Books : reviews

Ryk E. Spoor.
Digital Knight.
Baen. 2003

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 17 December 2012

Jason Wood is a forensic IT specialist, working for the local cops on identifying a drug baron, when he gets embroiled in what can only be a vampire killing. He needs all his wits and contacts to help him survive.

This is a fun read, in that it goes off in an unexpected direction, and isn't just yet another urban vampire tale. However, it's a bit of a bumpy ride: it feels, with its occasional recaps, as if it was originally written as a series of short stories. The ever-increasing scope and scale of the problem has an almost Doc-Smithian vibe (although I may be being influenced by having read Grand Central Arena), but feels a bit as if it's being made up as it goes. Enjoyable for the way Wood uses his smarts to resolve various issues.

Ryk E. Spoor.
Phoenix Rising.
Baen. 2012

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 9 December 2013


Kyri: a highborn young woman whose life is shattered by the murder of her kin. She must venture across Zarathan, a world on the brink of a long foretold Chaos War that may usher in a long age of darkness. Against that darkness stands Kyri and her companions, including valiant swordsman Tobimar Silverun, Prince of Skysand, exiled on the turn of a card and a prophecy, who is now seeking his people’s lost homeland; and Poplock Duckweed, an unlikely hero whose diminutive size is as much a weapon as it is a weakness.

Kyri must find a legendary ancient weaponsmith, take up the sword and armor of a new order of warrior defenders, and bring the power of justice and vengeance to the spreading evil that has darkened her native land.

On one level this is a relatively generic heroic fantasy quest tale: initially naive youngsters band together to collect plot coupons and take down the Big Bad.

But actually, it’s better than that. The youngsters aren’t that naive; they don’t get together until near the end; the plot coupons actually advance the plot; and the world itself is a rich and dense place, chock full of sentient species (toads, T-Rexes, gods) all with their own agendas, rather than being some thin backdrop to the action. There’s a slightly slow start, as everyone has to go through the traumas that lead them into their adventures, but the pace soon picks up and whizzes along – maybe too fast in some places, leaving a few events unexplained.

This is possibly the first of a loose trilogy set in this world. There is clearly much more to come, many plot strands unresolved, but the focus of this story does achieve sufficient closure that I won’t be too devastated if the remaining books stay in the author’s head, rather than getting committed to paper.

Ryk E. Spoor.
Phoenix in Shadow.
Baen. 2015

The fight has just begun

Kyri was a highborn young woman and the Phoenix Justiciar of her native land until her life was shattered by the murder of her kin. With the help of her companions-in-arms, Tobimar Silverun of Skysand and the unexpectedly dangerous little toad, Popluck Duckweed, she defeated monstrous killer Thornfalcon and unmasked a conspiracy of treacherous False Justiciars. Still, she knew the job was only partly done.

A dark power is stirring on the far side of' the terrifying Rivendream Pass. As the world shudders at the arrival of the Black City of the King of All Hells, Kyri, Tobimar, and Popluck must venture beyond Rivendream Pass and into Moonshade Hollow, a place from which none have ever returned.

What they find there will challenge everything they believe in, for the Hollow conceals a menace they could never have imagined…

Eric Flint, Ryk E. Spoor.
Baen. 2006

Eric Flint, Ryk E. Spoor.
Baen. 2010

Eric Flint, Ryk E. Spoor.
Baen. 2013

Madeline Fathom had miraculously landed the crippled exploration ship the Nebula Storm on Europa. There she joined on that frozen moon of Jupiter the stranded crewmembers of the ill-fated EU vessel Odin. There is no hope of rescue, and their only hope is to make Nebula Storm fly again. But Europa has one more discovery waiting for them… a discovery that might be the deadliest trap in the Solar System…

Eric Flint, Ryk E. Spoor.
Castaway Planet.
Baen. 2015

Eric Flint, Ryk E. Spoor.
Castaway Odyssey.
Baen. 2016

Stranded in deep space

Sergeant Samuel Morgan Campbell has been in plenty of tight spots before—but nothing like this. It all happened in a few terrifying seconds: His ship, the Outward Initiative, shattered to pieces before his eyes. His crew suddenly stranded on a tiny lifeboat in the endless night of deep space. The nearest known colony light-years away and hopelessly beyond reach.

Somehow, Sergeant Campbell and his crew will have to repair systems with no tools, navigate with no computers, and—if they are lucky enough to find a planet capable of supporting life—land a shuttle whose controls are more than half-destroyed.

And if they manage all of that, then the real challenge begins. For the only planet in range has secrets that even Sergeant Campbell cannot imagine!

Eric Flint, Ryk E. Spoor.
Castaway Resolution.
Baen. 2020

Survive and Thrive on an Alien Planet

The Kimei family and a second group of castaways, led by the redoubtable Sergeant Campbell, have finally joined forces since arriving as castaways on the bizarre planet Lincoln. They have survived crash-landings, venom-filled bites, disease, and even the destruction—and consumption!—of one of their floating island homes. They have learned to live, even to prosper, in this strange new place. But the resourcefulness of the castaways may not be enough. Because the planet Lincoln is far from done with them yet.

Ryk E. Spoor.
Grand Central Arena.
Baen. 2010

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 6 February 2011

All the newly invented FTL drive test probes have failed to return. So the spaceship Holy Grail is sent off with a human crew to discover why. Captain Ariane Austin assumes this will be a routine mission that won't need to call on her piloting skills: the AISages will take care of all that. She couldn't be more wrong, as the ship and crew end up trapped in a mind-bogglingly vast artefact, and have to face several Challenges before they can think about returning home.

This is a Doc Smith homage, but it isn't a Doc Smith pastiche. That is, it has all the ever-increasing sense of scale and scope and wonder and technology and square-jawed heroes (and the lead character is even a fan), but none of the "the Golden Age of SF is 14" prose style (one character does occasionally lapse into Smith-speak, but there's a good reason for that). Okay, some of the characters are a bit cardboard (which one is Steve and which one is Tom, again?), but on the other hand, the various aliens are great. And the sensawunda is mostly well-conveyed.

After a slightly slow start, this is just rollicking good fun, good old-fashioned space opera, without some of the old-fashioned problems. There's closure at the end, but clearly a lot more to be told in this universe. Remember, Doc Smith wrote series...

Ryk E. Spoor.
Spheres of Influence.
Baen. 2013

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 5 February 2015

Leader of the Faction of Humanity. It was a ridiculous title, but the Arena said that was what Captain Ariane Austin was. She’d led the crew of the Holy Grail to their discovery of the impossible, physics-violating place—and when the nigh-omnipotent Arena said something, it meant it.

Ariane must discover what it means to be the Leader of Humanity, both for herself and for humanity, before her enemies—at home or in the Arena—depose her, kill her, or worse. It will take all her luck, Marc DuQuesne’s indomitable will, Simon Sandrisson’s genius, and the peerless skill of a living legend. And, in the end, humanity’s fate in the galaxy and beyond will hinge on the choice of an uncertain ally who has nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by aiding those neophyte upstarts, Ariane’s humans.

The crew of the Holy Grail return to mind-bogglingly vast Arena. This time, they are hampered by human politics and human villains. Might Humanity lose all that it so barely won in the previous round?

This is a great continuation of the story. Old friends reappear, new enemies emerge. Ariane Austin and Marc DuQuesne set about the Arena in their usual style, and Doc-Smith-esque adventures abound. I suspect that not having seen or read any Monkey King stories hampered my understanding of parts of the plot, but I enjoyed it anyway. Given the sheer scale of the Arena, it is quite amusing how the characters keep bumping into each other. But, ignoring that minor quibble, this is just great rip-roaring fun, with excellent aliens.

More, please!

Ryk E. Spoor.
Challenges of the Deeps.
Baen. 2017

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 27 March 2018

Fight for survival

Captain Ariane Austin and her crew have survived the Challenges of the strange, alien otherspace known as The Arena. A place where the fate of entire species hang in the balance. A place filled with mysteries, alliances, betrayals, opportunities, and hideous dangers for individual and empire alike.

Now, she faces her greatest Challenge yet—and the fate of humanity may well hang in the balance. A debt of honor to humanity’s oldest ally, Orphan, has come due, and the threat of war with the xenophobic Molothos looms. Ariane must travel with Orphan into the legendary Deeps of the Arena, far from any known Spheres. But before she can depart, she must first deal with another Challenge—a Challenge with an entire species’ citizenship in the Arena at stake!

Captain Ariane Austin, Leader of Humanity in the vast mysterious Arena, has her work cut out. She has to run Humanity’s spheres, and face Challenges from tricksy aliens. But for now it’s now time to pay off her debt to Orphan. She and Duquesne travel with Orphan to the mysterious Deeps, and discover the secret he has been keeping. But that secret might destroy everything she and her crew have accomplished in the Arena. And that’s not even considering the Molothos secret invasion. Can she save Humanity again?

This volume starts with a very helpful 16 page summary of the previous two. I wouldn’t suggest skipping those first two, but the summary helps highlight the important issues (and refreshed my fading memory).

This series really is an excellent Doc Smith homage. Here we have the ever-growing threats to the protagonists, coupled with their ever-growing powers, and beams of coruscating light. Several different plot lines are neatly resolved, but several new issues are introduced. There are clearly more things to be resolved in this universe: and I am looking forward to seeing how things continue to exponentially unfold.

Ryk E. Spoor.
Shadows of Hyperion.
Ring of Fire Press. 2021

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 16 October 2021

The Bill is Coming Due…

… on Project Hyperion. Ariane Austin discovers she and her friends Marc, Simon, and Wu Kung are crippled after their battles in Challenges of the Deeps, unable to use their Arena-born powers. The newly-embodied Hyperion AI, Dr. Alexander Fairchild, is working with a Molothos officer to undermine the Faction of Humanity… while he also pulls deadly strings back home in the Solar System. The insane Hyperion Maria-Susanna is active at last, and someone has murdered one of the Champions of the Arena even as he was coming to meet with Marc DuQuesne. All of these events are related, and the collision of such forces will shake the entirety of the Arena, and beyond, as they find that everything, everything, is affected by the long, dark shadows of Hyperion.

Just as one problem is solved, another arises. Captain Ariane Austin and her team have made the Faction of Humanity a respected group in the Arena, and have the backing of the humans back home. But now, a new, bigger, bolder enemy (this is a Doc Smith homage, after all) is looming: an escaped Hyperion AI. And just when Ariane and here crew are temporarily unable to use their newly won superpowers without potentially crippling or killing themselves.

Fortunately, this volume starts with a very helpful 22 page summary of the previous three. Gosh, it’s ten years since I read the first one! I needed that summary.

We have three main threads: attempting to find a cure for their damaged powers; attempting to get help from other friendlier Hyperions; and attempting to solve the murder of one of the Arena Champtions. All interlinked, all frenetic, and all good fun, resolving some issues, but introducing new, even bigger issues for later volumes.

I hope there are going to be later volumes!