Stormbreaker

Cover of Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz.
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Title: Stormbreaker

Author: Anthony Horowitz

Nutshell: Alex Rider’s uncle is dead. Many nephews would not find this such a world-shaking revelation, but Rider’s uncle was his sole relative and guardian. Now, alone and a ward of the bank his uncle worked for, his world is about to get very different.

The bank is a front for MI6. The world is very different indeed.

Not only is Alex now a ward of a branch of MI6, they want him to pick up where his uncle left off. His age and lack of experience are bonuses, in their eyes. Nobody will suspect a teenager of being a spy. They can get him right to the heart of the villain’s lair. It will be perfect. And if he doesn’t, well, they’ll deport his housekeeper and only friend, and send him to a cheap, nasty boarding school. What’s a fourteen-year-old to do?

Readalikes: The Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter, any James Bond novel.Read More »

The Search for Fierra

Cover of The Search for Fierra by Stephen Lawhead. Art by Richard Chetland.
Art by Richard Chetland. Click through to read a preview on Amazon!

Title: The Search for Fierra

Author: Stephen Lawhead

Nutshell: From the time of 1980s science fiction, where worldbuilding was a new and fascinating thing (thereby leading to long sections of prose devoted to cataloguing it wholesale) and all sci-fi sounded vaguely like Star Trek, comes The Search for Fierra, a typical space dystopia from a time when space dystopia was atypical.

Meet Orion Treet, a man who thinks of himself only by his last name, despite never using anyone else’s last name ever. He’s just been shanghied onto an interplanetary voyage intended to reestablish contact with a colony that lost contact. He is not, of course, wondering what a small-time historian is doing on a colonial mission. He’s too busy being distracted by:

Yarden Talazac, the ultimate male portrayal of the incomprehensible female mind. She is an empath, which mostly means she can read Treet’s mind and maybe fly spaceships through wormholes? This empathic bond means she has very strong opinions about Treet’s actions. Which makes her the love interest because she challenges him, I guess.

Also meet Pizzle, the most unfortunately named nerd in the Galaxy. They (and Crocker) will bravely attempt to contact the lost colony (It’s been lost for about a month, fyi) and discover how it has flourished. Alas, due to something called “wormhole physics”, the team finds themselves 3000 years in the future, where the very, very well established colony has divided into today’s slight-less-unsubtle-than-usual dystopia with symbolic underpinnings.

Watch them plod through the drudgery of life in Dome, the caste-segregated, communistic, nanny-state with literal mind control, until they finally meet up and escape to Fierra, a perfect paradise. Peruse pages in which they ask none of the questions the reader is asking, like, “Why do the Dome dwellers wear breathers with stored air when the air on this planet is perfectly breathable?” “Why don’t even the rulers of Dome go into their Archives containing the knowledge of centuries?” and “Why is Pizzle even in this book?” Also peruse pages in which they ask the questions the reader is asking and then immediately provide glib answers, leaving the question open for the reader but that’s probably all the explanation they’ll give you.

Yes, experience this forerunner to the dystopia genre, if only so that you can say that you have. Mystery-Science-Theatre-3000 your way through it if you’d like. Auto-Schaudenfruede is still a form of enjoyment.

Readalikes: Most of the dustier dystopias. Try The Giver, Farehnheit 451, or 1984. But this also has similarity to Star Trek and other divergent-colony novels such as the Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffery. Aspects of it remind me of Ted Dekker’s Red Black White Green cycle, but it’s hard to be sure.Read More »

All Fall Down

Cover of All Fall Down by Ally Carter. Cover art by Kenneth Choi.
Art by Kenneth Choi. Click to read a preview!

Title: All Fall Down

Author: Ally Carter

Nutshell: Grace should probably be your typical Army brat. She gets into scrapes, has moved more than a dozen times, and knows way more than the average team about international relations. Instead, Grace is crazy. Her mother died in a fire three years ago, and her mind cracked from the trauma. Now, living with her grandfather in the US embassy to Adria, she is haunted by visions of her mother and surrounded by people who love and support her.

Or is she? You see, Grace doesn’t remember a store fire, tragic but accidental. Grace remembers a bomb. And a man with a gun. A man with a scar. A man that everyone claims does not exist.

A man Grace just saw in the streets of Adria.

While everyone around her tells her that she’s crazy, Grace must face her fears and her nightmares to stop her mother’s murderer from killing again.

Readalikes: The Gallagher Girls Series by (surprise!) Ally Carter. The Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz.Read More »

The Cobra Trilogy

Cover of Cobra Trilogy by Timothy Zahn. Art by Kurt Miller.
Art by Kurt Miller. Click to read a preview!

Title: The Cobra Trilogy (Cobra, Cobra Strike, Cobra Bargain)

Author: Timothy Zahn

Nutshell: The Cobra Trilogy covers three generations of  super-soldier. In the first book, small town boy Johnny Moreau wants to change the odds in the war against an alien menace to the Human worlds. He undergoes surgery to become a super-soldier, with servo-assisted, ceramically strengthened muscles and bones, built in lasers, and an implanted computer loaded with an acrobatic skill set to help drive them. He fights the war with the Trofts, and then afterwards deals with the political ramifications of a segment of the population having been turned into un-retireable weapons.

