Thursday, October 19, 2017

Forged in Blood, edited by Mad Mike



This is the somewhat expanded review of "Forged In Blood," which is edited by Michael Z Williamson. You can read the 'essentials' review on Amazon HERE, unless I forget to put the link in.

BTW: if you DO read the condensed review, & vote 'helpful' on it, it is possible that you will have a miniscule positive impact on the sales of the books I review. That's what Amazon tells us is true, at any rate.

STUFF THAT WON'T MAKE IT INTO THE AMAZON REVIEW:
With this review, I am ALMOST caught up with where I should be in reviewing books. Maybe three months ago, a passel of real-life events stampeded down the canyon and ran over me; I believe the correct terminology is 'they stomped a rut into me, and then walked it dry.'

Not to worry; quite a lot of it has been survivable, thus far, and the rest has given me glorious perspective. Actually, I exaggerate: all of it has been survivable, if not pleasant. In addition, hardly any of it has been my fault, and that, I find, is a great comfort. I can put up with an amazing amount of inconvenience, as long as it is either a function of random chance or someone else's stupid choices.

What I HATE is finding myself face down on the railroad tracks, soaked in kerosene, leaking circulatory fluid, with angry red marks from several different sizes of ballet slippers refusing to fade from my milk-white skin,, and realizing "Yup, I deserved that."

Not that such an event has ever happened, but it's a good example of the sort of thing I like to avoid. And, I think I will be able to, for the foreseeable future, although  I wouldn't claim to be out of the woods, yet. This whole "I-don't-have-any-teeth" thing, for example, is bothersome, and there is not much of anything I can do, other than avoid almost all food. But, other than that, there are no PLANNED disasters or emergencies on the calendar, which is a nice and welcome change.

So, I'm good.

And now: the Amazon Review!

This review of "Forged in Blood" is long delayed, because I got an Advanced Reader Copy from Baen Publishing, without noticing the 'Advanced' part. I was therefore frustrated in my routine policy of reading and reviewing IMMEDIATELY, because the book wasn't released yet. That's happened to me a couple of times, and I have even 'lost' some books for a while. However, in this case, it did permit me the guilty pleasure of re-reading a book I enjoyed.

I am not a blade or firearms collector. I use a term borrowed from the blade genius Hank Reinhardt: I'm an 'accumulator.' Like many others of such habits, I have on numerous occasions looked at a particular item and thought: "I wish you could tell me your stories." I've got a Mosin-Nagant 91/30, a 1934 Tula hex with matching serial numbers, and I wonder: did you drive back the invaders at Stalingrad? Or maybe something a bit nastier? But (fortunately), I don't get a response.

Williamson, who IS a collector of sharp, pointy things, has, in this volume, also collected authors.  They share in these pages the stories of a finely crafted bit of steel, whispered in the hearts of warriors, over centuries in time, and light years in space. Each story is linked to the next by his brief narratives, which are essential to understanding the book as a whole.

Although the cover states that these are stories in the Freehold Universe, I don't think that is precisely true. They just pass through that neighborhood, picking up hitchhikers on the way. Most of the stories were written this year for this volume, although one appeared in slightly different form in the novel that named the universe, "Freehold."

The stories:

The Tachi, by Zachary Hill. In addition to providing great stories of combat and perseverance, the stories can also provide a novice with instruction in the construction and naming of blades. The tachi is one of the more ancient Japanese designs, and it is in this form that the sword appears. On display as part of a household shrine, it does not see use as a actual weapon until the very end of the story, because the young mistress of the manor does not find herself worthy to touch it. The sword is only slightly self-aware at this point, and joins with the young wife to create new legends.
Due to one of those freakishly unexpected biological accidents that happen to humans, the author did not live to see publication of his work.

Musings of a Hermit, by Larry Correia.  Whether it is true that a man is a product of his time, I do not know. I do know that things which may be accepted standards in one age are rejected in another. Hatsu Kanemori was known for having a fiercely independent streak, which was only tolerated  by the overlord because he was also known to be fierce in battle, as well. Unfortunately for him, the battles came to an end, and with it, toleration. The multi-great grandson of the lady of the manor fled, bearing only the sword of his ancestors. His troublesome reputation remained, though, and he was both sought out, and rejected, by the peasant community. If you consider this as a small slice of "The Seven Samurai," you won't be too far wrong. The sword, now in the form of the more modern katana, waits; and serves when needed; and waits some more.

