Friday, July 7, 2017

A Fistful of Credits and Reading Problems

My Amazon review of the book can be found here.

I have reading problems.

That most definitely DOESN'T mean I have a problem trying to read, usually.
Sure, in the minute or so after I wake up in the morning, my eyes don't focus very well. So, when the first thing I do is reach for my tablet, I often can't focus on the text well enough to read what it says.

Mostly, however, I regard that as a feature, and not a bug. I use that interval to get out of bed. And one I am out of bed, I can do other things. Take a shower, etc. Go downstairs. Greet the cat. Whatever.

So, as I said, that's not what I refer to when I say I have reading problems.

The other day I mentioned getting into trouble in the second grade because I was so captivated by the book I was reading, that I didn't have a clue that reading time was over. And when the teacher finally broke through my concentration on the story of Old Yeller, it was only the first time of many that my immersion in text resulted in discontinuity with the rest of the universe.

Of course, since almost all of my internet friends are readers and writers, they understood, and many had had similar experiences. And I'm not sure if it's causation or merely correlation, but many of them also report that they have one or more cats who interfere with them currently, as they read or write.

I wish I could go back to 1961, and announce to Mrs. Bowlin: "One day, you will be replaced with a cat." There is a certain resonance to the idea: my old, fat, white female second grade teacher is now represented in my life by my old, fat, black Manx cat, SugarBelly. It's a pretty good trade-off, for me.

Now, my most recent discontinuity event was also my introduction into the universe of the Four Horsemen. If memory serves, when I was looking for material, I heard that 'Fistful of Credits' was introduced at LibertyCon, so I grabbed it up. The stories are perfect, the intro material needs some work (no, it doesn't), because the links to the two prelude stories don't work (this isn't true. See the comments for a retraction), and editor Chris Kennedy's publishing website is still printed in Latin with pictures of generic people smiling. (I just checked, and it's all functional now (Saturday at 8:17PM. This is the kind of stuff that happens to an early reviewer!)

Nice work on the cover! An appropriately mecha-looking suit with a pistol, and the titles are legible and don't obscure the background. The cover is attributed to Brenda Mihalko and Ricky Ryan; I'm not familiar with either of them, but they did good work here.

Fourteen stories. some of them by writers I've been following for a while, some new to me. All deal with human mercenaries in a universe dominated by other races. Some of them presuppose knowledge of the Four Horsemen universe, which I did not have; others could be stand-alone stories without reference to an outside context. NONE of them REQUIRE the reader to have experience with the earlier works, although they will certainly generate interest in most novices (like myself) to go back and read the foundation stories.

THE LAST ALPHA by Mark Wandrey. Zeke has a history in the earlier stories, and it's to provide some closure to that history that he appears on Earth in his old stomping grounds. This provides the best window on what has happened on Earth following First Contact.

BREACH OF CONTRACT by Terry Mixon. This story introduces us to the Peacemaker Guild, and the role they play in the complicated relationships between merchants and fighters. The contract MUST be treated with respect by all parties in order for the society to work; therefore, much effort is expended in disrespecting it. You can't always get justice. Sometime, you can get revenge.

PAINT THE SKY by Jason Cordova. Ideally, in a military organization, cooks and clerks are free to cook and clerk; artillery troopers fire from long distances, and medics load up with nothing but plasma, splints, and bandages. It rarely works that way in practice, and all too often, the guys who were only supposed to be operating a motor pool are memorialized by points of light in the night.

SURF AND TURF by Jon R. Osborne. Mercenaries make their home wherever they are, particularly when they have a history they want to forget. If they stay in one place long enough, the fights become personal, because they are now fighting for their homes. Everybody needs a home. Everybody needs family.

STAND ON IT by Kevin Ikenberry. An excellent story of layered betrayal by a relative newcomer. It's easy to forget just how worthless the rest of the universe thinks you are when you are fighting for your life, in all directions.

LOST AND FOUND by John Del Arroz. The most basic rule among mercenaries is : you must be loyal to your comrades. After that, loyalties to the paymaster and to citizens are negotiable.

GILDED CAGE by Kacey Ezell. This is, in my opinion, the CREEPIEST story in the book. The protagonist does all the wrong things for all the right reasons, and there is never any point at which a reasonable observer would shout "LOOK OUT! DON'T DO THAT!" It brings a different point of view to the understanding that humans have in the scheme of things in the new universe.

LEGENDS by Christopher Woods. A classic tale of the reluctant warrior, put into impossible situations by a fate that is at best indifferent, but usually hostile.

WITH THE EAGLES by Doug Dandridge. Okay, you want to talk about a hostile environment? THIS environment is worse than Australia. No kidding, WORSE than Australia! You only take a job like this because you have to. Try not to think of why no one else will do it.

DEAD OR ALIVE by PP Corcoran. The Peacemakers appear again, in an operation launched against those who would defy the mores of the collective, and those who support them. Hint: bad idea.

HIDE AND SEEK by Christopher Nuttall. SUCH a great dance between a spook, and administrator, and a government thug. Shows why the timid don't belong in a universe with sharp elbows.

INFORMATION OVERLOAD by Charity Ayres. Sigh. Sorry, I just didn't like this story. I thought too much of it took place in the undisclosed mental processes of the actors.

ENOUGH by Chris Kennedy. The unit is about to be eradicated. But WHY? There is NO hope without getting an answer to that question, and the new commander has to solve the problem as his men fight and die to give him time.

CASPER’S GHOST by Brad R. Torgersen. This story has some of the most vivid images in the book: armored humans, fighting a corrosive, super-hot environment, who are then attacked by what looks alarmingly like an allergic reaction by the planet.

The book was delicious for me to read, and I recommend it highly.

Peace be on your household.


  1. There is an error of fact in this blog post!
    I state above that the links to the two prelude stories don't work. In fact, those links DO work, there is just something glitchy in the notification system. Shortly after posting this, I received two separate emails; each one contained one prelude story, in both mobi and epub formats.
    I'm enjoying those stories now, in fact.

  2. Part of it is probably that the website is being upgraded today, too (thus the smiley Latin). It should be back up by tomorrow.