Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #17: Secrets of the Fire Sea by Stephen Hunt

Secrets of the Fire SeaTarget: Stephen Hunt’s Secrets of the Fire Sea (Jackelian #4)

Profile: Speculative Fiction, Steampunk, Fantasy, Mystery

The fourth book in Stephen Hunt’s Jackelian series is a marked improvement on the third, but doesn’t quite recapture the energy or creativity of the first.  However, the actual narrative line of Secrets of the Fire Sea is surprisingly clean and easy to follow, a vast improvement over Hunt’s pervious stories.

If you haven’t been following my various Cannonball blogs,Secrets of the Fire Sea takes place in Hunt’s steampunk/fantasy/sci-fi setting that started with The Court of the Air. And it is honestly one of the best steampunk settings out there, and continues to be wonderfully creative sometimes even surprising.  I would go so far as to say that the setting is the reason these books are worth reading, as the stories tend to be retreads of obvious tropes and are only interesting because of the set pieces that make up the world.

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Read Fofo’s reviews of the Jackelian sequence

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Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #16: Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Saga Vol 1Target: Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga.  Art by Fiona Staples. Collecting issues 1-6

Profile: Comics, Science Fiction, Space Opera

After Action Report:

Saga is probably the most praised comic currently running.  Brain K. Vaughan has a bit of a reputation for excellent comics with his Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina stories making lots of people’s must-read lists.  So it shouldn’t be surprising that readers and industry wonks alike were practically frothing over Vaughan’s new series.  I got to this party a little late, mostly because I don’t see the point of collecting individual issues and prefer to wait for the mass-market paperback collections.  So I write this review with the enormous pressure of thousands of positive reviews sitting on my back.  Not that I feel the need to contradict them.  Saga is an excellent book with only one serious fault.  And that fault is one that could easily be corrected with time/more issues.

Saga is the story of Hazel, the half-breed offspring of soldiers of two warring races.  Her parents, Marko and Alana who are the protagonists of these first few issues, are objectors to a galaxy-spanning war that has lasted as long as either side can remember and has no end in sight.  Their joint desertion, and subsequent fraternization, is problematic to the higher-ups of both sides so Hazel’s baby shower gifts are mercenaries and a platoon of trigger-happy goons.  The first six issues cover the new family’s attempts to escape their pursuers and get off-planet.

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Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #15: Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. by Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen

NextwaveTarget: Warren Ellis’ Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.  Art by Stuart Immonen. Collecting Issues 1-12

Profile: Comics, Action, Comedy

After Action Report:

Nextwave is a great comic.  It’s not deep.  It doesn’t challenge your expectations.  It doesn’t change the paradigm for what a comic book is supposed to be, but it’s still a good comic.  It’s also somewhat hard to access.  Nextwave is a parody/satire written for and by a certain cross-section of the geek population who enjoy a broad spectrum of geeky entertainment.  In the first issue alone, Nextwavereferences: Japanese monster movies, 90s television, pretty much every major team-up comic series ever, and itself for good measure. All of this means that if you aren’t conversant in these genres some of the comedy of Nextwave might go right over your head.  There is still a fair amount of generally accessible comic moments in the vein of slap-stick, crude language and the funny scenario.  And we are fortunate enough to live in a world where S.H.I.E.L.D., The Avengers and comics in general have become common conversation topics.

For all of its almost reverential nods to the geek community, Nextwave is definitely making fun of the comic book establishment.  Author Warren Ellis is well known for his distaste for the directions that mainstream comics have been moving since the late 80s.  Here, that distain is transmuted into irreverent comedy that still manages to twist the knife every so often, particularly if you’re more up-to-speed on the state of Marvel Comics circa 2006.  I am not, so I had to get most of this stuff off of TVTropes but that research really enhanced a re-reading of the book.

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Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #13-14: The Net Delusion and To Save Everything, Click Here by Evgeny Morozov

The Net DelusionTarget: Evgeny Morozov’s The Net Delusion: The Darkside of Internet Freedom and To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism

Profile: Non-Fiction, Technology, International Studies, Cultural Studies

This is going to be a very atypical review.  In reading The Net Delusion and Click Here, I was attempting to develop a cohesive personal position on the problems of internet advocacy.  There is a lot of literature and scholarly articles on the benefits of using the internet in the cause of advocacy, either as a method of raising awareness or as a means to a fundraising end, but there is very little in the way of criticism outside of the shallow critique of ‘Slacktivism.’  Morozov’s books offered a more cutting look at my subject area, but failed, by and large, to dig deeper or offer a cohesive alternative.  This is broadly true of both books, but is more apparent in Click Here.

