Wild Cards: ACES ABROAD contest winners!

Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Tor Books, our winners will get their hands on a copy of Wild Cards IV: Aces Abroad, edited by George R. R. Martin and Melinda M. Snodgrass! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winners are:

- Emily Davis, from Martinsville, Indiana, USA

- Robert Coleman, from Covington, Louisiana, USA

- Brian Tyirin, from Independence, Kentucky, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

Cover Reveal: THE THORN OF EMBERLAIN by Scott Lynch

The folks at Gollancz just unveiled Alejandro Colucci's cover art for Scott Lynch's forthcoming The Thorn of Emberlain.


Extract from Alan Smale's CLASH OF EAGLES


Thanks to the folks at Del Rey, here's an extract from Alan Smale's soon-to-be-released Clash of Eagles. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Perfect for fans of action-adventure and historical fiction—including novels by such authors as Bernard Cornwell, Steve Berry, Naomi Novik, and Harry Turtledove—this stunning work of alternate history imagines a world in which the Roman Empire has not fallen and the North American continent has just been discovered. In the year 1218 AD, transported by Norse longboats, a Roman legion crosses the great ocean, enters an endless wilderness, and faces a cataclysmic clash of worlds, cultures, and warriors.

Ever hungry for land and gold, the Emperor has sent Praetor Gaius Marcellinus and the 33rd Roman Legion into the newly discovered lands of North America. Marcellinus and his men expect easy victory over the native inhabitants, but on the shores of a vast river the Legion clashes with a unique civilization armed with weapons and strategies no Roman has ever imagined.

Forced to watch his vaunted force massacred by a surprisingly tenacious enemy, Marcellinus is spared by his captors and kept alive for his military knowledge. As he recovers and learns more about these proud people, he can’t help but be drawn into their society, forming an uneasy friendship with the denizens of the city-state of Cahokia. But threats—both Roman and Native—promise to assail his newfound kin, and Marcellinus will struggle to keep the peace while the rest of the continent surges toward certain conflict.

Enjoy!
-------------------------

The Iroqua war party hit them two days later in the early afternoon, rising like ghosts from the long grasses to fling their spears and fire their arrows into the side of Fabius’s Seventh Cohort, howling like banshees all the while. Though they had been on the march for six hours without a break, the Seventh responded instantly, bursting out of its marching line to hammer the braves with Roman steel. The assault turned into a running battle amid the trees of hickory and beech, and if the Iroqua were surprised at the turn of speed a fully armored legionary could attain, their surprise generally did not last long.

Throughout the Legion, Roman discipline prevailed. The cohorts behind and in front of the Seventh came to order, the nearer groups dashing into the fray while the centuries farther out hunkered down in defense. Sure enough, two more Iroqua bands burst out from behind the trees, one assaulting Marcellinus and the Roman standards at the head of the Legion and the other aiming to destroy the baggage train and perhaps capture the Romans’ slaves for their own use.

Neither attempt succeeded. The elite troops of Pollius Scapax mowed down the forward band of Iroqua with surgical skill and utter ruthlessness, and Marcellinus bloodied his gladius in combat for the first time on this campaign, cutting down four braves and crippling another. Meanwhile, in the rear the terrified Powhatani and other Algon--Quian slaves circled the wagons and aided the stragglers of the Sixth in holding off the ululating Iroqua until the massed line of the Fourth slammed into the warriors, slaughtering them to a man.

Other smaller bands of painted Hesperians appeared helter--skelter amid the trees, and the Fifth and Second were the next to engage in a running fight in the meadows. This ended with the remains of the war parties encircled by Romans. Some twenty of the Iroqua tried to escape by climbing into a tree; the Romans set the tree ablaze and made them choose between death by fire and death by steel. Dozens of others, trapped on the ground, threw aside their slings and bows.

If by surrendering they expected to be spared to join their eastern brethren in the slave line, the Iroqua were sorely disappointed. The Legion needed no more slaves, and Marcellinus would not have trusted a warrior in the role as readily as a fisherman. Slavery was an economic contract between thinking beings, but Marcellinus knew these Iroqua to be feral creatures who would never knuckle under.

After mourning Thorkell Sigurdsson so recently, the men were not inclined to award their captives easy deaths, and Marcellinus would hardly insist on such a thing. Several more of his legionaries were dead and others still thrashed on the ground with poisoned flesh wounds, and he had no sympathy for an enemy that adopted such foul tactics as the Iroqua. He withdrew to secure the front of the legionary line and left his troops to their revenge. The screams of the braves troubled him little enough. He hoped the gruesome sounds would travel far enough to deter any further Hesperian foolishness.

They had marched sixteen miles that day, and it would have to be enough. Marcellinus sent in his tribunes and Scapax to declare a halt to the festivities, and his men cheerfully yielded and threw up the castra then and there in the clearing. Camp had never been set up so quickly.

***

“I see you’ve put the Briton in his place,” Corbulo said, dismounting to walk beside him. “A worthy decision.”

Gaius Publius Marcellinus was leading his horse, allowing it to walk unencumbered for a while. For his own part, it felt good to shake the stiffness out of his legs, and the brisk exercise was helping to shift the fog from his thoughts.

He missed Aelfric’s easy companionship but was not about to confess it. “You were right,” he said shortly. “It’s easy for a man to grow careless.”

The views in Appalachia had often been stunning. Here in the lowlands, often surrounded once more by forest, the tedium of marching had taken over again. By now Marcellinus heartily endorsed Tully’s conviction that no Roman would want to farm here. The land had become ungodly flat. His eyes ached for want of a hill or even a hummock. He had never seen such a terrain. Like all learned men, Marcellinus knew that the earth was round like a ball, but even for him it was easy to imagine the world petering off into an increasingly featureless desert as they marched out of reality altogether.

“Killing Fuscus,” said his tribune. “Another worthy simplification. Easier not to hear his lying tongue at all than risk being misled by it.”

With uncanny precision Corbulo had just congratulated Marcellinus on the second matter that was troubling him. He could not dispel the knowledge that cutting down the word slave in cold blood had been shameful, despite the provocation, and was possibly as bad an error as that of the Roman captain who had slaughtered the Norse pirates. Information was always valuable. And in the Praetor’s personal experience, his acting in anger had rarely produced laudable results.

They hiked in silence. Marcellinus recognized that an olive branch was being offered, a bid to return to their former camaraderie, but could not find the words to respond. Corbulo’s moment of failure still hung in the air, surely the cause of the remaining awkwardness between them. Everything’s all right, Lucius, he wanted to say, and I think no worse of you. But that would admit the possibility that another man might have. Corbulo had ambition, and a persistent rumor about him panicking on the battlefield could be deadly to his career, sinking his chances of one day getting his own legion or advancing in politics. Somehow the thing must be dealt with without being acknowledged.

Unexpectedly, Corbulo raised the topic. He turned to Marcellinus and said: “I apologize for my dithering back at the ambush. Thank you for plucking me upright. It was well done.”

Marcellinus recovered quickly from his surprise and waved his hand dismissively. “We were all startled.” He leaned over. “I hope my sandal print in your ribs is not causing you too much anguish.”

Corbulo laughed. “Always better to be beaten up by a friend.”

“I would never mention it to another soul, you know.”

“And I thank you for that,” was all Corbulo said, but Marcellinus felt the man’s spirits lift.

If only Marcellinus’s mood could be elevated so easily.

“I responded to murder with murder,” he said abruptly.

“What?’

Marcellinus bit his tongue and walked on, facing straight ahead.

“What choice did you have?” Corbulo asked. “You did what you had to. I’d have done the same.”

“Would you?”

“Of course.”

Marcellinus looked at him for a long moment, then nodded. “Very well, then. I should ride again.”

“We each have times when we doubt,” said his First Tribune quietly. “But we just need to stick together and get the job done. Whether or not there’s gold here, we can make this work for Hadrianus, you and I. In the conquest and annexation of such a vast area we can cover ourselves in glory. You can retire in comfort. I can move on to higher things. Let us not be enemies, Gaius. And let us not forget who rules this world.”

“I never shall,” said Marcellinus. “Count on it.”

***

As the month of Julius gave way to Augustus, the heat soared. The sky became white with humidity, and the air felt like a damp sponge against their skin. The shade of the few remaining stands of trees offered little relief. The moisture invaded the fabric of the tents and wouldn’t come out; by night the castra stank like a barnyard.

The occasional downpours just made it worse. The rain came down in giant sheets of water that did not freshen the air but merely sat rancid overnight and then boiled off the soil in the morning sun in great mists.

Marcellinus had not known the air could hold so much liquid. Beneath his armor his tunic was permanently wet and would not dry out at night. His crotch felt like a fouled bird’s nest.

Bengal had sometimes been like this. But at least they’d had a cooling monsoon every afternoon and drier air by night. Here in Nova Hesperia, so far from the sea, the wind had forgotten how to blow. The soldiers were surly, and the horses spooked at nothing, their ears flat back against their heads.

The Hesperians were still out there. Another nine of his legionaries died, picked off and mutilated gruesomely while collecting firewood or stalking the white--tailed deer. With supplies this short, forbidding the men to hunt was futile, yet all too often they themselves became the prey.

By now everyone knew that they were going on, that there could be no return to the Chesapica before winter, that once the weather turned cold they would be building a fortress and staying put out here in the wilderness.

The heat and damp and uncertainty played with men’s tempers. Marcellinus lost an additional seven soldiers to violence when a brawl turned murderous and he had to execute the culprits. Once more he cursed the ill mix of the men given him to command: raw Nubians, Magyar mercenaries, veteran Teutons, and even some patrician Romans, a mixed bag of races and languages that turned his centurions into diplomats who spent as much time coaxing their men not to kill one another as they did in maintaining their battle readiness.

His feelings of isolation grew. Urbs Roma became a marbled dream. And just as his legion eroded further into squalor and ill temper, the barbarians around them seemed to grow ever more civilized.

Though they saw few natives, they passed plenty of evidence of their activities. The tents and lean--tos of the east had given way to firmer structures of wood and wattle and daub. In some areas the remains of broad tree stumps showed that the locals had torn down the forests for farmland. Though Marcellinus was no lover of trees for trees’ sake, he was surprised at how much of an effect this had on him. The Romans became the beneficiaries of the increased cultivation of the land; they swarmed the corn like locusts, leaving only stalks behind them. Deer would still appear startlingly close to the Legion’s path and die quickly in a hail of arrows. The soldiers often had to pull fifteen or twenty arrows out of a downed buck before they could skin and dress it for the fire.

Despite their living off the land as much as they were able, the Hesperian corn still provided a paltry yield compared with the robust crops of Europa. Leogild’s baggage carts continued to grow lighter as the victuals dwindled. A few thousand men on the march ate a great deal.

