Review: Stellarnet Prince by J.L. Hilton

Format read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genre: Science fiction romance, Space opera
Series: Stellarnet #2
Length: 252 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Date Released: November 12, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, All Romance

An otherworldly love. Human blogger Genny O’Riordan shares two alien lovers: Duin, a leader of the Uprising, and Belloc, the only surviving member of the reviled Glin royal family. Their relationship has inspired millions of followers—and incited vicious anti-alien attacks.

A planet at risk. A Stellarnet obsessed with all things alien brings kidnappers, sex traffickers and environmental exploitation to Glin. Without weapons or communications technology, the planet cannot be defended. Glin will be ravaged and raided until nothing remains.

A struggle for truth. On Earth, Duin discovers a secret that could spur another rebellion, while on Glin, Belloc’s true identity could endanger their family and everything they’ve fought for. Have the Glin found true allies in humanity, or an even more deadly foe?

What goes around comes around. Saying that is a universal truth seems even more applicable when the entire universe is really involved.

The Glin believe in a kind of “rule by committee” and their society works as a type of ultimate democracy. They aren’t technologically advanced in the way that humanity strives for, but it works for them. And think of Starfleet’s Prime Directive. We don’t know the best way their society should develop. Their way might turn out better. Who knows?

So when a “ruling clan” developed among the Glin, a clan that reserved certain artifacts and certain special ways to themselves, traditional Glin rose up and wiped them out, down to the last child. Duin, one of the main characters in Stellarnet Rebel (reviewed here) led that rebellion.

Duin kept a secret. He may have been the hero of the Uprising, but he let one child of the Star Tribe survive. That child, that prince, was just a baby then. Now he is a full-grown Glin. He’s also Duin’s co-husband to the human Genny Riordan. It’s Belloc.

Secrets come full-circle. Genny is the hottest thing on the Stellarnet, the all-the-time/everywhere news channel/invasion that is our internet + television on way too many steroids.

Their life with Genny is broadcast to everyone, everywhere, all the time. They have fans. They have enemies. They have stalkers.

Duin is the Glin ambassador to the UN, or its equivalent. Genny’s parents think she should be deprogrammed, so that she’ll leave Duin and Belloc.

And there are even more predatory races than the humans who are sniffing around Glin, races that the humans are supposed to protect Glin from. But maybe they’re not. Maybe all the negotiations are just a smoke screen to keep Duin busy while the humans sell his planet out from under him.

Because there are secrets that he doesn’t know. And secrets the humans don’t know. Maybe Belloc’s secret identity as the last Star Prince is the terrible liability that Duin has always thought it was.

And maybe it will be enough to save every Glin from extinction.

Escape Rating B+: The science fiction romance aspects were toned down a bit in this story. After all, the relationship between Duin, Belloc and Genny is already established to a significant extent. Not that they don’t still have some work to do together.

The space opera aspects of the story are the ones that really come to the fore in this one. Lois McMaster Bujold’s comment about science fiction being the “romance of political agency” comes into play here. Duin starts out as a political newbie. He thinks he’s not, but the UN-type agency is the big leagues, and he’s only played in the minors up til now. He’s on guard, but the game is just so much bigger. He knows they are all lying to him, but the lies are way huger than he imagines. The particular lie was a doozy!

The subplot with Genny’s parents was just a shade too predictable. Everyone should have been way more on their guard for that one.

But the space opera was top-notch, and I loved the surprise ending! I hope there are more in this series. There’s some terrific world-building here, and I’d love to see more in this universe.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Spectra by Joanne Elder

Format read: Trade Paperback provided by the author
Formats available: Trade Paperback, ebook
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Spectra #1
Length: 368 pages
Publisher: MuseItUp Publishing
Date Released: June 27, 2011
Purchasing Info:Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Light years away from Earth a mining exploration crew makes an amazing discovery…intelligent life comprised entirely of energy. This living energy is so pure and unique, it could provide proof of the existence of the human soul. Those exposed to the entities gain unimaginable cognitive abilities but at a terrible cost.A rogue scientific group will do anything to maintain their mind-enhancing gifts, even if it leads to the destruction of the peaceful beings. Only two people stand in their way, and they will sacrifice everything to end the slaughter.Could the quest for the secrets of life lead to the creation of true evil; one so dark it threatens to tear down the walls of sanity and redefine our very existence?

