Book Review: Changer of Worlds by David Weber and Eric Flint

Changer of Worlds (Worlds of Honor, #3)Changer of Worlds by David Weber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Okay, to be fair I started this book a fair bit of time ago, read about two and a half of the four novellas in it, and then my partner decided to read it and hid it on me. I found it again a month ago or so but wanted to finish reading the book I was on before I went back to this one.

These are some very well-written stories, and because they lack the usual Weber info-dumps, they’re among the best written Honor Harrington stories I have yet to read. And I have to warn you, unlike many short stories that center around an ongoing novel series, you kind of have to read these or some things will make no sense to you in the later books.

Fortunately this will almost universally be a pleasure. The first story, “Ms. Midshipwoman Harrington,” is a direct homage to “Mr. Midshipman Hornblower,” which is wonderful since the Horatio Hornblower books are part of what inspired Weber to write this series in the first place, and why it’s such wonderful space opera. Here we get to see Honor Harrington, great captain and general, as a mere midshipwoman on her “snotty” cruise. Lots of action, typical Navy politics . . . wonderful stuff for any Honor Harrington fan.

The second story, “Changer of Worlds,” provides some wonderful insight into the ways of the other major intelligent species of the Honorverse; the treecats, who are not just cute telepathic kitties. No indeed.

The third story, “From the Highlands,” introduces us to some other major characters in the Honorverse and what they’re up to; including Victor Cachat, Peep intelligence agent, Anton Zilwicki, the world’s most unlikely Manticoran Navy intelligence officer; Cathy Montaigne, renegade Liberal eventually to be a force to be reckoned with in Manticoran politics; and the Ballroom, a secret terrorist organization of escaped slaves dedicated to wiping out slavery by whatever means necessary. Oh yes, and Zilwicki’s daughter Helen, a force to be reckoned with on her own. This story, written by Eric Flint, is full of his subtle humour, sharp wit, and clever plot and counterplot elements. It reads just like a spy thriller with some comedy thrown in. Great stuff!

The only story I thought we could have done without was the last one, “Nightfall.” This was basically what happened when Secretary of War McQueen took on the Secretary of State Saint-Just just before the end of “Ashes of Victory.” I suspect it was originally included but Weber’s editor, in a rare act of prudence, cut it and told him it wasn’t necessary. I agree; it wasn’t necessary. Since we already read how it started, and we already knew how it ended, and it was just a lot of pain and bloodshed in between, and we didn’t learn anything about any of the characters or the events, I don’t see the point of it.

So; three out of four great stories ain’t bad. Well worth reading, anyway.

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Book Review: War of Honor by David Weber

War of Honor (Honor Harrington, #10)War of Honor by David Weber
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There’s nothing like being sick to make you finish the reading you’ve been wanting to get done, especially when you just aren’t up to doing much else. So I finally powered through War of Honor.

The books in this series come in two types; really action-oriented, and really political. This was one of the political ones. And yet this wasn’t nearly as dry as most of the political ones. At the start of the book, a coalition government forced upon the Queen of Manticore by an unholy alliance of the Conservative and Liberal Parties has been in power for four years. At the end of the last book they had just accepted a ceasefire from their long-standing enemies, the People’s Republic of Haven, despite the fact that the Manticoran Navy had them on the ropes and could have ended the threat they represented once and for all. In the four years since, the corrupt government has not officially ended the war so that they could take advantage of wartime tax measures for their pet projects, and have stalled peace talks. Despite this, they have assumed military superiority over the Peeps, and have demilitarized much of their Naval forces, as well as suspending most of their building projects. They have also swept most of the useful Naval commanders into the grey realm of half-pay, and have appointed their cronies — mostly insufferable bureaucrats with little to no combat experience — into key positions in the Navy. Key to the plot, this also affects their intelligence sector, which is commanded by a complete incompetent. The First Admiral of the Navy is none other than Admiral Janacek, whose personal hatred for Honor Harrington and Earl White Haven leads him to assume exactly the opposite of anything at all that they suggest. And they are also doing their very best to be so rude to everyone who is part of the extended Manticoran Alliance that they have almost succeeded in alienating all of them.

Of course the Peeps, who have had another coup and have restored their ancient Constitution, thus becoming the Republic of Haven or the Republicans, have not been idle. They have assigned their best tactician to a top secret R&D project called Bolthole which intended to address the military superiority that the Manticorans had — and to much better effect than anyone dreamed. Their elected President is a former intelligence operative who was working against the corrupt Peep government, and their Secretary of War is the man who personally led the coup that resulted in the new government. They are trying to negotiate with the Manticorans in good faith, despite the attitude of their present government, because they really don’t want another war. But if all of this weren’t bad enough, the man they are stuck with as their Secretary of State, Giancola, is manipulating negotiations by altering official documents to build up tensions for his own purposes.

Weber does a marvelous job of setting up this train wreck, which is what most of the book consists of, although he insists upon breaking it up with a tedious “love that cannot be” subplot between Honor and White Haven. Which gives him a pretext for having the Admiralty hang Honor out to dry at Sidemore, caught between a rock and hard place with ships so obsolete there would be nothing she could do if things actually hit the fan.

It might strike people as being a bit unrealistic, but being a Canadian under the Harper government taught me that it most certainly isn’t.

Honor survives (of course, or that would be the end of the series). I have to admit that it’s a bit tedious that again she’s the only one that does any substantial damage. And there sure was a lot of praise for her abilities from the mouth of one of the benevolent antagonists in the Republican Navy! Yawn. I do wish Weber would stop that.

But the tension did keep me reading right through to the end, so what can I say? Obviously I stuck with it and it certainly wasn’t boring! But neither would I go screaming from the rooftops about how absolutely wonderful this book was. So, good, but not great is my verdict.

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Stripped Down Spelljammer

Ruminations of a Canadian Geek

I’m a bit late on this, but the excellent Blog of Holding has published stripped down rules for Spelljammer, trying to fit the essentials onto one page. I agree with his point that Spelljammer has a couple cool ideas, then bogs them down with a bunch of overly-complicated rules about Grubbian physics and extra rules for clerics. To quote: “I’ll break out my copy of Spelljammer. OH NO IT’S 200 PAGES! THIS BOOK IS TAKING TOO LONG TO READ! THE PCS HAVE ALREADY IMPLODED IN THE VACUUM”

The first blog post covers the basics of the setting and physics, boiling it down to a short paragraph (plus expositions explaining the decisions to help the DM understand why they have done, something useful for when you want to expand upon it for your game.

The second builds a 20 entry random encounter table that also helps explain the setting.

And finally

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Does the new SRD and Dungeon Masters Guild make Spelljammer open content?

Systems Reference Document (SRD)Wizards of the Coast made two major announcements that both opened up 5th Edition yesterday.

Firstly there was the return of the SRD, in 5th Edition form.

Secondly there was something new. Something that is going to allow people to not just publish OGL content, but to publish content that uses the Dungeons & Dragons branding and even the Forgotten Realms campaign setting.

 

Dungeon Masters Guild Now OpenAfter seeing both stories and writing about Dungeon Masters Guild opening up Forgotten Realms over at the Forgotten Realms forum at The Piazza, I’ve been talking to a number of fans.

And it seems like there is a bit of confusion between the two stories.

If you just want an answer to the question, then, no. Wizards of the Coast did not just make Spelljammer into open content. But if you want to find out what the Systems Reference Document (SRD) announcement and the Dungeon Masters Guild announcement mean for Forgotten Realms – right now – and what they potentially might mean for open Spelljammer publishing at some point in the near future, read on.

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Oriental Adventures and Spelljammer: A Guide

Paul Westermeyer (aka GMWestermeyer) has given us permission to bring you a Spelljammer netbook he has been working on called Oriental Adventures and Spelljammer: A Guide.

Here is what he told us about his guide:

This summarizes oriental cultures in each of the major D&D settings, as well as in Hackjammer, it also includes an OA only SJ timeline, and my Kara-tur timeline. It includes original material on many of the worlds, especially Forgotten Realms, and a reasonably complete bibliography.

I’ve only quickly skimmed through the 67 page netbook, but there are all sorts of useful information including:

  • 8 sections giving you information on Asian content that can be used in Realmspace,
  • 4 sections giving you information on Asian content that can be used in Greyspace,
  • A section giving you information on Asian content that can be used in Mystaraspace,
  • A section giving you information on Asian content that can be used in the Hackjammer crystal sphere,
  • 3 sections giving you information on Asian content within the Spelljammer product line,
  • A section about the Asian D&D content located on the Mythic Earth,
  • A Spelljammer Oriental Adventures Timeline,
  • A detailed bibliography, with details of 12 different types of sources that can improve your Oriental Adventures/Spelljammer crossover gaming experience and
  • A timeline of Kara-Tur

Being a Paul Westermeyer document, the citations and bibliography are a major part of this, allowing you to follow his research back to all the original sources and formulate opinions based on his research, as well as his conclusions.

This is a must-have PDF for any Spelljammer campaign.

There is a discussion topic over at the Spelljammer forum at The Piazza, where you can discuss Oriental Adventures and Spelljammer: A Guide with other fans and the author himself.

2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 19,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Book Review: The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

The Stars My DestinationThe Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! What an intense book!

I started this book for the Science Fiction Masterworks book club I’ve organized, and I waited patiently until the very end of 2015 to start it, especially since I was also working on a reading challenge I wanted to finish by the end of 2015. But once I picked it up, I simply could not put it down. The writing is electric, even pyrotechnic. It starts out with awesome and it just keeps adding more awesome onto awesome.