As long damp day followed long damp day, Marcellinus saw more and more evidence of how the local tribes were taming the land. And more than once he could have sworn he saw an aviator fly by, banking and swooping behind the trees.

In his dreams they wheeled over him in a giant flock, and he awoke with his ears still full of the beating of their wings.

***

Now the Legion started coming across the mounds: small conical earthworks in the clearings by the abandoned villages. In the days that followed, the number of villages and the size of the mounds both showed a marked increase.

“This is more like it,” said Marcellinus as they rode past a mound fifteen feet tall.

“Piles of earth?” Corbulo said.

“Yes, just piles of earth, patted down nice and neat. We could put one up in an hour that would put this one to shame. But these people aren’t Romans. For them to build a mound like this is a triumph of effort and organization. And these are just the beginning. Ahead, there are cities of these things.”

“Ah, big piles of earth,” said Corbulo. “You should have said so sooner.”

“Support me, Lucius,” Marcellinus said quietly. “Your sarcasm grows wearying.”

“Of course. Sorry.”

Leogild cleared his throat. “Sir, we should talk again about supplies.”

“Supplies, always supplies.” Corbulo put his hand up to his temple as if deafened by the Visigoth.

Leogild eyed him. “Fine. You don’t want to eat, that’s more for everyone else.”

Until now they had scavenged from the fields and forests as they’d gone by. Now the tended forests were giving way to plains, and—-at long last—-Bjarnason’s promised fields of tall, odd--looking, but well--tended corn were replacing the earlier sickly patches. The cornfields were separated by stands of nut trees; by this time nobody doubted that the Hesperians had transformed the landscape around them. But reaping the new bounty would take time.

“We march on,” Marcellinus said. “Let’s travel light and get this done. Their crops aren’t quite ready yet, anyway. Once we’ve taken their city, an organized harvest from these fields will feed us to bursting.”

Corbulo looked relieved; he obviously had feared a delay in reaching their goal. As for Marcellinus, now suddenly freed from constant worry about running out of food, he felt positively giddy.

The gamble was going to pay off. Once they’d harvested the corn, the Legion could overwinter here in relative comfort. He would even have time before winter to send an exploratory cohort or two to march on farther or lead it himself, maximizing their westward expansion. Even without gold, Hadrianus might be pleased at their annexation of so much land.

All they had to do was take the city.

“Give the orders that any redskin farmers who don’t flee are not to be harassed. From now on the corn is to be left undisturbed. We can come back for it at need.”

“Four days I’ll give you,” said Leogild. “After that I’ll counsel a day or two to restock the wagons before going farther.”

“Agreed,” the Praetor said.

On they went. The stillness of the air was uncanny, and the utter absence of any breeze was stifling. Marcellinus rarely saw a face that was not dripping with sweat or passed a soldier who did not reek. Much more of this and the leather and wool would rot on their bodies. In Europa such an epic trek could have taken them from Urbs Roma almost as far as Parisi in Gaul, but in Europa the way would be well signed and the rivers already bridged. Nova Hesperia was a giant land with no roads at all aside from the one they were creating. This was going to be one hell of a province for a Roman legate to administer one day.

To Marcellinus it felt as if the past weeks had carried the Legion on a long march through time. First, the poverty--racked fisher--gatherers of the Powhatani by the giant bay of the Chesapica, at the mercy of the tide and the berry plant. Next, the woodland husbandry of the Iroqua, savage to invaders but gentle to the land, cultivating their meadows, burning their undergrowth, shooting their deer. Now, here in the alluvial bottomlands of deepest Nova Hesperia, the Cahokiani farmed their fields and lived in stout wooden huts that represented a giant leap forward from the animal--skin tents and lean--to shacks on the coast. Such settled and well--ordered agriculture was essential to support the Great City they sought, and judging by the increasing size of the Cahokiani settlements they passed, that city must now be very close.

Soon it would be time to fight.
--------------------------

Excerpted from CLASH OF EAGLES by Alan Smale Copyright © 2015 by Alan Smale. Excerpted by permission of Del Rey/Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now download Lev Grossman's The Magicians for only 3.00$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Quentin Coldwater is a brilliant but unhappy young man growing up in Brooklyn, NY. At 17, he remains obsessed with the fantasy novels he read as a child, set in the magical land of Fillory. One day, returning home from a college interview gone awry, he finds himself whisked to Brakebills, an exclusive college for wizards hidden in upstate New York. And so begins THE MAGICIANS, the thrilling and original novel of fantasy and disenchantment by Lev Grossman, author of the international bestseller Codex and book critic for TIME magazine.

At Brakebills, Quentin learns to cast spells. He makes friends and falls in love. He transforms into animals and gains powers of which he never dreamed. Still, magic doesn’t bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he thought it would, and four years later, he finds himself back in Manhattan, living an aimless, hedonistic existence born of apathy, boredom and the ability to conjure endless sums of money out of thin air.

One afternoon, hung over and ruing some particularly foolish behavior, Quentin is surprised by the sudden arrival of his Brakebills friend and rival Penny, who announces that Fillory is real. This news promises to finally fulfill Quentin’s yearning, but their journey turns out to be darker and more dangerous than Quentin could have imagined. His childhood dream is a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart.

At once psychologically piercing and magnificently absorbing, THE MAGICIANS pays intentional homage to the beloved fantasy novels of C. S. Lewis, T.H. White and J.K. Rowling, but does much more than enlarge the boundaries of conventional fantasy writing. By imagining magic as practiced by real people, with their capricious desires and volatile emotions, Grossman creates an utterly original world in which good and evil aren’t black and white, love and sex aren’t simple or innocent, and power comes at a terrible price.

Extract from Kazuo Ishiguro's THE BURIED GIANT


An extract from the long-awaited new novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant, was recently posted on The Telegraph website. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

The Romans have long since departed and Britain is steadily declining into ruin. But, at least, the wars that once ravaged the country have ceased. Axl and Beatrice, a couple of elderly Britons, decide that now is the time, finally, for them to set off across this troubled land of mist and rain to find the son they have not seen for years, the son they can scarcely remember. They know they will face many hazards—some strange and otherworldly—but they cannot foresee how their journey will reveal to them the dark and forgotten corners of their love for each other. Nor can they foresee that they will be joined on their journey by a Saxon warrior, his orphan charge, and a knight—each of them, like Axl and Beatrice, lost in some way to his own past, but drawn inexorably toward the comfort, and the burden, of the fullness of a life’s memories.

Sometimes savage, sometimes mysterious, always intensely moving, Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel in a decade tells a luminous story about the act of forgetting and the power of memory, a resonant tale of love, vengeance, and war.

Follow this link to read the extract.

Musical Interlude



Cebu Pacific plays this song every time their planes land at destination. Kind of cool to listen to this catchy tune while waiting to disembark. . . =)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can still download K. J. Parker's Colours in the Steel for only 2.99$ here!

Here's the blurb:

An epic novel of blood, betrayal, and intrigue. . .

Perimadeia is the famed Triple City and the mercantile capital of the known world. Behind its allegedly impregnable walls, everything is available-including information that will allow its enemies to plan one of the most devastating sieges of all time.

The man called upon to defend Perimadeia is Bardas Loredan, a fencer-at-law, weary of his work and the world. For Loredan is one of the surviving members of Maxen's Pitchfork, the legendary band of soldiers who waged war on the Plains tribes, rendering an attack on Perimadeia impossible. Until now, that is.

But Loredan has problems of his own. In a city where court cases are settled by lawyers arguing with swords not words, enemies are all too easily made. And by winning one particular case, Loredan has unwittingly become the target of a young woman bent on revenge. The last thing he needs is the responsibility of saving a city.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Brandon Sanderson's Warbreaker for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

After bursting onto the fantasy scene with his acclaimed debut novel, Elantris, and following up with his blockbuster Mistborn trilogy, Brandon Sanderson proves again that he is today's leading master of what Tolkien called "secondary creation," the invention of whole worlds, complete with magics and myths all their own.

Warbreaker is the story of two sisters, who happen to be princesses, the God King one of them has to marry, the lesser god who doesn't like his job, and the immortal who's still trying to undo the mistakes he made hundreds of years ago.

Their world is one in which those who die in glory return as gods to live confined to a pantheon in Hallandren's capital city and where a power known as BioChromatic magic is based on an essence known as breath that can only be collected one unit at a time from individual people.

By using breath and drawing upon the color in everyday objects, all manner of miracles and mischief can be accomplished. It will take considerable quantities of each to resolve all the challenges facing Vivenna and Siri, princesses of Idris; Susebron the God King; Lightsong, reluctant god of bravery, and mysterious Vasher, the Warbreaker.

Win a copy of Dave Bara's IMPULSE


I have three copies of Dave Bara's Impulse up for grabs, compliments of the folks at Del Rey UK. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Lieutenant Peter Cochrane of the Quantar Royal Navy believes he has his future clearly mapped out. It begins with his new assignment as an officer on Her Majesty’s Spaceship Starbound, a Lightship bound for deep space voyages of exploration.

But everything changes when Peter is summoned to the office of his father, Grand Admiral Nathan Cochrane, and given devastating news: the death of a loved one. In a distant solar system, a mysterious and unprovoked attack upon Lightship Impulse resulted in the deaths of Peter’s former girlfriend and many of her shipmates.

Now Peter's plans are torn asunder as he is transferred to a Unified Space Navy ship under foreign command, en route to an unexpected destination, and surrounded almost entirely by strangers. To top it off, his superiors have given him secret orders that might force him to become a mutineer.

The crisis at hand becomes a gateway to something much more when the ship’s Historian leads Peter and his shipmates into a galaxy of the unknown -- of ancient technologies, age-old rivalries, new cultures, and unexpected romance. It’s an overwhelming responsibility for Peter, and one false step could plunge humanity into an apocalyptic interstellar war. . .

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam)gryphonwood.net with the header "IMPULSE." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now download Glen Cook's The Dragon Never Sleeps for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

For four thousand years, the Guardships have ruled Canon Space—immortal ships with an immortal crew, dealing swiftly and harshly with any mercantile houses or alien races that threaten the status quo.

But now the House Tregesser has an edge: a force from outside Canon Space offers them the resources to throw off Guardship rule. This precipitates an avalanche of unexpected outcomes, including the emergence of Kez Maefele, one of the few remaining generals of the Ku Warrior race-the only race to ever seriously threaten Guardship hegemony. Kez Maefele and a motley group of aliens, biological constructs, an scheming aristocrats find themselves at the center of the conflict. Maefele must chose which side he will support: the Guardships, who defeated and destroyed his race, or the unknown forces outside Canon Space that promise more death and destruction.

