Ted Nolan <tednolan>
2018-03-06 06:18:19 UTC
A. E. van Vogt
Apparently this was van Vogt's first sale, though "Dark Destroyer" was
published first as Campbell didn't want to follow his own "Who Goes There?"
too closely with another shape shifting villain.
The story opens as we follow a "robot" (with van Vogt, the term
generally does not mean what we have come to expect) stowing away
on a Mars to Earth cargo run. The robot was created for one purpose,
to find Earth's greatest mathematician, and coerce him back to Mars
to open the lost "Vault of the Beast", where the long vanished
Martians have imprisoned an extra-Universal entity of some sort and
whose lock is keyed (somehow) to the ultimate prime number.
With that man somewhat plausibly identified (very much by happenstance it
seems), the robot, through a number of shape shifts (which come with memory)
destroys his life to the point he feels no alternative to joining the
space cargo fleet and accepting the flailing robot's offer.
But what is in the vault, and how can there be an "ultimate" prime number?
The answer to the first is nothing we want out, and to the second an, ahem,
'prime' example of van Vogtian bafflegab and handwavery.
As usual with vintage van Vogt, the result is entertaining, here with a
surprising amount of sympathy for the put upon robot. Also interesting
are the fairly unexamined social mores concerning the hero's wife.
You can read the complete text at the link above.
Kingdom of Storms: A Reverse Harem Fantasy (The Legend of Tariel Book 1)
by Jasmine Walt
Amazon keeps pushing reverse harem books to me, which is reasonable I suppose,
as I keep buying them. (Though not all of them by any means, apparently
RH is a 'thing' now, and there are lots, many of which sound dreadful).
Walt is an interesting case as this is her third reverse harem
series, which gives a chance to see what a difference her co-authors
("sex partners"? :-) make. Undoubtedly "The Dragon's Gift Trilogy"
she wrote with May Sage is the "hottest" of the three series. By
contrast "The Shaman Queen's Harem" series she's writing with J.A.
Cipriano has made it all the way through the first book with no
sex. This one, with Walt writing solo, is somewhere in between.
Tariel is an orphan girl, fostered out by the Queen of a somewhat
Nordic kingdom to a fairly remote holding overseen by a minor noble
family the distaff half of which is implacably hostile to her for
some reason, though it can't be because they know she is a witch
(she is), because they could simply hang her immediately in that
case. Her only real chance to get away and have a half decent life
is to marry. Unfortunately, the Queen has vetoed the suit of every
man who has an interest in her (a fairly good number as her exotic
good looks, which invoke the southern empire, are in no way as despised
by the local male population as perhaps the local female population
would wish). Now however, the Queen is dying, and the local Lady sees
the chance to finally get rid of Tariel by pawning her off on the next
suitor to show up, a totally unsuitable boor who has apparently
killed off his first wife.
Guided by a desert spirit bound to an abacus she discovered in an
unused room of the castle, Tariel feels her only option is to come fully
into her power and flee to the southern empire. Unfortunately, she can
only do this by sharing her virginity with at least two men in the
same night and forming a mystical harem bond with them. One of her
prospects is game enough, a newly minted Knight recently wronged by
the local Lord and with whom she shared a kiss years ago. The other,
unfortunately perhaps, is an acolyte of the local storm god, in whose
name the witch finders scour the kingdom. On the other hand, he's
feeling a bit put-upon with *his* hierarchy, and is kind of rethinking
the whole upcoming vow of chastity thing.. Well you see where it's going,
and it gets there fairly quickly.
On the whole though, I think I like this less well than Walt's other
two harem series. In Dragon's gift, the political situation was
fairly clear with the ongoing elf war and the stakes as far as
ending that war and ending the curse of dragon infertility were
known in book one as I recall. In the "Shaman Queen" series, we
have a kind of engagingly loopy Japanese fairy-tale logic going on.
Here, we get hints of a bigger picture, but not enough to really
raise the stakes above one girl and her lovers escaping a bad
situation, and we end on a cliffhanger which, I think, is pretty
Oh, and Walt couldn't spend more than ten minutes to come up with a better
name for the kingdom the party is fleeing than "Fjordland"?
Revelations (Heritage of Power Book 2)
by Lindsay Buroker
The mission to liberate (steal) a number of enchanted dragon-slaying
blades from a self-styled pirate king having going pretty well
(except for the pirates one supposes, who are left with a new dragon
overlord) our intrepid group of Iskandians now embark on phase two
of their anti-dragon mission: find the portal, apparently somewhere
in the local antarctic, through which dragons are re-entering the
world and close it.
