Discussion:
RI January 2020
(too old to reply)
Ted Nolan <tednolan>
2020-02-09 05:35:02 UTC
Permalink
Vaults Of The Undergloom: The Farshore Chronicles, Book 4
by Justin Fike
https://amzn.to/2RAYGWi

I reviewed the first three Farshore books back in the September
2019 installment. At the time, I thought they brought Charity's
story to a good stopping place, but Fike apparently never agreed
with that. In an introduction to this installment, he tells the
origin of the "Farshore" setting, and reveals that he wrote all 12
books in the series before releasing the first on. The rest of the
books are to come one a month throughout 2020.

To review briefly: Charity was a street-kid in a Byzantinish old-world
society finally caught up for her petty crime and transported to
the new world, Farshore, which is still populated by magical
creatures, under indenture as punishment. In Farshore she finally
found friends and causes bigger than finding her next meal.

After publically saving the Farshore colony in book three, Charity
has been living an easy life on the right side of the law for once.
Still, after a couple of months of living large and hanging with
her friends, she is getting antsy, as whatever her life has been
before, it has never been boring. Out of that boredom, she takes
up a bit of ill-advised Robin Hoodery that lands her once again
under the authorities' regard, and is presented, not quite officially,
with a hobson's choice of jail or finding out what is going on at
the colony's vitally important mines, which haven't sent any reports,
or ore for weeks now. Rounding up her equally bored comrades she
takes off, quickly finding that ore is far from all that is
underground, and that leaving a mad ex-king running around is
probably not in anyone's long term interests (except perhaps his).

This was a decent installment, but suffered a bit from splitting
Charity from her team for too long a time. These continue to be
fairly short books, so I can't fault Fike too much for that, but
the dynamics were not quite as good as previously. I called the
first three books YA, and there's not really anything here that
contradicts that, but Charity is officially living on her own now
as a full member of society, keeping rooms, buying food and perhaps,
though she doesn't seem to realize it, falling in love.

The Gathering Edge (Liaden Universe Book 20)
by Sharon Lee, Steve Miller
https://amzn.to/3aRObFK

Theo Waitley doesn't see herself as a Liaden. Her mother is a
scholar of Delgado, and in the matriarchy of that world, her father
doesn't really come into it. Of course her half-brother is Delm
of clan Korval, that's just genetics; it doesn't mean Korval has
any call on her. Nonetheless, Korval has an interesting relationship
with luck, and so perforce does Captain Waitley.

After bonding with her old-tech AI starship, Theo and crew are lying
low in supposedly empty space while they wait for the last excitement
they were part of to blow over. Naturally they are just at the
spot where time-swept debris from the collapsing Universe the Liadens
escaped from hundreds of years ago transitions into the new Universe.
The teapot was bad enough, but it was followed by a tree-piloted
ship, and then.. refugees on a mysterious mission. Events seem
determined to involve Theo with not only Korval, but the (hostile)
Xtrang, the (violent) Department of the Interior and the (dicy)
Liaden Scouts. Well, a Pilot's life is rarely simple.

It turns out I read this one out of order, having read book 21
first, but in the end there is not that much overlap. As usual in
the Liaden setting, the character interactions are the main story.
The actual overt conflict, a dockside dust-up with wrenches &
hammers, is not that consequential in space opera terms. The story
is the various characters trying to do the right thing inasmuch as
their "necessities" allow that, and the ongoing growth of Theo into
her captaincy. Good fun as always.

Sting & Song (Beesong Chronicles Book 1)
by Benjamin Medrano
https://amzn.to/2S1DVlO

Webs & Wards (Beesong Chronicles Book 2)
by Benjamin Medrano
https://amzn.to/2S735j4

Sometimes the gods play cards:

"In that case it means that Yonra wins," Assyran said evenly,
and he smiled as he added, "According to the rules laid
down before this millennium's contest, a deific flush means
that all participants owe Yonra a major boon."

Everyone was silent briefly, and they stared at Assyran for
a long moment. He was the Balancer of Scales, which was why
everyone was happy to have him judging their contests, at
least most of the time. Then they looked at Yonra in
trepidation, seeing the grin on the bearded, blond deity's
face.

"Uh-oh," Fayliss murmured, the goddess of beauty eying him
warily.

"Oh, don't get your panties in a twist, Fay. I'm not going
to ask you for anything you'll object to. As a matter of
fact, I know exactly what I want, and it's a minor price
to pay for all of you," Yonra said, rolling his eyes, and
all the others tensed more. Yonra was a god of chaos, and
they never trusted him when he smiled like that.

