Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Guest review by Joy
After reading Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, I looked forward to reading her new romantic, speculative adventure, The Host. I had some preconceived ideas about how The Host would play out, mostly involving scenes of high sexual tension, adventure, and physical conflict. I was slightly disappointed to find only a few such scenes throughout the book.
Most of the conflict in this story is played out in the mind of the host as the "soul" (a silver wormlike parasite that inhabits the host) struggles with the ethical issues involving the parasitic existence of her own species. The Host is told from the soul's POV, giving the story an interesting twist and forcing the reader to sympathize with these parasitic beings that forcefully inhabit human bodies and suppress human identities into virtual nonexistence.
In this rare instance, however, the soul, aka Wanderer, is unable to completely suppress the human, Melanie, completely. Wanderer and Melanie establish an inner dialogue. Since the soul cannot survive without its host, the reader is faced with the ultimate moral dilemma of deciding which sentient being deserves to live.
Even though the story moves along more slowly and is more introspective than Meyer's Twilight series, The Host is a compelling read with dynamic characters and a few bloody run-ins to keep things moving. Meyer pulls you along by your sympathy for both the soul, Wanderer, and the host, Melanie, and you keep on reading in order to see who rises to the top.
While it took me some time to adjust to Meyer's new style, I would recommend The Host, especially to those speculative fiction readers who enjoy a more cerebral, idea-based story.
The Host, by Stephenie Meyer. May 2008. Published by Little, Brown (MT Books). 624 pp. $25.99 (hardcover list).
I was saddened to hear that Algis Budrys, longtime speculative fiction author, editor, and critic, died yesterday morning, June 9. Budrys was 77 years old. He is well known for his work as chief editor of the Writers of the Future contest and anthology. He was also the editor-in-chief at Regency and Playboy. He started his career in 1952 with short fiction, some of which were nominated for the Hugo Award. He wrote several novels, including Michaelmas, Who?, The Falling Torch, Rogue Moon, and Hard Landing. Some of his best short fiction included "The End of Summer" (1954), "Nobody Bothers Gus" (1955), "The Edge of the Sea" (1958, a Hugo nominee), "Wall of Crystal, Eye of Night" (1961), and "The Silent Eyes of Time" (1975, a Hugo nominee).
Best wishes to his family and friends.
Friday, June 6, 2008
Bioware and EA Games just released the PC version of Mass Effect, a choose-your-style sci-fi adventure in the same camp as the Elite Force, Knights of the Old Republic, and Fable games. Up until just over a week ago, Mass Effect was only available on Xbox 360.
For starters, the character creation is fairly decent. You can pick the default John or Jane Shepherd character, or you can go into a salon window, where you can change everything from nose size/type to hair to lip size. One of the downers with customization is that you can only have short-cropped hair--no waist-length, pony tail, etc. Otherwise the options are fairly good.
Once you have the look you want, you can move onto picking a background story for your character (space-born, colony-born, or earthborn; war hero, accident survivor, ruthless soldier). These choices will affect how people talk with you for the entire game (kinda neat that way).
Then you pick what class you'll be. You can be a weapons expert, tech expert, or biotics expert (biotics are like Star Wars force powers, only science-based), or a combination of two of them. This choice will open up talent options, affecting your abilities for the entire game.
After character creation, the story begins with you, Commander Shepherd, on your ship, the Normandy, flying to a planet where an ancient alien relic has been found. Not only is humanity and the Council (a union of many alien races, including humans) depending on the potential advances that could be discovered from this relic, but you are also being evaluated by a Spectre--the elite policing force of the galaxy. Nihilus will be evaluating you on this mission, should you be worthy to be the first human admitted to this prestigious group.
As you're nearing the planet, a distress call comes in from the marines holding position at the dig site. Geth, a machine race, have invaded the planet and are trying to capture the alien beacon. You and your team go down to the planet to attempt a retrieval of the beacon and to help any survivors.
The storyline is compelling and driving, with lots of self-exploration. There are three different "modes." First, there is the main storyline, which involves a lot of cinematics, story-specific quests, and character development. Second, there is planetary exploration, where you check out planets all over the galaxy--you can do this by surveying from orbit or landing on select planets in each system. On the planets' surface, you'll drive your landing vehicle (equipped with a powerful cannon and rail gun) around searching valuable minerals, relics, space pirate infestations, etc. The third part of the story is the Halo-like gun/biotics/tech combat. This is a VAST improvement from Knights of the Old Republic, because here you have free reign to aim and choose your weapons, in contrast with KotOR, where you would point and click on an enemy with an auto-engage system.
You'll find many quests just based on how you interact with other people. Included in this last part of the game, you'll find that there's the "romance quest." Both the male and female Shepherd have dialog options during the game when they're talking to key potential romance interests.
As a whole, the cinematics have amazing, real-life quality to them. The voice acting for each character is remarkable, and--thank heavens--you only have to delve deeper into the "info dump" parts of the storyline if you want to. Otherwise you can breeze through the more interesting dialog.
I'd highly recommend Mass Effect to PC gamers out there and to Xbox 360 gamers who missed it the first time around.
Mass Effect, by Bioware and EA Games. $49.95. Buy here.
Monday, June 2, 2008
For those fellow completists out there, I've decided to start occasionally reviewing some older books in fantasy and sci-fi--ones that I never got around to but can't quite convince myself to leave behind altogether for the most recent speculative stars. I'm calling this series the Reliquary Review.
The first one in this Reliquary Review series is Dave Duncan's first novel in his popular Tales of the King's Blades series, The Gilded Chain, which was published (not terribly long ago) almost exactly ten years ago--November 1998--by Avon Eos.
The Gilded Chain drew me in quickly with its blend of epic language to a degree that was both believable and enjoyable (there was no mire of "thees and thous"). Duncan has a unique style of throwing in exclamations through the perspective of the character whose POV is narrating the chapter. For example: "He didn't even flinch. Most wondrous!" These stylistic fingerprints suit Duncan's style and add a flavor to his prose. If salt is the normal seasoning for good epic writing, Duncan sprinkles some Hungarian paprika into the mix, giving it his own variation on the higher narrative and speech associated with something like Patricia A. McKillip's Riddle-Master of Hed or Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea series.
Duncan accomplishes what he sets out to do--tell well the story of a man's entire life in the dedicated but candid service of his king. Durendal a Blade in training at Ironhall, the homestead of the centuries-old Blades, finds himself bound to a fop of the court. Why would the king bind Durendal to the brother of the king's mistress? Feeling cheated of the opportunity to be bound to a worthwhile ward, the king or one of his important associates, Durendal yet remains loyal to his master, Nutting. But Nutting is not all he appears to be, and soon Durendal finds that the king had good reason to bind him to the fool.
As the story of Durendal continues, Duncan masterfully transitions from one point of the Blade's life to the next. Jumping years (and occasionally a decade or two) in the main character's life is risky business at best, yet The Gilded Chain is well suited to this mechanic. Although I must admit that one of Durendal's great adventures in the middle of the book (the quest for Everman) seems like a diversion from the plot entirely--an episodic meandering that takes the reader far off course from the main story line. However, Duncan proves toward the end just how crucial this plotline will play out.
The Order of the King's Blades is a great concept--the best swordsmen in the realm bound by enchantment to one person (the King or otherwise). It strongly adheres to Arthurian tradition, while including a flavor of the late Robert Jordan's warders to Aes Sedai. This bond adds so much mobility to Duncan's story, and truly lies at the heart of it.
The Gilded Chain, by Dave Duncan. November 1998. Published by Avon Eos (Imprint of HarperCollins). 396 pp. $7.99 (PB).