|Posted by Gilbert Stack on March 31, 2021 at 9:45 AM||comments (0)|
Day 31 Legend by David Gemmell
David Gemmell, may he rest in peace, was one of the great fantasy writers of our time and this is the book that launched his career. Gemmell had been diagnosed with cancer and says that he started this book to occupy his mind while he was in treatment. It’s unlike anything in the genre that I had ever read. A sixty-year-old legendary warrior comes out of a very short retirement to fight in one last helpless cause to try and save the Drenai people. Druss has been in every major battle for the past forty years, but none of the lost causes he turned around ever looked as bad as this one.
Gemmell gets inside the skull of his heroes, none of whom—not even Druss—are without serious flaws. This book will tap every emotion you have. There’s plenty of excitement, but there’s also outrage, and respect, and trepidation, and grief, and wonder, and horror as men and women struggle to find it in themselves to hold on one more hour so that millions of people they will never know have a chance to go on living.
This would be a remarkable novel for any writer to produce—but as a first novel it will just knock your socks off. And it’s only Gemmell’s first novel. He fought the cancer off long enough to give us at least a score more books and make a legend of his very own. I can’t think of a better person to end the March to Other Worlds 2021 on. Rest in peace, Mr. Gemmell.
|Posted by Gilbert Stack on March 30, 2021 at 9:20 AM||comments (0)|
Day 30 Outland by Dennis E. Taylor
Roughly 30 years ago, I read a (fondly remembered) book called The Wild Side by Steven Gould about a group of students who discover a portal to a parallel universe. Since then it seems like we come across parallel universes everywhere. The Heisenberg Corollary was spotlighted earlier in this year’s March to Other Worlds. Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber from last year’s March might be considered the ultimate parallel worlds series. Robert A. Heinlein has The Number of the Beast. King and Straub wrote The Talisman. And then there’s Peter Cawdron’s Maelstrom (March to Other Worlds 2020), Star Trek’s Mirror, Mirror, the whole Sliders series, and I really could go on and on.
Enter Outland by Dennis E. Taylor. In many ways it starts out like a Robert A. Heinlein novel. A group of college students has discovered a way to open a portal into another universe and immediately start thinking about how they can make money off of it. They realize that they will lose control of their invention if the government, a major corporation, or even their university learns of its existence, so they begin seeking other ways to make money. One of the worlds is suffering from a horrendous green-house-inspired catastrophe, but another appears to be a North America without humans. They adopt the most commonly used strategy among these sorts of books and go panning for gold.
Had that been all that Taylor had in mind, this would have been an alright book. College students do not put large amounts of gold up for sale without attracting attention and that created lots of good tension in the story. Fortunately, Taylor has a much better plot in mind. While these college students are exploring their new world, the super volcano beneath Yellowstone National Park is preparing to blow. When it does, it immediately changes the whole situation and the college students have to focus on how they are going to survive an extinction level event on our planet and how many people they can save. This plot twist turns an enjoyable book into an intensely exciting one. I can’t wait to see where it goes next.
|Posted by Gilbert Stack on March 29, 2021 at 5:00 PM||comments (0)|
Day 29: Ribbonworld by Richard Dee
As the March to Other Worlds winds to a close I turn back to a solid science fiction story with an excellent mystery. Ribbonworld opens like a scene from Dashiell Hammett, and while hero Miles Goram is not a hard-boiled detective, the novel keeps that Hammett-like feel as it builds a mystery around themes that the legendary author often wrote about. The opening scene sets the groundwork for the whole novel. Goram has arrived late in the domed city of Reevis and when he checks into his cheap hotel room, he finds a body in the bathroom—the body of the man he had traveled here to meet. Goram thought he had come to Reevis to review a new hotel, but his now-dead contact had a much bigger story in mind and Goram has to get to the truth behind it before someone kills him. The problem—absolutely no one seems to want him around—not the workers, not the local government, not the Balcom corporation—and it’s not easy to solve a mystery when no one wants to talk to you.
Yet Goram can’t help but dig and what he finds is…well I don’t want to spoil the novel for you. Suffice it to say that Dee has created a hero that it’s easy to get behind, and he puts enough clues out there that you have a legitimate chance not only to piece together what’s happening but to figure out the big surprises. So I think it’s fair to say Ribbonworld gives you a bit of Ellery Queen in a Dashiell Hammett plot set out in a realistic science fiction setting.
|Posted by Gilbert Stack on March 28, 2021 at 10:20 AM||comments (0)|
Day 28 Winterhaven by Gilbert M Stack
For the 28th day of the March to Other Worlds I’d like to return to my own work and my fantasy series, Winterhaven. Depending on how you calculate it, I either began working on the world of Winterhaven when I was 12 or 21. Many of the ideas and concepts that became part of the book started very early, but a place called Winterhaven didn’t actually exist until I was a senior in college, and it didn’t become important to my plotting for a few years after that.