"What might that be?" Xinra asked warily.

Yonra snapped his fingers, and a sheaf of paper popped into
existence in front of each of the gods, including Assyran,
who took it with a raised eyebrow and slight smile. The
various deities picked the pages up, reading them as Yonra
spoke.

"The world's gotten too boring, so I want a new species.
Nothing that will break the balance that you so desperately
adore, but something interesting," the deity said, grinning
broadly. "What I want is--"

"Bee-girls?" Demask demanded, his deep voice filled with shock.

Yep, Bee-girls. Medrano tends to write rpg-ish worlds, and the
Beesong world is moreso than usual. People can only carry what
will fit in their strictly numbered "inventory slots" (which are
further divided into exactly fitting "stacks"), ore comes in chunks
that are precisely sized to make a certain number of weapons (in a
precisely defined amount of time) and it is, if not usual, not
unheard of for a giant bee Queen to receive a message like this
during an Adventurer hive-raid:

She staggered to the side as a hammer cracked her abdomen,
and the attackers exclaimed in excitement as the other bees
were starting to come to their senses. The queen felt the
faintest sense of regret, wishing she could do something
to protect her hive. In that moment she felt the offer, and
she instantly seized the chance and agreed.

**Evolve Hive into Apis Hive?**

**Evolving into Apis Hive**

A flash of white light blasted through the hive, blinding
the attackers as they recoiled in surprise. As the light
faded, the queen found herself changed. Echoing in her mind
was a statement, but she ignored it, instead looking down
at herself in surprise at the same time as her attackers
looked at her in shock.

Apis (both singular & plural) are humanoid bees, as smart as humans
(or the other species) but with their own communal outlook on things.

Of course for the giant bees who were outside the hive at the time
of the change, things are not uniformly positive -- especially if
they were flying at the time (low level Apis can't fly..). Once
such worker was gathering pollen from a giant rose when she
transformed, and found herself stuck in the flower with no way to
get down, at least until a battle with a giant wasp bears her
downward mostly unscathed and into the company of a band of
adventurers. Because of her positive outlook, boundless energy and
unfailingly helpful demeanor, the adventurers name the Apis "Joy"
(she never had a name before) and escort her back to the hive.
Unfortunately, since Apis take up more room than bees (even giant
ones) and since she was assumed lost, Joy has been written off
(practically, but not unkindly) by the hive and so takes up with
the adventurers hoping to level-up with them and eventually become
a queen herself. What she doesn't tell them (since it barely weighs
on her mind) is that she is very old for a worker and has less than
two years to live unless she does level-up. Together, the band has
several adventures, including one which sees them stop (at least
for the nonce) the advances of a demon looking to become the next
Dark Lord. It's a near thing, and leads Joy to make a sacrifice
that is more than the others of the band realize..

This is a fun book. Joy is such a positive and buoyant character
that she tends to brighten up the page. It's not deep, or deeply
plotted, but moves right along. It's a bit atypical for Medrano
as it doesn't feature the healing power of lesbian polyamory as
Joy, a worker, is essentially a neuter unless & until she becomes
a Queen.

Book two continues the story fairly directly, and involves the band
once more in the demon lord's machinations and starts the integration
of Apis into the larger society. Again, quirky fun.

The Witchkin Murders (Magicfall Book 1)
by Diana Pharaoh Francis
https://amzn.to/36zHuF7

Several years ago, I followed a series by Diana Pharaoh Francis
(you have to wonder if that's a real middle name..) called "The
Horngate Witches". It was about a badass magical warrior named Max
who had been dragooned by her old college room-mate, who turned out
to be a witch, and changed from a normal human into this super-powered
tank.. who could never see the daylight again. The story of her
troubles, burgeoning romantic life, and, you know, total badassery,
was compelling, and I was sorry that the series was apparently
dropped by the publisher. At least it was never finished for
whatever reason.

Comes 2019, and Amazon pitches this book, _The Witchkin Murders_
to me. Looking at the description was suggestive, and in fact it
does turn out to be set in the same universe as Horngate Witches,
about four years after the events in the last book of that. We
never do find out what happened to Max, but perhaps she will turn
up at some point in the future.

The basic setup is somewhat like Ilona Andrews "Kate" books, but
with Portland in the place of Atlanta: Magic has returned to the
world, and US society has, somewhat, made peace with that. The
structure of government still works and deals the best it can with
the new situation.

Kayla was a cop when the change came. It was her life, and she had
to quit. Turns out that after the change, she was no longer human.
In fact she wasn't sure *what* she was -- certainly nothing as
simple as a werewolf, but given the brief but brutal war that came
with the change, non-humans were certainly not welcome in the Police
department, or indeed as citizens, so she had to go before a random
splash of water revealed her secret. Now living as a scavenger of
pre-change houses, Kayla keeps a low profile and does the best she
can to live a quiet life. When she comes across the murder scene,
she knows she should just stay out of it, especially as the victims
are non-human and there will be no justice for them from the cops,
but the call is just too strong, and against her better judgement,
she phones it in.

Ray is still a cop. He is doing his best to keep the wheels turning,
and the force working. It doesn't help that his best friend,
partner, and someone he has come to know was a lot more than that
quit the force without explanation during the change. Now she's
on the line and he knows he can't let her go again regardless of
whether the department is willing to look into crimes against
non-humans.

OK, you can see where that's going, and to some extent, I don't
think the romance element serves the story well. The mutual
attraction between the pair verges on obsession more than a natural
realization of what might have been and what is. There's also a
bit too much "he hates me, he really hates me" misunderstanding
going on. I think the relationship thing should have been more or
a 'B' or 'C' story because the main story is interesting enough to
carry the book and the issues of the non-couple tend to drag it off
course. To wit: What is Kayla? Who did the murders? What does
it mean for Portland? This is the kind of balance that Ilona Andrews
makes seem effortless, when in fact it is not. I will follow this
up, but I think Max's story had a better balance.

Star Pirate II: The Wrath of the Queen
by Mia Archer
https://amzn.to/36Cv9Qk

This is the second "Star Wars" homage featuring Archer's lovable
rogue Flynn, and her once patsy, now girlfriend, Princess Seleya.

Having escaped with the almost crown-jewels Tiara, hotly pursued
by its former owner, Flynn has decamped the exploding space station
of one former lover and is now in the clutches (and not the fun
kind) of another. The only possibility of staying on this fast-moving
tiger of a situation is to leverage her current princess girlfriend
into a position with the possibly mythical Selevas Separatists.
And, oh, by the way, do so while unarmed and off-ship in the middle
of the biggest space battle in centuries.

No problem.

I'm pretty sure I caught a "Firefly" reference in this one, to go
along with the welter of Star Wars nods. The dual first person
narration continues to be split between Flynn and Seleya, with the
later starting to come into her own a bit as she starts to see how
life is lived outside the palace compound. I would say that the
twists in this outing are a bit less plausible than in the first
volume, but things rarely slow down enough for that to matter.

Next? Take over the galaxy..

Iron Maidens (Scythian Dawn Book 4)
by P.K. Lentz
https://amzn.to/2RZu0NE

In this installment of Lentz's Scythian "High Crusade" book, he
splits his group of Earth barbarians and their interstellar human
allies (it's a pretty shaky alliance, to be sure) into three groups,
each storyline focusing on one woman: The star-born Zhi is trapped
investigating alien traces on the Scythians planet of temporary
refuge, the Scythian Tomaris must deal with the planet's hostile
natives, and war-leader Arixa is off-planet entirely trying to
recruit allies and supplies. In the meantime, the Jir overlords
have decided to send a punitive expedition to Earth to deal with
their Arixa problem at the source..

In some ways this was another "middle" book in that the main plot
of the war against the Jir is not much advanced. I also think
Tomaris's story was a bit weak, but both Zhi & Arixa get good
development, with the former doing a good bit of growing up and
facing reality and the later coming to realize that she is a really
awful person (and she is).

There are enough balls tossed into the air during this book that I
do expect the next one to be the climax to the series, and I will
be on-board for that.


Skyclad (Fate's Anvil Book 1)
by Scott Browder
https://amzn.to/37FLB3N

Fresh off of finding out her boyfriend is cheating on her (with the
co-worker whose shift she is covering!), Morgan Mackenzie decides
that a night on the town would be about right, and good revenge.
Unfortunately, as she cleans up before dressing to the nines, her
bathtub falls through an interdimensional rift leaving her stranded,
naked (but for her loofah), in a very hostile alien forest. Luckily,
her bathtub drops on a nest of Giant Eagles leading to her first
communication from "The System" that rules her new world:

She still held her loofah scrubby in one hand, and raised
it to her face in a partially successful attempt to mask
the stench of the nest with the familiar smells of her
favorite body wash products. She looked around in confusion,
battling through the sheer shock and surprise of her situation
to try to make some sort of sense out of where she was. Her
confusion was promptly renewed, though, as within moments
of her landing she felt rather than heard a chiming DING!
inside her head, followed immediately by two more sensations,
exactly the same as the first. Just as she opened her mouth
to blindly repeat her utterance, her attention was stolen
by ethereal silvery text spilling itself across the center
of her sight.

You have defeated [Giant Eagle Hatchling (Lvl - 1)]
For earning your victory while [Naked] and [Unequipped],
experience gain doubled.
+40 experience gained.

You have defeated [Giant Eagle Hatchling (Lvl - 1)]
For earning your victory while [Naked] and [Unequipped],
experience gain doubled.
+40 experience gained.

You have defeated [Giant Eagle Hatchling (Lvl - 2)]
For earning your victory while [Naked] and [Unequipped],
experience gain doubled.
+70 experience gained.

As an increasingly confused Morgan gazed slack-jawed at the
words superimposed over her vision, they quickly began to
fade. As several extremely un-ladylike expletives exploded
into the silent trees, an even more intense DING! slammed
into her mind like a gold and silver starburst.

You have reached Level 2! Health and Status partially restored!

For reaching this milestone while [Naked] and [Unequipped],
rewarded points doubled.

10 distributable Stat Points awarded.
10 Skill Points awarded.

Skill purchases unlocked! (Check available skills through
your Status Menu)

As interesting as she found these new messages, Morgan
didn't have time to properly consider the information.

This is a good but somewhat frustrating book. From the Amazon
blurb, I was expecting a romp. It's not a romp. While the situation
is set up with dry humor, that surfaces a number of times during
the narrative, it's not a sex comedy, and Morgan's leveling-up along
the path of naked combat on which she finds herself is preparation
for the serious task of liberating her new world from the bane of
mind slavery: The biggest offense against The System because it
deprives an individual of a personal story, and Story is The System's
highest value.

The frustrating part of the book is that it is largely concerned
with bringing Morgan up-to-speed, before putting her in touch with
the other important characters, including several more world-walkers
from our reality. This is interlarded with repetitive (though often
breezily humorous) messages from The System, and a series of solo
triumphs that don't really advance the overall plot. The segments
we get from the Oracle and the other world-walkers are much tighter
and run through *their* System interactions at much less length.
In the end, the book's strengths do outweigh the slow build and we
do end the book with all the players on the table, and I expect the
next installment (which I will pick up) to get moving a bit quicker.

Valkyrie (Expeditionary Force Book 9)
by Craig Alanson
https://amzn.to/2O599av

Almost ever since Colonel Joe Bishop got caught up in Earth's
troubles with aliens (which was, in fact, way before he was a
colonel, honorary or not) he's had one ace-in-the-hole keeping half
a dozen species of hostile aliens (and a couple species of semi-ok
ones) from finding out what's really going on on Earth since the
wormhole leading to Sol apparently closed. With the help of the
snarky, mostly helpful if absent-minded and dismissive Elder AI he
dubbed "Skippy", Joe has kept dozens of plates balanced on dozens
of sticks, rushing frantically to give each one a timely spin and
adding another each time he "solves" one of the problems these books
set for him. It's getting to be too much, and the last mission
ended with a big plate falling, and about to be noticed by the last
species he would pick to notice it. His Expeditionary Force took
terrible losses, and the only hope he sees for now is to get as
many people off of Earth as possible before the inevitable hammer
falls. Will even *that* be possible if his only hope is not just
absent, but working against him?

This is not a happy book where everything is, if not resolved at
least papered-over for the nonce at the end and the crew has a
little breathing space before the next crisis. This book is Joe
at the end of his rope without a "monkey-brain" scheme to set things
right. We're in the end-game now, and things are looking bad.
Given that we know that, in all probability, the series will end
happily, the raising of the stakes works surprisingly well.


Poorly Drawn Lines: Good Ideas and Amazing Stories
by Reza Farazmand
https://amzn.to/38n0loF

Poorlier Drawn Lines
by Reza Farazmand
https://amzn.to/2Sdu5OZ

I don't usually review comic books or comic strip collections I may
have read (and I read quite a few), but I picked up these two
webcomic collections over the New Year's break, and enjoyed them
quite a bit. It's hard to describe the humor here, but if you find
this:

http://www.poorlydrawnlines.com/comic/an-idea/

funny, then you may find the collections so as well. Some are even genre *and*
touching:

http://www.poorlydrawnlines.com/comic/astronaut-bill-iv/
--
columbiaclosings.com
What's not in Columbia anymore..
D B Davis
2020-02-09 14:10:01 UTC
Permalink
Ted Nolan <tednolan> <***@loft.tnolan.com> wrote:

<snip>
Post by Ted Nolan <tednolan>
Webs & Wards (Beesong Chronicles Book 2)
by Benjamin Medrano
https://amzn.to/2S735j4
"In that case it means that Yonra wins," Assyran said evenly,
and he smiled as he added, "According to the rules laid
down before this millennium's contest, a deific flush means
that all participants owe Yonra a major boon."
Everyone was silent briefly, and they stared at Assyran for
a long moment. He was the Balancer of Scales, which was why
everyone was happy to have him judging their contests, at
least most of the time. Then they looked at Yonra in
trepidation, seeing the grin on the bearded, blond deity's
face.
"Uh-oh," Fayliss murmured, the goddess of beauty eying him
warily.
"Oh, don't get your panties in a twist, Fay. I'm not going
to ask you for anything you'll object to. As a matter of
fact, I know exactly what I want, and it's a minor price
to pay for all of you," Yonra said, rolling his eyes, and
all the others tensed more. Yonra was a god of chaos, and
they never trusted him when he smiled like that.
"What might that be?" Xinra asked warily.
Yonra snapped his fingers, and a sheaf of paper popped into
existence in front of each of the gods, including Assyran,
who took it with a raised eyebrow and slight smile. The
various deities picked the pages up, reading them as Yonra
spoke.
"The world's gotten too boring, so I want a new species.
Nothing that will break the balance that you so desperately
adore, but something interesting," the deity said, grinning
broadly. "What I want is--"
"Bee-girls?" Demask demanded, his deep voice filled with shock.
Yep, Bee-girls. Medrano tends to write rpg-ish worlds, and the
Beesong world is moreso than usual. People can only carry what
will fit in their strictly numbered "inventory slots" (which are
further divided into exactly fitting "stacks"), ore comes in chunks
that are precisely sized to make a certain number of weapons (in a
precisely defined amount of time) and it is, if not usual, not
unheard of for a giant bee Queen to receive a message like this
She staggered to the side as a hammer cracked her abdomen,
and the attackers exclaimed in excitement as the other bees
were starting to come to their senses. The queen felt the
faintest sense of regret, wishing she could do something
to protect her hive. In that moment she felt the offer, and
she instantly seized the chance and agreed.
**Evolve Hive into Apis Hive?**
**Evolving into Apis Hive**
A flash of white light blasted through the hive, blinding
the attackers as they recoiled in surprise. As the light
faded, the queen found herself changed. Echoing in her mind
was a statement, but she ignored it, instead looking down
at herself in surprise at the same time as her attackers
looked at her in shock.
Apis (both singular & plural) are humanoid bees, as smart as humans
(or the other species) but with their own communal outlook on things.
Of course for the giant bees who were outside the hive at the time
of the change, things are not uniformly positive -- especially if
they were flying at the time (low level Apis can't fly..). Once
such worker was gathering pollen from a giant rose when she
transformed, and found herself stuck in the flower with no way to
get down, at least until a battle with a giant wasp bears her
downward mostly unscathed and into the company of a band of
adventurers. Because of her positive outlook, boundless energy and
unfailingly helpful demeanor, the adventurers name the Apis "Joy"
(she never had a name before) and escort her back to the hive.
Unfortunately, since Apis take up more room than bees (even giant
ones) and since she was assumed lost, Joy has been written off
(practically, but not unkindly) by the hive and so takes up with
the adventurers hoping to level-up with them and eventually become
a queen herself. What she doesn't tell them (since it barely weighs
on her mind) is that she is very old for a worker and has less than
two years to live unless she does level-up. Together, the band has
several adventures, including one which sees them stop (at least
for the nonce) the advances of a demon looking to become the next
Dark Lord. It's a near thing, and leads Joy to make a sacrifice
that is more than the others of the band realize..
This is a fun book. Joy is such a positive and buoyant character
that she tends to brighten up the page. It's not deep, or deeply
plotted, but moves right along. It's a bit atypical for Medrano
as it doesn't feature the healing power of lesbian polyamory as
Joy, a worker, is essentially a neuter unless & until she becomes
a Queen.
Book two continues the story fairly directly, and involves the band
once more in the demon lord's machinations and starts the integration
of Apis into the larger society. Again, quirky fun.
Shades (sort of) _The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees_ (Yu)
and _Hellstrom's Hive_ (Herbert). Regardless, there's already plenty of
Bee-girls (biotches) in my world with stinger-mouths better to sting you
with wit. Ouch!



Thank you,
--
Don.......My cat's )\._.,--....,'``.
telltale tall tail /, _.. \ _\ (`._ ,.
tells tall tales.. `._.-(,_..'--(,_..'`-.;.'
Loading...