To Save Everything Click HereBecause both books failed to meet my personal metric for usefulness, it is difficult for me to recommend them.  Even ignoring that, both books left me with a bad taste in my mouth, not because Morozov’s ideas are wrong or uninteresting, but because he is such a hostile author.  That hostility, directed against politicians, pundits, academics, and above all else the Techno-Literati of Silicon Valley, is an enormous barrier-to-entry for readers who haven’t already bought into Morozov’s aggressive architecture.  Again, Click Here is the worst offender, withThe Net Delusion appearing relatively calm and reasoned.  But let’s go ahead and get into the books.

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Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #12: Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds

Blue Remembered EarthTarget: Alastair Reynolds’ Blue Remembered Earth

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera

I’ve mentioned this before, but Alastair Reynolds’ novels leave me a little bewildered.  The scope of his settings are daunting and even Blue Remembered Earth, a book that starts and finishes within our own solar system and a scant 150 years in the future, promises to have gotten just as big by the time we get to the end of the Poseidon’s Children series.  Reynolds packs a lot of interesting ideas into this opening novel, but the plot seems to get pushed aside to make room for it all.

Not that Blue Remembered Earth is bad.  It feels like its setting up for something really interesting and, like a lot of setup stories, it doesn’t quite stand on its own.  Reynolds’ attention to detail draws a compelling map to the stars and the future of humanity, but the reason we keep turning pages has nothing to do with Geoffrey Akinya or his sister, Sunday.

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Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #11: Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

Alif the UnseenTarget: G. Willow Wilson’s Alif the Unseen

Profile: Modern Fantasy, Religious Fiction

Alif the Unseen is honestly one of the best novels I’ve read in recent memory.  It practically sparkles with fresh ideas and invigorating prose.  Like Throne of the Crescent Moon, I picked up Alif on the recommendation of io9.com’s best speculative fiction of 2012 list, and out of a desire to read more non-Eurocentric fantasy.  But the two books shouldn’t even be compared.  Alif is on a completely different level of fiction, the same level occupied by giants like China Miéville’s Kraken and Neil Gaimen’s American Gods, or perhaps more saliently, his Anansi Boys.

The novel is also a triumph of multiculturalism.  The author, G. Willow Wilson, an American journalist who converted to Islam and moved to Cairo where she wrote for a number of magazines and newspapers, has written a magnificent window into contemporary Middle Eastern culture, and one that stand surprisingly accessible to readers who might not know anything about the history or culture of this incredibly interesting and diverse region.  Where Saladin Ahmed utterly failed to connect with the richness of Arabian and Islamic mythology in his Crescent Moon, Wilson has succeeded in stunning fashion.

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Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #10: The Dechronization of Sam Magruder by George Gaylord Simpson

The Dechronization of Sam MagruderTarget: George Gaylord Simpson’s The Dechronization of Sam Magruder

Profile: Science Fiction, Time Travel

The Dechronization of Sam Magruder is a strange little novella that is equal parts time travel story, homage to H.G. Wells and paleontological argument.  The author, George Gaylord Simpson, was one of the most influential and prolific evolutionists and paleontologists of the 20th century, if not all time.  More curiously, he wasn’t a fiction writer.  Of the 15 books he wrote or contributed to, only the posthumously published Dechronization approached the genre of science fiction and even then from the perspective of an academic.

Before I get into the review itself, I would like to mention that I would be much less conversant on the matter of 1940s paleontology were it not for the substantial introduction by Arthur C. Clarke included in my slim paperback edition.  Clarke discusses the sometimes unpopular opinions of Simpson that were eventually borne out by new discoveries, but also reminds the reader that this book was being written in the mid-1900s and some of what we knew then has since been proven wrong.  Most importantly, he emphasizes the science fiction nature of the novella, drawing the attention back to the setting which makes some unusual assumptions about the shape of the future that might not be so far off reality.

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