Aside from some of the ancient sagas what we now call grimdark fantasy kicked off in 1984 with two books, The Black Company by Glen Cook and Legend by David Gemmel. Rather than follow the anti-heroes, Gemmel wanted to explore why and how people can choose to stand before overwhelming odds to fight for their beliefs. From the beginning the reader is told that its a hopeless fight. One well built but neglected fortress with nine thousand poorly trained defenders protecting their empire from half a million barbarian warriors. The dying nobleman in charge sends two desperate calls for help. He sends to the White Temple for the Thirty, a band of psychic warrior monks willing to die for the right cause, and to his old comrade in arms, the famed Druss the Legend who has never lost a battle.
After the events of the last book, Babylon's Ashes, the Expanse series was clearly building up to a crescendo and I couldn't wait to find out what was going to happen next. Tiamat's Wrath is the eighth book of the series, with only one more to follow if James S. A. Corey sticks to the current plan, and it took only a single sentence for this book to make clear that the series is nearing the end. To keep things spoiler free I won't say what that sentence was, but know that this book is full of big moments and if you are a fan of the series then you will not be disappointed.
Brent Weeks serves up a complex magic system based on the colors of the spectrum and he does it in a story that unfolds in provocative ways. Magic users, called drafters, use their powers to turn light into various effects based on color. This magical system, known as Chromaturgy, allows multiple colors of light to be combined in interesting ways, and for each drafter to have different skills based on their personal color abilities. There are also meaningful downsides to using this power, which makes a person's ability to draft a mixed blessing at best. The color spectrum is not only fundamental to the magic system, but also the religious and political systems as well, and all three are at the heart of the conflict that unfolds. As each layer of the story is revealed it picks up in both momentum and complexity, and it rewards you for paying attention to the details.
A long distance colonization mission gone wrong, Infinite is a stand alone novel that at first glance appears to explore the concept of what happens when a ship winds up traveling through the cosmos for eternity. However, it turns into a many layered story that explores a number of common sci-fi concepts including artificial intelligence, virtual reality - holodeck style, and what it means to be human. This book often went where I didn't expect it to go and at times did its best to lose me when it took things too far, but ultimately I stuck with it because I wanted to know how it was going to turn out.
According to Brandon Sanderson himself Skyward is a combination of How to Train Your Dragon, Top Gun, and Ender's Game and I can see the influence of each. Spensa's people were forced to land on a deserted world that once belonged to an advanced civilization who left behind an extensive orbital defense system that protected them at the same time it prevented all communication with the rest of humanity. They are under near constant attack by aliens whose nature and motives remain a mystery centuries later. Once they managed to manufacture fighters they started to fight back but in the first critical battle Spensa's father he was labeled a coward and shot down by his own people. She has always dreamed of being a pilot like her father and proving everyone wrong.
Things have been building up for two books and now it is time to find out how it all plays out. Cassius' plan to destroy the religous zealots of the New Earth Tribunal is simple in concept - you can't worship the spirit of the Earth if there is no Earth, so he plans to do just that. It is also just as likely that his plans involve more than just revenge. Most of the rest of the characters are pawns in his game, but they have started to figure that out, and the word is spreading that the war was orchestrated by Cassius from the start. This fact is prompting others like Sage and Talon to pursue their own agendas, so the final confrontation of this war is going to be a wild ride.
Originally published as a Hugo Award winning short story in 1958, and later published in a longer form as a Nebula Award winning book in 1966, Flowers for Algernon is considered classic Sci-Fi at this point. It is a story about Charly Gordon, who has an IQ of 70, and the impact of potentially life-altering surgery that hopes to increase his intelligence. Charly's life is limited, but happy, prior to the surgery, and this book explores the ethical and moral dilemmas that come along with changing someone's life for the "better." In this case intellect comes at the cost of happiness, and this book explores the impact of the change on Charly's relationships and his own mental well being.
Book one of The Circuit series, Executor Rising, did a good job of setting the stage for the rest of the story. The main characters are all established, their backgrounds and motivations are mostly clear, and the state of the solar system is such that the impending conflict will have dire consequences depending on how it all turns out. However, none of the factions can be classified as the good guys in this story so I do not find myself emotionally invested in any particular outcome, or character. Normally that is an issue for me, but in this case I found myself eager to know how it turns out anyway.
Neil Gaiman has made a name for himself as a contemporary fantasy author, but unfortunately for me that is a genre that rarely grabs my attention. It seems like it should be right up my alley but very few of my forays into this realm result in an engaging experience. Because this book is a stand alone novel, and also pretty short in length, it seemed like a decent way for me to dip my toe in the water and experience Neil Gaiman with little commitment. Was it worth it?
I remember when I first started reading The Expanse series and how I was surprised that I found it compelling even though human space travel was limited to our own solar system. No warp drives or hyperspace conduits seemed pretty boring at first, but I eventually came around because limiting the scope of the story to our own solar system made it that much more real. Although similarly limited to our solar system, Executor Rising puts aside realism and instead offers up something much farther out there in concept. The Earth is no longer a habitable planet and mankind instead has The Circuit, which is an interdependent ecosystem that uses Solar Arks to transport needed materials between human colonies that are spread across the solar system.