As you might have noticed if you’ve been checking on LBR (as I’m sure you have) you’ll have noticed that it’s been quiet for the past three weeks. Deadly quiet. There’s one reason for this, and that is I’ve been away from home for all of that time. A mixture of lack of time, unreliable connectivity to the internet by staying with various relatives as I traveled across most of the eastern half of Canada meant I had very few opportunities to write any reviews or post anything at all. I did, however, have the time to read quite a decent mixture of novels and graphic novels, which for lack of having much more time now that I’m back home, I will review in series of posts consisting of condensed reviews. Below are reviews of the first three of the eclectic bunch of novels I read. A second post concerning with novels read and another looking at graphic novels will follow shortly.

Germline by T.C. McCarthy

T.C. McCarthy’s debut science fiction novel is one I paid very little attention to until the opportunity arose for me to get my digital paws on an electronic advance reading copy of the novel. I went in as close to without expectations as I’m ever likely to and the reading experience close to blew me away. Literally. The dark, oppressive and uncomfortably personal story of journalist Oscar Wendell, I’ll admit, put me off a bit at first. Given the choice, I’ll more often choose a novel that concentrates on levity than one distinctively dark. But once past an initial discomfort - something which, in retrospect, amounted to a sort of acclimatization to the very particular nature of the novel - McCarthy’s stark prose and the brutal honesty of Wendell’s tale drew me in and dragged me along for an intense, but very rewarding read.

In a future where wars are not at all fought like they are now, Wendell, journalist for the Stars & Stripes, is given the opportunity of a lifetime to experience the ongoing resource war between the United States and Russia from the front line. McCarthy takes us deep into the trenches, tunnels, bunkers and command centers of that futuristic war-zone as well as deep into the character of Oscar Wendell. Life scarred even before putting on any battle suit, we watch Oscar battle through the actual fighting, but more interestingly through drug addiction, depression and all the other emotional torments brought on by war.

T.C. McCarthy calls on his own heart-wrenching life experiences to add life to Germline’s characters and attach an undeniable authenticity to the events depicted within. It would be difficult for me to recommend this novel to every and all science fiction fan, but those willing to dig a little deeper into Oscar’s immensely damaged personality and a little deeper into their own psyche will find this to be a hugely engaging and rewarding novel. But having created one of a the most veracious portrayal of warfare in any modern science fiction (or any fiction) I have read, it’s safe to say the McCarthy has won a hard-fought right to be on your bookshelves, so others should definitely also give him a try. I’ll certainly be back for more when the second volume in the ‘Subterrene War’ trilogy, Exogene, is released next year.

5 out of 5

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

This is the classic I alluded to in my introduction (though I also did read Orwell’s Animal Farm for the first time during this vacation too). Edgar Rice Burroughs tale of a Civil War veteran inexplicably sent to Mars was not one, sadly, I was familiar with until recently. The name of the central character John Carter of Mars, was one I’d heard mentioned before, of course, but it was the upcoming filmic adoption of his adventures (simply titled John Carter) which led to my wanting to discover the original novel. Published for the first time in 1911, A Princess of Mars holds up surprisingly well to time as long as you’re willing to recognize its age and thereby acknowledge its propensity for stereotypes and clichés.

I won’t go into too much more depth other than to say that I enjoyed the novel. It’s short length lends itself perfectly to travel reading (which is what I did) allowing you to discover a worthwhile classic of the genre while fending off boredom. The story might appear wacky to a lot of modern readers, science fiction authors having moved away from writing tales about Martians in the past century, but again, in its context, A Princess of Mars can be a highly enjoyable read and one I would easily recommend.

4.5 out of 5

Stands a Shadow by Col Buchanan

Col Buchanan’s debut fantasy, Farlander, did not leave me entirely convinced I was a fan. The premise was there, but something appeared to be missing for it to be a fully enjoyable read. With Stands a Shadow Buchanan comes back with a stronger story and improved prose, but he has ways to go yet. A couple of the main issues:

Characters - Stand out characters are few and far between in Stands a Shadow. The pitched conflict between the Empire of Mann and the determined Free Ports continues to be motivation enough to keep on reading but it doesn’t seem sustainable for a series arc. Some will make a case for Ash being an interesting character, but like in Farlander I found nothing to make him more interesting than your average protagonist. Thankfully the departure of Nico’s viewpoint from the first book is filled with those of a set of characters that enliven and diversify the story.

Structure - Stands a Shadow still lacks much of a coherent story structure. But it’s getting there. Like Farlander, the plot has a strong tendency to be revealed in a clunky manner. Without making it entirely incomprehensible, this does affect the clarity - and by extension quality - of the book. Things appear to be more under control in the final act of the novel but this is not enough to compensate for the disjointed nature of the rest.

It’s a shame Buchanan cannot get these things right, because these issues apart, Stands a Shadow is a pretty solid fantasy. The battle scenes are gorgeous, the tension often palpable and the politics being played in the background are intriguing, which is why I still hold out hope for Buchanan and his series. The improvements over the first novel are strongly evident but I hope to see more with the next novel. Third time’s the charm.

3.5 out of 5

Buy Germline:

Buy A Princess of Mars:

Buy Stands a Shadow: