Escape Velocity

A curated Collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction Media

Welcome to the Escape Velocity Collection!

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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In a post-apocalyptic universe, all that remains of humanity lives on a slowly dying space station, called the Ark. One hundred delinquent youth are sent to Earth to see if it is once again habitable. While those on the Ark  struggle to keep everything going, the 100  discover that Earth is not as desolate as they expected.

This series is an interesting one. When I watched the first half of the first season, I thought the writing and part of the acting were simply weak. Entertaining YA content, but nothing more. Then, as the season progressed, it suddenly seemed like the quality was growing exponentially. I was hooked. Not only that, the writing from seasons 2 to 4 is among the strongest (worthy of at least four stars) I have seen in recent years. 

 

The 100  contains some interesting ideas that are generally well-executed. The worldbuilding of this post-apocalyptic Earth is solid and the characters have to face some fairly realistic dilemmas. The grimdark setting really makes you think at times. What would I do in such a scenario? Would I be able to make the hard choices? Questions without correct answers.

 

This series succeeded in delivering a strong and diverse cast of characters, whose stories are strongly interwoven with the plot of each season. On the whole, I liked most characters, even if I hated them. I cursed them, I laughed at them and I cried for them. Some, I even loved. 

 

For those who decide to give this series a chance and find they like both the plot and the characters, I would certainly encourage you to watch the first five seasons. The season finale of the fifth season can serve as an ending to the series as a whole. The tone of the following seasons is very different from the first five seasons. In terms of content, the last seasons contain interesting concepts, but they somewhat come at the expense of the atmospheric unity of the previous seasons.

Jop has made some excellent points. Starting off I was sceptical about the series, but the acting and the storyline grew into somthing with depth and body. I got quite carried away with this one. The politics of war were always a backdrop for the struggles of our main characters, creating some very interesting ethical questions. A bingeable series with shippable characters (team #clexa represent!).

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The BBC series Merlin tells the story of King Arthur and the legendary wizard Merlin – with a twist. Merlin is a young mage, sent to Camelot by his mother. Here, he meets the young Prince Arthur, who is handsome and fair, but also arrogant and rude. Merlin becomes Arthur’s servant, and finds that whilst he must hide his magic – which is outlawed by the king – he is destined to use it to protect the young prince. Merlin and Arthur both have destinies, and they can’t fulfill them without the other.

Merlin is one of those shows that has a premise which makes you narrow your eyes, but boy does it deliver. The cast is superb, featuring (then) young talent like Colin Morgan and Katie McGrath, as well as established actors such as Anthony Head. It is a relatively light-hearted fantasy series, which blends comedy with drama effortlessly.

What I like best about Merlin is that it focuses mainly on characters. The show has an episodic structure. There is an overarching plot, but episodes can often be watched separately and still be enjoyed. However, characters show serious growth throughout the series. The cast has great chemistry, which makes it a joy to watch.

This show has 5 series (or seasons) with 13 episodes each. While it doesn’t always have the clearest overarching narrative, the relative shortness of the series means that it never has the chance to unravel and stray too far from the originally intended story.

The show does feature some queerbaiting, so be aware of that.

I would recommend Merlin to anyone who enjoys a good BBC series, and anyone who likes their fantasy light-hearted and character-driven.

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Vin, a young thief with a special talent, lives to survive. She knows there is no alternative in the dark society of the Final Empire. Then, however, her world views are challenged by the legendary crew leader Kelsier, a revolutionist who intends to overthrow the cruel Lord Ruler. Not only does he teach Vin that she has the magical talents of a Mistborn, she is also to play a vital role in his reckless plans. 

 

The Final Empire

This first book has an interesting premise, which is particularly evident in the worldbuilding. How would a world look in which ‘the Dark Lord’ was the victor of a previous story? The plot focuses on the question of how to overthrow such a regime, which I found quite enjoyable.

 

It is undeniable that Sanderson’s prose reads easily. At this point, I can spoil that this is true for the whole trilogy. Action scenes, dialogue, exposition, it is all smoothly written. In addition, the worldbuilding and most plot elements are well thought out and original. Along the way, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a few twists and turns in the story.

 

What I missed while reading this trilogy, however, was a deeper connection with its characters. Although, as a reader, you spend enough time in their heads to learn their motivations, quirks and flaws, they always remained somewhat flat in my experience. As if they are too rationally created, and too subservient to the plot. Another disappointing fact was the severe lack of female characters.
Another aspect I struggled with, was Sanderson’s tendency to take the reader by the hand and explain too much, which often comes at the expense of the tension of the story. In a similar way, many basic things (such as the magic system) continue to be explained in depth, even long after such explanations are useful. I found this particularly jarring in the extended, cinematic action scenes of the Allomancers, which I didn’t really care about much to begin with.

 

All in all, I would say that this first entry of the trilogy can easily be read as a stand-alone. Although I don’t regret reading the rest of the trilogy, the narrative structure of those books differ from The Final Empire, which I think is the strongest of the three.

The Final Empire was my first foray into Brandon Sanderson, who, I think, we all have to admit is one of the great names in the modern Fantasy genre. It is possible that that influenced my opinion; I certainly expected a top tier novel. 

 

Was I disappointed? Perhaps somewhat. The Final Empire is good, but Sanderson is not about to break into my top five. Or top ten. Or top twenty. 

 

What are the things the The Final Empire has going for it? It has a great premise and original world-building – it is set in a sort of post-apocalyptic fantasy dystopia that is ruled by a god-emperor that was the villain of a thousand year old myth. It features a great cast of characters that band together almost in an Ocean’s Eleven-style team to pull the heist of the millenium. It has an interesting hard magic system that makes for cool power fantasies in the heroes. It has smooth, if somewhat simple, prose that reads effortlessly. It is well-planned and features a really satisfying twist towards the end.

 

Those elements would seem to make for a five-star novel, so where does it fall flat? Sanderson has a tendency to over-explain, to over-describe, and to over-set-up. Sanderson, I feel, is a very conscious writer, aware of tropes, techniques, common critiques. He has written essays on writing, taught courses on writing. His stories appear clearly well-planned. But as a result, they lack life. Everything clicks, but nothing seems to have soul. Everything is demystified. 

In addition – and I chalk this up under the pitfalls, but I am sure other people will enjoy this – Sanderson writes very detailed, sometimes dozen-page-long action sequences. You’ll start wondering whether Sanderson perhaps thought he was writing a film script or the storyline for a videogame rather than a book. His magic system – with lines pointing at things, thumping signals allowing you to locate enemies, management of magic resources – almost makes you feel like you would want a heads-up display showing your health and mana bar on screen. The scenes full of allomancy are unique, however, and make for some fireworks if you’re willing to go through the effort of mentally visualising people zipping through the air, pushing, pulling, dodging, and shooting coins at each other.

 

Most importantly, though, the characters simply do not come to life the way they do in some other novels. Apart from a few main characters, most of the people in the world feel a bit flat. Especially the book’s romance towards the end feels like Sanderson decided to write “and then they fell in love” without going through the effort of having it make sense. 

 

So, in conclusion, would I recommend The Final Empire? The story is engaging and the world interesting. The characters are only so-so, but that shouldn’t be what you’re reading this for. The Final Empire reads somewhat like a good B-movie (Pacific Rim anyone?), one of those action movies you know you shouldn’t enjoy, but sometimes still do.

 

I debated giving this an extra half star, but having finished the trilogy, a lot of the set up going on in this book is sadly leading into two sequels that don’t live up to the quality – and especially the originality – of the first part. I won’t recommend the trilogy as a whole, but if the premise has made you curious, I would suggest you pick up The Final Empire and give the other two parts a miss.

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After British navy captain William Lawrence accidentally captures the egg of a chinese dragon from the French, he is soon pressed into service in the aerial core to train with his new-born dragon for the wars against France and Napoleon. At first it takes some getting used to the new world he finds himself in, but the bond with his dragon Temeraire helps a lot, and everything there is to learn keeps him occupied – until the French threat grows, and Lawrence and Temeraire are sent on their first missions in service of the crown…

 

Listened to the audiobook with Simon Vance.

 

Oh boy, this book. I so wanted to like it – it has such a great tangible, alternate history setting: the Napoleonic wars, with dragons – what’s not to like?

 

Well, it turns out that the premise of the book is sadly significantly better than its execution. It is not  terrible, but I found it lacking in too many ways to be a recommendation. There is sadly very little development in the defining relationship of the book, that between the main character and his dragon. Lawrence, the main character, is unfortunately rather uninteresting as a character, and though he meets some interesting people, there is so much going on that there is very little room for characters to attain true depth. The worldbuilding is decent, but especially towards the end, it stretched my suspension of disbelief to the breaking point. I know there are plenty of books in the series, and I am sure some of those will put meat on the bones where this book looks meagre, but Temeraire has not motivated me to pick them up and explore whether the other installments make up for what the first part does not have. 

 

This book could be a good read for younger (Young Adult onwards) or newer readers just starting out in the fantasy genre. For others, I would recommend checking out Novik’s other works first.

Despite being a fan of Naomi Novik’s other books, this one did not work for me any better than it did for Peter. While it is an interesting concept that is pretty well worked-out, I simply did not find the characters interesting enough to really care about them. Because of this, I was not very invested in any of the battle scenes either. After finishing the first book I decided not to continue with the rest of the series.

This is a story of a man and his son, trying to live the lives of normal humans in a post-apocalyptic world that is broken beyond all normality. It follows the trials of the man and the boy and their shopping cart full (and empty…) of food and as they try to survive the hardships of the Road, both physically and mentally, as the walls of the world seem to slowly close in…

Listened to the audiobook with Tom Stechschulte (who does a great job bringing the main characters to life). Minimalistic and nihilistic, this book proves that if well written, a fairly generic post-apocalyptic story can have literary flair. With simple but well-crafted prose, this book manages to bring home the horrors and day-to-day problems of a post-apocalyptic setting that many readers may have become somewhat desensitised to. Not at all fun, but thought-provoking in a way that many more trigger-happy media in the genre can only dream to be.

 

At times, for a reader more used to generic fantasy used to reading books oozing with plot, this book felt more like a stylistic exercise than a story. So fair warning: don’t read this one for the plot, but read it for the atmosphere, the prose and the emotions.

 

This is a good read for someone looking for a work of speculative fiction that is somewhat closer in style to today’s literary novels.

The tone of The Road is very quiet, almost subdued. The boy and his father speak only occasionally, and when they do their words are often brief and simple. Yet it is exactly the sparse use of language that adds weight to their conversations and actions. The love between father and son is portrayed very beautifully, which makes it all the more poignant to consider the incredibly difficult choices the man has to make for himself and for his son. This book is not an action-packed thriller, but if you can appreciate a story that is a bit more of a ‘slow burner’, definitely give this one a go. The material is very heavy and it does get quite dark in places, so do be prepared for that.

I read this book for the first time when I was in high school, and I reread it recently in audiobook format. In this case I would recommend reading the text because it better highlights the beautiful, minimalistic use of language, but since the audiobook is performed very well this is also a good option. 

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Logen finally returns home – and soon finds that once back on old soil, old habits die hard – almost as hard as the Named Men that have lined up to take their revenge. Jezal returns home expecting things to be the same – but soon gets swept up in the tide of politics in the Union’s capital. Glokta returns home expecting to be found floating by the docks before the day’s out – but finds himself increasingly in a position of power. Meanwhile, Bayaz is pulling all sorts of strings, preparing for a showdown the likes of which the world hasn’t  seen in a long time… Will any of the characters find any sort of closure at the end of this bitter saga?

Listened to the audiobook with Steven Pacey (whom I liked a lot). 

 

Overall, the trilogy deserves a solid three-star rating, perhaps bordering on three and a half. I do not think that the trilogy is a masterpiece, but it is a definite recommendation for someone looking for a character-heavy grimdark fantasy story.

 

I especially like that Abercrombie creates a dark atmosphere and dark characters without the edgy use of obvious solutions like sexual violence or babyslaying (not that it doesn’t have its fair share of violence…) but focusses instead on the nature and motivations of his characters and the bleak results of their actions.

 

I will not say that the conclusion of the series was moving, or that it made me particularly happy – but it fit very well with the grimdark tone of the trilogy, which Abercrombie follows through all the way to the end.

 

If you have just finished this trilogy and have not yet tried A song of Ice and Fire, that is a definite recommendation too.

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Review: The 100 – The CW

In a post-apocalyptic universe, all that remains of humanity lives in a slowly dying space station, called the Ark. One hundred delinquent youth are sent to Earth to see if it is once again habitable. While those on the Ark struggle to keep everything going, the 100 discover that Earth is not as desolate as they expected.

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Review: Merlin – BBC

A light-hearted yet dramatic BBC 1 retelling of the story of Arthur and Merlin where both are young men who initially dislike each other, but grow to appreciate the other as the show progresses.

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Review: Temeraire – Naomi Novik

Part 1 in the Temeraire Series – British navy captain William Lawrence captures a dragon egg from the French, and he and his dragons are pressed into service in the British aerial core to train for the war against Napoleon and the inevitable invasion of the British Isles…

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