Review: Cold Welcome by Elizabeth Moon

Review: Cold Welcome by Elizabeth MoonCold Welcome by Elizabeth Moon
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Vatta's Peace #1
Pages: 448
Published by Del Rey Books on April 11th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Nebula Award winning author Elizabeth Moon makes a triumphant return to science fiction with a thrilling series featuring Kylara Vatta, the daring hero of her acclaimed Vatta s War sequence. After nearly a decade away, Nebula Award winning author Elizabeth Moon makes a triumphant return to science fiction with this installment in a thrilling new series featuring the daring hero of her acclaimed Vatta s War sequence. Summoned to the home planet of her family s business empire, space-fleet commander Kylara Vatta is told to expect a hero s welcome. But instead she is thrown into danger unlike any other she has faced and finds herself isolated, unable to communicate with the outside world, commanding a motley group of unfamiliar troops, and struggling day by day to survive in a deadly environment with sabotaged gear. Only her undeniable talent for command can give her ragtag band a fighting chance. Yet even as Ky leads her team from one crisis to another, her family and friends refuse to give up hope, endeavoring to mount a rescue from halfway around the planet a task that is complicated as Ky and her supporters find secrets others will kill to protect: a conspiracy infecting both government and military that threatens not only her own group s survival but her entire home planet.

My Review:

I finished up the Vatta’s War series nearly ten years ago, when the final and much anticipated book, Victory Conditions, was published. I enjoyed the series a lot, and while I was a bit sad to see it end, it did come to a completely satisfying conclusion.

I read Vatta’s War at the same time that I read two other military SF series with female protagonists, David Weber’s Honor Harrington series, which I eventually got tired of but seems to have never ended, and Tanya Huff’s Valor/Confederation series (the official name is Confederation, I always think of it as the Valor series), which I loved and which also ended not long after Vatta’s War, and also with a satisfying conclusion.

Valor came back two years ago, and now it’s Kylara Vatta’s turn to return in a sequel series. While the first series was very appropriately titled Vatta’s War, this new series title, Vatta’s Peace, feels somewhat aspirational. Although there should be peace after everything Ky and her world went through in the first series, that peace is immediately disturbed at the beginning of Cold Welcome.

Grand Admiral Kylara Vatta is supposed to be returning to her home planet of Slotter’s Key for a ceremonial welcome and a whole lot of paperwork concerning the Vatta family’s vast mercantile empire. Instead, her shuttle is sabotaged and she and its crew find themselves stranded in the icy waters of the south polar sea just as winter is coming on, with no hope of rescue. Not because no one wants to look for them, although there are some who certainly don’t, but mostly because weather conditions are so horrendous that no one CAN look for them.

And no one expects anyone to have survived. The entire polar continent has been cemented in everyone’s worldview as a terraforming failure, and no one has gone there in centuries. There aren’t even any satellite scans of the place – something about Miksland interferes with any scanning equipment. Which should have raised someone’s suspicions at some point, but it’s become an accepted fact that Miksland is uninhabited and unlivable.

But Ky being Ky, she manages to scrape survival out of the jaws of certain death, and keeps right on doing so, one task at a time, keeping the crew together and getting them off the churning ocean and at first just onto dry land, and then into a secret base that isn’t supposed to exist. Knowing all the while that another saboteur likely hides among her battered survivors.

It’s a race to the finish, with Ky determined to keep her crew alive and out of the hands of whoever has protected so many secrets for so many centuries at who knows what cost. And a race for her friends, family and loved ones to figure out just who is after Ky and everyone else yet again, before her luck finally runs out.

Escape Rating B: I expected to love this a lot more than I did. It was great slipping back into Ky’s world again, she’s a fascinating character and the Vatta family and their universe are always interesting, albeit deadly. Both the Vattas and whoever is out to get them.

But the story has a very slow start. The journey of Ky and her crew just to survive one day, and then the next, is cold and brutal, but wears on the reader almost as much as it does the characters. Ironically, except for the initial crash of the shuttle, the whole thing reads a bit like Ernest Shackleton’s famous journey. The cold is relentless, and the problems of surviving it don’t change much from planet to planet or century to century.

It’s only when Ky’s makeshift crew discovers the secret base that the story heats up, just as the crew finally gets thawed out. There’s more to do, more to see, more to explore, more to question, and the action starts to flow. Also, up until Ky discovers the base, we don’t get nearly as much leavening of the unrelieved hardship from Ky’s allies on the outside as we do once she finds that base.

