One SF, One (Almost) Fantasy

reviewafreeebookI posted a while back about my plan to start talking about free (or bargain-priced) ebooks.  And then that kind of fell by the wayside, as many of my grand(-ish) blogging plans do.  But new year, new start, so here are a couple.

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16180352Firstly, you may have heard about John Scalzi‘s THE HUMAN DIVISION, which is a serialised novel being released in 13 parts on a weekly basis from around now onwards. Once all installments have been released, it’ll also go on sale as a single book (both hardcover and e), but at a price point comparable to buying each individual short.  I like John Scalzi’s writing – I’ve read his debut novel, OLD MAN’S WAR, and its immediate sequel, and I have ZOE’S TALE sitting in my TBR pile somewhere.  He writes accessible and entertaining SF – and while that may sound like damning with faint praise, it’s not.  It may not be ground-breaking SF, but it’s good storytelling of the sort that keeps you turning the pages.  And I like his blog – which counts for quite a bit too!

So I pre-ordered the first installment, THE B-TEAM - my thinking being that if I liked the story, I would order the next in the series.  If not, well, £0.63 (or $0.99, I believe) wasn’t going to break the bank.  And then last week, I had an email come through from Tor – apparently, I had signed up on some sort of mailing list, and as a result, I got a free copy of THE B-TEAM a week in advance of the on-sale date.  Win.

And I really enjoyed THE B-TEAM.  I liked that it was a standalone short with quite a bit of story packed in (Scalzi does note that it is one of the longer stories in this serial). I also liked that I was caught somewhat off-guard after the first chapter – I thought the story was going to go one direction, but it ended up going down another route, and that certainly caught my attention.  I didn’t find the setting confusing, though having said that, it is set in the OMW universe, so I do have the benefit of having read previous books set in the same world.  All in all, it’s a great introduction to a bigger story and I’m looking forward to following the characters on their next adventure (or at least, I’m assuming it’s the same cast of characters), and if you’re in the mood for some SF, I’d certainly suggest you give the first story a go.

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462421Hilcia @ Impressions of an Reader is taking part in the 2013 Science Fiction Experience and she’s been reviewing a few Andre Nortons.  While I’ve read a few Nortons, they’ve not been a big part of my SFF reading past.  So inspired by Hils, I “dusted off” an Andre Norton that was in my e-TBR – THE PRINCE COMMANDS was offered as a freebie a while back and so I had it sitting on my Kindle.

So first off, this is not an SF.  In fact, it barely qualifies as a fantasy – the only fantastical element being the setting, it being one of those made-up Eastern European kingdoms.  I did some research (i.e. Googling) when I finished the novel, and it turns out that this is actually Andre Norton’s first book.  I know – fail on the SFF history front.

Anyway, once I figured out what I was getting into, this turned out to be a very fun, very Ruritanian adventure.  Michael Karl, the young protagonist, finds out that he is the heir to the kingdom of Morvania, and reluctantly sets out to be crowned king.  But it’s obviously not going to be smooth sailing, and well, hi-jinks ensue with escapes and near-escapes, conspiracies, hidden identities, secret passages, passwords… It has some unexpectedly touching moments, and ended up being slightly more than just a straightforward adventure.

While I enjoyed the story, something struck me as being slightly off, and it was only after I finished reading THE PRINCE COMMANDS that I pinpointed what was missing.  And it was that there was no women or POC playing any significant parts in this novel – from memory, the only female character with a couple of cameos played a vaguely mother-ish capacity.  This made me realise how far we have come in around eight decades (THE PRINCE COMMANDS was published in 1934), and the diversity that I tend to take for granted in the YA fantasy books on the market nowadays.  So yes, this book came with an unexpected social history realisation.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “One SF, One (Almost) Fantasy

  1. Oh… I also purchased B-Team by Scalzi, but haven’t had the chance to read it yet! I really enjoyed the Old Man’s War series last year and am hoping to like this serial too. :) Sooo glad you liked it!

    And you read a Norton! Sorry it wasn’t an SF, though. And as to your comment about females, so far I’ve found very few to NO females in Norton’s vintage SF young adult books. I think the ones I’ve read so far were meant as “boys space adventures.”

    I picked up The Time Traders by Norton, also for free! That one is definitely SF. I believe that Carl reviewed it this last week? It’s really interesting reading the difference between these old books and the new ones, especially since they are written by a woman.

    • I went into the B-TEAM kind of blind, having no idea what the story was about, and it worked really well! I see I said nothing about the plot in my post – obviously on purpose :-) Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this – and it ties in with your SF Experience month as well…

      I realised I also have the first Norton you reviewed (SARGASSO OF SPACE?) and am definitely reading that – your post piqued my interest! I think it was a freebie as well, so bonus. I think I read a reference to something similar to what you mention re her earlier books being very much aimed at the male audience (and MG/YA?).

      Yes, it’s interesting especially if compared against the Scalzi, which had diversity as the norm.

  2. Very interesting, Li! :) I’m curious though… How long is The Prince of Commands? It seems to me it should be a regular length or even longer novel right? Then again, if you say that it was published in 1934, then I can guess why it was a freebie :)

    John Scalzi sounds interesting. I’ll have to write it down somewhere :)

    • It was actually on the shorter side, IIRC – or maybe I’m just thinking that because it was MG/YA? There was a period last year when quite a few Andre Nortons appeared on the Kindle freebie lists, not sure why. I’ve just checked and the book Hils mentioned above (TIME TRADERS) is free right now.

      I’d suggest giving John Scalzi a go if you’re ever in the mood for SF, and the B-TEAM installment is a pretty good representation of his writing style, IMO. I should probably edit the post to mention, but you can currently get the Audible version for free right now:
      https://www.facebook.com/audible.com?v=app_140149346021719&rest=1

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