Ace Double: The Sun Smasher & Starhaven

Edmond Hamilton’s The Sun Smasher is a surprisingly slow paced (but not boring nor lacking in excitement) novel for something barely one hundred pages. A man on earth is told his life is a lie and he’s actually the brainwashed heir to an old empire. Swift, but not blunt hints are dropped that maybe that old empire wasn’t so great. An apocalyptic weapon too powerful to ever use. Oh, and giant psychic spiders.

Ivar Jorgensen’s Starhaven isn’t as good and is also something like 25% longer. Some interesting ideas (also involving, like its companion volume, brain wipes and implanted false memories), but a little disappointing after the more traditionally exciting Sun Smasher. Somehow, he made a rogue planet of criminals living in a social Darwinist paradise kind of meh.

The Cold Commands

He lost me. Seven hundred odd pages culminating in some poorly explained gobbledygook that reminded me of a lot of earlier gobbledygook, albeit less densely packed, that I had deigned to overlook.

You see, Morgan does some exciting fight scenes which encourage the reader to overlook how underexplained his fantasy world is, but when the poorly explained junk comes so fast and furious, you can no longer forgive.

The Curse Of Chalion

I can’t remember where this was recommended to me as an excellent fantasy novel by a female writer whose work is in danger of being overlooked these days, but it made enough of an impression that I bought this when I saw it at library book sale near my house. Unfortunately, Ms. Bujold will boy get royalties on the dollar I gave the Southeast library. Fortunately, I did get a good book. I devoured it as quickly as I could over the first few days that I had it.

A damaged hero. A princess (not meant for the hero; but he has his own love interest, holding a more suitably lesser status). Interesting and brutal (though not unnecessarily grim) politics and a religious system that I suspect George R.R. Martin of having borrowed from and an interesting magical ecosystem. The setting, despite stabs at new nomenclature, is basic western medieval. The ending drags on, but that’s not the worst sin.

The Engines Of God

I no longer remember where I heard about this book, but it stuck in my mind as something I should read if I got the chance.

I spoke to a fellow aficionado with very specific tastes. Among other features of his personality, he really only considers so-called hard science fiction to be genuine science fiction; the rest is just fantasy with space ships.

By those standards, The Engines of God is not science fiction, but it is closer and I recommended it to him.

It is a science fiction (by my lights) novel, but centered around discovery and investigation and despite having one action sequence with ‘blasters’ (here called pulsers), a sequence that is gritty, unnerving, and realistic in feel, it resolutely not an action book. There are alien ruins but the aliens are long gone.

The highest praise I can give is that it makes a semi-sentient, apocalyptic space cloud seem realistic and explainable.

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives Of The Inklings

This is a somewhat half hearted effort to convince the reader that Barfield and Williams are at least half as important as Lewis and Tolkien, undermined by the authors’ own apparent lack of belief in that aspect of the project and by a consensus of opinion which they seem disinclined to challenge.

Towards the end, they set up poor Barfield, by describing his intent to meet the challenge laid down by his peers’ successes and to write his magnum opus. It’s a big set up, narratively, but ends with the admission that few liked it and barely more than that even noticed it was written.

Structurally, they probably could have just focused on Lewis and Tolkien and then included a wider variety of other Inklings.

But, I learned a lot about them and it was interesting, because I like Tolkien and Lewis. I like ’em a lot.

The Zaleskis, without becoming prurient or even mentioning it again, makes a good argument that Lewis and Mrs. Moore were having a sexual affair, which convinced me. It doesn’t change my opinion of him, it’s merely nice to have some resolution, in my mind, on the matter.

Likewise, I had not realized just how devoutly Catholic Tolkien was nor how important it was to his Middle Earth novels (he went to mass daily for most of his life).

But… I can’t help but be a little disappointed. I had been hoping to learn about another Bloomsbury group or another Transcendentalist circle or another Paris in the twenties, instead, learned about a group of intelligent and interesting academics, two of whom happened to become very, very famous and were very important writers. And I put the book feeling that the authors didn’t really like the works of Lewis and Tolkien all that much, which feels almost like a personal insult to one such as I, raised on Narnia and Middle Earth (though they seemed to like two lesser read Tolkienalia, Farmer Giles of Ham and The Smith of Wooton Major, both of which I loved and read over and over again as a child).

The Steel Remains

Written by the author of Altered Carbon (which I still haven’t read), The Steel Remains is a sort of grimdark fantasy (I hate that term) which partakes of some of the earthier moments of George R.R. Martin’s as yet unfinished septology (is that the word?) but more of the granddaddy (I would say), Glen Cook and his Black Company. Indeed, the three main protagonists would feel right at home in that titular company.

It’s all very good and exciting. The world is well crafted – it’s not unique, but Morgan is good at introducing the world without laying on tons of exposition. There is a sort steampunk overlay, with an alien race that uses barely understood technology that, as Arthur C. Clarke noted, looks very like magic. Of the three protagonists, one is clearly the focus and he’s gay, which is nice to see in terms of diversity (another is from a non-human sort of race that happen to be black).

But then…

He brings all three point of view characters (who also all previously knew each other) together at the very end in a way that just feels entirely too forced; a poorly established deus ex machina. that left me with a bad taste in my mouth.