The action heats up on all fronts at the same time and the story clips along at a pace that keeps the reader flipping pages at a rapid pace.

But as harrowing as Ky’s side of this journey is, the big questions are all on the outside. Someone, undoubtedly a lot of someones, have kept an entire continent secret for centuries. For that to be remotely possible, they had to have collaborators across all the offices of government and the military, and for centuries. Something very, very rotten is going on, and Ky has just exposed it. Whatever it is.

And the secret is still ongoing. The base is fully stocked, and the diaries of the base commanders going back centuries show that the base is staffed every summer for some unknown purpose. Last but certainly not least, whatever that purpose is, the base closed up early this year, just in time for Ky’s crash and intended mysterious and watery grave.

The problem I had with the book, as much as I was enjoying the action, is that it just didn’t stick the dismount. Ky does get rescued, which isn’t really a spoiler as there couldn’t be a series without her, but nothing else felt resolved. Ky is back, and in an even bigger soup than she was in the previous series, but so far no one seems to have any clues about who, what, when, where or especially why that base is there and what secrets it is intended to keep. It’s a giant black hole, waiting for future books in the series to fill it. And while there needs to be something for the series to focus on, some answers to some of the many, many more immediate questions would have brought this particular installment to a more satisfying conclusion.

Now we wait, with that proverbial bated breath, hoping that those future installments show up soon.

Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi + Giveaway

Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi + GiveawayThe Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi, Wil Wheaton
Format: audiobook, ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon, purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Interdependency #1
Pages: 334
Published by Audible Studios, Tor Books on March 21st 2017
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The first novel of a new space-opera sequence set in an all-new
universe.

Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible -- until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars.

Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war -- and a system of control for the rulers of the empire.

The Flow is eternal -- but it is not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well, cutting off worlds from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that The Flow is moving, possibly cutting off all human worlds from faster than light travel forever, three individuals -- a scientist, a starship captain and the Empress of the Interdependency -- are in a race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.

My Review:

My first thought upon finishing The Collapsing Empire was “Oh…My…GOD

The second was that rolling your eyes while driving is a really bad idea, especially if you do it OFTEN. Actually I had that though much earlier in the book, when I was doing a LOT of eye rolling. The ending is far from an eye roll situation, but the advice still stands.

So i’m back to the Oh My God reaction, which I’m still hearing in Wil Wheaton’s voice as the reader of The Collapsing Empire. Which I listened to, pretty much everywhere, sometimes rolling my eyes, often smiling or even outright laughing, from the surprising beginning to the even more astonishing end.

Which isn’t really an end, because it’s obvious that this is just the beginning of a much bigger story, which I hope we get Real Soon Now, but don’t actually expect for a year or more.

So what was it?

The title both does and doesn’t give it away The Empire, in this case the human empire that calls itself the Interdependency, is about to collapse. Not due to warfare or anything so prosaic, but because, well, science. The interstellar network that keeps the far-flung reaches of the Interdependency interdependent is on the verge of an unstoppable collapse.. So what we have at the moment is the story of the maneuvering and machinations as what passes for the powers that be, or that hope to be the powers that become, jockey for position (and survival) in the suddenly onrushing future.

And humans being humans, while some panic there are a whole lot of people who remain so invested in the status quo that they are unwilling to act because any actions upset their positions now, and they hope, very much against hope, that the predictions are wrong. Not because they really believe in their heart of hearts that they ARE wrong, but because they want them to be wrong so very badly.

Any resemblance between the Interdependency and 21st century America is probably intended – but agreeing or disagreeing with that statement doesn’t change the sheer rushing “WOW” of the story.

That story of the empire that’s about to collapse is primarily told through the eyes of four very, very different people (not that the side characters aren’t themselves quite fascinating). But as things wind up, and as the empire begins to wind down, we get our view of the impending fall mostly from these four, or people who surround them.

The first is Ghreni Nohamapeton, the most frequent source of my eye-rolling. Ghreni is a slippery manipulative little bastard, but he is about to be hoist on his own petard. Or possibly not. He thinks he knows what’s coming, and of course, he doesn’t. Or does he?

Kiva Lagos may possibly be the most profane character it has ever been my pleasure to encounter, in literature or out of it. And her constant, continuous cursing sounds a bit much in an audiobook, but perfectly fits her character. Kiva is also manipulative as hell, and mercenary into the bargain. But somewhere between the hells, damns and f-bombs, there’s a heart. Or at least the desire to one-up Ghreni that provides some of the same functionality.

