Onyx Javelin

We met Steve Wheeler at Reconnaissance (the 2015 National SF&F Convention), and he proved to be a very interesting person, with an unusual approach to military SF – he makes detailed models of the craft in his books, and photographs them, often in natural landscapes. Then he employs them in his writing. When he told me to go ahead and read this, the third book in his SF series, without having read the other two, I took him at his word. Now, I’m not so sure that was a good idea. It was fine for the first few chapters, populated mainly by new characters, but as more and more older characters were introduced who had been developed in the previous books, I found myself floundering. There are a lot of characters here, in at least three main casts; the people of the distant human colony Storfisk, the crew of the carrier Haast, and the crew of Basalt.

It’s a complex universe, too. Humanity is divided into several major factions, disputes are settled by war games, and who knows who’s doing what to whom… Then there are these vicious aliens called Urchins, who are in conflict with humanity, along with their inscrutable octopoid masters. And then are ACEs, Artificially Created Entities, often cybernetically enhanced, and in humanoid, animal or more exotic forms – yes, we can have dragons! One clever idea is the use of soul-savers – which allow characters to survive certain death, and be reincarnated immediately into a mechanical chassis or grow a new biological body. This feature, together with the range of possible character types and factions, and the great depth of detail, would make Wheeler’s universe an excellent setting for role-playing games.

The plot focuses on events on the Storfisk colony world, and its invasion by some very nasty alien predators. There’s plenty of action, a dose of mystery, and some scenes of truly memorable beauty, amid a great deal of carnage and destruction. I have to admit that I found Wheeler’s prose a bit awkward at times, forcing me to stop reading while I figured out what he was saying, thus breaking the flow. And I would like to have seen a bit more of the titular Onyx Javelin.

Steve Wheeler might not be the most elegant of writers, but he is a wonderful imagineer. The depth and detail of his future galaxy is truly impressive. And I’m thinking that I was right, and this really was the novel that should have received the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel award.

Harper Voyager

Purchased at Reconnaissance

Reviewed by Jacqui

no plce to hide

Justine is running from the past and needs a fresh start.   She moves to her grandmother’s hometown, Indiana, with her young daughter Lula. They try to settle in the quaint town but it isn’t what Justine expected, with hidden stories and troubled history. The devastating secrets that drove her away are still memories that haunt her life.

This story jumped around – from England to America and between different time periods; the past and the now. The book goes back eighteen years to tell how Justine and her husband Matt met and found a perfect home. They had Abby and Ben and later Lula. Things started going wrong after Ben hit his head on the ground getting out of a tree.

It was too long and drawn out for my liking – you only find out what the tragedy is halfway through the book and the writer takes forever getting to the climatic event. Then, in the last one hundred pages, the author tries to reveal two family secrets and tie together two storylines.

It didn’t work for me but try it yourself.

Century

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

Fields of Blood

Wars have often been blamed on religion, and critical thought frequently goes out the door the moment religion is brought into the discussion. Karen Armstrong, a former Roman Catholic nun and prominent religious commentator, takes a long hard look at the various religions dominant over long periods of human history, and examines the relationship between that faith and the violent and pacifist streams within it. And religions cop flak because they provide a method of shared community as well as differentiating between us and the others.

Armstrong reminds us that every major religion, from Zoroastrianism to Judaism, Sikhism to Christianity and many more beside, have displayed both a pacifist and a violent face depending on the underlying social conditions. These aspects of a faith are brought about by a dissatisfaction with either the current power dynamics within a single faith society, or by challenges presented by rival faiths. These aspects are achieved by either re-interpreting key tracts of the religions canon or even a complete re-write of the basic canon.

Armstrong points out that are used to legitimate the basic cultural behaviour of a group, be it the aggressive expansion of the early Aryans into India, to the communal and anti-aristocratic Hebrews. She also stresses the point that the religion of a group is adjusted to explain its violence to others and itself, otherwise faith would collapse in the face of the logical dichotomy between the message and the behaviour.

Armstrong has written an entertaining and informative book that partly explains why religion is blamed for mass violence. I say partly because stupidity, greed and prejudice exist outside of religions. Read this book if you want an answer beyond the facile and banal.

Bodley Head

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

the rule of thought

The Rule of Thoughts is the second book in the Mortality Doctrine series, which started with The Eye of Minds and like it’s counterpart, it’s an incredibly good book.

