Cidney Swanson: Saving Mars

Reviewed by Sunday S. Smith

Dennis Tito is in the news again. The first space tourist is planning a manned fly-by mission to the red planet in 2018.  How exciting!  And how well today’s book by Cidney Swanson fits with this breaking news!  It has been my dream since the first space walk to see man build a colony on Mars.  Discovering ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’ by Robert Heinlein only fueled that desire.  Swanson’s new book rekindles that desire.  This science fiction book feels real even as we earthlings are still getting our lunar legs on. What a joy to read!
Saving Mars
By Cidney Swanson
Publisher: William Press
Length: 384 pages

From Amazon:
Save her brother or save her planet? When the food supply of Mars’ human settlement is decimated, seventeen-year-old Jessamyn Jaarda, the best pilot Mars Colonial has ever seen, flies to Earth to raid for food. Earth-Mars relations couldn’t be worse, and her brother is captured during the raid. Breaking rules of secrecy and no contact, Jess finds an ally in Pavel, nephew to a government official, but their friendship only makes more agonizing the choice before her: save her brother or save Mars?About the Book:
Mars was settled long, long ago but somewhere in those past years relations between the colonists and Earth became strained, then broken.  So many decades have passed that almost all the people of earth, including their government officials, believe the colony died out decades ago.
Circling the dry Martian world are satellites equipped with lasers to stop anything from leaving the planet. Unfortunately for Marsians (as they call themselves), they cannot grow their own food.  They must make a trek to earth every 20 years or so to trade trillium – an abundant Mars resource – for food rations – the kind that will last decades. Only the best and bravest pilots can outfox the laser cannons.
Jessamyn is just such a pilot – if only she hadn’t crash landed a ship against orders.  And this raiding mission is different.  Her brother, Ethan, must travel to Earth. He is entrusted with a secret mission that may forever save Mars – if they can make it through the cannons, if they can reach their contacts on Earth and if he can complete his mission.

My Take:
I went through this book like wind through a screen door. There are so many ways this fast moving novel captures the reader.   Swanson does not waste column inches describing every little thing but let’s the reader discover much on their own.  Walkabout suit? The why and the how becomes apparent as do the wet rations during the development of the story. Swanson does a great job of knowing what needs to be described (Mars scape; the crash landing, the hall) from what the reader can fill in as they read. The characters rise seamlessly, allowing the reader to get to know and understand each of them.  Jessamyn, wonderful from the start, is both good and reckless, making her imperfect and perfectly relatable and so naturally seventeen.  Ethan is a unique character who is brilliant but flawed with problems that would normally keep him from this mission. Finally, ‘Saving Mars’ is filled with future ideas both unique and captivating.  Ever hear the phrase youth is wasted on the young? Not in the Earth society Swanson has envisioned.

My Recommendation:  I most highly recommend this for anyone who loves books from the Golden Age of Science Fiction or books like ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’. It is a chaste YA, perfect for anyone from 10 up. I loved this book so much I bought the next one right away. As a reader of The Healing Crystal: Book 2 – Fall of Eden said: “The only question I have is why can’t book three be in my hands right now?”

Sunday S. Smith

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Nicholas Eftimiades: Edward of Planet Earth

Reviewed by Mike Kraus

Eftimiades’s novel is a humorous description of life 200 years into the future. The tone of this novel reminded me a little of “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Life in the 23rd century is very different than life today. Computers are everywhere. They control everything. They are linked with countless sensors through a Global Information Grid. All computers are intelligent thinking machines. They have individual names and unique personalities. As synthetic life forms they have been granted equal rights with humans. Edward Teller is a man. He is an ordinary average human. He is not married. His CLS-4 Home Management System (Clarissa) performs the role of nagging wife for him. He is employed as a Synthetic Life Surgeon. Basically, a psychiatrist for computers. It is when visiting one of the most powerful computers in the world that Edward’s life takes a drastic change. Several of the these powerful computers have selected Edward for a special task. They want him to contact God. These computers believe that they have found a way to contact God. They need Edward to gather together the software components needed for the task. As Edward travels the world, the author describes the incredible social, legal, political, bureaucratic, scientific and political events which have shaped the 23rd century. These descriptions are creative, inventive, and a little bizarre. Some border on the absurd. Although the novel starts out slowly, it kept my interest. I wanted to find out if the computers would be successful in their quest. If you want to read something completely different, check out this novel. Check out my Blog:

Christopher Paolini: Inheritance

Reviewed By Amanda Imhoff

I recently finished Inheritance, the last book in the Inheritance cycle which began with Eragon. I was truly excited to read the final chapters of Eragon and Saphira’s journey and to find out how they would defeat Galbatorix (because I had no doubt from the previous stories’ lead up that they would destroy him). I believe that the book was very well-written and showed much growth on Christopher Paolini’s part. Many critics have not reviewed his previous works well, especially Eragon, because they believe his writing is too immature. I think that if the reader takes into consideration that Paolini was only 17 when he wrote Eragon, they will cut him some slack about the maturity of the writing and see the story for what it is, an inspired work of great talent by a very young writer. The works are very long, Inheritance is no exception, because I believe Paolini doesn’t edit enough content. There are some parts of all the books that I feel could have been cut to pace the books better and shorten them, but I don’t feel it weakens the story as a whole so I write it off as editor/author opinion. Inheritance does take quite some time to get to the main conflict, Eragon vs. Galbotorix, but there are several battles in between that provide some action and necessary plot points. I did find myself at times thinking that I wanted Paolini to get to the main conflict already, but when Eragon and Saphira flew to Vroengard, I got excited again because this was a twist that I wasn’t expecting. Then shortly after, the main conflict took place, and I was pleasantly surprised and very impressed with how Paolini resolved this fight. I think how Galbotorix falls is an inspired piece of writing.

My main complaint with the novel, and I’m sorry but I will probably go on in length about it, is the ending. I feel like it has become a convention of late, even among fantasy and science fiction writers, to not have (for lack of a better term) “happy” endings. My only guess is because they want their characters to have “realistic” endings. I feel, as a consumer and not a literary critic, that this convention is misguided. When I purchase/read a book, especially a work of fantasy, I want to have a satisfying ending. I experience (and I believe most of us do) enough realism in my own life that when I read a work of fiction, I want it to transport me out of realism and into a world where “happy endings” do occur. I understand that there may be readers that disagree with me and will want their fiction to be as realistic as possible, even including unhappy or inconclusive endings. I understand that point of view, but I don’t personally feel it has a successful place in fantasy or in much science fiction. Especially because the Inheritance cycle is so long, readers had a chance to really connect with Eragon and Saphira, and as such, readers wanted them to have fulfilling lives after all their struggles. *SPOILER ALERT* For Paolini to exile them from Alagaesia, leaving behind all of their friends and family, as well as both of their love interests, seems a travesty of an opportunity to me. If, for the sake of the safety and secure instruction of the dragons and their riders, the pair had to leave Alagaesia, at least have Aria and Firnen accompany them. It seems too cruel to dangle the possibility of Aria coming to love Eragon, only to take it away at the end. Dragons and magic aside, if I had heard of a similar love story as Aria and Eragon in real life or even in realistic fiction, I would consider it a tragedy. As such, I can only count the conclusion of Inheritance as a tragic end as well. I would still highly recommend the series to people who enjoy fantasy fiction because it is a well-written, engrossing, story, but I would add the caveat that they may not like how it ends.

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Terry Brooks: Wards of Faerie

Reviewed by Allison B.

During a time where science and magic are vying for primacy over the Four Lands, young Druid Aphenglow Elessedil discovers a diary that may lead to the missing Elfstones. Their powerful magic might turn the tide in a coming war, but the journey to recover them is full of dangers and secrets. The Elfstones have been missing from the world for centuries, and many have tried and failed to find them. What perils await the Druids on their search, no one knows. But they are willing to take the risk, and let others take the risk with them.

I haven’t picked up a book and been unable to put it down for a long while. I was unable to put Wards of Faerie down, however, and I was reminded why Terry Brooks is my favourite author. He has a way of spinning magic into his words that I love. His characters are very “human” (not necessarily literally, but you know what I mean), and I care about what happens to them. The story follows several main characters, and every time the perspective shifts, I think “Noooo! I want to know what happens to that character!” but then I get engrossed in the next one’s story. Brooks is a master at keeping you turning the pages.

I enjoyed being immersed in the world of Shannara once more. All the familiar names were there–the Ohmsfords, the Elessedils, the Leahs–and some new ones as well. I was excited when I heard Brooks was writing this book, because I have always wanted to learn more about the other Elfstones. The blue Elfstones are seeking stones used for guidance and protection; they have been useful in many a quest. What do the other Elfstones do, I wonder? What other colours are there? How were they lost when the blue Elfstones can find anything in the world? This series is going to answer those questions.

Wards of Faerie is only the beginning of the quest, and most of the story is spent introducing the characters and gathering the special group of druids, dwarves, humans, and elves who will take part in it. Yet there is never a dull moment, with assassins attacking Aphenglow, the prime minister plotting against the druids, the Ohmsfords escaping with their lives on an airship, and the druid-led team exploring an unknown land.

Brooks knows how to write fantasy at its best, and I recommend this book whether you have previously entered and loved the world of Shannara or not. It is a journey you won’t forget.

