Book Review: Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

Old Man's War by John Scalzi

Title: Old Man’s  War

Author: John Scalzi

Series: Old Man’s War #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce– and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding... -Goodreads

The Review:

I’m so glad I finally started The Old Man’s War series – it’s every bit as good as I’d hoped it would be. Filled with humor, action, exploration, and a touch of sentimentality, if you’re looking for your next great sci-fi read, this may be it! The book is essentially about John Perry, a 75-year-old man who signs up for the Army to fight an intergalactic war. John’s POV was my favorite element of the book. His “wisened” outlook on life and general mannerisms were a delightful contrast to the hard-assed whippersnappers who usually star in good sci-fi. The POV definitely elevated an already good story to a fantastic one, but lord save me from old-man jokes (okay, fine. I laughed at all of them).

I also really love to the type of science fiction the book was: a perfect blend of technological advancement, alien interactions, and militaristic elements. The best part is, I think Scalzi has only just scratched the surface of it’s potential in this first book. The first half of the novel moved at a significantly slower pace than the second half, which was great because it felt more organic, giving the latter parts of the book higher impact by contrast. So rest assured, if you pick it up and wonder if it actually goes somewhere, the answer is an emphatic yes – and hang onto your seats when you get there. Incidentally, the slower sections were my favorites.

I mentioned a bit of sentimentality at the beginning of the review. There is a, shall we say “softer” element near the end of the book that I didn’t necessarily care for. It’s the only thing that pinged against my rating, even though it really wasn’t a big factor in the whole scheme of things. I liked the idea, but thought it was a bit too heavy-handed. I’m hoping it will smooth out a bit in the second book (which I will definitely be reading ASAP).

Overall, Old Man’s War was one of the most interesting science fiction I’ve read. I think it fits the bill as both a must-read for seasoned sci-fi lovers and a great introductory novel for new readers of the genre. If you loved Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game as a young adult (as I did), Old Man’s War is its perfect evolution.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Foreigner by C.J. Cherryh

Foreigner by C. J. Cherryh

Title: Foreigner

Author: C.J. Cherryh

Series: Foreigner #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 1.5/5 stars

The Overview: The first book in C.J. Cherryh’s eponymous series, Foreigner begins an epic tale of the survivors of a lost spacecraft who crash-land on a planet inhabited by a hostile, sentient alien race.

From its beginnings as a human-alien story of first contact, the Foreigner series has become a true science fiction odyssey, following a civilization from the age of steam through early space flight to confrontations with other alien species in distant sectors of space. It is the masterwork of a truly remarkable author. -Goodreads

The Review:

From the GR overview: above “begins an epic tale” is likely the most misleading one I’ve ever read. It gives the impression that something actually happens in the first book. I technically should be discussing Foreigner in a DNF Q&A because I stopped reading with only two chapters to go. I figured since I hit the 95% mark, I feel justified giving it a normal review.

I did not like it.

Issue #1: it had three beginnings.

Cherryh began her story, jumped through in time, began another story, then jumped through time again to start what was actually the bulk of the book. This was an issue for a couple of reasons, the foremost of which was that it took so much concentration and effort to remember all the characters introduced in the two “prologues”, that by the time the main story kicked in, my give-a-shit was busted. I didn’t really focus for the first few chapters of the main story because I kept expecting it to jump ahead again. Instead, it proceeded to drag on for another 300+ pages. I think what upsets me the most is how good the first two” starts” were and how much potential it had (and wasted).

Issue #2: the main character was very unlikable.

And not in an anti-hero “I’m an ass hole and I don’t care who knows it” kind of way, but in an entitled, “spoiled little rich boy” kind of way. Most of his contributions involved excessive whining about the lack of good accommodations and how much he wanted his mail. It was insufferable, and I can’t think of anything I actually liked about him. Harsh but true.

Issue 3: the entire story took place on the periphery of the action.

I don’t want dozens and dozens of pages of speculation on what happened. I want to EXPERIENCE it myself through the character. If there’s nothing to engage your character, apparently the solution is to infuse political speculation of no consequence. The character basically just sat there either thinking about politics, how bored he was, or, God help me, his lost mail. The general rule of thumb is, if your character is bored, your reader is board. And despite my aversion to politics in real life, I actually love reading them in books – especially between humans and interesting alien species. This book should have been an amazing cluster of intrigue, but there was very little actual political maneuvering. Just a bunch of theory and historical information (yawn). The only redeeming quality was the alien beings themselves – wicked cool (cover image).

Overall, there was so little plot advancement that Foreigner could have easily been summed up in about 50 pages or less. I’m very disappointed. I think hopes of what the story could be was what kept me reading, but I lost all gusto when I realized it just wasn’t going to get there. I’ve been collecting hardcovers for this 18 book saga for years and was looking forward to immersing myself in them and now I’m not sure what to do with them. I might go back and finish Foreigner to continue on one day, but not for a long, long while.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Mini Book Review: Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey

Title: Babylon’s Ashes

Author: James S.A. Corey

Series: The Expanse #6

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: The Free Navy – a violent group of Belters in black-market military ships – has crippled the Earth and begun a campaign of piracy and violence among the outer planets. The colony ships heading for the thousand new worlds on the far side of the alien ring gates are easy prey, and no single navy remains strong enough to protect them. James Holden and his crew know the strengths and weaknesses of this new force better than anyone. Outnumbered and outgunned, the embattled remnants of the old political powers call on the Rocinante for a desperate mission to reach Medina Station at the heart of the gate network. But the new alliances are as flawed as the old, and the struggle for power has only just begun. As the chaos grows, an alien mystery deepens. Pirate fleets, mutiny, and betrayal may be the least of the Rocinante’s problems. And in the uncanny spaces past the ring gates, the choices of a few damaged and desperate people may determine the fate of more than just humanity. –Goodreads

The  Mini Review:

Babylon’s Ashes is what I’m calling the “stepping stone” novel of the series. Its purpose was to wrap up fallout from the events that happened in the amazingness that was Nemesis Games and set up for what’s to come in Persepolis Rising (which doesn’t have a release date yet, but I’m wagering sometime around December 2017). Because it felt more like a transition novel, I didn’t rate it quite as highly as others in the series. Comparatively, especially coming off of Nemesis Games (possibly my favorite of the series), Babylon’s Ashes had nothing particularly earth-shattering about it. There was definite plot progression, and a few poignant moments, but overall it was a little underwhelming. I also had a difficult time focusing at the beginning until the story really got going, which is unusual.

To clarify – I think Babylon’s Ashes was an important chapter in the saga but it didn’t bring as much action and excitement as its predecessors. What it did bring was lots of good character interactions and, as exciting as the plot can get, it’s these well developed, relatable characters who keep me coming back for more. My favorite character has always been Avasarala (a snarky politician who always says what she thinks – whom incidentally, I was thrilled to see introduced earlier in the TV series), but there are many great ones to choose from. Any one of them could rank as my favorite depending on the day.

So, overall, compared to most books, Babylon’s Ashes was a knockout. Compared to The Expanse series as a whole, it was a little tame. I still love the series though – reading a new Expanse novel feels like coming home. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Trilogy Review: Raven’s Shadow by Anthony Ryan

The Raven’s Shadow Trilogy
by Anthony Ryan
4.5/5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed the Raven’s Shadow Trilogy, especially the first book, Blood Song. It was easily a 5 star read and one of the best fantasies I’ve read since Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives. It focused on one character – Vaelin, and his coming of age story. Taking place in the school (one of my favorite settings) it offered a combative learning environment that honestly reminded me of Harry Potter adventures meets the medieval, gritty reality of Game of Thrones. The camaraderie that Vaelin formed with his fellow “brothers” was an excellent dynamic, one which I wish had carried through the rest of the trilogy.

After finishing the first book (and fangirling about it for a few days) I quickly became aware that people weren’t loving the second and third books nearly as much. I have a few theories as to why. The sequels are very different from the first one. What an author puts forth in initially is usually a promise to the reader of what’s to come and readers expect at least a bit of consistency of storytelling (which Ryan failed to deliver because his tale took off in a completely different direction).

His story also went from a single point of view to multiple, bouncing around in a very Game of Thrones manner. I actually liked the different perspectives, each one adding a missing piece to the puzzle and written as well as Vaelin. Ironically, though, the passages involving Vaelin, the initial hero of the saga, became the least interesting… odd, right? This overall story arc remained the same, but everything built up in the first book got swept under the rug in favor of these other storylines.