This is an instance where you must read the first book to understand what’s going on. This book continues the story of Michael, Sarah and Bryson on their quest to stop cyber-terrorist Kaine from taking over the virtnet. The virtnet is a social game website that you play through nerve-wires that make you think the game is real!

As I said earlier, this book is as good as it’s counterpart, if not better! The first thing I enjoyed about this book is the action that thrives after the first few chapters, and the new challenges that arise. There is one problem, however, that the characters aren’t as well developed as last time, and some of the time it is hard to understand their feelings.

Just like the last book, anyone over 10 should have a blast reading this amazing book, the suspense will keep you reading it past your bedtime!

I very much look forward to the concluding book in the trilogy, Game of Lives, which is due out in September 2015.

Corgi

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Dylan

Review of The Eye of Minds

seraphina

Dragons, medieval music, intrigue, a feisty female protagonist, an author who has an obvious love of language… and dragons. What is not to like? I have to say that I immensely enjoyed reading Seraphina, and I consider it to be one of the best-constructed fantasies I’ve read in recent years. And it has some of the most interesting dragons I have ever come across… Dragons who can take human form, but when they do so must control their emotions (just like Vulcans, yes).

Seraphina is a talented musician and assistant to the court composer in the land of Goredd. When a royal Prince, Rufus, is killed while hunting in a manner that implicates a dragon (okay, his head was bitten off), the fragile peace between humans and dragons is endangered. The questions are, who killed him, and why? And who benefits from the threat of war? Seraphina is caught up in all of this, and her secret heritage may well be revealed in the process of discovering the truth.

This novel has an elegant plot, a well-developed setting, interesting characters, and Hartman’s gift for lyrical prose just adds the icing to a very tasty read. I heartily recommend it.

Corgi

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

the eye of minds

The Eye of Minds is the first book in the Mortality Doctrine series, and is an incredibly good book.

The main characters, Michael, Sarah and Bryson, are hackers, and very good ones at that. They use their hacking ability to play their way through the virtnet, a video game you’d play in a dreamstate thanks to nerve boxes. These three intrepid heroes are sent by virtnet-security to catch another hacker called Kaine – who’s been up to some pretty nasty things in the virtnet…

This book outlines the story of the friends tracking Kaine through the virtnet and I thoroughly enjoyed the concept of the story. One of the things I enjoyed was how easy it was to relate to the characters no matter what was happening. (I also enjoyed the twists that you would never see coming.)

This is a book for any book-lover over 10! (Some of the scenes are a little dark) I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys science fiction. It is a great read for mostly anybody!

I am very much looking forward to the next book in the series, Rule of Thoughts.

Corgi

Supplied by Rnndom House New Zealand

Reviewed by Dylan

How to Fly a Horse

Is creativity a gift only a few have? What separates the successful development of an idea from the unsuccessful? Are groups better at solving problems? Do masterpieces spring fully formed (or almost) from the mind of their creators? Kevin Ashton provides answers to these questions. The answers shouldn’t be surprising: no, perseverance, no and no.

Ashton’s book is a palliative to those self-help books that promise a quick fix, or threaten doom because you’ve not sent your child to the right school, social club or whatever. He starts by exploding the myth of Mozart creating most of his symphonies, concertos and other major opera more or less complete and without much effort. Like Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, the creation myth of which Ashton also punctures, the reality was careful construction, editing and rewrites. This is the secret to all the success stories Ashton investigates; a basic idea is built on, refined and developed until the final expression is right.

Creativity is not the preserve of the gifted few, though successful creation is the preserve of the persistent few. Ashton demonstrates through the use of examples the benefits of persistence, offering up the Wright Brothers as a prima facie case, along with several others. He also produces the example of the Edmond Albius, the slave responsible for the commercial viability of the vanilla orchid outside of its native environment. Nor is creativity enhanced by think-tanking or group brainstorming sessions. Individuals tend to throw up more solutions than groups of individuals.

Ashton has written a serious critique and how to manual for those keen to hone their creativity. Being a proof copy, it is in need of some minor corrections. And while he may seem to hammer away at the message, persist, repetition does get the message across and, perhaps more importantly, drive it home. Some of the examples used are a little obscure – mercifully I had heard of the vast majority, a reflection of my magpie interests – but they all illuminate the thesis of success derived from persistence and the coupling of small steps to arrive at the end point. As Ashton notes, every journey finishes with a single step.

Read. Digest. Apply.

William Heinemann

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve