Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Family Law, by Mackey Chandler

It's a bit of a relief to take a break from my run-up to the Hugos, just to read some good books. However, it makes me realize just how many good books and good authors there are out there who DON'T get the recognition they deserve. Mackey Chandler is one of these. He provided me with a review copy of "Family Law," and I can tell you in all sincerity that there is not one BIT of difference in the quality of this work and that of the Hugo-nominated books I review.
Jack and Myrtle Anderson, their almost 13 year old daughter Lee, and their partner Gordon the Derf are explorers, looking for Earth-compatible planets, and they have just struck it rich with the discovery of Providence.
What? Did he just say 'Gordon the Derf?'
Yup, that's what I said. A Derf is a member of one of the sapient races humans encountered on their exploration of the stars. Imagine a grizzly bear with an extra pair of arms, and a big mouth, and you've got it. They are at least as intelligent as humans, but their tribal organization hindered development of technical specialists, so their overall technological level is below that of human society. They were unique, however, in negotiating treaties at First Contact that gave them legal status equivalent to humans, as individuals and with respect to their common rights. Derfs have a long proper Derf name, but those in contact with humans choose human cognates for use in conversation and in transactions.
The Andersons and Gordon have been together for fourteen years, so Lee has known Gordon her entire life. She even refers to him as 'Uncle Gordon.' She has had a small taste of human civilizations, during infrequent planet landings, but her world consists of her parents and Uncle Gordon.
With the discovery of Providence, the Andersons and Gordon have hit a payday that will make them richer than most countries. They each are entitled to claim substantial territory, as well as license fees from those wishing to take advantage of the planet's resources. There is a well-established procedure for discovery, which ensures all parties have reasonable access, thereby eliminating claim-jumping or more unsavory activities. As the discovery party, the Andersons and Gordon also have the responsibility to verify that there are no established sapients, and no chemical or biological hazards present that could possibly spread to other worlds. Even after months of verification, they expect to be placed in quarantine when they return to Earth to record their claim.
Unfortunately, jack and Myrtle never make it that far. A pack of velociraptor-analogues attacks the camp in the middle of the night, overwhelming the defensive perimeter. Jack and Myrtle go down fighting. Gordon's superior size and strength, and his battleax, allow him to continue fighting after the ammunition runs out. When the last raptor is dead, he discovers Lee has survived by hiding in her (ballistic-cloth covered) sleeping bag, and shooting from inside the bag each time she is attacked.
Review note: the night after the attack, Gordon and Lee huddle together in the ship cabin for safety. In the morning, Gordon wakes her up, and when she remembers what has happened, she grieves and clings to her Uncle Gordon for comfort. It's a very, very touching scene. Feelings, and stuff. Ick. I didn't want it to be THAT kind of book! So, I dropped Mackey a note, and told him I was in tears on page 15, and that somebody better get shot and blown up soon. He encouraged me to hang in there; exploding space ships were on the way. He was right!
There is the little story, about Lee and Gordon and family and culture, and there's the big story, about governments and political infighting and bureaucracy. Mackey blends them together to produce EXCELLENT conflict points. There may be those who simply cannot abide a novel without a message; Mackey provides one, although it is so subtly done that it's administered without notice. It has to do with honor and duty, and the nature of civilization.
The little story is told through encounters Lee and Gordon have with other humans and Derfs. We discover that the Derf civilization is totally family-centered, and that there is very little support for a Derf who chooses a life beyond apprenticeship. Gordon is one of those; he had been designated as a barrel maker, and had to leave his home at peril of becoming an outcast to make another career.
The big story begins when Gordon and Lee return to Earth, and Lee finds difficulty solely because of her minor status. Exploding spaceships ensue. I really would like to tell you more, but I can't because SPOILERS would happen.
Even though this was not intended to be a part of my run-up to the Hugos, it brought one point into such crystal clarity that I cannot ignore it: with so much good writing out there, an award such as the Hugo cannot be anything other than random, given the current divisions. Best Novel? Nope, too broad. Give us a Best Military Novel, Best Alien Novel, Best Armageddon Novel, Best Zombie Novel, and several other categories, and THEN we might have something with integrity. As it stands now, regardless of the efforts of Puppies, Kitties, and Special Snowflakes, the award is just too random. Print the names of every novel on a 3x5 card, post them on a wall, and release ladybugs. The card with the most bugs after five minutes wins the award. That, at least, means the selection isn't subject to undue influence, and I think you are just as likely to produce a 'Best Novel' as the current system.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Terms of Enlistment, by Marko Kloos

I anticipate the latter part of this review will give me trouble. The front part, not at all.
This is the latest book in my run-up to the Hugos. Until he withdrew, Marko Kloos' book "Lines of Departure," the second book in his "Frontline" series, was nominated for Best Novel. "Terms of Enlistment" is the first of the series.
Andrew Grayson has gone as far as he can go. There are no jobs, and he has finished all the education that's available. He lives with his mother in a bleak, crime-ridden Public Residence Center, and can look forward to a future of nothingness. Each week, a government-supplied ration is available. And that's the way the rest of his life will go.
All of the world is not like life in the PRCs. He is aware that more affluent people exist, and that they live in houses outside the wreckage of the city. He just has no way of getting there; it seems that just about all the mobility in our society has vanished by the time the story takes place. There are really only two options to get away from the trap: take a hitch on a space colony, or join the military.
Both of these are long shots; I find I can't recall the chances of getting on a colony ship, but less than 10% of applicants make it to the first day of Basic Training, and only half make it to the end. Five years is the term of service, and all pay is deferred until discharge. They aren't joking about the drop-out rate; when they get the uniform issue, all of the items are clearly used. The only new clothing they get is underwear and socks.
It sounds great to Andrew. He gets fed. He's never had anything but the synthetic food provided by the government, so his first meal is the best he's ever had.
I am of the firm belief that every time an author writes about Basic Training, they have a whole world looking over their shoulder. It's composed of every veteran, and every non-veteran who is a fan of military fiction. We don't just read over their shoulders, we poke them and make comments and make rude noises. Most of us happen to think that Camp Currie in Starship Troopers is the best, but that may just be because it was the first version most of us ever read. If you are a real geek, pencil-necked, thick glasses, pipe smoking type, you might have read William Goldman's version in "The Temple of Gold," which came out in 1956, but chances are, if you read it at all, it's because you saw "The Princess Bride" and then read the book. Modern versions were written by Robert Buettner, Brad Torgensen, and Tom Kratman; but in every case, all the vets are muttering,"they'd never have gotten away with that in MY outfit." It's more or less ground into the fiber of our being, somewhere around Week Four. My own personal nightmare was at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, D-7-2, September to November 1972.
Now, I can't argue at all with Kloos on the subject of GI chow. I ate great meals in the Army, and the only time I ever went hungry was when I was sent to Germany, and jet lag took me out of the chow rotation and I hadn't enough money to buy both beer AND food at the NCO club. For me, potatoes for breakfast was a delicacy, and I've never gotten tired of that.
I do have to snark over the coed barracks. I don't know if ANY military is doing that, but if they are, I'm sure there is more coupling going on than Kloos describes. Andrew and his upper bunkmate Halley hit it off, and develop 'date night' in the latrine at 2:00 AM. I don't want to hammer on this too hard; Kloos is a young man, and this is his work. They'd have never gotten away with that in MY outfit, though.
Basic Training completed, the new troops are assigned for further training to one of three branches: Navy (which means space navy), Marines (space marines) and Territorial Army, which is regarded as the dregs by the trainees. Halley turns out to be a natural pilot, and is the only trainee assigned to the Navy. Andrew, of course, gets picked for Army, which almost causes him to quit on the spot. His drill sergeant, Sergeant Burke, notices his reaction and counsels him.
(expletives deleted)
“At ease. You don’t seem too happy with your assignment.”
“No, sir,” I say, trying to not look dejected.
“There’s not a thing wrong with the Territorial Army. I was TA myself before I was assigned a drill instructor slot.”
“I was looking forward to going into space, sir. TA gets all the **** jobs.”
Sergeant Burke looks at me and shakes his head with a snort. “TA is the real military,” he says. “Let me tell you something about the spaceborne careers. The navy guys spend their service mopping decks in windowless metal tubes. The marines get to go play battle kabuki with the SRA, one company against another, arranged like a ****ing sporting event. That’s not soldiering; that’s ******* ***. They’re so convinced they’re the sharp tip of the spear, but you know what? Any TA company I’ve ever served with could mop the floor with any marine company. You know why TA gets all the **** jobs? Because nobody else could handle ’em, that’s why.
And he's right, ya know. The United States has a combat service and some support services. The Army does everything. The Navy gets us there, the Marines protect the Navy, and the Air Force does something. The Coast Guard is different; they handle the incredibly tough stuff the Navy can't take. The Army is boots on the ground. Now, my perspective MAY be altered by the fact that I'm 3rd in a 4 generation string of Army enlisted. My dad WAS a gunner on a B-17, but it was the ARMY Air Corps back then.
Back to the book: following graduation from Basic Training, Grayson gets assigned to an infantry unit, and Kloos gives us approximately 130 pages of excellent combat description. Then there is a major plot development, which I can't say much about without a spoiler warning, and then Andrew gets to apply his skills in a different environment.
I can say THIS: under normal circumstances, you don't get extreme behavior. You will find good people and nasty people, but under normal circumstances, everybody tends to behave in normal ways. However, the world of "Terms of Enlistment" is not what any of us would describe as a normal world. The grinding hopelessness of life in a PRC is the human equivalent of an over-crowded rat cage. Some give up, some prey on their fellows, and some escape; and having escaped, will do anything to keep from having to return. That little sociological lecture goes pretty far in explaining the reason for the best leadership Grayson finds. Under duress, maybe most crumble, but those that emerge are given a lot of opportunity to excel.
I like Kloos' writing. I liked his characters, and the way he tells the story. His world is bizarre in ways I haven't seen before; Andrew Grayson's journey is just as meaningful as Johnny Rico's.
And this ends the easy part of this review.
Here's the hard part. And if you are EXCLUSIVELY a casual reader of sci-fi, the following may not make any sense to you at all. Don't worry about it; it's like trombone music.
Marko was up for a Hugo for the second novel in this series, and on April 15, he announced to the world that he was withdrawing his book from competition. In part, he wrote:
It has come to my attention that “Lines of Departure” was one of the nomination suggestions in Vox Day’s “Rabid Puppies” campaign. Therefore—and regardless of who else has recommended the novel for award consideration—the presence of “Lines of Departure” on the shortlist is almost certainly due to my inclusion on the “Rabid Puppies” slate. For that reason, I had no choice but to withdraw my acceptance of the nomination. I cannot in good conscience accept an award nomination that I feel I may not have earned solely with the quality of the nominated work.

I also wish to disassociate myself from the originator of the “Rabid Puppies” campaign. To put it bluntly: if this nomination gives even the appearance that Vox Day or anyone else had a hand in giving it to me because of my perceived political leanings, I don’t want it. I want to be nominated for awards because of the work, not because of the “right” or “wrong” politics.
Here's what I knew, before I read the book: Marko got the shaft.
I have no informed opinion on either Vox Day or the Rabid Puppies campaign. I DO know more about Brad Torgersen and the Sad Puppies campaign, and THAT'S what I knew to be the source of Marko's nomination.
I ALSO knew, once it was pointed out by Dorothy Grant, that for the first time EVER!!!!! an indie made it to the Hugos. 47 North is the Amazon publishing imprint. That's HUGE. I do not know how many new authors are broken in by the mainstream publishers, but where I'm sitting by the creek, it looks like all the action is happening with Amazon. And Marko's nomination was just as important an event as was the decision by the Science Fiction Writers' Association to allow indie sales to count for membership.
So far, this is merely bad to me, but not gut wrenching. But then I read the heartfelt acknowledgement Marko wrote at the end of the novel:
This novel had its genesis as an application piece for the Viable Paradise SF/ F Writers’ workshop. As such, I owe thanks to all my VP XII friends for their critiques, suggestions, and encouragement, especially Tiffani Angus, Claire Humphrey, Katrina Archer, Sarah Brandel, Madge Miller, Jeff Macfee, Chang Terhune, Steve Kopka, and Curtis Chen, my current VP XII Twitter posse and occasional critique partners. I also owe much to my instructors: Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Steven Gould, Laura Mixon, Uncle Jim and Dr. Doyle, Elizabeth Bear, and John Scalzi, who kindly shoehorned an unscheduled personal critique into his schedule for me. You have all been instrumental to the success of that little Space Kablooie novel you critiqued at Viable Paradise XII.

Here's what tears at me: he lists, with gratitude, the names of people who gave of their time and energy and expertise to his work. They offered him a lot.
But why didn't they offer him a contract? Why must he self-publish, when the instructors include people of importance at Tor Publishing?
Marko withdrew his book from consideration for a Hugo because it was recommended by Rabid Puppies/Vox Day.
Why wasn't this book recommended by John Scalzi and Patrick Nielsen Hayden? Why didn't they get on the phone with him, why didn't write blogs, why wasn't Marko Kloos given the consideration by those he is so grateful to?
I do NOT have an answer for this. Maybe I'm just ignorant; maybe I missed the stalwart defense given by those named above to Marko's inclusion on the list. Maybe they DID offer him private encouragement in the middle of this public storm. I hope that I AM just ignorant, and that my review will be castigated by people presenting clear evidence that I've missed one of the biggest chapters in the 2015 Hugo story. PLEASE: tell me I'm ignorant, tell me that those who taught Marko have never failed to stand by him and applaud his success.
I don't know if it will explain away the fact that he is an indie writer and not in the Tor stable, but ya know what? It's more money in his pocket this way.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Take The Star Road, by Peter Grant

Some mistakes you CAN fix.
It didn't start out as a mistake, actually.
It started out like this: I read a lot of good writing. And, I have recently reflected upon the chain of writers and etc. that have brought me to my present job, which is reviewing books.
It started with Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle with Lucifer's Hammer in 1978. That was followed up, in rapid order, with Flight of the Horse, World of Ptaavs, A World out of Time, and Inferno, and then I realized anything either of them wrote, I wanted. And somewhere along the way, I discovered David Drake. And after a while, I realized that the books I liked had little rocketships on them, and then I found and webscriptions, and over time, read Sarah Hoyt. And someone said Sarah had a good column on the Mad Genius Club, so I went there. And, beginning with 'Plant Life' by Cedar Sanderson, I started to read the works of the other authors, and to review them on Amazon. I eventually got a Kindle Unlimited membership, which let me read all KU books on Amazon for 9.99 per month, and I started cranking out the reads and the reviews.
This is where it gets weird. See, I like Tom Kratman and David Drake and Ringo, good stories where you blow things up and kill people. It's because I'm a redneck with a pickup truck and a motorcycle and guns, not to mention my very own gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant foxy praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA. So: I want to read manly books about manly men doing manly things, see, but the authors at MGC, they TURN on me! And they have me read books about PIXIES! And SHAPESHIFTERS! So, I decide I will write, ummm, alternative reviews. So I write a review about shapeshifters that I say is a blisteringly hot LGBT allegory. And I write a review about a romance on a ranch that I say is an allegory of the space race. And they are amused, and I am amused. Here's where the problem happens.
I review one of Peter Grant's books, and decide to do so as if I were a clueless literature professor, who somehow mistook the book as a collection of blank verse. Ha ha.
It was really not a problem at all, because I was just posting my reviews on Amazon, and nobody reads those anyway. I gave the book five stars, which it deserved.
But a month or so ago, I started posting all my reviews on my blog, and people started reading the blog. Not only are they reading the new posts, there are some folks who go back and read the old posts. And that's when I realized I had shortchanged Peter. The book I reviewed was Number 1 in his Maxwell Saga, and #1 is where you get people involved in your series. So, this review, which you are reading right now, is the review which I should have written back in January. If you've got that one, pitch it. It's not even that funny.
Steve Maxwell is a young man doing his best to make his way. Despite being raised in an orphanage, he has managed to get a good education, and taken courses to become a spacer, but he needs hands-on experience to get his certificate. The best he can do is move to the space hub, and scrounge a part time job at Louie's bar as a dishwasher and hope an opening comes up on a departing freighter. His long term goal is to become a citizen of Lancaster, which is the system with the best reputation for good treatment of citizens, and minimal criminal and government activity (I suppose that's related...).
His luck changes one night when the Lotus Tong tries to muscle in on Louie at closing time. Steve downs three attackers with his martial arts skills, Louie takes care of one, and the remaining two flee. Louie has a prior arrangement with the much more powerful Dragon Tong, and calls on them to pick up the bodies. Steve earns their respect, and a debt of honor with them. Louis also owes a lot to Steve, so he gives him full-time work while they wait for a ship willing to take an apprentice.
The ship arrives, in the person of Bosun Vince Cardle of the Sebastian Cabot. He and Louie go way back, doing a bit of grey-market trading together, and he takes Louie's recommendation, and gives him a chance. At the same time, the Dragon Tong, in debt to Steve for saving Louie, pay off with a huge fortune in gold, which is enough to completely cover Steve's spacer equipment and leave three years salary as a next-egg.
Just before boarding his new ship with Bosun Cardle, though, Lotus Tong strikes back. Again, Steve and his allies overcome the attackers, and in disarming them, Steve discovers a peculiar jade knife, which he claims.
What follows is a coming of age story. I rather dislike that every good author who writes a coming of age story in space has to be compared to Heinlein, but there you go; RAH did it so well, that the references come to reviewers, and, well, we have to USE them. How about “Captains Courageous?” Is that okay? Except that Steve isn't a rotten rich kid who accidentally gets forced into maturity. He seeks every opportunity he can, on his own, to better himself, and because he does it without arrogance, and because he never skimps on the job at hand, he receives favor from those in authority over him.
This is not a blood and guts kind of story, although it is through personal combat that we meet Steve. His ambition isn't simply a type of selfishness, either; on one of his first trips, he organizes special snacks for orphans being shipped out of a combat zone. His enthusiasm inspires others, and what starts as a few cookies for the kids becomes an all-hands-on evolution of good will. Eventually, word gets out, and funds and supplies are donated to what becomes known as Operation Sweet Tooth. It's one of the best parts of the book, because it gives many characters, not just Steve, an opportunity to exhibit their depth.
Without getting into spoiler territory, Steve develops a lifelong hatred for piracy. The circumstances allow him to enter the Lancastrian military ahead of schedule, which means his citizenship status is expedited.
And there are dirty doings ahead...
Steve Maxwell's story continues through four books, so far, and each one of them is well worth your time. They are also worthy of good reviews, but this is the only one I shortchanged.
That has now been rectified!

Flight of The Fantasy, by C Blake Powers

After reading this review, I want you to go DIRECTLY to Amazon and get this book. Don't go to the kitchen for a sandwich, don't check your email: just go get this book. You should already have signed up for Kindle Unlimited, so it's a freebie. If you haven't, then it's going to cost you 11 cents per page. If you think that price is too high, then you should sign up for Kindle Unlimited.
Because you need to read this story.
Here's the basic outline: in 1945, a damaged American B24 bomber makes a forced landing in the Libyan desert on the way back from a bombing run. All but three of the crew (led by the luckless Joe Buckley) bail out, and are never heard of again. The pilot, co-pilot, and flight engineer remain with the plane; the pilot miraculously makes a wheels-up landing. The three crew attempt to make repairs to the engines which would allow them to take off, but die of exposure. In 1989, the plane is discovered, with their mummified bodies strapped into their seats.
For those too young to remember, 1989 was a dark year for US/Libyan relations. In 1986, President Reagan had ordered the capital bombed as reprisal against the Libyan sponsored terrorist attack of a nightclub frequented by US soldiers in Berlin; then, in December 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was destroyed in flight by a terrorist bomb over Lockerbie, Scotland, with Gaddafi claiming responsibility. His acts had been progressively unpredictable, and his policy reversals resulted in an unstable government, which would eventually bring him down. Despite the uncertainty, some contact is always maintained between governments, and this official/unofficial program brought John Ellis to a distant, unused airport to repair the B24, Foster's Fantasy, and fly it out of country, eventually to return to the US.
In addition to the formal, legal limits on his ability to accomplish his task, the bribes, theft, and posturing which form an integral part of the culture all combine to mean that he must work twice to get the job done once. Libyan crews assigned to help him simply refuse. John takes a unique approach: he co-opts the local homeless sand children into forming his crew. These are throw-away children, born of unfortunate alliances, and essentially tossed out into the desert to fend for themselves. They have no illusions about their future; there is a thriving trade in sex slaves, who are sold cheap, usually with the expectation that they will die in the process. He has a total of ten crew, the oldest early teens, most 10 years or younger. Some of them learn how to perform the repair tasks needed, rebuilding engines and guns. All of them find a role, cleaning, painting, able to get into tiny spaces where an adult American can fit, and not insignificantly, keeping others away from the B24 when John has to leave the base for his tent every night.
And there appear to be ghosts haunting the bomber as well.
While the culture is both alien and abhorrent, John does find one point of contact. The Libyan social rules demand that the more you despise another, the more flowery and respectful your language must be. John, like myself, grew up in the deep South, where “Bless your heart” is one of the fiercest cutting tools ever expressed. I do so attest that this is the case, and have been known to use that phrase in a context which would not support vulgarity; the message, however, is nonetheless transmitted.
With the background of the unstable Gadaffi government and the 'inshallah' culture of the desert, John and his ten sand children labor to get Foster's Fantasy into flying condition.
I mentioned the ghosts.
There is another complication as well, one which is a function of the disintegrating Soviet Union and the lack of trust within the Libyan government. This element provides the key to a problem brewing in John's mind: can he leave his sand children when he flies out, knowing that they will inevitably become victims of either the legal system or the slave trade?
Now: you have finished the review. Go DIRECTLY to Amazon, and GET THIS STORY! I expect you to take care of this before the end of the day. Got it?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Tales of the Rainbow Bridge, by a. abbie aardmore

Months and months ago, I wrote a series of posts on Baen's Bar in which I postulated that the reason for the fantastic success of the 1632 series was that Eric Flint had wisely created the title so that it would always show up at the head of book lists. I was roundly and severely ignored.
Not, it would appear, by that sixth iteration author, a. abbie aardmore. Brilliant strategy! However, the title page contains a 'hint,' and by that, I mean dead giveaway, since the copyright is in the name of Rebecca Meluch.
In retrospect, I should have read this book in the northwest corner of my yard. The trees provide shade and privacy. I have company out there. Under a tree, her collar hanging from a branch, sleeps Darlin Ann, my sweet little tabby cat, who was with me from my first apartment as a civilian in 1976, to this, likely the last house I will ever own. And, in a row, are three little mounds, covered in white stone. Jumper Bill, the precious beagle/redbone mix, who delighted us with his enthusiasm; Napoleon Robert (Poley, or Nappy Bob), my mother's companion in her latter years, who came to us for his hospice, days, when my mother had to move into the assisted living community; and Minerva June, the cuddle-loving black lab/ Rottweiler mix who sang, and greeted me every day with joy when I came home from work, and loved to go for a ride in the truck, and hated to go take a bath in the tub, but complied, and who got to spend her last years as a companion to Presley, the basset puppy my son and daughter in law adopted at birth.
“Tales From The Rainbow Bridge” is a gift to all of us who have loved our animals. Rebecca gives a sweet name to the relationship: “heart-holders.”
The story is told from the perspective of Zach, who loves his human Mireille. Zach is with Mirelle, on a pile of old blankets on the floor of the vet's office, and he's old, and sick, and tired; but he is with Mireille, and that's what matters. But he wishes Mireille would stop crying. The vet comes in and does something; it doesn't bother Zack, he doesn't feel anything anymore. And then he's floating, and he looks down, and sees Mireille crying and holding onto this old, lumpy sack of fur that looks a bit like him. Something is pulling him up and away, and he realizes he feels just fine, nothing hurts, and he's strong, and he calls for Mireille to take him home, because he feels good now, but he keeps getting pulled toward the brightness, and he can't get any traction, and he keeps calling for Mireille; and then he is lying on soft, sweet grass; the tunnel he came through closes, and no amount of digging will re-open it, and finally Zack is able to listen.
Warm noses and furry sides surround me. Voices assure me, “You’re okay. You’re okay.”
“I know I’m okay! My Mireille needs me!”
“She will be okay, too. In time,” a soft-eyed golden retriever tells me. “I’m Shelby.”
“Shelby, get me home!” “
This is the way it’s meant to happen,” a big, placid bullmastiff tells me. “When we go first, we come here to wait for our heart holders.”
And that's the way it is. Zach still struggles to get back, but in the interim, he accepts a role as the greeter dog. He explains to new arrivals what has happened to them; how everything they want is here, and it's okay to dig in the gardens. The last piece clicks into place when Aggie's heart-holder shows up. Aggie, the big red bloodhound, flies over the field, and jumps into the arms of her woman and knocks her down. They roll on the ground together, laughing, Aggie singing in between licking her heart-holder's face. And then the sky begins to glow, and a rainbow bridge forms. And Zach realizes where he is. Mireille had read the poem to him on that last trip to the vet.

By the edge of a woods, at the foot of a hill,
Is a lush, green meadow where time stands still.
Where the friends of man and woman do run,
When their time on earth is over and done.

For here, between this world and the next,
Is a place where each beloved creature finds rest.
On this golden land, they wait and they play,
Till the Rainbow Bridge they cross over one day.

No more do they suffer, in pain or in sadness,
For here they are whole, their lives filled with gladness.
Their limbs are restored, their health renewed,
Their bodies have healed, with strength imbued.

They romp through the grass, without even a care,
Until one day they start, and sniff at the air.
All ears prick forward, eyes dart front and back,
Then all of a sudden, one breaks from the pack.

For just at that instant, their eyes have met;
Together again, both person and pet.
So they run to each other, these friends from long past,
The time of their parting is over at last.

The sadness they felt while they were apart,
Has turned into joy once more in each heart.
They embrace with a love that will last forever,
And then, side-by-side, they cross over… together.
(author unknown)

Rebecca's book takes the poem, and fills it out with stories of dogs, cats, ferrets, and horses, and even people. In this waiting are, nothing is denied to the animals. They hold couch destroying contests, and it's okay. And one day, shoes rain from the sky, and, marvel of marvels, the shoes belong to the heart-holders. So Zach has something with Mireille's smell, and the other dogs have their own heart-holder's smell. Each of the little vignettes illustrates that It. Really. Does. Work. There is no tear that is not wiped away. All the songs are songs of joy.
Since Minnie crossed over, I've been dog-less. Instead, I've got a fat black Manx named SugarBelly who sits on me. She prefers to sit on my left hand while I'm typing, but if I shake her off enough times, she will condescend to go lie down on my legs. Rarely, she will go off in a snit and hang out with my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant foxy praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA. Mostly, though, she's Papa Pat's cat. She and I are getting closer to being the same age. I'm a good bit ahead of her, but she's moving faster. I suppose she will cross over first. That's a sad thing, until I remember the Rainbow Bridge.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Raven's Children, by Sabrina Chase

I received my copy of this book as a loan, for review purposes.
Raven's Children is the second novel in the Sequoyah series by Sabrina Chase, and works best when read after “The Long Way Home,” which I reviewed on April 6. However, the character and plot developments are more than adequate to be satisfying to someone who just picks up this as a singleton. It will, however, create a need in that mythical person to get the entire series.
I'm a bit uncertain about how spoilers work when reviewing a series. If a plot point in the second book is a spoiler for the first book, do I ignore it? Hmmm. I don't think so, because then the review for every book in a series after the first would consist of 'more things happen.' Make for an easy review, I suppose...but hardly satisfying.

SO: Who the heck is Raven? And why do we care about Raven's Children? It's like this: Raven is a ship. And the ship is captained by Moire. And the children? More than one answer to that.
The first answer has to do with Alan, the son Moire didn't remember having. It turns out that the Toren company has been using genetic material from Moire and other lost NASA crew to make clones, for their evil, wicked, mean and nasty purposes. The 'protector of the helpless' switch in Moire, locked firmly into the ON setting, means she has to do something about it.
Which brings us to the second answer. The ragbag of crew that Moire was plagued with has decided that things are much better with her around, and so they draft her into being their leader. Which means they go along with her to Do Something About It. And rescue children, who actually have the bodies of adults.

Fleet Intelligence Officer Byron Ennis is also plagued. In his case, it's not with ragbag crew, though. His plague is a crummy duty assignment, for allowing Moire to escape; he's also plagued with gooey emotions when he thinks about Moire, and he has absolutely NO history that will give him a clue on how to handle THAT (even if she wasn't a fugitive from justice). Add to that his continued sense of inferiority due to his origins, and you've got one tightly wound young man.

Here's one of the great things about Sabrina's writing: she has a LOT of plot elements going, so she can afford to have one or two resolve without having the franchise end. And that means, dear reader, that she can afford to let Ennis and Moire gaze into each others eyes instead of avoiding it, and actually (gulp) SMOOCH! YES! THEY SMOOCH!
Hah! Take THAT, Nora Roberts! (Ummm....she's a Romance writer, right? I just looked it up on Google...)

I think I missed the science on how this happened (it has something to do with the hyperspace drive), but Moire and crew find themselves the junkyard of the universe. They get tossed there on the last sputtering gasps of their old ship, but they are able to cobble together repairs from parts from the drifting hulks. They are also able to generate a cash flow by salvage from the parts they bring back to what passes for civilization on the fringe. And then on ONE trip they find...nah, not gonna tell you that.

The evil Toren is not content to sit idly by and let their plans be disrupted by Moire. In fact, there are just too many people who know something, and so a series of unsavory elements sets out to kill all possible witnesses. They are singularly unsuccessful. So, they call in the REALLY bad guy, and he.....noh, not gonna tell you that, either.

Sabrina can flat tell a good story. It will hook you, and I can well believe one of the other reviewers who says she didn't notice when the sun went down while she was reading. So: if you are reading on a Kindle, have a good battery charge, else have a good light source. You'll find you will need it before you are through.

If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love, by Rachel Swirsky

Rachel is a little bit older than my oldest (biological) child. She is a graduate of UCSC (The Banana Slugs) and the Iowa Writers Workshop, which I understand offers the MFA in English. From this, I draw the conclusion that she loves books. Without any direct evidence, I choose to also draw the conclusion that this is a love that she developed in childhood. It doesn't take much more imagination to suggest images of her as a young girl, learning to love stories read to her by parent or grandparent, a love that continued as she learned to read on her own.
One of the great books to hit the scene when Rachel was small was the first in a series of books by Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond, “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie.” My children loved this one, and the next in the series, “If You Give A Moose A Muffin;” sadly, by the time “If You Give A Pig A Pancake” came out, my little ones were no longer little enough to for me to sit with them on the sofa, curled up, and read the words to them while they looked at the pictures and turned the pages. Life cycles on, however, and I now have grandchildren.
Because I have the cadences of the “If You Give” books in my memories, I recognized “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love” instantly. The implications of each act demand the next, and the repetitions of the phrasing, from each discrete event to the next, resonate from the Mouse to the Dinosaur.
And the phrasings, though certainly of a more adult level in the story of the Dinosaur than in the story of the Mouse, are beautiful. They paint a picture of a fantastic happiness, with a T-Rex crooning love tunes on Broadway, and even of a T-Rex wedding, with the narrator as Best Woman at the wedding. It is truly a lovely work, up to this point.
I don't know why Rachel chose this particular form to tell a story of bloody, bigoted murder, and the destroyed hopes of a young woman. She tells the story powerfully, to the point that I feared that this was an actual experience of hers. Fortunately, I discovered that she has a living husband, who is in fact, a dinosaur fanatic.
I have knowledgeable friends who have objected to the award of the Nebula and the nomination for the Hugo for this story, based on the fact that it isn't science fiction. I have absolutely no opinion on that at all. Obviously, there were others who felt differently. The story has been cited as an example of why there is a need for broader fan input in the awards process.
My position is nowhere near as educated or informed on the nature of science fiction. I am not a writer; I am a reader and reviewer. I rather regret the reviewer role, at this point. It is because I write reviews that I read Dinosaur. If I could choose to undo that read, I would. I would rather have unsullied memories of Mouse and Moose and Pig. I hope, before the next time I read “If You Give A Pig A Party” to Heath or Joshua, that I will be able to disassociate the cadences of this story from the sweetly engaging children's books.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Bolg and The Beautiful, by Dave Freer (with Billy, Dusty and Frank)

Dave Freer, late of South Africa and now living in Australia, is one of the nominees for this year's Hugo in the Fan Writer category. His blog entries truly are of stellar quality. This review, however, is based on the advanced copy I received for his a soon-to-be released novella, “The Bolg and The Beautiful.” I'm not certain what music is appropriate as background for this type of review, but I'm going with ZZ Top, which is almost always a good choice. And in this case it will give me way to try to communicate to you, in a multimedia sort of way, what reading this is going to do to your head. Because Dave indulges in wordplay. Shamelessly. Incessantly. Like “Forewarned makes four-armed, which must make buying shirts tough.” Like that.
I suppose it is incumbent on me to give a brief description of Bolg, for those who have not had the pleasure of his acquaintance: he's 4'9” of Sharp Dressed Man. Tattooed blue from head to toe and every where in between, Bolg is an 1800 year old former king of the Picts. (Someone recently made a horrible pun about woad, which I will not repeat.) The Pict King business being somewhat an industry on the wane, not only locally but Nationwide, Bolg now makes his living as a private investigator. There's a bit of a problem with that, though: His clientele are are drawn from the ranks of the undead, and they tend to have no money. And Bolg's bills don't stop, just because his clients have other priorities. He's Gotsa Get Paid. Someway, somehow, how, how.
Fortunately, he has friends, including ancient sorcerer Fintan Mac Bochra, with connections to the affluent in need; it appears that Freya, goddess of (among other things) love, has been ripped off. Rather than Waiting for the Bus, Bolg drives his Harley to her house. This turns out to be a good thing, since Freya's guardbeast is Hildisvini, a half-ton boar, who has a crush on Bolg's ….hog....and instead of trampling him for trespasses, merely coos sweetly at the bike before Freya sends him away.
It appears that Freya and her daughter Gersemi (her name means 'treasure') have been bilked, by a banker selling a reverse-mortgage retirement plan. (Freya's other daughter, Hnoss, who's name also means 'treasure', was not present for the swindle.) The culprit escaped with all their gold, leaving only title deeds, and a special Pearl Necklace called Brisinghamen, which makes the female wearer utterly irresistible to men. And no, it wasn't made of pearls, and yes, that's the last ZZ Top song reference, because I can't drag this review out any more without getting into spoiler territory. I wanted to hold out for Cheap Sunglasses, but couldn't make it happen.
At any rate, you MUST anticipate snickers through the rest of the hard-boiled detective story. It's quite a bit more than that, because Bolg provides services more closely associated with family counselors than gumshoes, but I suppose that's all covered under the terms of the contract. Those things have Legs.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Amazon's Right Breast, by Tom Kratman

Tom Kratman is on the 2015 Hugo list for Best Novella with his BOLO story, Big Boys Don't Cry. When I contacted him, and asked if he had a preference for a work to be included in my Hugo run-up, I was expecting him to suggest one of his books in either the Carrera or the Countdown series, both of which I have enjoyed enormously. And, well, they are ...BOOKS. And one of the assumptions in the case of book reviews is that reviews MIGHT enhance sales. And everybody likes sales, right? NOTHING wrong with that, in fact, that is one of the primary reasons I write book reviews. I want some of the incredible authors, most of whom do not have as much exposure as they deserve, to get noticed.
So what does Kratman do?
He tells me to review a piece of free nonfiction he wrote four years ago: The Amazon's Right Breast.
I have my suspicions as to why he chose that one, but I could be wrong, and at any rate, it doesn't matter. As it happens, this is a piece I am familiar with, having praised it and recommended it to members of the fire-arms web forum I frequent when it first came out.
The article addresses the role of the women in the military, and is laden with both personal reflections as well as objective study. It's the sort of article you can get your teeth into; it's not an article that leans on opinion or a community standard for support. Whether you agree with his conclusions or not, he does define the issue in terms which must be addressed. His position may be wrong, but it's not lazy.
There are a number of stories of a tribe of women warriors; in some of the stories, they would raid other tribes for men, in others, they kept a few men around for occasional copulation. If you find it amusing to do so, you may research the topic and see that the myth is rather widespread, and that the name 'Amazon' can be derived from several different word origins. However, the meaning that we giggled about in the sixth grade was that the term meant 'without breast,' and that the Amazons had their right breast cut off or burned off to facilitate use of a bow and arrow. The fact that they are represented no where in art as one-breasted figures, nor the reality that mammary glands in no way restrict the archer, has no impact on the myth. Remember that.
Kratman is a bit younger than I am. His service in the Army began shortly before mine ended, and I do not envy him that experience one bit. However, I was a medic, stationed at a hospital, and there were quite a few women around in that environment before they began to become common in other areas. Therefore, while I didn't see the exact things he did, I saw some similar occurrences. For example, I was in a small unit, run by a TOUGH NCO, who had served five far East tours in his career. He chewed our butts out, whether we needed it or not, just because that's the way it was. Until we got our first female troop in the unit. She was married, so that may have eased some tensions, but she was still rather immature; and one of her first acts upon arriving in the unit was to pin a picture she had drawn and colored on the bulletin board. A picture of a horsey. I know it was a horsey, because she labeled it: Horsey.
Sarge didn't know how to handle it.
Kratman talks about one of his first experiences commanding female troops in Egypt. He has given his troops a day off, and inspects them prior to turning them loose on the town. He discovers that his two female troops were planning on entering the Moslem city of Alexandria in a bra-less condition. And when he orders them to return to barracks and put on their bras, they argue with him.
If you haven't had experience in the military, that might not resonate with you. Will it be enough if I tell you that the ONLY time a junior troop dares to disagree with an officer, unless it's a Geneva Conventions issue, is in private, behind closed doors, and better be sure it's respectful, even then? Those two troops didn't get that. This wasn't a matter of opinion, it wasn't something open for discussion, but if it had been, the discussion would have been held in private.
Kratman cites a few more personal experiences which confirm him in his opinion that women should not be in placed in the combat arms. However, opinions are just that. They are not a good basis for law, or regulations, or policy. So, when he found himself in a position to do so, he researched the issue.
The first thing he discovered was that most of the books and articles advocating the presence of women in combat units were not objective. They included the truth that females had been heads of state during times of war, but somehow equated that with serving in a front-line capacity. There is a huge difference between serving under combat conditions, and serving as an active combatant.
More extensive than the confusion between national leadership and foxhole service, however, was the advocacy for women in combat roles as a civil right. This is an issue which must not be swayed by opinion; it there is actually a civil right involved, deprivation of that right must be based on fact, not opinion.
Kratman found no support for the idea that piecemeal introduction of women into the war machine had ever worked; and the cases of sex crime in the American military present strong evidence that it is not working for us, either. However, there are cases where a unit of women has been an effective war tool. He cites all-female units in the Kingdom of Dahomey, Russia, and the Viet Cong as being successful: but, those were all-women units.
Kratman spent a goodly portion of his military career in the not-particularly-exciting role of figuring out how to get the bullets and beans to the people who could cook the beans and shoot the bullets, and be familiar enough with them not to confuse the two. That has NEVER been in my skill set, and I have avoided ever being in a position in which I was called upon to do that. However, based on his experience and training, Kratman came up with a list of 20 problems which have to be addressed, should we decide to incorporate women into the combat arms. They seem REASONABLE to me, individually, but it's not my area of expertise. Half of those are either eliminated or mitigated if the combat units are segregated by gender. The other half? Well, war is hell. You pay your money and you take your choice. But, if you are going to do it, don't do it stupidly. Anytime we get into a shooting war, our country is on the line, at least symbolically. And our individual sons and daughters are on the line, literally. For four generations, men in my family have volunteered for war. Except for the last generation, we all came back intact. It's a risk we take, and we HAVE to take it, if we are to be free citizens. BUT: never, never let us take a risk with the lives of our young because we were stupid, because we refused to look at important factors because of political expediency. If our grandsons or granddaughters die in the mud somewhere, because some politician thought it best that we have 100% gender equality, then our country is not worth saving.
Hold yourselves accountable. Hold your politicians accountable. There are some areas in which we can make a mistake, and all it will mean is that we spent some money for concrete to build an overpass that wasn't needed. In the area of national defense, political expediency is a luxury we cannot afford. And unlike the fable of the Amazon's right breast, we cannot allow a myth to triumph over cold, hard-headed reasoning.

(PERSONAL NOTE: Chances are that within 24 hours of your reading this, my son will finally receive his discharge, after two years of medical rehab.)

Friday, April 17, 2015

Tour of Duty, by Michael Z. Williamson

Mad Mike received a Hugo nomination in the category “Best Related Work” for “Wisdom From My Internet,” a book that comes pre-packaged in a plain brown wrapper. I've read it, it was funny except when (insert your choice here), but it's really not the sort of book you review. Fortunately, he has a LOT of books that are good to review, and I picked “Tour of Duty.”
Here's my disclaimer: this book, or to be specific, one selection from this book, means an awful lot to me, and at the end of the review, you are going to have the option of discovering why.
But, on to the review:
The full title of the book is “Tour of Duty: Stories and Provocations,” and that works as a short description of the contents. The first part of the book consists of 13 short stories and two related works. The second part contains 11 works of widely varying length and subject matter, with impertinence being the common bond. The last entry, in particular, requires you to detach and carefully store sensitivity and propriety in bubble wrap before reading, because it is just WRONG in the way that makes you snicker and then slap yourself for doing so. It contains items even Jeff Ross might avoid. Maybe. Not sure.
For those who require precise classification, the 13 stories are going to be frustrating. Some are co-authored by Mike's wife, Gail Sanders; some are written in Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar universe; others in Janet Morris' universe of characters in Hell. And the story which defies all other categories is, of COURSE, the story which inspired Bob Eggleton's fantastic cover art, a toucan-beaked flying dinosaur attacking an armored figure on a wooly mammoth.
All of the stories are good. Personally, I like the Michael Z. Williamson stories written in a Michael Z. Williamson universe, but that's a matter of taste. His characters are normal, regular people, who are called upon by circumstances to do abnormal, irregular things. It's the same thing I liked about Betsy Lightfoot's Korton character in The Ugly Knight: he's just a guy, not particularly talented, and ugly, who works hard and gets things done. That's the way Mad Mike writes his characters are as well; the same with my favorites of Heinlein's heroes.
Is it a contradiction to say I like super-heroes, too?
The first story, “The Humans Call it Duty,” is a story about a super-hero named Capstick, Cap for short (from the American hunter and author, Peter Capstick, who makes another appearance in this book). This particular hero happens to be a leopard; Mad Mike likes leopards, and they appear elsewhere in his works, paired with humans in hunting teams. In this story, the degree of enhancement to Cap isn't addressed, although his training and imprinting is mentioned several times. Mike notes that the story was rejected once with the comment that it was simply a tale of revenge and killing, and not science fiction. I think that rejection was wrong twice; it IS science fiction, and it is actually a love story. I know of no better term to describe the commitment between comrades-in-arms than love, whether they are human, or human and leopard, in this case. And I think I shall speak more on this concept later.
“The Brute Force Approach” is set more definitively in the Freehold universe, with the aspects of a libertarian economic system and government, and the concept of personal responsibility strongly emphasized. Mike uses this story to expose ONE of the limitations of the libertarian approach, which is that there is a lack of oversight in those matters which impact public safety. There are others, which noted libertarians admit, such as 'who builds the roads' and 'what about public health threats,' but this is NOT a message fiction piece that demands that we all agree to submit to a common government form RIGHT NOW! Instead, the 'duty' theme resonates. People do difficult things, putting their own lives at risk, to protect others; in this case, to rescue survivors of a poorly maintained space transport. Both civilian and military forces combine in the rescue mission, and in the Freehold universe, the emphasis on personal responsibility subsumes in-fighting and competition between agencies. I suppose, then, that this COULD be classified as message fiction, but that begs the issue. It's good writing. Tell me a good story, and I'll let you incorporate your message. Blather on repeatedly that you system is good because it's good, and I will change the channel, posthaste.
“The Price” is a very similar story, except in this case, there is a single military unit involved, and the mission is bloody warfare, not rescue. If fact (gulp), the mission pits the forces of Freehold against the forces of Earth.
Now, before you go getting your panties in a wad, Mike EARNED the right, personally, to write this sort of thing. He is NOT advocating the forcible overthrow of the lawfully elected government of the United States. He is one of those citizens who earned their citizenship by going through the process as an adult, and he served 20+ years in our armed forces. Because he is a vet, he shares the camaraderie of veterans, and uses their input into his writing. In fact, "The Brute Force Approach" includes a character inspired by his friend Robert Hensley, a Navy hull specialist who provided input into the technical aspects of the story. Robert was killed two days after the story was published, and Mike pays homage to him in the preface.
Among the long, long list of Mad Mike's many, many sins, we must include the fact that he is a guitarist. “One Night in Baghdad” is a riff on the 80's hit, “One Night in Bangkok” as updated for the wars in the sandbox and the rockpile.
“Port Call” is an entirely different sort of story. It was prompted by the death of Poul Anderson, and posits a better ending for the greats of science fiction. None of the characters are explicitly identified, except by first name and some characteristics, so you may spend a fun hour or so recognizing who's who.
“ Naught But Duty,” “The Sword Dancer,” “Wounded Bird,” “The Groom’s Price,” and “The Bride’s Task” are all set in variations of Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar universe. These are good stories, even if you are not familiar with the cultural quirks that make that universe unique. Evidently, Mike's wife Gail is more of an expert on the subject than he, and her contributions made some of these stories possible. You may try, if you like, to see if you can tell which parts of the story belong to Mike, and which to Gail, but I'm clueless on the topic. The editing is that good; there is no break in the narrative that is not purely a function of the story line.
“Heads You Lose” and “A Hard Day At The Office” are both set in Janet Morris' “Hell” universe. The first story was a part of the anthology “Lawyers in Hell,” and required that the combat lawyers, known as CLAP for Coordinating Legal Airborne Platoon, bring Satan the head of the most honest man in Hell. The second story introduced the character of Peter Capstick and re-introduces a leopard character, both as hunters sentenced to Hell. While both of these stories had amusing aspects to them such as the lawyers advancing into combat on pogo-sticks, I found them to be gritty and disturbing. That is ENTIRELY, I believe, a function of my own belief system, which includes a literal Hell; YMMV.
“Misfits” concludes the 'story' section of “Tour of Duty,” and explores the idea that characters in a book have a life of their own, that the author transmits to paper. I've heard this from enough authors to know that this isn't an abnormal belief, either in the sense of being rare, nor in the sense of producing aberrant behavior (unless you happen to believe writing itself is aberrant). It is also, as mentioned earlier, the inspiration for the formidable cover art by Bob Eggleton, who has some passing familiarity with the Hugo award. In fact, Eric Flint pointed out today that between 1996 and 2004, the Hugo for art went exclusively to Bob Eggleton or Mike Whelan.
Of the second section of the book, which Mike titles 'Provocations,' I have very little to say. He does some great riffs as a Viking advice columnist, and comes up with entirely appropriate lists of manly firearms. I must admit to preferring the Mossberg 500 to the Remington 870, but that's because I own one. I share his affection for the 1911, as well as for the 91/30 Mosin-Nagant rifle. His experience with the Indianapolis Police Department highlights problems that exist not only with that particular agency, but with any big-city police force: do all you can to stay away from them.
And I will not touch with a 10-foot pole any of his commentary on Inappropriate Cocktails. He does stipulate that sometimes he does things just to mess with people, and see how they react, but...WOW. That's all. Just, WOW.
A careful, not to say, obsessive-compulsive, examination of my review will note that there is one story missing from my review. That's because I saved it for last. This is your warning: if you do not wish to know why this book means so much to me, read no further.
You have been warned.
“Desert Blues” was written based on the experience Mike had while deployed to the Middle East in 1999 and 2008. The title has a copyright date of August 2013, but the Advance Reader Copy was on the first of June, 2013. The story tells of the defiant act of an unknown guitarist, playing solo in a tent at an unidentified airbase in an unidentified warzone.
In the middle of a rocket attack.
In the middle of the attack, the guitarist rips out his version of Dire Straits 'Money for Nothing,' changing the words to 'mortars for nothing, IEDs for free...', putting heart into the defenders huddling in bunkers while the rockets fall. The story, told from the POV of an experienced Air Force generator crewman, includes this about the Army lieutenant he worked with:
“We’re all clear,” the LT said. “Someone bagged the bad guys.” One of the things I appreciated was that he never called them “Hajjis.” I have Muslim friends and try not to toss generic epithets around. RIF—Rabid Islamic Fu . . . Fundamentalist—is fine. It’s a little more specific.

