Review: Pawn’s Gambit

Posted on April 28th, 2016 @ 22:17
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Pawn's Gambit: And Other StratagemsPawn’s Gambit: And Other Stratagems by Timothy Zahn

My rating:


This collection showcases the career-launching short fiction of Timothy Zahn, acclaimed author of Blackcollar, the Quadrail series, and the #1 New York Times bestseller Star Wars: Heir to the Empire

The pieces included in Pawn’s Gambit range from the adventure science fiction Timothy Zahn is famous for to post-apocalyptic tales and humorous fantasy. In “The Price of Survival,” an alien ship arrives in our solar system without hostile intentions—but with a desperate need that could destroy humanity. “The Giftie Gie Us” is set in a post-apocalyptic United States, in which two lonely survivors find love among the ruins. And in the title story, a human and his alien opponent face off over a game that will decide which one of them will return home—and which will not. This collection also includes the Hugo Award–winning novella Cascade Point and eight stories previously unpublished in book form.


(I received a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

3.5 stars. Overall a decent collection of short stories, mostly science fiction, with some fantasy mixed in. I didn’t find any excellent, but none was really bad either, which makes for a good book to borrow, for want of actually buying it.

Some notes about the stories:

“The Price of Survival”: An interesting enough conundrum about how far two species are ready to go to survive. But while their representatives mourn about similar facts, the reasons that brought them to that point are different enough that it makes you reconsider the price to pay.

“The Giftie Gie Us”: I liked the idea behind the blind character. Still, it wasn’t my favourite story, probably because of the post-apocalyptic setting with its defined boundaries (Man hunts, Woman stays home… meh).

“The Final Report of the Lifeline Experiment”: Kind of a loaded topic here, however the experiment’s results may not be the ones you’d expect…

“Cascade Point”: One of my favourites. It deals with space travel/space bending/alternate realities gone wrong, as well as with the matter of one person’s happiness vs. the greater good. When the one person to be sacrificed will go back to a less than happy state, yet ignoring that choice will strip someone of their dignity, what should a captain choose?

“Music Hath Charms”: A bit of dark comedy here, that also raises the question of life’s worth in a different way. An alien artefact might actually kill thousands… or not?

“The President’s Doll”: Good idea (reverse voodoo, used to heal instead of harming), less thrilling execution. I’m not sure why. It just came out as flat for me.

“Clean Slate”: One of the fantasy stories, about a wizard who never got a chance to actually use his power to do good, and is ready to pay the price to do so at least once in his life, no matter what that price will be. Interestingly, the story made me think of Orson Scott Card’s writings about plot and world-building, and the author’s note confirmed why I had this feeling.

“Hitmen – See Murderers”: Another good idea that fell flat. What it posits gave me matter to think about, but the short story format didn’t leave room for more when it came to the flow of events, and I think a bit “more” would’ve been needed here to make this piece shine.

“Protocol”: In a colony where people live in fear of the mysterious Stryders, only very specific protocols allow them to survive encounters with those beings. However, what if the protocol were to fail, or if a yet undiscovered protocol was needed?

“Old-Boy Network”: Ethics and telepathy in a solar system where the wealthiest exploit whoever they want, in horrible ways. A bit heavy-handed in its criticism of ugly capitalism, though still another story that will make you think.

“Proof”: I could sense the ending coming. Still, it was a good game of cat and mouse, with reflections about whether we can trust what we see or not.

“The Ring”: A classical approach on the theme of boons and curses, of what price a man is ready to pay to get what he desires… but is it *truly* his heart’s desire?

“Trollbridge”: Urban fantasy story, about a lone troll desperately trying to protect “his” bridge, but up until now he hasn’t really bothered to wonder about other fae-like creatures. A somewhat light-hearted tale of survival in a modern world that will not leave any room to creatures of old… unless those very same creatures find another way.

“Chem Lab 301”: Not the most original plot ever, but a cute twist at the end.

“Pawn’s Gambit”: A study, through an alien-led experiment about gaming, of what would make another race dangerous or not in those aliens’ eyes… And Humans’ resourcefulness may be both an asset and a downfall here. Quite interesting, in part because the aliens’ point of view is somewhat valid, and in part because there’s still hope for humans to put their resources to witty uses.

