Monday, April 29, 2013

Sisterhood of Dune

Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
Tor, 2012 (my hardcover copy was gracefully provided by Tor for review)
Size: Long (my hardcover copy has 496 pages)
Theme: Space Opera
Narrative: third-person
Main character: several
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

The Sisterhood of Dune depicts the events taking place approximately 8 decades after the Butlerian Jihad. We find a universe devastated by the war against the machines, yet in rapid change and full of hope for the future. The Corrinos have since been established as the imperial family. And in the midst of the turmoil of the post-war imperium, several schools have emerged to hone specific characteristics of the human potential.

This novel narrates how each of the major factions and groups that we are familiar with in the Dune universe have been established. The mentats, the Bene Gesserit, the swordmasters, the space guild, and more, are all featured in a complex interplay of power, as they attempt to solidify their standing in the imperium. But that is not all. Familiar characters, such as Vorian Atreides, Norma Cenva, and obviously the sandworms of dune, play important roles. The plot events will start shaping the intricate relations between the families that will later spur the Landsraad Houses.

However, the most prominent aspect of the post-war Dune universe is the radicalism of Butlerians, who wish to get rid of any and all technology. After a millennium of intelligent machine oppression, most of the ravaged humanity rallies against anything they associate with sentient computers, while some individuals appreciate the potential benefits of technology and attempt to oppose the Butlerians.

As one can see, there are a lot of storylines crammed into this book. As Brian already accustomed us (e.g. in the Legends of Dune series), the book has very short chapters, each switching the focus among the different characters. I particularly like this style, since it makes it easy to pause reading and simultaneously prevents long narrations that could become boring.

This book is truly a riveting, action-driven, space opera, worthy of the Dune name. I found it as good as the Legends of Dune and the Prelude to Dune trilogies, and definitely superior to Heroes of Dune (which was a considerable disappointment). Characters are interesting and well explored. It kept me reading enthusiastically throughout; if anything, I wished the book would run longer, and I look forward to the sequel. It is a must read for Dune fans (having read through the entire Legends of Dune series beforehand is absolutely mandatory in order to understand the plot).

Related work:
The Dune universe is too extensive to simply list here. It should suffice to say this novel comes after “Dune: the battle of Corrin” (from the Legends of Dune prequel trilogy) and before “Dune: House Atreides” (from the Prelude to Dune prequel trilogy).

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The last iteration of Dexter Maxwell

Matthew Hart
Capscovil, 2012 (my review copy was gracefully provided by Capscovil)
Size: Average (my paperback copy has 399 pages)
Theme: Time travel
Narrative: third-person
Main character: Dexter Maxwell
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

I have to start by saying that this was the kind of book that I read without having seen any synopsis or preview, so I had no starting expectations. In addition to that, my opinion of it changed dramatically from chapter 1 to chapters 2-3. The first 50 or so pages (half of chapter 1) felt dull and were a pain to go through. But after that, the plot twists and actually starts developing, so that soon you’re entranced in the story and eager to read more. Having said this, in retrospective, the early plot is very relevant to setup the rest of the story, and thus, by the end of the book, I no longer felt that early start was a waste of my time. 

The storyline follows Dexter Maxwell, a youngster living in Grenver (Greater Metropolitan Front Range) in the year 2113. The highly regulated society is – as expected – quite different from today, and features – as expected – a considerable social gap. Dexter (Dex to his friends), Mal (his soon-to-be love interest), Thelo, and Money, run a motley crew of revolutionary guerrilla, aiming to throw a wrench on the wheels of the regime. As the plot unfolds and the group runs into trouble, they are caught during a daring heist, and suddenly, the story changes drastically as Dexter is thrown into a time-travelling, sword-yielding, space-invasion, dire adventure.

After the 50 or so initial pages (about which I already rambled enough) the plot flows nicely and the book starts exploring a large number of different concepts that entirely change your perspective of both Dexter Maxwell and the universe as it is in 2113. The book has a bit of gore and mutilation to assure it’s not taken lightly and that you never think of Dexter as having a good time while trying to survive time-travelling assassins. Curiously, time-travel in this reality can be achieved through two different means, which adds to the story, although neither is (at least in book 1) ever tackled by the author. Characters are sufficiently developed, although nobody aside Dexter is featured prominently and one does hope that in the upcoming sequels we’ll hear more about some of them.

Overall, it was a surprisingly good read, and I highly recommend it. I look forward to reading the sequels (as this is clearly marketed as “Book 1”).