Review: Firedrake

As of now the most recent book in the Kirov series, Firedrake combines the worst and best of it all. The worst is that all of the structural problems are still there and that the wargame lets play structure is beginning to wear thin, especially with the foreshadowing that this particular timeline is getting erased/destroyed. The best is, well….

The best is that plot points involve the ship transported to a bleak, dark, empty world where only hostile mechanized drones roam the seas and skies (was it Skynet or Yawgmoth that was responsible? :p ). Then it moves into another timeline courtesy of supervillain Ivan Volkov, where a Third World War (the fourth in the series) is about to begin, one where Japan won the second thanks to Volkov giving them nuclear bombs.

The Kirov series is best when it wargames out drastically changed situations, and that is the case in half of Firedrake. The other half is wargame action as usual.

Review: I Jedi

I, Jedi

Michael Stackpole’s I, Jedi may be my favorite Star Wars novel ever. It’s also a book that has absolutely no business being as good as it is. After all, Stackpole is a writer who isn’t the best prose-wise and tends to take game mechanics literally. Corran Horn, his protagonist, is the ur-example of someone parachuting their own Mary Sue into an existing franchise. The first part of the book uses the same plot as a book by the infamously subpar Kevin J. Anderson.

And yet, it somehow works brilliantly. Part of it is that Stackpole’s writing is in better form than usual, in everything from starfighter battles where Corran fights his old teammates and can sense their thought processes to everyday life on a backwater world. Another part of it is that by being small-scale and comparably low-stakes, it manages to actually make the universe look bigger and more wondrous.

Stackpole’s epic might be helped along by the other books of the time, which tended to have a random ex-Imperial using the superweapon of the week and an inappropiately small number of Star Destroyers to threaten the entire galaxy. But even on its own, it works. It embodies the “distant vista” principle, restores a sense of awe, and just succeeds as a story in its own right.

Review: Tiberium Wars

Command And Conquer: Tiberium Wars

The Keith DeCandido novelization of Command and Conquer: Tiberium Wars was widely denounced upon release. I was there on Spacebattles, and I saw the critiques. I read it, and I agreed.

If the book itself was in an original setting, it would be forgettable and bland, a spacesuit commando Marine Force One with a Mary Sue protagonist. The only real quibble would be extremely rapid procurement of new rifles. But as it stands, it doesn’t gel well with the Command and Conquer game. At all.

There might be a mitigating factor in that I’ve also heard that DeCandido got background material for “Tiberium”, the cancelled C&C FPS project and based the book of of that, which would explain some things like the abundance of rifles. However, whatever the circumstances, this is a book to avoid.

Review: If It Bleeds

If It Bleeds

A collection of short stories featuring the infamous Predator alien hunters, If It Bleeds is the first anthology I’ve reviewed on Fuldapocalypse. From ancient history to futuristic fighting rings, the Predators come to hunt.

In many ways, these aliens are ideal crossover/setting shifters. A combination of a sense of (comparative) self-restraint and a desire for (by their standards) a “fair” fight mean they can be put almost anywhere, and they are. Compare this with the other half of the “Alien vs. Predator” franchise. The xenomorphs are one-dimensional and will inevitably either devour everything or get crushed themselves.

The various writers take advantage of this to bring about various “prey”. For the most part, they’re successful. However, there’s a few small issues. The first is that the stories that go for some kind of mystery don’t work because you know what the anthology features. The second is that there is no story where Theodore Roosevelt fights a Predator.

Otherwise, this is a very fun group of stories that any science fiction or action fan should enjoy.

Review: Aurora Invasion

Aurora: Invasion

What better book series to review on the Fourth of July than the ridiculously star-spangled Black Eagle Force? Aurora Invasion is a later entry in Steinke and Farmer’s “masterpiece”, where the BEF battles a new opponent-aliens.

This is a weaker entry in the series. Part of this is because its authors never were the best in terms of literary fundamentals to begin with, something very true here as well. A bigger reason is that, believe it or not, the rest of the series is so bizarre that fighting UFOs is actually more grounded than some of the other stuff the BEF gets up to.

This is still a decent out-there cheap thriller, but there are better books even in its own series.

Review: Area 51

Area 51

The first book in a long series, Bob Mayer’s Area 51 (originally published under the pen name “Robert Doherty”) is a “secret history” flying saucer thriller story. By itself, it’s a decent enough 51% book. What brings it down is, weirdly, the plot. Oh, there’s a few technical inaccuracies like having F-16s be around in 1970 and putting them on aircraft carriers, but the real issue I found was structural.

