Escape Velocity

A curated Collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction Media

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We are an opinionated group of friends reviewing all sorts of fantasy and science fiction media. Don’t forget to get to know the curators and visit our curated Collection, where we discuss the stories that never cease to transport us to another world.

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Fitzchivalry Farseer’s daughter Bee has been kidnapped, and is presumed dead. Fortunately, Bee is very much alive, but unfortunately, she is being held captive by a group of white prophets, who intend to bring her back to their home in Clerres. Meanwhile, Fitz and his companions go on a journey to Clerres to kill all whites, to punish them for Bee’s alleged death.

After more than five years, I finally got around to reading the final novel of the Farseer series. I suppose that’s not a very long time considering the series took Robin Hobb over 20 years to complete.

Assassin’s Fate took me a long time to get through. Bee’s experience being the captive of Dwalia was such a drag that I felt little motivation to keep listening to my audiobook at times. Hobb keeps teasing you with the idea of Bee escaping, but she just gets recaptured again and again. The wikipedia plot summary actually skips the whole first half of the book because so little happens. There’s so little of interest to mention about it that they just start their summary when Bee and her captors reach Clerres.

Bee as a character was interesting, and she felt very real. I won’t say I Iiked her, though. Even by the end, I hadn’t really grown attached to her like I’d grown to like some of the other characters. She’s a little whiny, which makes sense because a) her life sucks and b) she is Fitz’s daughter, so it’s probably a genetic thing. Still, it means that her point of view is always very negative. When we switch to Fitz’s pov, it’s also very negative. Overall, the whole story is just a huge downer.

I would have liked to spend more time with the characters that were introduced in this series, like Lant and Spark. Lant especially had very interesting character growth, but much too little “screentime”. Instead, Hobb parades around all of the characters from the rest of her Realm of the Elderlings books. None of the characters were as fun as they were in their own books, and they add very little to this series. I was actually annoyed to find some of my favourite characters from the Liveship Traders series (Malta, Althea and Brashen, specifically) being used as window dressing here. I think the book would have been much improved if we could have spent that time exploring the new characters that were introduced in Fool’s Assassin.

Another thing that upset me in this series, is that the relationship between Fitz and the Fool isn’t anything like what it used to be. It makes sense that they would be estranged at the start of their reunion but even by the end, they don’t seem very close at all. Narratively, their bond is restored at the end. However, we are told this more than we see it actually happen.

I almost forgot to mention Motley, mostly because I forgot she existed. I think this character is the poster girl for what was wrong with this book series. She is introduced in book one, and gets a fair amount of time spent on her. At the start, you assume she will eventually play a significant part in the story. However, she never really does. She’s essentially just a filler character. And let me tell you: this book does not need extra filler. Why was this character here?

Hobb is a very famous author, and I think her editors may have been a little bit too hesitant to edit this series in the way that it needed. This book did not need to be 850 pages long.

I checked out some of the Goodreads reviews for Assassin’s Fate, and was a little suprised to see its high rating. Many people mentioned crying through the last pages, I certainly didn’t. I found the ending to be rather disappointing for the roughly 3000 pages that lead up to it. I was hoping for the conclusion to make the journey (which was long and arduous – for me more than it was for the characters, to be honest) worth it, but I can’t say that it did.

All that being said, I am glad to see this series come to an official end. I won’t need to name names, but there are several fanasty series that have been left incomplete, possibly because the authors were too intimidated by the idea of having to write a perfect ending to an incredibly well received series. Assassin’s Fate is by no means a perfect ending to the story of Fitz and the Fool but it is an ending, and for that I am grateful.

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When the last wilderness on Earth is threatened, what do we do? Antarctica follows some of the continent’s inhabitants in a future that feels like today: Val, an experienced mountaineer who guides tourist following in polar explorers’ footsteps; X, a general field assistant doing general field assistance; and Wade, aide to a US Senator looking into some mysterious disappearances near the South Pole. Their lives in the icy cold seem tough enough as is, until suddenly disaster strikes…
AntarcticaReview

Listened to the audiobook with Adam Verner – good narrator for a complex book; he did take an hour of getting used to.

Antarctica is one of these interesting near-future science fiction works that actually get overtaken by the near future they’re describing. Written in 1997, it feels much like it took place a couple of years ago, with ‘wrist phones’ having inexplicably replaced smartphones or smartwatches, and working remotely being called ‘telecommuting’.

Antarctica may be outdated in some ways – some of its scientific debates have, as I understand it, mostly been resolved – but it doesn’t read like an outdated work. Rather, it reads like a turn-of-the-millennium optimist’s version of the 2020s. Antarctica feels like a here and now where the problems aren’t necessarily solved, but the political cynicism of populism hasn’t taken hold and instead there is room for science and optimism instead. Looking back, Antarctica almost feels a little naïve at times. Still, reading Antarctica, I constantly felt like I would rather live in that version of our world.

