PAWN by Timothy Zahn

Reviewed over at Tor.com:

I’ve read quite a lot of Zahn’s work, and I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s at his best when he can play in other people’s sandboxes. His original work often feels shallow by comparison, the details of the worldbuilding barely sketched, and the characters not so much shaped by their environments as floating through them.

This is unfortunately true of Pawn, too

Books in very brief: Zahn, Milan, Kelly, Abbott

Timothy Zahn, Cobra Outlaw. Baen, 2015. eARC courtesy of the publisher.

Reviewed at Tor.com. Fun, but shallow.

Courtney Milan, Trade Me. Ebook, 2015.

Contemporary romance. Normally not my sort of thing but it’s MILAN, so I went for it anyway and WOW IS IT GOOD.

I mean, I should have hated it. If you described it to me, logically. It has the thing I hate. (Billionaire.) AND YET IT IS BRILLIANT.

Lee Kelly, City of Savages. Saga Press, 2015. Copy courtesy of the publisher.

Interesting debut. Read for review at Tor.com.

nonfiction

Karen Abbott, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War. Harper, 2014.

Narrative history. Title refers to the American civil war. Interesting and engrossing piece of writing, but needs to be contextualised better for people not familiar with that particular piece of history. Its focus on four different women and how they responded to the war makes for fascinating reading.

Books in brief: Moon, Sebold, Hunter, Zahn, Shepherd, and Larbalestier

Elizabeth Moon, Crown of Renewal. Orbit, 2014. Review copy courtesy of Orbit UK.

Concluding volume to Moon’s “Paladin’s Legacy” series. Read for inclusion in the column. Ends more with a whimper than a grand boom.

Gaie Sebold, Shanghai Sparrow. Solaris, 2014.

Entertaining steampunk/magic adventure that mixes caper and school stories in the seamy underbelly of the late 19th century Great Game and has some pretty dark points. Recommended.

Faith Hunter, Black Arts. Roc, 2014.

Latest installment in Hunter’s “Jane Yellowrock” urban fantasy series. Fun, diverting, not too serious.

Timothy Zahn, Cobra, Cobra Strike, Cobra Bargain, Cobra Alliance, Cobra War, Cobra Guardian, and Cobra Slave. Baen, various dates.

The first Cobra trilogy was originally published between 1985 and 1987, and it’s a little elderly now. But Zahn can always be relied on for an entertaining story, and I inhaled the trilogy omnibus and its sequels over the course of two days. Good fun, those books, if a little odd.

Mike Moscoe (aka Mike Shepherd), The First Casualty, The Price of Peace, and They Also Serve. Ace, 1999-2001.

Entertaining military science fiction novels, albeit annoyingly “USA-in-space” in their assumptions and set-up.

Mike Shepherd, Kris Longknife: Undaunted, Kris Longknife: Redoubtable, Kris Longknife: Daring and Kris Longknife: Furious. Ace, 2009-2012.

See above, except with more descriptions of breasts.

Justine Larbalestier, The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction. Wesleyan University Press, 2002.

Larbalestier has gone on to be better known as a novelist than an academic, but this book, based on her doctoral thesis at the University of Sydney, is an extremely interesting survey and analysis of the presence and representation of women in science fiction between the late 1920s and the 1970s, with a further discussion of James Tiptree Jr., Tiptree/Sheldon’s influence, and the role of the Tiptree Award from its creation in the early 1990s.

It’s a really enjoyable piece of academic writing, and one I’m glad to have read.

A brief summation of some books read over the last weeks

I am a very irregular blogger. Well, I never promised otherwise.


Amalie Howard, The Almost Girl. Strange Chemistry, 2014. ARC.

Reviewed at Tor.com. I fear I may have been rather unkind to the poor thing.

David Weber, Like A Mighty Army. Tor, 2014. ARC.

Review forthcoming at Tor.com. Very much following the tone of previous Safehold books: more wargaming than character development.

Marie Brennan, The Tropic of Serpents. Tor, 2014. ARC.

Review forthcoming at Tor.com. Sequel to A Natural History of Dragons. I like it. Lots.

David Drake, The Sea Without A Shore. Baen, 2014. Electronic ARC.

Next in Drake’s entertaining RCN space opera series. And, in the way of that series, very enjoyable.

David Weber and Timothy Zahn, A Call to Duty. Baen, 2014. Electronic ARC.

Set in the early days of the Star Kingdom of Manticore, the setting might be David Weber, but the style, energy, verve, and attention to character is all Zahn. I like Zahn’s work: I tend to like it best when he’s playing with other people’s toys, and whatever one may say about Weber’s latest works, he has an impressive toybox when it comes to Manticore and its navy – and its navy’s history. I liked it a lot, and I’m delighted to hear that it’s only the first in a contracted trilogy.

Courtney Milan, The Countess Conspiracy. Ebook, gift.

Excellent historical romance involving science. I like science.

Faith Hunter, Death’s Rival. Roc, 2012.

Fun violent urban fantasy.

Sharon Shinn, The Shape of Desire and Still Life With Shapeshifter. Ace, 2013.

Not exactly interesting romance with minimal point to the fantastic content.

Libby McGugan, Eidolon. Solaris, 2013.

Reviewed for Vector (forthcoming). Oy, how boring and irritating was this book.

Michelle Sagara, Touch. DAW, 2014. ARC courtesy of DAW.

An excellent sequel to the excellent Silence. I should be reviewing it for Tor.com shortly.

Some recent books

I cannot do answering comments lately. Please excuse: excessive amounts of being swamped going on in life.

Timothy Zahn, Star Wars: Scoundrels. Del Rey, 2013.

I have always loved Zahn’s Star Wars novels. Scoundrel is Star Wars meets Ocean’s 11, with Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Lando Calrissian the only original trilogy characters really appearing – and with Han in the role of the man organising the Grand Heist. It takes place some time before the Battle for Hoth, between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back.

(A couple of my favourite extended universe characters – Kell and Winter – also appear here.)

It is a really well done heist narrative, with complications and recomplications, although I think one of the withholding-information tricks Zahn used in order to work another familiar character in did not, in final analysis, actually pay off.

Still really fun.

Martha Wells, Star Wars: Empire and Rebellion: Razor’s Edge. Del Rey, 2013.

Another novel set after A New Hope and before Empire Strikes Back. Wells is an excellent writer and tells a good story – but for a novel purporting to focus on Leia, her character carries nearly none of the story’s emotional freight. So that was a little disappointing.

Not disappointing at all, however, is how filled with interesting female characters Wells’ vision of Star Wars is.

Nalo Hopkinson, Sister Mine. Grand Central, 2013.

A delightful urban fantasy with weird gods and weirder family dynamics set in Toronto. Well recommended.

D.B. Jackson, Thieves’ Quarry. Tor, 2013.

Urban fantasy set in Boston in the 1770s. Entertaining, but not especially my cup of tea. Characters felt a bit flat, and the central mystery felt more People Running Around At Cross Purposes than actively compelling.

Diane Duane, Star Trek: The Wounded Sky. Titan, 1989.

Duane’s Star Trek novels are always interesting space opera.

Kelly McCullough, Blade Reforged. Ace, 2013.

Entertaining second-world urban fantasy with assassins and a coup and Deeply Laid Plots. Fourth in series. Recommended.

Jeanne Lin, The Sword Dancer. Ebook.

Romance set in historic China. A bit odd (but that is a function of it being a romance), at points a bit slow, but entertaining.

Helen Lowe, The Heir of Night and The Gathering of the Lost. Orbit, 2010-2012.

Oh dear sweet overblown Grand Epic Fantasy. These books have serious structural problems and occasional line of direction fail. And yet. I would have loved these when I was thirteen, and they still curled into the Fond Of Overblown Destiny and COOL SHIT corner of my heart.

Madeleine E. Robins, Sold For Endless Rue. Forge, 2013.

Historical novel based on the bones of a Rapunzel story. I am a sucker for female doctors and Salerno, but I don’t think the structure worked as well as it might have. Still, very good book.

Alex Bledsoe, The Hum and the Shiver and Wisp of a Thing. Tor, 2011-2013.

One of these is a very good book: The Hum and the Shiver is an excellent work of small-town fantasy, playing up its liminality and strangeness. It does not resolve all its threads, but it resolves many…

Wisp of a Thing, on the other hand, is full of manpain, has some dodgy SPECIALNESS, and resolves with an extra dodgy nod at a happy ending which SKEEVED ME THE FUCK OUT, okay. Thanks for ruining The Hum and the Shiver for me, Wisp of a Thing.

Andi Marquette, Friends in High Places, A Matter of Blood, and Edge of Rebellion. Ebooks.

Fun, pulpy, not excessively well-written (but on the other hand far from terrible) space opera. With lesbians. That is not a lesbian romance in terms of its focus. With a feel somewhere between Star Wars and Firefly.

Gaie Sebold, Babylon Steel and Dangerous Gifts. Solaris, 2011-2012.

I do not know how to talk about these books. I love them a lot: they are like a cross between noir and sword-and-sorcery in the Conan mould – except centering women. It is sword-and-sorcery for the girl who wanted to grow up to be Conan (except better), and I’m very happy with that.

Elizabeth Bear, Book of Iron. Subterranean Press, 2013.

A brilliant standalone novella in the same world as Bear’s Range of Ghosts and Bone and Jewel Creatures. Read it.

Robert Graves, The White Goddess. Review copy, 2013 reprint.

I want those hours of my life back.

nonfiction

Charlotte Delbo, Auschwitz and After.

Which I spoke of previously.

Pál Engel, The Realm of St. Stephen: A History of Medieval Hungary 895-1526. English translation by Andrew Ayton. I.B. Tauris, 2005.

Which I also spoke of previously.

Daniela Dueck, Hugh Lindsay, and Sarah Pothecary, Strabo’s Cultural Geography: the making of a kolossourgia. Cambridge University Press, 2005.

An interesting collection of papers on Strabo’s work.