On Star Trek, alien life almost always looked pretty much like us–bipedal, humanoid, and pretty generally human-shaped as well. There were occasional variations, like blue skin and antennae (remember the Andorians?) but the alien races were limited to the human actors.

One notable exception was the Next Gen episode “Home Soil“, where the aliens discovered by the terraformers turn out to be silicon-crystal based. They are tiny beings, but they are physical. And the proposed terraforming of their planet will kill them.

I raise this example because it bears some similarities to the story in Joanne Elder’s Spectra, but Elder has added multiple layers of complexity to her tale. On Spectra, the planet, a mining exploration group discovers a planet rich in minerals, and something extra–a life form that is pure energy.

It is also purely several other things: purely good, purely curious, and purely able to enhance the intellectual capabilities of the humans who come into contact with it. There’s only one problem. As the energy forms are absorbed by the humans, they die. Our enhancement comes at a great price to the tiny energy life forms. Hundreds, thousands of them die to enhance one human. And the process needs to be repeated or the human fades back to what they were. It’s somewhat addictive to go from being average to being DaVinci. Or Einstein.

Once their curiosity is sated about the physical beings who have invaded their world, they beg the humans to leave. Of the six people in the mining group, four agree to leave and declare the planet off-limits, two disagree but seemingly bow to the will of the group.

Then people start dying. Because those two who disagreed, well, one of them, Ivan, finally found himself smarter than everyone else for the first time in his life, and he just wasn’t willing to let that feeling go. So he went back to Spectra, and brought back some of those aliens. Just to augment himself and a few select friends. And get research grants. And get rich.

And kill anyone who might stand in his way. Including the four people who said no.

But as Ivan got smarter, his plans and plots got more convoluted. Back to Star Trek, as Scotty famously said, “the more they over-think the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain.” Especially since those entities are very, very unhappy about the whole situation, and even without bodies, have ways of making their displeasure felt.

Escape Rating B+: There’s a lot going on in Spectra, and all of it is fascinating. The discovery of the entities, and what they do to get themselves freed makes for one cool story. As part of the plot to keep the whole situation with the entities under wraps, Ivan’s machinations to get one of his colleagues from that mining expedition framed for murdering another, and how that all finally goes to smash makes for an exciting and harrowing prison break story.

There is, as is often the case in science fiction, an underlying ethical question. What would you do in the same situation? The scientific breakthroughs enabled by exposure to the entities appear to be astounding. But the entities die from the exposure. Is it worth it? This is not a question of whether the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, but whether the needs of this many over here outweigh the needs of that many over there?

When we meet our first aliens, how will we decide?

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Guest review: Redshirts

[cover of Redshirts by John Scalzi]

Like the “expendable” characters it chronicles, Redshirts by John Scalzi explores some unexpected depths and delivers both a satisfying tale and meta-tale.

The starting point is a question that surely has occupied many a college bull session since the 1960s — why is the life expectancy of security officers on certain television shows so short, especially when in the presence of senior officers?  After a vignette describing the typical (and brief) career trajectory of an ensign assigned to the Universal Union’s flagship Intrepid that ends with a satisfying crunch for a landworm (albeit rather less satisfying for the hapless redshirt), the book follows Ensign Dahl and his friends.  Newly assigned to the Intrepid, Dahl finds out very quickly that the longstanding military adage of “don’t volunteer for nuttin'” — particularly away missions — is key for a long, healthy career.  Of course, he can’t avoid away missions forever, and when he ends up assigned to one, the fun really begins.  Before the end, Dahl must figure out what’s really going on and take control of his destiny.  The alternative is to become the star of a poignant little moment where the captain mourns his death — then sends a request to the UU Command for yet another bright young ensign.

Escape Rating from Galen B+:  Although there’s plenty of fun to be had following Dahl as he solves the mystery in a “Lower Decks” setting, to say nothing of playing spot-the-sf-trope (and don’t try to turn that into a drinking game — that way lies cirrhosis), the initial premise wouldn’t sustain more than a short story.  What makes Redshirts interesting is that it becomes a tale about story-telling.  In fact, it reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman epic, particularly “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in Dream Country.  The characters in Redshirts find that their destiny is literally a story — and the question becomes who gets to tell the story.

Escape Rating from Marlene B+: Redshirts was definitely worth the wait. It was also one of the crazier things I’ve read. It’s much more meta than it is story, but it’s fun for all that. The willing suspension of disbelief that science fiction normally requires gets bent completely out of shape to serve the plot device, but it’s worth it to poke fun at the tropes we all know and love.

Wreck of the Nebula Dream

A passenger liner is launching with technology so advanced that everyone is just positive it will break all the speed records for the route! Lots of money is riding (yes, pun intended) on her making port on a record-breaking date.

And in order to get her out of her docking berth, she’s launched with untested technology. Oh, she’s ahead of her time, alright, but even advances ahead of their time need shakedown cruises.

If all this sounds just a little familiar, it should. With a little tweaking this could be an introduction of the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic. The 100th anniversary of her first, and last, voyage is this week.

But this is a book review of a slightly different story. The ship is the Nebula Dream, and her maiden voyage is a space flight. She’s still a passenger liner, and many of the conditions are intentionally the same. The Titanic disaster served as inspiration for this absorbing science fiction adventure.

Wreck was definitely inspired by the original events, but it is not slavishly devoted to them. Disasters make for great drama. They bring out the best in people…and the worst.

The Wreck of the Nebula Dream by Veronica Scott is the story of the maiden voyage of the passenger cruise ship Nebula Dream.

Instead of being an ocean-going vessel, the Nebula Dream cruises the space-lanes. Like the Titanic before her, the maiden voyage of the luxury Nebula Dream also includes some of the wealthiest people in her corner of her universe. They plan to be part of her record-setting trip.

But space and other factors make Nebula Dream‘s story a bit different from Titanic‘s, although not much less disastrous.

A chunk of that “less disaster” quotient is because the Nebula Dream‘s story is also the story of Special Forces Captain Nick Jameson.  He’s on board because his career has already crashed, and this trip is his last hurrah. Except that what was supposed to be a relaxing vacation turns out to be a mission unlike anything he ever undertook in his service career.

His last service mission was behind enemy lines. This vacation, well, this so-called vacation may not be as far from his last mission as it was supposed to be.

But from the minute that the luxury cruise starts heading towards disaster, Nick learns he’s not alone in this accidental adventure. The woman he’s been watching for days, the ice-cold business executive he was sure would think a simple Special Forces Captain wasn’t worth her time, well, she turns out to be the best partner he could want in this crisis. And maybe after…

If there is any after.

Escape Rating A-: I wanted this to be just a little bit longer. I also wanted to slap one of the side characters upside the head, or shake some serious sense into her. (Read the book and you’ll figure out exactly who I mean)

Wreck of the Nebula Dream is a terrific mix of science fiction, action adventure, and just the right touch of romance. I loved that there was both an alpha male and an alpha female! The heroine does not wait to be rescued, and she’s not just rescuing herself, she’s helping to rescue other people. The hero can either help or get out of her way!

The awesome assassin/sidekick from the mysterious Brotherhood was extra-special cool. I think the extra bit of story I want is where he came from, where he’s going, and are there any more like him at home? I’d like a sequel with his story.


Skies of Fire

If the British Admiralty is sending airships to fight the Hapsburgs, then this must be steampunk. And damned fine steampunk indeed!

Zoë Archer’s latest book, Skies of Fire, is that steampunk, the first tale of The Ether Chronicles. It’s that “ether” that powers those airships. Along with something, or rather someone, who has been transformed into a “Man O’War”. And no, Ms. Archer was not referring to the horse.

In this alternate-19th century, a scientist has discovered a rare element: Telumium. Telumium is amazing. One of its byproducts is ether, which powers the airships, and ether rifles, and ether-based lights. Another, even more amazing, property of Telumium is that it can be bonded to a human being, creating a super-human, a Man O’War. A Man O’War’s strength is what literally powers his airship.

Christopher Redmond captains HMS Demeter, and his small gunship is trapped and looking for a place to repair behind enemy lines when he catches the glint of an SOS from a British agent. Literally a glint: the signal is being sent by mirror flashes, and only his enhanced sight could have caught it.

Even while hiding from the enemy, Redmond is duty-bound to retrieve that agent, so he drops the jollyboat with a small crew. He puts himself on that jollyboat, knowing the agent must be in desperate straights.

The agent is desperately in need of rescue. And is the last person Christopher Redmond expected to find in the Carpathian Mountains. Or anywhere in his life again. Louisa Shaw is the only woman he ever loved. But when he asked her to marry him, three years ago, she left him, without a work, without a note. He underwent the transformation to become a Man O’War not long after. But he never stopped loving her, even while he sometimes hated her.

Christopher always knew Louise was a member of British Intelligence. Even that she was one of their best field agents. He just wasn’t expecting her here.

And Louisa wasn’t expecting Christopher, either. She still missed him. She always had. But he had wanted a wife, even though she had told him from the very beginning that she would not marry. She had panicked, and run.

But she followed his career and had even memorized the layout of his ship. She just hadn’t expected him to be the one who rescued her. Hadn’t expected him to have changed so much, and yet, not changed at all.

They had to work together, in spite of the lingering wounds and the growing tension between them. Louisa held vital intelligence about a munitions factory behind enemy lines. A factory that must be destroyed at all costs.

But first, it has to be found.

In the midst of searching for that factory, can Christopher and Louisa find their way back to each other?

Escape Rating A-: It was great to see some steampunk with a British background for a change! There’s been a recent run of Wild West steampunk (cowpunk!) that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, but the change of scene was good.

The relationship between Christopher and Louisa isn’t just hot (although it is) but is also believable. The way the author makes them fight through their bitterness and betrayal, fight each other, and work so hard for their reconciliation is intense. Their second chance has to be hard-won, and readers need to see it to buy into it.

I was dying to figure out where in the alternative timeline this war fit in, and couldn’t quite figure it out. Drove me crazy. Is this an alternate to the Crimean War, making it the 1850’s? When did the telumium discovery taken place? Inquiring minds get caught on these niggly details.

I read this all in one gulp. I wish the next book in the series, Night of Fire by Ms. Archer’s husband and fellow romance writer Nico Rosso, were available now instead of in July.

Review + Giveaway of Isadora Daystar

As a human being, Isadora Daystar barely managed to a half-assed job at every single thing she tried in her life. But being the title character of this science fiction novel by P.I. Barrington, this one time, Isadora Daystar finally manages to come up aces.

The reader’s introduction to Isadora has a familiar feel to it. Isabella is a soldier, and she’s in the brig for screwing up. Her commanding officer is paying her a visit, disappointed that she’s messed up, again.

At first, Isabella reminded me of Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica. Starbuck also screwed up a lot, but had incredible potential. The difference was that Starbuck fulfilled hers, however strangely that turned out.

In the very opening of Isadora Daystar, Isadora’s life takes a different path. In her memory (and it is obvious that she is remembering something in her past) Isadora’s commanding officer Renan, chews her out, expresses his disappointment, turns off the cameras in her cell, and kisses her senseless.

And that’s the last good memory Isabella seems to have.

Isabella’s present is a mess. She’s not in the military any longer. She not fit to serve. Isadora Daystar has fallen from being a Sergeant-Major to being a drug addict. One who will do anything to get her next fix. And since the military taught her how to kill, Isadora Daystar has become an assassin.

But she’s not terribly good at it. She admits that to herself in her coherent moments. She tells herself that she wasn’t all that great of a soldier, and she’s not all that great of an assassin, either. But she needs the money. For the drugs.

Beggars can’t be choosers. Assassins who don’t complete their assignments don’t get to pick their targets. They don’t get to negotiate terms, either.

Isadora takes what she knows is a bad job on the planet Nova Cheiros. It’s a place where too many people in too many low places remember her none too fondly. But she has to take what she can get.

The contractor is a liar and a cheat, and she knows it. But she needs the money. The target, well, she thinks she got him. But nobody told her he was a cop. So she has to get off planet, and fast.

Then her ride off-planet gets shot out from under her, and her fellow crash victim is a teenage girl with a whole lot of attitude; the daughter of that cop Isadora killed.

Are they going to save each other, or kill each other? And who shot the ship?

Escape Rating B: Isadora’s story is not for the faint of heart. She starts out at the bottom, and she knows she’s hit bottom. The worst part is, she doesn’t think there’s anything left for her except complete degradation and death. We see her memories and know that Isadora believes she deserves her fate.

When the Isadora’s escape ship crashes, fate intervenes. Of course saving the girl she’s stranded with keeps her alive. That’s a story we expect. But quite a bit of how that story resolved was a surprise. Guilt is easy and forgiveness is hard.

In spite of the scene in Isadora’s memories with her commanding officer kissing her senseless, this is not a romance in any way, shape or form. It’s science fiction, but that’s probably more of a setting than an actual necessity. This is a redemption story that happens to be set in a science fiction world. The space travel is a nice bonus.

Speaking of bonuses, this review is part of the Isadora Daystar blog tour from BTS Virtual Tours. I have 2, yes 2 e-copies of Isadora to give away. The giveaway will be open until 12:01 am EDT the morning of April 10, 2012 and I will announce the winners on April 11, 2012. All you have to do fill out the Rafflecopter form below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Arctic Rising

Tobias Bucknell’s Arctic Rising is a near-future science fiction techno-thriller that leads the cast, and the reader, at a breakneck paced tour of a thawed Arctic. Unfortunately for our heroine, she’s on this tour because someone really is out to get her. Fortunately for the reader, figuring out who turns up a grand scheme that keeps the reader guessing until the very end.

It’s also kind of a pre-apocalyptic story of eco-terrorism. What do I mean by pre-apocalyptic? The apocalypse hasn’t happened, yet, but if events in this story go pear-shaped, well, you can definitely see the apocalypse from here.

Anika Duncan begins the story as an airship pilot for the United National Polar Guard. The UNPG has airships patrolling the waters of the Arctic Circle to check for drug smuggling and occasionally nuclear waste dumping. Why? Because airships (read blimps) are cheap on fuel and fossil fuels are expensive and running out. Why are they needed? Because the Arctic Ice Cap has melted, and all that ocean is pretty empty. There’s nobody looking. Nuclear waste, as we already know, is a pain to get rid of. Dumping it in deep water no one is watching is cheap.

But when Anika’s gear pings a radioactive hotspot on the ship below her, she sets of a chain reaction of events much bigger than she could ever have imagined. The crew of the unidentified ship brings out heavy artillery and brings down her ship. Then they ram the debris. Crash landing in the Arctic Ocean is a fast way to die of hypothermia.

Anika’s co-pilot makes it to the hospital, but dies of his injuries. Anika did a better job getting her survival suit zipped up, so she is okay physically, but someone tries to run her off the road. And that’s only the first attempt on her life. Her house is blown up. She’s arrested by men who have no identity.

A friend —  who wants to be her girlfriend — smuggles her out. Anika’s friend Vy is a criminal, but Vy has connections. Right now, Anika needs friends in low-places just to figure out what is going on. But the more she discovers, the crazier things get. And the more collateral damage piles up around her.

Somebody wants to terraform the Earth, to turn back the global warming clock. They’ve even found a way to do it. But there are a lot of powerful people and corporations who like things just fine the way they are, and don’t want to change. They’re willing to let the future take care of itself.

Some of those people have found a nuke. Anika and her friends are caught in the middle. At Ground Zero.

Escape Rating A-: This is one of those books where you just saddle up and hang on for the ride. The story is all about the thrills and chills, and it has plenty.

Something about this story that ties into reality is the opening of the Northwest Passage. In the 1800s, explorers searched, and died, seeking the fabled Northwest Passage over the top of Canada from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. The story of Sir John Franklin’s Expedition is especially interesting, because they found mummies from some members of the party in the 1980s.

The Northwest Passage is opening. Bowhead and gray whales have managed to make the crossing from the Pacific to the Atlantic through the Passage for the first time in centuries. A cruise ship sailed through the Passage in 2006 and a commercial freighter in 2008.

The other neat, funny, cool thing was the portrait of the new Arctic as the really, really last frontier, the place where everyone gets to be an extreme individualist. I lived in Anchorage for three years, and Bucknell’s portrait of the new Arctic was Alaska taken several steps further. Which totally worked.

Arctic Rising is one of those books where you read it and you keep thinking that things can’t get any crazier for the main characters, and yet, they do. And it just makes you want to keep reading even more!

Prehistoric Clock

Prehistoric Clock by Robert Appleton is a steam-powered adventure story of the Jules Verne school of adventuring. Not to mention the Jules Verne era of scientific knowledge. But as an adventure story, it’s definitely great fun.

Prehistoric Clock is Victorian-inspired steampunk, so it is set in an alternate British Empire on which the sun has not set, and does not look likely to. The year is 1908, but it is definitely not our 1908. The world is powered, not just by steam, but also by an energy called psammeticum. Great airships rule the skies. And the secretive scientific gents (and a few ladies) of the Leviacrum Council, are the ones who really run the Empire.

Two seemingly unrelated events collide, rather spectacularly. Lieutenant Verity Champlain has promised the loyal crew of the Empress Matilda that she will get them to London, even if it’s a place that she barely remembers and that most of them have never seen. The Empress is an airship of the British Air Corps, and she has been ordered to London from her base in Africa. Her orders are to “protect the pipeline at all costs”.

Lord Garrett Embrey is in London, standing before a Star Chamber within the deep recesses of Grosvenor House. The supposedly “august gentlemen” are Government bureaucrats, but Embrey knows they are merely puppets of the Leviacrum Council. It has only been 18 months since his father and uncle were convicted of trumped-up charges of treason, and these same “gentlemen” have manufactured evidence against him as well.

Embrey whisks the forged letters away from the blackguards and flees the premises, one step ahead of the steam-powered Black Maria dogging his steps. He has a yacht at the marina, and he’s planning to leave England, hopefully for good. Now he knows there’s nothing left for him.

Professor Cecil Reardon manages to fool the Leviacrum Council’s inspection one last time. As soon as he has ushered their harridan of an investigator, Miss Polperro, out the door, he stops caring. All of his supposed work for the Council has been a grand hoax.

The Leviacrum Council has been building two great Leviacrum Towers, one in London, and another on the Benguela Plateau. Verity Champlain’s airship came from Benguela. Garrett Embry’s family was sacrificed on the altar of secrecy because they asked questions about that tower.

Cecil Reardon was supposed to be working on methods of harnessing Leviacrum power, in anticipation of a great event. Instead, he worked on something of his own. As soon as Miss Polperro left his factory, he flipped the switch on his Time Clock, in hopes of returning to the time before his wife and son died.

Professor Reardon’s invention works spectacularly but not accurately. London is cleaved in two. Big Ben is carved through the middle, and time is symbolically, as well as literally, shattered. The district surrounding Reardon’s factory is transported, not just a few decades back in time, but centuries, back to the Cretaceous period. Dinosaurs roam the earth.

Some humans survive the transition to this world of adventure. The Professor is at the epicenter. Unfortunately for him, Miss Polperro and her band of Inquisitors are trapped within the cone of transferrance. Verity Champlain’s airship is dragged out of the sky by the storm the time slip produces.

As for Garrett Embry, he is caught just barely inside the blast range with the young son of an ice cream truck driver. The boy’s father was killed in the separation. To Embry, the brave new/old world is a much better adventure than the trial he barely escaped, even with pterodactyls swooping out of the sky at every turn.

But the intrepid band of time wanderers cannot survive long in the terrifying past. The Professor must find a way to reverse the time clock’s trajectory, but he will only have one opportunity to get it right. And only if the dinosaurs don’t eat them first!

Escape Rating B: Jules Verne and H.G. Wells would be so proud! Prehistoric Clock reads very much like something of the Verne school of adventure writing, and there is a definite nod to Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth at the end. Of course the Clock itself is a time machine of the Wells’ persuasion, without the Eloi and Morlock, but Wells’ time traveler doesn’t suffer the same sad backstory as motivation as Professor Reardon.

The truly fascinating character in Prehistoric Clock is Verity Champlain. A female airship officer wasn’t usual, but her crew did not merely respect her, but found her so compelling that they gave her a particular honorific title, Eembu. It means “trousers”. Meet her and you’ll find out why.

The ending is open enough that there could be a sequel. I sincerely hope so.


I snagged a copy of Dreadnought by Cherie Priest from the Tor booth at ALA Midwinter. (Many publishers give their books away the last day of the show.) Boneshaker, the first book in Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century series was one of those books that after reading you sort of shove at people with the admonition “you just have to read this.” Boneshaker was one of the books that makes steampunk so cool.

Back to Dreadnought. I picked up the print copy for my airplane book. I loved Boneshaker (and Ms. Priest’s paranormal/urban fantasy Bloodshot as well) so I knew Dreadnought would be awesome. I just couldn’t figure out why I didn’t already have it.

Embarrassing answer: I did already have it, in my B&N Nook app on my iPad. Which didn’t solve the airplane problem. I still needed a print book for the dreadful “please turn off all electronic devices” moments. Airline magazines are generally dull as ditchwater, and I can’t sleep on airplanes unless I’m beyond comatose.

So I realized I’ve had Dreadnought for over a year, but it got caught in the “so many books, so little time” vortex. The airplane gave me a chance to return to a writer I enjoyed and her carefully crafted steampunk universe.

Thank you Tor, and thank you ALA trip! I loved Dreadnought. It reminded me of everything I enjoyed about the Boneshaker universe, but it didn’t rely on it too much. Which was a great thing, because I remembered the big story but not the small details, since I read Boneshaker when it came out in 2009. And now I want to read it again.

In the Clockwork Century, the Klondike Gold Rush did happen, But Russian investors paid inventor Leviticus Blue of Seattle to construct a steam-powered mining machine. And history went down a very different path then the one we know. Because Levi Blue’s “Boneshaker” didn’t just destroy a whole lot of downtown Seattle, it also unearthed a terrible gas that turned anyone who breathed it into a zombie. And the stuff was addictive in the bargain, so folks ended up hooked on it before they turned into the “living dead”.

But it was effectively knocking Seattle out of the U.S. economic and political picture on the eve of the U.S. Civil War that was felt back East. That War between the States didn’t wrap up in 1865, it kept going, and going. Five years, ten years, twenty years later, it’s still going on, to the point where grievances aren’t fresh, they’re inherited from fathers and brothers. And that’s where Dreadnought begins. In a Confederate hospital, with a nurse named Mercy Lynch.

Mercy receives two pieces of news, one right on top of another. She gets a visit from the famous nurse Clara Barton, who does found the Red Cross in seemingly every universe. Miss Barton was accompanied by a Union soldier who was given permission to cross the Confederate lines after he had been released from Andersonville Prison. That infamous place also existed. Mercy Lynch and her husband were from Border states. When her husband’s Kentucky home went Union, he enlisted with the Union Army. This Union soldier has come to tell her that he witnessed her husband’s death at Andersonville.

When Mercy was left alone, she became a nurse, and a damn good one. But Mercy was from Virginia. And Virginia was a Confederate State.

After getting the news that she was a widow, Mercy received a telegram from Seattle. Her father was dying and wanted to see her. Mercy didn’t know whether to be astonished or angry. Her father had abandoned her and her mother when she was a child, and had disappeared out West. Mercy hadn’t known he was still alive. But he wanted to see her. Seattle was a long way from Virginia. She would need to quit her position as a nurse and travel thousands of miles by airship and train. The war was between her and the coast.

Mercy felt torn by duty, but also free of duty. And she was tired of being pulled in every direction every minute. After a lot of soul searching, she set out for Seattle.

The journey is an incredible adventure. Dreadnought is a road novel, but the road is like no road story you’ve ever read. It’s not just that everything that can go wrong, does go wrong, it’s also that the kind of things that go wrong are nothing Mercy, or the reader, can possibly imagine.

Most people back East don’t know what has happened in Seattle, so Mercy doesn’t know what she is headed towards. Her world is the War. In Seattle, the War is far away. Their problem is the blight gas. And yes, those two problems do collide, multiple times, on Mercy’s trip, but not in the way you might think.

And wow, what a ride! You just know that when Mercy reaches her destination, her adventure has just begun.

