Book Review: Brothers of Earth by C.J. Cherryh

Brothers of Earth (Hanan Rebellion #1)Brothers of Earth by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book because I’ve been meaning to read C.J. Cherryh for some time, and also because I was doing a challenge to read 15 space opera books by the end of the year. However, this book is not space opera. It’s a planetary romance. That being said, it’s a really good planetary romance, centered on a fascinating alien culture with about 17th century technology that reminded me very much of an Indus Valley sort of culture, with lots of formalities and strange social customs and caste systems and interconnecting (and internally clashing) racial divides. The plot? Picture Avatar if things had gone poorly.

Admittedly it uses some time-honoured sci-fi tropes that the artsy sorts would tell you immediately mean that it must not be taken seriously, but keep in mind it was written in 1976, first of all; and secondly, I say so what? I think people are far too hung up on being original, and they try so hard that they often lose the elements that make a good *story*. Cherryh is much more interested in character and story than in making sure that her universe obeys hard science, which is downright refreshing in the midst of the modern obsession.

Above all the strongest part of this book were the incredibly well-realized characters. I loved each and every one of them, despite and maybe because of their flaws, and even the villains are empathetic. Cherryh remembers that old saying that a story is something happening to someone you care about, and she has made me care about these characters. Enough that the ending annoys me somewhat, since it is clear that there will be more books to follow this one. I understand there are sequels; and therefore, quite a lot remained unresolved.

It’s a chewy read; the kind of thing you have read in pieces to fully grasp the nuances. You can’t just sit down and devour it. To be honest, with time running out in my late-begun reading challenge I selected it in part because it seemed a thinner book than many others I have and I thought it would be a quick read. Don’t you believe it. But it was worth it.

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Book Review: Cities in Flight by James Blish

Cities in Flight (Cities in Flight, #1-4)Cities in Flight by James Blish
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cities in Flight is an omnibus edition of four related books written by James Blish in the 1950s and 60s. Each one is a stand-alone story but they interconnect. The essential premise of the plot is that three factors — the Cold War, the discovery of anti-aging drugs, and the invention of anti-gravity technology — results in a mass exodus of entire cities from Earth, who then spread out among the stars as independent city-states. Some colonize planets; others, called “Okies,” wander from planet to planet doing odd jobs for pay, which sustains their civilizations; but just like hobos throughout history, they are routinely harassed by the police and seen as ne’er-do-wells. It is about one such Okie city, New York, New York, that Blish writes.

The first story, “They Shall Have Stars”, is not really about the characters, but it introduces the necessary technology and geopolitical pressures that create his world. “A Life for the Stars” is a twisted bildungsroman in this unique sociopolitical landscape that Blish has created (which is a wonderful thing in and of itself; considering the sociopolitical consequences of new technologies!). “Earthman, Come Home” is arguably the most character driven book of the series. And “The Triumph of Time” is ultimately about how we human beings confront mortality; but, more than that, how we confront inevitable oblivion.

My favourite character is John Amalfi. And I love how utterly ordinary Blish’s characters are. No chiseled jaws and rippling pectorals here; just ordinary people dealing with extraordinary situations in a cavalier, almost Wild West pioneer spirit. That Wild West aspect was intentional on Blish’s part. Reading the appendix you discover that Blish was directly inspired by Spengler’s “Decline of the West.”

However, there were some flaws in the characterization as well, and some characters were better realized than others. Chris, the viewpoint character of “A Life for the Stars,” was terribly undeveloped. He existed for the sole purpose of exposing Blish’s politics and science. I could have taken him or left him. And I do have to say that I find it tiresome that these men writing classic science fiction, who were so progressive in terms of many of their ideas and technology, never seemed to anticipate that women would eventually be just as likely to be in positions of political and military leadership as men. Blish even pointed out how women never end up getting selected to serve as “Mayor” (which in this story is actually a eugenically-democratically elected Emperor of a city-state) by the computers that do that selecting. I guess it was really hard for men in the 1960s to accept that their skills in this department were not genetically superior to those of women. 😉 I have to give that a pass, though, because it is ridiculous to expect works of previous time periods to conform to the standards of the present day.

I like how the events of one book have effects that ripple into the others while, at the same time, being entirely stand-alone works (though “They Shall Have Stars” might have looked better as a story in Analog or Asimov instead of as a book.)

Some of the other readers in my book club were baffled and irritated by some of the science, which reduced their enjoyment of the book. I can see their point. The anti-aging drugs weren’t that terribly well developed and probably drew back to what was cutting edge science when the book was written, which of course is now completely obsolete. And it didn’t seem to make a huge amount of sense to me either; it was just discovered that some chemical compounds prevented come kinds of cellular degeneration, and the ones discovered later were also effective at eliminating mistakes in cellular regeneration because they were able to cure cancer while the earlier ones were not (but the cancer still didn’t kill you, which is interesting.) But I was okay with the McGuffin personally; largely I think because I also read a lot of fantasy. I don’t really care how it works, to be honest. I accept that in this universe that’s the way it works, and on I go.

In the middle of the Space Race there were thought to be two major obstacles to interstellar flight; a way to overcome and/or create gravity, and the amount of time it takes to get between places in such a vast universe. Blish’s solution was people who don’t age and spindizzies. Which also inadvertently solved the radiation problem, which is one of the big concerns that is currently delaying a manned mission to Mars; apparently outside of the Earth and Moon’s magnetic field there’s a whole slew of radiation from the sun that’s really harmful to us. I’m not even sure they were aware of all that in the 1960s, when those two books were written, but that problem is solved at any rate.

I’ve also read some arguments against some other aspects of the technology being obsolete, such as the use of vacuum tubes, but here I don’t agree because there’s some very good arguments for using vacuum tubes in deep space. Consider how computers and satellites malfunction when there’s a major solar flare; do you want that happening to the computers upon which your life depends in deep space? Yeah, didn’t think so.
Still, to some extent I feel we must accept that classic sci-fi is often, by nature, going to have bad science, because our knowledge of how things actually work has increased considerably over the past two hundred years, and in exponential ways. Let’s not forget that Jules Verne, Mary Shelley and H.G. Wells were writing perfectly acceptable science fiction for their time.

However, as I said, I can see why that lack of explanation about the anti-aging drugs could diminish enjoyment of the books and I think that’s perfectly reasonable. Especially when the physics and quantum physics were so excellently done! Blish’s explanation for anti-gravity, and dealing with anti-matter, stands the test of time even today, even after all we’ve discovered about those subjects since.

The conclusion was fascinating, and also how the characters reacted to it was great. Overall, despite some significant literary flaws, mostly I think in the inconsistency in styles between the stories, I really enjoyed these books, and I see why they are considered to be classics of science fiction. Highly recommended!

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SJA3 Crystal Spheres at DriveThruRPG!

Traveling the space lanes is risky and mysterious, and danger comes in many forms. The rescue of a tiny ship from pirate attackers leads to the discovery of a monumental, supernatural evil. Nothing is ever routine in space.

Crystal Spheres takes player characters through four unique crystal spheres to battle a powerful force of darkness. Player Characters will find themselves fighting not just for their lives, but the fate of an entire solar system and its millions of inhabitants.

“Crystal Spheres” is an adventure for the AD&D Spelljammer campaign setting. The Spelljammer boxed set is required to play. This 64-page adventure will easily adapt to any campaign world.

*****

Product History

SJA3: “Crystal Spheres” (1990), by J. Paul LaFountain, is the third Spelljammer adventure. It was released in October 1990.

Continuing the “SJA” Series. “Crystal Spheres” continues the Spelljammer adventures. It’s an epic adventure, as was found in SJA1: “Wildspace” (1990): a sphere’s sun is on the verge of being snuffed out, and the players must save it.

Adventuring Tropes. “Crystal Spheres” lies on the line between the adventuring tropes of the ’80s and ’90s. It contains lots of random encounters and mapped locations. However, it also features events that drive players along a path to confront the problems of the underlying storyline.

Expanding Wildspace. True to its name, “Crystal Spheres” does a great job of providing good reasons to adventure across Wildspace from one sphere to another. Along the way it details four new crystal spheres: Herospace (which is for heroic adventures only, with 9 planets divided by alignment); Faeriespace (which is one gigantic community); Greatspace (which is an elder sphere focused on nobility and honor); and Darkspace (which is a sunless, shadowy void).

Unfortunately, one of the problems with Spelljammer was that it never brought together its many spheres into a coherent setting. The Spelljammerboxed set (1989) focused on the Radiant Triangle of Greyhawk, Krynn, and the Realms, but then the six Spelljammer adventures barely touched on those areas. Similarly, the worlds of Darkspace, Faeriespace, Greatspace, and Herospace would never be heard from again.

(Though TSR never created a larger Spelljammer setting, some fans have taken the next step, compiling all the spheres of Wildspace into a cohesive whole.)

“Crystal Spheres” also includes a beautiful chart comparing the sizes of the many spelljamming vessels revealed to date — including the Hummingbird from this very adventure.

About the Creators. LaFountain did a scattering of TSR work in the early ’90s. This was his premiere freelance work; he’d later contribute to MC8: “Monstrous Compendium Outer Planes Appendix” (1991), SJR3: “Dungeon Master’s Screen” (1991), and some supplements for the Buck Rogers XXVC RPG.

About the Product Historian

The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons – a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to shannon.appelcline@gmail.com.

Silverblade’s Sharp Stabby Things

Silverblade The Enchanter is a wizard from the world of Erynavar, but now lives on the Rock of Bral, the famous asteroid city in the Tears of Selune, orbiting Toril, the Forgotten Realms.
His background and style of wizardy has resulted in him using and also enchanting knives and daggers a LOT. His sobriquet comes from the fact he is so experienced in the enchantment of magical objects.
(In 4th ed he uses daggers as an implement and he has the Arcane Trickster path, which lets him do “nasty stabby things”, though mostly he’s about using his magic in non-lethal ways)

This article details two of his favourite and most used weapons and tools.
Though I write it thinking of 4th ed it’s easily changed to other editions of our favourite game.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
SILVERBLADE’S SKEIN DHU
Knife (1d3 base damage)
Materials: dwarven steel, brass, rosewood, silver
+3
Owner’s Safeguard (it can never harm its true owner, even if stabbed into him by someone else)
Bane vs wood and paper

Most people think a Skein dhu is a specific design of knife, where as in Silver’s homeland, it is the designation for HOW it is used and applies to any style of knife.
A Skein Dhu, to an Alban, is the knife they use in their workaday tasks.
His is a locknife anout four inches long with a three and a half inch clip point blade of “dwarven steel” (which is stainless steel and thus resists corrosion very well).
The handle has brass fittings with rosewood hanldles which are inlaid on each side with a unicorn’s head, which is a holy and national symbol to his people.

Made by his father, who was a sword and knifesmith in their home town, as a cherished gift and useful tool, he’s had this knife since he was a boy. It was the first he used in combat, and the first he enchanted, and has upgraded it since then.

He put the rather obscure “Owner’s Safeguard” enchantment on it to prevent it cutting him when he’s whittling, cutting rope or whatever use he may have it. Also it’s saved his life when an enraged kidnapper stabbed him with it, leaving Silver’ dead as he thought….

The bane vs wood and paper came about by habitual use and other factors, becoming an enchantment all its own! Turned in very handy when he was attacked by a raggomoffyn.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

UNICORN’S TEAR
Dagger
Materials: adamantine, ocean opal, silver
+4
Counts as both silver and adamantine
Holy
Demon bane
Keen

This deadly weapon is a form of side opening flick knife, working by gravity and a flick of the wrist. Seven inch handle, six inch blade, smooth design with no guard (but see after)

The grip sides are made from “ocean opal”, a form of opal from his homeworld, it is very clear and translucent compared to normal opals, but the same flashes of crystal fire can be seen as it is moved around, and has a slight blue colour to the almost transparent,translucent material, hence the name as it resembles the clearest ocean.
Four slight horizontal grooves about an inch wide run down the opal handle to help with a good grip, and opal ocean isn’t like most gemstones, offering a surface that doesn’t feel too smooth and gives good traction.

Though there is no guard normally, note all the metalwork except decoration is adamantine, a bas relief unicorns head is on top of the adamantine each side of the handle where it meets the blade, whixh is also the swivel point.
When the weapon is extended the enhancements cause the adamantine to temporarily fuse into one solid piece, removing a weakness of the design.
Also a hilt grows out, the unicorn’s head forming out into a larger altered form of silver overlaid adamantine, with the unicorn’s muzzle curving down to protect the fingers, the ears and main curve forward to provide a blade trap, and the horn lengthens to link up with the blade.

The blade is not the usual stiletto design of such weapons, instead it has an angled chiselled edge like a tanto but with a straight layout, not curved. The bottom three inches have scallop like spiked serrations, Good for cutting leather, rope etc.
Silver celtic knotwork is engraved and inlaid into it, a style of art common and very much part of his homeland’s tradition, as is the unicorn.

The weapon’s “holy” ability come from.the fact he used a unicorn’s tear to give it the ability to punish evil creatures. Silverblade defeated a necromancer who’d been killing unicorn foals in foul rituals, and later when he enchanted the blade, he asked for their tears to help fight such horrors and they eagerly and sorrowfully did so.

Silverblade has a particular loathing of the undead and also and most especially, demons, hence the “holy” and demon bane enchantments.

Keen ability of course, makes it a more deadly weapon. He didn’t actually put this enchantment in the weapon himself, it has “grown” it through useage and time, perhaps because of the strange creatures and magic it has touched, as well as being adamantine.

Because of the design, inlay and enchantments, it counts as both adamantine and silver.
Hostile golems and wizards protected by “Stoneskin” spells can of course be serious problems, thus adamantine, plus the fact it makes such incredibly deadly sharp blades by its own innate nature. Silver tends to work well on evil creatures.

To cap it all, he wears the Unicorn’s Tear in an enchanted sheath on his right arm.
The sheath acts akin to a Bag of Holding, and is very thin, seemingly too thin to hold the blade but it can thanks to the extra dimensional ability. On top of this, this spells of camouflage and Non-Detection woven into it, meaning it’s almost impossible for anyone to find the sheath and dagger within, making it a handy hideout weapon if captured.


By Silverblade the Enchanter

Legendary Planet: A Fantasy Space Kickstarter!

Legendary Games brings you an epic sword & planet adventure saga for Pathfinder and 5th Edition that takes you across the multiverse!

Check out the Kickstarter here!

Video

Auditions for Spelljammer My Little Pony FIM animated series

Okay, so this came out more than three years ago, and I see very little actual “Spelljammer” stuff in it, but it’s a promo for what’s got to be the absolutely geekiest, nerdiest thing I’ve ever heard of – which makes it absolutely awesome!  I don’t know if it ever got made or if they’re still taking auditions, but just in case, here you go: