Review: Judgment at Proteus, by Timothy Zahn

Judgment at Proteus cover artJudgment at Proteus, by Timothy Zahn (Tor Books, 2012)

What’s worse than an alien hive-mind entity that plants itself in unsuspecting individuals and wants to rule the galaxy? Try the super-race that designed it and will turn it into a weapon to ensure galactic domination.

Judgment at Proteus is the final instalment in Timothy Zahn’s Quadrail series. The Quadrail is an interstellar train travelling a light-year a minute to connect far-flung solar systems, and Humans are one of the smaller (and newer) groups of life-forms that use it. But it’s a human, Frank Compton, who has the skill to—possibly—stop the war that most galactic citizens don’t even know is raging.

The aliens and their cultures are intricately developed and very different from us. Perhaps that’s why Frank throws out the occasional reference to old Earth entertainment like Casablanca, to give readers something familiar.

Judgment at Proteus picks up four weeks after the events of The Domino Pattern, where Frank Compton and the Modhri group mind formed a temporary alliance against the Shonkla-raa.

As a finale, this book has to end it all. The stakes are higher than “how will Frank and Bayta get out of this one?” The question is more like “how can there be peace in the galaxy, with so many enemies on the loose?” And what kind of impressive twist ending awaits?

With that in mind, I sat back to read and to enjoy watching a master storyteller at work. Plots, plans, intrigue, chases and twists, Judgment at Proteus has them all and more. And point of view character Frank Compton possesses a dry humour that adds to the fun.

The Quadrail series spans five books that happen over two years. It’s a progressive series where each instalment builds on the last. You can jump on the train with book five and everything you need will be explained as needed, but if you have the time, start with book one, Night Train to Rigel. You’ll be glad you did.

Timothy Zahn is an award-winning author of original science fiction, Star Wars fiction and a couple of Terminator novelizations. He’s known for believable characters, brilliant tactics, and sure-didn’t-see-that-coming twists. And he does it all with minimal profanity and keeps the stories clean. No wonder he’s my favourite living author.


Review: Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett

Going Postal cover artGoing Postal, by Terry Pratchett (Corgi Books mass-market paperback, 2005)

Moist von Lipwig (yes, that’s his real name) is a con man forced to go straight. His assignment: revive the 20-year-derelict post office in the city of Ankh-Morpork. In what seems to be typical Discworld fashion, shenanigans ensue.

Mail has been replaced by the clacks (a network of semaphore towers). But the clacks are breaking down, the posted letter is making a nostalgic comeback, and Moist’s instinct for showmanship and for raising the stakes pits him against a master con artist operating on a grand scale.

It’s silliness, absurdity and pure fun. It’s commentary on progress and society. And it’s surprisingly engaging. I really cared about Moist and his oddball team, and kept turning pages to see justice done and arch-con Reacher Gilt (we don’t know if that’s his real name) put in his place.

In spinning the tale, Terry Pratchett uses some delightful and very visual turns of phrase. Here are two of my favourites:

It wasn’t a very loud word, but it had an effect rather like that of a drop of black ink in a glass of clear water. the word spread out in coils and tendrils, getting everywhere. It strangled the noise. (p. 450)

It was raining now, a grey, sooty drizzle that was little more than fog with a slight weight problem.” (p. 461)

Going Postal came highly recommended, and it did not disappoint. It’s only the second Discworld novel I’ve read, and I’m happy to see how much catching up I have to do. There are almost 40 novels, plus other books about Discworld.

The official Terry Pratchett website has plenty of Discworld resources, including an artist’s rendering of what the Disc itself looks like.

[Book from my personal library.]