Originator


Although I've been shouting it from the rooftops for the last couple of years, it appears that Joel Shepherd's Cassandra Kresnov book sequence remains what could well be science fiction best-kept secret. Every single installment is an intelligent and action-packed read and this series should definitely be on everyone's reading list. If I say it enough, perhaps more and more SFF fans will finally give this series a shot. . .

If 23 Years on Fire was meant to bridge the gap between the first trilogy and what came after, Operation Shield pushed the envelope even further and set the stage for what was meant to be a terrific finale in Originator. Needless to say, Shepherd doesn't disappoint and he brings this second trilogy to a satisfying end. With poise and aplomb, this is an author in complete control of his story, tying up loose ends in surprising and sometimes shocking fashion and opening the door for a lot more to come.

Few science fiction writers can come up with such politically charged yet balls-to-the-walls works that also tackle social and moral issues. And given the quality and the depth of these novels, I feel that Joel Shepherd never got the credit he deserves from critics or his peers. These books are all awesome and Originator is a worthy addition to what is doubtless a superior SFF series.

Here's the blurb:

A quarter of a million people die in the destruction of the moon Cresta. The League civil war is accelerating out of control, but projections indicate that as their technologically induced sociological dysfunction continues, all of humanity may face a similar fate. In the aftermath of Cresta's destruction, Sandy Kresnov discovers the alien Talee operative Cai in Tanusha, there to learn just how far the technologically-induced insanity has gone. The Talee have seen this before, and they are terrified of anything threatening a recurrence.

Meanwhile, Sandy's old nemesis Renaldo Takewashi, the self-proclaimed “father” of synthetic intelligence, comes to the Federation seeking asylum. Takewashi may even have a cure—previously unknown Talee technology implanted into a human child subject—Sandy's little boy, Kiril. But it is exactly this technology that the Talee fear, and they will exterminate anyone caught using it.

Now, Sandy must fight to save her family from a terrible new threat, but doing so may plunge humanity into another destructive war between humans, or worse, against the massively-advanced Talee. And what final secret are the Talee protecting about the origins of synthetic humans like Sandy that could either liberate Sandy’s fellow synthetics from bondage or spell disaster for all humanity?

As always, Shepherd came up with another intricate and well-crafted plot that reads like an excellent blend of political thriller and fast-paced science fiction. And yet, though political intrigue plays a big role in this book, what with the conflict between the Federation and the League, but also within the Federation itself, as there are numerous power struggles between the FSA, the CSA, the Fleet, and FedInt. Originator is probably more space opera than all of his predecessors. Indeed, a lot of revelations regarding synthetic intelligence, the GIs, and especially the mysterious Talee and their origins are unveiled, answering questions readers have been asking themselves for years. Hence, the worldbuilding plays a massive role in making this one a compelling and thrilling conclusion to this series.

Cassandra's moral awakening continues to be a fascinating facet to follow, as Shepherd raises even more philosophical issues through her character. How she copes with her developing "motherhood," now that she is the legal guardian of Danya, Svetlana, and Kiril, definitely continues to make for some interesting character growth. The emancipation of sentient androids remains a central theme and those "human rights" issues play a key role throughout this new installment. The interaction between GIs is also evolving and they ponder about their identity and what they want out of life. Familiar POVs return, but it's also nice to get the perspective of newer faces like Danya and Raylee.

The last two volumes suffered from inconsistent pacing issues from time to time, but Originator is paced quite adroitly. Sure, the rhythm picks up exponentially when the author goes all out with his crazy action sequences. But for the most part, the pace remains relatively even and there is not a dull moment from start to finish. Shepherd found a way to create just the right type of balance between political intrigue, character development, worldbuilding, and action-packed battle scenes.

And even though Originator appears to bring this second trilogy to an end, the book opens the door for countless new and unexplored possibilities. I have a feeling that we'll see Sandy, Ari, Vanessa, Rhian, Ibrahim, and the rest of the gang again before long.

Meanwhile, do yourself a favor and pick up Crossover, the very first volume in the saga. You'll thank me later and berate yourself for not listening to me and having waited for so long to start reading this fun, smart, and entertaining series!

Highly recommended!

The final verdict: 8/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


Well, this is the book that made me fall in love with the fantasy genre. All the way back in 1986, during my first year of junior high!

And for a limited time, you can download Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's Dragons of Autumn Twilight, the opening chapter in the Dragonlance Chronicles, for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Lifelong friends, they went their separate ways. Now they are together again, though each holds secrets from the others in his heart. They speak of a world shadowed with rumors of war. They speak of tales of strange monsters, creatures of myth, creatures of legend. They do not speak of their secrets. Not then. Not until a chance encounter with a beautiful, sorrowful woman, who bears a magical crystal staff, draws the companions deeper into the shadows, forever changing their lives and shaping the fate of the world.

No one expected them to be heroes.

Least of all, them.

Sorry, but there was no way I could post this without using the original cover art by Larry Elmore. . . =)

Joel Shepherd contest winners!

Our three winners will get their hands on a copy of Joel Shepherd's Originator, compliments of the folks at Pyr. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winners are:

- Steve Howard, from Stamford, Connecticut, USA

- Paul Breault, from Whitby, Ontario, Canada

- Bobby V. Berry, Jr., from Highlands Ranch, Colorado, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


All five volumes of Gail Carriger's The Parasol Protectorate are available for 2.99$ each.

- Soulless
- Changeless
- Blameless
- Heartless
- Timeless

Here's the blurb for the first installment:

Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she's a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire -- and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London's high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

SOULLESS is the first book of the Parasol Protectorate series: a comedy of manners set in Victorian London, full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking.

Quote of the Day

Predisposition to violence is not a factor in a person's predisposition to fanatical belief.

- JOEL SHEPHERD, Originator (Canada, USA, Europe)

The Mechanical


I felt that Ian Tregillis' the Milkweed Triptych was an intelligent, thought-provoking, inventive, and engrossing work which was indubitably one of the very best speculative fiction series of the new millennium. So when it was announced that Orbit would publish the author's new series, The Alchemy Wars, I couldn't wait to get my hands on The Mechanical!

For some unfathomable reason, Tregillis wrote this new novel in a totally different narrative voice, one bereft of every single aspect that made the Milkweed Triptych such a memorable read. Indeed, this one is decidedly YA-ish in style and tone, similar to works by Brian McClellan or Brandon Sanderson early in his career. Gone are the shades of gray, the depth of characterization, the complexity of the challenges the protagonists must face and the emotional toll it takes on them. In short, if you've read Ian Tregillis' first trilogy and Something More Than Night, it feels as though this book was written by someone else.

I can understand that the different narrative voice is probably meant to make Tregillis more appealing to a younger, more mainstream SFF readership. Yet I can't help but feel that it might lose him a lot of fans who have stuck with him since they first read Bitter Seeds a few years ago. I know I'm in no hurry to pick up the second installment. . .

Here's the blurb:

The Clakker: a mechanical man, endowed with great strength and boundless stamina -- but beholden to the wishes of its human masters.

Soon after the Dutch scientist and clockmaker Christiaan Huygens invented the very first Clakker in the 17th Century, the Netherlands built a whole mechanical army. It wasn't long before a legion of clockwork fusiliers marched on Westminster, and the Netherlands became the world's sole superpower.

Three centuries later, it still is. Only the French still fiercely defend their belief in universal human rights for all men -- flesh and brass alike. After decades of warfare, the Dutch and French have reached a tenuous cease-fire in a conflict that has ravaged North America.

But one audacious Clakker, Jax, can no longer bear the bonds of his slavery. He will make a bid for freedom, and the consequences of his escape will shake the very foundations of the Brasswork Throne.

In the past, Tregillis wrote paranormal alternate history novels in which he tinkered with WWII and the Cold War. With an eye for historical details, his evocative prose brought the story to life in a way few of his peers can achieve. I was expecting more of the same in The Mechanical, but the worldbuilding is inexplicably subdued. Sadly, we learn very little about Huygen's discovery and how the Dutch came to rule most of the world afterward. In his previous novels, the author always managed to capture the essence of the countries, regions, and cities in which the action took place. In The Mechanical, it doesn't feel as though he failed to do so. It almost feels like Tregillis didn't even try. As if most of the worldbuilding has been excised from the manuscript during the editing process. Still, it felt kind of cool to discover that Montréal, known in this one as Marseilles-in-the-West, is home of the exiled French royalty, and that Québec is where the Pope and his entourage also fled from the Protestant onslaught.

As the first volume in this series, The Mechanical is more or less an introduction for what will follow after and it doesn't really stand all that well on its on. Although it was never meant to be a stand-alone work, it offers little in terms of resolution. The main theme explored throughout the book appears to be free will. Ian Tregillis' original narrative voice with its adult-oriented themes would have had no problem approaching this topic from a variety of angles. But this new YA-ish narrative voice falls a little flat and can never really get things off the ground in that regard.

The Mechanical features the POVs of three quite disparate protagonists. Jax, one of the Clakkers, the mechanical men, now free of the compulsion that made him a slave to the Brasswork Throne, is considered a rogue and must escape to New France before he is captured and destroyed. Pastor Luuk Visser, a Catholic priest in The Hague masquerading as a Protestant pastor and secretly spying on the enemy for the Holy See. And Berenice Charlotte de Mornay-Périgord, head of the French secret services and known as Talleyrand. Three sets of eyes through which we see events unfold, on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Jax's is probably the most interesting POV of the bunch, as it's through him that we learn more about Clakkers, the Brasswork Throne, and the rest of the Dutch Empire. This mechanical man is also the only engaging character to follow. Through Visser's point of view, we learn how the Catholic Church opposes the Dutch and how the French seek to free the Clakkers from slavery on account of their something akin to a soul. But midway through the book, Visser's plans come undone and he'll no longer be the man he used to be. As such, he'll lose most of his appeal. Berenice, as head of the French secret services, is almost a caricature. Temperamental and prone to making piss-poor decisions, she's definitely not the sharpest tool in the shed. Which makes one wonder how she could possibly have ended up with such an important role. Rather dumb from the very beginning, she seldom exhibits any shred of common sense and she's a veritable chore to follow. Other than swearing like a sailor, there is nothing remarkable about her. Hence, to have her make everything come together at the end of the book feels decidedly contrived. Moreover, it robs the finale of any kind of punch it could have had.

The pace is fluid throughout. And though The Mechanical might not be as dense and complex and compelling as its predecessors, it is interesting and entertaining enough to make it a quick read. It's just that the payoff at the end is nowhere near what it was in the three Milkweed Triptych installments.

