Tag Archives: aliens

Review: For Us Humans, by Steve Rzasa

For Us Humans, by Steve RzasaFor Us Humans, by Steve Rzasa (Enclave Publishing, 2018)

Fun and fast-paced, with snappy commentary from point-of-view character Caz Fortel, For Us Humans puts a science fiction spin on the classic mismatched detectives story, rife with nods to iconic science fiction shows.

Caz poses as an unprincipled art buyer to help the authorities catch art thieves and reclaim stolen art. Now he’s tapped to find a missing piece of alien art—and failure will not bode well for Earth.

He’s cocky enough to think he can do it on his own, but the powers-that-be pair him with a four-armed alien named Nil.

Fifteen years earlier, the aliens arrived. In Caz’s words, it wasn’t so much an invasion as a corporate takeover. The governments love having access to new technology, but the population resents the alien presence. Caz is no exception.

As well as the action plot of Caz and Nil chasing the missing sculpture and the subplot of their slowly-changing attitudes toward one another, the novel has a faith subplot I don’t remember seeing before.

Proof of alien existence triggered a worldwide crisis of faith. A minority of Christians still worship together, but most—including Caz—can’t reconcile aliens with their beliefs. Ironically, Nil claims his own culture has hints pointing to something special about Earth and God. That’s why he’s here.

Meanwhile, their assignment is about to get a whole lot more complicated.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. We need more science fiction like this. And the cover’s great.

Steve Rzasa writes both science fiction and fantasy. For more about the author and his books, visit steverzasa.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Spinneret, by Timothy Zahn

Spinneret cover artSpinneret, by Timothy Zahn (ebook version from Open Road Integrated Media, 2012)

In the year 2016, Earth’s first starship sets out on Project Homestead: a mission to find a planet to colonize. They soon discover a problem: the habitable planets are already taken!

The best the humans can do is to lease a planet nobody else wants due to its complete lack of metals. The cost and risk factors push what was to be a UN mission onto the Americans. The planet is dubbed Astra, and humans’ first colony begins.

When all metals – including a bulldozer – literally sink into the ground, the colony seems doomed. Until the planet proves to contain an ancient artifact worth more than anyone imagined.

Suddenly everyone wants it: the aliens and the UN. But US-appointed planetary leader Colonel Meredith and the people of Astra won’t give up their new home.

As well as learning to work with six diverse alien races and trying to fend off a UN takeover, the Astrans have to overcome internal differences. What began as a military-run effort faces the transition to civilian government and the threat of a coup from within.

This is a fun science fiction novel with Timothy Zahn’s trademark mastery of political and military tactics. Spinneret was printed in 1985 and released as an ebook in 2012. It’s still relevant conceptually and in terms of the issues it raises about immigration and international politics.

Naturally some of the “historical” events mentioned haven’t happened (like the 2011 Mexican Collapse). The characters still use cassettes, but they also have star drives (invented by Canadians, thank you very much). Still I doubt we’ll reach the projected date of space travel in 2016.

Spinneret is one of seven of Timothy Zahn’s hard-to-find novels released by Open Road Media in ebook format, and they’re all worth reading. My personal favourites on the list are Blackcollar and The Backlash Mission (Blackcollar #2). I really like the covers for these ebooks… some of the original paperback covers are very, well… eighties-ish.

My copy of Spinneret is an advance review copy, and there are a few typos that may have been corrected for the retail version. The font is a bit unusual and although attractive it can be hard to read on the smaller display settings. Lower-case letters with stems (like b, f, l, k) aren’t much taller than the shorter ones, which makes it easy to confuse f with r, i with l etc. Especially in a science fiction novel with unusual names, this can be a problem.

Still, to read these earlier books from a master in the genre, the ebooks are an easier choice than hunting the Internet for used copies of the paperbacks. (Thanks, AbeBooks, for helping me complete my collection a few years ago. I’ll be upgrading to ebooks over time.)

Hugo Award winning author Timothy Zahn writes in the Star Wars universe as well as in those of his own creation. You can find him on Facebook. His next scheduled release is the Star Wars novel, Scoundrels, releasing in early 2013.

[Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a fair review.]

Review: Conquerors’ Legacy, by Timothy Zahn

Conquerors’ Legacy, by Timothy Zahn (Bantam Spectra, 1996)

Conquerors’ Pride left us wondering about the fate of the Human Cavanagh family, with some facing court-martial and/or treason charges and one trapped in a war zone.

Conquerors’ Heritage left us in a very tight spot on one of the Zhirrzh worlds and with concerns about all four members of the Thrr family. Plus, Thrr-gilag’s out-of-clan bond engagement was in danger of being revoked. And there was Zhirrzh Elder Prr’t-zevisti’s chilling discovery.

Conquerors’ Legacy, book three, weaves all these and more into a satisfying and fast-paced read. A significant chunk of the action takes place on the planet Dorcas, as the rival commanders try to find holes in each other’s strategy.

Castor Holloway (Human) and Thrr-mezaz (Zhirrzh) are both strong tacticians, committed to the best course for their people. The war has taught each to fear the other side as ruthless “Conquerors Without Reason”. Through their conflict, each begins to respect the other’s strategy and to realize there’s more to his opponent than he first thought—and much more he needs to learn.

Other plot threads involve both Humans and Zhirrzh dealing with the manipulative Mrachani race on planet Mra, and an intense space battle near the alien Yycroman world of Phormbi. And of course the big questions: will anyone on either side believe Prr’t-zevisti’s revelation? If so, will they act?

Prr’t-zevisti, bless his Zhirrzh heart, has a moment that made me misty both times I read it (this is my second read through this series).

The saga comes together in a suitably grand finale involving a desperate attempt to save one race’s home planet. The only thing I’d like to have seen resolved in a throwaway comment near the end is the fate of the other alien worlds under Zhirrzh domination.

The Conquerors series was published in the 1990’s and the only thing that stands out as dated is the scarcity of Human females in combat roles—and the distress their presence causes some of the men.

A new viewpoint character in this book is Max, the para-sentient, highly intelligent computer from book one. He’s dry, observant, and we don’t spend long enough in his “thoughts” to get intimidated by his superior brain.

I always enjoy Timothy Zahn’s novels, for their fast pace, clever plotting and occasional humour. Oh, yes, and the frequent plot twists at the end that set me looking back at the story in a different light.

I also appreciate what I do not find: graphic or gratuitous sex or brutality or excessive profanity. (Some characters will use “minor” swear words at times.)

One of Timothy Zahn’s strengths that shows prominently in the Conquerors trilogy is tactics: both military and political. I like how he’s not afraid to give readers good role models in military/political leadership as well as among the common folk. He also gives characters who are self-serving, manipulative, or occasionally just plain evil. The latter are surprisingly rare, but it’s probably a more accurate rendering of Human-kind and any other races out there.

He’s one of the few authors whose work I’ve started buying at the exorbitant hard-cover prices because it’s just too long to wait for the more affordable mass-market paperbacks to release a year later.

[Note: Most books I review are written with a Christian worldview. Timothy Zahn’s novels are mainstream science fiction (or speculative) and seem to match the basics of Judeo-Christian morals.]
[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Conquerors’ Heritage, by Timothy Zahn

Conquerors’ Heritage, by Timothy Zahn (Bantam Spectra, 1995)

They say there are three sides to any conflict: yours, mine and the truth. In Conquerors’ Pride the Humans met the aliens they call the Conquerors, and interstellar war began.

Conquerors’ Heritage, the second novel in the trilogy, unfolds from the perspective of the aliens, who call themselves the Zhirrzh—and who refer to their new enemies as the “Human-Conquerors”.

It’s a fascinating look at a believable alien culture. The Zhirrzh are clan-based and tradition-bound, controlling 18 worlds to the Humans’ and allies’ much larger commonwealth.

Zhirrzh are bipedal, with two opposable thumbs per hand, beaks and poisonous tongues that can stiffen enough to slice an enemy’s throat. They also have tails which circle perpetually to disperse their body heat;  the faster the spin, the hotter—or more upset—the individual.

One of the main viewpoint characters is Thrr-gilag, who’s been demoted for his handling of the Human prisoner, Pheylan Cavanagh, in book one. At least he’s still part of the team to contact a race claiming to be unwilling subjects of the Human-Conquerors’ rule. But the Elders’ reaction to his disgrace may bring the end of his bond-engagement to a young Zhirrzh scientist.

Meanwhile on one of the Zhirrzh beachhead worlds in Human-Conqueror space, his brother Thrr-mezaz commands the occupation force and tries to outmanoeuvre the Human-Conqueror commander. Thrr-mezaz is under pressure too after a decision that cost the group one of its Elders. He and Thrr-gilag hatch an outlandish scheme to make things right—unless they’re caught.

Then there’s Prr’t-zevisti, a Zhirrzh Elder. At first I wondered why the narrative kept returning to this peripheral individual who was accomplishing nothing, but it’s so the readers will know he’s in position when his moment of insight comes.

Discovering the truth about the war rocks his worldview. Should he tell the others? Could it make a difference? After so many deaths, they can’t simply call off the fighting.

Zhirrzh don’t often die as we know death, but live in a non-corporeal state when their bodies die. The presence of generations of observers, busybodies and advisors makes an interesting dimension of their society, giving tradition a weight greater than on earth.

One of the subplots in Conquerors’ Heritage is perhaps the Zhirrzh equivalent of euthanasia: should a citizen have the right to choose not to continue outside the physical body? The issue threatens the stability of the entire Zhirrzh culture and causes almost as much fear in government circles as the rumour of an unstoppable Human weapon: CIRCE.

Readers wondering how the Cavanagh family is dealing with the fallout from book one need to hold on for  book three, Conquerors’ Legacy. Given the suspenseful ending to Conquerors’ Heritage, I strongly suggest picking up a copy of book three before finishing book two so you can keep reading.

Timothy Zahn’s current novels are the Cobra War series and Terminator Salvation: Trial by Fire. I’m excited to see a new Star Wars novel coming from him next year too. The Conquerors series is still available through online bookstores, as well as through used bookstores.

[Note: Most books I review are written with a Christian worldview. Timothy Zahn’s novels are mainstream science fiction (or speculative) and seem to match the basics of Judeo-Christian morals.]
[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Conquerors’ Pride, by Timothy Zahn

Conquerors’ Pride, by Timothy Zahn (Bantam Spectra, 1994)

Humans have conquered interstellar travel and forged political alliances with other star-faring races. Now, a Commonwealth Peacekeeper task force’s encounter with a new race ends in just six minutes—and that includes the strangers’ systematic targeting of individual life pods after the battle.

Pheylan Cavanagh is the lone human survivor of the disastrous first contact, and the aliens take him prisoner. With the entire Commonwealth mobilizing defences against the “Conquerors Without Reason,” Peacekeeper Command decides the needs of the many outweigh those of the one. They leave Pheylan on his own.

His father, wealthy industrialist Lord Stewart Cavanagh, mounts a rescue mission of his own, using “borrowed” military fighters and pilots. If they come back, they face a pile of trouble—even if they rescue Pheylan from the Conquerors.

One minor character in Conquerors’ Pride is a Sanduul artist who does threadings: pictures made of spiderlike silk. Her finished images reveal two different moods depending on the angle of view: the same subject, two separate effects.

This was my second reading of Conquerors’ Pride, and I enjoyed watching Timothy Zahn do his own “threading” of the story. In true Zahn style, the picture as viewed from the end of the book has a different feel from what you see while you’re reading. Re-reading, I could see more of the setup, like watching a magician in slow motion to see how he does the trick.

It was good to be back with the Cavanagh family and their allies, and to encounter other friends who’ll play key parts in the series. Revelations near the end of the novel contain some interesting social commentary that’s as applicable now as it was when the novel was first published. They’ll probably still be relevant when I read the series a third time.

Timothy Zahn is a master at creating alien races, environments and cultures as well as fast-paced, intricate plots. He’s a Hugo Award-winning author of over 40 novels and multiple short stories. His Star Wars novels are among fans’ favourites. Curiously enough, they’ve been among the final books I’ve read from him. (Still haven’t read the Terminator novels.)

Conquerors’ Pride was my first taste of Mr. Zahn’s writing, and I’ve bought every book I could get my hands on since then. And in an age where authors must maintain a web presence, he’s succeeding quite nicely without one, thank you.

[Note: Most books I review are written with a Christian worldview. Timothy Zahn’s novels are mainstream science fiction (or speculative) and seem to match the basics of Judeo-Christian morals. Conquerors’ Pride contains occasional very minor profanity. Just so you know.]
[Book source: my own library.]