I recently finished two novels, that I will offer a few words on.
If you haven’t heard, Brandon Sanderson’s second novel in the Stormlight Archive is a long one. Where George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire ushered in darker, more realistic fiction, Sanderson’s epic fantasy series takes world building to a whole new level. There are many magic systems defined by metaphysical laws, making his fantasy almost a type of science. The idea that magic must have rules is common throughout Sanderson’s stories, but his world-building philosophy is not shared by all authors. For instance, writers such as Joe Abercrombie and Patrick Rothfuss bring us magic systems that are a bit more abstract in their use.
Along with Sanderson’s magic systems are life forces known as spren, which tie into an elaborate mythos and history. Sure, at over 1000 pages in this book, there are a great many of details, but believe it or not, Sanderson’s world feels even larger than the words on the page. His characters, on the other hand, are focused and he sticks to a manageable POV cast.
I am generally not a huge epic fantasy fan, but Sanderson’s soon-to-be magnum opus series is a must read for genre fans. It is transformative in its world-building and having completed Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, it is certain that Sanderson will go down as one of the greatest fantasy authors of our generation.
My final verdict? I am enjoying the series, but I find the interludes a bit too stuffy for me and I find myself resisting the urge to skip them so I can return to the main story line. There are supposedly going to be ten books in this series, which would likely add up to over 10,000 pages. This is quite a commitment for both the author and reader, but given Sanderson’s increasing popularity and continually improving abilities as a writer, I think the journey will be worth it.
Will McIntosh rose to popularity when his short story, “Bridesicle,” won the Hugo. This was later adapted into the acclaimed novel, Love Minus Eighty. Following this novel comes a very different type of novel, called Defenders.
Defenders is a blend of military and social science fiction, written in a similar manner to John Scalzi. It is dialog and idea heavy, which makes for an easy, but still thought-provoking read. The beginning of the novel starts off almost cliche, with an alien species on the brink of taking over the human race. The starfish-like enemies have the ability to read human minds, making any attack completely transparent and predictable. Their only hope is a new form of biological weapon — Defenders. These are three-legged humanoids that are genetically altered to function without serotonin, the neurotransmitters that allow the invaders to read minds. They are built with one goal in mind — destroy the Luyten species.
Humanity’s goal is successful and they are able to fend off the alien species, but now they must deal with the aftermath of their creation. Creatures with a unique sense of morality and social order. A species that can destroy all of the earth at will.
The ethical dilemmas brought up in the book were stimulating to read and the post-war period was unique from a military sci-fi standpoint. The ideas only held me for a while and I struggled with the last 25% of the book. What was a unique social conundrum devolved into a battle of firepower. Unfortunately I failed to connect with the characters in the end and was left a bit disappointed.
As a whole, Defenders is an interesting novel. A new twist on a common trope. I think this novel could have succeeded better if it didn’t try to resolve the fate of humanity, but rather in the resolution of a few key characters. After all, it is through the individuals in stories that are hearts and minds are touched.