While I was in graduate school researching my dissertation in England, I wrote the first draft of the first novel, Winterhaven, and I spent the next two decades tinkering with it, eventually finishing the book and writing two sequels and planning many more. There have been times when the characters in this book were as real to me as people I actually knew.
In its largest sense, Winterhaven is the story of the last outpost of the Ardenesse who rallied to the call of their God, Vapin, and left their world to wage The War of Night in their current land. They have had their share of victories, defeats and betrayals, but now, centuries later the descendants of those original men and women think that the great deeds of their world are confined to the long past Age of Heroes. In Winterhaven, they begin to find out that they are very wrong and if my heroes and heroines survive the struggles of the first few books they will realize that the fate of many worlds will ultimately depend on the strength and courage of the last descendants of the Ardenesse and their Duchy of Winterhaven.
If you like solid military action, credible politics, and fascinating men and women struggling in a medieval fantasy world, you should take a look at Winterhaven, The First Snows, and The Blood of Torons.
|Posted by Gilbert Stack on March 27, 2021 at 8:55 AM||comments (0)|
Day 27 Ciaphas Cain by Sandy Mitchell
The Ciaphas Cain series stands out in the Warhammer 40,000 collection because of its humorous tone. Based in style on George MacDonald’s Fraser’s Flashman character, Cain is an imperial commissar touted as a people’s hero, but who, according to his own memoirs was actually a self-aggrandizing coward and cad. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Cain truly doesn’t thrive on danger as his reputation suggests, but as you watch him do his job you realize he does do the right thing almost all the time—even if he would have you believe it is for all the wrong reasons. The result is a delightful, light-hearted, adventure story.
In the opening book of the series, For the Emperor, Cain takes on a new post and ends up in a complicated struggle between the inhabitants of a world, an alien species trying to take the planet, and the imperial guard. The aliens and the guard each have reasons for trying to keep war from breaking out, but someone on the planet seems determined to turn its cities into bloody battlefields. The action is very straightforward, but what exactly is going on is a mystery worth unravelling. A great first novel for a fun series.
|Posted by Gilbert Stack on March 26, 2021 at 9:15 AM||comments (0)|
Day 26 Time Travelin’ Gunslingers by Philip James
Time travel has always been an important part of science fiction and Philip James does a good job with it. In fact, he does a good job with everything in this novel. I picked up the book because I liked the idea of a western lawman suddenly finding himself facing down dinosaurs—and I got that—but I also found a fairly sophisticated plot involving an obsessed wizard, reincarnation, and the intense power of love.
At its heart, this is a novel about a rivalry between two men—US Marshal Dare Shine and outlaw Race Brody. They both wanted the same woman once upon a time and while Dare ended up winning her heart, Brody never lost his torch for her. By unfortunate coincidence, this woman is also the object of obsession of a millennium old wizard who is suffering under a curse which prevents him from directly interacting with people. He’s watched the woman live her life dozens of times and is determined to find a way to have her. So, he’s developed a fairly complex plan involving portals that move people through space and time and tries to manipulate Dare and Race into unwittingly giving him what he wants.
It’s a very good plot made even more interesting by Dare and Race’s reactions to showing up in such disparate places as modern day Las Vegas, a battlefield in World War I, and the Jurassic Era. There’s plenty of action to keep things hopping, but the center of the tale keeps coming back to Dare and Race’s interest in the same woman—who suddenly exists in multiple incarnations.
|Posted by Gilbert Stack on March 25, 2021 at 8:50 AM||comments (0)|
Day 25: The Valens Legacy by Jan Stryvant
As the March to Other Worlds enters its final week this year, I want to turn our attention back into the realm of urban fantasy and The Valens Legacy. At its heart, The Valens Legacy is about a poor college student who discovers rather painfully that his dead father was a powerful enchanter and that wizards and lycanthropes are real. Suddenly transformed into a werelion, Sean must uncover the secret work that got his father killed or face a similar fate. But his father wasn’t just an enchanter, he was a revolutionary trying to figure out how to end the enslavement of lycanthropes by wizards and Sean finds that he must pick up both his father’s life work as both a crusade and a necessity for survival.
