Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Dragon Finalist for Best Alternate History Novel: Witchy Winter

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If the space above the comforting green phrase is blank, it probably means you DO have an ad blocker, and don't care to turn it off, so here's the same link  (without the pro-looking stuff):

Witchy Winter

Preliminary comment. In case you haven't read my previous blog posts, I'm attempting the not-quite-Herculean task of reviewing the finalists for the 2018 Dragon Awards in FOUR major categories. I feel certain that I'll get 17 of them done, plus a few associated works, because 17 happens to be the number I have on hand at the moment. And I've got 18 days left to do it. So, let's get cracking, shall we?

This is a Dragon Award. 
No idea if that design is permanent,
but you KNOW you want one.

A LITTLE preliminary. First, there is actually a title for this specific genre, which is news to me. It's SO new to me, that I can't remember it, and I'm not going to look it up, because , hey, it's 10:38 PM where I am, and I want to get to sleep SOMETIME tonight. It's "flintlock something," though, if that's any help. Second, this book CAN be read as a stand alone, but I REALLY, don't recommend it for two reasons. the first book, Witchy Eye, has got some AMAZINGLY beautiful language in it that I wouldn't want anyone to miss. Secondly, for those not QUITE so fascinated by the beauty of describing thousands of years of catfish trails, this is a COMPLEX book. There are so many characters (and they aren't just throw-aways, either) that you might feel like you need a scorecard, and the plot has so many sub-plots, you might feel lost if you don't read the first installment. Click that link up there, about two or three sentences ago, okay?

A TINY background. It's an alternate timeline, set in North America, around 1820 or so. Technology is appropriate for the age, except that magic works, and in addition to human people, there are a large, but indeterminate.number of Beast Folk, who have a mix of human and animal features. Nothing like the United States exists, but many of the historical characters appear in modified roles. Napoleon is a convert to Islam, for example; Ben Franklin was a combination magician/mystic/scientist, and Andrew Jackson was executed for piracy. The North American continent is carved up into enclaves, and schoolchildren learn songs to memorize which enclaves have the ability to send representatives to the sort-of advisory board to the emperor. 

A SHORT review. Sarah is the unacknowledged niece of the emperor, who wants her dead. She had been hiding out in the Appalachian area, with no knowledge of her history, until her powers are revealed, and she discovers that she can see into spiritual realms with her right eye. because the emperor is an ass, she decides she will attempt to reclaim her real father's throne, which has been vacant since his death 15 years ago. She discovers that she is one of triplets, and that her brother and sister were also hidden from the nasty emperor, and their tales began to be woven into hers.

The emperor squeezes more taxes, and sends agents to kill the triplets, and talks to the ghost of his ancestor, and kills people who miff him. Don't miff the emperor if he's a jerk. Just sayin'.

What's great. Butler has a real gift for description. The opening scene to 'Witchy Eye' makes you feel, and smell, and taste the atmosphere in a country market; and he just keeps putting out scene after scene like that. 
He also puts some really great dialogue in the characters' mouths, and that in itself makes it worth reading the book. I'm not sure exactly how it's done, but somehow, he had me feeling sympathetic to some REALLY bad people. It's not all 'good guys' and 'bad guys,' either; just like real flesh and blood people, his literary people have some pretty complex motivations and emotions. 
And, you HAVE to love the amount of content you get in this book, in terms of the well-crafted sub-plots. I want to tell you about the loyal beastwife's bravery, and her beautiful singing voice, although she does tend to moo when she really gets into song; the wicked bishop of New Orleans who weeps for his dead father; the father who leaves his family to find a healer for his son. SO many good stories here!
I really can't say enough about the complexity of the world-building Butler does, The way he describes a society which is basically determined by about six or seven competing religions is something I don't think I've ever seen.

What's awful. Nothing is awful; that's just a book blog version of click-bait. Nothing is even mediocre. It DOES require more investment on the part of the reader than the average novel, because there are so many storylines, and he has taken the physical world we live in, and reshaped it, but that's not a bug, it's a feature. And, at 592 pages, I was hard pressed to finish this in 24 hours.

This is going to be a TOUGH category for people to pick a clear winner. I'm just glad I decided to undertake this project, else I might have missed something. If 'Witchy Winter' wins, I'm gonna be one of those people saying, 'yeah, I can absolutely understand that.'

Peace be on your household.