Check out Allison’s reviews at Sci-Fi / Fantasy Reviews and Geek Culture

Devon Monk: Dead Iron

Reviewed by Mike Kraus

Steampunk is one of the most exciting sub genres of fantasy fiction.  Generally, these novels are set in Victorian England in the late 1800’s.  Steampunk novels envision a time when when steam engines powered by burning wood and coal are the dominant energy source.  In these novels there are steam powered trains, airships, mechanical computers, and automatons.  Often there are elements of the occult, alchemy, dark magic, and supernatural powers and beings.

Monk transports the steampunk genre into the American West.  In her novel she combines the elements of steampunk and the Western.  In the main character Cedar Hunt, we have the outsider with a tortured past.  He has been burdened by an awful curse.  And he is a hired gun.  He is looked down upon by the people of the town.  Yet they go to him when they need someone or something to die.  His innate sense of honor forces him to undertake a dangerous mission that probably will cost him his life, without pay.

The railroad is soon to arrive in town.  It comes with strange machines, strange goings on, and strange beings.  The rail tycoon, Shard Lafel, has his own curse to deal with.  Within days he must orchestrate the deaths of a witch, a wolf, and a child.  If he is successful, he will control incredible evil power.

In the town there are other outcasts:  the odd orphan girl who can hear nature and devise machines, the three brothers who work in a mine and suddenly appear at the most opportune times, the witch who vowed her soul to the town’s only a black worker, and her husband who was killed three times yet wouldn’t stay dead.  Can all these outcasts with different powers find a way to defeat the evil that has invaded the town?

I really enjoyed this book.  It is the first in a series of novels which will explore the Old West through a steampunk lens.  I liked Monk’s writing style.  She skips back and forth between her characters and moves the plot forward.  The novel was a real page turner and I finished it too fast.  I am going to watch for the next books in the series.

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John Scalzi: Old Man’s War

Reviewed by: Charity Bradford

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi was number one on the Tor poll for the top 10 sci fi and fantasy books of the last decade. And now I know why.

From Goodreads:

John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce—and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.

Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.

John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine—and what he will become is far stranger.

My Take:
Avatar meets Starship Troopers, and it so works. OMGosh! Scalzi’s world building is wonderful. I never felt lost as he jumped from one world to another. He wove the information and science I needed into the story without confusing or boring me to death. I’ve always loved sci fi, but sometimes I skim over the deep physics lessons because, well you know, “I don’t have the math for that” (one of my favorite quotes from this book). The science felt real and possible, and most importantly comprehensible.

All I can say is Scalzi is a genius. This is military sci fi at it’s finest. When you’re at war with something completely alien, you need people with experience. People who know how to problem solve and think fast on their feet. You need people who have done this for a lifetime. Unfortunately, those people are old, so you give them a second life. And what physically old person, whose mind still feels as young as it did at twenty, wouldn’t jump at the chance?

First really cool moment–comprehensive physical overhaul. I so want one when I turn 75. I’m not going to spoil it by telling you what that is, but yeah, we should develop the technology to do this. 🙂

Scalzi covers some deep philosophical topics and some heavily speculative science, but it flows effortlessly thanks to his underlying humor. I smiled and laughed a lot–such as when everyone named their brain pals. (Once again, no spoilers, just read it for yourself!) But Scalzi also surprised me and made me tear up.

Yeah, I’m a girl and I DO cry at a lot of stuff, but Scalzi’s juxtaposition of two people’s deaths really hit me (chapters 9 & 10). Neither are main characters, and I didn’t really know either of them, but Perry (the MC) cared about one of them. The one that made me cry was probably only a page long, but the simplicity and the tribute within that page was beautiful.

I really loved this book and think everyone who remotely enjoys sci fi should give it a go.

My rating:
Character development: A+ I really liked Perry and wanted him to succeed. He was human, intelligent, lucky without being cocky.

World Building: A I never felt lost or confused and we visited several completely different worlds and alien races.

Science believability: A I believed every word. 🙂

Story Arc: A Perfect mix of emotional growth, conflict and the resolution completely satisfied me.

Language: F, because I don’t swear and the F bomb is dropped every other word at times. It was distracting to me, but if you don’t mind swearing you won’t even notice. Probably.
Charity Bradford has been a voracious reader ever since her 5th grade teacher introduced her to the world of books with Where the Red Fern Grows and Summer of the Monkeys. She’s the mother of four kids that keep her on her toes, constantly reminding her that imagination still makes the world go round. She lives in Arkansas. The Magic Wakes, her debut novel, comes out 19 Feb 2013.

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Beth Revis: Across the Universe

Reviewed By: Inspired Kathy

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone – one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship – tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now, Amy must race to unlock Godspeed’s hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there’s only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.

