Monday, April 27, 2020

Review: First Cycle


First Cycle

Review of First Cycle

First Cycle, by H. Beam Piper and Michael Kurland, is entirely a world-building book. It follows the evolution of twin planets, and the societies that eventually thrive on them. The first few chapters follow planetary collision and evolution. However, as soon as intelligent life appears, the recorded passage of time slows down, becoming a series of short stories covering interesting characters at significant points in history.

  Thalassa, the world with great oceans, evolves six-fingered green people, who quickly assemble into a basic patriarchal feudal system. The Thalassans are a war-like people; technological advances and trade are generally intertwined into the endless onslaught of war.

Hetaira, the world with land and scattered lakes, takes longer to evolve, but by and large skips the prolonged war campaigns of its twin. The red-furred people of Hetaira live in family “gangs,” and are constantly sharing information and improvements. Although gangs occasionally combine, each is effectively its own nation. Interestingly, the females are nearly the same size as the males, and thus Hetaira is generally gender-equitable.

It’s a wonderful book for world-building. The chapters mostly alternate between Thalassa and Hetaira. First Cycle is written entirely in the third person. Instead of following one or two characters, each era centers on a group of Hetairans making advancements, or the current geopolitical and military campaigns of the Thalassans. Piper and Kurland have used a lot of altered Earth history to put the two groups together, but each group has altered the themes to make them their own. As the book goes on, we stay with each group longer. Once the planets begin their space age, there are recurring characters as the pace of advance becomes faster and faster.

The main author, H. Beam Piper, died in 1964. First Cycle was finished by Micheal Kurland, and published in 1982. I’m giving it four out of five stars because I enjoyed it enough to try other books by these authors. I liked it because the ideas and writing style are different, which is especially important for keeping science fiction fresh. If you’re looking for a character-driven story, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for something different, or an inspiration to beat writer's block, this is a good book to read. First Cycle teaches a lot about worldbuilding, and there is enough information in most of the glimpses into each century to develop characters for a longer novel. 

While First Cycle is still under copyright, many of H. Beam Piper’s other works have fallen into the public domain (at least in the States).




Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Review: Star Clans: A Troll Hunt


        Star Clans: A Troll Hunt, by H.A. Austin and Peter Austin, follows the epic adventure of a young Viking Captain in space. He sets out on a complicated foray against the Trolls, who have captured his blood-brother. On the way, he is forced to deal with a new race of telepaths, the Amazons. It’s a good book to hand to a twelve-year-old. Clean language and  no improprieties. Violence (Viking and Troll battles), but minimal gore.

Sailing Ship, not Star Ship

       The lore is alarmingly thorough. There is a clear understanding of Greek and Roman mythology, which constructs the basis of Viking and Amazon cultures. The Viking command structure follows traditional Norse military positions. Their loot division contracts are what one would expect of a sailing privateer. A particularly hilarious race of fairies hails straight from Shakespearean comedy.

If you enjoy Rick Riordan or John Flanagan, you will like this book.

       The weapons and ships are so detailed and well-described that it would be very possible to sketch in a CAD program and/or make 3D models. The female warriors are realistic, and tend to rely on strategy and skill rather than brute force. The Amazons are really interesting in this regard, as they have pushed their remote battlefield technologies to favor stealth and drone-based lethality. The Vikings’ primary occupation seems to be battle-craft, with an emphasis on Troll hunting. The Trolls themselves are extremely well-defended giants who travel in massive bands of hundreds and tens of thousands, and build massively fortified battlements.

appear in book
Valkyrie by Peter Nicolai Arbo

       The space battles (to my limited understanding of military tactics) appear to be plausibly accurate. The crafts take advantage of all three dimensions, not just the traditional two used in land-based fighting. The ships’ technologies and use of their surroundings are grounded in scientific thought. It’s clear the authors did a lot of research.

viking shields
The Drakkar shields by Noveau Larousse IlustrĂ©

       For a first book, this is excellent. It needs a proofreader to fix the typos, but first-time authors can be reluctant to relinquish control of their art. However, that is a minor concern in relation to the sheer quantity of science, mythology, and history packed into this volume. There is no shortage of plot, and clearly enough material here for a long series. My rating scale gives four stars if this book would cause me to read more by this author, and five if the book is worth rereading. Star Clans: A Troll Hunt is an action-packed adventure full of humor and camaraderie, and worth rereading, which would make it a five. The absence of proofreading is annoying enough to deduct half a point. I am looking forward to the next book in the series.

4.5 stars


The publisher's website features several short stories by the author.

*The pictures are public domain art from the mid 1800s.
**This is a free review, and reflects my own personal opinion. I am related to the authors.