In which I write some short reviews to catch up. . .

The Ramal Extraction by Steve Perry

ramal_extractionIn the 24th Century, the Galactic Union’s Army is stretched thin and mercenary units fill in the gaps. Headed up by retired Colonel R.A. Cutter, the Cutter Force Initiative is  a multi-species contractor for training, protection, extraction, or assassination. If the price is right, and it won’t run them afoul of the real Army, they’re game. This time around it’s a kidnapping. Rags’ and his crew are called in to find and rescue the daughter of the New Mumbai rajah. Rest assured, things are a little more complicated, both militarily and politically, than a simple rescue operation.

Unfortunately, Ramal Extraction is about as entertaining as a tooth extraction. That isn’t to say there isn’t a lot of action, or things going on, it’s all just very conventional–a small squad military thriller that just happens to be set in science fictional milieu. There’s the expected banter between different members of the squad, some secrets about its leader, and a green recruit or two to contrast how hardened the veterans truly are. A slight twist at the end of the novel tries to spice things up, but only succeeds in making the reader question why the characters weren’t smart enough to see it sooner. I would also mention a sequence in the novel where each member of the crew relates the story of their ‘first kill’. These stories came off as cheap moments of attempted character building that really would have been better served to be folded into the narrative rather than broken out.

The best thing I can say about Steve Perry’s newest novel is that it’s a classic example of the episodic mass market paperback military science fiction books that Ace/Roc churns out year after year, albeit at the lower end of the spectrum. If those are something that have provided a great deal of entertainment in the past, then I suspect The Ramal Extraction will hold up well enough.


 

Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights by Ryu Mitsuse

Ten+Billion+Days+and+One+Hundred+Billion+NightsNamed the greatest Japanese science fiction novel of all time, Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights is an epic science fiction novel that tries to imagine both the beginning and ending of the universe. After finishing the novel I can both understand why it’s considered the greatest of its kind, and boggled by the notion that enough people finished it to award it that recognition. In other words, Mitsuse has a lot of incredible, ahead of their time ideas, but good God is it cumbersome to read.

The story follows three of history’s most influential figures–Plato, Siddhartha, and Jesus–through history and to the end of existence. It opens with a lengthy entry describing the birth of the universe before moving forward with an esoteric evolution style aside of a creature moving from the sea to the land. Finally, some 10% into the narrative, it starts telling something that resembles a story, following Plato on a journey west to discover the origin of Atlantis. This part of Ten Billion Days is the most coherent, followed by a section describing Jesus’ death, and then Siddhartha leaving his people to pursue enlightenment. It’s at this point that things go off the rails, leaping ahead into a metaphysical discussion that barely resembles story telling. It’s interesting, often incredibly so, calling to mind the kinds of idea germs that could have spawned The Matrix or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

But, while I love a brilliant idea, it doesn’t hold up when the author fails to relate them in a comprehensible manner. I suppose some of that is probably lost in translation, and potentially to the difference in reader expectations some fifty years after Mitsuse handed it over. Regardless, I can’t really recommend it to anyone other than the obsessive hard science fiction fan. Not for me.


 

The Red Sun Also Rises by Mark Hodder

ARedSunAlsoRisesMark Hodder’s newest novel is simply described as an Edgar Rice Burroughs sword and planet story written by Jane Austen on acid. Sound fun?

Hodder’s protagonist is Aiden Fleischer, a faithless priest, who’s transported to an alien world during a mission in an isolated part of the world. Now on the planet Ptallaya, under two suns, Aiden and his assistant (for lack of a better word), Clarissa, find the Yatsill, a race of enthusiastic mimics who remake their society into a bastardized image of Victorian London from Clarissa’s memories. It only gets weirder from there.

Weird is a term often used these days. In fact, New Weird, is a almost a genre in and of itself these days thanks to writers like China Miéville, Jeff Vandermeer, and the like. New Weird isn’t remotely weird enough to describe A Red Sun Also Rises, which is weird like that kid in seventh grade who stares at girls awkwardly and then asks them what their favorite periodic element is. Not that I have any experience with such things. Suffice to say the novel reads like A Princess of Mars on acid. If that sounds like something you might tolerate, then Hodder’s novel is probably a winner because otherwise it’s well written, fast paced, and occasionally clever.

It’s not really to my taste, but I fully recognize it’s appeal to someone weirder.

Justin Landon

Justin Landon is the Overlord of Staffer's Book Review. When he's not writing things of dubious value to the world, he's at the gym or being a dad. You can follow him on a multitude of social media, which is strongly suggested lest you miss out on vital information that could someday save your life.

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Comments
  • Jared February 11, 2013 at 2:34 am

    I read Ten Billion Days and 100 Million Nights and had the same reaction. It is… a thing. But not a thing for me. (Even if it does degenerate into a Plato vs Jesus laser battle, if I remember correctly.) The hardcover is *gorgeous* though. Kind of worth it as a design artifact.

  • Rob B February 11, 2013 at 11:16 am

    Good to see you back Justin.

    You know, I’ve seen quite a few of novels described as “XXX a thing meets Jane Austen” or “Something something meets Bronte!” I recall finding books like Wuthering Heights droll and tedious when I read them in school so the appeal to such a mash-up is totally lost on me.

  • kamo February 12, 2013 at 6:57 am

    “I suppose some of that is probably lost in translation”

    I kind of get what you mean, in fact it sounds like it has very similar issues to the last Haikasoru book I read, but what exactly are you basing this supposition on? Realistically it can only be because you know something of the original language and can see it peeking through, or have read another, better, translation of the same book. I’m guessing that neither’s the case here (though I’m willing to stand corrected), in which case it’s just bad writing (or writing that doesn’t work for you) and should be called as such.

    I’d love to see more stuff translated into English, and think that in general it should be encouraged, but that means not giving the weaker stuff a free pass just because it’s foreign. Quality control, y’know?

    Sorry Justin. I’m probably expressing myself poorly, and I enjoy your blog, but this is something of a bugbear of mine. Carry on.

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