Reviews: Area 51 1/2: November 2014


area51-200by Steven Sawicki

Greenings Third Worlders,

We have been thinking much lately about wizards. As you have no doubt theorized, we are here to study you and what better way to do so, and this is not theory but fact, then to chat with those whom you follow. We, at first, considered speaking to some of your politicians but we could not agree on one. They are all so different, and you do not so much follow them as put up with them. We are pretty sure this would have made defending our thesis in front of the tidal pool very difficult. Then we remembered. Wizards. You tend to follow them no matter how insane they appear to be. “Come, they say to you, we need to bring this thing to that place, which is just over there. ” And, as you start on the direct route, which would take like 30 minutes, they say something like “no, we must go the long way. It will take weeks. Don’t bring anything, we’ll figure it out as we go along, or you will since I’ll only be with you right at the beginning and then I’m going home to rest. And you’ll need to walk the entire way, even though I can teleport and call giant eagles and walking giant trees and, really, get you there in about 30 minutes if I really wanted to. But I don’t. So start walking. Hope you survive. And don’t forget the fate of the entire world rests with you. Unless it does not. I’ll tell you for sure when you get to the end because, remember, it’s not the getting there, but the getting there that counts.” And, so, off you go, time after time. Your political leaders do not act this way. During your so called second world war you did not bring the marines to the ocean and tell them they had to swim to Normandy. No, you provided them with the best transport you had. Clearly political leaders are not wizards.

So, we’ve been looking for one of these wizards but to no avail. We know they are out there but we’re not sure where. If you know please contact the owner of this publication. He works most days so feel free to call late at night. He won’t mind. Just tell him a wizard told you to do it.

gruntlife-300wGrunt Life, by Weston Ochse, Solaris, ISBN 978-1-78108-201-0, $7.99, 420 pgs.
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Benjamin Carter Mason is a veteran who decides he’s had enough and jumps off a bridge. He dies, or maybe he does not. Either way, he wakes up in boot camp, training for war. This is pretty much the definition of irony. To top it all off he’s locked up with hundreds of others who also committed suicide, or tried to or maybe not. After being locked up for a while, it’s hard to tell for how long since it’s possible they have all been drugged, Mason, and most of the others are briefed on why they have been collected. They are to form a new unit to fight an alien invasion. The Cray are attacking Earth’s cities and doing so with little opposition. And so, task force OMBRA has been formed to take the fight to the aliens. They’re equipped with the best that Earth has (left), they’re trained to full fighting capability, in the short time they have between when they were taken and when the Cray are scheduled to finish their planetary destruction, and they’re motivated to fight because they have already killed themselves.

Hey, we don’t write this stuff, we just tell you about it. For all of the above this is a pretty amusing and entertaining story about people given a second chance to take action. It’s an interesting concept and we did manage to go from beginning to end without too much interruption. Klaarg hated it. Well, he liked it until they introduced the fighting suits which reminded him too much of robots and he had nightmares and woke up wanting to pitch the book into the demoleculizer. And he did but that piece of equipment has been broken ever since we had that run in with that comet. Darn things just appear, you know, without any warning.

red-seas-300wRed Seas Under Red Skies, by Scott Lynch, Bantam Spectrum, ISBN 978-0-553-58895-8, $7.99, 760 pgs.
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Locke Lamora and his friend Jean are fleeing the underworld and their past exploits, if fleeing could be considered heading off for new adventures and cons in a new place with even more riches than the one the left. This story finds them in Tal Verrar, setting up the long con and getting into trouble. But, just as they are about to bring everything to conclusion they are grabbed and conned themselves, given poison with a long acting antidote that must be take on a regular basis to keep them alive. To get the cure all they have to do is avoid being killed by the assassins guild, the mages guild, their old enemies, their new enemies, and the pirates they are about to betray. No problem for these two because they have each other. Or do they? The book opens with betrayal and this could mean the end.

Well, it could mean the end except the betrayal happens on page 3 and this is a 700+ page story. But, it’s war, it’s war, on a number of different levels and with a number of different players and settings. We’re starting to notice a theme here. We like these two and we would like to visit the places they have visited. Somewhere in the south we think, maybe near Bermuda but a bit east and maybe south. We’re not good with directions and Klaarg, our navigator, is out getting snacks. One of the best parts of this book is the key role that kittens play and we can say no more about that. It does not say anywhere on the cover of this book whether it is fiction or non-fiction so we are guessing, based solely on the detail surrounding locations that it is non-fiction.

There is still much of your planet we have to explore and we appreciate Scott Lynch for sharing a small part of it with us. We’ll look for more of his travelogues in the future.

anderson-six-300wThe Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson, Volume 6: A Bicycle Built for Brew, NESFA Press, ISBN 978-1-61037-306-7, $29.00, 470 pgs.
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This is a very long title for a book of short works. And we imagine that the astute among you, both of you, will have already caught on to how this book fits in thematically. Let us mention a few names so the remainder of you can catch up: Nicholas van Rijn and Dominic Flandry. All of the pieces in this book came from your magazines of the 1950s so a time capsule as it were from an age long forgotten but certainly not appreciated, based on your Mad Men Magazines and television series. Why there is even a story about terraforming other planets in your solar system. We’re not sure why you don’t call it Earthforming since that’s what you are trying to do. Someone explained to us that terra is actually Latin for Earth. And since Latin is a long dead language which no one speaks since no one is sure how to pronounce the words, we can see why you insist on using it to describe a futuristic process.

