Alliance of Equals by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller ($26.00, July release, signed copies expected) is the 19th book in the Liaden Universe. If you have not been following this wonderful space opera series, you should not begin with this book. You should pick up a copy of The Agent Gambit ($12.00), which is an omnibus reprint of Agent of Change (1988) and Carpe Diem (1989).
People who have been following the series know that the last several books have been introducing new characters and new sub-plots. Alliance of Equals starts bringing some of these new characters and sub-plots into the main story arc. And then there are the clutch turtles, an interesting and fun batch of aliens that played a prominent role early in the series but haven’t been mentioned for many books. Although they don’t appear in Alliance of Equals, they are mentioned in three different scenes. Hopefully that means that they will also find their way back into the main story arc.
I’ve enjoyed all the books in the series, but I enjoyed Alliance of Equals more than the last several novels.
Burned by Benedict Jacka ($7.99) is the seventh book in the Alex Verus series of urban fantasies mainly set in London. When I saw the review in Publishers Weekly that said that this was probably the best book in the series, I was skeptical because I enjoyed the other books so much. After reading it, I have to agree with Publishers Weekly.
Alex Verus is a mage in a the modern world, where most people are not aware of magic, but there are dark mages (with an in-your-face ruthlessness about grabbing power) and light mages (with a sneakier ruthlessness about grabbing power). Alex has escaped from the control of a dark mage, but doesn’t trust the light mages, and is trying to remain independent of all the plotting going on among the two camps. Alex is a diviner, one who can look into the future somewhat, look at various possible actions, and find the series of actions that will result in success. Both camps want to force him to support their side, and are willing to use deadly force to prevent the other side from gaining his help. As his skills and his reputation increase, so also does the danger to him and those close to him.
If you haven’t been reading the series, start with Fated ($7.99), and then continue with Cursed, Taken, Chosen, Hidden, and Veiled ($7.99 each).
I’ve previously recommended Michael Cobley’s Humanity’s Fire trilogy, Seeds of Earth, The Orphaned Worlds, and The Ascendant Stars ($9.00 each), as very good space opera. Cobley’s latest book is Ancestral Machines ($15.99) and it’s labeled as a Hunanity’s Fire novel. It is set in the same very complex, cluttered universe as the trilogy, but is not a sequel.
Cobley has a very complex idea of hyperspace. It is made up of many Tiers, and those Tiers are previous universes full of alien empires, alien artifacts, independent artificial intelligences, etc., and a war fleet from Tier 100 might decide to invade Tier 49, or even the prime continuum (normal space). A very powerful artificial intelligence, the Construct, tries to keep the ancient riff-raff from causing too many problems.
The Warcage, a collection of two hundred worlds harnessed to an artificial sun in a feat of unprecedented stellar engineering, started in another galaxy as a monument to peace among alien races. But a hostile race conquered the Warcage and turned it into a facility for training various alien armies to help keep down the conquered races. The Warcage has now come to our galaxy to swap out ravaged worlds and replace them with new verdant worlds. The Construct has sent a military drone to investigate the situation. And a human captain of a smuggler ship and his crew (a few humans and several different alien races) get involved. While I enjoyed the new novel, I found the characters, both the humans and the aliens, in the trilogy more interesting.
When I can’t find anything else I want to read, I frequently grab a book by Eric Brown that I haven’t yet read. I just read Helix ($7.99) and Helix War ($8.99).
The Helix is a spiral of 10,000 barrel-like worlds connected to a central axis which wraps 8 times around a G-type sun. Each of the barrel-like worlds has a different climate, different resources, different plant life, and oceans separate the worlds. The enigmatic Builders constructed the Helix aeons ago as a refuge for alien races on the verge of extinction. So far, the Builders have rescued around 6000 alien races. Helix tells the story of humans coming to the Helix. A sub-lightspeed colony ship with 4000 frozen humans fled Earth as the ecology collapsed, and crash landed on a polar section of the Helix. A few crew members are thawed, start exploring the Helix, and eventually find a way to save the other humans and colony New Earth. Helix Wars takes place 200 years later. The government of Sporell (which seems to be modeled on the government of North Korea) has invaded the peaceful world of Phandra, on their way to invade the next world of the Helix, the metal-rich world of D’rayni. The Builders have named the humans the Peacekeepers of the Helix, but the population of New Earth is still relatively small 200 years after the 4000 colonists first landed, and the government isn’t really interested in fighting a much larger and militaristic world. It falls to one human and one Mahkan (a reptilian race named Engineers of the Helix by the Builders) to try to stop the war. The ending implies there will be another volume.