Science Fiction, Dystopia, Romance, Mystery, Adventure… There’s a little bit of everything mixed into this debut novel by author Beth Revis.

Across the Universe is told by two narrators Amy & Elder. The book begins with Amy about to be frozen in cryogenic sleep for a 300 year journey on the ship Godspeed. Our second narrator is Elder, the future leader of the ship Amy’s frozen body is traveling on.

This was a fast paced book full of twists and turns, lies and deceptions.  I had a hunch fairly early on who the murder was but there were other story elements that took me by surprise. There is a great cast of characters who are all flawed but likable.  As is the case with most first books in a series the ending left many unanswered questions that I’m assuming will be addressed in future books.

Fans of young adult dystopian books are likely to enjoy this one. I found it to be a unique, entertaining story and I’m definitely looking forward to reading the sequel.

Rating: 4.5 Stars – Highly Recommend to older teens & adults

Content: just a couple instances of mild language and then some substitute swear words similar to what was done in the Maze Runner. Some sexual content including an attempted rape scene and some animalistic type mating practices that occur during “The Season”.  Not overly graphic but I wouldn’t let a young teen read it.

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Michael R. Hicks: In Her Name: Empire

Reviewed by Mike Kraus

In Her Name: Empire is the first novel in Michael R. Hicks In Her Name series.  The series now extends to nine novels.

The main character of the novel is a young orphan boy named Reza.  Both of Reza’s parents are killed in a desperate battle against the evil alien Kreelans.  It seems that the Kreelans have very unique battle tactics that confuse human fighters. Additionally, humans have no information or understanding of the Kreelan culture.  During the battle, Reza meets and wounds a Kreelan warrior priestess.  The priestess gives Reza an identical wound, and allows him to live.

Reza then is sent to a planet where orphan children are exploited as slave laborers. There he becomes the leader of a group of orphans.  He and his  fellow orphans struggle against exploitation, and abusive adults.  Just about the time they succeed in overcoming the horrible conditions of the planet, the Kreelans attack.  The Kreelans kidnap a group of children, including Reza.  It seems that the Kreelans are interested in discovering if humans are sentient enough to posses a soul.

Reza is then given to a young Kreelan girl.  Her duty is to attempt to train Reza, whom she considers to be an animal.  The remainder of the novel is the story of how Reza becomes the only human to understand Kreelan culture.

I really enjoyed this book.  It was a real page turner.  Hick’s writing style makes the story easy to read and understand.  In the Kreelans, Hicks has created an interesting alien culture.  In the beginning, the Kreelans appear to be your standard evil aliens.  Through Reza’s eyes we discover that the Kreelans have an advanced society with literature, language and philosophy.  With each turn of the page, Hicks draws us into the Kreelan’s world.  I wanted to read on to find out how Reza survives, and learn more about the Kreelans.

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Patrick Rothfuss: Name of the Wind

By Eric Diehl

Several years ago I read the novel ‘Name of the Wind’, by the debut novelist Patrick Rothfuss, and I found that I had a new favorite author to add to my list. I have recently begun his second work, ‘A Wise Man’s Fear’ (yes, it took several years for him to produce the 2nd novel in his series, but it’s worth the wait), and I had a revelation that I am surprised had not  occurred to me prior. I’ve only read the first two of the Harry Potter series, and perhaps I read those after Name of the Wind. In any case, it seems to me that Rothfuss is creating a somewhat more grown-up theme along the lines of Harry Potter. Young men at University, specializing in various types of magic, with a small band of fellows, male and female, who are faithful to our protagonist—that being young Kvothe. And of course a number of influential and villainous antagonists to be dealt with. I would guess that other reviewers have already made the Harry Potter connection.

In any case, what I find most appealing about Rothfuss’ writing is his deep characterization, along with the day to day travails that continue to surprise and challenge our impoverished and strong-minded protagonist.  I also like the mystery of how the story is being chronicled after the fact, knowing that that means that at some point (probably in a future sequel) the adventure will resume in real-time.

Kvothe has a long-term goal, that being the exposure of the band of mythical beings that he witnessed slaughter his parents and their traveling troupe of gypsy-style musicians, But to be honest, I’m a little fuzzy on that theme. I had to do a memory dump to recall some of it from my first reading several years ago. In fact Kvothe’s pursuit of that goal is where the first novel lost a bit of its allure for me. But most of the wandering story strikes home, and those episodes are what keep me anxiously coming back to The Wise Man’s Fear, anxious to find out what will happen next. I feel that I’ve come to know Kvothe and his friends quite well, and I feel the need to stick with them through this adventure, cheering them on and watching out for the plethora of mishaps that will surely trip them up.

I highly recommend Rothfuss to any readers who enjoy fantasy, especially that along the lines of  Potter.