In the second book, Jonny’s twin sons Joshua and Justin impersonate each other on a covert mission. A planet populated by humans has been discovered far from human-controlled space, but intel suggests they are hostile. The inhabitants don’t seem hostile at first. In fact, they seem unnervingly peaceful. Unsettlingly peaceful.  And a strange bird explorers find on a different planet may hold the key to getting back home safely.

In the third book, Justin’s daughter Jessica is made the first female Cobra and sent to surveil the formerly suspicious planet, but she is unexpectedly shot down. Somehow, as an obvious offworlder in potentially hostile territory, she  must escape the planet. Od course, she thinks she’ll be able to complete her mission on the way.

Read-alikes: Michael A. Stackpole and Jerry Pournelle both write similar planet-based military SF.Read More »

Top Ten: Elantris

Cover of Elantris by Brandon Sanderson. Art by Stephan Martiniere.
Artwork by Stephan Martiniere. Click to read a preview!

Title: Elantris

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Nutshell: Sarene arrives for her wedding in the country across the ocean from her home to find that she is now, officially, a widow. Her marriage treaty stipulates that if either member dies before the marriage, they are held to have been married, to preserve the treaty. So, Sarene attempts to live in this new country, as an unwed widow. She learns to navigate the mercurial and restrictive court, meddles in politics, and does what she can to make this new home a better place. There’s plenty for her to do. All the royalty are holding secrets, and some of them are her concern.

Raoden, Sarene’s betrothed, woke on the day of his wedding a dead man. He was possessed in the night by the Shaod, a transformation that has made his body blotchy and hairless. He is thrown into the City of Elantris and left to his misery. Once, the Shaod was a glorious thing, and those chosen by it were escorted into Elantris with revelry. Once, the Shaod transformed people into glowing marvels, people able to harness magic. Once, the Elantrians ruled the land with benevolence. But no longer. Now Raoden is locked in the city with packs of starving, miserable, feral people, and he too must try to live in his new surroundings.

If that was not enough, Hrathen, a high-ranking priest from a bloodthirsty religion, has just arrived in the city, and he has thirty days to get everyone to convert. Or his fellow priests will invade and slaughter everyone.

Read-alikes: I’m afraid I have nothing for you, other than more Sanderson titles.

Read More »

Top Ten: I Jedi

Cover of I, Jedi by Michael A. Stackpole. Artwork by Drew Struzan.
Artwork by Drew Struzan. Click to read a preview!

Title: I, Jedi

Author: Michael A. Stockpile

Nutshell: Corran Horn’s wife has been kidnapped. Ordinarily he would go rushing off after her, swoop in to her rescue, and they would kick rear end and take names all the way out of the enemy base. But Corran doesn’t know who kidnapped Mirax or where to find them. The galaxy is a huge place, and only a few New Republic intelligence officers know where she was before she was kidnapped. That information is highly classified, of course.

In addition, there’s some evidence that Mirax was kidnapped by someone who thought she was associated with the Jedi. Which means it might take a Jedi to rescue her.

So Corran joins Luke’s Jedi academy, to connect with the Force and his Jedi heritage. But soon he discovers that being Luke Skywalker isn’t his destiny. If he’s going to save Mirax, he’s going to have to be a Jedi on his own terms.

Read-alikes: Just about any other Star Wars book is like this one, especially the X-wings series. I also think Timothy Zahn’s Night Train to Rigel and series is similar.Read More »

Top Ten: The Codex Alera

Cover of Furies of Calderon, showing a Roman being attacked by a Storm.
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Title: Furies of Calderon

Author: Jim Butcher

Nutshell: Alera is a gorgeous land, filled with civilization a la Ancient Rome. Men and women work the land to produce a living, aided by the furies. Not the claw-handed furies of Greece, but elemental spirits that live in every facet of the world. Tavi, however, is the only person in the entire country to be completely without furycraft.

He lives, of course, in the Calderon valley, the roughest frontier of Alera, where only furycraft keeps the residents alive. Tavi gets by mostly on determination, nurtured by his aunt and uncle, hoping someday to enroll in the Academy in the capital. But as he and his uncle go out tending sheep, they are attacked by a Marat, a barbarian from beyond the mountains. In trying to warn the garrison guarding the path, Tavi unearths a twisted plot to overthrow the First Lord of Alera.

Read-alikes: The Legend of Eli Monpress reminds me of this one, though it’s a bit lighter overall. Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive is similar in style of writing and theme, and although the world is very different, the concept of everything having some kind of soul is the same,if carried much further. I don’t think I’ve read any Rome-based fantasy worlds other than this one, but Patrick Rothfuss can match him for richness and diversity of civilization.Read More »