The Blighted Stars, by Megan E. O’Keefe

The Blighted Stars is my favorite book I read this year.  It’s loaded with things I like in science fiction: great action, compelling characters, complicated worldbuilding that isn’t spoon fed to the reader, and a mystery where the stakes just get bigger and bigger.  It’s a five star and will undoubtedly find a place in my 100 favorite SFF novels list when I revisit the rankings.

The reader is immediately thrown into the action as something we don’t quite understand (involving misprints…you’ll get it later) is happening on a spaceship above the blighted planet and our characters must escape.  They do, to the planet below and now must survive.  But survival also involves understanding of the lichen that is devouring worlds (including this planet) and each little reveal regarding the lichen adds to the tension and stakes. 

We experience the story primarily through the two main characters.  One is the son of what seems to be the most powerful man in the most powerful family in the galaxy, who is leading the expedition.  The other perspective is from a girl who is not who she says she is and is trying to bring down that powerful family.  Their relationship ultimately becomes the heart of the story, as both characters are complicated, and likeable.  Their interactions are filled with tension and complicated feelings they are both trying to understand.  Both are easy to root for, even if they aren’t exactly on the same side. 

I can’t wait to continue this series.  The novel works in so many ways, and there is plenty more to explore in the universe…and an incredibly high stakes problem still to solve. 

Felan’s Rescue is available in Ebook form (and Kindle Unlimited), AudiobookHardback, and Paperback!

The Descendants of Prontoth is available as an Ebook (and Kindle Unlimited), Audiobook, hardback and paperback!

 Seventh Contact is now available!

5 Star Novel – Deadhouse Gates, by Steven Erikson

1. Something unique about it –  The Chain of Dogs.  The main plotline of the book is an army protecting thousands of refugees as they flee across a continent.  Just a phenomenal idea, executed so well.

2. A Scene or Scenes that just stay with you-  There are many, but the scene outside Aren toward the end of the novel is heart wrenching.  

3. Memorable characters- Coltaine is about as memorable of a non-POV character as you will ever get.  Kalam and Fiddler really come into their own in this book.  We meet Mappo and Icarium and the mystery that surrounds them.  And the novel, like all Erikson novels, is deep with characters that somehow stick with you.

4. Doesn’t lose you with the details –  For as dense as Erikson’s writing is, my favorite thing about Malazan is that things really do move.  He doesn’t waste that much time.  I may not love every plot thread, but he’s not slowing things down to bog you down in detail.  In fact he’s making you work to understand things.

5. Just plain fun to read- Not much to add here.  This was a fun book with great actions scenes throughout the novel.  And I left one character off the memorable characters section just to bring him up here…Iskaral Pust is always an incredible time. 

(My Review of Deadhouse Gates is available from my top 100 SFF Novels Countdown)

My Top 5 Qualities of a 5-Star SFF Novel

1. Something unique about it

2. A Scene or Scenes that just stay with you.

3. Memorable characters

4. Doesn’t lose you with the details

5. Just plain fun to read.

Felan’s Rescue is available on Audiobook!

Felan’s Rescue is available in Ebook form (and Kindle Unlimited), Hardback, and Paperback!

The Descendants of Prontoth (Galactic Civilizations Book 2) is now available on Ebook and Kindle Unlimited.

The Descendants of Prontoth is now available in hardback and paperback!

1. (1) – Use of Weapons, by Iain M. Banks

Banks is my favorite author, and this is his best work, the one I immediately admired and knew would be among my favorites of all time.  Subsequent readings have further cemented its place at the very top.  While this was my favorite Banks novel, I still think for grand action sequences the escape from the Orbital in Phlebas takes the cake.  In nearly every other way Use of Weapons surpasses all of Banks’ other brilliant work.

The book is riveting. Its style takes a bit of getting used to, as alternating chapters take you from a present tense story that goes chronologically to flashbacks which by in large go in reverse order. It is in these reverse-order chapters that much of the depth is added to our protagonist, Cheradenine Zakalwe. The added knowledge of Zakalwe’s background and motives that you have by the end of the book invites you to scroll back and re-read certain parts. In the end, events that happened early on take on significantly more meaning once you fully understand everything going on.

If you are looking for great action scenes, an intriguing protagonist and a brilliantly tied-together story, Use of Weapons will certainly fit the bill.  But this novel is so much more than that.  It’s a study of grief and self-loathing.  It makes you laugh, it’s a damn good time and then it surprises you in a climax that is perfectly earned.  It’s simply the best.  My favorite novel of all time. 

Felan’s Rescue is now available on Audiobook!

Felan’s Rescue is now available in Ebook form (and Kindle Unlimited), Hardback, and Paperback!

2. (2) – Hyperion, by Dan Simmons

As far as Science Fiction goes Hyperion is as good as it gets (well I guess one place below as good as it gets). Written in the style of The Canterbury Tales with constant references to Keats, Simmons has constructed a masterpiece.  

