The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. LeGuin

The Farthest Shore.jpgLeGuin has established herself as one of the best writers of the twentieth century. She can do more with a single sentence than many authors can manage with hundreds of pages of text. The Farthest Shore is no exception to her excellence.

Ged is an old man now and the Headmaster of Roke when a young prince comes to him with news that magic all over the archipelago is failing. Ged sets sail with the young prince to find out what is wrong and finds that many people don’t even believe that magic is real any more. They have fallen into using hallucinogenic drugs to hide their fear of death.

They eventually sail to the ends of their known world and even beyond and into the land of death itself in order to bring magic back to the land.

As is typical with LeGuin the experience as a whole is really the source of joy that this book brings. The characters are fascinating and the story is reasonably interesting but LeGuin’s writing and the wisdom that she communicates with every line make this book feel like a near spiritual experience.

LeGuin has a lot to say about the world and life and making choices and she says them all with such grace and conciseness that it feels almost crass to review her work. The Farthest Shore is a continuation of the story she started with The Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan and spiritually it is a maturation of those two books.

Each of her books in this series imparts wisdom with every word. Ged learns to live with the consequences of his own foolish decisions and to confront them instead of run form them in the first book. In the second book Tenar learns to face her fears and push back against the oppression of history that forces her to live a life of restrictions and servitude. In this book Ged and Arren learn the uselessness of fearing death and how corrupting that fear can become.

I will repeat what I’ve said previously about the first two books in this series. Read these. Read them again if you have already. My one regret with these books is that I have not read them as many times as I have read Tolkien’s work and can not focus as deeply on their strengths. They deserve to be taught in schools and loved by people of every age. LeGuin is one of the finest writers ever and her Earthsea books are among the best of her work.


Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Boneshaker.jpgThis is the story of a middle-aged woman who ventures into the walled, zombie and poison gas filled streets of an alternate Seattle to find her teenage son when he runs away looking for news about his long dead father.

This is very much in the steampunk genre so there are airships and gas masks and goggles and machines and there are people of ridiculous statures and over the top personalities with clockwork machines grafted on to their bodies.

There are secrets to overturn and history to rewrite or discover.

The book is a nice departure from the gothic horror that Cherie Priest wrote previously and proves that she is versatile as a writer. Her characters are very well-imagined with Briar Wilkes carrying decades of emotional baggage that make her cautiously settled into her ways and her son Ezekiel behaves so much like nearly every teenage boy that it’s a wonder he doesn’t feel like a stereotype.

The rest of the people in the story are a hodge podge of strange people who have been living in the poisoned remnants of Seattle for seventeen years amidst teeming hordes of undead, air pirates and crime lords.

Even reading the description that I’ve written here makes me think I should have loved this book more than I did. I found it to be a good adventure story with an unusual protagonist and interesting characters. It never quite grabbed on to me. It seemed like the introspective moments lasted just a little too long. The coincidences added up a little too nicely. The descriptions lingered a little too much.

All together this is a fun adventure story. It has an intricate backstory to fill out the world and has great characters that come to life on every page. If you can deal with the occasionally long winded descriptions then this is a fun book that could very easily have been marketed to younger readers.

White Sand by Brandon Sanderson

White Sand.jpgI was kind of hoping that this would be an epic about using the White Sands of New Mexico as a secret power source. I was kind of right in that the white sands are the power source of the magic system in this new graphic novel by Brandon Sanderson, based on the unpublished novel that he wrote many years ago. Or perhaps it is water.

Kenton is a Sand Master — kind of. He’s too weak to pass the tests and his own father refuses to let him use his cleverness to employ his weak talent. When they are attacked by their enemies Kenton thinks that he is the only survivor and sets out across the sands to find safety.

Along the way he meets Khriss, a woman from the dark side of the planet.

Taldain is a tidally locked planet with two suns, the smaller, much dimmer one is on the dark side and the brighter and larger one is on the light side. It’s an interesting idea and I like how Sanderson thinks about the actual astronomical aspects of his worlds. It gives them interesting settings that don’t necessarily ever get explained in the stories.

It doesn’t make sense to me, though, that the dark siders are dark skinned and the light siders are light skinned. It seems that it should be the opposite to me. Why are the people that live in a desert and spend their lives with the sun beating down on them all the time light skinned?

The story feels a little underdeveloped which might be the comic book format or it might just be an underdeveloped story. I’m curious to see more about this world but this particular book feels a little random and has a bit of a deus ex machina ending that felt like wish fulfillment rather than good story-telling.

Schlock Mercenary: Massively Parallel by Howard Tayler

Massively Parallel.jpgHoward Tayler just keeps getting better. What started out as a goofy comic full of cheesy jokes and bad art has turned into science fiction epic with consistently funny jokes and better art than I can produce.

As the title of this book suggests the mercenaries split up to fill separate missions. As happens in all good books of split parties the separate missions collide and are actually connected in some way.

Tagon and the doctor learn a new form of parkour in a rotating reference frame, Schlock and some of his friends join the circus and LOTA has plans for the rest of the crew that include pan-galactic super-weapons.

So, it’s pretty much operations as usual but Howard Tayler has figured out how to make his characters seem more personable. The side characters introduced in this book are some of the strongest yet and it’s amazing to me that Tayler can keep up the pace without losing track of people.

Given the sheer volume of previous material in the Schlock Mercenary canon it’s a bit surprising that this one might be a good place to start the series if, for some unexplainable reason, you don’t want to go back and start from the beginning.

The Dispatcher by John Scalzi

The Dispatcher.jpgI’ve read Scalzi’s blog for the better part of a decade and find most of what he has to say there to be thoughtful and well put. I’ve completely bounced off of every piece of his fiction that I’ve tried to read. This one is no exception. It just doesn’t feel like it has any substance to it.

The premise is fascinating. One day, in the future, people who are murdered find themselves still alive and back at home with only a few hours of lost memories. People who die of natural causes are still dead. This leads to the dispatchers, people whose job it is to murder people to help save them. Just got fatally wounded in a car accident? Shot to the head and you’re back to normal.

It doesn’t cure diseases it only resets the body to how it was a few hours before.

That sounds fascinating and it was but that wasn’t enough. It just felt kind of bland.

Which is the reaction I’ve had to every piece of his fiction that I’ve read. He’s a very popular author and many people love his characters and stories. I’m just not one of them.

Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson

Shadows of Self.jpgI’ve been waiting for a sequel to The Alloy of Law since I first read it a few years ago. This first volume of a planned trilogy to follow up the stories of Wax and Wayne is a solid continuation of the characters that I found in that book.

I’m aware of the level of puns that Sanderson is employing in this series and I’m not sure how I feel about them. The characters are named Wax and Wayne as a hint. With that in mind the story and the character development are surprisingly serious. Sanderson has adopted a strange humorous tone that is filled with puns while also taking itself completely seriously.

Somehow it kind of works.

Like I’ve always said, Sanderson is at his best when he isn’t trying to be funny. Much of his humor doesn’t work for me. These books, while they contain humorous characters and situations are not comedy in any way. They are more like detective thrillers with political intrigue and strange cults thrown in for good measure.

The story is good, the mystery is fun but what really makes this book interesting is the little bits of world history that it exposes. The transition from Mistborn to this series is not completely revealed and it’s fascinating to see people and places that have survived and find out about the ones that didn’t.

I don’t know if that’s enough to carry the book, though. It was interesting and I wanted to know more about the characters that I loved in the previous series. However, the ones in this series just aren’t grabbing me the way they should. It’s a good book but it’s not great and it doesn’t measure up to what I’ve seen Sanderson is capable of.

Given it’s flaws this is a fun adventure book with mystery and excitement on nearly every page. It’s worth reading especially if you have been looking for more in the Mistborn world.

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan

A Natural History of Dragons.jpgTodd Lockwood’s cover art for this book is some of the most fascinating that I have ever seen. The book is somewhat less fascinating but still a good story.

This is written to be the memoirs of the Lady Trent, a well-known and respected Dragon naturalist. She starts the story, as one would expect with her childhood and her experiences learning anatomy and biology by dissecting the small animals on her family farm.

Brennan has a great voice and the character is interesting and unconventional enough to inspire some humor. The story is one of exploring ancient ruins and discovering secrets about dragons that naturalists hadn’t known previously. Lady Kent has to battle social mores in order to help out with the study of dragons and makes some important discoveries.

The book is fine from that standpoint, it’s entertaining to read and there are always multiple things going on. The issue is that it feels like the study of dragons takes second stage toward the end to some kind of black market smuggler plot. I was reading this book to learn about dragons and I may have been just as happy with an anatomy book. What I got was an adventure that only featured dragons a little bit with hints for more books to come.

I found the result disappointing but your mileage may vary depending on what you are expecting when you read the book.

Despite my disappointment the book is written in a credible Victorian voice that comes across exactly how it’s supposed to and Brennan has a brilliant alternate world here that has very few metals and has been forced to develop technology in a different direction due to their rarity. It is fascinating and Lady Trent is a great character. If you are a fan of Mary Robinette Kowal you will probably love this book as it has a similar feel.