Monday, December 30, 2019

Best Reads of 2019

What a year it's been! For a moment there I didn't think we'll ever make it to the end. Yet, here we are in the last days of 2019. Finally...

As the year draws to a close it's time to look back and share some of my best reads of the year.  Despite all the challenges the year brought, it was an exceptionally good reading year for me. In total I read 81 books (52 novels, 23 graphic novels, 4 novellas and 2 anthologies).

In no particular order these are the best books I read in 2019...

The Shadows of the Apt Series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

2019 has pretty much been the year of Tchaikovsky. My entire list could very easily be filled by the entirety of the books in the The Shadows of the Apt series. Tchaikovsky manages to add a unique spin to familiar fantasy tropes with a world that blurs the lines of what we've come to expect from fantasy. It has a little bit of everything, the sheer scope of the world and all it has in play is just mind-blowing. A worthy addition to the ranks of the great fantasy series of our time. Up there with The Wheel of Time and A Song of Ice and Fire.

Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Another Tchaikovsky novel. I simply adored Children of Time (who wouldn't love intelligent space spiders?)  Children of Ruin is a worthy sequel to the groundbreaking Children of Time. Tchaikovsky once again excels at portraying and exploring inhuman intelligence in its varied forms. This is one adventure you definitely don’t want to miss out on!

Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky

What do we have here? Yes, it's yet another Tchaikovsky. This time round in novella format. Walking to Aldebaran is a science fiction novella which takes some very unexpected twists and turns and brings new meaning to the the term unreliable narrator. You never quite know what to expect and it’s only in later contemplation that you manage to glimpse everything that’s really in play - a decline into madness, something truly alien, a deftly executed literary allusion or all of the above? Wonderfully weird, this story will have you puzzling over it long after the last page has been turned.

The Institute by Stephen King

Stephen King has yet another winner on his hands. The Institute is a fast-paced read which takes real-world events, gives it that unique Stephen King spin and converts it into a captivating and heartbreaking story of stolen childhood. While it might not offer any surprises it's still a great read exploring the cost of what is done in the name of the greater good. If you are new to Stephen King and a fan of Stranger Things this would be a great starting point.

Ravencry by Ed McDonald

It's hard to do Ravencry justice in a review. It's both a touching emotional journey and a bloody, unstoppable delight. The ending will destroy you and leave you wanting more. McDonald has exceeded all my expectations and I can't wait to discover the wonders the third book brings. Highly recommended!

Irredeemable by Mark Waid

The Irredeemable comic series explores the cataclysmic effect of a superhero going bad. Can someone be so evil that they become irredeemable? This is a superb comic series and the very last panel simply raises this to an entirely different level. Physical copies are nearly impossible to find, but even if you have to resort to getting it in digital format it is WELL worth it! (Seems there is an omnibus edition of Irredeemable scheduled to come out in June 2020 which will be an absolute must have!)

There were so many (SO MANY) books I really wanted to read, but didn't manage to get to. My TBR pile of 2019 releases have developed into a mini-mount of staggering proportions all on its own. I can neither confirm nor deny that the stack is taller than I am!

I'm sure I'll be distracted by all the new shinies that 2020 will bring, but I'll get to them eventually. Thankfully there's no expiration dates on good books!

I wish you all an amazing 2020. May your year be filled with fantastical worlds to escape to when the pressures of reality gets too much!

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Review: The Uplift Series by David Brin

I had a vague recollection of reading one of David Brin’s Uplift novels as a teen and loving it. Since Goodreads didn’t exist back then I wasn’t sure which one it might have been. All I knew was that it had dolphins in it. Since I had bought the entire Uplift series some years ago I thought it was about time to finally find out if teenage me had good taste.

The Uplift series by David Brin consists of six books which are divided into two separate trilogies. The main premise revolves around the idea of uplifting species into sapience. The normal course of events in the universe is that a patron race uplifts a client race into sapience, bringing them into the fold of galactic society. The client race is indentured to their patron race for a period of 100,000 years, thereafter they are allowed to uplift client races of their own. Uplifting a species brings prestige not only to their patron but also to the race that originally uplifted the patron race. Humanity is an anomaly, having not only seemingly uplifted themselves without the aid of a patron, but also uplifting chimpanzees and dolphins by the time they first encounter galactic society.

The books in the first trilogy are only loosely related and you can pretty much read them as standalone novels.

Sundiver - Humanity explores the sun and the strange lifeforms they find there.

This was a long and ponderous read. I came in with high expectations and it didn't manage to fulfill on any of the promise it had. Only in the last 100 pages does the pacing pick up, and the focus on Uplift simply isn't there. This is more akin to a golden age space adventure which turns into a whodunnit in space. You might want to just skip this entirely. ⭐⭐

Startide Rising - An EarthClan exploratory vessel crewed by dolphins and humans make a discovery that could change galactic civilization forever. Pursued by fanatic races, the Streaker’s crew must protect their discovery at all cost.

A far better read than Sundiver. Startide Rising still suffers from slow pacing and Brin’s tendency to go off on tangents that don’t progress the main plot. You also don’t get any real resolution by the end. Having read the entire series I think Startide Rising might be the best book of the lot. It also turns out that this is the book teenage me loved. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Uplift War - An EarthClan colony is invaded and held hostage in order to force Earth to give up Streaker’s discovery. Isolated the colony must resort to guerrilla warfare to save themselves

I started reading this to try to find out what finally happens to Streaker and their discovery. Turns out Streaker doesn’t make an appearance at all. An enjoyable enough read, but all the problems and issues of the prior books remains. ⭐⭐⭐

The three novels of the second trilogy, Brightness Reef, Infinity’s Shore and Heaven’s Reach follow on from each other.

Brightness Reef - The planet Jijo is forbidden to settlers, its ecology protected by guardians of the Five Galaxies. But over the centuries it has been resettled, populated by refugees of six intelligent races. Together they have woven a new society in the wilderness, drawn together by their fear of Judgment Day, when the Five Galaxies will discover their illegal colony. Then a strange starship arrives on Jijo. Does it bring the long-dreaded judgment, or worse--a band of criminals willing to destroy the six races of Jijo in order to cover their own crimes?

I have a love/hate relationship with the book. I found the six diverse alien races inhabiting Jijo fascinating. Their community and way of life drew me in and, while not apparent at first, it picks up threads linking to Streaker again. The downside is that it still suffers from some excruciating slow pacing and just stops abruptly without any real resolution. ⭐⭐⭐

Infinity’s Shore - For the fugitive settlers of Jijo, it is truly the beginning of the end. As starships fill the skies, the threat of genocide hangs over the planet that once peacefully sheltered six bands of sapient beings. Now the human settlers of Jijo and their alien neighbors must make heroic—and terrifying—choices.

This picks up where the previous novel left off. At some stage I think this is where I started to rage read. I wanted to know what happens to Streaker and what the implications of their discovery was. While I loved the characters of Alvin, Ur-ronn, Pincer and Huck as they join in on an even greater adventure the pacing of this book was still too slow. ⭐⭐⭐

Heaven’s Reach - The brutal enemy that has relentlessly pursued them for centuries has arrived. Now the fugitive settlers of Jijo - both human and alien - brace for a final confrontation. The Jijoans' only hope is the Earthship Streaker, crewed by uplifted dolphins and commanded by an untested human. Yet more than just the fate of Jijo hangs in the balance. For Streaker carries a cargo of ancient artifacts that may unlock the secret of those who first brought intelligent life to the Galaxies. Many believe a dire prophecy has come to pass: an age of terrifying changes that could end Galactic civilization.

It is very seldom that I read a book and just wish that it would just end. This was a slog to get through. The conclusion doesn't satisfy at all and once again it goes off on a weird tangent. The only thing that kept me reading was trying to find a resolution to what happens to the Streaker’s crew and their supposed galactic shattering discovery. It turns out that it doesn’t matter all that much. We still don’t get a definite resolution why this discovery was so important and all the trials and tribulations the crew and the Jijo youngsters underwent are rendered pretty much pointless by events. This is how it all ends? ⭐⭐

The Verdict:
I should have loved the Uplift series. It has everything that normally sets my brain abuzz - questions about sentience, fascinating alien creatures, galactic society and a truly intriguing universe. Yet Brin doesn’t deliver on any of the promise this series held. Instead of exploring and diving into the most captivating aspects of his universe he goes off on tangents and instead offers up a pretty mundane adventure instead. The biggest thing that irks me is that Streaker’s discovery is built up as this galactic-shattering revelation which other races are willing to kill to control, yet it never amounts to much. Even by the last book there is no real resolution and it’s seemingly discarded in favor of a weird transcendence mechanic rendering it pointless.

The series just didn’t work for me. The writing is clunky, the pacing is ponderous, the characters blur into each other and the conclusion just doesn’t satisfy at all.

The Rating: 5/10 (Average)