Monday, April 28, 2008

Review: Ragamuffin by Tobias Buckell

Tobias Buckell follows up his debut novel, Crystal Rain, with an explosion of scale in Ragamuffin – we move from Caribbean-inspired steampunk/science fiction to full-blown space opera. Buckell is an action-packed, fun author of both subtly and brevity who is too often overlooked.

Ragamuffin begins by introducing Nashara, a human clone with modifications that upgrade her to ‘kick-ass’ and hold a nasty surprise weapon for the ruling alien empire, the Benevolent Satrapy. Nashara is on the run from an essentially failed mission, seeking a way to get home to one of the human dominated worlds long since cut-off from the empire. Humans have enjoyed a degree of independence as they survive on the fringes of the Satrapy, but a new policy of apparent elimination emerges as Nashara and others fight for survival. About half-way through the novel, Buckell rejoins the survivors on New Anagada from Crystal Rain and joins the two plot-lines – escalating things even further and leaving the promise of more to come in Sly Mongoose (August, 2008).

Buckell is oft lauded for a return to the roots of space opera with an interesting Caribbean spin – an adventure of the sort Hollywood drools over. This emphasizes the strength of Ragamuffin, while covering up the more subtle aspects that I found more enjoyable – battles, explosions, and general mayhem are great (and covered extensively in other reviews), but underlying these is some satisfying meat. Crystal Rain struggles with the ultimate weapon and the consequences of its use – we see both result and potential presented in various forms throughout. Ragamuffin evolves this theme further as we confront the reality of two species coming together to achieve a common goal – survival. The wrongs of the past cannot be forgotten and the way of the future is uncertain to say the least as each will do whatever they feel necessary to survive. Parallels to the world we live in are there, and in the blink of another explosion, Buckell moves on. Whatever the hope for the future is, Buckell doesn’t get there in Ragamuffin, but I eagerly await seeing where it does go in Sly Mongoose – surrounded I’m sure by explosions, war, and Pepper and Nashara kicking serious ass.

Buckell keeps things moving quickly and page counts relatively low. For me, this is a huge plus in spite of it raising a few issues. Characterization often suffers a bit for this – the main characters are generally portrayed well, others are caricatures and some leave us wanting much more. Of course this isn’t always the case as I literally applauded the death of a particularly annoying character that I suspect I wasn’t meant to applaud. At times the pacing can feel as if it moves in fits and starts and some relationships between characters seemingly spring from nowhere. But overall, these issues are minor and don’t spoil a refreshingly enjoyable read.

Ragamuffin builds on the strengths of Crystal Rain in a huge escalation of scale. These Caribbean-inspired books are loads of fun with something to offer all fans – highly recommended. 7.5/10

Related Posts: Review of Crystal Rain, Tobias Buckell Answers Questions Five

Thursday, April 24, 2008

New Contact Info

I mentioned in an earlier post that my mailing address has changed due to a move. Well, my email address has changed too - and my previous provider didn't waste any time deleting the account. I've updated my email address in my contact info on the side bar and sent out change of address emails to most of you, but feel free to contact me if needed. My new email is pretty simple - combine nethspace and gmail in the form that makes the most logical sense for an email and your there.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Win a Copy of Amber and Blood by Margaret Weis

The good folks over at Wizards of the Coast have sent me 4 copies of the latest Dragonlance book, Amber and Blood, for giveaway. This is Volume 3 of the Dark Disciple Trilogy and I’m sure it’s highly anticipated.


The Dark Disciple's fate will alter the future of Krynn.

In the concluding volume of this post-War of Souls trilogy, Mina learns the truth about herself and the terrible knowledge drives her insane. Rhys, the monk of Majere, accompanied by his dog Atta and the kender Nightshade, is given the dangerous assignment of guarding the crazed god, escorting her on a long, strange journey to the mysterious place known as Godshome, where Mina hopes to find the answer to the riddle of her existence. Their path is fraught with peril, for the undead Beloved want to make Mina their leader, even as the death knight Krell wants to seize her and Galdar tries to deliver Mina to her most hated enemy.

So, the rules are basically the same as you see elsewhere. Send me an email at
nethspace [at] gmail [dot] com
You’ll need to appropriately edit the email so I can avoid the spambots, or you can click on the email link in the sidebar which is coded ‘special’ to block the bots. Use AMBER in the subject and include your full name and mailing address (no P.O. boxes please). Only one entry per person. This contest not geographically limited, so it’s open to all. The deadline is Saturday, May 3rd.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Review: The Martian General’s Daughter by Theodore Judson

I try not to judge books by their covers, but The Martian General’s Daughter by Theodore Judson had me eagerly anticipating the book by the cover alone (cover by Sparth). I love the portrayal of the weathered old general dressed in a uniform looking like a holdover from the Civil War in front of an undeniably futuristic backdrop. On further examination I am drawn to the perhaps more compelling image of a young woman hovering in the background. When combined with the overall sense of shadow and decay, the cover becomes the perfect metaphor for the words to follow.

Set about 300 years into the future, The Martian General’s Daughter follows General Peter Black, both an ordinary and extraordinary man, and a general of unquestionable loyalty in a time when loyalty means little and gets you nowhere. General Black rose through the ranks in his service to older and perhaps more honorable Emperor’s and unquestioningly supports the new Emperor, insanity and all.

General Black is an alien among sad, corrupted men – a force to be reckoned with, in spite of his mundane and almost ordinary character. His introduction provides the best example:


The red dust the machines were raising was becoming very thick around the conveyer belt; some of the officers—including Brigadier Harriman, the second-in-command—were choking on the rolling clouds and were frantically waving their hands in front of their faces to make patches of breathable air. One of these officers, a young Spaniard named Arango, remarked to me how well the general endured the dust; the others were making a great show of their suffering while the old veteran remained seated, his eyes held straight ahead and his body rigid. “He is an example to us all,” said the young man. Not until the messengers came with the letter from Garden City did he realize that the general had gone to sleep.

At once we see the respect the general garners from the men serving him, the unexpected truth, and a hint of what his betters would think.

Told through the eyes of Justa, the general’s illegitimate daughter, we see the final throes of a once mighty empire. The story gains new dimensions as it moves forward – becoming as much the story of Justa as the general. We slowly learn bits and pieces of Justa’s past as she relates the story of her father. As an empire decays, we feel that Justa thrives and grows. In the end, we have three stories in one – the death of empire, the biography of a great general, and the growth a young woman.

Judson retells Roman history with this futuristic tale – standing on the well-known (and so often not headed) tenet: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. A better student of history than I will be able to judge the success of Judson’s historical parallels, but they feel right to me. This book can be read as the retelling of history, a cautionary tale of the future and past, or a subtle yet biting satire on our own America. In that Judson certainly succeeds without browbeating that can be so common.

The prose can be rather dry at times and the ending leaves conflicting emotions within me – the greater of which believes it to be fumbled in a warm-fuzzy kind of way. But these are not great enough weaknesses to take away from a thoroughly enjoyable book. 7.5/10

Friday, April 04, 2008

Miscellany

Here is another post of links I’ve found interesting over the past couple of weeks and a bit of general news. First, Neth Space is moving – at least the physical address is. Later this month I’ll be leaving the heat of Phoenix for the cool mountain air of Flagstaff – I can’t wait! So, my mailing address is changing – I’ve contacted most of those who send me books and such through email, but if this is news to you, send me an email (use the link in the sidebar – it’s pretty much spam-proof). Speaking of email, that may have to change too since I’ll be switching providers, but again, contact me and I can get you another email address that won’t be changing.

In another bit of news, Neth Space passed the 50,000 visits according to Site Meter – sure this is small potatoes for many of you out there, but to me, it’s something of milestone. Of course I don’t trust Site Meter all that much since I know it misses some visits and doesn’t account for RSS feeds, but it is a number I can point to. Thanks to all you new and repeat visitors – it does an ego good ;).













So, on to the links…

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