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Hugh Likes Fiction: Star Wars Aftermath: Empire’s End

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Star Wars Aftermath Book 3: Empire’s End
Written by Chuck Wendig
Published by Del Rey
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Star Wars Celebration was this weekend, and as a big nerd, what better time to gush over my latest Star Wars read, Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars Aftermath: Empire’s End?
The remains of the Galactic Empire’s fleet gather above the wasteland planet of Jakku. The fledgling New Republic Senate becomes mired in debate over committing to one last assault. And the last disciple of the late Emperor Palpatine activates an installation hidden in the sand…
The final book in Chuck Wendig’s aftermath series has the complex task of wrapping up his trilogy and also bridging to the new and old trilogies. It juggles these tasks fairly well, although if focuses much more on the former than the later. We do get some scenes with a young Hux and and the birth of Han and Leia’s son is a plot point that the novel determinedly skirts.
Instead, the novel focuses on wrapping up the adventures of Wendig’s crew of misfits, and he starts by splitting the party. Half of the cast is running around Jakku, and the other half are in the New Republic capitals. Wendig’s look at space politics isn’t quite as gripping as Claudia Grey’s, but is still witty and fast paced enough to not be a drag on the story. He also continues to sprinkle in vignettes throughout the galaxy, including a surprisingly touching short story about Jar Jar Binks. Really.
The Aftermath series has always been controversial. Criticisms have ranged from Wendig’s clipped writing style to his use of darker themes to his inclusion of queer characters. The novels were also favored targets of fans of the original Expanded Universe material. Two of these groups of fans made a concerted effort to tank the series, but Aftermath remained true to itself throughout the trilogy. This is no mean feat, especially for a licensed property.
Afthermath: Empire’s End neatly wraps up Chuck Wendig’s trilogy and is a great stepping stone to further adventures in the Star Wars universe. Pick up a copy at your local bookstore, or order it from your preferred digital book syndicate.

Hugh Likes Fiction: Waters of Versailles

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The Waters of Versailles
Written by Kelly Robson
Published by Tor
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In the court of Louis XV, any luxury can be had, for a price. But the one thing no member of the court can be without is one of Sylvain de Guilherand’s toilets. His remarkable engineering skills have restored the fountains, transformed the palace, and even added new conveniences to the pampered lives of the French aristocracy.
But his marvel isn’t just the result of hard work or genius. He’s keeping a secret; a nixie hidden in the palace cisterns. When the nixie’s keeper dies suddenly, the ambitious, self-centered Sylvain must learn to care for the little creature. Otherwise, the whole palace could flood.
Robson’s novella is a delightful romp. A look at the excess and inhumanity of the pre-revolution French nobility, woven expertly with Sylvain’s own growing concern for the creature he first only sees as a tool for his own advancement.
Waters of Versailles is a quick read, but is eloquently and expertly constructed. You can find it on tor.com, or buy the ebook on Amazon.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: Norse Mythology

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Norse Mythology
Written by Neil Gaiman
Published by W W Norton and Company
Norse Mythology
From the comics pages of Sandman to the upcoming television production of “American Gods,” Norse mythology suffuses Neil Gaiman’s writing. Which makes a collection of tales written in his signature easy-to-read prose a perfect fit.
In a book that feels neither scholarly nor bowdlerized, Gaiman brings new life to the fragmentary records of Norse mythology that still remain. His choices take us from the beginning of the world to Ragnarok, the end of the cycle, and beyond. Gaiman’s excitement to share these tales is palpable in the writing. The gods and giants that populate the book aren’t figures of superstition or sociological interest. They aren’t big-screen superheroes and villains. The author captures what makes the Aesir living, breathing people. He captures a lost age of monsters and magic, but also beings with incredible power and equally human flaws. From Odin, infinitely wise but also petty and occasionally grasping, to Loki, whose mischief gets the gods out of almost much trouble as it causes.
In an early myth, Loki shaves the goddess Sif’s head. When Thor, in his anger, asks him why, he is honest. He was drunk, and he thought it would be funny. These gods will be familiar to Gaiman’s fans, but newcomers will perhaps see something they hadn’t before in these ancient legends.
In Norse Mythology Gaiman has poured a mighty horn full of the Mead of Poetry. Take a seat on the bench, and have a drink.

Hugh Likes Fiction: Idle Ingredients

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Idle Ingredients (Sin du Jour Book 4)
Written by Matt Wallace
Published by Tor

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Matt Wallace is back again with the fourth course of his ‘Sin du Jour’ novellas. Each bite-sized course of these epicurean Urban Fantasy series is an utter delight, and I’ve been looking forward to this one. As usual, Wallace doesn’t disappoint.
Still reeling from their last big job in Los Angeles, Sin du Jour line chef Lena Tarr goes on the lamb. Bronko and Nikki bring her back to the kitchen on the very reasonable assumption that the armies of Hell that are after them will kill her without the protection Sin du Jour provides. But there’s a new face at the catering company, ‘Government liaison’ Luciana Monrovio and Lena is immediately suspicious of the hold she seems to suddenly have over all of them, particularly the guys.
This novella is a bit more serious than the last three, but that’s not surprising after the major throw down at the end of “Pride’s Spell.” The thing I did like about this one is that it packs in a lot of character growth for characters we haven’t seen too much of before. Darren gets some nice page time, and really starts to come into his own, even as Lena is shown as more vulnerable than we’ve seen her in the past, and planning assistant Jett gets a cool arc too. Wallace’s strength is in keeping all of his plates spinning so flawlessly. Sin du Jour, as in his previous novella series, Slingers, has a huge cast of characters. Matt manages to breathe life into all of them, and progress their individual stories, in a breathtakingly short amount of pages. Each bite-sized book contains more character growth and personality than your average doorstop fantasy epic.
Sin du Jour book four, Idle Ingredients, is out now from Tor. You can purchase it from Amazon or wherever you get books.

Hugh Likes Fiction: Heartless

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Heartless:  The Parasol Protectorate, Book Four
Written by Gail Carriger
Narrated by Emily Gray
Audible.com
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Although I am not big on Romance, I’ve had a soft spot for Gail Carriger’s “Parasol Protectorate” series for a long time. It might have to do with her delightful sense of humor, or the richly detailed world of her supernatural Victorian London. Whatever the case, I’ve been savoring the series, and I recently devoured the fourth entry, for the first time in audio.
Alexia Maccon, Soulless, Lady of Woolsey, and Mujah to Queen Victoria, is never one to let little details interfere when she sets on a course of action. So when a ghost gives her a cryptic warning of a plot against the Queen, she isn’t going to let a little thing like being eight months pregnant stand in her way. Scheming scientists, maladjusted werewolves, and zombie porcupines aren’t going to have much of a chance, either.
Carriger does it again with her fast paced comic misadventures in Victorian supernatural society.  Her grasp of character and timing is once again on display as she navigates Alexia through mystery, society expectations and steampunk hi-jinx.
Emily Gray’s performance is spot on, and deftly juggles the wide-ranging accents and character foibles of the large cast. Her narration is a perfect balance of high society wit and action-comedy timing.
While this isn’t the best place to jump on to the Parasol Protectorate series, Heartless is a worthy entry. I heartily recommend readers pick up this one, or work their way up to it. You can find it on Audible, in a variety of formats on Amazon, or of course at your local bookstore.

Hugh Likes Fiction: Ancillary Justice

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Ancillary Justice
Written by Ann Leckie
Read by Celest Ciulla
audible.com
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Ancillary Justice is a return to old school science fiction filled with modern twists.  It is the story of 1-ESK, an ‘ancillary,’ or human imprinted with a spaceship AI.  Twenty years ago, she was permanently severed from her ship.  When she finds a former officer, whom she thought dead a thousand years, lying drugged in the snow, she makes a decision that will change the course of intergalactic civilization.
This Hugo-winning novel has been on my radar for a long time, and it was a delight to finally listen to.  Leckie’s universe is an intricate, well built puzzle supported by a story that is about people, even if the people at the center don’t see themselves that way.  The speculative bits are intriguing and explored well.  Her style is engaging and propellant.
The characters center around a society that does not recognize gender.  Leckie uses exclusively the female pronoun throughout the story, even for characters which are male.  This is both a custom of 1-ESK’s culture, which does not differentiate between genders as a cultural norm and a character trait.  She legitimately has difficulty differentiating between them.  It was a unique spin on the trope of a robot trying to act human, and while I don’t know if it was realistic, I did find this aspect of the novel fascinating.
The audio book was read by Celest Ciulla, and I feel she did a great job balancing the oddness of the novel’s culture and protagonist with a listenable cadence.  The story implies a whole slew of completely imaginary accents and speaking patterns, and she rises to the occasion.
Anciliary Justice is a novel that truly deserved its awards, and I can’t wait to dive into 1-ESK’s next adventure.  You can find it at your local bookstore, or on Audible and Amazon.

Hugh Likes Fiction: The Turn of the Screw

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The Turn of the Screw
By Henry James
Read by Emma Thompson with Richard Armitage

The Turn of the Screw is a classic suspense novel and ghost story, but perhaps it suffers from being too firmly rooted in the time of its creation.  The short novel is the story of a young governess sent to care for the orphaned niece and nephew of a rich London gentleman.  Her employer wants nothing to do with the two small children, but that is only the start of their troubles.  The governess is soon convinced that they are haunted by a pair of ghosts.
James’s short novel is preserved as a primary example of Victorian suspense, but the style would be way too wordy and anticlimactic to best-seller readers today.  But the nouvelle is both steady and deliberate in the application of suspense as the main character attempts to unwind the layers of mystery surrounding her two charges.  The opening section, in which the James claims to have heard this story from a friend one Christmas holiday serves as a statement of purpose to this effect, and also as a sort of carnival barker, stoking the nerves of the reader and daring them to turn the page.
But “The Turn of the Screw” is perhaps a bit too steeped in the cultural and social mores of Victorian England to be relevant to modern readers.  Class and gender relationships, with a clear hierarchy, are taken for granted throughout the work.  The narrator asserts that young Miles is either her equal or superior on the basis of his sex.  Also, class consciousness is central to the scandalous behavior of the two ghosts.  The novel asserts either a tryst between a common manservant and the well-born governess.  It also implies that their contact with the two children was inappropriate, and that their return from beyond the grave is to snatch the children.  James doesn’t seem to see any difference between breaking class taboos and pedophilia ,  which was troubling to my twenty-first century American morals.
I listened to this book on Audible.  Emma Thompson’s reading is quite good, and she manages to cut the dense verbiage of James’s style down to a manageable path.  Her performance keeps the modern listener invested and upholds the air of gothic suspense that may be lost on a reader unaccustomed to the style.  The Turn of the Screw is also available in print and digitally from a number of public domain sources.
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