The story is that of seven Pilgrims heading to the time tombs on the planet Hyperion. Each is making their journey for various reasons, reasons which we learn about from tales they each share. Each tale is written in a unique style that adds a ton of depth to each character. Your preference depends on personal taste…I will say I found the Priest’s tale to be exciting and mysterious, the consul’s tale to be touching, and the scholar’s tale to be emotionally excruciating (in the best way…so powerful).

I think the end of this novel is absolutely perfect, but it is impossible to be satisfied without reading the Fall of Hyperion… at the end, nothing has been resolved.  But that is beside the point.  This book is truly about the journey. 

Felan’s Rescue is now available on Audiobook!

Felan’s Rescue is now available in Ebook form (and Kindle Unlimited), Hardback, and Paperback!

3. (3) – A Storm of Swords, by George R. R. Martin

I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel where so many incredible scenes and sequences occurred over the course of the novel.  With a Storm of Swords, George R R Martin’s epic masterpiece gets better and better. It’s the third and best installment of A Song of Ice and Fire to date.  It was a long book, with absolutely nothing wasted.  It never dragged.  You were always on edge, yearning to see what happened next.

So many of the plots that have moved forward throughout the series come to a head. I am going to assume those reading this review have read at least the first two books in the series… (if not stop reading). This story has a strong focus on Jon Snow and his interactions with the wildlings which builds and continues to be a brilliant subplot. I love all of his interactions with Ygritte “You know nothing Jon Snow.”

As we left off from A Clash of Kings, Tyrion has saved Kings Landing (with the help of his Lord Father coming at the last second). In this story, we get a far greater understanding of where Tyrion came from. The book brings us up close with Cersei and Lord Tywin and allows the reader to gain perspective from Jaime Lannister (his scenes are among the best in this novel). I would say of my 10 favorite scenes in the series 6 are in this book (and that is not to take away from any other books which have great scenes). In this book, Arya’s plot really starts to pick up.   Never mind the famously epic scene with its own name.  I know many are frustrated we don’t have a book series end to ASOIAF, but we got A Storm of Swords, and in that, we are all very lucky.

Felan’s Rescue is now available on Audiobook!

Felan’s Rescue is now available in Ebook form (and Kindle Unlimited), Hardback, and Paperback!

4. (4) – Watership Down, by Richard Adams

A story about rabbits has no business being this wonderful…but here were are.  You won’t find Watership Down in the fantasy and science fiction sections of bookstores, but I don’t know that there is a more perfect example of world-building and character development than what we get in this book.  The relationships and emotions all feel human enough and yet are explored through the lens of how rabbits live.  It’s an incredible achievement.

This is a story of rabbits fleeing their home before it is destroyed and trying to find a new place to settle and rebuild.  At its core, it’s about strong bonds getting a desperate group through the most trying of times.  The characters are all distinct and memorable. 

There are countless memorable scenes in this beautiful work.  Mundane things like crossing a river and seeing cars drive down the street, are big events through the eyes of our characters.  Though the entire story is enrapturing, it really takes off to another level when our male rabbits go on a mission to Efrafa to find and bring back does.  There we meet General Woundwort, one of the truly great villains in literature. 

From that point on we see countless acts of compassion, bravery, and loyalty.  I’ll never forget Bigwig’s stand, protecting the Warren and revealing to Woundwort that he isn’t the chief rabbit.  I read Watership Down with skepticism…it was a story about rabbits after all.  Its brilliance transcended my skepticism.  It is truly one of the greatest novels ever written.

Felan’s Rescue is now available on Audiobook!

Felan’s Rescue is now available in Ebook form (and Kindle Unlimited), Hardback, and Paperback!

5. (5) – Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

Ender’s Game was really the book that started it all; the book that made me fall in love with Fantasy and Science Fiction.  I was assigned the book by my 8th Grade Advanced English Teacher and delayed reading the first 5 assigned chapters until 9:00 p.m. the night before they were due…then proceeded to read the novel until about 4 in the morning.  I could not put it down.  I was transfixed by the world Card created and have adored the genre ever since.

My tattered copy of Ender’s Game still sits in the drawer next to my bed.  Two other copies are displayed prominently on my bookshelf (one mass-market paperback, one hardback).  I’ll never have another reading experience quite like Ender’s Game.  It forever opened up a universe of incredible reads by incredible authors in the Fantasy and Science Fiction Genres. 

Ender’s game is a simple, hero’s journey story…where children are being trained as soldiers to protect the world from the next alien invasion.  Ender is a “third” child, in a world where governments cap births at two.  But the United States government gave his family permission to have a third child because they believed he would be a promising soldier.  Ender is ostracized for being a “third”, but the government’s hopes for what Ender can be are proven to be right and he is chosen for the prestigious Battle School in outer space. 

The heart of this book takes place at the Battle School where Ender is shaped to be a great military commander.  He enters Battle School at 6 years old and we follow him as he is trained, moves through multiple armies within the school, and continues to excel.  The time jumps, and progression as Ender ages are handled beautifully with his relationships at Battle School developed deftly even as things move quickly. 

We believe in Ender, love Ender, and so do most of those that serve with him and under him.  But the paradox is that as Ender becomes a leader to be loved and believed in by his classmates, he increasingly hates the person the teachers at the school are shaping him to be.  Ender’s internal battle as he strives to excel but also be the person he wants to be is the thread that makes this story so excellent.  It’s what keeps me coming back again and again and again and again and again…

Felan’s Rescue is now available on Audiobook!

Felan’s Rescue is now available in Ebook form (and Kindle Unlimited), Hardback, and Paperback!

6. (6) – Memories of Ice, by Steven Erikson

Malazan Book of the Fallen is a singular achievement in expansive, ambitious, Fantasy storytelling, and Memories of Ice is the series’ single greatest novel.   It’s the 3rd book in the series and while the first two books had plenty of great scenes and incredible creations like the Chain of Dogs, Memories of Ice was a thrill ride from beginning to end.

The Pannion Seer was a fascinating threat and so many of the intriguing characters from book one came into full focus here (Caladan Brood, Whiskey Jack, Anomandor Rake, Toc the Younger, Quick Ben and Kruppe to name a few). The prologue feels appropriately epic in scope and the story lives up to it. The payoff from not only the beginning of this book, but the prior books is immense. And despite the truly epic nature of the story, you get the feeling we are just on the edge of what is building with the Crippled God and the infection of the warrens.

All of what I write above does not even factor in the great new characters and the amazing siege of Capustan which takes up a significant portion of the middle of the book. Everything that happens in Capustan is amazing. I was invigorated by the Grey Swords’ defense of the city and fascinated by everything that happened with Gruntle.  The climax of this story is epic in every sense, with great action, and touching, emotional, character arcs.  The story is huge and feels huge.  In short, this book was amazing and I highly recommend it to everyone interested in truly epic fantasy.

Felan’s Rescue is now available on Audiobook!

Felan’s Rescue is now available in Ebook form (and Kindle Unlimited), Hardback, and Paperback!

7. (7) – A Fire Upon the Deep, by Vernor Vinge

I’ve seen it suggested that you shouldn’t start a novel with a question.  What about two questions?  Because Vinge does just that in A Fire Upon the Deep and his prologue is incredible.  “How to explain?  How to describe?  Even the omniscient viewpoint quails.”  The Prologue describes the waking of an old, incomprehensible evil, an evil so massive that even those who knew they’d awakened couldn’t comprehend its true magnitude.  “None of them guessed the truth.  None of them guessed the honor that had fallen upon them, that they had changed the future of a thousand million star systems.”

Immediately, the reader is aware of the sheer scope of this novel.  Vinge gradually reveals his “zones of thought”, where the laws of physics and what is possible differ depending on where you are in the system.  We learn of galaxy-traversing Civilization out in the Beyond, where faster-than-light travel is possible…but the Beyond is a strength for the Evil, one that puts the galaxy in peril. 

Vinge’s incredible novel isn’t limited to the galactic civilization.  We also get a story taking place on a small, isolated world where a civilization of dog-like creatures live (Tines).  The Tines communicate mind to mind, with multiple Tines forming one personality.  It’s a wonderfully imagined species, creating a fun aspect of the story.  Vinge wrote two of my favorite 9 science fiction and fantasy novels…both nearly perfect in every way. 

Felan’s Rescue is now available on Audiobook!

Felan’s Rescue is now available in Ebook form (and Kindle Unlimited), Hardback, and Paperback!

8. (8) – Dune, by Frank Herbert

Dune is by far my favorite, of what would largely be considered the classics in Science Fiction (I view the Classics as Science Fiction before 1980).  It’s a tail of deception between powerful families and their rivalries that shape the galaxy and the people in it.  It plays with the traditional, white savior narrative in a wonderfully inventive way.  Dune is nearly unrivaled as a novel for all those reasons.

The Harkonnens are perfect foils for the Atreides.  They are undoubtedly selfish, with acts that are easy to describe as evil, but they are far from caricatures.  Their schemes make sense, complex, but not needlessly so.  They combat various interests against each other to promote their own, and were it not for the centuries of planning from the Bene Gesserit, they likely would have eradicated House Atreides for good.

Dune is brilliant because it is so much more than the heroes’ journey it seems to be on its face.  Paul Atreides is complicated, his deeds not necessarily good or bad.  The spice is a perfect resource to center the conflict around.  The need for the spice shaping the houses, and the population (Fremen) that suffers under those galactic needs.  If you love Science Fiction and haven’t read Dune…what the hell are you doing?

Felan’s Rescue is now available on Audiobook!

Felan’s Rescue is now available in Ebook form (and Kindle Unlimited), Hardback, and Paperback!