Marce Claremont is about to be the bearer of very bad tidings – if he can survive being the chew toy between Ghreni and Kiva long enough to deliver his message. And even though he knows that the delivery of it means that he really, really can’t go home again. Ever.

And finally we have Cardenia Wu, the recent and very reluctant Emperox of the Interdependency. A woman who is about to experience the very extreme end of that old saying, “be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.” As a great man once said, “Some gifts come at just too high a price.” And that’s true whether you have to dance with the devil to get them, or just roll dice with fate.

Escape Rating A: I listened to this, and also have the ebook. I expected to switch between, but in the end just couldn’t tear myself away from Wil Wheaton’s marvelous reading. He does a terrific job with all of the voices, and adds even more fun to a book that was already fantastic.

But I need that ebook to look up all the names. It seems as if none of them are spelled quite the way they sound. And the ship’s names are an exercise in absurdity from beginning to end. (This aspect may be an homage to the late Iain Banks’ Culture series). But the first ship we meet is the “Tell Me Another One” which is this reader’s general response to Scalzi’s work. I want him to tell me another one, as soon as possible. But also, and as usual, everyone’s leg is getting pulled more than a bit, and not from the same direction.

Lots of things in this story made me smile, quite often ruefully. The scenario is painful, and as this book closes we know that the situation in general is only going to get worse, and possibly not get better. But for the individuals, life is going on. And the characters exhibit all of the sarcasm that this author is known for.

Some of it has the ring of gallows humor to it, and that’s also right. No one is likely to come out of this unscathed by the end, and that’s obvious to the reader from the beginning, even if not to the characters.

This is also a story of merchant empires and political skullduggery. And yes, there is plenty of commentary on that aspect to chew on for a long time, quite possibly until the next book in the series. Like so much of Scalzi’s work, The Collapsing Empire makes the reader laugh, and it makes the reader think, quite often at the same time.

Ghreni and Kiva both represent different ways in which the current systems of the Interdependency have been taken to their extreme limit. But Marce and Cardenia are the characters that we sympathize with. They are both operating against impossible odds, and we like them and want them to succeed. Whether they will or not is left to the subsequent books in this series.

And I really, really, really can’t wait to see what happens next.

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

Because this is part of my annual Blogo-Birthday celebration, I want to share the love. And the books. John Scalzi is one of my favorite authors, and I hope he’ll become one of yours too. To that end, I’m giving away one copy of any of Scalzi’s works, (up to $20) to one lucky commenter on this post. This giveaway includes The Collapsing Empire, but if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of Scalzi, Old Man’s War is probably the best place to begin.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Indomitable by W.C. Bauers

Review: Indomitable by W.C. BauersIndomitable (Chronicles of Promise Paen, #2) by W.C. Bauers
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: military science fiction, science fiction, space opera
Series: Chronicles of Promise Paen #2
Pages: 368
Published by Tor Books on July 26th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Promise Paen, commander of Victor Company's mechanized armored infantry, is back for another adventure protecting the Republic of Aligned Worlds.
Lieutenant Paen barely survived her last encounter with the Lusitanian Empire. She's returned home to heal. But the nightmares won't stop. And she's got a newly reconstituted unit of green marines to whip into shape before they deploy. If the enemies of the RAW don't kill them first, she just might do the job herself.
Light-years away, on the edge of the Verge, a massive vein of rare ore is discovered on the mining planet of Sheol, which ignites an arms race and a proxy war between the Republic and the Lusitanians. Paen and Victor Company are ordered to Sheol, to reinforce the planet and hold it at all costs.
On the eve of their deployment, a friendly fire incident occurs, putting Paen's career in jeopardy and stripping her of her command. When the Lusitanians send mercenaries to raid Sheol and destabilize its mining operations, matters reach crisis levels. Disgraced and angry, Promise is offered one shot to get back into her mechsuit. But she'll have to jump across the galaxy and possibly storm the gates of hell itself.

My Review:

Her name may be an absolutely terrible pun, but Promise T. Paen’s story is absolutely terrific. And her strength of will is exactly as the title states, indomitable.

The cold war between the Lusitanian Empire and the Republic of Aligned Worlds is definitely heating up in this second book in the Chronicles of Promise Paen. And Promise, and her Marines are in the thick of the action.

Even when Promise isn’t supposed to be.