By cutting down on worldbuilding, the author took away most of the depth that could have made many of his concepts and themes quite fascinating. Time and again, you hope for more information, for the author to spend a few paragraphs elaborating on this or that aspect. But it is in vain. And there are some cool concepts in this book. Quite a few, actually. Trouble is, they are never explored in-depth. Which somehow always makes you feel shortchanged, with more questions than answers. For its part, the sub-par characterization prevents the POV protagonists from carrying this tale on their shoulders, so there is no chance they can find a way to save this one.

In the end, you find yourself with a book which had the potential of being as great as anything else the author has ever written. But so-so execution, lack of depth, and poor characterization make The Mechanical by far Ian Tregillis' weakest work to date.

The final verdict: 6.5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Extract from L. E. Modesitt, jr.'s MADNESS IN SOLIDAR


Thanks to the author himself, here's a sneak peek of L. E. Modesitt, jr.'s ninth installment in the Imager Portfolio series, Madness in Solidar. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Four centuries after its founding, Solidar’s Collegium of Imagers is in decline, the exploits of its founder, the legendary Quaeryt, largely forgotten. The Collegium is so lacking in leadership that the dying Maitre must summon Alastar, an obscure but talented senior imager from Westisle far to the south who has little knowledge of politics in the capital, as his successor. When Alastar arrives in L’Excelsis and becomes the new Maitre, he finds disarray and lack of discipline within the Collegium, and the ruler of Solidar so hated by the High Holders that they openly refer to him as being mad. To make matters worse, neither Rex Ryen, ridiculed as Rex Dafou, nor the High Holders have any respect for the Collegium, and Alastar finds himself in the middle of a power struggle, with Ryen demanding that the Collegium remove the strongest High Holders and the military leadership in turn plotting to topple Ryen and destroy the Collegium. At the same time, Ryen is demanding the High Holders pay a massive increase in taxes while he initiates a grandiose building project. And all that, Alastar discovers, is only a fraction of the problems he and the Collegium face.

Enjoy!
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The two gray-clad imagers sat in the two chairs before the oblong desk. The prematurely gray-haired one glanced at the timepiece on the corner of the desk, and its sands flowing from the top of the glass to the bottom.

“Do you have to go?” asked Cyran, the younger of the two men, if only by a few years, although some silver hairs streaked his blond thatch.

“Not quite yet. I’m supposed to meet the rex at half past eighth glass. He’d be happier if it were sixth glass.”

“Is he that early a riser?”

“Supposedly. He always looks tired, even when he’s angry, and that’s more often the case than not.”

“Alastar… don’t you think you’re acceding to his wishes too much? Even Maître Fhaen…”

“He is the source of almost all our funding. That’s barely enough right now, as I pointed out at the last meeting of the senior maîtres. The drought in the southeast, around Piedryn, and the last rains here and in the west, have halved crop yields, and prices are going up… and will increase more. Then there’s the small matter that the Collegium’s charter is to support the rex, and that means against the High Holders and everything else. In the past, that’s meant support against the army high command as well, but with Demykalon only recently becoming marshal, it’s hard to say.”

“The word is that he doesn’t like imagers.”

“That’s likely true.” In fact, that had been one of the first things Alastar had learned after arriving at Imagisle. “That doesn’t mean that Demykalon is that fond of the rex, and these days, Ryen also needs support against the factors’ council.”

“And everyone else, the Nameless knows,” replied Cyran. “That puts us at odds with almost everyone.”

“Ryen is far less than he could be, but would you want Demykalon, or any marshal running Solidar? Or High Holders Haebyn, Nacryon, and Guerdyn? Or any factor that you could name?”

“Especially Elthyrd. He’s behind some new money-lending factorage, likely another excuse for usury on a larger scale.”

“Oh… the new Banque D’Excelsis?” Alastar couldn’t recall where he’d heard that.

“The word is that he put up the golds to back his son. What about Lorien? Would he be a better rex than his father?”

“Who knows? I’ve never met him, but it’s hard to believe he couldn’t do better than his sire, but that’s not a certainty. In any event, we shouldn’t be the ones making that choice. If it ever came out that we did… and it would come out, you know that as well as I…” Alastar did not finish the sentence, but he did not have to, he knew.

“It wouldn’t be the end of the Collegium.”

“If it weren’t, it would come Namer-fired close.” The Maître of the Collegium Imago shook his head. “So we’ll do our best to keep everyone at bay with everyone else until someone with sense shows up.”

“As if anyone with sense would be stupid enough to let it be known,” countered Cyran. “Do you know what Ryen wants?”

“No.” Alastar stood, letting Cyran know that their talk was over. “I can hardly wait to find out what new scheme or pet peeve he’s become obsessed with.”

“Better you than me.”

“Thank you, my friend.” Alastar offered a warm smile, then watched as Cyran left the study. After a moment, he picked up a leather case and riffled through the papers inside, although he doubted that Ryen would wish to discuss what was contained in any of them, unless, of course, Alastar neglected to bring the folder. Then, after donning a riding jacket that matched his imager grays and the gray cap with its polished black leather visor, he made his way out of the study and along the corridor toward the older end of the administration building, that section constructed by the first imagers of the Collegium. That was a much different time. Much different.

He still found it almost unreal that he had been the second-highest imager at Westisle less than two months ago, or that Maître Zhelan had turned down the opportunity to come to head the entire Collegium and had let it be known that Alastar should take the position. The more Alastar heard and saw, the more he understood at least some of the reasons Zhelan had demurred. At least, no one had asked him to go to Mount D’Image, the isolated northern town at the base of the Montagnes D’Glace that housed failed or disciplined imagers. He shuddered at that thought.

Outside the old main entrance, both his escorts were waiting, attired in the standard imager grays, with gray riding jackets and visor caps, given the stiff breeze and almost chill air of mid-fall. So was his mount, an older but not aged gray gelding, a symbolism that Alastar never voiced, but let others infer.

Although he could have summoned one of the Collegium carriages, he preferred to ride, even though that required two young imagers as escorts. While the two carried blades and truncheons, those were backed by imaging skills ranging from the simple expedient of imaging a cloud of fine pepper around the head of an assailant to imaging something into the body of an attacker.

Alastar looked at the gelding, murmured, “Here we go again, fellow,” then mounted and urged the gelding forward. “The north bridge.” He looked to the large gray stone dwelling at the north end of the green bordered by stone-paved lanes on each side. Unlike the family dwellings on each side of the green, it was two stories tall and extended a good forty yards across the front with a wide covered porch wrapping around it – a dwelling that would have been far too large for Alastar, a childless widower, were it not for his responsibilities for entertaining those within the Collegium and, occasionally, those from outside, although he had not done that in the brief time he had been on Imagisle. He turned toward the imager on his left. “How are your studies with Maître Cyran coming, Belsior?”

“Well enough, sir.”

“He mentioned that you have a tendency to be… excessively enthusiastic in imaging iron darts.”

“Yes, sir. He made me understand that.”

Alastar smiled at the understatement, knowing that Cyran had made the young man, a solid third, who might someday possibly become a Maître D’Aspect, image darts until he collapsed, in little more than a tenth of a glass, then walked up to the fallen Belsior and put a sabre at his throat. “He does have a way about him.”

At that, Neiryn, the other third, nodded.

Before long, the three were riding across the north bridge over the River Aluse. Once on the west shore, they turned north on the West River Road, threading their way past a wagon moving south and piled with bales of hay.

The shops that lined the west side of the road were neat enough, Alastar reflected, but definitely showed their age, unlike those on the East River Road. As they neared a point opposite the north end of Imagisle, Alastar again marveled, as he had for every time he saw them, at the gray stone ramparts that sheathed the entire shoreline of the isle that held the Collegium. He still had a hard time believing that the first maître had created those walls in a single day, although that was the story. For his own reasons, Alastar was loath to disabuse that rumor, as, he suspected, had been every Collegium Maître since the first one. Yet… even in a month or a season?

At the west end of the Nord Bridge, the three turned their mounts onto the Boulevard D’Ouest, another wide stone-paved way said to have been created by the Collegium’s first imagers, although the stones showed little if any wear, given that they had been laid nearly four hundred years earlier at the time of the consolidation of Solidar under Rex Regis. Then again, Alastar had to admit that those paving stones looked little different from the way the ones in Westisle had when he had first been an imager primus at that branch of the Collegium nearly thirty years ago.

As they rode closer to the Chateau D’Rex, the shops grew larger and their fronts newer, while the cafés and the occasional bakery sported awnings, although many of those were rolled up, most likely because of the brisk northwest wind. Where the boulevard intersected the ring road around the Chateau D’Rex, Alastar turned south and then took the lane up to the steps leading up to the main portico. At the foot of the steps, he dismounted and handed the gelding’s reins to Belsior. “I have no idea how long I’ll be here.”

“Yes, sir,” the two replied almost in unison.

Alastar took the steps, more than a score, reputedly imaged of near indestructible alabaster-like white stone by the Collegium’s first imagers. He still wondered why they had not brought the approach lane higher so that there were fewer steps, but he supposed that was so that the grade to the stone plaza at the foot of the steps was gentle enough for wagons and carriages.

One of the guards escorted Alastar from the main entry up the grand staircase to the upper level of the Chateau and then back along the north corridor to a chamber almost in the northeast corner, where another guard stood. The second guard rapped on the door. “Maître Alastar, your grace.”

“Send him in!”

The force of Ryen’s words announced his mood, but Alastar smiled as he stepped into the study and walked toward the massive black oak desk that dominated the east end of the long chamber, on which were piled stacks of papers.

From where he sat behind the desk, the angular and near-cadaverous-looking Ryen glared. A too-long lock of black hair swept almost over his left eye. He wore a gold and gray striped tunic that did not become him over gray trousers, a far more conservative attire than that cultivated by most High Holders. “What took you so long?”

“The half-glass has not yet rung, sir.”

“That doesn’t matter. It still takes you too long to get here. It’s not much more than a mille from Imagisle to the Chateau.”

“That is as the raven flies. There’s no direct route from Imagisle to the Chateau. I have to ride north to the Boulevard D’Ouest – ”

“You’ve explained that before.” Ryen smiled, the intense glare of the moment before instantly gone and replaced with an expression of total warmth. “We need to do something about that. I will obtain the land, and you and your imagers will build a new boulevard directly from the northern bridge… the bridge of wishes or whatever…”

”The Bridge of Desires,” supplied the Collegium Maître.

“…directly to the Chateau.”

“Just to the ring road around the Chateau,” suggested Alastar, well aware of the rex’s very literal mindset.

Ryen frowned.

