Book Review – The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

The blurb remembers:

The Ghost Brigades are the Special Forces of the Colonial Defense Forces, elite troops created from the DNA of the dead and turned into the perfect soldiers for the CDF’s toughest operations. They’re young, they’re fast and strong, and they’re totally without normal human qualms.

The universe is a dangerous place for humanity–and it’s about to become far more dangerous. Three races that humans have clashed with before have allied to halt our expansion into space. Their linchpin: the turncoat military scientist Charles Boutin, who knows the CDF’s biggest military secrets. To prevail, the CDF must find out why Boutin did what he did.

Jared Dirac is the only human who can provide answers — a superhuman hybrid, created from Boutin’s DNA, Jared’s brain should be able to access Boutin’s electronic memories. But when the memory transplant appears to fail, Jared is given to the Ghost Brigades.

At first, Jared is a perfect soldier, but as Boutin’s memories slowly surface, Jared begins to intuit the reason’s for Boutin’s betrayal. As Jared desperately hunts for his “father,” he must also come to grips with his own choices. Time is running out: The alliance is preparing its offensive, and some of them plan worse things than humanity’s mere military defeat…

Overall this is a pretty good book, taking us into the Ghost Brigades that were teased in the first book.

What makes it more interesting than just basic military sci-fi is the plotline about putting the mind of a traitor into a genetically engineered soldier and letting him loose.  This is also kind of a weakness to the story because it’s obviously such a bad idea that I can’t imagine generals with a hundred years’ experience making such a terrible decision.

The book only touches on the first book in the series a bit – the main character from the first book is mentioned a couple times and a secondary character from the first book is also a secondary character in this one.  This has the effect of expanding the universe that the series takes place in while still feeling cohesive.

I like that the book didn’t have a Hollywood ending, but it did unambiguously clear up who the good guys and bad guys were which I think would have been interesting to leave hanging.

I get the impression that this series is either a tribute to or spoof of Heinlein, but I can’t really tell which.

Book Review – The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

The blurb says:

Two men rebel together against tyranny—and then become rivals—in this first sweeping book of an epic fantasy series from Ken Liu, recipient of Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards.

Wily, charming Kuni Garu, a bandit, and stern, fearless Mata Zyndu, the son of a deposed duke, seem like polar opposites. Yet, in the uprising against the emperor, the two quickly become the best of friends after a series of adventures fighting against vast conscripted armies, silk-draped airships, and shapeshifting gods. Once the emperor has been overthrown, however, they each find themselves the leader of separate factions—two sides with very different ideas about how the world should be run and the meaning of justice.

The fact that this is a fantasy based on Chinese history and legends reminded me of Long Price Quartet, but there really isn’t that much similarity.

For a long time in this book I wondered who the main character was, because there are a lot of point-of view characters.  Sometimes new points of view are added, often they die and sometimes this all happens in the same chapter.  After a good portion of the book I concluded that there was no main character and that this was more of a concept book than a character book.  Then later in the book the points of view got fewer and it became clear that there were two main characters and then it came down to one.  I don’t really mind the author playing with the points of view etc. but I don’t think the book was helped by it being unclear what kind of story it was.

Along with the large number of points-of-view, the many unfamiliar names made it difficult at times to know what was going on.

Somewhere in the middle of the book when I had concluded that this was a concept book, I thought I’d figured out what the concept was.  Then when at the end of the book it became clear that this was a more conventional story about the one character it was a bit of a letdown because the concept ending I’d imagined was better.

Speaking of the ending, although a huge amount of stuff happens in the book and everything is wrapped up pretty neatly, it did leave the door open for the rest of the books in the series, which made wonder anew as to what the arc of the story is supposed to be.

Book Review – The Dreams of a Dying God by Aaron Pogue

The Dreams of a Dying God by Aaron Pogue

The Dreams of a Dying God by Aaron Pogue

The blurb dreams:

Even for a charismatic pirate, three years is a long time to chase after an unimaginable treasure hidden in the ruins of an ancient city. But when the fabled riches turn out to be virtually worthless, the outraged crew mutinies and leaves their former captain for dead.

He is rescued by a mysterious king and transported back to a time of dwarves, druids, and fairies. Enchanting as it is, though, his only wish is to return home and find justice—but only the king has the power to return him…for a price.

Aided by a new and motley group of mystical creatures and misfits, he sets out on his quest, ultimately getting caught up in a war he wants nothing to do with—and in the process changing the course of history itself.

I keep saying that I have low expectations for Kindle Owners’ Lending Library books and that I’ve been surprised at how good some of them are, but this book is another example.  I think it’s probably because Amazon put the cheapest books they can find in the Library, which means there are a lot of self-published books, and those are of very varied quality because there’s no barrier to entry.

This book is certainly amateurish in places, but that’s usually in descriptions of situations or unrealistic human reactions.  The parts where it excels are imagination and originality.

Although I had read the blurb before I read the book, it had been some time so I was going into it with fresh eyes.  There were two times that the book surprised me with a major twist, and that was a big factor in making me like it.

This book is the first part of a trilogy, so predictably it left as many plot arcs open as it closed, but it was still pretty satisfying.  The other books in the trilogy have already been released, so there’s no wait to find out what happens.

Book Review – The Getaway God by Richard Kadrey

The Getaway God by Richard Kadrey

The Getaway God by Richard Kadrey

The blurb apocalypses:

End times are here again

A half-human, half-angel with a bad rep and a worse attitude—we are talking about the former Lucifer here—James Stark, aka Sandman Slim, has made a few enemies. None, though, are as fearsome as the vindictive Angra Om Ya—the insatiable, destructive old gods. But their imminent invasion is just one of Stark’s problems, as L.A. descends into chaos, and a new evil stalks the city.

No ordinary killer, the man known as St. Nick takes Stark deep into a conspiracy that stretches from Earth to Heaven and Hell. Further complicating matters is that he may be the only person alive who knows how to keep the world from going extinct. He’s also Stark’s worst enemy—the only man in existence Stark would enjoy killing twice—and one with a direct line to the voracious, ancient gods.

At this point I think the biggest problem with this series is its baggage – there are so many characters and so much history that this book spent a good percentage of its time just reminding the reader who everyone was and why they were wherever they were.

The other problem is that this book contains the climax of the past few books’ buildup, so I wasn’t sure what’s left for Sandman Slim to do in the next book but this one ends on a “next time on…” which basically tells us.

Having said that, if you liked the previous books you’ll like this one – everyone’s just being who they are.  As usual there are several fun similes and some snarky, clever wordplay.

Book Review – Surface Detail by Iain Banks

Surface Detail by Iain Banks

Surface Detail by Iain Banks

The blurb condemns:

It begins in the realm of the Real, where matter still matters.

It begins with a murder.

And it will not end until the Culture has gone to war with death itself.

Lededje Y’breq is one of the Intagliated, her marked body bearing witness to a family shame, her life belonging to a man whose lust for power is without limit. Prepared to risk everything for her freedom, her release – when it comes – is at a price, and to put things right she will need the help of the Culture.

Benevolent, enlightened and almost infinitely resourceful though it may be, the Culture can only do so much for any individual. With the assistance of one of its most powerful – and arguably deranged – warships, Lededje finds herself heading into a combat zone not even sure which side the Culture is really on. A war – brutal, far-reaching – is already raging within the digital realms that store the souls of the dead, and it’s about to erupt into reality.

It started in the realm of the Real and that is where it will end. It will touch countless lives and affect entire civilizations, but at the center of it all is a young woman whose need for revenge masks another motive altogether.

As I recently said, I really enjoy this series of books, so I had high expectations for this one.

Overall this book did pretty well living up to my expectations, although I think there were a couple of things that let it down compared to the previous book in the series.

The ending was a bit deus ex machina in that I’m not sure the actions of the main character actually contributed much to it.

Along the same lines there was an entire point of view character who I’m not sure contributed at all, to the extent that the characters in the book even comment on how she didn’t manage to really do anything.

Finally at the very end of the epilogue there’s a dramatic reveal, but it made no sense to me so I looked it up and it turns out that it was a reference to a previous book.  Since it’s been over a decade since I read that book, it wasn’t a connection I had any chance of making, which annoyed me a bit.

As is pretty clear from the blurb, the concepts that the author is exploring (in the context of his future universe) are revenge and death/afterlives.  I don’t think it has much application to us today, but it’s interesting to see his extrapolation of the issues we could face as technology makes things possible.