Arriving at the antarctic continent, they find a scientific expedition
from the (generally hostile) Cofah empire already there, though in
shambles from a dragon attack. The scientists may know more than
they are saying, and their interests may or may not coincide with
the Iskandians. Due more to the fact that pilot (and perhaps a bit
more) Captain Telryn "Trip" is an inveterate tinkerer and has
unusually lucky hunches than any brilliant strategy, the Iskandian
fliers find themselves with the upper hand as the now combined team
moves towards where the portal may be, and where, perhaps, Captain
Kaika will finally get a chance to blow things up. In the meantime
things continue to heat up between our viewpoint characters, "Trip"
and soldier/scholar Rysha Ravenwood despite the fact that her
dragon-slaying blade keeps urging her to kill him and (non
dragon-slaying) soulblade Jaxi keeps giving him romantic advice.
Another solid Buroker outing, with plenty of her trademark banter,
though pretty much every reader will have guessed the main "revelation"
Villains Don't Date Heroes!
by Mia Archer (Author)
Villains Don't Save Heroes!
by Mia Archer (Author)
Our first person narrator, technology based supervillain Night
Terror is pretty much top dog in Starlight City, her first base in
her campaign for world domination. She quickly puts down all comers,
be they rival villain, upstart hero, or the US Government to keep
her city under control. Not that she's a control freak. In general
she believes in taking care of what is hers which means not brutalizing
the population beyond those who choose to make examples of themselves
and take her on. She even has arrangements with the police so they
get to take first shot at her and then withdraw "honorably" and
without casualties when she shrugs it off.
Feeling a bit bored one day, and tired of arguing with her evil
supercomputer CORVAC about his giant killer robot body idea, Night
Terror decides to pull off an old fashioned bank-vault heist. Things
are going about as expected -- the cops have made their strategic
withdrawal and the bank manager has decided that not standing where
the disintegrator ray will be going is the better part of valor,
when suddenly the situation goes pear-shaped: A new hero is in
town, the obviously Supergirl inspired "Fialux", a (presumed) strange
visitor from another planet with real superpowers, not just a
supersuit and a bunch of gadgets.
Having unexpectedly had her hat handed to her, Night Terror limps back
to base to face the day's other totally unexpected event: She's head over
heels in love.
Well, a little case of love is one thing, keeping up her rep is another,
and if some patented Night Terror tech expertise, hmm, maybe a "Non Newtonian
Field" for instance, can get Fialux in her clutches, well, that's two birds
with one stone. Of course CORVAC is not going to wait forever if she
goes off the whole world domination mission to concentrate on this one
This was a generally fun book. Night Terror's narration is suitably over
the top and witty in places. I do think the "love at first sight" aspect
was a bit much. It would have been better, to use a standard comic plot,
if Night Terror and Fialux had had to band together to fight a common
enemy early on and had the sparks start to fly then. That would have
also fleshed out Fialux, who is a bit of a cipher here. In fact, Night
Terror is the only real character in the book, though she is sufficient
to carry it.
I thought book two was a bit weaker. Given that (a somewhat reformed)
Night Terror and Fialux are a couple at the beginning, we really should
have seen more of Fialux, but instead she gets damsel-in-distressed early
on and we still don't really know her. In addition, Night Terror comes
across as a bit of a dunce as she repeatedly declines opportunities to
withdraw from fights that are going badly for her and repeatedly gets
blindsided from behind. Yes, she has some excuses, but not to the
extent she needed them.
Of Dubious Intent: A Dark Artifice Novel (Volume 1)
by J A Sutherland
Hmm. I don't know what happened here. I got the Kindle edition of this
book from pre-order as expected, but when I went back on Amazon to look
up a few things for this review, the Kindle edition is completely gone,
and the only reference (in the link above) is to an out of print paperback
edition. Given that the book had only been "in print" for a few weeks,
that is kind of odd. So, I don't know if you can get this book or not,
but if you can, you should.
However, you should not expect the tone from the author's other series,
"Alexis Carew" when you dive in here. The series title is "Dark Artifice"
and sometimes the dark is "very".
Years ago, Haley's Comet came back early and rammed into the Moon,
opening a visible crevasse of some unknown material that somehow effects
"electrics" on Earth an renders electricity incredibly dangerous several
days of the month. Does it have an advancing effect on steam tech?
Perhaps. From what little we see, steam is more capable than on
our world, and develops earlier. Not that it has made the world a better
Orphan Cat has grown up in the hard streets of Georgian London.
(We aren't sure of that at first, she thinks of the place only as
"the city", and it's not until we are well into the book that a
mention of Bow's Bells clarifies things a little). Hard streets
breed hard people, and Cat survives as a member of street gang
making a living, what there is of it, thieving, though most of the
take goes to the gang leader and those above him. It's all she
knows, but she won't be able to keep doing it much longer. Even
malnourished as she is, puberty is upon her, and she won't be able
to keep of the pretense of being a small boy for much longer and a
woman's lot on those mean streets is even worse than a child's.