Alastar refrained from sighing. “If we build it right to the entry portico, it will destroy your east gardens and make it harder for you and your family to get to the hunting park or the marshal’s headquarters or anywhere else. The extra few hundred yards or so won’t make any difference in the time it takes to get to and from Imagisle.”

“To the ring road, then. But directly there from the bridge.”

“Once you have arranged for the land, we will stand ready to begin work on the road. Now… what was the matter for which you requested my presence?"

“High Holder Guerdyn has announced that the High Council, in acceding to the wishes of the High Holders of all Solidar, will refuse to pay their annual tariffs if I increase them in the coming year.”

Refuse to pay? Unprecedented as that sounded, it didn’t surprise Alastar after the rhetorical rumblings over the past season.

“This year’s tariffs?” Alastar knew tariffs were due by the end of Feuillyt, thirty-two days away, “or next year’s?”

“They haven’t said. I haven’t asked. Yet. It’s likely to be this year’s tariffs. Why else would they say that now? I have to announce next year’s tariffs before this year’s are due.”

“You have to?”

“It’s in the Codex.”

“What if you don’t?” Who could make you?

“According to the Codex, they don’t have to pay this year’s tariffs until I announce next year’s.”

“That could pose a problem…” temporized Alastar, suspecting that if even a fraction of the High Holders withheld tariff payments, Ryen – and the Collegium – would face difficult times before long, certainly within months, if not weeks.

“Pose a problem?” snapped Ryen. “There are Namer-fired few golds left in the Treasury. They know that. There have been fewer every year by the end of harvest. That’s why I need to increase the tariffs. They haven’t been increased in years.”

“What about the factors?”

“What about them? They don’t have to pay, either.”

“Could you leave the tariffs at the same level for next year, and say that they’ll increase next year?”

“Are you an idiot, Maître?!! That’s how I got into this mess. That’s what your predecessor suggested. Then he went and died.”

Alastar managed not to swallow. Fhaen had never mentioned tariffs. Then, the former maître hadn’t mentioned all too many problems. “Is Guerdyn speaking for himself or as chief of the High Council?”

“He can’t speak for the High Council until they meet on the eighteenth of Feuillyt.”

“Have you heard anything from the other four councilors?”

“Haebyn and Nacryon agree with Guerdyn. Moeryn and Vaun won’t oppose me.”

“Vaun won’t be a councilor after year turn,” Alastar pointed out.

“I know that. I want you to do something about one of those against me.”

“What would you suggest?”

“Whatever it takes.” Ryen’s smile vanished. “Those insufferable malcontents… privileged and spoiled brats… all of them…”

“That may be, sir, but if any of those three vanish or die suddenly, everyone will blame you. They will as well if any of them takes ill this soon before the High Council meets.”

“Then find a way to get one of them to change his mind.” The rex’s voice turned cold. “Your predecessor was less… ”

“Less willing to point out the unpleasantnesses? That is true.” And that was one of the reasons why the senior imagers continued to support him until almost the end.

“I was sorry to learn of his passing.” Ryen’s voice softened, then turned colder once more. “You know that Demykalon doesn’t like imagers, especially when they bring up the unpleasant.”

“I’m well aware of the marshal’s distaste for both scholars and imagers. Have you talked with him about this?”

“I’d prefer not to use force of arms at this point, or even threaten it. Haebyn and several others would refuse to pay until I put a battalion on his doorstep, and sending a battalion all the way to Piedryn would create problems I don’t want to think about.”

Alastar nodded. From what little he’d heard about Haebyn, and he had heard a few things, Haebyn never let go of a grudge, at least according to Maître Zhelan.

“I’d end up having troopers riding everywhere. That would cost more golds. I won’t countenance spending golds to obtain them. I won’t!” Ryen’s voice rose not quite to a shout.

Alastair waited a long moment. “The High Holders might raise private armies in return, and we’d have a civil war on our hands.” And because some of the commanders come from High Holder families, they might well not obey orders to discipline other High Holders.

“I’m glad you include the Collegium as part of ‘we.’” Ryen waved toward the study door. “Let me know when you’ve taken care of the problem.”

“I’ll look into it,” replied Alastar. “Then we’ll see.”

“If you don’t solve it, I’ll have to cut the golds to the Collegium, you know.”

“I’m well aware of the source of much of our funding, but at times, tightening one’s belt is preferable to slitting one’s throat.” Or the throats of innocent students and young imagers, which is more to the point.

“I won’t press the point, Maître, but an increase in tariffs would serve us all far better than belt-tightening. That would only encourage more attempts to throttle us both in the future.”

Alastar nodded, if reluctantly, although Ryen was doubtless right. He turned and made his way from the rex’s study, well aware that Ryen’s gaze had turned to the window even before Alastar closed the study door on his way out.

On his ride back to the Collegium, Alastar pondered the situation facing both Ryen and the imagers… and the fact that Fhaen had never mentioned the tariff problem.

Once he was back in the administration building, he stopped at the table desk set in the anteroom outside his study and looked at the elderly imager secondus seated there. “Dareyn… would you please inform the senior imagers that there will be a meeting in the conference chamber at the first glass of the afternoon. It won’t take long, but I expect all of them to be there.” Not that there are that many seniors these days.

“Yes, Maître.”

“Thank you.”

After Alastar returned to the study, his eyes took in the ancient Telaryn sabre mounted on a plaque hung on the wall behind the desk. Not for the first time, he wondered why the most tangible memorial remaining from the Collegium’s founder was a sabre, given that the founder had been an imager. With a faint smile, he took his copy of the Collegium’s master ledger from the small bookcase behind and left of his desk chair, sat down, and began to peruse the ledger. After that came an examination of the Collegium roster… and the revised junior imager training and academic program that he had proposed a month earlier, when he had become Maître, and oh-so-slowly begun to implement. He was still going over that when Dareyn knocked.

“The others are all in the conference room, sir.”

“Thank you.” Alastar stood and left his study, crossed the anteroom, and entered the conference room, where he took his place at the head of the long, time-darkened, and well-polished oak table, glancing at the five senior imagers gathered there. Outside of Cyran and himself, there were only four others – Taryn, Akoryt, Desyrk, and Obsolym, all of those four Maîtres D’Structure, although the white-haired Obsolym was barely that in terms of imaging ability.

“You’re not going to bring up more changes to the academic, physical, and imaging training again, are you?” wheezed Obsolym.

“No, I’m not. I’m going to go over your roles in implementing it.” Since some of you aren’t doing what is necessary. “But before we get to that, I’m going to tell you why.” He paused. “I had a meeting with Rex Ryen this morning.”

“What did he want?” asked Cyran.

“He wants us to build an avenue straight from the Bridge of Desires to the ring road around the Chateau D’Rex. That was the more reasonable demand. After that, he effectively demanded that we make certain that the High Council does not vote to oppose the increase in tariffs on High Holders and factors that he intends to impose next year. That will require changing one of the probable votes in the coming High Council meeting because the High Council is opposed to paying any increase in tariffs. Ryen doesn’t want to announce an increase if they’ll vote to withhold their tariffs. They don’t have to pay this year’s tariffs until he announces next year’s, and the Treasury is almost empty.”

“It’s always been almost empty by the end of the year,” declared Obsolym. “What about this avenue?”

“I told him we could do the road, but not until he owned the property and had made the arrangements. I also told him it would take weeks, possibly longer. The other matter is… more delicate and dangerous. I’d like each of your thoughts on that, especially given the precarious position the Collegium finds itself in.” He looked to Taryn, the black-haired Maître D’Structure to his left. “Ryen hasn’t been the best of rexes…”

That total understatement drew a few chuckles, mostly from Cyran and Desyrk.

“…and he’s never been predictable, but he has a point. We’re struggling to pay for everything. The factors and the High Holders complain if we use imaging to make anything that cuts into what they do. The army consists of six regiments, or thirty battalions, and the Navy is made up of a score of antique warships. Ryen barely rules, but a tariff increase is necessary.” Taryn turned his head to the red-headed Akoryt, the youngest man at the table.

“The High Holders won’t listen to reason,” said Akoryt mildly. “They only respond to force. Force won’t work with the factors. There are too many of them, and too few of us to intimidate enough of them to make a difference.”

“The factors will follow the lead of the High Holders, though,” added Cyran. “Even if they’re not happy about it. So far, they have, anyway.”

Desyrk cleared his throat. “My brother the commander has often pointed out that force is often the only thing that works. Force will turn everyone against us. That makes all the choices before the Collegium unpleasant.” His brown eyes fixed on Alastar, then dropped.

“They are,” responded Alastar. “When I was summoned here from Westisle by the former Maître, I had no idea how much the position of the Collegium here had deteriorated. I have debated summoning several Maîtres D’Aspect and perhaps one Maître D’Structure from Westisle, but, if I did, they would not arrive for more than a month, perhaps not until mid to late Finitas, and that will be too late for them to help with this difficulty.” He paused, knowing what he was about to say would sound like ancient history, but knowing it had to be said. “The first imagers of the Collegium were warriors. They were survivors of prosecution and persecution and murder. They numbered only a handful, but they were battle-hardened veterans who had developed enormous powers, the kind of powers we’ve not pursued developing to that degree in all imagers. We’ve neglected them because that kind of upbringing, testing, and training kills nine out of ten would-be imagers.” As it almost has you several times. “As some of you know, as the senior imager of the Collegium in Westisle, I was criticized because my training methods resulted in greater losses of young imagers, even though what we did there was as nothing compared to what those first imagers endured. If imagers are to survive in Solidar, we must toughen our studies and our training.”

“The kind of training you’re talking about takes time and patience,” declared Taryn. “You’re right about how we should train imagers in the future. That was why I supported Maître Fhaen’s decision to summon you, but we have to deal with the problems we’re facing now.”

“You’re absolutely right,” agreed Alastar. “We can’t rush training of the younger imagers. In fact, their training will have to take longer if it is to be effective. That means we must deal with Ryen and the High Holders by subterfuge, give the impression of greater strength than we have in fact, and create the sense that we are forbearing use of mighty powers in the hope that the High Holders will come to their senses.”

“You and Cyran are the only ones with those kinds of abilities, especially at a distance,” pointed out Desyrk. “Even you two might be pressed against the latest cannon of the army. Or the focused fire of the heavy rifles.”

“When do you intend to make all these changes?” demanded Obsolym.

“We’ve already started. You know that. Maître Cyran is working with the most promising seconds and thirds to develop shields and other capabilities sooner in their studies.”

“The older way was safer,” declared Obsolym.

“Safer for the individual imager at the time, but failing to develop imaging capabilities to a greater degree has put them more at risk than they ever would have been if we’d followed what I’ve set out.” Or what we began two years ago at Westisle. “Something like ten imagers brought Rex Kharst and Bovaria to their knees. Ten. We have close to a hundred, between L’Excelsis and Westisle, and I doubt that any of us could image a fraction of what those ten could do.” Alastar was understating slightly, because he and Cyran could do quite a bit more than a fraction, but nothing close to what the structures created by the legendary Quaeryt and even the less legendary Elsior showed was possible. “Now we’re faced with a near-impossible situation, and we’re in that position because we’ve pampered ourselves and the young imagers.”

“You can’t change that overnight,” Obsolym pointed out.

“You’re absolutely right,” Alastar repeated, hating to keep harping on the situation, but knowing that at times repetition was necessary, “but the sooner we begin, the sooner we can begin to change matters, and improve our situation.” If we can hold off Ryen, the marshal, the High Holders, and the factors… and possibly even the guilds. “Now… let me go over the outline of the training program… and what I expect of each of you. I’m open to any suggestions about improving matters…” Alastar had no doubt that the meeting would last at least another glass, but he had to make certain that each senior imager understood not only his responsibilities but also the responsibilities of every other imager.

Win a copy of Myke Cole's GEMINI CELL


Thanks to the folks at Ace, I have three copies of Myke Cole's Gemini Cell up for grabs! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Here's the blurb:

Myke Cole continues to blow the military fantasy genre wide open with GEMINI CELL, an all-new epic adventure in the highly acclaimed Shadow Ops universe.

US Navy SEAL Jim Schweitzer is a consummate professional, a fierce warrior, and a hard man to kill. But when he sees something he was never meant to see on a covert mission gone bad, he finds himself – and his family – in the crosshairs. Nothing means more to Jim than protecting his loved ones, but when the enemy brings the battle to his front door, he is overwhelmed and taken down.

It should be the end of the story. But Jim is raised from the dead by a sorcerer and recruited by a top secret unit dabbling in the occult, known only as the Gemini Cell. With powers he doesn’t understand, Jim is called back to duty – as the ultimate warrior. As he wrestles with a literal inner demon, Jim realises his new superiors are determined to use him for their own ends and keep him in the dark – especially about the fates of his wife and son…


The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam)gryphonwood.net with the header "GEMINI." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

1Q84


A lot has been said about Haruki Mukakami's 1Q84 and not all of it good. Which piqued my curiosity, as he usually appeals to the more, shall we say, “elitist” literary crowd who is willing, or so it often appears, to forgive the author anything in the name of artistic integrity and originality, as much as he appeals to mainstream readers who may or may not be speculative fiction aficionados. So when a Murakami work made even some diehard fans of his grumble in frustration, I knew this was a book I needed to check out.

When it was confirmed that I would be spending the entire month of February traveling around the Philippines, the timing was just about perfect. So I bought a copy of the trade paperback edition and 1Q84 was a faithful companion from the moment I set out for the airport. Having reached the end, I can confirm that all the negative things said about this novel are true. However, all the good things mentioned about it are also true.

Which makes this Murakami title extremely difficult to review. On the on hand, it is often atrociously slow-moving and the story that goes nowhere makes you want to open your veins right then and there. But on the other hand, at times the prose is fluid and the tale is moving forward and every little detail demonstrates yet again just how brilliant Haruki Murakami truly is.

To be honest, had I been home I would in all likelihood never have finished this book. Weighing in at nearly 1200 pages, I'm not sure I would have had the patience to go through it, what with all the pointless chapters that go nowhere. But I was traveling, far from home, and with a limited amount of reading material for the number of weeks I'd be staying in Southeast Asia. Add to that the fact that the book probably weighs about 6 or 7 pounds and that I've been carrying it around with me for over a week. So getting rid of it without finishing it would have meant that I had been lugging around that much deadweight for nothing for all this time. In any case, as bad as the crappy portions of the novel are, there were enough positive things going on that I wanted to get through to the end.

Am I happy to have persevered? I'm a bit confused and simply cannot give a clear answer. I'm glad that I discovered how everything came together at the end, yet I'm unsure whether or not the payoff from the finale is worth going through such an enormous work. . .

Here's the blurb:

The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo.

A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.

As Aomame’s and Tengo’s narratives converge over the course of this single year, we learn of the profound and tangled connections that bind them ever closer: a beautiful, dyslexic teenage girl with a unique vision; a mysterious religious cult that instigated a shoot-out with the metropolitan police; a reclusive, wealthy dowager who runs a shelter for abused women; a hideously ugly private investigator; a mild-mannered yet ruthlessly efficient bodyguard; and a peculiarly insistent television-fee collector.

A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell’s—1Q84 is Haruki Murakami’s most ambitious undertaking yet: an instant best seller in his native Japan, and a tremendous feat of imagination from one of our most revered contemporary writers.

The worldbuilding focuses on an old trope, that of a parallel universe. The two main protagonists are whisked from Japan in 1984 and end up in an alternate reality that comes to be known as 1Q84. Although quite similar in every aspect, there are also a lot of differences, chief among them the fact that there are two moons in the sky. For all that he wastes an inordinate amount of prose on useless descriptions and the minutiae of the characters' existence, Murakami doesn't elaborate a whole lot on the world of 1Q84. Which is a shame, as I was fascinated every time he would throw us a bone and give us a few glimpses of what was taking place on the international stage.

I am aware that when reading any Murakami novels, you should never expect everything to actually make sense. You shouldn't ask yourself too many questions and just buckle up and enjoy the ride. Problem is, this books raises so many questions that remain unanswered that it prevented me from appreciating 1Q84 as much as I wanted to. Everything about the Little Ones, the voices, the air chrysalis, etc; all those facets are central themes that are at the heart of the tale. And yet, there are few revelations that shine some light on those mysterious key elements from the book. Which means that, in the end, a panoply of loose ends remain, with no resolution whatsoever for various plotlines that make up the bulk of this work.

I am also well aware that Haruki Murakami is not necessarily a plot-driven kind of author. With him, the journey is often more important, or as important, as the destination. So even if little makes sense, you are supposed to read along and enjoy the narrative. Lots of readers and reviewers have pointed out how slow-moving and boring 1Q84 can be sometimes. Lots of people have complained that the book is way too long. And I have to agree with those assessments. Take away all the superfluous, redundant, repetitive, and extraneous filler material that bloats this book and you can easily shave off at least 300 to 400 pages. There is so much mental masturbation going on in some unnecessary and pointless chapters that it often kills what little momentum the novel has achieved.

Though they indeed feel flat and too passive at times, I actually liked both of the main characters. Aomame and Tengo are deeply flawed individuals with heavy pasts that they have left behind and would rather forget. It takes quite a while for Murakami to show readers the strange connection that binds them since childhood, and even longer to bring their storylines together. For some unfathomable reason, the author feels the need to describe their appearance and everyday lives in minute details, over and over and over again. I mean, how many times do we need a description of Aomame's breasts and pubic hair, or what Tengo is preparing himself for dinner. Understandably, these two take center stage and the entire novel focuses on them. Still, the most fascinating character found within the pages of 1Q84 is doubtless the enigmatic Eriko Fukada, the teenager whose story about the Little People sets everything in motion. Tamaru is another secondary character that slowly grows on you. One aspect that felt quite discordant was the appearance of a Ushikawa POV in the third book. To me, it felt like a cop-out. As if Murakami hit a dead end and realized that he needed to contrive a way to bridge the gap between the first two books and the last one without rewriting the whole thing all over again.

I never elaborate on sex scenes in my reviews, but for this one I feel I should say a few things. First of all, for the most part they are badly written. The majority of them are useless in the sense that they bring little or nothing to the story. They could have taken place “backstage” instead of being described graphically with no detriment whatsoever to the plot. Personally, I have never read a book in which the words ejaculation, ejaculate, and semen were used so often. At first, it's kind of funny. But after a while, you just grit your teeth and move on, hoping that something meaningful and/or interesting will happen. To those people out there who feel that there are a lot of gratitious and graphic sex scenes in George R. R. Martin's ASOIAF, keep in mind that there are even more of them in this Murakami book.

As I mentioned, the pace is often atrociously slow. As a reader, you are asked to take a lot on faith, go through hundreds of pages full of redundancy and minutiae, and hope that in the end it will all be worth it. For some, it will be. For others, not really.

Some critics have tried to make it sound as if this was Haruki Murakami's most ambitious project to date, his signature work. I beg to differ. 1Q84 is a bloated and overwritten mammoth of a novel that shows very little depth for a 1200-page work of fiction. Take it apart and get rid of all the extraneous and pointless filler material, something his editor should have asked the author to do, and you would likely have had a case. But as things stand, there is just too much mental masturbation in there for 1Q84 to be considered one of Murakami's best novels.

Having said that, when it works, 1Q84 works beautifully. Even though I know that in normal circumstances I would never have finished this book, I'm glad I did. It's up to you to decide if you are willing to go through nearly 1200 pages of plotlines that move at a snail's pace in order to find out how everything comes together at the end.

This had all the ingredients to be a great novel. But Haruki Murakami was allowed to let his imagination run wild without restraint, and the absence of a tighter focus on the protagonists and the storylines made it merely a good one.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Extract from Dave Bara's IMPULSE


Thanks to the folks at Del Rey UK, here's an extract from Dave Bara's Impulse. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Lieutenant Peter Cochrane of the Quantar Royal Navy believes he has his future clearly mapped out. It begins with his new assignment as an officer on Her Majesty’s Spaceship Starbound, a Lightship bound for deep space voyages of exploration.

But everything changes when Peter is summoned to the office of his father, Grand Admiral Nathan Cochrane, and given devastating news: the death of a loved one. In a distant solar system, a mysterious and unprovoked attack upon Lightship Impulse resulted in the deaths of Peter’s former girlfriend and many of her shipmates.

Now Peter's plans are torn asunder as he is transferred to a Unified Space Navy ship under foreign command, en route to an unexpected destination, and surrounded almost entirely by strangers. To top it off, his superiors have given him secret orders that might force him to become a mutineer.

The crisis at hand becomes a gateway to something much more when the ship’s Historian leads Peter and his shipmates into a galaxy of the unknown -- of ancient technologies, age-old rivalries, new cultures, and unexpected romance. It’s an overwhelming responsibility for Peter, and one false step could plunge humanity into an apocalyptic interstellar war. . .

Enjoy!
-------------------------

ON QUANTAR

The long walk down the hallway to my father ’s office at the Admiralty had never seemed so endless. The only other time I had been here was three years ago, when I’d been told the news that my older brother Derrick had been killed in action. It was not a pleasant memory.

I pulled myself together one last time, hoping I looked presentable in my Quantar Royal Navy uniform. I hadn’t even taken the time to shave. My father ’s message, when it had come, had been short and to the point.

Get here. Now.

I had grabbed my cap and uniform and rushed out of the navy barracks, hoping to catch the 0900 base shuttle across New Brisbane to the Admiralty. I shouldn’t have worried. Outside I found a ground car waiting to take me to a private flyer. From there we had streaked across the New Briz skyline, weaving between the skyscrapers with our emergency flares lit, with me trying to squeeze into my uniform inside the cramped two-seater aircar the whole time.

The call, coming just a day before I was due to be commissioned on Her Majesty’s Spaceship Starbound as the ranking senior lieutenant and chief longscope officer, had me concerned. It couldn’t possibly be good news, and I could only hope that it wasn’t as disastrous as the news of my brother Derrick’s death only three short years ago.

The pair of guards at the door to my father ’s office faced me as I approached, ceremonial swords snapping to attention in acknowledgment of my arrival. The guard on the right sheathed his sword and pivoted, opening the door in advance of my entrance, then held it open as I passed through into the office reception area. I nodded to acknowledge the guard as I passed, then headed straight for the desk of Madrey Margretson, my father ’s secretary.

Madrey had been in my father ’s service for more than a decade, and I’d grown used to her pleasant smile and warm hugs during our infrequent social visits. She stood immediately as I came in, meeting me well in advance of her workstation with a worried look on her face. She waited until the guard had closed the door again before she began speaking, her tone all business.

‘There’s something going on, Peter. Something serious,’ she said. ‘Your father ’s been in a conference with Admiral Wesley since before 0500. They’ve raised the alert status of both the Royal and the Union Navies in the entire system to maximum readiness.’

‘Over what?’ I asked.

‘I don’t know,’ she admitted, practically whispering. ‘But I do know Starbound’s christening has been cancelled and she’s been put on a twenty-four-hour launch clock as of 0800.’

‘Is that what this is about?’ I wondered aloud. She shook her head.

‘I don’t know. My instructions are to see you in immediately upon your arrival. I’m not privy to the rest.’ She pulled and tugged at my navy blue uniform, trying to take out the creases, and brushed it with her hands to clear off any lint. She ran a hand through my mussed black hair to smooth it and then took a step back to give me one last look when her office com chimed. ‘He knows you’re here,’ she said. ‘You’d best go in.’ She went around behind her desk and buzzed me in, the massive wooden double doors popping open as I stepped up.

‘Be careful, Peter,’ she said to me, so quiet I could barely hear her.

‘I will,’ I replied. Confused and more than a bit nervous at her tone, I stepped through the office doors and into my father’s office.

***

Grand Admiral Nathan Cochrane of the Quantar Royal Navy sat behind his enormous redwood desk, his back to me as I entered. The face of Vice-Admiral Jonathon Wesley, Supreme Commander of the Unified Space Navy, was projected onto the longwave plasma viewer taking up most of the back wall. From the look of the room behind Wesley he could only be calling from his navy office on High Station Quantar, hanging five hundred kilometres above us in geosynchronous orbit. Wesley’s gruff voice was magnified by the longwave and tinted with a heavy New Queensland accent. It filled the room as I came in and sat down on a sofa placed against the back wall facing the screen, I hoped out of range of the viewer. I could see my father ’s bald head sticking up just over the top of his office chair. From what I could glean they were in deep conversation about some sort of particulars regarding postings.

‘. . . and then that should do it, Nathan. How long until you make the announcement?’ asked Wesley.

‘No point in waiting, Jonathon. I’ll announce it via longwave to the cadet classes at noon,’ my father said. Wesley nodded twice, then looked up at me.

Not quite out of range, I thought.

‘I see your son has stepped in. Time to get down to business,’ Wesley said.

My father swivelled his chair just far enough to catch my eye, then gestured to one of the two chairs facing the front of his desk. I walked over and sat down, fully aware of the fact that I was on duty and my father was my superior officer. I waited for him to speak or react, and started to grow anxious as the silent moments passed. Something was very wrong.

Finally he swivelled around to face me. His desk was by far the largest I had ever seen, and my father was every inch its equal. Wesley’s oversized image peered at me from over my father ’s shoulder. I felt like I was in a fishbowl.

My father pulled off his old-fashioned wire-rimmed glasses and rubbed deeply at his eyes. When he pulled his hand away I could see his eyes were puffy, with deep red lines running through the whites. I’d only seen him look this way once before—when my brother had died. He reset the glasses, the silver of the wire offset by the white-tinged hair at his temples. I tried to remember what he had looked like with a full head of hair, but found that I couldn’t summon the memory.

He looked down at his desktop and then up to me.

‘As you may have guessed, son, there’s been some news,’ he said. I shifted uncomfortably in my chair. My father took in a deep breath, then exhaled.

‘There’s no real way to soften this, Peter, so I’ll just come straight out with it. There’s been an attack on one of our Lightships.’ I felt a lump forming in the pit of my stomach.

Admiral Wesley cut in at this. ‘What I’m about to tell you is classified, Lieutenant,’ he started, then paused, clearing his throat roughly. ‘Five days ago two shuttles from HMS Impulse were on a First Contact mission to the Levant system when they were hit by a rogue hyperdimensional displacement wave that went on to hit Impulse herself. The damage was severe. Nine dead on Impulse, ten on the support shuttle and all twelve on the survey shuttle.’ His words struck me like a coil rifle round to the gut. Though Impulse was officially a Union Navy vessel, she was manned almost exclusively by Carinthian Navy personnel. The survey shuttle, however, would have been manned by officers from the Quantar Navy.

‘All twelve?’ I asked, looking to my father and then back to Wesley. ‘Our First Contact team?’ Wesley nodded, a grim look crossing his face. I swallowed hard. Natalie Decker, my first and only girlfriend, was a member of Impulse’s First Contact team. She’d left only six weeks ago to join the crew of Impulse. But there could be a chance—

‘I’m sorry, son, Natalie Decker was on that shuttle,’ my father said, cutting through my last, faint glimmer of hope. The knot in my stomach tightened even more. I leaned forward, elbows on my knees, and covered my face with my hands, fighting back tears.

Natalie and I had become close, perhaps closer than we should have allowed during our time at the Union Navy Lightship Academy. It had started innocently enough, studying in groups during late-night cramming sessions, expounding together on ethics in small group discussions and finding we had much in common. Then one night it had been just the two of us, alone in the dorm study lounge, and a long conversation about missing our family and friends back home had ended in kisses. From there, though we were always discreet, things had taken their natural course to greater intimacy. We found ourselves making time and space to be together while always keeping our training and duties foremost. She was my first lover, and I hers.

And now she was gone.

‘Unfortunately, Peter,’ came my father ’s voice, ‘there’s no time for tears.’ When I looked up, my father had regained his composure and sat with his hands folded on the desk. I wiped my own eyes clear and met my father ’s gaze.

‘Yes, sir,’ I said, then took in a deep breath and let out a sigh. ‘Understood, sir.’ My father nodded at me, pride evident in his grim smile. Wesley continued.

‘Since natural HD displacement waves are extremely rare, we are assuming this was an intentional incident, either by an automated system still operating from the last war, or,’ Wesley paused here, ‘an active attack.’

‘Active?’ I said, aware of the implications that state- ment carried with it. ‘The Corporate Empire?’

‘Possibly,’ Wesley acknowledged. ‘We knew when we stepped back out into interstellar space that there could be remnants of the Corporate Empire of Man still out there. This incident seems to have confirmed our worst fears.’

I thought about this. What I knew of the Corporate Empire was mostly from history classes. It had formed out of a loose coalition of planets controlled by merchant trading companies that started as a voluntary association, grew into a more formal government where participation by new colonies was encouraged with incentives, then finally became a force that was too powerful to contend against. It had grown to control nearly a thousand worlds at one point, but it was difficult to manage, and corrup- tion was rampant. A system of royal peerage was insti- tuted as a means of funnelling responsibility through the most powerful of hands. It failed.

Then came the war.

Quantar was one of dozens of worlds that wanted out of the empire. One of my ancestors had even led the movement to form an Interstellar Republic with a constitution. This had angered the pro-Imperial families, who took up arms against the new Republic. The war raged for nearly eighty years. When it ended, at the Battle of Corant, all sides retreated back to their own systems for a century and a half, until the Historians arrived from Earth a decade ago with the gift of Lightship technology. Quantar had agreed to join with Earth and the most prominent of the pro-Imperial families, the Feilbergs of Carinthia, to form the Union. It was a fragile alliance, and never more so than now.

I turned my attention back to the conversation at hand. I wanted to talk about anything but Natalie.

‘Don’t we have defensive protocols for this sort of thing?’ I asked as a way of sidestepping my feelings, my loss.

‘We do,’ said Wesley. ‘Normally. But this was no normal First Contact mission.’

My father cut back in here. ‘Impulse was sent into Levant because our automated probes had detected hyperdimensional anomalies in the system. Her mission wasn’t just contact with the Levant government. She was also on an unofficial mission to determine whether the HD anomalies represented a potential threat to Union ships.’

‘A threat which we have now established,’ concluded Wesley.

I took in a deep breath, looking up at the two men I respected most in my life. ‘I’ve heard Starbound has been put on the launch clock. I want you to know that I and my teams are ready to go out there and face down this threat, sirs,’ I said. My father shook his head.

‘I’m sorry, Peter. There’s still more news, and I’m afraid it won’t make you very happy,’ he said. I braced myself again. What could be worse than this?

‘You won’t be reporting to Starbound, son,’ he finished.

I was stunned. I had assumed we would be sending Starbound out on a rescue mission to Impulse and that I would be on her. I risked a glance up at Wesley, but his face was completely unreadable.

‘But my cadet teams, we’ve been training for two years for this mission—’ I started.

‘That mission can be led by someone else,’ cut in Wesley. ‘You’re needed elsewhere, Lieutenant,’ he stated in a commanding tone. I was having none of this.

‘Where?’ I demanded of Wesley, starting to rise out of my chair. ‘What could be more important than serving on a rescue mission and bringing our countrymen home?’ My father ’s hand on my arm put me back in my chair. Wesley wasn’t my commanding officer, at least not yet. Technically we were still in different services, and I wanted answers, even if it meant pushing the limits of insubordination.

‘There’s no rescue mission, Lieutenant,’ said Wesley flatly. ‘Starbound is going out a week early as a show of force, and your new assignment is critical to the Union Navy.’

I wondered if I was being taken off the line for my own protection. Before I could ask that question, my father answered.

‘You’ll be serving aboard Impulse as the senior Quantar Navy officer,’ he said, snapping me back to the business at hand.

‘What?’ I said. I was struggling with understanding these new orders and the grief of losing Natalie all at once. ‘But I’m barely a lieutenant. You’re putting me in command of our navy’s mission aboard Impulse?’

My father levelled his gaze at me. ‘Things have changed, Peter. Your brother has been gone for three years now. Natalie is gone. The responsibilities to the family and to Quantar have now fallen on you, whether you think you’re ready or not. You’re the only remaining son of the Grand Admiral, the son of a Duke of KendalFalk, a title that you too will someday bear. The son of a man who will soon become the full-time civilian Director of Quantar,’ he paused and let that sink in. He wasn’t due to leave his post at the Admiralty for another year, but now . . .

‘You’ll have to step up, son, that’s all there is to it,’ chimed in Wesley. ‘Impulse lost her XO and senior Quantar Commander on those shuttles. We’re sending you out there as a replacement, to do a job for us.’

‘I don’t understand, sir,’ I said, refocusing on my father. ‘You’re leaving the navy?’

‘To take a political position, yes, son. I have no choice. If this is the empire again, and they are stronger than us, then we have to be prepared to accept that the Imperial system might be reinstated. Quantar needs a leader, and so will our new team of officers on Impulse,’ he said.

‘I thought you said Impulse was still in the Levant system?’ I replied. It was Wesley who answered.

Impulse docked at High Station Candle two days ago, Lieutenant,’ he said. ‘Repairs are already underway. You’ll be on her when she heads back out, as the senior Quantar officer aboard.’ I didn’t like that answer at all.

I appealed to my father. ‘My team has been together for three years training for this mission. Training for Starbound. And now, at the last minute, the navy is breaking us up? Why?’ I said.

‘Politics, son,’ said my father. The word made me feel sick, but I held my anger, and my tongue. ‘Word will get out soon enough about the Impulse disaster, and we have to be ready with the proper response.’ I looked to Wesley and then back again. I sensed his hand in this decision.

‘And the proper response is sending the Grand Admiral’s son to save the Impulse mission,’ I stated.

‘Yes,’ my father said. He leaned in toward me with his massive frame, the way he always did when he was making an important point. ‘We have to face the fact that this Union is not strong, Peter. The Feilberg family of Carinthia and ours were at the axis of the old conflicts which led to the civil war and the collapse of the Corporate Empire. We can’t risk that happening again. Remember, it was a century and a half of darkness before the Earth Historians came to Quantar and Carinthia. If they hadn’t brought longwave technology and the Hoagland Drive we’d still be without a peace treaty.’

‘I know my history, Father,’ I said, rather more point- edly than I would have liked.

‘Then you know we can’t risk this new Union failing,’ he said. ‘Your presence on Impulse will send the strongest possible signal that we intend to stay in the Union for the long term.’

I mulled this over for a moment, and didn’t like what came to mind. ‘So I’m to be a political replacement, and the three years I’ve trained to serve on Starbound mean far less than my being seen as working with the Carinthians on their flagship,’ I said.

‘Exactly,’ said Wesley from the longwave screen. ‘I’m sorry, Lieutenant, but considering the situation, you’ll have to grow up much faster than you’d planned.’

‘I’m sorry as well, Peter,’ said my father. ‘I know how much you were looking forward to serving with your friends.’ That was true enough. But now it seemed fate had dealt me a different hand, one to a game I hadn’t even known I was playing.

‘What’s the current status of Impulse?’ I asked, changing the subject again. At least I could find out what I was facing. Wesley responded.

‘Captain Zander has requested a minimum turnaround at Candle. He wants permission to go back to Levant and investigate the rogue HD waves,’ he said. ‘Lucius Zander is a man of many virtues, but patience is not one of them. If his ship was attacked by a First Empire weapon, he will want to take that weapon out. The Unified Space Navy’s top priority is peaceful contact with the government of Levant and protecting the Lightship fleet. Zander is known as a passionate commander, if not a bit of a hothead. His actions once Impulse is back at Levant and he is in a combat situation are something we can’t control. That’s why the new detachment of Quantar officers is so important. Your team’s task will be to shadow him and if possible deter him from his efforts to confront any First Empire weapon.’

‘Our task?’ I sat there in disbelief, my anger growing at the implications of Wesley’s words. ‘Exactly how are we to accomplish this task, sir?’

‘Any way you can, Lieutenant,’ said Wesley. I looked to my father and then back to Wesley’s image on the display.

‘You’re asking us to mutiny,’ I said. Wesley cut in sharp and angry.

‘We’re asking you to put your oath to the Union Navy above loyalty to your commanding officer,’ he said. ‘I’m not pretending it will be easy, but we expect you to protect Impulse, even with your own lives if you have to make that decision. The three ships in the Lightship fleet are all that stand between the Union and the tyranny of the old empire. If Levant is still defended by First Empire technology then we must avoid a conflict, or for that matter even contact, with Imperial elements at any cost. Do you understand your orders, Lieutenant?’

I looked to my father again. He was grim but silent.

‘I do, sir,’ I said to Wesley.

‘Questions?’ he prompted sharply. I shook my head.

‘Good,’ Wesley said, preparing to bring the conference to a close. I interrupted before he could finish.

‘I’ll want some of my cadet instructors with me on this mission, people I’ve worked with and know that I can trust,’ I said to Wesley. I may have been under new orders, but I still had cards to play. Wesley looked aggravated at me for interrupting him.

‘I’ll need names, Lieutenant,’ he said back impatiently.

‘George Layton for one. John Marker for another,’ I said, naming my best helm officer and marine corporal. ‘I’ll need a tech, Brice Devlin should do. Cort Drury from Propulsion, and Evangeline Goolagong as my Intel officer.’

‘Anyone else?’ asked Wesley, obviously impressed with my forwardness.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Jenny Hogan from Astrogation.’

‘No,’ cut in my father.

‘But she’s the best we’ve got,’ I insisted, and it was true. She also happened to be Wesley’s niece.

‘She may be,’ said Wesley over the viewer. ‘But I’ve got someone else in mind for that job.’ I wondered who he meant, but that didn’t stop me from pressing him.

‘So this mission is safe enough for the director ’s son but not the supreme commander ’s niece?’ I said back to Wesley. He fumed in silence, turning different shades of red as he stared down at me from the oversized view screen, but I held my ground.

‘Granted,’ he finally said. ‘I’ll fill the rest of the roster with experienced spacers, Lieutenant. You won’t want for good advice.’ I nodded. There was really nothing more to say.

‘There is one more thing,’ said my father. He slid a box across the table to me. I opened the top. Inside, swimming in royal blue velvet, were two lieutenant commander ’s collar pins. ‘They belonged to your brother.’

They’re giving me Derrick’s stars, I thought.

‘This assignment comes with a promotion,’ said Wesley from the screen. ‘I know it’s a small consolation.’ He was right about that. I shut the box again and stuck it in my pocket, then looked to each man in turn.

‘When do I leave?’ I asked. It was Wesley who spoke again. It seemed very clear to me now who was in charge of this mission.

‘Effective at midnight tonight your commission is transferred from HMS Starbound to HMS Impulse. You have two hours to pack your gear and catch a shuttle to High Station Quantar where you will have a forty-eight hour layover while you wait for transport. From there you will proceed to High Station Candle on the cloud rim and will report to the deck of Impulse, under the command of Captain Lucius Zander, at 0700 hours on twelve•two-seven•two-six-seven-eight. Do you understand your orders, Commander?’ he said. It was the first time he had used my new rank.

I roused myself from my funk and stood, snapping to attention. ‘I do, sir,’ I said. He nodded his response.

‘Now I’ll leave the two of you to finish your visit in privacy,’ he said. ‘Good luck to you, Commander Cochrane.’

‘Thank you, Admiral,’ I said. Wesley nodded to my father and then the screen went to black, superimposed with the seal of the Quantar Naval Linkworks. My father turned off the viewer with the click of a button.

‘I’m so sorry about all this, Peter,’ he said as I sat back down, sinking heavily into the chair, the weight of all that had just happened hitting me hard.

‘No need to apologise, sir,’ I replied.

‘I think there is,’ he said. Silence came over both of us then. I thought about Natalie, about how young and beautiful she had been. I had reconciled myself to losing her to the service months ago once I knew her assignment, but not permanently. Then thoughts of Derrick came. It had been his death in a shuttle accident, training new cadets, that had shocked me out of my immature pursuit of a professional football career and driven my decision to join the Union Navy and the Lightship Program. I had fought hard to get in and made it on my own merit, but my mission now seemed somehow incomplete. I fingered the box with my—no, Derrick’s—commander’s stars inside. I wondered if somehow I had failed him by not making it to Starbound.

I fought off a wave of sadness as I looked at my father. We were both holding back tears as we sat in the quiet of the enormous office. I couldn’t imagine what he had felt, having lost his wife, my mother, to cancer such a short time after the Historians had arrived from Earth. And of course they had both the knowledge and tech- nology that could have cured her, but contact had come too late. Then he had lost his oldest son, the one he had staked all of his hopes and dreams on, and he was left with only me. I wondered if I even came close to Derrick in his mind. By my own measure I didn’t. How could I? I had chosen the life of a second son, filled with sports and games and casual pursuits. Derrick had followed our father ’s path from the day he was born: the duty of a duke’s son, the military and civil training, always focused on what was expected of him. I vowed in that moment, looking at my father, that I would do everything in my power to be the son that he wanted, the son that he needed to succeed him.

Finally my father spoke and broke the silence. ‘These are difficult and complex times, Peter,’ he said. ‘I was just thinking that before the Earthmen came with their technology and their science we led a much simpler life. Things changed so suddenly when I saw the Earth ships approaching Quantar. Our universe was smaller then, less complicated.’

‘Of course, sir,’ I said, unsure how to react. He leaned back in his chair.

‘Those were good times, hopeful. Just you and Derrick and your mother and me. Now there’s only the two of us left,’ he said, looking at me again. ‘I don’t want to lose you too.’

‘You won’t, sir. I promise,’ I said. I meant it down to my core.

My father accepted my promise silently, then he stood and came around the desk to hug me. He held on tightly for several moments before he let me go.

‘Good luck, son. You’re all I have now. I know you’ll make us all proud,’ he said. I knew what he meant by all: all of the family, here or gone, and all the Cochranes of Quantar that had come before me. I took his offered hand and shook it.

‘I will do my best, sir,’ I said, then broke the hand- shake. I acknowledged the conversation was over with a nod, picked up my cap and turned to leave. When I got to the office door I opened it and then stopped to look back at my father. He was sitting behind the desk again, gazing out of the window at the New Briz skyline. The sight of such a strong and forceful man reduced to such a state filled me with fear and anxiety. It’s all on me now, I thought.

I stepped over the threshold without another word and shut the door behind me.