While I understand how this could lead to a lot of disappointment, I admit I enjoyed Tower Lord (book 2) almost as much is the first book. Heck, I even liked about 80% of Queen of Fire (book 3) save one chunk near the end where I was incredibly bored and found it difficult to get through… once I did though, I liked the ending.

Overall, even though my personal experience with the series differs from the majority, I still think the consensus is that Blood Song is worth reading even if you don’t plan to continue on.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: The Gates to Futures Past by Julie E. Czerneda

gate to futures pastTitle: The Gates to Futures Past

Author: Julie E. Czerneda

Series: Reunification #2

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4/5 stars

Release Date: September 6, 2016

The Overview: Betrayed and attacked, the Clan fled the Trade Pact for Cersi, believing that world their long-lost home. With them went a lone alien, the Human named Jason Morgan, Chosen of their leader, Sira di Sarc. Tragically, their arrival upset the Balance between Cersi’s three sentient species. And so the Clan, with their newfound kin, must flee again. Their starship, powered by the M’hir, follows a course set long ago, for Clan abilities came from an experiment their ancestors—the Hoveny—conducted on themselves. But it’s a perilous journey. The Clan must endure more than cramped conditions and inner turmoil. Their dead are Calling. Sira must keep her people from answering, for if they do, they die. Morgan searches the ship for answers, afraid the Hoveny’s tech is beyond his grasp. Their only hope? To reach their destination. Little do Sira and Morgan realize their destination holds the gravest threat of all…. -Goodreads

The Review:

“The Gates to Futures Past” is another installment in a long line of books following Sira (a powerful Clan woman in a human-dominated universe) and Morgan (Sira’s human partner in crime with plenty of power of his own). The series began with “A Thousand Words for Stranger” (“The Trade Pact Universe” #1) back in 1997 and has only grown more dynamic and interesting since. I’m very passionate about this author – she is one of my favorite science fiction writers for a couple of reasons: she has well-rounded characters who stick with you long after you finish the books, uses a brilliant infusion of biology to make her flora and fauna more realistic and creative (she was a biologist before becoming a writer, which I think gives her an edge), and her books always have delightful splashes of humor. While this saga in particular isn’t my absolute favorite from this author (averaging only 4 out of 5 stars), I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

Any day I have a chance to dive into Sira and Morgan’s world is a good day, so it really doesn’t matter what they’re doing for me to enjoy reading about them. That said, from a story-construction perspective, “The Gates to Futures Past” spent a ton of time (about half the book) stagnating in the same setting. Now, I’m not sure how the author could have progressed the plot convincingly without a good portion of the novel committed to the same setting, but as a reader, I eventually hit a point where I was like, “So… when does the real story begin?” But when I finally reached the halfway mark, the story exploded with awesomeness. It was worth the wait.

And actually, the whole saga was kind of worth the wait. It has been slowly building up to the specific story points being explored in this most recent trilogy. At the very back of “A Rift in the Sky” (the final book in her “Stratification” Trilogy), almost as an afterthought, Czerneda conveyed the following in her Author’s Note:

I hope you enjoy the first six books of the Clan Chronicles. Once you have, I hope you paid attention and have questions.

Because I promise…

You ain’t seen nothing yet.

As you can imagine, I was super excited to see what the author had in store next. I also thought those were some risky words on the author’s part to commit in writing – with all the buildup and anticipation she was creating, her readers had no choice but to expect a big payoff. Well, after reading this most recent novel, the story is definitely living up to its potential!

At the risk of sounding overly critical, the only issue I had with this book (and others in the saga) is an occasional lack of clarity. The author has a tendency not to write in complete sentences, especially when she’s trying to be deliberately vague to help build suspense. Her unique sentence construction often gives her a distinct voice, one which is very strong, creative, and immersive, but every once in a while can lead to a bit of confusion. Each book has these “Interludes” where she talks about the M’hir (a place from which the Clan draw their power… I’ve always kind of thought of it as a sub-space type of place) and the entities within it. She writes it as more from a sensory standpoint than a descriptive one, which often left me lost on what was happening, perhaps deliberately so (even when I was studying this series while competing in Czerneda’s beta reader competition, I still wasn’t totally sure I knew what was going on). Anyway, even if eventually these passages made more sense, it can be a little frustrating spending so much time and focus trying to understand them from the get-go. I didn’t have this issue with any of her other stories, which is the only reason why I didn’t rate these quite as high (but like I said, they are still entertaining reads).