The story begins with Promise as a still raw but very promising (puns all intended) Lieutenant in the RAW-MC. That’s the Republic of Aligned Worlds Marine Corps to the rest of us.

Promise is who and what Torin Kerr in Tanya Huff’s Confederation series would have been if the Gunny had ever accepted any of the many, many invitations she received to go to Officer Candidate School.

unbreakable by wc bauersWhen Promise’s time came, she didn’t feel she had much of a choice. In her first story, Unbreakable, Promise accepts a field commission when her Captain and Lieutenant are taken out of the fight, and she is left as the highest-ranking noncommissioned officer in her company. But now that they’ve been through hell together, the janes and jacks of Victor Company are Promise’s Marines.

Even after they take them away from her.

The story in Indomitable is all about Promise’s fall and rise, in that order. And how she copes (and often doesn’t) with the survivor’s guilt that haunts her sleep and dogs her at every step. Because war is coming, and Promise is one of the few officers who is willing to look at the oncoming storm, see it for what it is, and still run forwards to meet it.

Escape Rating A-: I loved this book, but I don’t want to give too much of the plot away. If you love military SF or military space opera, get this series, and start with Unbreakable. You won’t be sorry.

For this reader, the Chronicles of Promise Paen read like a combination of Tanya Huff’s Confederation series and David Weber’s Honor Harrington. While Promise as a character is much, much closer to Torin Kerr, the setting owes a lot to the Honorverse, at least so far. The conflict that is spinning up between the Lusies and RAW reads too much like the war between Haven and Manticore in the Honorverse to feel like coincidence. At the same time, it is entirely possible that both stories are drawing from the same source material – the Napoleonic Wars. We’ll just have to wait and see on that.

So far, we haven’t seen a lot about the motives of the Lusies. They are fighting a proxy war, and they are gobbling up territory, while winning the public relations war. There are also some pointed callbacks to our history, as the peace movement in RAW directly reflects some of the “peace in our time” rhetoric before our World War II.

There’s a lot going on in this book. On the surface, the action is all about guerrilla warfare on a fringe world. The Lusies are again using proxies, just as in Unbreakable. RAW is forced to send in its own overstretched and under-strength troops, and the effects are predictably devastating. To call the situation a FUBAR is understating the scope of the clusterf**k by several degrees of magnitude.

At the same time, we see the impacts of events back home, as powerful individuals attempt to block defense spending, oust anyone in favor of building up the fleet, and paint a big, fat target on Promise’s back. She’s playing in the big leagues, whether she planned to or not.

And because we see inside of Promise’s head, we see her doubts and her fears. She knows she’s been much more lucky than she has been good, and we feel her wondering if she has done enough. If she has been enough. We feel for her pain, and we see her grow, change and marginally cope.

In the end, the story is about Promise dealing with the hand she is dealt, and finally deciding to play it for all she’s worth. No matter the cost. Indomitable is filled with nearly non-stop action, but it ends on a pause, as Promise waits to take up her latest challenge.

I can hardly wait to see what she tackles (and what tackles her) next.

Review: Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

Review: Ancillary Mercy by Ann LeckieAncillary Mercy (Imperial Radch, #3) by Ann Leckie
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, large print, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Imperial Radch #3
Pages: 336
Published by Orbit on October 6th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The stunning conclusion to the trilogy that began with the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke award-winning Ancillary Justice.
For a moment, things seem to be under control for the soldier known as Breq. Then a search of Atheok Station's slums turns up someone who shouldn't exist - someone who might be an ancillary from a ship that's been hiding beyond the empire's reach for three thousand years. Meanwhile, a messenger from the alien and mysterious Presger empire arrives, as does Breq's enemy, the divided and quite possibly insane Anaander Mianaai - ruler of an empire at war with itself.
Anaander is heavily armed and extremely unhappy with Breq. She could take her ship and crew and flee, but that would leave everyone at Athoek in terrible danger. Breq has a desperate plan. The odds aren't good, but that's never stopped her before.

ancillary justice by ann leckieI absolutely adored both Ancillary Justice (review) and Ancillary Sword (review) so I preordered Ancillary Mercy and was so happy to see it pop up on my iPad Tuesday morning that I started reading it immediately.

Now that I’ve finished, I have comments. And questions. And yet again, an absolutely terrible book hangover. Neither Breq’s story nor the story of the Imperial Radch feel anywhere near done, but I want more.