Monday, August 13, 2018

2018 Dragon Awards: Quick Update prompted by MGC post

These are the books mentioned in this post, although for different reasons.
They are all, however, FINALISTS(!) for a 2018 Dragon Award. YAY!

A big Howdy to ya, Friends and neighbors out there in Internet land! Hope this finds you experiencing life, and that abundantly!

Why I'm writing this. This post is prompted by the first part of a post by Dave Freer I read this morning over on Mad Genius Club. The second part is likely even more excellent than the first, but you can be the judge of that yourselves.

In the first part, Dave gives mention to WorldCon, which I believe will be starting this week in some place I believe begins with 'San.' Those of you who are intersted are sure to use your Google-fu and get more details, but I've given you all the information I have on that.

There may be some great stuff going on there; for example, Spider Robinson is a Guest of Honor. It's really encouraging to see Spider appearing anywhere, frankly, as the man has taken some really tough hits in recent years. So, good on him for going, and good on them for asking.

However, it was the nature of the subject matter programmed  that put me off my feed, a bit, thus leading to this post. Dave lists some of the topics in his post at MGC, so go there if you want to see what they will be doing. I was going to make my own list, but then the difficulty of the interface and the unrewarding results I would find at the end lead me to abandon that effort.

History, and a Confession. Confession: Three years ago, I was EXCITED about the Hugos for the first time in ages! That happened when I first saw the nominees for the 2015 awards (in March? April?). I was sufficiently enthused that I started a series of Amazon reviews and blog posts on as many of the nominees that I could get access to. This was, actually, just a month after I had made the decision to dive SERIOUSLY into the world of reviewing and blogging, and writing about the Hugo nominees gave me a focus that I needed.

Within a very short time, I  picked up some warning signs that things might NOT go so well as the nominations suggested, and that there was open hostility directed to some nominees and people who had nominated them.  However, I still had some hope that Good Things could happen when I tuned in to the simulcast of the Awards Ceremony in August.

That's when I learned that my kind was not welcome around there.

This was a sad moment, because I had devoted a LOT of time reviewing as many of the Hugo nominated works as I could, regardless of any affiliation, and I had discovered some truly great work. I reviewed a few more books that were related to that convention, but really, I never cared much about WorldCon or the Hugos after that.

A New Hope! And then: DRAGON AWARDS! The system is set up so that there CANNOT be the kind of process-eviscerating events that made me sadder but wiser back in 2015.

This year, for the first time, I'm attempting to review the finalists for the Dragon Awards in four categories:
Best Science Fiction Novel;
Best Fantasy Novel;
Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel; and
Best Alternate History Novel.

But there is a bit of a problem: I received my Dragon Awards ballot on August 8, which is when I first discovered the names of the finalists. The voting ends at 11:59 PM EDT, on Saturday, September 1, during the convention. Since I would LIKE for my reviews to be a source of information for voters, I need to have my reviews and blog posts done before the deadline (and as soon as possible). That meant I had 24 days to review 24 books. (It could have been worse: originally, I was going to review the 'Best YA/Middle Grades Novel' category, but gave that up when I discovered NONE of those books were available through my usual sources.)

What about the three books with icons at the top of the page? Before the finalists were announced, I had already reviewed  "Minds of Men" by Kacey Ezell, and "Legend," by Christopher Woods.   I'll have to do something to refresh the signal strength on those reviews to give them the same impact as my written-right-now reviews, and until I figure out how I'll do that, putting them at the top of the page works for me. The icon for Brandon Sanderson's "Oathbringers" is there because I'm NOT going to review it, but I do want to treat it with due respect. I'm not reviewing it because of time constraints: he describes it as 'massive,' others call it 'an epic,' and the print length according to Amazon is 1220 pages. I just don't have time to do it justice, even if I COULD get a copy of it to review. So, that left me with 21 books to read and review, as quickly as I can get that done competently.

A note of appreciation. When my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, discovered the task I had assigned myself, she promptly and pleasantly said 'Well, I'll just have to give you some space, then!" And she has done so, DESPITE the fact that it's meant she has had to do all the cooking and almost all of the kid maintenance.
Is she not lovely? 
Am I not fortunate?

Where it stands now. 
24 books in the four categories: 
ONE I do not plan to review, because it's a massive epic; leaves 23.
SIX I have already reviewed, two before the crunch time started. That leaves 17.
ELEVEN I have downloaded, and they are waiting for me now. That leaves 6.

For those last six books, I have submitted requests to the appropriate people for review copies. That has been industry standard policy for decades, but FIVE of the six are published by big-name houses, and I do not hold out much hope for a favorable response. While it is true that  I AM a reviewer, I'm not a New York Times reviewer, and my lovely blog swings no weight with them. However, my Amazon reviewer rating of 2,324 is mildly respectable, and maybe I'll get lucky. If I keep getting 'helpful' votes on my Amazon reviews (hint, hint), I will eventually move into the top 1000, at which point I get a little blue badge that will appear on all my reviews.

So, there you have it. D J Butler's "Witchy Winter," finalist in the 'Best Alternate History Novel' category, is calling to me; I'm on Chapter Seven, and loving it. If you haven't read "Witchy Eye," the first book in the series, you can read my Amazon review here. Umm...if you do, don't forget to vote 'Helpful."

Peace be on your household.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Dragon Finalist for Best Fantasy Novel: The Land: Predators

There are the finalists I have so far reviewed for the 'Best Fantasy Novel' category for the 2018 Dragon Award.

My Amazon review for "The Land: Predators" may be found here.

What I am doing. I am attempting to read and review all of the finalists in the top five categories for the 2018 Dragon Award. This is my second blog post (and corresponding Amazon and Goodreads review) in the category 'Best Fantasy Novel. ' It's  my fourth blog post in the series, and I have Amazon reviews written for two more books written before the finalists were announced. One has a blog post, the other doesn't, I have to do some updating, to get them all lined up together. Or something.

Disclaimer: Other than some remote history with some PC-based single-player games, I'm really not familiar with the world of Role Playing Games. Somehow, I missed out on Dungeons and Dragons,and I don't know if that was just a function of my age and college experience, or if I just wasn't paying attention at the right time. Furthermore, until I picked this book to read, I had never heard of the 'LitRPG' genre.  So, take what I have to say as coming from someone who is, at best, a novice.

The nature of the book. The Main Character, Richter, does the sort of things that one does when playing a role-playing game: he enters caves, has fights, and gets tired. Now, those are ALSO the things that Bilbo Baggins did, right? Except that Richter has a feature Bilbo didn't: little screens pop up, and tell him what he is looking at, and what benefits may accrue, and what to do about it. In short, it's like what I can recall from my EXTREMELY limited experience playing World of Warcraft; from what I understand, a player in Dungeons and Dragons gets the same sort of information from the person running the game. As I said, I've never played, so I could be wrong about that.

Please feel free to explain it to me, if you have knowledge in the area.

This gives the reader the experience of observing someone else play a game. Since I know absolutely NOTHING about the experience of observing someone else play a game, I drafted an expert: 13 year old Kenneth, my 8th grader. In the past, I had observed him sitting in front of his game screen, and I THOUGHT initially that he was playing Minecraft. Instead, he was watching, avidly, a recording of someone else playing Minecraft. Now, Kenneth OWNS the game, and plays it, so I just didn't get the attraction of observation. Here's what he told me:
Part of it is that you can learn different strategies to solve puzzles in the game. The best part, though, is the jokes the guy makes as he is playing the game.
This is Kenneth, and his 8th grade Home Room teacher, Mrs. Tucker. 

Now, while that explanation helped me understand why Kenneth watched Minecraft games, it shed no light on the value of reading about someone else going through an RPG.

The problem. Clearly, with 1,889 reviews Amazon reviews , with 96% being 4 and 5 stars, this work has appeal; it's also the 7th book in a series, so the author has staying power. However,  I cannot see the wisdom in including this in the 'Best Fantasy Novel' category. If LitRPG is a genre with staying power, then perhaps it is deserving of it's own category. If not that, then include it in a category that covers games and accessories. Or something. I just don't think it belongs in the 'Best Fantasy Novel' category.

I cannot comment on the content or professionalism of the writing, since I only got through 7% of the book before realizing that this simply was not going to fit my definition of a fantasy novel. I DID read a number of the other reviews, some of which objected to certain scenes, and I had intended to evaluate that portion for myself, but that would serve no purpose, as I am rejecting the entire work as inappropriate for the award category.

More problems.
1. The extraordinary number of 'Game Dialogue Boxes' that are presented in the text as graphic objects, not as text. When I said above 'little screens pop up,' I do not mean that little screens pop up as you are reading the text; I also do not mean that the text says 'a little screen popped up and told him what he had done.' Nope, inserted as a graphic box in the text is the entire information screen, which frequently includes tables. It takes up a LOT of screen space, and depending on the size of screen you are using, it ranges from 'Not That Bad' to 'Approximately Incomprehensible.' Here's what I'm talking about; this is a screenshot from my laptop on one of the first pop-ups Richter experiences:

Ya see that? I have ONE word of text: 'wished'

The rest of the page is taken up by the TOP of the pop-up. Readability can become a significant issue. My laptop screen gave me the quality of 'Not That Bad'; however, my iPad screen size, while perfectly adequate for most applications, broke the dialogue boxes into pieces, making it difficult to follow. Smart phone? Don't think so.

2. The text is formatted as double-spaced, regardless of the Kindle setting.

These two items are related, in that they both make significant contributions to page count. The Amazon listing for this book reports a page count of 2,202 pages. Since authors are reimbursed via the Kindle Unlimited program based on the number of pages read, I can see the advantage of a high page count. However, a bigger payout to this author for an inflated page count means that other authors, who do NOT artificially inflate their numbers, are being penalized. This is a significant issue, and I lowered my rating from 3 stars to 2, based on this alone.

I can't see "The Land: Predators" as a legitimate contender for the Dragon Award for 'Best Fantasy Novel', regardless of any other merits of the work. YMMV, and I apologize in advance to those who are fans of the LitRPG genre. To them, I can only suggest that they appeal for an award category of their own.

Peace be on your household.

Dragon Finalist for Best Military SF: Points of Impact

Although all these books are mentioned in this post,  

The PRIMARY emphasis is on 'Points of Impact'

In my prep for the 2018 Dragon Awards, this is the second book in the 'Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel' category I've reviewed. On June 23, I reviewed "Legend," by Christopher Woods, but that was before I had embarked on this quest to review ALL the finalists before Dragon Con. You can read my Amazon review Of Christopher Woods' book here. Whether I will be able to write a blog post about "Legend", now that I'm under a crunch deadline, will depend on how much time I can steal.

Preliminary Comment: about getting books to review. FEEL FREE TO IGNORE THIS!
 I MAY have more time than I had thought, at first, when I was looking at 28 reviews in 22 days.

It has long been industry standard practice for reviewers to receive complimentary copies of the works they review. While I am not a PROFESSIONAL, PAID reviewer, I am poor, so I tend not to trespass on industry standards. Almost all of the books I review, I get through my paid subscription to the Kindle Unlimited program. In addition, I can read anything published by Baen, as I have the great good fortune to have received  a VIP membership from them, as a part of the services they provide to readers who are permanently disabled. Finally,  the publisher of Castalia House  has always graciously supplied me with review copies on request (even though I trashed on of their books in my review).

Alas! One entire category, that of Best Young Adult/Middle Grade Novel, is absolutely devoid of KU, Baen, or Castalia House associations. So, that's SIX books I won't be reading; there may be more.

It's their loss, and my gain, and yours as well, gentle reader, for now I may apportion what few fragments of talent, energy, and time I possess  into providing you with QUALITY reviews.

Kind of makes you get a lump in yer throat, don't it?

Preliminary Comment: about Marko Kloos. It's only been five years since Marko Kloos EXPLODED onto the Military SF scene, with 'Terms of Enlistment." He followed that up the following year with the equally bodacious 'Lines of Departure.' That novel was the VERY FIRST indie novel (47 North is an Amazon publishing imprint) to be a finalist for a Hugo Award, in 2015.

Again, alas. Kloos chose to withdraw his novel from nomination. I reviewed 'Terms of Enlistment' , and his stated reasons for withdrawing 'Lines of Departure'  in this blog post. It wasn't the last of the Bad Things that happened related to that particular award, but it was one of the very first that drew public attention. Happily, he did NOT stop writing, and "Points of Impact" is #6 in his 'Frontlines' series. Other works may be found at his website. I'm including the link here, because I HAD to include the background graphic of beer-drinking dachshunds in a flying saucer, which was created by one Erica Hildebrand, a person with whom I was previously unfamiliar.
These are Marko's dogs.

A minor review of the book. Captain Andrew Grayson has seen too many things that give him nightmares. Like many young men, he found a way out of abject poverty through joining the military, and has been successful in his career. Promoted from the ranks due to merit, he now is a captain, commanding a small detachment of what we would call Forward Air Controllers, troops who observe the fall of ordnance from beyond the front lines. He is also tasked with leading a team of rescue specialists, who go into hostile or otherwise dangerous territory and bring out wounded or trapped personnel. However, that team is  lead by another officer-specialist, leaving the observers to Grayson.

He is currently in combat against the aliens referred to as 'Lankies,' giants with far superior technology and no inclination to communicate. The war will apparently end when one side is completely exterminated. However, he has also been in combat against other humans, both on the Earth and in space. These are his worst memories, and he holds a special grudge against a faction of the military that was involved in an aborted rebellion, after the Lankies appeared to be winning. To his dismay, they were given pardons, with the exception of the very top leadership.

He has lost troops in combat, and carries the weight of that with him constantly. His stresses are aggravated by the fact that he believes much of the damage his last command took was avoidable, had he only been given a proper mission brief.

Mitigating his loss is his marriage to Halley, who entered service at the same time he did, and is one of the very few survivors of that unit. Although they have been married for nearly the entire ten years of their service, they have only been able to be together a total of six months, much of that on leave taken jointly.

Humanity appears to be losing; but then, Grayson gets orders for a new type of warship.....

Something Marko Kloos does as well, if not better, than anybody else. There is a LOT of story contained in Books 2-5 in this series, and I haven't read them (yet). However, Marko has a gift for telling the SIGNIFICANT parts of that story through the way that it impacts the character today. No, we don't know what window the sniper bullet came through (for example). But if that sniper attack is significant to the character TODAY, we find out about it, through his reactions. It ISN'T history; it's present day environment. And in listening to Grayson talk, and seeing how he reacts, we are introduced to the significant issues. And there is none of this  'bar-story-to-new-recruit' technique to pass it along, either.

CAUTION: SOME SPOILERS AHEAD. I'm not gonna tell you the entire story, but the OUCH part of this is so personally significant, that I HAVE to comment on it. If you want to avoid exposure to what I regard as the highest point and the lowest point of the story, stop here.

Significant issues. Nobody really knows how far a person can go before they break; it's all been 'test until destruction,' pretty much. Whatever that point is, Grayson feels pretty close too it.

Big, big plus: Grayson decides on his own, after one particular flare-up, to seek help. Without doing the kind of dithering we are all too accustomed to, he makes an appointment with the doc, and keeps it. Furthermore, in the big, big plus category, he actually TAKES the medication the doc prescribes for him, and it makes him feel better. However, he does not divulge this information to another veteran of his training days, because he believes she will react with disdain.
This is a big, big plus because it treats the issue of PTSD seriously, and because it models the best way for one afflicted to improve their condition. I don't see NEARLY enough of this kind of writing. Michael Z. Williamson comes close, but his Freehold Universe is SUCH a divergence from our world that it's hard to see how his solutions could be applied. Grayson's world, on the other hand, IS our world, with time and circumstances added in.

Big, big minus: The doc Grayson reports to is fresh out of medical school, with plans to go into pediatrics. So: WHAT IN THE HECK IS SHE DOING ON THAT EXPENSIVE, IMPORTANT SHIP? Why would the staffers go through all the trouble of building the most fantastic ship EVER, and put the most experienced and proficient crews on board, and then give them a @#%$^&*%^ rookie as a counselor/doc? Veterans with PTSD need to talk to VETERANS. They have such a disconnect from the civilian (Kloos talks about this, in another context) that communication seems to be an insurmountable obstacle.

WITH REASON! Because, after he has VALIANTLY spilled his guts to Miss Newly, she then gives him some really crappy advice: take these pills, and get out of the military while you can. Now, the 'take these pills' part is right on. Pharmaceuticals can make the difference between isolation and misery, and gradually re-engaging with friends and family. But 'get out of the military while you can?' NO, dangit, he just TOLD you how disconnected he feels from civilian life! He needs to walk and talk and learn with people who have been there, and he just is NOT going to be able to do that if he gets put out on the street.

An apology. Please understand that if my criticism above is overly harsh, it's really NOT a criticism of the story; it's a criticism of reality. I'm not saying Kloos made an error in his writing; I'm saying that the military does stupid stuff, JUST AS KLOOS DESCRIBES IT.

This is personal for me. It is not my story to tell, but it is, at least in part, my story. And I have seen the system fail to take care of the wounded warrior; it's almost as if they want them to go away after they used them up. And the only help seems to come from other wounded warriors.

Yes, this book is rightfully chosen as a finalist for the 2018 Dragon Award.

