Truth be told, I loved Old Man’s War … not necessarily the whole series mind you, but definitely Book 1.  It’s long been a staple and one that I’ve gone back to every now and then.  Unfortunately for me, however (and probably somewhat in the minority) I didn’t love Red Shirts which I thought had a brilliant concept/idea but wasn’t really executed well.  I know that I’m in the minority on this one, but I’m willing to live with that!  So going into this book, I was somewhat concerned … the Old Man’s War series overall was good, Red Shirts for me … not so much.  So, how would this new series about the “Interdependency” stack up?

Overall really positively is the answer!  This is basically Scalzi’s Dune. Several powerful houses competing for power and resources, an Emperox (Emperor) that controls a planet called Hub, which resides at the epicenter of The Flow, a trade network of one-directional interstellar wormholes that humanity found a thousand years ago, religion and politics intertwined, etc. The idea is extremely interesting and the workaround for getting past the speed of light itself via the “Flow” is one that kind of makes sense?  It seems like wormholes I think but I like the concept and idea that all routes lead to Hub and they end at End.  I loved the fact that the final planet – End – is called that … it makes sense and is a very human thing to do isn’t it?   Using The Flow we branched out into the galaxy and started living in some areas that were not so hospitable. Each colony is dependent on the others for resources they do not have available locally. So what happens if this network doesn’t always function the way it has in the past? What happens if Hub isn’t always where all paths in The Flow lead?

Some negatives for me

The fact that the other “stops” available via the flow terminate at planets that cannot support life – well that works and doesn’t work for me. I see why John did it in the context of the rest of the series, but it seems a bit off that out of all of the different terminations none except End have a planet that can support human life?  Again for the sake of the story and the whole Interdependency, I’m willing to give it a pass but if we’re being totally honest, the Interdependency itself wouldn’t work … I mean if humanity can be so pragmatic to name the final stop of a network connecting multiple planets together “End”, they wouldn’t allow themselves to become dependent on only certain groups to support them.  I get the whole monopolistic thing, but let’s be honest shall we, the first thing we’d do when we got to a new planet is figure out a way to be self-sufficient as quickly as possible!  I think if there is one thing we can all agree on is that humans innovate and cause problems a lot more than they toe the company line!

What worked?

What set this story apart, however, is the characters.  Cardenia, Kiva and Ghreni are all extremely well realized and detailed.  They each have their own quirks and the simply stick in your head.  I loved Kiva’s language and her acerbic wit.  Ghreni and his Machiavellian tricks are oh so obvious but at the same time so well done and Cardenia – well lets just say that she completely charmed me!

Scalzi has done it again. The Collapsing Empire marks his strong return to space opera with a fresh start in this series opener, introducing readers to a new universe, new characters, and a whole new set of rules. At first, I was a little apprehensive about whether I would take to it as fondly as the books in the Old Man’s War sequence, but all my skepticism went out the window as soon as I finished the book and found myself once more filled with that familiar sense of marvel and excitement.

 

 

 

I’ve often found that new authors (new to me anyways) have a great first book and then tend to flag in the second or third book in a series making it really hard to continue reading.  It’s a real pity as I often find myself coming to care about the characters and I really want to know what happens to them but when it stops becoming enjoyable and is simply a grind … well, lets just say that I tend to move on.  An example of this is the Silver Ships series – the characters … any realism they had in the earlier books just disappeared and their risks and challenges were too easily beaten.  As I’ve been burnt a couple of times, I was wary going into Book 2 of the Warp Marine Corps after the exceptional book 1, but, boy – am I glad I did!

Book 2 continues the story of Captain Fromm and his merry band of ne’er-do-wells, however, this time instead of focusing on a small battle in a single city our canvas is that of a whole planet – Parthenon – which is the focus of a thrust by humanities enemies.  Fromm’s previous battle was one of the few “wins” for humanity in the shadow war against the humans.  Now that things are out in the open and we learn that humanity is officially under attack by 3 different polities the importance of holding Parthenon is even greater.

Fromm has a much larger force available to him, but the focus is still on the group we met in Book 1 – Decisively Engaged – however, some new weapons are introduced and this time the enemy is not a bunch of savages, but another Starfarer nation with equivalent weaponry available.  The combat is brutal and extremely well described but perhaps even more importantly he covered the essentials in a realistic manner.  Weapons here aren’t “super weapons” – they are the gradual improvements and his explanation of why Battle Mechs aren’t in prevalent use while sad is probably very true!

