Mindguard: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


Next up we have Mindguard, by Andrei Cherascu.

I had fun reading this story, which was a very interesting and page-turning adventure with some compelling characters and fascinating sci-fi tech. Tamisa, highly-trained living-weapon soldier of the Interstellar Federation of Common Origin’s Enforcement Unit, was sufficiently reminiscent of a Legionary of Moros to tickle my nostalgia bone and enjoy reading about her struggles.

The story centres around a team of private security specialists – Bodyguards and Mindguards, for the physical and telepathic safety of the client – and their efforts to get a person carrying sensitive information through a gauntlet of hostile environments and a space-fascist-y government under the heel of a military wing long since gone rotten. Every side in the story has its own secrets and every motivation has its own complexities, and I was left wondering who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. Ultimately, I suppose the lesson was that things are never that simple. And I like that.

Our characters’ journey takes us through one of the most dangerous “deserts” in the human interstellar empire – I really enjoyed the concept of lawless or otherwise contested regions of space being deserts, by the way. Telepathy and teleportation / portal use are relatively commonplace. Also there’s a planet (or part of a planet) of space lepers, which is great. No notes.

A few things didn’t make sense to me as I was reading. The uploaded-consciousness thing was cool and all, but if it was a new discovery how was it much of a carrot for Sheldon? He could have (and probably should have) just refused to take the mission, and waited for the technology to become common. He’d waited this long, what’s a little longer? Go public with the knowledge and wait for his turn. Still, I suppose it was tightly controlled and exclusive and – well, we needed the plot to happen. I also wasn’t sure what was going on with Tamisa’s phobia of her own beauty. Was it a veiled method of talking about how attractive she was, or was it a clever way of showing her mental damage after growing up on rape planet? Why not both?

Getting busted for shaving her head was kind of stupid, and the lesson (learn to embrace your advantages, in this case do the va-va-voom trope and be all beautiful and stuff) was a bit on the nose. I think her arc from victim and escapee from rape planet to relationship-haver with Villo with occasional head-smashing outbursts was more than enough without adding that additional facet to it. But fine. It’s there. Incidentally, I was convinced as soon as Villo turned up that he was definitely going to betray Tamisa by the end and they would have a fight and be evenly matched and predictable and then she would win by being unpredictable. I’m still not sure if I’m relieved or disappointed by what happened. Why not both?

The action ticked along nicely and there were enough twists and turns for it to be compelling. The chapter introduction-texts either added rich background or tantalising snippets of what was coming up in the story without spoiling what was happening, and I liked that. Thomas Anderson’s showdown with the Millers around the mid-point was fun and tense, marking the point of the story at which I really started to get invested and leaving me uncertain what was about to happen, and who I wanted it to happen to. Why not b– oh.

I was a little put off by the fact that all the female characters were described in great detail while the male characters (aside from Maclaine ‘Mac’ Ross and his bigness and tight shirts) were barely described at all. A notable exception being Horatio, who – well I still don’t know what he looked like, but oh boy, his problems have got problems, don’t they? That fuckin’ guy, man. Nicely written.

The finale, tying together the action and intrigue and motivations of the main players, revealing a very satisfying mystery and even tying the leper planet back into it, is top-notch. Maybe a little over-extended, but definitely nice. I was left wanting to see what our heroes and anti-heroes did next, and that’s never a bad thing.

Sex-o-meter

Aside from gross rape planet (I joke, but the ugly events and culture on Tamisa’s former homeworld are really only alluded to in order to provide a backdrop, it’s not all that explicit) and incidents thereon, there’s a couple of sex scenes and a bit of skin-crawling nastiness from Horatio but none of it’s particularly graphic. I’ll give it a single sexual-performance-enhancing body-modification and two-thirds of a deep-seated emotional instability out of a possible … uh, Horatio.

Gore-o-meter

We get some excellent fights, killings, and police brutality. People’s heads are reduced to barely-recognisable lumps after their attackers lose track of how many times they’ve bashed them with whatever, which is something I always look for in a beat-down. Three-and-a-half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

Like I was saying, the reader is treated to some excellent sci-fi concepts and a lot of good world-building in this book. But I wouldn’t say there was much in the way of WTF to contend with. The Opus Caine was something of a WTF, and there were some great psychic moments, but I was rather expecting more of that sort of thing, in a story that seemed like the telepathy version of a bodyguard adventure. Even so, it was fine. I’ll give Mindguard a diving sideways in slow-motion shouting “NOOOOO” out of a possible doing all that only in your mind.

My Final Verdict

Three stars for Mindguard on the Goodreads / Amazon scale. Not much more to say, this was an enjoyable read with some great characters. Also Horatio was there.


Primordial Threat: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


Next one on our list for this week was Primordial Threat, by by M. A. Rothman.

Only after reading this book, I found that Rothman has some impressive connections and endorsements from well-known traditional authors, and that this book is a hundreds-of-reviews-bearing bestseller in its own right. Rothman is, but for a foolish trip-up of fate and a critical blunder of the traditional publishing machine, a traditional bestselling author slumming it with the lowly self-pubs.

But none of that really matters. He’s done everything right in this book, and he deserves the acclaim he’s gotten. Before discovering any of these things about him I had already read, and thoroughly enjoyed, his story. And so all I can do is sing its praises. I just don’t carry a tune particularly well so bear with me.

This exciting and engaging tale of global impending Armageddon (it really did have a Deep Impact on me and I’d read it 2012 times … okay sorry, but what you have to remember about those movies is, they were fucking great and this would be at least as good and Emmerich should absolutely make it after he’s finished with Moonfall) is backed up with some storybook but otherwise intriguingly solid science, or at least science-fiction, which is why we’re here after all. We are introduced to our main characters and they’re all highly distinctive and readable in their own ways.

The main protagonists of the story are a primordial black hole that’s about to destroy the solar system, a bunch of apocalyptic doomers who want it to happen (of course), and Greg. Fucking Greg, I swear to God. Look, not to spoil it but someone should have shot Greg in the face the first time he made a cunt of himself. Shot him right in the face, and replaced him with a packet of macaroni wearing a hat. Then the worst character would have been the black hole.

This book definitely feels like a product of its time. The breakdown of (admittedly stupid and ignorant) people’s trust in science, and the pandemic of the early 2020s has convinced me that this story, ultimately, would not have worked. It’s fiction, in its purest and most optimistic form (in fact, it sounds very like the book written by John Cusack’s character in 2012, which adds a layer of fun to it). Nobody would believe the scientists – or enough people wouldn’t – and the politicians would not stop being self-serving, and the operation would tank, and we would all die. And that’s good. We deserve to. Rothman had better get busy writing more books because this wasn’t enough to convince me of the general worthwhile-ness of humanity.

We are treated to some very satisfying scenes as the end-of-the-world scenario plays out. We see actual leadership and selflessness, to a degree that bordered on the political porn of Designated Survivor. None of this would actually happen but it’s so fun to pretend it would. This book is about Earth being threatened by a rogue black hole and the most unbelievable thing about it is the number of people who aren’t giant pieces of shit. That’s where we’re at right now, folks.

I did have to ask, why wasn’t the same tech being used (quite aside from the fact that it was all hidden and under wraps) to send out evacuation colonies or just exploration teams in every damn direction? Seems like, yes, we had a quite literal “all the eggs in one basket (and also the entire farm and every chicken capable of laying eggs that has ever and will ever exist)” situation going on, and only a very fixed amount of specific resources (ie. graphene), but a lot of parallel projects could have happened. That would probably have added unnecessary threads to the plot, but maybe we could have done it instead of the cop thread? I mean, the cop thread was fine but it didn’t super tie into the rest of the story. Meh. Oh well.

The series of events surrounding “Frank”, and their emergency fallback power supply, was all a little bit out-there but damn it, I liked it. It allowed a bit of high-stakes tension with the Brotherhood and still gave us the Great Big Sci-Fi we love to see. Yes, this was all really enjoyable and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. While it could be tweaked, it was really fine. I look forward to the movie.

Sex-o-meter

Some babies are born, which (I’m no scientist but) to me suggests that there might have been some people having The Sex. But seriously, there’s not really time for sex in this story. The world’s about to end, people! Fuck later. Jesus Christ. I’ll give this book a Bambi out of a possible Thumper on the ol’ sex-o-meter.

Gore-o-meter

A whole bunch of deaths, some angry mob action, a guy loses a couple of fingers and the fabric of space-time gets torn a new arsehole, but ultimately this isn’t a gory one. One flesh-gobbet out of a possible five for Primordial Threat.

WTF-o-meter

There’s classic WTF of a big golden-age sci-fi quality in this book. No wonder Niven and Benford and Anderson like this, it’s the sort of stuff they write – and it’s at least as good, in my opinion. Maybe even better. Megaengineering, and huge cosmic stakes. These aren’t so much true WTFs, but it makes for a fantastical and escapist read that was really enjoyable. There’s inspiring WTFery of the “could space really do this to us?” variety (the answer is yes, yes it could, without even looking up from its metaphorical sudoku), and exciting WTFery of the “could human science really achieve this?” variety (the answer is … ehh … no, not really, but it’s fucking neat), and horrifying WTFery of the “are people really like this?” variety (I think we all know the answer to this one). I’ll give it a Ringworld and a Rama out of a possible Bowl of Heaven.

My Final Verdict

An interesting and imaginative story with a very cathartic ending for those readers (I would like to think it’s most of us, at this point) who are frustrated with evangelical doomsday cultists and their apparent desire to just fucking kill everyone. My initial instinct was to give Primordial Threat four and a half stars. I want to elevate that to five purely because of the simple and beautiful relationship between Dave and Bella. After finding out more about the story’s background and advantages, my next instinct was to deduct again, but that’s completely unfair of me. My unbiased and open-eyed take on this story was five stars, and five stars is what it gets. Excellent job and a really good read.


The Wheel of Time on Amazon Prime

Hello my Wheel of Time fans and curious non-readers. Here is my Non-spoiler review of Amazon’s adaptation Season 1; episode 1-3. Go here if you want to see my last post about things to know before the show. This will be me as a die-hard fan judging the show itself. I will probably follow up after I have seen the whole season as well. What do I think so far??? The short answer is that it’s very good. I never rate books, but for a show, sure….I will at the end.

The best thing about the show so far is that it’s BIG F-Fantasy. They do not try to hide the fact magic is prominent and used in this world. I will also say the magic looks very good. I honestly cannot put into words how I pictured it would look from the books, but it works. The One Power are weaves and the spells are being weaved. The only thing that may confuse those that never read the book is how there are different flows of magic using different elements: Earth, Spirit, Water, Air, and Fire. It is hard to tell exactly how it works being that the weaves are the same color. I have seen a lot of new people think it is Light magic because Moiraine calls on the Light for help. Hopefully that gets ironed out in future episodes. 

The characters are aged up compared to the books so they are a bit more mature. Their lives have also advanced some that do make sense in this adaptation that wouldn’t be in the books at their slightly younger ages. I do not agree with how some of these are setup , but not against them either. It will depend on how it all plays out; I do have ideas of how it can work for the better depending on how it is all developed. With that in mind I can tell who all the characters are. For non-readers you would have no way of knowing. So far the characters are quite interesting. I love Moiraine, played by Rosamund Pike, she is amazing; perfect in how she displays the character. Nynaeve and Tam are great too. The rest are doing a good job and I cannot wait to see how Mat is developed this season. I am sad Barney is leaving after season1 because so far he’s owning Mat. Either way I adore the cast as they are playing them so far. My nitpick is the writers are not using “in world” curses or lingo. It seems they will modernize the language more which I will probably learn to get used to.

The Dark One’s creatures so far are great. The Trollocs or mutated beast-men look amazing. Sometimes the CGI aspects stutter a bit in terms of quality, but for a TV show they look very good overall. The practical effects are amazing. The Eyeless Ones or Fades as they have called them a lot in the show are scary. Though we haven’t seen them fight yet; that will be something to see I hope. I have to give props when there’s magic flying around with beast men, and humans fighting it has moments where I’m like oh man they are overdoing it with how much the SFX team can handle, but then it evens out and flows well. Props for managing all that. I think the only thing that looked odd was the dark figure in their dreams. I know who it is, but non-readers do not. I will say it looks a bit like they were not sure where to go with it and didn’t iron out the details. Not too important since he appears in dreams. I have heard new watchers call it the alien thing though.

The flow of the show is fine. There are things added in that take up time that wasn’t part of the books. I have to see how they play out before I judge though. Sometimes I feel like we need to spend more time with characters than we get to, but overall I think it can be okay if the pacing is managed well between all the main characters as they grow. The biggest issue I’m hearing is that non-readers are getting a bit lost in the lore and world. The main plot seems to be understood, but the whys and hows people are struggling with. I can see that easily. I will say Game of Thrones lost people for a bit too so not worried currently. Though this series has way more to teach us and for people to digest. It worries me that people may get frustrated and quit too early. Amazon does have lore mini videos people may not know about that can help too. Check those out.

The cinematography has been anywhere from good to amazing. The sound/music is perfect. The writing is good and interactions flow pretty naturally especially when Moiraine is involved. Rosamund is just brilliant with every word, movement, and action she does. In terms of my nitpicks about the show vs. books that will not be here. I will say as a fantasy show so far it’s a 8/10 for me at this point. I cannot wait for the next episodes already. Cast is great. Special effects team is being pushed hard. Costume designs are working for a fantasy setting without a solid point of reference in our world. I also have to give a nod to the showrunners who are trying to tackle this gigantic piece of source material with a TV show, ambitious. They still have much to prove especially with pacing and character development; they can win me all the way over though.

Also…I feel I need to address that the show is being review bombed by book purists who do not understand adaptation. There is also some misogyny & racism involved that we still have to deal with in today’s world too. Judge for yourself as I do not pay much attention to reviews because of issues like this as shows become less male and Caucasian dominant. However; that actually makes sense in this world. It isn’t “woke” casting or story changes. As a big fan of the books, women are the powerful mages and skin color isn’t really a part of the series except with a few people. Though no I am not saying if you do not like it then you are like these people. Not everything is for everyone. I know many who loved Shadow and Bone, but I started it months ago and still have not finished it…I will… I promise. If it doesn’t click for you; thanks for giving it a try. As for book purists, the only way a play by play of this series could ever work is a very long and expensive anime series. You could also just re-read the books which have flaws in them too that I hope get ironed out in the show actually. Regardless, go watch it and tell me what you think. I will did a spoiler review (of episodes 1-4) on my own blog and that is linked here.


Planet B (Complete): An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


Team Space Lasagna’s fifth-week selection included Planet B, the “complete” edition, by Micheal Beadley. Not his real name. His real name, according to the hilarious preface, is too similar to other authors’ names and might also identify him to the micro-managing psychopaths he previously worked a day job with. Other authors should take note of Beadley’s prefacing style. When you’re introducing first-time readers to your story, you don’t want to coddle the big babies into it like you’re sitting around at a goddamn pyjama party. You set the whole lot of it on fire and fling it into their faces like a declaration of war.

Edpool’s note: I just found out that this book seems to have vanished off Amazon, although it is still up on Goodreads. My apologies to anyone disappointed. By the Amazon part, I mean. Obviously.

Okay. Oh boy, where to start with this one…

In the beginning of the 22nd century, life seemed good for humanity. The problems of global warming in the early 21st century, Islamic terrorism etc only existed in the past.

Planet B, an excerpt.

Planet B is a very earnest sci-fi adventure story with genuine wit and imagination behind it. And you know there’s a ‘but’ coming, so let’s just get it out there. The story … needs some work under the hood. Or ‘bonnet’ as we UK English folks say.

Some work with an editor. Some more experience at the nuts and bolts of storytelling and writing. Some more time put into the post-production and release. I mean … look at the cover(s) we ended up with. There are sequels, and they seem even more rushed.

This seems to be the actual cover for Planet B II. Points for the self-awarded 5 star rating, though. Beadley’s got some stones.

This all said, I had fun reading it. It was challenging, but I’m damn good at what I do. I learned some interesting facts (for example, the etymology of the word tank, which was a cover to hide its actual purpose … I’m not saying it’s new or obscure information, but I didn’t know it) and had a few laughs along the way.

The delightful Britishness of it was heartwarming. It’s like this book was written by Arthur Dent, if he had never managed to befriend an alien and his house had been bulldozed just before his planet was demolished, but he’d had time to write a book in between. The existence of cricket doubles and the fact that Spaceballs references still happen in the future makes me happy. The concept of termite cities was great! The Sons of Al Qaeda, eh, not so much. But what can you do.

I laughed aloud at the fact the Uglies (aliens) showed up at Earth and destroyed Bath (in the UK!), specifically. I laughed at the mental image of the invincible Captain (or possibly Commander) Hilton punching out a big alien cat. I laughed at “three Uglies or one polar bear” as a measure of deadliness. I thrilled at the giant alien narwhal on ichthyosaur action and was glad to hear the baby narwhal was okay even though there really wasn’t any plot-supported reason for us to be so reassured. I enjoyed the way the story was told through switching perspectives to cover the action, and appreciated the way each shift was signposted – especially since a certain amount of the story was written in the first person, which could have gotten confusing.

Excessive use of commas took us into unsettling territory somewhere beyond James T. Kirk. Like I said, some editing work is needed on this book.

Bloody Hell. Alright, let’s consult the meters.

Sex-o-meter

A little bit of sex, a bit of old fashioned sleaze, some standard rapiness but nothing too explicit or gross. It wasn’t an integral part of the story and for the most part the relationships and character interactions were innocuous and nicely folded into the story. Two very tall and drunk space jocks who won’t take no for an answer out of a possible same thing but there’s no Scorpion to beat their arses. I don’t know. It was fine.

Gore-o-meter

We get plenty of action, fights and battles and brutality – but it’s not overwhelming, and is only there to serve the story. I call this a good balance and think it shows decent instincts for crafting a high-paced and high-stakes story. Two flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

There was plenty of WTF crammed into this book, and I am happy to report that most of it came from the imaginative setting and history even if a certain amount also came from the chaotic, borderline bizarro style in which the book was written. Humanity’s madcap history of colonisation, invasion, genetic tampering and military misadventure made for a dizzying backdrop against which this tale took place. Still, I wouldn’t call it genuine surrealist WTF, so much as … look, I’m giving this three Uglies and a polar bear out of a possible Captain Hilton punching three Uglies and a polar bear while riding a giant alien narwhal. I will not be answering further questions at this time.

My Final Verdict

Planet B reads like an early draft that was rushed to production because the author was unable to bear another day working for such a bunch of disgusting evil micro-managing morons. And while I’m fortunate enough to not share such an experience, I can certainly appreciate the sentiment. Sometimes a story just has to be told. Still, I’m going to have to leave Planet B with two stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale on its technical merits.


The Wheel of Time for Non-Book Readers

The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan aka James Oliver Rigney Jr. and finished by Brandon Sanderson is a 14 book series with one prequel. Book one the Eye of the World was published in 1990. In my opinion it is a remarkable epic that helps connect classical fantasy with more modern fantasy. Even with its flaws it’s my favorite series of all time. 

Though the point of this is not to convince you to undertake the reading of this series, but to prepare you for Amazon’s adaptation of it into a television series. The show is created by Rafe Judkins starring THE Rosamund Pike as Moiraine Damodred. We will get more into Moiraine in a bit. This will be non-spoilery. If you are interested in videos maybe checkout Unraveling the Pattern chock full of information and non-spoiler content.

  1. The first rule of Wheel of Time for new fans is Google is not your friend!!! The Wheel of Time is an epic series spanning since 1990. There are websites and articles all over the internet. Social media is full of groups and people who talk about it endlessly, including my own Twitter account! If you wish to go into the show fresh, stay away from looking too far into it. Every major event, death, and character development is heavily spoiled everywhere on the internet. This is not a series where you want spoilers ahead of time; there’s just too many great threads and moments. I am sure the TV series will change things, but don’t count on them changing the big events. 
  1. This series is not Medieval fantasy. It’s not a European based Fantasy setting. This series blends in cultures, religions, races, and beliefs from all over our known world. Do not go into this expecting white armored Knights and baby making Ladies in distress. Women known as Aes Sedai are big players in guiding the world as well as women circles. In this time men magic users are feared and blamed for devastation in the past. Women have a much stronger role than in our history. This world is such a blend of what our world has been throughout history the best I can say is that Robert Jordan himself described it as late 17th century. Though some argue it can be considered post-apocalyptic and even science fiction. I would say it’s a bit more complicated, but A good way to help expectations going into this is Robert Jordan’s take on his own work.
  1. Time is not linear in this universe. Time is what the series describes as a wheel or cyclical. Everything is happening in the past and the future for someone. Certain events start and end ages which have already happened, but yet will come again. This can include “souls” of people, you can be reborn again. Many heroes through the ages are actually the same people it’s just that they nor anyone else knows it when they are alive. 
  1. The Wheel of Time is adult high fantasy. It is not YA. There will be death, violence, nudity, and mental illness. It’s not grimdark as Game of Thrones, but it’s darker than Lord of the Rings. The story dynamics are complex, much beyond that of Harry Potter or Shadow and Bone respectfully. I would say it is in the same vein as The Witcher in terms of what to expect for mature themes. That’s not a great comparison, but in terms of TV viewing I think it is the closest. As Fantasy starts blooming more into the mainstream hopefully we get more apt comparisons in the future. 
  1. Moiraine is the main front and center character in the TV series at least according to the promo, but in the books that is not the case. She is more like the guide to the main PoVs in the book. However, in my opinion this is perfect. Not only is she my favorite character, but for people who never read the books she will be the perfect character to help build this world so no one gets lost on what is happening. Starting off with a farmboy in a small village is great for books, but if you want to engage TV audiences you need a worldly person to guide viewers and the small village characters into the wider world. The lore, magic, politics, and factions are quite large and complex. Moiraine is the best to start the series with. 
  1. The magic system is based on the True Source or the One Power thought to come from the Creator. Women channel Saidar and men Saidin. Unfortunately for men their magic has been tainted by the Dark One. Men who learn they can channel will essentially be feared and hunted because eventually using the magic will cause them to go insane. This is why women who use magic are so prominent and powerful. They can use their power freely without negative side effects. Of course, in any human run world there will be people, especially men, who create beliefs that make Aes Sedai out to be evil and in need of being cleansed as well. Robert Jordan is great at understanding the intricacies of human psychology of groups in my opinion. 
  1. The characters have been aged up in the series. I actually agree with this because that way it won’t be confused as being Young Adult fantasy and the darker themes may be harder for people to stomach with teens than with adults on TV. It’s not sexually violent as Game of Thrones, but many bad things will happen to our young protagonists. It is smart in not confusing expectations nor making it seem like things are done for shock value such as in Game of Thrones TV series with Sansa Stark being raped. Things will be more nuanced in struggles and setbacks. It’s not just about shocking fans in that anything can happen, there’s a structure to Robert Jordan’s writing; a more intricate version of classical fantasy themes.
  1. This brings up my final notice. The Wheel of Time is not a shock factor series. It is not about causing constant anxiety about what bad thing will happen next. It is not about sex and violence. It is about the characters overcoming obstacles and  preparing themselves for a final confrontation with a powerful entity and its armies. There are dark themes, but everything serves a purpose. There is tons of foreshadowing and threads are woven way ahead of time for big payoffs later. There is a place for grimdark, but the Wheel of Time is not one of those places. There is a place for YA fantasy, but the Wheel of Time is not that either. Your expectations will be subverted in a different way than other fantasy series on TV. It’s not about inducing anxiety in viewers, but wowing them. Pay attention to details. If Rafe foreshadows like Jordan than you will be pleasantly surprised.

This ends what I really wanted to say about the upcoming series or if you are late to the party, what I expected from the series. I am sure I will write about the show in the future so if interested keep an eye out for that. This series is amazing, beautiful, and brilliant. Sure there are things that could have been done better in hindsight, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. Let the TV series explore and update some themes to really stay ahead of its time. I’m sure I missed some things, but here is what came to mind the most and what popped up from people on twitter. Prepare or go watch this on Amazon Prime! This is my request from you. Report back to me here or on Twitter with your thoughts; otherwise you may be a Darkfriend!


Watson and Holmes: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


Next up we have Watson and Holmes, by E. B. Dawson.

I was honestly at a loss to review this story in my usual way, because I have been thoroughly immersed in the Sherlock Holmes universe (ie. London) for so long. While movies like the one with Robert Downey Jr. and TV series like the Cumberbatch one or The Irregulars aren’t exactly my cup of tea, I did enjoy them all in their own ways, and the original books as well as the Enola Holmes stories have long been favourites of mine.

Now please don’t misunderstand, I’m getting to the point here and the point isn’t that Watson and Holmes is unoriginal. It’s anything but. However, it is stretched very cleverly over the framework of Conan Doyle’s characters, settings and mysteries, and as such most of the “review” I could give boils down (or … Doyles down? No Edpool, don’t force it) to either listing the Sherlock Holmes references (Linden is London! That Leemex character is the pygmy! Lestrade is Lestrade!) or else listing the variations (Sherlock and Watson are women! Sharlotte’s violin is purple! Watson fought in a space war against shapeshifting [SPOILERS REDACTED] monsters instead of in Afghanistan which absolutely isn’t timely right now anyway so move on!) and that doesn’t do the story justice.

Because I really enjoyed the parallels, the divergences, and the Watson and Holmes narrative purely on its own merits. The sheer mass of human and alien cultures in Linden set the mega-city up as a character in its own right just as (see, here I go again) it is in the best Sherlock Holmes tales. The focus on Watson, who I (like many I’m sure) have always considered the more relatable and sympathetic character and therefore have always rather liked more than Holmes, was well done. I loved seeing Watson re-assume her army persona and resume the war she had previously left in turmoil and trauma. The plot twists and the action, all woven around a clever series of mysteries, were very enjoyable. The Falls, and Moriarty … it’s quite inescapable but damn it, it’s well done.

If you hate Sherlock Holmes with a passion, this book isn’t for you. Why would you even be looking at it? If you love Sherlock Holmes, or are otherwise kind of meh about the whole sub-genre but you like a good science fiction yarn with strong world-building, excellent characters and a rolling, highly entertaining plot, this is well worth a look. There’s just not much more I can say.

So let’s consult the meters, shall we?

Sex-o-meter

There’s a little bit of match-making, and you can always depend on Watson to have a relationship befuddlement or two, but Watson and Holmes generally doesn’t have time for that sort of bullplop. There are mysteries to solve, dastardly plots to unravel and, in short, the game being afoot to worry about. A Mrs. Hudson out of a possible Irene Adler (the saucy adaptations version of Irene Adler) for Watson and Holmes.

Gore-o-meter

Some solid battlefield, jungle and street mayhem in this story, a few grisly murders and such, as one would expect. But overall it’s not such a gory outing. Two flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

Again, it’s hard for the WTF-o-meter to quantify the raw WTFs per million in this book because of the interference we’re getting from the high levels of Doylian radiation coming off the source material. *whangs the WTF-o-meter a couple of times with a violin bow* Yeah … nah, it’s just giving a consistent reading of “Basil Rathbone out of a possible Rathil Basbone” and that’s – to be honest that’s just not a thing.

My Final Verdict

Watson and Holmes was a very enjoyable read. What else can one say? I had a lot of fun recognising the references and geeking out over the sci-fi construct they were slathered over. Cool setting and backstory, great aliens and tech, this has everything I like in a sci-fi combined with a lot of what I like in a mystery. And Dawson’s next trick was apparently doing the same for Moby Dick, so fuck it all. Four stars.


Book Review | A Crown of Swords

Hi bookworms! It’s nocrackedspines here again with another book review! A Crown of Swords is the seventh book in the Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. This will be a spoiler review. I took a several month hiatus from the Wheel of Time after finishing Lord of Chaos back in February. I did this for several reasons. I wanted to recharge my batteries before I started working my way towards the end of the series; there are still seven more books left. I also wanted to read several other books and series. I won’t lie after the ending of Lord of Chaos it was quite difficult to take a break! Wheel of Time has been a series that is always on my mind. It felt like coming home when I opened A Crown of Swords and stepped back into the world of the Wheel of Time.

Spoiler Review

Warning Spoilers will follow! Turn back now! You’ve been warned!

A Crown of Swords picked up right away after the battle at Dumai’s Wells. It almost felt like this was supposed to be part of Lord of Chaos (Book 6). The battle of Dumai’s Well’s was one of the greatest highlights for me so far in the entire series. Robert Jordan is a master of packing a huge punch in the last 100 pages of the story. The ending of A Crown of Swords did not disappoint in that department either! I was absolutely shocked and surprised by the moves Jordan made. I’m definitely picking up A Path of Daggers as soon as I can.

We follow three main plot lines – Rand and Perrin, the Ebou Dar group and Egwene. The Ebou Dar group consists of Mat, Nynaeve, Elayne, Aviendha, Thom, Juilin and Brigette. The Ebou Dar group progresses the most for me in this story. A lot happens around Mat, Nynaeve and Elayne. This was the first book I felt Aviendha was just along for the ride and that rather disappointed me. Ever since The Eye of the World, Thom hasn’t served much purpose besides watching over the girls – Elayne and Nynaeve. I personally didn’t like that Robert Jordan brought Thom back after he fought the fade in The Eye of the World but I’m curious if Thom will ever play a bigger role again.

Rand and Perrin

I did, however, really enjoy Rand’s story in A Crown of Swords. Rand is still very stubborn and makes rash decisions… and he’s lucky to even be alive. Before I can tackle this poor decision making, we have to talk about a new character in the series – Cadsuane! Depending how you read the series this could your first introduction to her. I read New Spring (Prequel) after The Fires of Heaven (Book 5) and briefly encountered her towards the end of the story. I had a feeling she would be an interesting character when I meet her in the main series. And she did not disappoint!! She is currently the most feared and most powerful Aes Sedia since the Age of Legends. I loved how she walk in to talk to Rand and just commanded the room. I have a lot of feelings about Cadsuane. I really hope she is one of the “good” Aes Sedia because I feel she will be a powerful person to have at the Last Battle on his side.

Rand decided to take Min and go to see the Rebellion outside of Cairhienin. Padan Fain again torments Rand, wounding him with the dagger Mat stole from Shadar Logoth. Cadsuane heals him enough to save him and her group gets Rand back to safety before saving him further.

I felt the last chapter was rushed way too much for me. Rand decides to take the Asha’man to Illian to battle Sammael. Rand and Sammael end up in Shadar Logoth before Rand ends up taking down another Forsaken. Maybe I am wrong but I felt that was too simple for Rand. I feel Sammael is still alive. I will have to continue reading and see if I am right or wrong on this one.

“The trumpets of war shall sound at his footsteps, the ravens feed at his voice, and he shall wear a crown of swords”

I was rather disappointed with Perrin’s storyline. It’s no secret Perrin is without a doubt my favorite character in the series. I was rather excited to see him get more page time but it didn’t really do a whole lot of me. He spent a lot of time worrying about Faile on his return from Dumai’s Wells. When he finally met up with her, he spent more time worrying about his relationship with her and trying to stay away from Berelain, who also likes him. It seems like no matter what he does Berelain will always be chasing him throughout this series even though he is happily married to Faile. There was some set up for Perrin’s storyline in the future. Perrin, Faile and Berelain leave Caemlyn and traveled to Ghealdan. I’m not really sure where this will go in the next book but I’m definitely curious how Perrin will deal with the Faile and Berelain situation.

Ebou Dar

The Ebou Dar group can really be broken down into two groups at this point. Robert Jordan splits Mat and the women – Elayne and Nynaeve – apart. A lot of this has to do with Elayne and Nynaeve’s feelings towards Mat. For Nynaeve this stems way back to The Eye of the World when she was a Wisdom and it only got worse for Nynaeve when Mat rescued Elayne, Egwene and Nynaeve. I struggle to like Nynaeve entirely because it’s always her way or the highway. I think this is a great character flaw but it drives me insane, especially since the Wheel of Time is not just Rand’s story but the Emond’s Field five – Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwene and Nynaeve.

Nynaeve and Elayne are searching for the Bowl of the Winds and their search has taken them to Ebou Dar. They’ve been hunting for this Bowl for over a month with no luck. I found it intriguing that they discover a hidden organization lead by a group called the Knitting Circle. This is basically a large network of women that were let go from the White Tower. I can see how this will eventually play into Egwene’s hands as she is looking to unite as many women under her. Besides finally finding the Bowl of the Winds, I felt like that was the biggest take away for them in the story.

I found Mat’s story to be intriguing. He hasn’t had a lot of page time since The Shadow Rises but I feel we get a lot of him in A Crown of Swords, which excited me at first. I was not prepared for the direction that his story would take though. I was not expecting Mat to be raped. It was honestly a crazy gender role flip Robert Jordan plays here. The Wheel of Time already reverses the gender roles with Women being in power but this took this to another level. There were many cues I felt that lead to this moment, which made his story more tragic for me.

I was not expecting the return of the Seanchan after their appearance in the end of The Great Hunt. The Morgase chapter was quite interesting. We saw the Seanchan return from her point of view and she finally escape from the White Cloaks. I expect her storyline to eventually end in tragedy only because I see it as the only way for Elayne to finally take the Throne. We not only see the Seanchan return from her point of view but from Elayne, Nynaeve, and Mat’s point of view. I can’t wait to find out what happens with Mat since he was still in the city during the invasion.

Egwene

I was bored by Egwene’s storyline. We barely got anything with all of page time she received. We knew Moghedien and Logain have escaped from the Salidar Aes Sedia but that was covered in the very ending of the Lord of Chaos. Egwene’s entire story felt like it was more about the black mail she was receiving from the newer novices. Honestly, Moghedien had a more interesting story compared to her. It was awesome to find out how she escaped and what is happening to her now. Reading her story kept making me wonder if we will ever find out who killed Asmodean. We are running out of Forsaken to be a problem for Rand before he faces the Dark One.

Final Thoughts

I am really hoping Robert Jordan gives Perrin more meaningful page time in the next few books. I feel like he peaked back in The Shadow Rising, which saddens me greatly. I enjoyed his time in Lord of Chaos but it wasn’t enough for me. I have similar feeling with Egwene ever since she took over as Amyrlin Seat of the Salidar Aes Sedia. I have great expectations of where she might go as a character but dealing with some black mail from novices just didn’t do it for me. As tragic as Mat’s story was in this book, I expect to see him continue to step forward as a favorite. I still remember the moment in The Shadow Rises where Mat is undressing to go into Rhuidean and the Aiel are impressed by the amount of knives he is carrying. I need more Mat moments like that! Mat also has some series talents that I think play a huge roll in the later portion of the series. As for Rand, I expect his stubbornness to continue. I am hoping the introduction of Cadsuane will help Rand. Maybe I’m mistaken and should suspect that Cadsuane doesn’t want to help Rand but I’m going to believe she has good intentions. We will see….

Overall, I really loved A Crown of Swords! I definitely think this was a bit slower than the other books but there was a lot of set up. I felt the ending was a bit rushed especially with Rand and Sammael. I was definitely expecting more after all of the set up between the two since at least The Shadow Rising. There were a few storylines I loved and a few I just didn’t care for like Perrin and Egwene’s story. This also didn’t feel like a slog either. I’ve read a lot of things where people consider A Crown of Swords the start of the slog but I though this was an excellent story with a lot of set up. I would rate A Crown of Swords 4 stars. Let me know in the comments did you like A Crown of Swords? Did you like it?


Between Mountain and Sea: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


SPSFC Round 1 week 4 gave me the opportunity to check out Between Mountain and Sea, by Louisa Locke.

Between Mountain and Sea is a genuinely moving look at a human diaspora fitted around a coming of age and sins-of-the-father (or in this case great-great grandparent, but also kinda father, really) drama. Some initial difficulty with past and present tense in the prologue was really the only writing issue I spotted here, and it was absolutely minor. From there, we move into a really nice structure of present-day personal adventure with an unfolding distant-past drama in the form of diary entries from a long-gone spacefaring ancestor.

The story takes place on New Eden, continuing our theme of planets humans move to and call “Eden” which – okay, this is only the second one so far and it’s totally fair enough. An all-too-realistic premise of ten Bezosian / Gatesesque / Musky-arse super-rich corporate families and their space-peons forming an armada to escape Earth as it drowns in their excess fuels the plot, along with a gut-wrenching eleventh ship promised to the normies that was absolutely scuttled for parts and left to die in space, or something equally horrible. But there are more stories in the Caelestis Series (and / or the Paradisi Chronicles), so there is definitely more to learn here.

Upon this ugly foundation, a literal and allegorical New World is built, complete with oppressed and victimised natives, destroyed cultures, colonisers and a dynamic between sentients, sapients and the natural world that was extremely compelling and at the same time very uncomfortable to read. I enjoyed the Welsh-leaning ddaeran language and – despite some initial hesitancy – the Chinese and Hakka cultural background of the coloniser characters.

But most important of all was the story of Mei Lin and her struggle to reconcile her past, her parents’ expectations, and her own feelings and desires. Within five minutes I wanted Mei Lin to murder her parents and become a meddalwyn herder. It was so enjoyable to read her journey, and if I can relate to this character I think it’s safe to say anyone can. There are twists and revelations aplenty, but I won’t spoil them here – except to say there’s so much satisfaction in seeing Mei Lin’s shitty parents getting hoist on their own “respect your shitty parents” petard by Mei Lin’s grandparents and great-grandmother, I can’t even tell you.

The story as a whole seemed like a none-too-thinly-veiled criticism of un-empathic people, for the empathic and people who consider themselves empathic alike to enjoy. And enjoy it I did. So much so, I will even excuse Locke for cheekily working a reference to her own series of San Francisco mysteries into the narrative.

You’d be forgiven for being confused over the naming of the series, since the worldbuilding seems to have been made in a group workshop situation and is shared between several authors and story-streams. This “open source” setting is really interesting although it also left me a little bit at a loss as to how (if at all) I should credit or criticise Locke for her creative efforts. I concluded, ultimately, that all fiction worldbuilding is dependent on the author’s read, viewed and lived experiences, and this is really nothing more than a facet of that truth. It’s all good.

Sex-o-meter

No sex in this one, unless you count references to marriages and parentage and genealogies to be sexy. And I don’t. And this is my sex-o-meter and my review. So I’m giving this book one coquettishly winking and provocatively sheared meddalwyn out of a possible Shore Up The Genetic Diversity Of The Species Post-Planetfall Ten Ship Boink-a-thon.

Gore-o-meter

No gore either, really, because this wasn’t that sort of story. Zero flesh-gobbets out of a possible five, and that’s alright.

WTF-o-meter

WTF aplenty in this story, but again it wasn’t really the point of the story, so much as a lovely sensation of added depth to what is clearly a lovingly realised and shared world. Military scientists working on Tenebra, you say? Tantalising. The rule about not using the wormhole was instantly suspicious and fascinating, but not fully explored. The other nine settler ships and their respective cultures obviously weren’t Locke’s to mess with, and that left us with a cleverly isolated and tribal feeling to the Yu-family-based cultural slice of New Eden. Absolutely great. I’ll take that coquettishly winking and provocatively sheared meddalwyn from the sex-o-meter and give Between Mountain and Sea that out of a possible same but with a hen ddynion sitting on its back, wearing a saucy hat.

My Final Verdict

This was an excellent story. Screw it, I’ll give it five stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale. No notes. You know, aside from all the notes *gestures vaguely at the wall of text above*. Really interesting and enjoyable read, good job and thank you!


Dark Matter: A Ghost Story by Michelle Paver

Well, this review was meant to be up for Halloween, but my computer decided to kick the bucket. I now have a new one which was a few years overdue anyways. The end result is that I’m back. I read a shorter Ghost Story called Dark Matter by Michelle Paver. When it comes to horror my preference is strong characters in a supernatural setting.  I went into this book blind; never heard of it. Let’s get going.

This story takes place in 1937 within a gloomy Britain which at this time is filled with rumors of war coming. Enter the journal of Jack Miller; a specialist wireless operator who works a menial dead end job. As he drops further into poverty and merely going through the motions, he has a chance to join an arctic expedition to Gruhuken on the northeast coast of Svalbard. It wasn’t long ago these lands were unclaimed with people looking for fortunes there. Now Gruhuken is oddly vacant of human life trying to find some way to make wealth there. Jack goes on this journey of course and this book is his journal Jack documents along the way.

This story starts off with so much excitement and hope then slowly gives a feeling of creeping dread. Michelle must have done some research or had experience in how it would be to live in the arctic in 1937. I believed this could be a real journal. It was interesting to get a real feeling of traveling to and surviving in such a cold and eventually dark desolate place. The party starts off with 5 people, but bad luck causes only 3 to actually make it to gruhuken and start the expedition. I’m sure there’s no ill omen in this right? I will say they did bring sled dogs with them so that actually pushed back some of the dread I was feeling. When it comes to ghosts, dogs are a great warning. 

The first sign something may be wrong is the Swedish captain tries to talk them out of going to Gruhuken and to land their expedition somewhere else. When this doesn’t work he tries to claim he wasn’t planning on going that far to drop them off. The man is clearly trying to look out for these scholarly Englishmen with no idea of the lands they are going to. Of course eventually they talk him into bringing them to their destination. His uneasy crew helps them set up a cabin then flee from there as fast as possible. The expedition is of course ill fated or else this book would just be a science journal of the arctic. 

Journal formats can be quite tricky to write. It needs to feel natural and you need to make the reader believe the writer knows how to wield words to fascinate us. Michelle is quite good at setting up Jack as an educated man of words despite his low standing in life and the prose feel natural. Jack makes the world around him feel wondrous, dangerous, beautiful, and deadly as the story unfolds. I believe this man could be writing like this as it goes from a mission of science to a mystery of what is happening to the expedition. I do not want to spoil too much, but something doesn’t want other people on these lands; not even for science. 

I cannot say this book felt like it did anything really new, but it did everything exceptionally well. I was invested in Jack’s journey and what his fate would be. There is definitely a point in the book when you really are not sure how the story will end. It certainly did not go the way I thought. The slow building of dread I thought could use a bit more payoff, but overall I was satisfied with the mystery of this land. Jack could have avoided much of what happens with different decisions, but his decisions made sense in the long run. It was not contrived to keep the story going. In fact it seemed realistic. 

Overall I feel like Michelle nailed the gloomy British ghost story in journal form. I was marveled by her attention to detail and making the world around Jack feel alive. The few characters in the story also felt distinct and real from Jack’s PoV. Even the sled dogs felt organic and believable in how Jack viewed their behavior. It would certainly take a lot of guts to go out in the arctic even nowadays not to mention in 1937. Jack definitely was stupidly brave. It was a fascinating shorter read in the world of ghost stories.