She has her eye on one score, a fat purse attached to a man of very
predictable habits, that will enable her to slip the gang and strike
out on her own. Unfortunately what she doesn't know is that stealing
it is not her own idea, and the man whose idea it is has many other
ideas, none of them "good".
Sutherland has said that to some extent this book is his "nature
vs nurture" book in which he creates a protagonist with the same
drive as Alexis Carew, but without her family support system, or
even the hard but not evil Navy she turns to. Nothing in Cat's
life has primed her to make good choices or to be a good person (in
fact there is really only one good person in her life) and the turns
she takes are sometimes heartbreaking especially after we are
invested in her. Personally, I view her more as a dark Modesty
Blaise than a dark Alexis Carew though. You can even see "dark
Willie Garvin" in one character.
There are some very brutal scenes here, especially a sequence set
in Bethlem (Bedlam) and I would say the book is not for those who
want a happy tale, but I found it compelling.
Riding Lightning: A Reverse Harem Dragon Fantasy (Starcrossed Dragons Book 1)
by Erin Bedford
Hmm. A dragon shifter book where nobody actually ever shifts into a
Maya is a video game designer, responsible for the world building in the
new hit "Waesigar, Realm of the Dragons". She is also a dragon shifter
exiled to Earth by her jerkwad of a father who is more or less king of
a good part of the dragon realm. When her sister proves barren and unable
to provide an heir to the throne, Maya is called back home to be a brood
mare for the next generation.
To make matters worse, her father's slipshod royal politicing has riled
up the other lords whose loyalty has become rather tenuous or indeed absent.
On arrival, Maya finds that she has attracted two powerful suitors, and
her father is using the opportunity of her availability as a prize to
send them both off on a quest to bring a particularly unruly lord into line.
He also packs Maya off with them on the quest so she can show the
flag in the semi-rebel holding and also choose between suitors after seeing
them in action. (Her father also implies she should probably sleep with
them both if she gets the chance as dragon shifters are notoriously hard
to impregnate). Never having wanted to leave, and then never having wanted
to come back, Maya is unimpressed with the whole situation, except well
the suitors are hella hot, and then the rebel leader turns out to be her
old "unsuitable" flame..
I was not impressed with this one. Maya is not a compelling character,
coming off as whiny and manipulative. In her initial proto harem of
two suitors, she sleeps with the flashy one almost immediately and then
proceeds to treat the ice dragon, Jack, like dirt, always promising him
he's not out of the running, but never actually hooking up with him.
In fact, she sleeps with her old flame before he is even formally in
the contest and without even telling the other two at first, once more passing
It's also the case that any characters outside of the focus set are
pretty much ignored. When Maya and her suitors first find the rebel
band, they have a big battle and kill a bunch of rebels. This
doesn't seem to upset the rebel leader at all, despite the fact
that they are followers of his (more or less just) cause and
presumably in many cases his friends as long as he can sleep with
The world building is very lacking as well. Since Maya cannot yet fly,
the trio have to set off on the voyage by carriage. I realized at some
point that we had been told absolutely nothing about it other than it
had a driver. I had been assuming it was a horse carriage, but nothing
was ever said about feeding or tending to the horses at their nightly stops
and I started to wonder if perhaps it were a magical carriage. These
kind of details are pretty important in accessing a setting.
I won't be following this one up.
The Emperor's Mask (Magebreakers Book 2)
by Ben S. Dobson (Author)
This follow up to Dobson's series starter _The Flaw in All Magic_ is welcome
if not quite as good as the first book. Non-mage, but expert on things
magical, Tane and his half Orc partner Kadka are back, having, after
the events in book one, established a consulting/detective business for those
wronged by magic. (The public insists on calling them "The Magebreakers",
much to Tane's annoyance).
This time, scions of the great Senate houses are being murdered at home,
in estates carefully warded to keep out all unauthorized visitors. This
means the killer must be someone important, and on the visitor list for
all the houses. Or does it. It's a politically explosive case that has
to be solved quickly, and Tane's semi-girlfriend on the police force
is willing to take the hits from hostile higher-ups (Tane has a way of
rubbing people in power the wrong way) to bring the pair in on the case.
Things are made more fraught by the ongoing political ferment with the
great Houses either supporting or opposing what amounts to civil rights
legislation, and rising street protests among the non magically gifted
population that haven't been violent, but which some actors want to make so.
As an half Orc the issue is more important to Kadka than she had realized
in the whirl of her daily life and as she possibly falls for the protest
leader, it may put her at odds with her partner..
My only complaint here is that probably all the readers realize who the
killer must be well before Tane does, even though he saw the same clues
we did, and is supposed to be a super smart guy. Other than that, another
fun outing in this somewhat "magical steampunk" setting.
What's not in Columbia anymore..