Ace Double Review G-618

This book won my little vote of which Emil Petaja story to read first. For obvious reasons: Vikings in Space! We’re stepping away from space opera with G-618 and into the world of the fantasy double, two stories taking place on a forgotten earth of the deep past. Though first, I’ll warn you…there were no vikings in space. Sorry.

The Stolen Sun

He had to bridge 100 generations

Like an umbilical cord, the cortical hook-up linking Wayne Panu to his ship involved them in an unheard-of rapport, even in the ranks of the unique esper-pilot fleet that warred against the world-engulfing Mephiti.

In the outward surge into the far-flung galactic worlds for colonization Man had found but few habitable planets–but now even those few worlds were challenged. The Mephiti–dread, all-embracing fog forms–were Man’s match as they fought him planet for planet in the race for habitable space.

And only Wayne Panu, with his extraordinary ESP talents that went beyond the mind and the here and now–whose senses were strangely linked in the past to the heroes and legends of the ancient Kalevala–could retaliate in this fantastic war that devoured suns and swept across the ages of eternity.

Yes, I know what I just said about G-618 being a break from space opera and towards fantasy, then I post the summary from inside the cover and it’s a story about Mankind’s massive war against their dreaded alien enemy the Mephiti. And, yes, that is what the first act of the book is about. Wayne Panu is a specially trained military pilot who is psychically linked to his ship, and together they bomb planets, destroying all higher order forms of life. Often preemptively, without visiting the planet. Because in the end it’s easier to completely wipe out an entire intelligent civilization if you know nothing about it. Same reason you don’t name a lab rat you’ll need to one day kill and dissect, I suppose. It’s a job that Panu is good at, which troubles him deeply, especially when a young pilot learning from him is killed by the Mephiti. It’s a story that I really wish I read more of. However, act two open with Panu chasing a giant bronze ship, which results in him being thrown back into time and into Northern European fantasy.

That’s right about where the story lost me.

I understand that the man out of place, even the man out of time, is a common trope within the fantasy genre. However, creating such a rich and fascinating world, and keeping me in that world for so long before pulling the rug away, was a bait-and-switch that I never entirely forgave the book for as I read. I’ve heard tell of a fake Harry Potter book in which Harry is transformed into a Hobbit, and then the entire text of the Hobbit is copied before an epilogue where Harry once again becomes a wizard person, dear reader. I would not for a moment suggest The Stolen Sun was created in the same cynical effort to dupe readers, I give it far more credit than that, but just in the way that it presents one story then tells a completely different one…yeah, I wish I could disguise my frustration, but there it is.

That’s not to say the interior story wasn’t interesting, but it had several elements that felt like they were about to tie into the act one narrative that didn’t. The Mephiti have no sense of sight, and they engulf worlds in darkness. In the interior story the sun, as the title suggests, has been stolen. My expectation was always that our hero would end up fighting the Mephiti in the old north. Nope. Or that he might have to use his enhance psychic senses to solve the underlying problems. Again, nope. So I was torn away from a story I was quite liking to plop down into another story where the character has a fantastically identical name and otherwise doesn’t feel like the same character. Panu is a complex character in act one, through the rest of the book we’re presented with a character whose development includes making the decision to not rape the 16 year old girl he’s pinned to the ground, which I guess is a point in his favor, though not one I would have actively sought to award. He’s fantastic at figuring out his way through a series of three page-filling tasks assigned by a witch whom he is trying to impress to have a chance to marry his near-victim.

At least there was a cameo by the sampo, which cheered my inner Mystery Science Theater fan.

In the end, this was the book decided upon by the choose-based-on-the-cover poll I ran, which proves that it’s not the best way to judge a book. The story telling was strong enough, especially in act one, I just feel too betrayed to give it a good score.

Two out of five sampos.

The Ship from Atlantis

The epic sequel to King of the World’s Edge

When the warrior Gwalchmai set out from his homeland to bring world of new conquests to his father’s emperor, he sailed into perils more strange and awesome than even the King of the World’s Edge had known.

For Gwalchmai was cast adrift in a dread Sargasso where ships from all the world’s past were entombed, and there he found the enigmatic Ship from Atlantis, last artifact of a once-great civilization…and the beautiful Corenice, sorceress and woman of star-metal.

Together they face a menace as old as Atlantis itself, and fought to save the Earth’s peoples from the powers of ancient darkness.

First, I’m going to say I need to track down King of the World’s Edge. The Ship from Atlantis starts with a “Last time on Merlin’s Godson” chapter that includes King Arthur, Vikings, Merlin and Mesoamericans. The two books were later combined into a single title called Merlin’s Godson, prequel to Merlin’s Ring, which has a cover fantastic enough that it landed on Good Show Sir.

Shockingly, the fire-breathing swan makes sense.

The book can be seen as either the middle book of a trilogy, or the second half of a full-length novel. Either of those makes it an awkward entry point to the story. At least it has a distinct beginning, even if it does come with a catch-up infodump, and a distinct ending, even if it does come with a cliff-hanger to lead the reader into Merlin’s Ring. In many ways the story reminds me of video games.

Stay with me, it’s a two-part analogy.

Part one: In the sequels to Assassin’s Creed II, there was always a mechanism near the beginning of the game to strip Ezio of all the fantastic lethal gear he’d earned in the previous game, everything that made him far too deadly of a character to play at the beginning of a game. At the beginning of The Ship from Atlantis our hero sets out with a longship full of magical gear and capable men, just to lose his crew in a massive fight off the Florida keys, and his own memory while floating through the Sargasso Sea. Thus he ends up fittingly reset to start an adventure.

Part two: In video games, as well as movies and books, Nazis are a fantastic bad guy. They represent such an unmitigated evil that the media consumer doesn’t fret over them being dispatched by the hundreds, or even thousands. Such a force of pure evil is a well-traveled trope within fantasy. Orcs, trolls, Uruk-hai. They want our heroes dead, and we see them die in mass numbers without any moral quandary. The “ancient darkness” in Ship from Atlantis are characterized by watching passively as a mother beats her child to death. It’s an efficient way to set up the big evil, space is at a premium in these Doubles, but I can’t say it was an effective method.

The story strings together tropes in an inoffensive way. Fast-formed romances, harrowing battles fought while impossibly outnumbered, the promise of tragic lovers to find each other again in another lifetime, it’s the general construction of a fantasy story. Each element was well written, but none really set my world on fire. That doesn’t sound glowing, nor may the number score below, but at the same time I’ve already mentioned a desire to read the first book, which I understand is disjointed, and certainly the follow-up, which was nominated for the World Fantasy best novel award.

In the end, the two stories share some bits in common. They mix some science fiction in with their fantasy, Ship from Atlantis including ancient Atlantean interactions with aliens. They both present a fantasy secret history of the earth. They both are middle books in longer series. And they both feature their main characters running from fire breathing swan ships bent on exacting revenge.

Wait, no, that’s just this one.

Three out of five swan ships.

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  1. avatar

    #1 by Jeff Xilon on July 10, 2012 - 7:43 am

    LOL. DL, your review of The Stolen Sun, which I’d been looking forward to reminded so much of a book I read a few years back that did s sort of opposite thing. For the longest time the story was a fantasy story. Right until the hero gets to the place of uber magical training. That chapter starts with something like: “And then the hydraulic lifts opened the spacecraft doors”. I’m paraphrasing there but hydraulics were definitely involved. I can still remember going back to read the chapter preceding the one where everything went crazy and actually saying, “WTF!” (you know, not in acronym form though.

    Your review also got me interested in learning more of this book though and discovered that it’s on amazon in kindle format AND it’s listed as Book Three of The Cosmic Kalevala. It’s promoted as “SF based on Finnish Myth”

    I have to say, I may actually have to start at the beginning and give them try.

    • avatar

      #2 by DLThurston on July 10, 2012 - 8:33 am

      I did actually buy one of the earlier Kalevala books during my last trip to the used bookstore, The Star Mill specifically. I don’t know what to expect from it, but I probably will read it. Which sounds odd after giving this one two stars. There were still elements I really liked, and probably would have given either half of it a much higher score.

  2. avatar

    #3 by Gordon Taylor on September 1, 2012 - 5:55 pm

    I used to have this Ace Double; in fact I might still have it. I’ll have to check. Anyway, I loved both stories and would give each of them 5/5 even though they are both only part of a series. In fact, “The Stolen Sun” made me read the whole of the Kalevala, which is well worth anyone’s time.

    If anyone sees this volume, buy it.

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