fiction by Mark Brake

Putting the Science in Fiction: Expert Advice for Writing with Authenticity in Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Other Genres by by Dan Koboldt, Chuck Wendig , Gareth D. Jones, Bianca Nogrady, Kathleen S. Allen, Mike Hays, William Huggins, Abby Goldsmith, Benjamin Kinney, Danna Staaf, Sylvia Spruck Wrigley, Judy L. Mohr, Anne M. Lipton, Jamie Krakover, Rebecca Enzor, Stephanie Sauvinet, Philip Kramer, Gwen C. Katz
Format read: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback
Genre: science, science fiction
Pages: 266
Published by Writer’s Digest Books on October 16th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Amazon, Barnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Science and technology have starring roles in a wide range of genres–science fiction, fantasy, thriller, mystery, and more. Unfortunately, many depictions of technical subjects in literature, film, and television are pure fiction. A basic understanding of biology, physics, engineering, and medicine will help you create more realistic stories that satisfy discerning readers.

This book brings together scientists, physicians, engineers, and other experts to help you:
Understand the basic principles of science, technology, and medicine that are frequently featured in fiction.
Avoid common pitfalls and misconceptions to ensure technical accuracy.
Write realistic and compelling scientific elements that will captivate readers.
Brainstorm and develop new science- and technology-based story ideas.
Whether writing about mutant monsters, rogue viruses, giant spaceships, or even murders and espionage, Putting the Science in Fiction will have something to help every writer craft better fiction.

Putting the Science in Fiction collects articles from “Science in Sci-fi, Fact in Fantasy,” Dan Koboldt’s popular blog series for authors and fans of speculative fiction (dankoboldt.com/science-in-scifi). Each article discusses an element of sci-fi or fantasy with an expert in that field. Scientists, engineers, medical professionals, and others share their insights in order to debunk the myths, correct the misconceptions, and offer advice on getting the details right.

 

The Science of Science Fiction: The Influence of Film and Fiction on the Science and Culture of Our Times by Mark Brake
Format read: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: science fiction, history
Pages: 272
Published by Skyhorse Publishing on October 9th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository
Goodreads

We are the first generation to live in a science fiction world.

Media headlines declare this the age of automation. The TV talks about the coming revolution of the robot, tweets tell tales of jets that will ferry travelers to the edge of space, and social media reports that the first human to live for a thousand years has already been born. The science we do, the movies we watch, and the culture we consume is the stuff of fiction that became fact, the future imagined in our past–the future we now inhabit.

The Science of Science Fiction is the story of how science fiction shaped our world. No longer a subculture, science fiction has moved into the mainstream with the advent of the information age it helped realize. Explore how science fiction has driven science, with topics that include:

Guardians of the Galaxy Is Space Full of Extraterrestrials? Jacking In: Will the Future Be Like Ready Player One?
Mad Max Is Society Running down into Chaos? The Internet: Will Humans Tire of Mere Reality?
Blade Runner 2049 When Will We Engineer Human Lookalikes? And many more!
This book will open your eyes to the way science fiction helped us dream of things to come, forced us to explore the nature and limits of our own reality, and aided us in building the future we now inhabit.

My Review:

I have served on various book judging committees over the years. Recently I was part of a group picking the best science fiction for the year. I’m not going to say where or when, but it’s a list where the jury is still out.

But it made me think about what makes good science fiction – and conversely what doesn’t. Which led me to not one but two books in the virtually towering TBR pile, Putting the Science in Fiction and The Science of Science Fiction, both of which have been released this month.

It seemed like a golden opportunity to do a compare and contrast instead of a more traditional review.

I thought that these books would work together well. Putting the Science in Fiction was all about the inputs. It is exactly what I expected it to be. Much fiction, both written and filmed, includes some science in some form. Police dramas and mysteries deal with forensic science. Medical dramas – and not a few mysteries – deal with medical science. Science fiction, of course, is all about taking science out to the nth degree and then playing with it.