Meanwhile, back in the USA:
My firstborn son, Georgia Army National Guard Sergeant Eli Jordan Patterson, Alpha Battery, 1/214 FA was placed on active duty with his unit, and shortly after he became a father for the first time, was shipped to Afghanistan to guard an air base. He got there in late April of 2013. And all of his communications home said, we are fine, everything is fine. But sometimes, communications were spotty. To be expected. Distance. Stuff.
Did not know at the time, found out elsewhere, that the reason that the communications were spotty is because the Taliban was active in the area, and that they attacked with rockets every day.
I picked up “Desert Blues,” and emailed it to Jordan on June 6. And here is what he emailed me back:
I think that may be top three of the emails you've sent me. Especially poignant for me right now with all that's going on.

I call them "those guys"; after working with the locals you get to know them and it just doesn't seem right to call them all Hajjis, RIFs, or any of the other delightfully euphemistic nicknames . And I've never been insensitive enough to call them ragheads or Arabs either. Funny how even in the middle of a fight one cleaves to the honor of refusing to be/sound racially biased. "The Dean" prevails.

Pray for me. I'll fill you in when I can about this whole thing.

Here's what I didn't know at the time:

Just before I sent him “Desert Blues,” his unit had come under rocket attack. Best info is that it was something in the 150mm range, a six-inch shell. One landed near him; the concussion blasted him into a concrete barrier, knocking him unconscious and damaging his left knee. Much later, he also found tiny little fragments of the shell in his face.
He refused medevac. He wanted to stay with his boys. And the command went along with him, up to a point.
And that point came a short time later. His squad was guarding a gate at the base, when they saw a movement in company strength coming toward them. With his mobility impaired due to his knee, Jordan planned to stay as a rear guard while the rest of his squad fell back to a stronger position and called for reinforcements.
He had 180 rounds of 5.56 plus a couple of grenades.
Fortunately, it turned out to be a communication failure, and it was a company of Afghan Army infantry, coming to reinforce them.
So my first-born son didn't have to die that day.
And the next day, with nothing but his duty uniform, they put him on the plane to Germany, and by June 23, he was back in the states. He got a four day pass for the 4th of July, and that's when I got the whole story.
It's coming up on two years now, and the Army has been pooting around with medical treatment and paperwork, but it looks as though he will be discharged soon, and can return to his job as Dean of Students and history teacher at King's Ridge Academy. The transition back to civvie street hasn't been easy, but the defiant act of freedom, playing rock music while under attack, has been a symbol for not giving up, and for maintaining his identity under adversity.
We talk about duty. It's not a bad term, but it's not enough. It doesn't describe the determination of a 30 year old to remain with his boys, even though wounded, when he has a wife and baby at home. Someone on the outside may think it's foolish, but it isn't. And it's not just the way it is. It's love. It's not funny, and it's not trivial, and we don't even talk about it, but that's what it is. It's love.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Witchfinder, by Sarah A. Hoyt

I received a free review copy of Witchfinder in the Kindle version. There were no technical problems with the transfer.

This is the third book in my run-up to the Hugos. It really serves a double function. In the first place, it's a substitute for the Hugo recommended “A Few Good Men” which was on the SP2 slate, but did not make the nomination ballot. However, I very recently reviewed AFGM, on March 4 to be exact, and 'Witchfinder' makes an excellent substitute for that work, since the story-telling is of the same quality, and the non-story elements that MAY enter into Hugo consideration are essentially identical.
The second reason that this book is included in the Hugo run-up is that Sarah serves as a mentor, trail-blazer, role-model, and cultivator of good writers through her blogs. It is worthy to note that no less than THREE of the Nominees for Best Fan Writer are rotating authors of her spin-off blog Mad Genius Club (Dave Freer, Amanda Green, and Cedar Sanderson), and a fourth member of the Club is Jason Cordova, a nominee for the Campbell Award.
Now, I am SORELY tempted to expand at delirious length on this second aspect of the book, the role that Sarah plays in the lives of other authors and fans of fantasy and science fiction. And, upon further reflection, it would be hard to overstate the importance of her role. However, to do so here would likely be a cheat to the readers of this book review, because it would fall into the area of the Private Joke. I even twitted (not Twittered, twitted) Sarah a bit, saying I was going to embarrass her by waxing eloquent on her many sterling qualities. Not going to do that, because it would really only be of interest to Sarah and the others who would get the Private Joke. But book reviews are supposed to be about books, and not about authors. And to show myself I am sincere in this approach. I just deleted a Private Joke that was really funny to me, but maybe NOBODY ELSE would get it, except for my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant foxy praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA. (And that's NOT a private joke, it's reality.)
Okay, I now realize that the insight I have about book reviews being about books and not authors has more application than just to the part of the review I have written so far. I will now proceed to review the book, and then, finally, get to the point which I just discovered.
Witchfinder is set in a universe of alternative worlds, each with varying degrees of utility and acceptance of magic. The title character is Seraphim, Duke of Darkwater, who is alerted by a pocketwatch inherited from his father when a magic user in any world is under attack. His job is rescue them, returning them to his world, Avalon, where magic is common and not subject to persecution, particularly in his homeland, Britannia. He is assisted in this by his illegitimate half-brother, Gabriel, a by-blow of his father's with an elf maiden. He does not know that he is under surveillance by Nell, an emigrant from another world, who is compelled to do so by the mysterious but undoubtedly evil Sydell. There is significant, although illegal, trafficking between the world of Avalon and other worlds, particularly Fairyland, source of elves, dragons, centaurs and other fantastic people. Other significant characters include Marlon Elfborn, a former tutor with dark secrets; Michael and Caroline, the twin siblings of Seraphin, half-sibs to Gabriel; Honoria, Seraphim's fiance'; Barbara, the Dowager Duchess and mother of Seraphim; and, at a distance, the King and Queen of Brittania, Richard and Cecilia.
Seraphim begins the book wounded from a prior rescue, and before he is able to recover, is drawn again to a rescue of a lion shifter where he collides, literally, with Nell, who has been trying to track him surreptitiously. He is forced to take her with him back to Avalon, along with the shifter. They almost immediately develop an attraction to each other, which provides the setting for the primary love story in the book. Secondary love stories include one between Caroline and a newly met person (avoiding spoilers), the love affair between Barbara and her deceased husband; between Richard and Cecilia; and, most significantly for the next part of this review, the covert love affair between Gabriel and Marlon.
This last is the common element between A Few God Men and Witchfinder. The hero of AFGM and the 'co-hero' (is that a word? I don't think it's a real word) of Witchfinder are gay. There is no exchange of body fluids described in the book, anywhere, regardless of the nature of the participants; it's not that kind of book. Sarah says that her characters determine their own personalities, which seems rather weird, but I've heard other authors say that as well. At any rate, in both of these books of Sarah's, there is a main character who is gay, and it causes some problems for them in their societies, but the characters are treated with respect and given other traits and behaviors that are not a function of genitalia. And yet Sarah's work is ignored by the crowd that elected the Hugo winners, that cries for diversity and inclusion.
Evidently, what they mean by this is that they want diversity of authors, or to be specific, they want LGBT authors, women authors, and authors who are persons of color. To this I say: BLEEP the authors! BLEEP the BLEEPING authors and their genitalia and what they do with it and their skin color! I DO NOT FREAKEN CARE ABOUT THE AUTHORS!!!!!!
I care about the STORY. Sarah has written, in these two books, a great story with sympathetic characters who are gay, and in doing so is giving an entire subset of the readers a character they can identify with. THAT is what is important about a book: does it give me someone I can see as me, even if I have to stretch a bit to fit in their shoes? Sarah has done that, and lots of other authors have done that as well. Heck, the first Spider Robinson book I read was “Telempath,” followed by “Night of Power,” and until I finally saw a picture of him I was convinced he was black! That's because he focused on the STORY. And Sarah focuses on the STORY. And she brings diversity of characters in to her works, and THAT'S what matters in terms of diversity, because it appeals to a diversity of readers. NOT, and I repeat NOT a diversity of writers.
Look, I get it that in the ancient days, all kinds of people were denied access to any number of opportunities for reasons that had nothing to do with real qualifications. That is no longer the case; if it IS the case for authors at one or more of the major publishing houses, then self publishing is always available. No author with ability is denied access to a reading public. So, can we PLEASE JUST IGNORE THE #### AUTHORS AND CONCENTRATE ON THE READERS? We are, after all, the ones who PAY THE FREAKEN BILLS!

Submitted with love and respect for all.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Lights in the Deep, by Brad Torgersen

I first read “Lights In The Deep” when it appeared in Baen's catalog in July of 2014. I had heard rumors of “The Chaplain's War” as something that was very different, and it was. After reading it, I HAD to read everything else I could find by Brad Torgersen, and that led me to this marvelous collection of short stories and essays.

I believe that “Lights In The Dark” is the perfect review for this time of spasm we are seeing following the Hugo nominations. There is an optimism in these works, and a collegiality expressed in the contributed essays, and together those two themes pretty much define the dream that Brad was working for in his advocacy of the works on the Sad Puppy 3 list.

I suppose we are doomed to have every SF work that speaks of the military in a positive light produce comparisons to Heinlein. There are much worse fates. However, I never caught the first sniff of Heinlein-imitation in Brad's work; they just share some of the same subject matter. Having said that, though, I confess that I keep Brad's books on the top shelf of my library, which is otherwise reserved for works by Heinlein, Niven, and Pournelle. His stories are just that good.

I've called these 'contributed essays' a couple of times, but the book calls them Introductions. You may call them whatever you like, but do not make the mistake of skipping over them to get to the good stuff, the stories. The Introductions ARE some of the best of the good stuff. They are written by : Stanley Schmidt, picked certainly because he was the editor at Analog who bought 'Outbound', Brad's first story to make the big leagues ; Mike Resnick, that gifted gentleman who handed Brad his first major award, picked certainly because he has served as a mentor (Brad calls him 'my writer dad'); and Allen Cole, one of the writers who influenced Brad, picked certainly because Brad is an extraordinarily generous human being, who simply wanted to share some space in his book because he was grateful. Allen, by the way, had a truly horrible time medically in the past year or so, and recently finished chemo. We all hope his recovery continues.
Each of these Introductions do more than simply recognize Brad's talents; they reflect a kindness and willingness to share that is the opposite of cut-throat politics and headline grabbing attacks. Late last week, Brad came under a particularly mean-spirited personal attack from an individual with no sense of propriety or integrity. I happened to be re-reading this section of the book for review at the time, and I took the opportunity to post a little reminder on his Facebook page that he had earned the respect and affection of some of the greats in the business.

Before I briefly review these ten stories, a general comment: by my count, SEVEN of them deal with the end of the world as we know it, either at our own hands or of those of aliens. Even the three that don't posit the end of the world, do address issues of organized or random violence and destruction. You are with me on this, right? People DIE. In some of the stories, almost everybody dies. To quote William Goldman, “this is not 'Curious George Goes To The Potty.'”
And yet, every single one of these stories is a story of hope. In some cases, the promise of hope fulfilled is strictly personal. In others, the human race rises from ashes, but always, always the story is told through the story of an individual.

“Outbound” is the story of a paraplegic boy, taken into a space habitat by his parents, who are seeking the low-grav environment of deep space work so that he may grow up without the limits to mobility planetary life would impose on him. The technological breakthroughs in the story are lovely to contemplate, but they don't obscure the real story, which is about coming of age and taking responsibility, of being able to give and receive love.

“Gemini 17” takes place in an alternate reality, where the American space program continued the use of two-man (Gemini) capsules instead of the three-man Apollo configuration. Alternatives to the brute strength of the Saturn boosters produce a cascade of consequences, and who knows? Maybe it could have gone that way. But again, the technology takes a back seat to the human story, of integrity and loyalty.

“The Bullfrog Radio Astronomy Project” was a giggle for me for several reasons. First, of course the name. Second, the idea that They really ARE out there, and They don't like our rock & roll. But primarily, it's because (snicker snicker snarf snarf) THE ARMY WARRANT OFFICER makes not ONE but TWO gun mistakes! Neither of them have anything to do with the plot, and if you aren't a person of moderate knowledge of and interest in firearms, you won't even notice. But I did, and I twitted him (NOT Twittered, twitted, you know, poked fun at him) about it in my first communication with him (a congratulatory email). He was very good humored about it, but snicker snicker snarf snarf.

“Exiles of Eden” I found to be the darkest of the stories, YMMV. It describes a far distant future, where the few remaining humans have transferred their personalities into their spacecraft, and have each separately chosen a solitary existence, until an unimaginable discovery pulls them back together. Even this dismal (to me) story is ultimately triumphant, though, as the remaining survivors end their isolation with discovery of a new purpose.

“Footprints” is an utterly strange story. If you could cross a Hallmark movie with one of the best Twilight Zone episodes, this is what you'd get. I will not deceive you: I teared up a little bit with this. Love, trust, determination, promises kept, and the strength that a daughter draws from her father's memory: yeah, that made me sniffle. Weird story, though. Good, but weird.

“The Exchange Officers,” I believe, shows the biggest techno-geek influence, and you KNOW Brad has got to be a techno-geek. He's a hospital IT guru, after all, when he isn't Army Dude. Ummm...that's Mr. Army Dude, because he's a warrant officer. So the heroes of this story have to be warrant officers, too. I have no problem with that, and I even think the entire story concept has great merit.

“The Chaplain’s Assistant” and “The Chaplain’s Legacy” are the kernels from which “The Chaplain's War” is grown. There are some minor differences, as story lines were revised and expanded in the final product, but since I just reviewed “The Chaplain's War” on this blog a couple of months back (January 27, to be exact) I'll not spend any pixels here. If you don't own a copy of “The Chaplain's War,” rectify that situation without delay.

“Exanastasis” is probably a high-tech retelling of some ancient cautionary tale. I say that because the characters have some pretty ancient-Greek-type names. I didn't think that my classical education was so lacking that I would completely miss the reference, but I have. Ancient-Greek-type clothes. Ancient-Greek-type family conspiracy with deadly ancient-Greek-type drama. And Communists, too. Evil-North Korea-type Communists.

“Ray of Light” inspired the cover art done by Bob Eggleton. Even reduced down to book-cover size, it's an impressive piece of art work, and when the original piece was displayed, Bob made a special point of giving credit to the story that inspired it. It's a good call, because the story was nominated for both the Nebula and the Hugo that year. It's really a remarkable story because it takes all of the epic themes of aliens, the end, - you know, life, the universe, and everything – and channels it into a profoundly moving love story, the love of a father who wants to provide a future for his daughter, but can't make the guarantee. Yeah, this one can be a tear-producer as well. I've got a bio daughter, four step-daughters, and an adopted daughter, and I will cheerfully destroy anything and anybody that dares to harm one of them. But what can a father do, when the world is over? That's the important story; not galactic politics.

And that really sums up why this book is such an important symbol for the Sad Puppy 3 campaign. Brad set out deliberately to bring notice to writers who told a story that mattered to people, not in the sense of mattering politically. If you want something that matters politically, that's okay. It ought NOT to be the primary purpose of an award shaped like a rocket ship and named after a writer of pulps. Shape it like a dollar sign, or a begging bowl. Name it after a mass murderer or a leader of the masses. But let's let this award be about hope for a future. That's all Brad wants, and all that most of us want. If we are wrong in thinking that's what most who love science fiction want, I suppose we will tender our regrets, and depart the public eye, except to furtively search the bargain tables at used-book stores, and download the spurned works of those with a glimmer in their eyes to our Kindles and laptops.
But, by golly, we tried.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Processing Our Grief

Today's blog post was supposed to be a review of Brad Torgerson's "Lights in the Deep." That review is a very important one, and it's coming, but today I have to write about something else.
Earlier this week, I got the news that a long-time friend, Virgil, had passed away. He had lived a long, active, productive life. He loved his children and grandchildren, and his wife, and His Lord.
As my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock GA was getting my clothes ready last night for the funeral today, I received another piece of gut-wrenching news. Our MGC friend, ShadowDancer, suffered the loss of her beautiful 11 week old son, Brandon Tetsuya Alrhain, likely due to SIDS.

How do I do this?
I sat there, stunned at the mountain of grief that was suddenly in front of me. It blocked my path. It blocked my view. It was overwhelming. The solace of drink is no longer available to me, due to my misuse of that great comfort during my younger years. So I sat.
At first, I wasn't even able to think. I don't know how long that lasted; probably not very long. Then I reached for my words, to help me understand, but my words weren't there. I fell back on wisdom earned at a dreadful cost: "Do the next right thing." And for a long, long time, so long that Vanessa wondered what was wrong with me, the next right thing was to sit, and be silent. And then, it was time to make a small donation to the fund established for the burial expenses for Brandon. So I did that, and then I was quiet again. I faced that mountain of grief, that represented all of the pain and loss ShadowDancer and the people who loved her were experiencing, and I had no idea of how to deal with it.

Eventually, there came one of those moments of insight, which I maintain come from God: I don't HAVE to remove the mountain. I only have to take away my part of it. My part is only a shovelful. I took away a small part of that mountain of grief by doing what I could, which was to make a small donation, and to cherish ShadowDancer and her family in my heart, and to be grateful for the safe place ShadowDancer had found recently through her friends Foxfier and others, at the Mad Genius Club, and According to Hoyt, and Monster Hunter International. Those were refuges for her, and the communities and moderators made it a safe place.
And finally, I rested.
And this morning, I got lost on the way to church for Virgil's funeral service. I've been attending that church for fifteen years, but this morning, thinking about what Virgil had meant to me, I got lost. I made it there in time to hear my friend Tony singing "If You Could See Me Now," and to hear others testify about what Virgil had meant to them. And then, they opened up the mike, and asked if anyone else would like to share, and so I told them what Virgil had meant to me.
"There are a lot of reasons people grow up without a father. But when you become an adult, you don't have to let the lack of a father destroy you; you can go and find someone to be your father. Virgil was one of the men who filled that role for me. I watched him serve, and he loved it. When I needed to buy a target pistol, I called Virgil, and he went with me to pick out a pistol. When I turned 50, and decided to get back on a motorcycle after 15 years away, the first place I took that motorcycle was over to Virgil's to show it to him. The horn didn't work, but Virgil just happened to have a motorcycle horn in his shop, and we put it on the motorcycle, and it's there to this day. But I don't have to have the motorcycle horn to remind me of Virgil: he's right here in my heart. And every time you see me doing a work of service, you are seeing a piece of Virgil there, too."
Virgil's widow, Suzie, wept when I told her Virgil had been a father to me; I'm sure she was thinking about how Virgil had been a father to her children as well, becoming their dad when they were young.
And then, on the way home (not getting lost this time), I continued to think about Virgil, and Suzie, and ShadowDancer, and the mountain.
And at some point, I got the image in my head of the mountain, but this time, there were lots of people walking toward it, and all of them had shovels in their hand.
That's how I think we best process our grief. None of us can take away the pain and loss a mother or a widow feels; but all of us can do something. All of us have a shovel, and even if the way we use the shovel is by sitting in stunned silence, then I believe that is worth doing.
Short term grief has its' own troubles, and long term grief is different. It's highly likely that I will blog on dealing with grief in the long term sometime in the future, but for now, I will sit, and hold close in my heart those who are gone, and those who remain.
Here is what ShadowDancer posted:

Today, another angel gained his wings

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Monster Hunter International, by Larry Correia

I decided to do a series of book reviews as a run-up to the Hugo awards, and can think of no better place to start than with Larry Correia. If you don't understand that, let me explain:....ummm, no; that would take too long. Let me sum up: Larry Correia will ultimately be regarded as THE person who returned integrity to the Hugo process, and in doing so, saved the award from oblivion.
But I will no longer discuss his work in other matters; this is a book review.
I will, however, make two negative observations:

Negative Observation Number 1: I don't like names that are spelled funny. I don't read the names in Michael Hooten's Bardic Chronicles; in those, the characters have long multiple names with NO vowels at all, except for the occasional 'Y' thrown in like a pasty on a 1950's exotic dancer. (I saw it in a Doris Day/Rock Hudson movie.) And Larry's name is spelled funny for the opposite reason: It ends with three vowels in a row. He could have changed it, pre-publication, you know, and no one would have objected. Was Corrigan or Carson or Carroll too much to ask? It's too late to do anything about this, everybody knows how to spell it NOW, but really: This could have been avoided.

Negative Observation Number 2: I think my youngest biological son has a Monster Hunter tattoo. I don't LIKE tattoos. I know he has the bumper sticker and something on his dashboard and a hat, but the tattoo is a little bit much. My fault, actually, because I introduced him to MHI when he was still in high school. It's too late to do anything about the tattoo, as well.

And now to the book:

On one otherwise normal Tuesday evening I had the chance to live the American dream. I was able to throw my incompetent jackass of a boss from a fourteenth-story window.

There's no WAY that you aren't gonna love that beginning, unless you have some sort of moral objection to throwing people out of windows. And yes, I guess that there are people like that, and they get to do things their own way, but for the rest of us: SHAZAM!

And it just gets better after that.

Our hero, Owen Zastava Pitt describes himself as a huge, ugly, muscular accountant. (By way of an AMAZING coincidence, so is Larry, except for the ugly part; I'd have to go with ruggedly handsome as a person, and self-deprecating humor as an author.) The reason he gets to throw his boss out the window is because that Tuesday night in question just happens to be a full moon, and Owen's boss just happens to be a werewolf, newly turned. And he has chosen to eat Owen's heart.
Owen remonstrates.
That doesn't work.
Owen allows himself to retort.
With 5 rounds of .357 from a Smith & Wesson snub-nose.
That also doesn't work.
Nor does the next five rounds, into the werewolf's head, after a speed load while running away.
An aside to discuss ammunition selection: The .357 in a snub-nose is not my personal preference. I also carry a S&W (Model 642) snubbie for personal protection, but I have chosen the .38+P over the .357. Make no mistake, I love the .357, but two factors mitigate against its' use in a snubbie. First, the short barrel length means a good bit of the power of the cartridge is lost to a bodacious muzzle flash. Second, the increased power of the .357 means a much greater perceived recoil in a small-frame revolver. However, for a huge guy like Owen (and Larry), the recoil may not matter all that much, and the increased muzzle flash can actually act as a secondary defense in very close quarter encounters.
Actually, the main purpose in this aside is not so much to comment on the particular ammunition choice, but to introduce the fact that throughout the book, Larry makes NO STUPID FIREARMS STATEMENTS. That is a WONDERFUL relief to guys like me, who have some working acquaintance with fire arms, but Larry takes it even further than not being stupid: he is SMART about firearms. He addresses the ballistics properties of silver bullets; he knows that a handgun is NOT a good primary weapon in a firefight; and he knows when to use a shotgun and when to use a rifle. And finally, he incorporates some wonderfully desirable firearms into the book that are practically characters in their own right, such as Owen's 12 gauge shotgun with a silver-edged bayonet, the Abomination.

In the world that Larry creates, monsters are real, and many of the monsters are a problem. And there are companies that are in business to eliminate that problem, drawing bounties set up by (who else) Teddy Roosevelt who had personally experienced problems with monsters. And the bounties have a great name: PUFF. I am SO not going to tell you what the acronym is for, because that would just spoil it, but Larry is great with acronyms; in a later book, we get to read about Special Task Form Unicorn, or STFU.

After Owen's startling introduction into the world of monsters, he wakes up in a hospital, suffering from some outrageous werewolf wounds. His greeting committee consists of two suits from the government, who threaten him with death, if he : a) turns into a werewolf, or b) tells anyone what really happened. However, in one of those awful need-to-know scenes, they refuse to tell him anything else. The snarl-fest is interrupted by a Bogart/Cagney tough-guy type, who introduces himself as being the alternative to government handling, gives Owen a business card, and leaves.

I am almost done with the scene by scene narrative, but I have to give you one more example of why Larry's writing is so great:

Owen is at home recuperating, when the tough guy (Earl Harbinger) shows up at his door with a beautiful woman (Julie Shackleford) on his arm. They are there to interview Owen for a job at their company, Monster Hunters International. . Owen immediately falls head over heels in love with Julie. He is convinced that she is The One because she is beautiful, smart, wears glasses, and packs a 1911 for self-defense. Here's the great part: In the course of the job interview, Julie starts with the same line the government agents have taken about the need-to-know, and we are prepared to accept this approach, because countless other books and movies have shown the hero taking on danger in complete ignorance of the relevant details. Suddenly, though, EARL STARTS ANSWERING QUESTIONS! There's a brief, cute scene with Julie trying to keep the interview going, but being ignored by Owen and Earl who are happily discussing monsters. It's great! I didn't want Owen to keep going on without knowing what was up, and neither did you, but we were prepared for the reveal to come later. Larry doesn't MAKE us wait until later, because he doesn't need this paltry bit of mystery to keep the tension up. He has a LOT more story on tap.

Okay, that's all I'm going to tell you about the story. If you wonder about whether a particular character dies, all I can do is point you to the fact that this is a SERIES and let you draw your own conclusions.

The book is funny. The dialogue is great. There's a love story, lots of bizarre characters in even more bizarre roles, and good guys of all race, creed, and hair style treated with respect and sympathy. As mentioned earlier, I gave the book to my youngest son while he was still in high school, and my decency standards are set pretty high. Larry is quite consistent with a Heinlein level of appropriate language. He may mention that a certain character emits swear words while being beaten/shot/stabbed/ thwarted, but doesn't find it necessary to provide us with examples. The book works on so many different levels, but mostly because it emphasizes the significance of self-sacrifice for team mates.

Here's how much we enjoyed this book: we checked the Baen release lists at least every week to see when the next installment was due. Kids at Christmas? Yeah, I'll have to accept that label. Fortunately, Larry can write other things well, but MHI holds a special place in our house because it was our introduction to good monster hunting.

I just wish I could do something about that tattoo...