Peace be on your household.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Dragon Finalist for Fantasy Novel: A Tempered Warrior

I selected 'A Tempered Warrior' because it is a finalist in the Best Fantasy Novel category for the 2018 Dragon Award, and that gives me an opportunity to give yet another disclaimer:

I am attempting to read and review every nominee in the first five categories for the 2018 Dragon Awards. That's gonna require MORE than one book per day; fortunately, I HAVE read SOME of the nominations. My gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, is supporting me in this, and has told me that she will give me some space to work between now and Labor Day weekend. HOWEVER! You are going to be getting FAST and CHEAP. I ain't guaranteeing that my reviews nor my blog posts are going to be GOOD. I hope not to leave any major points untouched, but honey, I ain't got much time to polish my prose. So, if you find a major failure or bad word choice, just take it in maturity, and go on your way. I will return to proficiency later. Maybe.
Let's spray paint the elephant in the room with some orange Day-Glo: The title contains a pun. The referenced warrior, Erin, has a TEMPER, and one of her tasks is to learn how to use her anger in battle.It is through mastery of that task, plus learning how to use her weapons to defend as well as attack, that is turning her into a person who is hardened and experienced, hence TEMPERED. Get it?

It is not necessary to read the first book in the series to get a great amount of enjoyment from it, in much the same way as it is not necessary to hug your beloved before kissing them. If you HAVEN'T read the first book in the series, then I suggest you do what I am going to do, and read 'A Reluctant Druid' at your first opportunity.

WARNING: since I HAVEN'T read the first volume yet, I may have missed critical plot points or drawn incorrect conclusions. However, the author drops almost all of the needed clues, WITHOUT resorting to tired explanations to new cowpokes who only enter the scene to have the story explained, then ride off into the desert to be eaten by a cactus.

For example: I KNOW, just from reading THIS book, that there is going to be a great murtherin' battle between rival forces, sometime in the immediate future. I do NOT know the exact circumstances of the battle, and I don't know exactly who the rival forces are.

I KNOW that Erin is the chosen Champion. I do NOT know how or why that happened.

I KNOW that while she is being prepared for the battle, she is living in a timeline that is slowed down at a rate of about 50 to 1 with the timeline on Earth As We Know It.

I KNOW that in the Earth timeline, a corresponding struggle is going on between her somewhat-lover, Liam, and Forces They Don't Like, but I know almost nothing about Liam's story, that being told in "The Reluctant Druid."

She comes by her temper honestly, being a descendant of the mythic Irish hero Cu Chulainn, known for his battle frenzy, among other characteristics. This is not an unmixed blessing, since there are folk in her current environment who fancy themselves ill-treated by her multi-great granddaddy, and they are capable of holding a grudge for thousands of years. And since much of her training involves being hit with sticks (temporary substitutes for swords), there is plenty of opportunity  for them to vent their spleen on her.

That would be a bummer, wouldn't it?

The different rate that time flows on Liam's Earth and Erin's Dunos Scaith allows us to contemplate a  little exercise in ethics. You see, before Erin was transported, she and Liam were an item; in fact, several years ago, they conceived a son, now 13 years old, named TIM! (No, not the Holy Grail Tim; just...Tim). They weren't at the point of marriage, although that was Liam's desire. Still, there was something there, and if they were in physical and temporal proximity...who knows?

But NOW, as far as Erin is concerned, she's going to be away for SEVEN YEARS, while to Liam, only seven WEEKS will have gone by. And both of them are not only full of the normal human hormones, they were also given some additional ...stamina, let's call it... before they separated.

So, what ARE the ethics of the situation? It's completely a different issue than if they were both experiencing time pass at the same rate.  It's a pretty little thought problem.

I found the entire set-up to be quite appealing, and I'm a little bit surprised by that. Fantasy isn't my first choice for reading material, and some of it just leaves me cold. However, I'm VERY taken by the theological implication of the story.  I have to suspend all KINDS of belief to really enjoy my favorite form of literature, which is military Sci-Fi. Even straight Sci-Fi, dumps an awful lot of NO-WAY! in my path, which I just have to hop over so I can enjoy the story. I've been such a fan for so long, that I don't even pay attention to all the impossibilities any more. FTL? Sure. Artificial gravity on board space ships? No problem. Heck, there's not even such a thing as vat-grown meat; that chicken heart experiment was just bad science, fatally flawed, and it ain't never gonna be a thing in my lifetime. So, between fictional science, and conflicts with my (mostly) orthodox Christian world-view, I find most literature merely entertaining, and not engaging.