Stronger than Steel, by Michael Massa. 'The battle doesn't always go to the biggest army, but that's the way to bet.' Superior technology changes the balance of war, and after much time has passed, it seems that the only thing that will surpass a charger-fed bolt action rifle is a belt-fed magazine gun. The Russo-Japanese War is a horribly efficient destroyer of humans, between the technology of small arms and artillery, and the diseases faced by soldiers who are cold, wet, and poorly fed. Even so, cold steel has it's place. The Russian counterpart to the Japanese katana now carried by Major Tanaka is no less endowed by legends. The Kladenets legend is of a self-swinging sword, which cannot break if drawn with honor. However, metallurgy gets a vote, too, as do physics and luck. In the end, when two superior swordsmen face each other, don't bet on either side.

He Who Lives Wins, by John F. Holmes.   The 132nd Infantry Regiment was one of the first American units to go to war. Just six weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the regiment sailed from New York. Later that year, they were inserted into combat on Guadalcanal, which is where this story takes place. The katana is carried by Japanese Lt. Shizuka, and represents the last remnant of his samurai heritage. Unfortunately, Lt. Shizuka has almost no other aspects of the warrior, besides the sword, and he commands his squad of starving, diseased troops mostly because of they have been brutalized by training to follow orders. On the other side is slacker and all-around screw-off Chicago punk Private Tony Montero, who uses his enterprising talents to swap his weapons for booze, and make himself scarce when there is work to be done. Then, combat happens. It is truly amazing to observe unsuspected reservoirs of moral character emerge, when people begin to die. HOWEVER!!! I have a question about the dialogue. The action takes place in 1943, and at one point, Montero compliments fellow soldier BAR gunner Erik Nilsen for an excellent grenade throw, by comparing him to Babe pitching one across home plate. Now, while it is true that Babe Ruth was primarily known as a power hitter, he got his start as a left-handed pitcher, and was highly successful in that role, so that's the most likely reference. However, Ruth retired in 1935; he essentially retired as a pitcher after 1919. A more likely candidate is Babe Adams, a control pitcher who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates until 1926. But why would a boy from Chicago mention either of those players?

Souvenirs, by Rob Reed.  A story about lessons, and sacrifices, and losses. There is a generation that learns the lesson, and makes the sacrifice. That is followed by a generation that learns the lesson, because it is told of the sacrifice. That is followed by a generation that is not told of the sacrifice, and does not learn the lesson. Then, the lesson must be taught again. Now, that is not EXACTLY the message of this story, but it's a corollary. The message of the story is that you must be prepared to do what is necessary; and I THINK that the additional message is that you must be prepared to make the sacrifice, even if it is forgotten. And the sword is passed from the line of warriors and scholars, and into the hands of the ignorant.

Broken Spirit, by Michael Z. Williamson and Dale C. Flowers. If you go to a carnival sponsored by the PTA to raise money for an elementary school, you EXPECT there to be spongy animals to be won by matching numbers on floating ducks. It is the appropriate experience for small children. On the other hand, when adults get their hands on priceless relics and spray paint them neon pink, it's disgusting. Your toddler may not understand WHY  you don't want them to color in the family Bible, but typically, you don't permit your toddler to be alone with the Bible and a box of crayons. Unfortunately, idiots have access to power tools, and priceless antiques as well. The story has a somewhat happy ending, in that the sword is rescued; however, she wants to be used, not displayed.

Okoyyūki, by Tom Kratman. Confession: Because the story SAYS the Japanese makes no sense; and since the best translation I could get for the title is 'snow occurred;'  and I know Kratman has a gonzo sense of humor: I just didn't chase down the transliterated Japanese phrases in the story. I SUSPECT that if there is any sense whatsoever in the words, it is related to the fact that there is a two word phrase in English, the second word of which is 'happens'  (similar to occurred), the first word of which also starts with 's', but is not snow. I may be completely off base. End of confession! The sword finally has something of a kindred spirit. A certain Captain Reilly is going off to war, and he is bughouse nuts. He and the sword speak to each other, and the sword trains him, and can enhance his perception and reflexes somewhat. It is black humor, and perhaps no person who has not been in the military, AND been a fan of of both Princess Bride and Monty Python, can possibly appreciate it. I am a person who can.

The Day the Tide Rolled In, by Michael Z. Williamson and Leo Champion. We now move into the (near) future in the narrative of the sword. A distant relative of the last owner is retired Gunnery Sergeant James Chesterton, USMC (ret), a merchant seaman in Indonesia. Things go south, battles happen, and he lends his hand to the side of the good guys. This contains some of the better urban battle sequences in the book; true to life, the fight with edged weapons doesn't start until everybody runs out of bullets.