These books are a lot of fun. Their plots are decently well thought out and there is plenty of action. It takes a few books, but the magical system finally begins to make enough sense to carry the series, and if at times it seems as if Sean became werelion just so that Stryvant could “justify” him sleeping with a large number of women who all marry him and never suffer a moment of jealousy toward each other, the plot is generally strong enough to push us past these moments.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the only reason Sean became a werelion. Lions are the gods of the lycanthrope community and Sean is almost a messiah for them, taking on the role of liberator. The storyline is great, but it involves a very large number and type of lycanthropes filling the pages of the story and it slowly dawned on me that all of the lycanthropes felt exactly the same. In fact, become a werecreature starts to feel more like putting on a shirt than changing painfully into a beast whenever the full moon is out or a character’s emotions get the best of them. Great urban fantasies have humans cursed with lycanthropy struggle with their beasts. They aren’t truly human anymore. And that struggle is an important part of the genre that is totally lacking in this series and it annoys me on some level each time I read one of the 17 volumes. It’s not a series breaker, but I do think it keeps the books from becoming one of the great urban fantasy series. That’s a real shame because Stryvant has some very good ideas that he plays within in these pages.
|Posted by Gilbert Stack on March 24, 2021 at 9:30 AM||comments (0)|
Day 24: I, Cunningham by Benoit Goudreault-Emond
Gordon Cunningham died in a climbing accident in the twenty-second century, so he’s quite surprised to wake up five hundred years later in a robot body in a struggling colony in a distant solar system—only struggling is far too kind a word to describe the problems Gordon finds. The station AI and the station government are engaged in a sort of cold war with each other. At least two factions of the station population hate each other’s guts. There are intense frictions between basic humans and a genetically modified group. Oh, and the colony on the planet doesn’t get along with the station either. And that’s before you get into the rebels, religious cults, and illegal settlements that make Gordon’s new life even more complicated—because each faction wants to manipulate him into helping to bring about their personal vision of the perfect future for the colony. And if that isn’t bad enough, if Gordon can’t figure out what’s really going on, human life may die out in this future colony.
This is an impressive first novel with a couple of nicely interwoven mysteries fueling the action, but don’t stop when you finish the story. There’s a very nice afterword in which Goudreault-Emond discusses the influences that led him to write the book. It’s enjoyable all around.
|Posted by Gilbert Stack on March 23, 2021 at 8:55 AM||comments (0)|
Day 23: A Gathering of Heroes by Paul Edwin Zimmer
As we approach the final week of the March, we return to classic fantasy—but classic fantasy with a definite twist as I doubt there is any other novel truly like A Gathering of Heroes. The plot revolves around a group of heroes called together to defend a critical fortress against an army made of evil creatures. The heroes are mostly from a highlands-style culture. Each is known for his great deeds, jealous of his reputation, and caught up in a web of politics that makes it very hard for the good guys to stay united to try and save the day.
The story is told from the point of view of an outsider—Istvan the Archer, perhaps the greatest swordsman currently alive. He’s very different than the highlanders in that he comes from a culture much more akin to the Italian City States and he is the commander of a mercenary company (not with him for this adventure) which means that he is used to fighting a more orderly and disciplined war than these highlanders do. The reader gets to learn about the situation even as Istvan does.
And then there are the heroes among the bad guys—notable villains who are every bit as talented and fearsome as the heroes defending the fortress. And that’s really what makes this novel work so well—watching the heroes among the bad guys face off against those among the good guys and often win the day (which is obviously bad for the forces of good). It’s a remarkable novel with many memorable scenes and an ending that will test the metal of even the bravest hero.
|Posted by Gilbert Stack on March 22, 2021 at 1:05 PM||comments (0)|
Day 22: Goldenshield by J.R. Andrews
For Day 22 we are coming back to the growing body of LitRPG novels and the book I think breaks the LitRPG mold. The heroes aren’t playing a game. Gerald is a deputy sheriff responding to a disturbance in a store when he encounters a strange old man who hits him and his friend with a staff. Both young men then wake up elsewhere—a world that is similar to their gaming universe with a few small but important differences. Gerald’s friend, Zeke, is excited by the new world, but Gerald just wants to get back home. He doesn’t think that things in the “game” universe are important and he certainly doesn’t want to take any responsibility for what is happening around them.
As Gerald fights against accepting his new reality, he and Zeke learn they aren’t the only earth-people trapped here in the game-verse. And they learn that one really important game function doesn’t work in this universe. There is no resurrection or respawning. This solidifies Gerald’s commitment to get back to reality, but unfortunately for him there are lots of more immediate problems in his way—local bandits, an invading army, and an usurper king.
J. R. Andrews has put together a very nice story here with lots of action, strong worldbuilding, and credible character growth. I thoroughly enjoyed it and am looking forward to the sequel.