What my binge of Cussler-esque “find the ancient MacGuffin” books has taught me is that premise alone doesn’t make for a good read. And this is definitely the case with Area 51.

Here, there’s two problems with the alien technology. The first is that it’s too powerful in context. Not only does it function as a convenient plot enabler and deus ex machina, but it basically turns the entire book into watching a tale of the aliens. And that tale is dull and cliche. The second problem is that flying saucers don’t embody majesty and secrecy, but rather goofy Plan 9 From Outer Space kitsch.

The result is that the book is little but a throwaway curiosity.

A Thousand Words: Alien Vs. Predator Arcade

Alien Vs. Predator Arcade

Coming on the heels of my last post about beat ’em ups, one of the more interesting examples came from Capcom. The 1994 Alien Vs. Predator arcade game is fascinating. As a game, it has the same beautiful spritework you’d expect from a Capcom game of this time period. Its mixture of enemies is not exactly a bunch of street punks led by a well-dressed man with a gun.

But what the most interesting thing is is that it does what an adaptation needs to do. Granted, in many ways the setting tone is kind of incompatible with the game-you aren’t an outmatched human facing horrific, inhuman monsters, you’re beating up hordes of them en masse. But in terms of the pure essence, it distills all the convoluted lore into one simple goal. Humans reluctantly ally with monsters who sometimes want to kill them against both monsters who always want to kill them and a government/corporate conspiracy foolishly trying to use the latter monsters.

And this is done so well that Capcom could put a bubbly-voiced kounichi in and have it work.

 

 

Review: X-COM UFO Defense

X-COM UFO Defense

Video game novelizations do not have the best reputation. Keeping that in mind, how does Diane Duane’s work on the classic video game X-COM turn out?

The story of X-COM commander Jonelle Barrett running a base in Switzerland, Duane seems interested in making a huge effort to write about everything except fighting aliens. This by itself isn’t too bad. In terms of accuracy, X-COM, particularly the original, is as much about managing resources as it was battling the invaders. In terms of plausibility, no one’s going to be spending every waking moment shooting Sectoids. In terms of characterization, they shouldn’t be automaton spacesuit commandos.

And yet they basically are, for the book is about 95% pure padding. Descriptions of Swiss geography fill most of it, alongside what seems like an obligatory mention of every element in the game. The rest consists of half-hearted “she just looked at the names and wanted to get them over with” battles with redshirts that are every bit as expendable and forgettable as the actual minions one controls in the games. This is one of the most blatantly obvious “I did this for the money with no enthusiasm” books I’ve read.

Review: Edison’s Conquest of Mars

Edison’s Conquest of Mars

From energy guns to ancient aliens building ancient civilization megastructures, a lot of sci-fi tropes originated in Edison’s Conquest of Mars. Besides that, this book is fascinating because of how min-max it is. A sequel to War of the Worlds bootlegs (it’s a bit of a long story), author Garrett Serviss made-something.

On one hand, the prose is terrible and flat even by 19th Century standards. It’s a self-promoting effort by the title character/famous person. The plot goes against Wells’ theme to a ridiculous extent. The most ridiculous elements seem mundane when actually described. It was originally a short-form serial and it shows in the writing.

And yet so much of the sci-fi cheap thriller was started, or at least popularized here. This, is very much like seeing a video game or movie that’s at the very, very beginning of its genre. It looks horrifically crude in comparison to its later successors, but you have to start somewhere.

Review: Foundation

Foundation

foundationcover

Now I can add Isaac Asimov to the list of famous authors reviewed on Fuldapocalypse, and what better book than his masterpiece, Foundation?

I’m somewhat leery of reviewing massively successful books by famous authors. A part of me has this guarded “it can’t possibly be as good as they say” feeling, and I like giving more obscure stories a platform. But I felt I had to.

The story of the decaying empire and genuis Hari Seldon’s plan is very Shakespearean. By which I mean it’s a well-done story that nonetheless has gotten retroactively treated as something a lot more highbrow than it was upon first release. This isn’t a mere spacesuit commando book, but it’s still much closer to Ken Bulmer than it is to Stephen Baxter.

And while this isn’t Asimov’s fault, a lot of this is dated. There’s the obvious, like treating “nuclear power” as some kind of super-technology. There’s the historical conceits, like taking Edward Gibbon’s view of ancient Rome too closely. Then there’s the central premise of a triumphant technocratic process, the sort of thing embodied most by… Robert McNamara.

Yet I don’t want to come across as too negative. This is very readable, and it’s been so influential for science fiction that seeing where a lot of the tropes became popularized is also fun. This is a “classic” I do recommend.