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M. Helsdon "the_chief_engineers_mate"

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Lands of Ice and Fire (A Game of Thrones)
Lands of Ice and Fire (A Game of Thrones)
by George R R Martin
Edition: Poster

26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nice maps. Poor presentation., 9 Nov. 2012
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I was expecting an Atlas, an atlas of maps. Instead, this is a collection of posters, something the original description did not make clear. The maps are very nice, but the production quality is poor: the 'hardback' cover is not very substantial and the maps are printed on thick glossy paper with multiple folds and will rapidly deteriorate if taken out, opened, and placed back into the book too often, perhaps, judging the difficulty I've had with one, immediately.

This book is sadly a rip-off and should be avoided. It gains stars for the artwork, loses them for the cheap badly designed over-priced packaging.

Land of the Dead
Land of the Dead
by Thomas Harlan
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die., 1 Aug. 2009
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This review is from: Land of the Dead (Hardcover)
Something unknown to Imperial science is lurking within the dust of the Kuub nebula.

Something ancient and deadly, holding a legacy from the distant past.

Something discovered by a doomed squadron of survey ships.

'Land of the Dead' is the third of Thomas Harlan's 'Sixth Sun' series, and follows some of the consequences of the events of 'House of Reeds'. On the surface, 'Land of the Dead' involves the discovery in deep space of an enigmatic artefact of one of the most powerful long-vanished civilisations of the Galaxy -- something vast, dangerous and mysterious -- and the conflict between those who would possess it.

'Land of the Dead' can be read and enjoyed on multiple levels: as fast and furious space opera, but it is also the darkest so far, with treachery, betrayal and revenge at its core (leading to a confrontation vaguely reminiscent of that at the Reichenbach Falls) countered by redemption, loyalty and the relationship of a parent to their child. The story stretches from the cold lonely streets of Shinedo on the Pacific coast of North America, to intrigues in the Imperial capital of Tenochtitlan in the Valley of Mexico, to the absolute zero of a hazardous nebula. All is not as it seems, and politics and ambition on Earth and beyond drive a deadly conflict, with revelations of the true status of the Méxica Empire and an ancient forgotten doom. One of the human factions will be a surprise (though foreshadowed early on in 'Wasteland of Flint'), and the semblance of Imperial solidarity is fractured by the intrigues within and between the Imperial Clan, the Mirror secret police, the Fleet and the Judges.

The series has a shifting cast of characters, and the interweaving threads of this novel feature the disgraced officer Mitsuharu Hadeishi, Susan Koshô at the helm of her first command the battlecruiser Naniwa, the Swedish-Russian xenoarchaeologist Gretchen Anderssen and the Méxica judge Green Hummingbird. An Imperial Prince, Xochitl, is a major character and a complete contrast to his brother Tezozómoc (who appeared in 'House of Reeds'). Sadly, Parker and Magdelena are firmly off stage; it can only be hoped they will appear in a future volume.

Of all the characters in this volume, Hadeishi is the perhaps the most complex, and a primary thread follows on from the loss of his ship in 'House of Reeds'. His recollections of old television episodes of The Book of Five Rings featuring the sword-saint Lord Miyamoto Musashi (in this time line involved in the Restoration of the Home Islands of Japan from the rule of a Mongol oppressor) give both an insight into Hadeishi's character and his earlier actions, and a window into the history of this alternate past/future history. Hadeishi, the son of a violin-maker and a shop-clerk, though the descendant of samurai, lacks the high clan status to survive the disgrace of the loss of the Corneulle, but childhood memories of the adventures of Musashi (fighting Mongols, Maori, Iroquois and bandits - with a nod to the Seven Samurai) inspire him to struggle against the fate decreed by Admiralty and Emperor.

Although Gretchen and Hummingbird are pivotal to the plot, and Koshô shows her mettle, this is very much Hadeishi's story, as he follows the teachings of his childhood hero, enacting the role of a samurai turned ronin in the depths of deep space.

'Land of the Dead' includes major battles, with warships tens or hundreds of thousands of kilometres apart manoeuvring at high g as swarms of missiles accelerate in and particle beams and lasers excite the dust of the Kuub: time and distance contracting in lethal combat. The impressions of space warfare are a vividly drawn backdrop to the heart of the mystery within the Kuub.

On the surface, 'Land of the Dead' is a classic tale of space combat and adventure, and it can certainly be read as a story of high adventure and peril. Behind this are wheels within wheels, with clues scattered throughout. Without giving any spoilers, the most obvious clue is what happens to the scout ships, why they just happen to be exactly *where* they are, and who may have sent them there. There are layers upon layers, and after reading the final chapter, the reader would be rewarded to re-read the first few chapters.

Each of the novels of the 'Sixth Sun' lies within a slightly different genre: 'Wasteland of Flint' - explored the relationship between science and mysticism; 'House of Reeds' - colonialism and political intrigue; `Land of the Dead' - space combat and <...>. All three share the underlying theme of xenoarchaeology and the quest for the secrets of alien technologies. This volume strongly hints as to why the Empire is so desperate for ancient alien tech.

With searing antimatter detonations and catastrophic revelations, 'Land of the Dead' sets the stage for future volumes.

Wasteland of Flint
Wasteland of Flint
by Thomas Harlan
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An alternate future in a dangerous universe, 15 Aug. 2008
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Mystery and adventure in an intriguing alternate future, on an alien world.

Where Thomas Harlan's first fantasy series comprised the Alternate History 'Oath of Empire', his new 'Sixth Sun' saga, of which Wasteland of Flint is the first, is set in an alternate future.

What could have been a standard space opera is given a number of distinct and original dimensions, the most obvious being the domination of Human Space by the Méxica Empire, the descendants of the Aztecs. Humanity is now subject to the Méxica and their allies, foremost being the Japanese Nisei, who in colonising North America many centuries ago, brought horses, rice and metalworking to the New World. After a century of war in the Core of Human Space the defeated populations of the European Great Powers - Swedish-Russia and the Danish Empire have mostly scattered to the Rim World colonies.

All of Old Earth, Anáhuac as the Méxica name it, is now ruled from the imperial centre of Tenochtitlán. One interpretation of the name Méxica has it denoting the centre of the world, and in this reality the ambition of the Aztecs has found full expression. Human Space, however, is a small sphere compared with the gigantic scale of the galaxy, and the interstellar domain of Imperial Méxica is a minor power in a universe littered with remnants of inimical and ancient alien civilisations.

The basic premise of the story is familiar. The presentation and expression of it in Wasteland of Flint is sufficiently different to make the novel fresh and, as the questions mount up, a page turner.

What prevents the novel from being a rehash of the old haunted house in space is both the historical background and the gradual dawning of the realisation of the nature of the mystery.

Just as Oath of Empire rested on a substratum of Greek and Persian Myth, Sixth Sun has aspects of Aztec mythology hidden beneath it, as well as hints that might tenuously relate to the Cthulhu Mythos. Certain vague resonances stirred memories of HP Lovecraft's 'At the Mountains of Madness' and 'The Call of Cthulhu'. Other dimensions of the story also reminded me very slightly of Tim Power's 'Declare' and the Babylon 5 television series and its IPX archaeologists "Exploring the Past to make a better Future."

This is not to say that Wasteland of Flint is derivative, it isn't. At most, aspects of the novel pay homage to these and earlier Golden Age sources.

Contact has been lost with a commercial archaeology team conducting excavations on Ephesus III on the edge of known space. The Company redirects the xeno archaeologist Gretchen Anderssen and her team, uneasily supported by the crew of the IMN Cornuelle to recover the missing starship and her crew. Also aboard is the Méxica political officer and judge Green Hummingbird, who demonstrates both the traditions of a shaman and a disturbing fore knowledge of events. When the Cornuelle arrives it finds the ship in orbit, utterly deserted, and the desperate ground crew still alive. One geologist is missing. Ephesus III itself is something of a mystery: its geology is utterly jumbled with a massive mountain chain, the Escarpment running from pole to pole with some of the peaks rising above the thin atmosphere. Fossils found on the planet show early recognisable creatures, but they are totally unrelated to the weird primitive life forms now present. All the signs suggest that the planet suffered a catastrophe several million years before, in a period when the enigmatic First Sun civilisation was active in the galaxy.

Gradually the pieces of the puzzle accumulate. The initial suggestion of a murder mystery driven by academic rivalry is replaced by something much vaster and more dangerous. The background of the characters lend conflict to the story, as the disparate characters have to work together to prevent disaster. The dynamic between the scientist and the heir of Aztec sorcerers becomes a major focus, as the two main protagonists, entirely different in status and worldview are forced into an uneasy alliance against the hostile environment of Ephesus III itself. The landscape of Ephesus III is vividly drawn, and its wind-etched canyons and weird rock outcrops give a strong impression of an alien world. Glimpses of yawning gulfs of time and long dead alien civilisations offer a counterpoint to the very immediate struggle for survival.

The central mystery of the planet is ultimately revealed. But for every answer, more intriguing questions are raised, for this, although a standalone story, is the introduction to the saga of the Sixth Sun. According to Aztec myth, the previous five Suns ended in disaster. Future novels will doubtless describe and address the fate of the Sixth Sun.

The third book in the series, 'Land of the Dead' is in progress (with the first few chapters available on the author's wiki: thronewiki) and should be published next year.

House of Reeds (Tor Science Fiction)
House of Reeds (Tor Science Fiction)
by Thomas Harlan
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deadly intrigue and adventure in an alternate 24th Century, 15 Aug. 2008
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`House of Reeds' is the second book of the `Sixth Sun', and stands as both a self-contained novel and a continuation from `Wasteland of Flint'. The first was set out on the periphery of the empire of the Imperial Méxica, and `House of Reeds' focuses on the planet Jagan where the military power and diplomatic and commercial influence of Tenochtitlán is being steadily asserted.

It begins with the receipt of a disturbing message for Chu-sa Hadeishi of the light cruiser IMN Cornuelle, and light years away an unexpected reassignment for the Swedish-Russian xenoarchaeologist Gretchen Anderssen. On Old Earth, Anáhuac, a minor Méxica prince, Tezozómoc is about to become the pawn of political machinations.

All will arrive on Jagan to be confronted by intrigue, mystery and danger.

Rumour of a First Sun artefact will send Gretchen and her little band of troublemakers into the hinterland where the native lords are chafing under the increasing Méxica dominance. Chu-sa Hadeishi and his crew will find themselves playing an unexpected and deadly role in Imperial policies. The wastrel Prince Tezozómoc will discover the true price of his royal birthright.

`House of Reeds' is a cinematic and fast-paced story with weaving plot threads amidst the dramatic background of the alternate future history of the Méxica and the alien planet Jagan. In `Wasteland of Flint' the hostile environment of Ephesus III provided an evocative backdrop; Jagan in contrast is an old, long-inhabited world, its sentient species weary and all too aware of their fall, living amidst the ruins and secrets of their ancient greatness. Whilst much of the action takes place in the Five Rivers region of Jagan or high above in orbit, Harlan effectively brings the world to life.

Throughout the 414 pages the weaving plot threads heighten the tension and danger. There is vivid characterisation, dialogue, combat, occasional humor and glimpses of the history of Anáhuac, and a shadowy threat to all humanity.

The characters of Chu-sa Hadeishi and Gretchen Anderssen are deftly developed, with more insight into the tension between the cultures of the Méxica, their Nisei and Scottish allies and the lesser peoples of Anáhuac. A cast of other characters ably support the main players: Magdalena, the competent Hesht comm-tech (the cover portrait does not really do her justice), Parker the English pilot and his quest for a smoke, the crew of the Cornuelle, and the agents of the Mirror -- the secret police of the Empire. The most compelling figure is Malakar, an elderly reptilian native of Jagan, a believable alien and a tragic figure, a counterpoint to the ambitious lords, for she remembers the lost heritage of her species.

Evoking vague memories of Jack Vance and Talbot Mundy, `House of Reeds' proves Harlan a master storyteller.

The third book in the series, 'Land of the Dead' is in progress (with the first few chapters available on the author's wiki: thronewiki) and should be published next year.

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