So, thematically, the novel hasn’t aged a day. Antarctica is about climate change and about capitalism threatening the last real wildernis on Earth. It is about what we can do to stop it. That is even more pertinent now than it was in 1997.

But it is also about why humans go to the extremes that they do to live in the most inhospitable region on Earth. About the quest for prestige of the early explorers, the quest for knowledge of modern scientists, and about the quest for the edge of the human experience sought by today’s tourists who literally follow in the footsteps of the great explorers in an attempt to claim a piece of whatever it was that made those men great.

Mixed with all that are the small troubles of the daily lives of the guides and maintenance workers and scientist that live on Antarctica every day to make it all possible for everyone else. And as always, Kim Stanley Robinson writes these characters as well as he does the larger political picture.

Antarctica does not start off with a big bang, but Robinson rather builds the pressure slowly as the book progresses. Just as we feel we are starting to understand each character, something goes wrong. And as the troubles mount, life in Antarctica feels more and more dangerous.

The pace increases throughout the book, only held down by sections discussing research into Antarctic geology that might not be for everyone (and which reminded me a lot of Neal Stephenson’s style). But if you’re confident you can get through those, I can promise you Antarctica, despite its literary style, will not let up.

I finished the 20-hour audiobook in less than a week – perhaps that says something about my listening habits, but it definitely says something about how I kept wanting to dive back into this fascinating book.

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When Shy and her surrogate-father Lamb return home from a trip to the village to sell the crops, they find the farm burned, Shy’s brother and sister gone and their caretaker hanged. A determination and a flicker of wrath stir in the otherwise placid lamb, and they set out to chase the perpetrators. Elsewhere in the Near Country, Temple, chief lawyer and secretary to the washed-up mercenary captain-general Niccomo Cosca, has seen enough of the company’s ‘heroics’.

Ok, this might be a HEMA-fencer’s weird pet peeve, but how is this man getting his second hand  inside the three-bar hilt on that saber? There is no way that is comfortable (if possible to begin with).   

Listened to the audiobook with Steven Pacey – who was a delight to listen to, as ever. I all seriousness, his narration is a good reason to start reading in the First Law-world.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love Joe Abercrombie’s prose. Red Country delivers in that respect, with Abercrombie’s signature style of equal parts dark humour and dark violence, often juxtaposed to deepen the contrast. In addition, the return of several characters brimming with, well, character, means the pages come alive almost straight away.

Expect a bitter and gruelling tale, where no-one feels like they can ever do anything right and fate is as uncaring as the clay from which the miners in this story attempt to wash a single grain of gold. I feel like compared to Abercrombie’s previous works, Red Country even approaches the level of caricature, though in this case, I think it works well.

I won’t say that you couldn’t read Red Country without having read the original First Law-trilogy or the stand alone follow-ups – the story very much stands alone like the stories of Best Served Cold and The Heroes do. But knowing about some of the exploits of Niccomo Cosca, Caul Shivers and the Bloody Nine before picking up Red Country will add a nice layer of depth.

Having said that, I found that I enjoyed Red Country just a little less than the other stand alones – it’s still really good, but the other two have something really special that gripped me, be it the fall from grace of Monzcarro Murcatto in Best Served Cold, or the intriguing multi-point-of-view telling of a single event in The Heroes.

Red Country does something special too, in that it introduces somewhat of a ‘western’ theme in the First Law-world. That is an interesting mixture of tropes that I haven’t encountered before, but after five books in the First Law-world, I think I had it pegged as a mostly generic medieval/early Renaissance Europe-type-world. The gold rush and pseudo-native Americans, while well executed, didn’t quite land with me the way I would have hoped. It makes me wonder whether I would have enjoyed Red Country even more if it were not a First Law-novel.

Overall though, those are reflections on the relative quality of Red Country as compared to the superb The Heroes and the amazing Best Served Cold, and not reasons not to pick up Red Country at all. However, standalone as Red Country may be, I would probably recommend reading the other works in the First Law-world first.

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After the traumatic death of his wife, xenobiologist Alex Crichton joins an expedition that brings him and his fellow crew to Talos VII. They detect an anomaly on the planet: a giant hole that seems to have been created by intelligent life. Alex and three of his fellow shipmates descend to the planet to discover what the hole is, who made it, and why.* *As they journey closer to the giant pit, Alex is forced to confront not just the idea of there being other life in the universe, but also his own demons.

Christopher Paolini and I go back. Not very far, but far enough. I watched the Eragon movie when I was a kid, and quite enjoyed it because Dragons. About five years ago, I finally got around to reading the book, and was less than impressed. I gave it one star. Yeah.

I find it hard to hate on Eragon too much because Paolini wrote it when he was 15 years old. It’s impressive for a kid to write a whole book, even if it’s a bad one! I’m much less forgiving when it comes to his later work, however. His Sci-Fi novel To Sleep in a Sea of Stars had a lot of potential, which was wasted at every possible opportunity. It was just way too long, and even after 900 pages, it didn’t actually end. I won’t go too deep into my issues with the book, but if you’re interested in reading my rant – I mean analysis – feel free to check out my post about it.

Fractal Noise is a sort of prequel to Sea of Stars. None of the characters overlap, and we also don’t see any of the interesting concepts introduced in the latter novel in Fractal Noise. The ship Alex is on, the Adamura, also has a ship mind (a human whose brain has been implanted into a ship to control its processes like a sort of AI), but she barely plays a role in the plot.

One big similarity between the two books is that both main characters mourn a partner. Alex’s wife is dead and he’s understandably very upset about it. This was an improvement from Sea of Stars, in which protagonist Kira very quickly seemed to forget that her dead fiancé ever existed. The death of Alex’s wife, Layla, is a big theme in Fractal Noise. It’s essentially the main focus of the story, which is unfortunate because, based on the back cover, I thought I was about to be reading a thrilling first-contact Sci-Fi novel. Instead, this story is mostly about loss, which would be fine if it were a satisfying read, which it wasn’t.

A big problem for me were the characters. None of them are particularly interesting, and we don’t ever really dive deep into what drives them, other than “religion” for Talia, or “nothing” in the case of Alex. They’re not funny, they’re not compelling, and I couldn’t identify with any of them. The character we learn the most about is probably Layla, but even she never really becomes a “full” person.

The story itself also wasn’t really compelling enough to satisfy me as a reader. At the risk of spoiling the book a bit: nothing much happens. I kept waiting for the big moment that would make Fractal Noise worth my time, and it genuinely never comes. Much like To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, this book doesn’t really have an ending, and it’s very frustrating. When I finished the book, I almost threw it across the room because I was SO annoyed.

Before I leave you with the recommendation to just not pick this novel up, I do want to touch on one more topic. The cover of Fractal Noise uses stock art that was generated with AI. TOR is a publishing house that has plenty of money to pay actual artists to make their covers, and I hope they learnt from the backlash they faced over this issue. However, I don’t know if I agree with people who haven’t read the book leaving low-star reviews on Goodreads just because of the cover. That said, I think the book is kind of bad, so as far as I’m concerned the star rating is entirely fair.

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Set in the world of The Boys, Gen V follows the exploits of a group of students at Godolkin University, an institute exclusively dedicated to educating the US’ young superheroes (’supes’). Against the backdrop of increasingly violent politics and the innumerable crimes of superhero corporation Vought, young adult drama soon turns serious when it appears something shady is going on at GodU.

This review relates to the first season only

I was surprised I liked The Boys, so when I was in the Prime app and saw a spin-off had appeared, I figured I would give that a go too. Unfortunately, it didn’t really live up to my expectations.

A lot of Gen V is decent – it looks good, the acting isn’t bad, and I think a lot of the character writing is well done – I especially like Emma/Little Cricket’s character and arc. I guess the plot is on the ‘eh’ side of acceptable, with a predictable magic school-through line and the by now almost inevitable crosses and double crosses towards the end of the season. The setting – a world with a cynical take on superheroes and modern politics – is still strong.

However, where I felt The Boys got the message mostly right, Gen V misses the mark just a bit too often. The Boys, told from the perspective of ‘normal’ humans, shows us that supes in a position of privilege almost inevitably abuse their power. And while Gen V would have been the perfect opportunity to show us how good kids get corrupted by an inequitable system, we instead see that the real problem is revenge-bent, evil, manipulative individuals with megalomaniac plans.

Similarly, being told from the perspective of supes, Gen V mostly ignores non-supe characters, falling into exactly the trap that The Boys criticises, i.e. that normal people don’t matter to supes; here, they’re not made to matter to the viewer. It all fits the ‘standard’ progression of a superhero story, but doesn’t rhyme well with the societal criticism the series seems to want to deliver.

In short, Gen V was definitely watchable but also at times annoying or frustrating, and never particularly rewarding. If you’re planning on watching, I would recommend putting it on in the background while cooking or ironing or something suchlike – definitely not sit-down-to-watch television.

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Part three of the Expanse - Just as Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante try to distance themselves from politics and wriggle their way out under the OPA’s thumb, events conspire to bring him to The Ring, a giant protomolecule structure hovering in space among the outer planets. As fleets from Earth , Mars and the Belt converge on the Ring, politics are inevitable. Carlos de Baca runs security in the Belter fleet, thoug his Earth-provenance puts him in difficult position. Anna Volodovna is a preacher from the outer planets invited by Earth to join the spiritual leaders in the fleet to make sense of it all. Meanwhile, on a small maintenance ship traveling with the Earth armada, engineer Melba Koh hatches a destructive plan.
AbaddonsGateReview

As The Expanse progresses, its sci-fi may soften but the tension never slackens. Abaddon’s Gate is similar in structure to the previous instalments, following the story from separate points of view that intertwine as the plot progresses. This creates the series’ signature high pace, skipping from highlight to highlight as experienced by each of the characters at breakneck pace and keeping the reader glued to the pages.

Abaddon’s Gate also follows the series trajectory in moving from more technical hard science fiction to the softer kind where certain story elements are taken for granted and not explained. This also allows Abaddon’s Gate to take The Expanse new and exciting places that a more grounded narrative such as Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars-trilogy could not go.

This, I think, is one of The Expanse’s strengths: even as the core cast of characters remains constant, the backdrop of the development of their relationships shifts just a little every time, keeping the story fresh.

That changement de decor is also, however, taking The Expanse into more generic sci-fi territory. Whether this is a downside is up to you, but I found that it makes me less excited, not more excited to pick up the next book.

That is not to say that I won’t read it or expect to enjoy it – on the contrary. But I’m now reading The Expanse for the smooth prose, quick Hollywood-in-a-book-style action and to a lesser extent, the main characters.

In this particular case, there is something else as well: with the vast array of opportunities opened up at the end of Abaddon’s Gate, I’m very curious to see where Cibola Burn will take us. I already have a copy on my to read-shelf, so watch this space!

Review: Assassin’s Fate – Robin Hobb

Fitzchivalry Farseer’s daughter Bee has been kidnapped, and is presumed dead. Fortunately, Bee is very much alive, but unfortunately, she is being held captive by a group of white prophets, who intend to bring her back to their home in Clerres. Meanwhile, Fitz and his companions go on a journey to Clerres to kill all whites, to punish them for Bee’s alleged death.

Read More »

Review: Antarctica – Kim Stanley Robinson

When the last wilderness on Earth is threatened, what do we do? Antarctica follows some of the continent’s inhabitants in a future that feels like today: Val, an experienced mountaineer who guides tourist following in polar explorers’ footsteps; X, a general field assistant doing general field assistance; and Wade, aide to a US Senator looking into some mysterious disappearances near the South Pole. Their lives in the icy cold seem tough enough as is, until suddenly disaster strikes…

Read More »

Review: Red Country – Joe Abercrombie

When Shy and her surrogate-father Lamb return home from a trip to the village to sell the crops, they find the farm burned, Shy’s brother and sister gone and their caretaker hanged. A determination and a flicker of wrath stir in the otherwise placid Lamb, and they set out to chase the perpetrators. Elsewhere in the Near Country, Temple, chief lawyer and secretary to the washed-up mercenary captain-general Niccomo Cosca, has seen enough of the company’s ‘heroics’.

Read More »

Review: Fractal Noise – Christopher Paolini

After the traumatic death of his wife, xenobiologist Alex Crichton joins an expedition that brings him and his fellow crew to Talos VII. They detect an anomaly on the planet: a giant hole that seems to have been created by intelligent life. Alex and three of his fellow shipmates descend to the planet to discover what the hole is, who made it, and why.*

*As they journey closer to the giant pit, Alex is forced to confront not just the idea of there being other life in the universe, but also his own demons.

Read More »

Review: Gen V – Amazon Prime

Set in the world of The Boys, Gen V follows the exploits of a group of students at Godolkin University, an institute exclusively dedicated to educating the US’ young superheroes (’supes’). Against the backdrop of increasingly violent politics and the unnumerable crimes of superhero corporation Vought, young adult drama soon turns serious when it appears something shady is going on at GodU.

Read More »

Review: Abaddon’s Gate – James S.A. Corey

Part three of the Expanse – Just as Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante try to distance themselves from politics and wriggle their way out under the OPA’s thumb, events conspire to bring him to The Ring, a giant protomolecule structure hovering in space among the outer planets. As fleets from Earth , Mars and the Belt converge on the Ring, politics are inevitable. Carlos de Baca runs security in the Belter fleet, thoug his Earth-provenance puts him in difficult position. Anna Volodovna is a preacher from the outer planets invited by Earth to join the spiritual leaders in the fleet to make sense of it all. Meanwhile, on a small maintenance ship traveling with the Earth armada, engineer Melba Koh hatches a destructive plan.

Read More »