In addition to the battle on the ground, there is significant starship combat here which is one thing that was sadly lacking from the first book and by the end of the book a revolution in space warfare that changes things dramatically.  However, this change while potent also heralds some new and potentially worrying future developments for the Universe at large.  Book 3 expands on this in even greater depth but I’ll get into that in a future post!

 

 

While I’m definitely more of a fan of the Military SciFi genre, Fantasy titles still have a very large place in my heart.  Especially when those titles are written by some of the more exceptional authors in the field like Jordan (sadly deceased), Sanderson (alive, kicking & publishing like a dervish) and Butcher.

Jim Butcher is actually best known for his magical detective-noir novels – the Dresden files – which I have not read, but I have heard are really good.  I was introduced to him via his Codex Alera series – the first of which (Furies of Calderon) is reviewed here – which I loved.  His characters were extremely well thought out and written, the magic system was first rate & the motivations of the villains were very well thought out and conceived.  Overall it was excellent series and one I’ve enjoyed through several re-reads so I was really excited to see his new series available via the Overdrive app & my local library!

My initial thoughts were that Codex Alera was somewhat simpler to understand – a Roman legion was propelled to another land via a gate of some sort and here they survived and adapted.  They didn’t come with magic but they learned to “tame” the local furies and came to preeminence in their local area.

Aeronaut’s Windlass is a little bit more confusing – something happened (which by the end of the book is still not clear) & humanity lives on “Spires” that were created by the “Ancients”.  These stone pillars have been inhabited for hundreds (if not thousands) of years and wood is an extremely rare, expensive and in-demand resource.  Airships, however, ply the currents between spires which are powered by gems of varying sizes and power.  These gems not only serve as the engine for the airship but also power the cannons that are used in duels between different ships.  Smaller gems are used for individual weapons in the form of gauntlets & it seems that while they are rare, they are common enough that all guards have them – basically in this universe, these gauntlets act as a replacement for the guns we’re used to.

The story in a nutshell

Aeronaut’s Windlass takes us to one specific spire and a group of people that you could best categorize as the American’s or British with their dependence on free trade and commerce.  This group has developed not only their primary spire – where the nobility resides – but also a more commercial hub that is fast becoming the richest place in the world.

When another spire decides to attack, a group of young guardsmen are thrown into combat with a disgraced former captain to save their homeland from the foe.  The captain – cashiered from the navy for cowardice is anything but and while the guardsmen might seem a disparate lot – they have everything they need within themselves to make the difference … especially when you add a mad sorcerer and his apprentice to the mix!

Unfortunately, the “enemy” is not idle either – a company of marines, a traitorous captain, and a witch might seem a large enough threat by itself, but when you add in venomous monsters that can kill with a bite, creatures with carapaces that can reflect all but the strongest of shots and monsters the size of a mountain to the mix … well, let’s just say that the odds don’t look good!

Fortunately for our hero’s – they have Rowl and his kin!

What I liked and didn’t like

I loved, loved, loved Rowl.  Having the cat as an actual speaking character in the story was excellent.  He was believable and perfect and I absolutely adored his parts of the story.  I actually really liked all of the characters, to be honest – they all had decent motivations and reasons for their actions and were all believable.  Perhaps the only character I didn’t really understand was Rook … having him in this story almost seemed unnecessary and his inclusion seemed to just be required as a placeholder.  He didn’t really bring anything to the story either positive or negative aside from perhaps explaining why Grimm was a disgraced Captain.

I guess if there was anything I didn’t really like – it would be the magic system … Codex Alera – the system made sense.  Same with the Wheel of Time and the Way of Kings and Mistborn.  Here nothing is really explained about how the gems work and why they do.  If they are “grown” in a vat, why are the ones grown by the Lannisters so great and couldn’t anyone do it if they are as valuable as they are?  Why is humanity living in the spires in the first place?  What is “etheric” energy and how does it work?  Why are the creatures and monsters so mutated and dangerous and where does the wood for the ships come from if it is so expensive?  Lots of questions and I hope that they get answered in future volumes.