The book starts with a prologue that explains that someone discovered that when threatened with imminent death people have the ability to “jaunte”; that is to say, to teleport over short distances. Eventually the trick of the ability becomes something that everyone can do and so culture and society must adapt.

Cue our opening scene, in which Gully Foyle, our protagonist, a common labourer, has survived in space for 170 days after his ship, the Nomad, has been blown to smithereens, existing in the one airtight space left — a storage locker the size of a coffin — which requires him to go out every few days to loot an oxygen tank, food and water; the catch being that he has only five minutes of air to breathe, since the attachments for air tanks on his duck-taped spacesuit are damaged.

Have I got your attention yet? Alfred Bester sure got mine! You can’t imagine where this story goes or how it ends from this starting point. The action never stops and all the while the protagonist, and every other significant character be it friend or foe, is realized in such exquisite detail that you never once doubt their motivations and you sympathize with all of them, no matter how cruel they get; and believe me, they can get Game-of-Thrones-cruel!

Bonus points: while I have noted many times that you often have to read 1950s science fiction with a grain of salt in that women generally seem to be present to be sex toys or, at best, love interests for the protagonist, this book does not suffer from that one whit. Bester’s female characters are complex and strong and vulnerable at turns. They are every bit as beautifully human as the men and I love them.

Extra bonus points: no jarring moments of obsolete technology to take you out of the illusion. Not a one.

Every science fiction fan needs to read this book, especially if you love space opera. I want to write like this when I grow up.

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Les grands courants philosophiques à travers les Sphères Connues

Les voyages de Deryn Naythas

meteors-circling-the-planets-fantasy-hd-wallpaper-1920x1200-6684

Si les peuples qui vécurent durant l’Âge des légendes semblent devoir posséder des motivations incompréhensibles pour les espèces plus jeunes, et que les Âges sombres ne soient finalement qu’une succession de conflits à une échelle sans précédent, c’est bien durant l’Âge spirituel que se développent et s’affirment de grands principes qui vont rapidement exalter les ancêtres des Syndarh, des Mordd et des primitifs Valoriens.

Le Point d’Equilibre, la pensée mystique

MindsEyeSous la guidance des Sharood, les Voies de l’Esprit sont développées en opposition au règne de la magie Reigar. Bien des élus de pratiquement tous les peuples d’alors sont initiés aux pratiques psioniques, afin de pouvoir par la suite dresser les leurs contre une tyrannie mystique qui n’existe déjà plus. A travers ce conflit que souhaitent initier les Sharood apparaît cependant le fondement d’un mode de pensée qui amènera la région des Sphères Connues à s’affranchir régulièrement du joug d’un…

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Symphonies of the Planets

Although space is a virtual vacuum, this does not mean that there is no sound in space.  Sound does exist as electromagnetic vibrations.

Through specially designed instruments, the Voyager, INJUN 1, ISEE 1, and HAWKEYE space probes used Plasma Wave antenna to record the vibrations of the planets that they visited that are within the range of human hearing (20 to 20,000 Hz).

To be fair, however, they are often quiet; quiet enough that they are difficult, if not impossible, for the human ear to hear.

The recorded sounds are the complex interactions of charged electromagnetic particles from the Solar Wind, ionospheres, and planetary magnetospheres.  Here’s a sample of some of the recordings released by NASA:

Here is a recording (and photos) of the noise of the Singing Comet, 67P, as recorded by the Rosetta spacecraft (though in this case the volume has been increased by 10,000 times):

And here is a full playlist of the Symphony of the Planets.  These five CDs, which are now out of print, were created from the complex sounds recorded by the Voyager probes.

Yes, really.  This is real world stuff I’m talking about, not just Arcane Space!

So if you’d like to imagine what it sounds like aboard a Spelljamming ship, picture that the closer you got to a planetary body, the more of this kind of sound you would hear.  It would start as faint, water-like popping noises.  Then you would wonder when the wind noise had started.  Then you might notice a high-pitched drone like a wet finger on crystal or a Tibetan singing bowl.  In some cases (Suns, large planetary bodies) you might notice a low droning buzz, like the sound of a WWII airplane.  The closer you got to the planetary body, the louder it would get, and when you reached a planetary gravity plane, it would be a veritable cacophony to ears accustomed only to the creak of the ship, the flap of sails and the quiet of the Void; which would fade again into the background once you hit atmosphere and terrestrial noises began to reach your ears.  Or you might be sailing along in space, likely with continual distant popping sounds that would be more rapid the closer you were to the center of the sphere, and all of a sudden a Solar Gale might whip wind and ringing and high-pitched drones through the air envelope.  In which case, a sargasso might be heralded by a sudden, deafening silence.

 

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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