It’s a cold, dark winter … but this edition of Off the Bookshelf brings a little light, a lot of heroics, and, ok, mountains of madness. Maybe avoid the last one if you’re not in the right headspace…
The Lost Fleet, Books 1-6
I won’t lie – winter’s been tough. Lots of work, family, and volunteer obligations, and it’s made getting to the gym that much harder. To motivate me to get to the gym, I’ve relied on two things: watching Star Wars: Rebels as part of my warm-up, and re-listening to Jack Campbell’s The Lost Fleet novels. The novels are about John”Black Jack” Geary, a legendary starship captain lost to time after his first battle on behalf of the democratic-minded Alliance against the authoritarian corporations of the Syndicate Worlds. Legends say he would return to lead the Alliance to victory.
Over the next hundred years, the two stellar empires battled to a stand-still, each too big, with too many resources, to fall to the other. As the first book opens, the main Alliance fleet has acquired a hypernet key – a device that allows them to go directly to the Syndic’s homeworld, rather than take the much slower, star-by-star route. Along the way, they find Geary’s ancient lifepod and Geary himself in long-term survival sleep.
He awakens from survival sleep just in time for the Alliance fleet to arrive in the Syndic home system … and fall into a trap that wipes out the Alliance fleet’s leadership. Geary, who received the rank of captain decades before anyone else in the fleet, takes command. Over the six books of the series, he uses wisdom and tactics from decades earlier to save the Alliance fleet and return them to their home territory.
It’s competence porn, which is probably why I enjoy it so much. Geary’s a good guy who doesn’t make that many mistakes, and when he does, he owns up to them. If the series has a flaw, it’s that Geary never really meets his opposite number among the Snydics – there’s no Grand Admiral Thrawn for him to face off against. That’s ok though; Campbell does a great job of describing high-speed fleet combat with a minimal amount of hand-waviness. Geary’s a likable protagonist, and these are just the books I need to help me climb out of this mid-winter funk.
Lord of Light
Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light has been on my reading list since at least 2010, but it’s one of those books I just never got around to reading. That changed after David Moore and I interviewed Jerry Grayson for his Godsend Agenda Kickstarter.
Zelazny’s book was one of three inspirational works for Godsend Agenda (the others were Jack Kirby’s Fourth World saga from DC Comics, and his Marvel Comics creation, the Eternals and Daniel Keys Moran’s The Long Run and The Last Dancer). After geeking out for an hour with Jerry and David about the god-like superhero tropes behind Godsend Agenda Kickstarter, I decided to finally read the novel.
In the book, humanity colonized another planet. In doing so, some of them established themselves as gods in the Hindu tradition, using high technology to govern the planet and maintain their rule. I’ve only just started reading the book, so I can’t delve any further into its setup than that. The novel’s widely regarded as a science fiction masterpiece, so reading it feels like adding an important block to my speculative fiction foundation.
At the Mountains of Madness, Volume 2
Written by H.P. Lovecraft and illustrated by Francois Baranger, At the Mountains of Madness is a beautiful, oversized coffee-table-style book filled with paintings that perfectly evoke Lovecraft’s sense of horrific grandeur. The author’s original novella was split into two books, with most pages featuring a full-color spread of Baranger’s paintings accompanied by Lovecraft’s words. Baranger captures the stark beauty of the Antarctic and his realistic approach creates a cold, foreboding atmosphere that’s reminiscent of John Carpenter’s The Thing. That style makes the surreal, abandoned alien cities and superstructures seem that much more real, and Baranger does a deft job of subtly working in the more graphically horrific aspects of the story.
Somehow, I’d never read At the Mountains of Madness before getting these books; I’d tried once or twice but never got into the story. I didn’t have that problem with these books and having read them, I can see why Guillermo Del Toro was so interested in making an At the Mountains of Madness movie.
Featured Image Meta
One of Francois Baranger’s awesome panoramas from At the Mountains of Madness. Credit: Design Studio Press