Ripper, by Peter Grant. After long years of peace/dormancy/boredom, the sword moves off planet. The Freehold Universe is officially on duty; the action takes place in the early days of settling Grainne. It's an Earthlike planet, and if you like the peaceful and soothing environments of Africa and Australia, you will just LOVE it here. In other words: everything is trying to kill you. I was an Army medic; wouldn't have been a combat engineer not no way, not no how. It's worse than being a medic, because at least as a medic, you had some hope that after you dragged the bleeding casualties back behind the lines, you could take a break after dealing with the sucking chest wound. Not the engineers: these guys are trying to build things, even while smart animals are trying to eat them. The sword has been reconfigured, and lost some length, and is now a wakizashi. Tom, the bearer, is the grandson of Gunny Chesterton. He has been brought up to respect the blade, and is proficient in its' use.

Case Hardened, by Christopher L. Smith. Yet another planet, yet another war. The sword's bearer dies in an ambush in the opening moments, and is accidently dragged away by being snagged on a rifle strap. The new bearer is a certain Private Cook, the errant son of a prominent military man. He runs, leaving companions behind. Whether in shock from this violation of the warrior code, or for some other reason, for the first time, the sword manifests visibly to the bearer, as a young Asian woman. He stops running.

Magnum Opus, by Jason Cordova. Rowan Moran is a deadly young man, and he uses anything available as a tool to accomplish his job. On this night, his job is to protect the Ambassador from attack, and gather as much information as possible. He doesn't LIKE the job, though, because it requires him to use his race and sexuality as camouflage to his real role as an Operative.  His relationship with the sword is an art form; the flows through prescribed routines like a dance. There is always something just a little bit off, though.

Lovers, by Tony Daniel.   Lisa Riggs had always known the sword would be hers one day. She just didn't realize that her parents would sell it to her, in anger and rejection because she chose the life of an enlisted member of the service, not a commissioned officer.  She bore up under the rejection, and was successful in her career despite their low opinion. And that's how she got sent to Mtali, the worst place in the universe. It didn't seem to have much potential to be a paradise, but the behavior of the assorted religious factions toward each other made it an open cesspool. She never liked the place, but she didn't hate it until they killed the one good thing she had found.

The Reluctant Heroine, by Michael Z. Williamson. The oldest story in the book, this tells how Kendra Pacelli and the sword picked each other, and how she used it in the desperate battle to save Grainne.

The Thin Green Line, by Michael Z. Williamson. A new Kendra Pacelli story for the book. Invited back to the cesspool that is Mtali, Kendra goes out of a sense of duty. It's supposed to be in support of a peace settlement, but on Mtali, that can degenerate quickly; and it does. Her counterpart is Aisha Rahal, also a woman in the service of her planet, in this case, Ramadan. Forced by her culture's gender models to take a back seat, Lt. Rahal is nonetheless eager to serve. As must Kendra.

Family Over Blood, by Kacey Ezell. Wayne Carreon tells the story, but he is not the bearer of the sword. That honor goes to his commander, Captain Naomy Aiella, who may not be as crazy as prior sword bearer Captain Reilly, but she will do until something else comes along. Humanity has a new enemy, and there appears to be no negotiations possible; the Cutters are expanding their territory, and attack whenever they come into contact with humans. It's exactly the sort of situation that calls for cool and crazy, and it seems to fit nicely for Captain Aiella. Unfortunately it's not THAT nice fit that has Wayne's attention; during the fight for entry into the Cutter ship, their power armor has been disabled, and they have to carry on in their composite underwear. Wayne LIKES the way Captain Aiella looks in her composite underwear. Now, some may theorize that it is the after-effects of the concussion he took on ship entry that have scrambled his neurons, but I think not. I think he's just normal. It just takes a while to work out the kinks on the job when there are beautiful women and handsome men involved, and when the jobsite involves the possibility of sudden death, it takes a little longer. That's all.

Choices and Consequences, by Michael Z. Williamson. Without this chapter, I don't think the book works; at least, it wouldn't work as well. Through SCIENCE, the new sword bearer is provided with the information about the history of the sword. There is evidence to document owners going back to Lisa Riggs, and proof that the sword was much, much older than that. And then comes the question: what is the highest and best use of the sword? To be treasured and placed on display, for all to see? Or to be returned to battle? Hint: It's a Mad Mike book. What do you THINK the answer is going to be?

Peace be on your household

Thursday, October 12, 2017

For A Few Credits More: Four Horsemen Anthology


This is the EXPANDED, UNABRIDGED version of the review. If you want the condensed, Amazon review, go here.


I obtained this book through the Kindle Unlimited program.

This book bothered me, a LOT. I've read everything in the series, and loved it. I was EXPECTING to love this as well, but I didn't. In fact, had it not been for the fact that I read the LAST story in the collection FIRST, that being Kacey Ezell's warped and wonderful "The Start of Something Beautiful," there is at least an outside chance that I would have tossed the book midway, and moved on. And that truly, truly bothered me.

It really wasn't so much that I thought the book was bad that bothered me; rather, it's that I have an almost 100% track record for loving the stories in this series, and then I found myself turning pages with distaste.

If you read my blog, you know I've had some health challenges lately. In addition to the physical body stuff, I've had to grapple with some profound issues of life and death, and my ability to stand, when there are forces trying to make me fall. It's been one of the worst periods my family has had to go through. 

My question was: had I allowed the personal struggles to taint my ability to read and review a story on its' own merits? I had to ask for help.

And seventeen friends, new and old, responded. I explained my dilemma: I wasn't sure I could trust my opinion on these stories. I asked THEM to read the stories, come to their own conclusions, and then take a look at what I had written; then, tell me if my review was on target or not. (I hope some of them wrote their own reviews, but that wasn't a requirement.)

Here's what I got back: some people had the same problem with the same stories that i did. Some liked best, the stories that I liked least. However, in the end, it seems that it was just a matter of opinion, and not a systematically warped perspective, that accounted for my distaste.
At their request (and I think it's a good idea as well) I'm not going to thank any of the Review Review Crew by name. The opinions I publish are my own, and I take full responsibility for them.

I'm publishing the review in two versions. Here, in my blog, I'm making known my opinion on ALL of the stories. In my Amazon review, I am ONLY reviewing those stories I liked, and I point that out in the review.

It seemed right to me, at the time of writing the review, that I identify science fiction (or other) tropes that show up in the stories. And, in those cases where no pre-existing trope existed, I made one up. In addition,  I gave a PLUS '+' rating to stories I like, and a MINUS '-'  rating to stories I didn't like.

A general note about the anthology as a whole: One of the other reviewers points out that an appendix which provides the names and traits of alien races would be helpful. I endorse this suggestion highly.

And another general note about collections of short stories in general: they are MUCH harder to review than books.

BUTCH AND SUNDANCE by Peter Cawdron

A routine snatch job is a set-up. The protagonist has to figure out what is happening as the events unfold. As far as I know, I hate stories like this. The object of the snatch knows more about what's going on than the mercs doing the snatch. You might like stories like this, but I found it to be grim, complicated, and unsatisfying, and the fact that it is the lead-off story rather soured me against the entire book. Betrayal of mercenaries, check. Rating: -

WHERE ENEMIES SIT by Rob Howell

Lt. Frazier MacKenzie was a freshly-minted officer in command of a detachment of a particular mercenary company. Either I have a nasty mind ( a possibility) or the name of the outfit was designed for purposes of potty humor. I found this story to be one of the best possible portrayals of the “second lieutenant goes into combat” situation; he knows what he doesn't know, he defers to the experience of the experienced warrant officer under his command, but he ALSO has the command ability to recognize that this action is a set-up, and attempts to save his troops, while preserving evidence for post-action evaluations. Betrayal of mercenaries, check. Redemptive self-sacrifice on behalf of others, check. Rating: +

BOSS by Scott Moon

I don't know that the environment is mentioned in this story; even so, I'm left with the impression that it all takes place in the dark, with a cold, wet, drizzle coming down. The mercenary Ogre Fist Company is out of money, their equipment is substandard, and the commander and his executive officer are, literally, about to kill each other. Furthermore, one of their troopers has been arrested for stealing a computer tablet and killing a cop. This is a linked story, so that just when I thought that I was done with the characters, they crop up again in the next story. Mercenaries scheming against each other, check. Rating: -

LEVERAGE by Josh Hayes

This is a dirty-cop story; it's always seems to be dark and rainy in this story as well. It's linked to the previous story through the follow-up on the activities of the accused copkiller. The tie-in to the Four Horsemen universe is that Macintosh Sacobi, an apprentice Peacemaker, quits because his training officer is a bad cop who cares nothing about collateral damage and beats suspects in handcuffs. He returns to his original position as a community-based cop, but another encounter with the (now) escaped cop-killer brings him back into contact with his former Peacemaker trainer. Bad cops beating up prisoners, check. Falsely accused prisoners dying to save their captors, check. Rating: -