In general, most of these stories tended to spin one or another aspect of what it means to be human, whether “a means to an end” is an appropriate way of living one’s life, about decisions and consequences, and how sometimes you may not have a choice–or may have to bend your thought processes to find another way. On the downside, some had less than stellar characters, who acted more like plot devices than real people, and weren’t very interesting.

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Review: Illuminae

Posted on April 26th, 2016 @ 19:30
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Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)Illuminae by Amie Kaufman

My rating:


This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.

This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.


4.5 stars. I had to wait for 4 months to finally be able to borrow it from the library (10 people ahead of me, bah), and I admit I was worried about the whole epistolary/chats/format thing, because it’s too easy to just slap “witty” formatting on pages and call that a good book. Fortunately, the story and characters really hooked me–yes, even though the “chat-speak” on some pages would normally quickly have annoyed me in other circumstances.

There was romance, but not of the stupid kind that casts a shadow on the whole plot. While Ezra and Kady do think about each other, after their world was turned upside down and forced them to reconsider the importance of a breakup for what I shall call “puny teenager reasons”, they didn’t spend their time mooning, groping each other, and sending the rest of their crews to hell just because feeeeeeelings. Contrary to what happens too often in many YA novels (you know, “the world is ending but we’re still too busy pondering who we want to go out with”). It wasn’t the best romance ever, but at least it was far from being the worst I read.

The format: fun to read, although I tended to prefer some aspects over others (the “chatspeak” conversations, for instance, weren’t my favourites). I think this was because of the whole “report” side of it, which made for a strange dichotomy in the narrative: both very factual (“here are recordings from camera X”) and unreliable (how were those recordings recovered and put back together?).

The characters: so I’ll be honest, Ezra and Kady were “good” to read about but not really more. Ezra enlisted to help, not knowing much to what he was signing up for, yet aware someone should help, and gradually revealing a few things about his family that were hard to suspect at first. I didn’t care for Kady much at first, because of her sullen, do-not-want-to-do-that attitude; however, she redeemed herself later, and anyway was more of an action girl with a bit of romance on the side than the usual (and annoying) lovestruck heroine who lets The Boy do all the work.

Yet as far as I’m concerned, the one character I really, really loved reading about was AIDAN. It’s crazy and damaged and desperately trying to latch upon what’s left of its programming, pushing its core directives in directions that may or may not be completely at odds with what the crews of the three spaceships would like (or need). And in doing so, in being so, it was all so human, spiralling towards both destruction and a new awareness.

And, frankly, I just loved that AI. It added at least a full star to my rating. No kidding. And just for AIDAN, I’d read it again. (Also for the unreliable parts I mentioned above, and the way they tie together, and you’d better pay attention to a few tiny details here and there.)

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Review: Life After Dane

Posted on April 21st, 2016 @ 19:14
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Life After DaneLife After Dane by Edward Lorn

My rating:


A mother’s love is undying… and so is Dane.

After the state of Arkansas executes serial killer Dane Peters, the Rest Stop Dentist, his mother discovers that life is darker and more dangerous than she ever expected.

The driving force behind his ghostly return lies buried in his family’s dark past. As Ella desperately seeks a way to lay her son’s troubled soul to rest, she comes face to face with her own failings.

If Ella cannot learn why her son has returned and what he seeks, then the reach of his power will destroy the innocent, and not even his mother will be able to stop him.


[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Well, that was quite a twisted ride here. A sort of “making of a serial killer”, seen through the eyes of the killer’s mother, Ella, as she reminisces about the past after her son’s death, while stranger and stranger events start happening around her.

Dane Peters, a serial killer known as the Rest Stop Dentist (after his places of killing and his “collection” of teeth from his victims), is gone, sentenced to death and executed. It’s time for his mother, who followed the trial for months, to go back home, where she finds shelter in religion, the only thing she has left—and even that is less than certain, for Dane’s reputation as well as an article by journalist Sven Gödel have tainted her, made her into “the killer’s mother”, and he own church may not want her anymore. So Ella tries to go on as she can, but her enemies are many, tagging her house at night and leaving accusatory articles in her mailbox, while her friends, like Talia, are few.

Enters Dane, his presence brought back through a DVD he left in Sven’s care, a video containing a last message for the person he loved most. His mother? Well… This is when Hell on Earth breaks for Ella and Sven, haunted more and more by Dane. A real ghost? A common hallucination? A hallucination that can hurt and kill, for sure. Threatened and manipulated, the mother and the journalist have no choice but to go on a sick quest of Dane’s making. But did Dane turn evil just because it was in his nature, or did someone made him into a killer?

For me, the supernatural and horror aspects were intriguing, but what interested me even more was the abuse running rampant in Dane’s family. While I would definitely disagree with anyone affirming that being abused as a child turns people evil, the fact is, abuse in any form is very, very likely to leave children (and their future adult selves) scarred, in one way or another. This novel is perhaps more a study of abuse than a ghost/horror story: a study in how a father perpetuates on his son what was done to him, on how a scared mother may choose to turn a blind eye on said abuse, thus becoming complicit in the daily torture, on how love can get horribly warped, on crappy justifications to horrible actions…

As a result, the main characters felt unpleasant yet also sympathetic, a dichotomy that isn’t so easy to achieve. Unpleasant because of their flaws, their tendency to justify them, their voluntary blindness to ugly truths, their hypocrisy, too (Ellaconsidering herself a good Christian, while letting the abuse go on). Sympathetic, because, all in all, Ella and Dane were victims first and foremost (to use the same example, Ella found refuge in her beliefs precisely because facing the truth alone was too hard and she was too scared).

And, to be honest, the teeth motif particularly struck me: losing teeth is one of my deep fears, and in general, anyway, imagining people having their teeth ripped out of their mouths is… just frightening. It hurts terribly, it touches you directly in your face, so close to the seat of your thoughts, it disfigures you, and it’s such a horrible way to bleed to death, too…

Nice touch at the very end, too, but I’m certainly not going to spoil anything.

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Review: Monstrous Little Voices

Posted on April 19th, 2016 @ 22:19
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Monstrous Little Voices: New Tales From Shakespeare's Fantasy World (Monstrous Little Voices, #1-5)Monstrous Little Voices: New Tales From Shakespeare’s Fantasy World by Jonathan Barnes

My rating:


Mischief, Magic, Love and War.

It is the Year of Our Lord 1601. The Tuscan War rages across the world, and every lord from Navarre to Illyria is embroiled in the fray. Cannon roar, pikemen clash, and witches stalk the night; even the fairy courts stand on the verge of chaos.

Five stories come together at the end of the war: that of bold Miranda and sly Puck; of wise Pomona and her prisoner Vertumnus; of gentle Lucia and the shade of Prospero; of noble Don Pedro and powerful Helena; and of Anne, a glovemaker’s wife. On these lovers and heroes the world itself may depend.

These are the stories Shakespeare never told. Five of the most exciting names in genre fiction today – Jonathan Barnes, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Emma Newman, Foz Meadows and Kate Heartfield – delve into the world the poet created to weave together a story of courage, transformation and magic.

Including an afterword by Dr. John Lavagnino, The London Shakespeare Centre, King’s College London.


[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

A tale told through five different shorter stories, and by the hand of five different authors. “Monstrous Little Voices” picks some of Shakespeare’s plays (“The Tempest”, “Macbeth”, “Twelfth Night”…) and extrapolates on their themes and characters. Gender identity, the roles a gender may impose on a person, one’s decision to shake off those shackles and keep living without a care for the shape they’re in, the bravery of women acting “like men” (to the dismay of said men, poor creatures!)… More than once are those explored, while all the stories gather around a plot of impending war and intrigue, under the watchful eyes of fairies with their own agendas, and deities with shady plans as well.

There are a lot of cameos and cross-references here, and not knowing the works from which they sprang would lead to missing on quite a few good parts, so be prepared to brush up your Shakespeare before diving into this collection, and to know who we’re talking about when mentioning Miranda, Puck, Paroles or Helen—not to mention those characters who allude at yet other sources… much like Shakespeare himself found inspiration in various sources as well. And so, many, many times, the five tales entertwining here do so with their faire amount of echoes.

The first, second and third were clearly my favourites, both for their plots and for their themes. “Coral Bones” is the story of Miranda’s journey, after she left her island and realised that life among men, abiding by laws written for Man by men, was nothing to write home about. I particularly liked her take on gender, on wanting to be “human” and “oneself” above anything else, of not agreeing with those for whom gender should define one’s behaviour and ways of thinking. And this story definitely shows her as more resourceful and cunning than one would think. “The Course of True Love” was ripe with magic, metamorphoses, questioning about one’s true nature—and seeing older people at the heart of romance was extremely refreshing, showing that love can be born anywhere, anytime. As for “The Unkindest Cut”, I liked its self-fulfilling prophetic contents, and how it played on twisting words and visions; its end is bittersweet, full of dark promises… but here, too, showing another female character who’s determined to take her life between her hands (in an interesting twist, considering how blank she was at first, when all she wanted was to marry The Man).

On the other hand, I admit I didn’t care much for stories #4 and #5. “Even in the Cannon’s Mouth” felt too disjointed, a feeling made stronger as the story sometimes shifted to present tense. Finally, “On the Twelfth Night” tied the other stories in a way that somewhat made sense… but I have such a hard time with second person POV that trudging through those last pages wasn’t too pleasant (it’s even more jarring when the “you” is actually named, and isn’t “you the reader”—this just doesn’t make sense).

Conclusion: the first three stories were the root of most of my enjoyment here; I wished it had been the same with the others. 3,5 stars.

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Review: Paper Girls vol. 1

Posted on April 17th, 2016 @ 10:33
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Paper Girls Vol. 1Paper Girls Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan

My rating:


In the early hours after Halloween of 1988, four 2-yearold newspaper delivery girls uncover the most important story of all time. Suburban drama and otherworldly mysteries collide in this smashhit series about nostalgia, first jobs, and the last days of childhood. Collects PAPER GIRLS #1-5.


[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Intriguing premise, but lacking in execution, as events piled upon each other at a rhythm that obfuscated them a little too much.

It all starts with four 12-year old girls delivering newspapers in the early hours of the morning, in 1988 Cleveland, and quickly moves from mundane occurrings (bullying from shady teenagers) to weird ones. While running after a group of three shrouded figures who’ve slighted them, the girls discover some strange machine in a basement; a bright flash of white light later, everybody’s gone from town, and armoured-clad soldiers on dinosaurs stalk the streets to off every “straggler” they find. And this is only the beginning of Weird…

I liked the basic idea: people disappearing, those four kids armed only with their bikes and walkie-talkies (no internet or cell phones in 1988!), taken in the cross-fire between the armoured people and the shrouded ones, trying to make sense of it all while surviving… Not to mention a certain nostalgia permeating the whole story—enought to be felt, but not too much, not the point of too much name dropping or constantly referring to 80s items (the graphic format allows to put them here without having to underline their presence like a novel may have to).

On the other hand, so many events end up piled upon each other—so many weird things, without any actual revelation— that, just like the girls stumbling from situation to situation without a clue about what to do next, the reader too can feel confused. It’s not about getting all the information immediately, because that’d be no fun; still, there’s a very fine line between “mystery” and “a ton of mystery”, and the latter here is made up of one too many of those strange occurrings. Is it horror? Sci-fi? Is it about aliens or time travel? I had the feeling that the authors wanted to add as many elements as possible to deepen the mystery, without seeing where the line was; as a result, it’s a bit overkill for a first volume.

It would also have been nice to know more about the characters, since this would make it easier to relate to what’s happening to them (Mac’s family, Erin’s nightmares…). I didn’t feel like I had enough of a grasp on these girls to properly care about how they’d cope with events here.

The art and colours are good; my copy had compressed graphics, which dampened a bit my enthusiasm, but as I got a PDF for review, obviously this isn’t in the printed version. Ad it has some fairly decent dialogue linesm too.

Just for the artwork, this is worth keeping an eye on. Nevertheless, the story itself doesn’t sem to be going anywhere, being more a collage of “this weird thing happens, then this other weird thing, then yet another weird thing.”

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