Even with the confounding word use we found the stories in this book quite interesting. Interesting in the sense that 70 years in your past someone was imagining the future that has, still, yet to happen. We have to note that while Mr. Anderson does this in a very interesting way, he is certainly no Nostrodamus. Nostrodamus, by the way, is a combination of two Latin words that, when put together, mean absolutely nothing. Take what you will from the wisdom we sprinkle throughout these discourses.

We have to finally admit that we really enjoyed this book, and we even went back and enjoyed the five previous books. We are sure we will also enjoy volume 7 (the odds are with us). We liked the words, we liked the pictures, and we enjoyed the obvious craft that went into the selection of materials. We think there can be no finer use of your time than to spend it tracking down a copy and making it your own. As your Latin’s say; carpe libellus.

sparrow-300wShanghai Sparrow, by Gaie Sebold, Solaris, ISBN 978-1-78108-185-3, $7.99, 373 pgs.
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Eveline Duchen is a normal little girl living on the streets of London, surviving through theft, misdirection, and bending the truth to her advantage. Eveline is caught in the act by one Mr. Holmforth, who just happens to have an offer for her; shipment off to the colonies or getting educated at one of her Majesty’s special schools for female spies. It is at the school that Eveline runs into one of the Folk, the otherworldly people who have been slowly receding from the world as the new science becomes more and more commonplace. Eveline turns out to have a real knack for spy like things and is quickly using her new spy skills to get into and out of all kinds of situations. Before she knows it she is on her way to Shanghai, where the Empire has a stranglehold on the land and the is little joy about that.

We more or less enjoyed this book, although the seeming common use of children as major protagonists in adult situations is one we find fairly amusing since, outside of books, it rarely seems to happen so we are not sure if you are fulfilling wishes or recapturing lost never times or doing something else. We liked the writing, we liked the pacing, and we liked the mechanical dragon on the cover although we are not convinced that steam power will actually work there. And Klaarg was once again dismayed that we brought this one even close to the ship. We’ll have to make it up to him.

Before we do that though we should say that we think many of you should go out and read this. It has everything: grammar, punctuation, and a near total lack of dangling participles. Who could ask for more? It’s also a wiz banger of espionage and mystery wrapped in pretend science.

hunt-300wThe Hunt for Pierre Jnr, by David M. Henley, Harper Voyager, ISBN 978-0-73-229560-8, $16.99, 410 pgs.
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We like when you open your stories in a wiz bang kind of way, captivating us from the very beginning and leading us forward toward your fictional/non-fictional conclusions. Many of your books do this only to deny final pleasure in a morass of obfuscation and sentence destruction. But not this time. It’s a wiz bang and then more wizzes and bangs until the final (we’re unsure if it’s a wiz or a bang) end. It’s the future, or the near future, which is kind of like the present tomorrow, or maybe it’s an alternate future or a past not yet realized. It’s really hard to tell with you people since your grasp of time is so tenuous. But this is about us liking the book and not you, so pay better attention.

Pierre Jnr is a boy who has fantastic powers. They are mental powers and he is not afraid to use them. In fact he likes using them—to control people and to get his way. For some reason the people that are in power aren’t real fond of this eight-year-old boy trying to control things. They kind of like controlling things themselves. And so, a war is begun. The world’s best general against an eight-year-old boy. Along the way we get to see how the political structure is really set up and how society has been structured and re-structured around a system that relies a great deal on trending belief systems captured electronically as they happen. Caught in the middle of all of this is Pete, a human with psy ability; a human with psy ability in a society that has banished all of his kind to an island. Pete is on the cutting edge of Pierre hunting and becomes the interface between society and boy. As the battle wages, often in ways unusual, Pete and Pierre both strive for understanding. We do the same and it seems to be a wash for all of us as you are simply often too inscrutable to figure out.

We liked this book a great deal. We read it with excitement. Even Klaarg enjoyed it, or we think he did. Klaarg is also a bit inscrutable. But then most navigators are. We think it has something to do with the amount of time them spend staring into the maw of space and having to do all that work, pushing the go button, entering in the three digit destination coordinates and then shutting everything off upon arrival. Exhausting and mind numbing. Evidently. Go out and buy yourself a copy. And if you know anyone with psy ability try not to think about them. Yeah, go ahead and try to do that now.

snowpiercer-350wSnowpiercer, Anchor Bay, 126 minutes, Bong Joon Ho; Director, Screenwriters, Bong Joon-ho and Kelly Masterson. English-language; Released, August 1, 2013; 126 minutes, Moho Films, Opus Pictures.

So, we discovered this documentary about your global warming problem and things look bad. According to this timeline you only have a few years to get things straightened out or to build a train. Evidently by 2031 your world will be covered with ice and snow and everyone will be dead. Well, everyone except for those who managed to get on that aforementioned train. We’re not sure who built the train or who provided the perpetual motion device that powers it or why they didn’t use the perpetual motion device to run a really big heater but there you are. And how did you discover perpetual motion when the best minds in the universe have said it’s a myth?

Not only did you manage to produce this train but you managed to bring all of your cultural issues along with it. So, the front of the train is full of those with assets (although what they are going to do with them in a frozen world is never really explained) while the back of the train is full of the have nots. Well, we do know of a couple of ways to fix this pretty fast but evidently no one on the actual train thinks this way.

The train circles the globe, perpetually, we imagine, while those on the inside fight to get from back to front. It’s never really explained where the food comes from although maybe they have a perpetual pasta device as well.
2031, huh? Well, we’ll be long gone by then and probably on some warmer planet for sure. Unless you are doing time differently again, like you have done in the past and, no doubt, will do again in the future, unless your past changes catch up with you and the future becomes the present past again. We can no longer keep track. So, until next time all we can say is stay warm and watch out for wizards.

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