So, I find it quite heartening to find someone attempting to rationalize at least part of the PRINCIPLES of faith in a fantasy world. It's another reason for me to read the first novel in the series. And, by the way: Jon Osborne has done this before. He wrote an EXCELLENT story, 'Angels and Aliens' for the collection "The Good, The Bad, and The Merc," in which the protagonist gets involved in a discussion about the nature of God in a firefight. Frankly, I can think of no better time to be thinking of such matter than when death may be moments away, but I can't really say I seek those opportunities out.

Conclusion? You betcha, this is a finalist-class entry for the 2018 Dragon Award for Best Fantasy Novel, and you could do a LOT worse than to place your bets, and your vote, here.

Peace be on your household.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Dragon Finalist for SF Novel: The Mutineers Daughter

I have written an Amazon review for this book as well, but Amazon doesn't have the same publication deadlines that I have. Therefore, my link to the Amazon review will be included in the comments, once it goes live. I'll put it up on Goodreads at that time as well. I mention these things because i want you to vote 'helpful' on my Amazon review, EVEN THOUGH!!! my Amazon review isn't nearly as good as the review written by Howard and Kelly Beam. That review is the first one listed in the Amazon listing for the book, and if ALL reviews were that good, authors would be happy, and so would readers. Check it out, okay? And, by the way: you can vote 'helpful' for theirs, as well as mine.

In 2015,  I made it a point to review as many of the Hugo-nominated works in as many different categories as I could. I found it to be a very educational process, and I would not have gained such broad exposure to as many literature forms if I hadn't tried that approach.

Alas, the conduct at the awards ceremony let me know that People of My Kind were not welcomed, and I have not devoted any resources since to discovering what was being touted as 'The Best' by that group. Evidently, other People of My Kind were similarly affected, and The Dragon Award now rests in the place of honor once reserved for a plastic rocket ship.

And all were happy!

Well, not QUITE, for there is one more 'alas' offered by me, and perhaps some other reviewers. You see, the Finalists are announced less than one month before the awards are given, and that's all the time I have to read and review the nominees.  I'm not going to try to review the movies, nor the TV series, nor games in any format. Since I am a curmudgeon, and tend to avoid interacting with popular culture, I'm also not going to review books with a media tie-in, because I wouldn't get the references. And, since I'm a sissy, and don't do horror, I'm not going to review any of the horror novels, either. With those restrictions, that means I have 22 days to review 28 books.

No, I don't think I can do it, either, but I'm gonna try.

So, THIS is my first review in my rushed-up run-up to the Dragon Awards. "The  Mutineer's Daughter" is a finalist in the Best Science Fiction Novel category.

From the title, I was expecting this to be entirely about the daughter, and if I had pushed my imagination further, I would have said it would be about the daughter overcoming her father's reputation. That could have been a vary good book; I have read similar tales in the past, and enjoyed them.

However, the book is about the Mutineer AND his daughter. Their separate stories are told in parallel, and it is VERY well done, indeed.

Benno is the father; he is a Chief Warrant Officer onboard the ALS (Alliance of Liberated Systems)  ship Chesty Puller. He had to select a career in the Navy in order to provide for his family and their farm, back home on Adelaide. The OBVIOUS enemy is the Terran Union (nasty little nickname), but wait, there's more...

Meo is the daughter; with her mother dead, the only tie she has to her family is a short holograph recording of her father, telling her that he loves her and will be back for her. She's 14, so you get all of the emotional fragility that lasses of that age experience; and, she has also been raised in the care of the neighboring family, who provide her with food, shelter, and clothing, but leave her emotional needs somewhat unmet. She is too young to go into space, even though that is all that she wants to do: ship out, and find her father.

Adelaide is one of the ALS planets, and shares with the other worlds in the system a strict class separation. The aristocracy is composed of those who are descended from the wealthy who provided funding for the colonization efforts; the plebeians are the workers, who contributed labor and lesser technical skills. Although there are elements  in the aristocratic class that advocate a looser class structure, the legal system, as well as the practices, keep the two groups separate. Benno is a bit of a unicorn, in that his long service and expertise resulted in promotion to the officer class. However, it is clear to him that the captain of his ship merely tolerates his presence,  giving the impression whenever he is around Benno that he smells something unpleasant.

In the aftermath of ship-to-ship combat, Benno's heroic efforts are instrumental in keeping the Puller alive, and able to fight. However, that same battle reveals the ALS plans to abandon six of the worlds mostly populated by the lower class, while protecting the planets which are home to the aristocracy. Among those are worlds holding the families of many of the crew, and that includes Benno, because Adelaide is one of the six planets abandoned.

Benno tries to persuade his captain to allow him to leave the ship, and return to Adelaide to care for his daughter, attempting to trade on his recent laudatory efforts in repairing the ship to win favor. When reasoning, persuasion, and pleading have no effect, he completely loses his cool, and assaults one of the most contemptible aristocratic officers. He is tossed in the slammer, with a death sentence hanging over his head.

Meanwhile, on Adelaide, Terran invaders sweep through the farmhouses, killing all who resist, and burning the dwellings to the ground. Meo barely escapes, after witnessing horrors. Stumbling through the darkness that night, she falls into a cavern leading to an ancient tunnel system. She formulates plans to exact revenge upon the invaders, but when she finally makes contact with the Resistance, she is assigned to wash dishes. Not very heroic, is it? SHE certainly grumbles about it.

I don't think I have ever seen the parallel-story structure handled this effectively.  There are NO dead spots, with one party facing certain death, the switch to a scene of the other party having oatmeal for breakfast. While the driving force for Benno and Meo is always reunification, each has a separate set of crisis events to deal with that are specific to their character. These aren't trivial for either of them, by the way; without going into spoilers, let me say that you will not expect some things to happen, in BOTH story lines.

That's a big factor in what kept me burning through the pages. I really did NOT know what was going to happen to these two characters, or to the people they were with. The story carried a tension I tend to associate with movies or TV, rather than with print media.
I DO admit that my threshold for suspense was formed in the early days of TV (the 1950's), when I used to hide behind the couch when the Lone Ranger rode through the canyon because the bad guy was waiting behind the rocks to shoot him.

Still, I doubt that many will be able to predict the development of these plots.

And hooray for that!

Peace be on your household.

Rushing to Review Dragon Award Nominees

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Books mentioned in this blog post:

When I opened my Dragon Award ballot yesterday, I was APPALLED to discover that in three Major Award categories, I had not read/reviewed a single entry, and in two more, had only read/reviewed one each. This is not acceptable to me!

So, I am making it my goal to read and review as many of them as possible.

According to the Dragon Award FAQ,
"Voting for the finalists will begin in early August and end at 11:59 pm, EDT, on the Saturday of Dragon Con weekend, September 1, 2018."
That gives me 22 days to read and review 40 major works, excluding comic books, graphic novels, TV series, movies, and games+. I likely will exclude the BEST HORROR NOVEL category (six titles), since I don't read horror. I will also probably exclude BEST MEDIA TIE-IN NOVEL (six titles), since I live in a cave in a swamp over a burned castle, and know nothing about media. Excluding both of those categories leaves me with 28 works to read, and I have no idea how long each one is, and I have no idea if they are all going to be available to me.

To make this at all possible, I stopped, immediately at 44%, reading the glamorous and voluptuous Tom Ashwell's book, "The Halo Effect'. I explained the circumstances to him in a private communication. By the way, I was enjoying that read IMMENSELY; it's what Douglas Adams would have written, if he had known anything about science.

And then, last night, I set about reading the nominated titles. I am 64% of the way through "The Mutineer's Daughter," by Chris Kennedy and Thomas A Mays, a nominee in the "Best Science Fiction Novel" category.

My plan is to make a blog post, as well as Amazon and Goodreads reviews, for each of the books I can accommodate in the time left to me.

And now, for the apologies: I have six books in my TBR&R queue, in addition to the aforementioned 'The HALO Effect.' I RARELY disrupt my queue once it is formed, but I WILL insert a book out-of-sequence if it has JUST been published, since early reviews can help readers decide where to spend their money and time. The same applies with awards; reviews may make a difference, for people who haven't had the opportunity to read everything that has been nominated.

Therefore, I pray you will overlook my actions, gentle authors, in postponing my reviews of your works for a brief season: Amanda S. Green, writing as Sam Schall, 'Fire From Ashes;' David L. Burkhead, 'Study in Black and Red;' Lloyd Behm II, 'Ghosts of Baikonur;' Cyn Bagley, 'Dark Moon Rising;' Mackey Chandler, 'Been There, Done That;' Tom Rogneby, 'Escort Duty.' I will return to this list JUST AS SOON as I have read and reviewed the 2018 Dragon Award Nominees, or, at least as many of them that I can access, which means that I should be open for regular business on or about September 2.

Peace be on your household.