But lay people often get things wrong. There are lots of things about science that get shortchanged or simplified in order to make better drama. Anyone who is an expert in whatever has just gotten completely screwed up will cringe and just how far off-base the writer or director has just taken the science in their story.

We all do it for our own fields. And when it happens it throws the knowledgeable reader out of the story – no matter how good the rest of it might be.

Putting the Science in Fiction turns out to be a surprisingly readable collection of essays by science and engineering experts explaining the very, very basics of their fields to those of us whose expertise is somewhere else. It serves as a terrific guide for any writer who wants to follow the dictum of “write what you know” by learning more so they know more so they have more to write about.

On my other hand, The Science of Science Fiction is not what I expected it to be. I was kind of expecting it to be about SF that did well – not necessarily in the science aspect at the time so much as in the way that it captured the imagination – even to the point where the SF created the science it postulated.

There is a famous story about Star Trek: The Original Series and the invention of the cell phone that comes to mind.

But that’s not where this book went. Although that would be a great book and I hope someone writes it.

Instead, The Science of Science Fiction reads more like a history of SF written thematically rather than chronologically. It takes some of the basic tenets and tropes of SF and lays out where they began – sometimes surprisingly long ago – to where they are now.

It’s an interesting approach but it didn’t quite gel for this reader.

By way of comparison, both books talk about the science and the influences of Michael Crichton’s classic work of SF, Jurassic Park.

Putting the Science in Fiction does two things, and it does them really well. First, it conveys that “sensawunder” that SF does when it is at its best. The author of the essay is a microbiologist, who puts the science of the book in context – both the context of what was known at the time it was written (OMG 1990!) and what has been discovered since, and comes to the conclusion that he didn’t do too badly based on what was known at the time. Discoveries since have made his science fictional extrapolation less likely than it originally seemed. It’s hard to fault the author for that.

But what the author of the essay also does is to show how the book not only grabbed his interest and attention but continues to hold it to the present day, even though he knows the science isn’t remotely feasible. The book does a great job of taking just enough of the science in a direction that we want to believe is possible.

After all, who wouldn’t want to see a real live dinosaur? Under very controlled conditions. Much more controlled conditions than occur in the book, of course.

The Science of Science Fiction also discusses Jurassic Park. (A classic is a classic, after all) But instead of talking about the science of cloning the author goes into a couple of other directions. First he sets Jurassic Park within the context of other “lost world” works of science fiction. That’s a tradition that goes back to Jules Verne and even further. But it feels like the fit of Jurassic Park as part of that lost world tradition doesn’t quite fit.

The other part of this Jurassic Park discussion has to do with the way that scientists are portrayed in SF. Science makes the story possible. Scientists in fiction tend to work toward proving they can do something – in this particular case proving they can clone dinosaurs from preserved DNA. It takes a different kind of scientist, someone dealing in chaos theory, to posit that just because it CAN be done doesn’t mean it SHOULD be done. That’s a discussion I would love to see expanded. And I’d have liked this book more if it had been expanded here.

Reality Ratings: These two books struck me completely differently. Putting the Science in Fiction is both readable and does what it sets out to do – excellent points for a work designed to help writers do a more informed job of including science in their fiction. I therefore give Putting the Science in Fiction a B+.

Howsomever, The Science of Science Fiction doesn’t work nearly as well. It reads much more like a history of SF than it treats with the science of SF. That it breaks that history up into themes rather than treat it chronologically makes it jump around a bit. As SF history, it’s not nearly as readable as Astounding or An Informal History of the Hugos or What Makes This Book So Great?. While I will be tempted to dip back into Putting the Science in Fiction again when I need some explanatory material on a particular science in SF, I won’t be inclined to go back to The Science of Science Fiction. I give The Science of Science Fiction a C+

One final recommendation. Do not read the chapter in Putting the Science in Fiction about plausible methods for kicking off the Zombie Apocalypse at breakfast. Or any other meal!

Review: The World Awakening by Dan Koboldt + Giveaway

Review: The World Awakening by Dan Koboldt + GiveawayThe World Awakening by Dan Koboldt
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Gateways to Alissia #3
Pages: 448
Published by Harper Voyager Impulse on April 3rd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Quinn Bradley has learned to use the magic of another world.

And that world is in danger.

Having decided to betray CASE Global, he can finally reveal his origins to the Enclave and warn them about the company’s imminent invasion. Even if it means alienating Jillaine . . . and allying with someone he’s always considered his adversary. 

But war makes for strange bedfellows, and uniting Alissians against such a powerful enemy will require ancient enmities—as well as more recent antagonisms—to be set aside. The future of their pristine world depends on it.

As Quinn searches for a way to turn the tide, his former CASE Global squadmates face difficult decisions of their own. For some, it’s a matter of what they’re willing to do to get home. For others, it’s deciding whether they want to go home at all.Continuing the exciting adventures from The Rogue Retrieval and The Island Deception, The World Awakening is the spellbinding conclusion to the Gateways to Alissia fantasy series from Dan Koboldt.

My Review:

Now that we are at the third book of the trilogy, I still see the Gateways to Alissia as a blend of S.M. Stirling’s Conquistador with L.E. Modesitt’s Imager Portfolio. And as far as I’m concerned, those are marvelous places to start. I probably read Conquistador at least ten years ago, and it still sticks in my memory, while the Imager Portfolio is one of my favorite epic fantasy series and I’m happy to say that it is still ongoing and still fantastic.

Both Gateways to Alissia and Conquistador are a particular type of epic fantasy – the portal fantasy. In both cases, there is a literal portal that connects our world to the fantasy world, in this case, Alissia. And for those who are currently watching the TV series The Magicians, based on Lev Grossman’s book of the same title, let’s just say there’s more than a bit of a resemblance between Fillory and Alissia, even if there is no magical college on our side of the gate.

The two mega-corporations on Earth that are aware of the portal both see Alissia as an unspoiled and undeveloped world just waiting to be plundered by the oh-so-beneficent technocrats on Earth. And it might happen. It’s certainly in danger of happening.

But the story in The World Awakening is the story of Alissia fighting back – with more than a bit of help from a surprising number of people from our Earth who are not willing to stand idly by while Alissia gets raped and plundered. No matter what it takes to stop CASE Global and Raptor Tech from conquering Alissia with what they are certain are superior armaments.

But like all conquerors since time immemorial – the further the supply lines are stretched, the easier it is to break them.

And Alissia isn’t nearly as outmatched as they thought – with a little help from its friends – no matter what they might think of each other.

Escape Rating A-: The World Awakening is a marvelous conclusion to this trilogy, and as the concluding volume it is very much the wrong place to start. If you like portal fantasy, or stories of people from our Earth finding themselves in places where magic works, or even just want a rollicking good story, start with the first book, The Rogue Retrieval, where you can be introduced to our trouble-magnet anti-hero, the stage magician Quinn Bradley, as he comes to Alissia to discover that magic is real after all, and that he can perform it – and not merely perform.

By this point in the story, we have seen the team that Quinn originally trained with flung to the four corners of Alissia, and we have watched their perspectives change and their allegiances shift, particularly in the case of Quinn himself.

He’s come a long way from the reluctantly recruited stage magician. I’m still not totally sure he’s grown up, but his horizons have certainly expanded, as has is view of both Alissia and Earth. His transformation is a big chunk of what drives the story, and his expanding viewpoint pulls the reader along with him.

But Gateways to Alissia is a big story with a lot of players and a lot going on. I envy those of you who will begin the story now, when it is complete. It has been a year since I read the second book in the saga, The Island Deception, and it takes a bit for the reader to get back up to speed. It’s certainly well worth that effort. The World Awakening is a terrific story, and it brings the saga of Alissia to a fantastic, resounding and satisfying conclusion. And I enjoyed every step of the journey – although I’m happy not to have had to trudge through the snow myself!

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

In honor of my Blogo-Birthday celebration, and because I’ve enjoyed this series so very much, the author, Dan Koboldt is sponsoring today’s giveaway. Three winners will receive a paperback copy of their choice of book in the Gateways to Alissia trilogy. Newcomers should choose The Rogue Retrieval, but if you have already begun your journey, please pick up where you left off, with either The Island Deception or this final volume, The World Awakening.

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Review: The Island Deception by Dan Koboldt + Giveaway

Review: The Island Deception by Dan Koboldt + GiveawayThe Island Deception by Dan Koboldt
Formats available: ebook
Series: Gateways to Alissia #2
Pages: 352
Published by Harper Voyager Impulse on April 11th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas. But what happens after you step through a portal to another world, well…
For stage magician Quinn Bradley, he thought his time in Alissia was over. He’d done his job for the mysterious company CASE Global Enterprises, and now his name is finally on the marquee of one of the biggest Vegas casinos. And yet, for all the accolades, he definitely feels something is missing. He can create the most amazing illusions on Earth, but he’s also tasted true power. Real magic.
He misses it.
Luckily—or not—CASE Global is not done with him, and they want him to go back. The first time, he was tasked with finding a missing researcher. Now, though, he has another task:
Help take Richard Holt down.
It’s impossible to be in Vegas and not be a gambler. And while Quinn might not like his odds—a wyvern nearly ate him the last time he was in Alissia—if he plays his cards right, he might be able to aid his friends.

I loved last year’s The Rogue Retrieval, and when I finished it I found myself desperately hoping for a sequel that did not appear to be on the horizon. So when the author contacted me to request a review of that sequel I was hoping for but not expecting, I was all in.

Then I looked at the publication date and realized that introducing others to this world would make a perfect Blogo-Birthday giveaway, and the author and publisher graciously agreed. So first you’ll read a bit about what I loved about The Island Deception and the marvelous world of Alissia, and then you’ll have a chance to win a paperback of The Rogue Retrieval or ebooks of both The Rogue Retrieval and The Island Deception.

But first, my review…

The series title gives just a bit away. The Island Deception is the second book in the Gateways to Alissia, and that’s what this series is, gateway or portal fantasy. There is a gateway, or portal, between our post-industrial, non-magical world and pristine Alissia, which is seems to be just pre-industrial, (our 1600s or 1700s) and definitely magical.

Not just magical in the sense that everyone who travels through the gateway falls in love with the place and wants to stay, but also magical in the sense that magic works.

That’s where our hero comes in. Or came in for The Rogue Retrieval. Quinn Bradley is a stage magician in our world, who discovers in Alissia that the part he has been playing as a magician is surprisingly real. He may be a very late bloomer, but it looks like he might be a real mage. At least on Alissia.

He’s determined to get back there and find out. So when he gets called back to the gateway, this time he’s more than happy to go.

And CASE Global still needs him, because that rogue agent his group was supposed to retrieve in the the first book is still out there, and is gathering power at an astonishing rate. CASE Global’s original concern was that Richard Holt would reveal the existence of advanced technology, and contaminate the world they were studying.

Now it looks like he’s planning to do much more than that. It looks very like he has seized political control in Alissia for the express purpose of preventing CASE Global (and their competitor Raptor Tech) from using their advanced tech to take over Alissia and milk its resources for their own ends.

Or just fight over it until there’s nothing left to save. It doesn’t seem to matter to either of them. But it matters to Richard Holt quite a lot. And, as it turns out, to Quinn Bradley as well.

It looks like it’s time for everyone to decide whether someone else’s bad ends justify their own participation in horrible means, and figure out where their true loyalties lay.

Before it’s too late.

Escape Rating A-: I gave The Rogue Retrieval a B+, because as much as I really enjoyed the ride, the antecedents felt just a bit too clear for me to push it into the A’s. The Island Deception has done a much better job of melding its predecessors into a thing of its own. If you like any of what came before, you’ll like this too, but it also feels more like its own “whole” and not just the sum of its parts.

There’s still a lot of S.M. Stirling’s Conquistador in Alissia, but there are also significant differences. The high-tech world, our world, finds the less developed world in a much more primitive state than happens in Alissia. And the presence of people from the high-tech world is much more exploitative from the outset. It ends up being a place where exiles from our world go to practice deliberately exploitative forms of governance that have been overtly consigned to not the dustbin of history, but the garbage dumpster of history, here. Things like slavery. And apartheid. And the complete subjugation of women, natives, non-Christians and pretty much anyone with brown skin. Or any other color of skin than white.

Alissia, at least for most of our interaction with it, has been left alone to continue its native development, while it gets studied in depth by our world. That appears to be about to change, and could have been predicted to change from the very beginning, but it hasn’t happened yet, and could still be prevented.

The parallels between Alissia and L.E. Modesitt’s Imager Portfolio are much clearer in this book, particularly between the magician’s island on Alissia, The Enclave, and the Imager Collegium as portrayed in the latest Imager trilogy, beginning with Madness in Solidar. Alastor’s dilemma at the Collegium is very much the same as that of the head of The Enclave in Alissia. How does one provide a safe haven for a small but powerful population of magic users in a world where they are vastly outnumbered by mundanes who often fear or envy their powers? Is alliance with the powers that be safer than strict neutrality? And if so, what happens when the powers that be change their course? There are no easy answers, and Quinn Bradley finds himself caught in the middle between his desire to learn magic and his desire to protect his friends and comrades on both sides of the gateway.

Although there are other members of the team, the story rests on Quinn. Even though there are points where the action follows others and he is not present, it is his perspective that we return to, and his character that we know best – at least to the degree that Quinn knows himself. Quinn himself is a bit of a rogue, always sure that his glib tongue can get him out of any trouble. It’s only when both his glibness and his technology fail him that he is able to finally reach inside himself and find out what he is really made of.

But if you like your heroes touched with a spark (or snark) of anti-hero, Quinn is a gem. Whether he’s real or paste is anybody’s guess – sometimes even his own. I can’t wait to discover how Quinn’s adventure plays out (hopefully in The World Awakening next year), whichever side he decides he’s on.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

And now for that giveaway. Dan and Harper Voyager are letting me give away the winner’s choice of a paperback of The Rogue Retrieval or ebook copies of both The Rogue Retrieval and The Island Deception (Island isn’t out in paperback yet!). So it’s your choice whether you want to whet your appetite with that paperback or get caught up on all the action in Alissia with ebooks of both. Enjoy the ride!

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Review: The Rogue Retrieval by Dan Koboldt

Review: The Rogue Retrieval by Dan KoboldtThe Rogue Retrieval by Dan Koboldt
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Gateways to Alissia #1
Pages: 384
Published by Harper Voyager Impulse on January 19th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Sleight of hand…in another land.
Stage magician Quinn Bradley has one dream: to headline his own show on the Vegas Strip. And with talent scouts in the audience wowed by his latest performance, he knows he’s about to make the big-time. What he doesn’t expect is an offer to go on a quest to a place where magic is all too real.
That's how he finds himself in Alissia, a world connected to ours by a secret portal owned by a powerful corporation. He’s after an employee who has gone rogue, and that’s the least of his problems. Alissia has true magicians…and the penalty for impersonating one is death. In a world where even a twelve-year-old could beat Quinn in a swordfight, it's only a matter of time until the tricks up his sleeves run out.
Scientist and blogger Dan Koboldt weaves wonder, humor, and heart into his debut novel, The Rogue Retrieval. Fans of Terry Brooks and Terry Pratchett will find this a thrilling read.

My Review:

The Rogue Retrieval is a terrific example of what is called “portal fantasy”, where a magical portal opens between our world of the mundane and another world where magic is operational.

Admittedly, the magic of the portal itself may be of the Arthur C. Clarke variety, where “any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic” as it may be in this case. Or it can literally be a magic portal, like the famous wardrobe in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series.

So there is a viewpoint where The Rogue Retrieval can be considered Narnia for adults. Without Aslan.

In the case of The Rogue Retrieval, the portal is a literal portal between our world and the world of Alissia, where not only does magic work but where the human population is not as technologically advanced as in our world. It feels like late Renaissance or very early Industrial Age, maybe the technological equivalent of our late 1700s and early 1800s, but that is totally opinion. It might be our 1600s, but it isn’t any later than the 1800s as the industrial pollution produced in copious amounts in our Industrial era is not present.

And of course the pristine nature of Alissia, along with the seeming lack of sophistication of its inhabitants, is part of its “charm” to two rival corporations; CASE Global and Raptor Tech.

CASE Global controls the portal, and they have a problem. One of their anthropologists has gone missing, along with a backpack full of advanced tech that is not supposed to be taken to Alissia. In other words, they have a rogue agent who has violated the equivalent of the Prime Directive.

And that’s kind of where our hero and point of view character Quinn Bradley comes in. Quinn is a stage magician, and a pretty good one. He’s just about to get his big break when CASE Global intervenes, and threatens him with economic ruin and bodily harm if he doesn’t come to work for them.

These are not nice people. They threaten Quinn’s life and future, and that of pretty much every person he is in contact with; his friends, his business associates, his remaining family, the population of his hometown. The iron hand in the velvet glove is so literal that its adamantium claws stick out of the glove.

Of course Quinn goes along. He has no choice. But he is also looking forward to the adventure, even if the information he is provided with is woefully scanty in its details. He’s not so much in it for the quest as for the experience. For the stage magician, Alissia represents a whole new audience.

With one big catch. On Alissia, magic is real. And magic practitioners are even more jealous of their rights than Quinn’s Vegas competition. Pretending to be a mage is a death sentence on Alissia, and those “nice” folks at CASE Global know that they are potentially throwing Quinn under the bus (or carriage) if he’s caught.

Unless the stage wizard turns out to be a real magician after all.

Escape Rating B+: I really liked this story, but the antecedents were just a bit too obvious to make it an A. It is, however, a wild and very fun ride from beginning to end.

The story in The Rogue Retrieval reminded me of three different books, all of which I loved very much, but which combine here into a whole that so far works well. It will be interesting to see how the issues get resolved in the future stories that I really hope are coming. Quinn Bradley’s story definitely isn’t over.

When I first read the premise for this story, it looked like a mirror image of Dark Magic by James Swain (reviewed here). In that story, the protagonist is a stage magician on our world who uses his identity as a master illusionist to conceal his very real identity as a practicing wizard.

But as I got into the story the one that it reminded me of most strongly is S.M. Stirling’s Conquistador. Also a bit of Charles Stross’ Merchant Princes series, but mostly Conquistador. In Conquistador, a portal is discovered between our world and an alternate version of our world that is several centuries removed in the past. In the world of Conquistador, the contemporary discovers find themselves in America before the colonial empires, and set themselves up literally as conquistadors, conquering the world with advanced technology, enslaving the natives, and exploiting the natural resources.

While that hasn’t happened YET in The Rogue Retrieval, there are all kinds of glaring and blaring signs that it is the direction that the rival corporations are headed, and possibly that the reason their agent went rogue was to get himself in a position to prevent the rape of Alissia, or at least provide it with ways to fight back.

The third part of the story reminded me of L.E. Modesitt’s first Imager book. In that story, a grownup discovers that he is a mage, and has to learn how to master both his powers and the drastic change in his life. At the same time, he is attending classes with children, and having to unlearn the life he knew. But he brings his adult experience and expectations to the table. In both cases, the protagonist is still young and flexible enough to learn, but too mature to indoctrinate. (There’s a reason that the Armed Forces like to recruit 18-year-olds!)

Throw those elements into a classic portal-fantasy quest, and you have The Rogue Retrieval. A relatively young man discovers he is a real mage, long after anyone believes that could be possible. A new and pristine world is ripe for the plucking, and forces are arrayed to begin to pluck, with all of the attendant evils of colonialism lined up to march over the place.

And that rogue agent who started it all is still out there, positioned much, much more strategically than anyone expected.

The next book in this series (oh please let there be a next book!) is set up to be marvelous.