Escape Rating A+: I forgot I was on a plane. I got so sucked into the story, I lost track of everything around me. Mercy Lynch is an absolutely unforgettable character, and the reader is pulled along with her every step and mile of the trip.

Dreadnought made me want to go back and read Boneshaker again, and read the next book in the series, Ganymede immediately, because I want to find out what happens next. (There’s also a loosely linked novel, Clementine sorta/kinda before Ganymede.)  I’m trying to restrain myself, and it’s just about driving me crazy. Dreadnought had me on the edge of my seat. If you like steampunk, read the Clockwork Century and find out what all the fuss is about. You’ll be glad you did.


Stellarnet Rebel

Stellarnet Rebel by J.L. Hilton is really good science fiction romance. The heroine is a blogger, which made it particularly fun for me! Not many blogger/heroines in science fiction romance. Or anywhere.

Genny O’Riordan is the blogger. She “shifts” in from Earth to Asteria to find a story that will make her blog, that is kick it up into the Stellarnet Top 100. That’s her big dream. The story she wants to break is a universal story of corporate greed, just moved out to the deep-space colony of Asteria.

Asteria sounds like Babylon 5 without the aliens and without the interstellar wars. (Well, almost, but we’ll get to that in a minute) Babylon 5 had “Downbelow”, where all the people who were too broke to buy passage back “home” and not skilled enough to get decent paying jobs mostly lived in the corridors. “Downbelow” was a slum, except with even fewer options. Asteria is a lot like a civilian Babylon 5, and there are too many people on Asteria who have either been forcibly shipped to or conned into shifting to Asteria and living as “overload” — in other words, living in the corridors and overloading the ecological systems. On a space station, that’s even more serious than on a planet, any planet. Humans can’t breathe vacuum.

There are also a lot of obsessive online gamers on Asteria, playing an immersive Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) called Mysteria. There’s no lag time if you live on Asteria, the way there is on Earth. That’s a big deal to a truly obsessed gamer.

Asteria has a military commander, Colonel Blaze Villaneuva. Blaze is the one trying to keep the lid on the pot. His U.S. Air and Space Force mostly act as MPs. And they keep Asteria flying. Blaze is a realist more than he is a stickler for the rules. And part of Blaze’s reality is that there isn’t any water in space.

Blaze gets most of Asteria’s water from Duin’s clandestine raids on a nearby planet, his former home.

Duin is a Glin. He’s an alien. He’s the only alien on Asteria. His planet was conquered, and devastated, by another alien race, the Tikati. So Duin spends his days in the Asteria Colony market, making speeches about the oppression of his people to anyone who will listen. Because Duin has read all about the human drive for freedom, and he believes that somewhere, some human will want to help him free his people. He just has to keep believing. And speaking.

The first time Genny walks through the Asteria market, she hears Duin speak. He is passionate about the plight of his people. He is also incredibly articulate, even in a language manifestly not his own. And Genny is utterly captivated by him. At first, she believes it is because she has found a story, and a cause, that will rocket her blog not just into the Stellarnet 100, but maybe into the Stellarnet Top 20.

But the more time she spends with Duin, the more she involved she becomes with him and his cause, the more she realizes that it is the man, the Glin himself, who has captured her heart and soul.

Does love mean the same thing to a Glin that it does to a human? And will the blind prejudice and hatred of other humans conspire to keep them apart?

Escape Rating B: I absolutely adore the idea of the Stellarnet. It seemed like a merger of the blogosphere, Twitter and the constant stream of headline news all rolled into one. As a blogger, Genny is online to her fans almost constantly, to the point where Genny does debate whether or not to blog herself having sex, complete with video. But the concept of the all-invasive, all-intrusive Stellarnet, of fans living vicariously through a blogger/star does not seem far-fetched from here.

Duin was a little bit too good to be true for me. Especially when Belloc, the second Glin, came into the picture. I understand that the author used Belloc to show that the Glin attitude toward sex and relationships was not just different, but, in fact, alien, but that part of the plot didn’t quite work for me.

I liked Genny and Duin together. It felt more realistic in the relationship when he got so caught up in the cause that he lost sight of the person he was involved with. That happens. Belloc’s plot maybe should have been book 2.

Speaking of book 2, Stellarnet Rebel is the start of a series. I’m looking forward to it!