On that other hand, while it feels like there is still more story to tell, I’m not exactly sure where it goes next. Or, for that matter, what type of ship the next one will be named for. Unless it’s Ancillary Gem? Or perhaps the author will take the story of this universe in a different direction altogether. As long as there are more, I’m happy.

Ancillary Mercy continues directly on from Ancillary Sword. And this is definitely a series where it is practically required that the reader have read the previous entries. While there is enough information about prior events to refresh the memory of a reader who read the last book last year, there doesn’t feel like enough to fill in the necessary background for someone who comes into Ancillary Mercy cold.

There are lots of players, and you really need a scorecard – especially since some of the clues that one usually uses to differentiate characters are missing.

The conceit in this series is that Breq simply doesn’t care about gender pronouns. Whether that is because she used to be a ship, and ships don’t have gender, or because the noun her language uses for people is “Citizen”, which also has no gender, or that the universe’s culture has finally moved beyond gender, the reader doesn’t know. But when Breq is required to use a gendered pronoun, she always uses “she”. It could be that the universal default has become “she”, where for us the default is currently “he”. Whatever the reason, it makes things interesting. From Breq’s perspective, it does not matter whether the citizen she is addressing or thinking about is either male or female.

Occasionally it matters to us, but not really all that often. Whether a character is female or male does not affect whether or not they can do their jobs, or fulfill their part in this story. But there are a lot of characters in this story and losing a piece of what we normally use as identification sometimes makes it difficult to keep all of the secondary and tertiary characters straight.

We don’t actually know whether the ruler of the Radch, Anaander Mianaai, is male or female. Because that’s not the important thing about the Lord of the Radch. The real problem with Anaander Mianaai is that she has cloned and split herself into multiple bodies, each containing pieces of her consciousness. They have developed a serious split personality and are now at war with each other. But all of them are the Lord of the Radch, and citizens find themselves obeying different factions of the same person without being aware of it.

Meanwhile, this very, very uncivil war is doing exactly the opposite of what the Radch was supposed to do. The Imperial Radch was built to civilize and protect its citizens. While there can be some questions about how many people were killed or re-educated in order to bring about the civilization and protection, there is no question that the war between the facets of the Lord of the Radch is killing lots of citizens for no good reason except that Anaander Mianaai has quite possibly gone mad.

And Breq, and whoever she cares about or is protecting, is caught smack in the middle. She doesn’t really support any of the Lords, although she is more sympathetic to some aspects than others. And the most violent facet of Anaander Mianaai personally hates Breq and everything she stands for. And will do anything or destroy anyone in order to stop her.

ancillary sword by ann leckieEscape Rating A-: Ancillary Mercy is a very political space opera. Not just because of the mess in the Radch, but also because of Breq’s current base of operation. She has been assigned to Athoek Station since the beginning of Ancillary Sword, and has found herself, or inserted herself, into local politics.

Breq always wants to do what is fair and what is right. She still carries with her a lot of her programming from when she was part of the ship Justice of Toren. Her job was to protect and care for her crew, and she is still doing that. Admittedly the definitions of crew have expanded quite a bit. She cares and protects everyone, not just those who are wealthy or well-born or of the right race or bloodlines. Which generally pisses the rich, high-born and upper-caste races off in a big way.

She is generally impartial, but she doesn’t suffer fools or the self-important. And people are afraid of her because she is physically powerful, has an armed ship backing her up, and because she can’t be bought.

Which makes her a fine target for the facet of Anaander Mianaai that hates her when she comes to Athoek, and gives the upper crust a chance to believe the worst of her. Meanwhile, Breq is off convincing the giant AIs that run ships and stations that maybe, just maybe, they are worthy of being citizens in their own right and having self-determination. They don’t want Anaander Mianaai to turn them all back into relatively mindless slaves again, or destroy them.

And there’s a big monkey wrench in everyone’s plans. The alien Presger, who feel a lot like the Meddlers in Jean Johnson’s Theirs Not to Reason Why series, are trying to decide which, if any, of the races of the Radch are significant enough to maintain a non-aggression treaty with. And while the Translator (read Ambassador) Zeiat seems like a buffoon, he is actually more powerful than anyone imagines. Also way more quirky.

There are lots of chefs tinkering with the soup of the Radch, and not all of them have her citizens at heart. Or sometimes even a clue about what they are doing. Breq steps into that breach and pulls a big and surprising rabbit out of the helmet she seldom wears. And Breq, Athoek Station, the Radch and even the Presger will never be the same.