Overall, if you like science fiction of the space opera variety, I highly recommend Julie E. Czerneda. “The Gates to Futures Past” is the 2nd book of the 3rd trilogy in this saga. “The Trade Pact Universe” trilogy is where Sira’s story begins, and “Reap the Wild Wind” is the beginning of the prequel “Stratification” trilogy. Really, you can read them in either order, but I think I would steer you more towards beginning with “The Trade Pact Universe” trilogy. Both trilogies contribute heavily to this “Reunification” trilogy, so I would definitely recommend devouring both of those before starting this one.

I’d like to thank Berkley Publishing Group, Julie E. Czerneda, and NetGalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of The Gates of Futures Past!

Other books you might like (besides ALL THE THINGS Czerneda):

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Title: Hyperion

Author: Dan Simmons

Series: Hyperion Cantos #1

Genre:  Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 stars

The OverviewOn the world called Hyperion, beyond the law of the Hegemony of Man, there waits the creature called the Shrike. There are those who worship it. There are those who fear it. And there are those who have vowed to destroy it. In the Valley of the Time Tombs, where huge, brooding structures move backward through time, the Shrike waits for them all. On the eve of Armageddon, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion seeking the answers to the unsolved riddles of their lives. Each carries a desperate hope—and a terrible secret. And one may hold the fate of humanity in his hands.

The Review:

“Hyperion” was an interesting book, but it’s difficult to convey what the story was about in a summary. It’s one of those books that gradually reveals its purposes as the plot progresses. In a nutshell, a handful of POV characters journey to Hyperion – an enigma of a world made even more mysterious by the presence of the Shrike (see cover for visual – it’s the big metallic being). As each character expands on their connection to this world, you start to get a sense of what’s really going on.

“Hyperion” is definitely a thought-provoking book. Although it started out with heavy religious overtones (the first perspective being the religious POV), it soon captured my imagination with a complex mystery and only got more engaging from there. It was not a feel-good story. It was the kind of gritty, morbid tale that kept me page-turning well into the night despite the ever growing knot in my stomach. Then it kept me up even longer as my brain tried to sort out all the information learned about this world, the Shrike, and their effects on time itself. It’s ironically exhausting… and kind of brilliant.

Time manipulation in stories is a tricky thing. It can go from a clever idea to convoluted in a heartbeat. I often  find myself finishing such books or shows slightly confused, wondering if I missed a critical detail somewhere or if the author just failed to communicate it clearly (it’s usually a bit of both). In “Hyperion,” Simmons did a decent job of presenting his concept in segments which were easier to digest. In fact, his overall presentation of all pertinent information was very carefully placed and effective. It allowed me to build my own theories alongside the characters based on every new revelation. That’s the sort of engaging interaction I always enjoy within books. Overall, it’s one of the better conceptual time-manipulation novels I’ve ever read.

Another note in “Hyperion’s” favor was its timelessness. It was written when I was 4 years old (O_o) yet read as though it was written within the last couple of years (and will likely do so for many to come). It illustrated just how smart Dan Simmons is at story construction. Surmising from just the text, Simmons comes across as a very well read, intelligent person. It was awesome to pick up on all the literary references throughout the plot, and I’ve always been impressed with authors who can present POV characters with such integral differences in perspective on complex issues such as religion and politics, and do so convincingly. I have no idea where the author’s personal stances are on these issues, and that something I oddly love about his writing.

I can  easily see why classic sci-fi lovers rave about this book and defend their 5 star ratings to the ends of the earth. My conservative 3 star rating, however, hopefully conveys appreciation for the book while acknowledging that it didn’t quite blow me away on all accounts. I think the culprit might be the fact that there’s no silver lining or hope in this book. It definitely doesn’t leave you with anything but gloom and that aforementioned knot in your stomach. Now, I don’t need books to be about butterflies and rainbows to enjoy them, but I do need at least a tiny ray of sunshine to give me hope that the story could end well and that the characters are working towards something meaningful. Part of this can be attributed to the format of this first book – the multiple POVs were presented in a reflectional format where all the focus was on what came before. While interesting, it didn’t leave a lot of room for plot advancement, and in fact made  most of the book read like a collection of prequel novellas leading up to the actual beginning of the story.

Overall, I liked “Hyperion” but it didn’t land among my favorites.  It is still an awesome contribution to classic sci-fi and worth your time if you like the genre.

 Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes