Book Review: “Soulminder” by Timothy Zahn

SoulminderI’ve read a lot of Timothy Zahn’s work over the years and most of the time I have a pretty good idea about what he’s going to bring to the table. I received a request to review Soulminder directly from the publisher and given that Zahn is one of my all-time favorite authors, of course I jumped at the chance. It’s always great to see what kind of new idea he’s putting onto the page for his readers.

This time around Zahn is delving into the world of what happens when a person dies and their soul leaves their body. Is that soul a tangible thing? Can it be captured and held for some amount of time? If it can be captured, could something then be done to repair the body it came from so it can be returned and let a person continue their life? If so, what kind of impact does that have on society when suddenly terminal illness, terrible accidents, and death are no longer necessarily the end of the line?

Adrian Sommer and Jessica Sands have managed to invent a machine that allows them to recognize and trap a soul when it attempts to leave a person’s body at the time of death. In doing so they open up a world of possibility regarding what the soul actually is and what sort of systems and policies should be wrapped around the use of their new Soulminder machine. Should it be available to everyone? Is it even morally acceptable to trap a soul and then force feed it back into a repaired body? Does the ability to do what the Soulminder machine does change how people view religion in some fashion?

Sommer is driven by the death of his son and never wanting another mother or father to have to sit and watch their child die in a car accident from injuries that are easily repaired as long as medical assistance can be reached. Jessica Sands is motivated by the idea that continued advancements of the Soulminder technology could perhaps bring about the ability for humans to be immortal. From the very beginning these differing motivations begin to drive a wedge between the two parties and they spend a lot of time involved in things that check and balance each other.

Over the course of the book the reader gets to see the Soulminder technology from its inception, to widespread national use, to abuse by criminals, all the way to government corruption using it as a way to enforce slavery on their citizens. The impact and consequences of capturing souls and placing them back into repaired bodies are widespread and impressive across the board.

This book has much more of a political thriller or espionage feel to it than most science fiction books do, but it delves enough into the technology and science behind the Soulminder machine to keep it firmly within its genre. I admit that the book was nothing like what I was expecting, but at the same time it was exactly what it needed to be in the end. A book that kept me on my toes and seemed very grounded in how cause and effect of such a machine would actually play out.

Wrapping these kind of themes and questions nicely inside of a compelling science fiction story isn’t the easiest thing to do, but Zahn manages to provide just enough plot to keep the reader engaged while still keeping the focus very much on the issue at hand. If someone is looking for rip-roaring science fiction action this probably isn’t the book for them, but I would still encourage everyone to give it a chance. Sometimes it does a person good to read a book in their favorite genre that spends more time making them think about what their own choices would be in certain circumstances than it does blowing up spaceships or exploring new worlds.

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Looking Back at September 2014

The year is very quickly rolling to a close as September comes to a close and Fall begins to chill the temperatures and change the color of the leaves. I’m still playing catch-up with my goal to read 100 books, but now that I’ve settled into my new job and my new house I think there is a chance I can now focus on making a real run at that goal. I might still fall short, but it isn’t going to be from a lack of trying.

As of this post I’ll have finished 69 total books for a substantial 28,320 pages read. Regardless of where I finish this year I’m almost certain to break last year’s mark of 84 books and 31,512 pages. I suppose with that in mind I can’t really complain.

Here is the list of books I read in September:

In a bit of a surprise, I think that Ink Mage wound up being my favorite book of the month. I’m not sure I would say it did anything spectacularly unique, but its pacing was out of this world amazing. Victor Gischler did an amazing job piecing the story together into small pieces that really made me not want to put the book down. As a bonus, as soon as I finished reading Ink Mage I discovered Gischler just signed a contract to write a second and third book that continues the story. I’m glad because I didn’t want to leave those characters behind when I was finished.

The two books by Michael McCloskey, The Trilisk Supersedure and Force Cantrithor, were enjoyable as always. His writing continues to be like bite-sized morsels of science fiction fun when compared to the hulking 600 page tomes I often read. I have to be careful though as it won’t be too much longer and I’ll run out of his work to treat myself to between bigger books.

The rest of the books (excluding one I’ll get to in a moment) were all solid and enjoyable. I was very pleased with Star Wars: A New Dawn as the first new (and official) canon to the Star Wars Expanded Universe now that all the others were removed from canon. It’s a great launching point for the future I think. Honor’s Knight was a lot of fun as well with Rachel Bach continuing to surprise me with her female protagonist. Soulminder by Timothy Zahn was not like most of his work, but really had me hooked from start to finish in a way I wasn’t expecting.

Throne of Glass: Heir of Fire is the latest book from Sarah J. Maas and it continues the trend of each book of hers displaying her massive growth as a storyteller. These books started out as a bit of a guilty “assassin barbie” pleasure for me, but now they are books I hold up in esteem with some of the other major authors I regularly read. Sarah J. Maas deserves all the praise she gets for this series.

The one book that left a very sour taste in my mouth was Soulrender, written by a co-worker at my new job (although he left last week for another employer). The book started out innocently enough, but then devolved into a lot of misogyny and sexism that I simply cannot abide in the material I read. I never would have finished Soulrender except that my son was awake most of the night sick and I needed something to keep me awake and the rage I felt while reading it was the solution.

October looks to be a month where I’ll have lots of extra time for things. Having settled into the new home and job frees up my evenings once more and World of Warcraft is in a pre-expansion lull, so I’m not spending much time on that right now. I hope to finish off a couple of trilogies in October as well as enjoy Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword, the sequel to the award-winning Ancillary Justice that I loved so much.

Looking Back at April 2014

Another month, another look back at how my last month of reading went. April was a pretty busy month for me personally as I made trips to Denver and Los Angeles to see family for various reasons, but thanks to a couple of plane rides, I still managed to stay on pace towards my 100 books read in the year goal. This month I had a book to read provided by a publisher, the chance to finally finish one of my incomplete series, a couple of unknown authors, and a couple novels by a favorite.

The list of books I finished in April:

Somewhat surprisingly, Fortune’s Pawn was probably my favorite book of the month. I love all of the books in The Seafort Saga, but Fortune’s Pawn was an awful fun time while I was reading it. I think I really had been starved for some light-hearted sci-fi action and didn’t really know it. The same could be said for Crimes Against Magic, it was good fun, exciting characters, and off the beaten path for me personally. Looking back on the month, I have to say none of the books were disappointing, which isn’t always the case. Usually I have one or maybe two that really didn’t do it for me, but not this time.

I was really happy that I managed to finish the final books of The Seafort Saga after so long of trying to get that series completed. Those books might not be for everyone, but I really liked them a lot, and now I can say I’ve read them, and that I’ve finished off one of the bigger uncompleted series on my list. It’s all smooth sailing from here now, right?

Book Review: “Deadman Switch” by Timothy Zahn

Deadman SwitchDeadman Switch was written in 1988 and I think it might be one of my favorite Timothy Zahn books to date. There was something about how this story played out that really resonated with me and I was really impressed when I was finished. Zahn has a knack for creating characters that play well off of each other in order to tell his stories with dialogue and interaction to go along with the action. He is in fine form with all of the characters he introduces into Deadman Switch.

The Solitaire system is rich with mineral asteroids, but there is a catch. The only way to get into the system is to sacrifice a convicted felon so that a mysterious force can take over the body and guide a starship through a strange field effect that surrounds the system. This means that for every ship that wants to enter and then leave the system two people must die. Obviously this creates an interesting situation for the ruling coalition of planets, the Patri. If they want to keep mining the Solitaire system, they better hope that people keep being convicted of crimes and sentenced to execution.

Gilead is a member of a group called Watchers. From a very young age he has been trained in the art of observation and has the ability to read facial expressions, behavior, and emotion to determine if someone is telling the truth or not. Watchers also have a very high level of moral altruism which means they do not support the idea of the Deadman Switch which requires a human life to operate. As a member of an expedition into the Solitaire system he has a difficult time watching a convict be executed to make the trip and after speaking with the convict scheduled to assist in their departure from the system he discovers that she is innocent.

With the discovery of the convict’s innocence, Gilead begins a vendetta to prove her innocence to the man he works for and find a different way to get their ship out of the system. His employer is sympathetic to Gilead’s cause and wants to help but his ability to do so is limited. He does help though, and in the end Gilead somehow manages to find the results he needs in order to blow all sorts of things wide open. During the investigation and search for a local convict to use instead of the one on his ship, Gilead discovers an as of yet undiscovered alien race that just so happens to be the reason the field effect exists around the Solitaire system as well as responsible for the operation of the Deadman Switch technology so ships can enter and leave.

Why these aliens have created the field, and why they have allowed humanity into the system to mine the minerals in the asteroids comes to light and Gilead discovers he’s unwrapped a very juicy morsel of misdirection. Deadman Switch deals heavily with morals and ethics as well as themes of religion and belief. Those are not themes you see in a lot of science fiction today. If you are a fan of Timothy Zahn you should definitely try to get a copy of Deadman Switch, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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Book Review: “A Coming of Age” by Timothy Zahn

A Coming of AgeOne of my many goals this year as I do my reading is to expose myself to a lot more of Timothy Zahn’s non-Star Wars writing. He is most well-known for his Thrawn Trilogy, but he has a lot of other stellar work to offer. A Coming of Age isn’t the first non-Star Wars book of his I’ve read, and hopefully it won’t be the last.

A Coming of Age takes place on a post-Earth world known as Tigris where the environment gives small children a very powerful form of telekinesis at the age of five that grows stronger up until puberty when it then vanishes. As a result, society has put a lot of strict controls on what children can know and do up until puberty in order to prevent a rebellion like happened when Tigris was first settled. Lisa Duncan is one of those children, and while she is not a threat to start a rebellion, she has a natural curiosity that is bound to get her into a little mischief. Stanley Tirrell is a local law enforcement detective who winds up working a kidnapping case that he quickly discovers is so much more than a simple kidnapping.

What I like most about A Coming of Age is that it’s a crime caper. The book is filled with scenes of finding evidence, extrapolating what the evidence means, and then following up on the various leads. On the side is Lisa getting involved with the case inadvertently, and thinking she has discovered something terrible happening to a friend. As it turns out her friend is fine, but some of the things she’s witnessed in her own amateur investigation helps Tirrell get to the root of what’s happening with his kidnapping case. The kidnapper turns out to be using the young boy he took for the good of society, but in discovering that, Tirrell discovers a different operation that poses great danger to everyone. This, of course, turns the entire story on its head in the final act.

There is a lot to like about A Coming of Age as a story on the whole, but it still is not as strong as some of the other Zahn books I’ve read. However, I did look up when it was published and it first hit the shelves in 1984, the year I was born. I have a feeling that this story might have had a lot more impact back then than it does today.

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