LUCK OF THE DRAW by J.R. Handley & Corey D. Truax

Ivan Petrov is a worthless loser, working sporadically as a bounty hunter to get gambling money. His loan shark/bookie is in the process of having him beaten to death, when he gets a reprieve, in the form of a job offer. The new employer is a Level 4 Peacemaker Hunter named Boudicca, a dog-like Zuul. She has disconcerting puppy-like characteristics, and in addition to a life-saving job, she offers him some potentially life-changing advice:
“I know what it is to lose your pack,” she said. “We can only honor them with our future actions.”
It's an interesting concept for Petrov; he hasn't had the slightest interest in honoring anyone for quite some time; only in ending his existence in the way designed to aggravate the maximum number of people. Loan sharks with incredibly stupid business plans, check. Pawns selected because of their faults, check. Rating: -

CONTRACT FULFILLED by Tim C. Taylor

Sisters Midnight and Solara command a merc company which is under contract to Oriflamme, decadent governor of a mining world with suspicious sources of income. They kidnap a suspected spy, and on the way to cash him in, things happen. One of the sisters, Midnight aka Blue, has so interfered with her nanite load that her pleasure centers are always turned on, and are particularly stimulated by danger. Hint: never, ever place a person with this condition in charge of anything. It seems to be an excuse for writing soft porn without having to resort to descriptions of body parts. Also, if there is not a limit on the number of times you can throw a flashback into the story, there should be, and the limit had better be one; perhaps one per character, at the most. Otherwise, it comes across like a kindergartner telling a story. Booty call, check. Betray the employer, check. “Oh, I forgot to tell you,” check. Rating: -

EMANCIPATION by Mark Wandrey

Cartwright's Cavaliers are one of the original companies making up the Four Horsemen, although their survival was almost negated by the subsequent action of she-who-is-better-off-forgotten. Jim Cartwright has rebuilt the company and provided it with the leadership it needed more than the equipment. He has bad taste in music, though.
As they are dropping into a hot combat zone, he plays “Radioactive,” by Imagine Dragons. I was previously unfamiliar with this music, and so I researched the band and listened to the song. If they had played it for me when I was dropping into combat, I would have frantically searched for another channel; heck, even talk radio. Admittedly, the hot zone is that, literally; in addition to the fire from hostiles, the area is, well, radioactive. So, the song is, perhaps, appropriate. Still, the music is an acquired taste, and does not pound the blood like 'Days of Elijah,' or even 'Seven Spanish Angels.'

Apart from that, however, Cartwright demonstrates the best of the admittedly limited options left to the human race. Forced into an undesired role, they not only perform focused violence with elan, they exploit the system better than anyone else, by actions not directly related to their own self-interest. Great story in the tradition of Four Horsemen, check. Rating: +



FORBIDDEN SCIENCE by Terry Mixon

An advanced graduate student can see the Promised Land clearly, but also understands that there is an impenetrable barrier to entry: approval by a faculty committee. In this case, Jeff has been handed an assignment which cannot possibly work out well: he has been ordered to take part in forbidden research into anti-matter, while simultaneously serving as a spy for the administration, which decidedly does not wish the research to succeed. Although only peripherally related to the main narrative of the Four Horsemen universe, several goofy elements make this an excellent read for me, a surviving post-grad student. Kill your faculty advisor with a meat-ax, check. Rating: +


CHANGE OF COMMAND by Thomas A. Mays

When you are young and inexperienced, you want command because it's fun to tell other people what to do. Then, at some point, you learn about responsibility, and things change. Unfortunately, humans found themselves with an expanding need for military organizations, and not enough time to grow the leaders.
That is precisely the situation the Terrible Texans faced when the simple garrison duty contract turned hostile. The very few competent leaders died fast, and officers who had some specific technical skills found themselves unprepared. And as is always the case, the poor bloody infantry foots the bill.
Betrayal by REMFs, check. Science rocks, check. Rating: +


A FAMILY TRADITION by Ian J. Malone

Wow. This is one you have to read for yourself, because it's a gimmick story. It's a GOOD gimmick story, and well within the traditions of the Four Horsemen, but everything I want to mention as a hint gives the whole thing away. I only had a slight tickle while reading it, but once I finished, everything tied together. Tribute to departed, check. Rating: +


GO FOR BAIT by T.C. Bucher

The title is a pun, and it's the only thing that's funny about the story, although there might have been humor involved in setting up the original scene. It IS intriguing, though: how fast can you adapt to an enemy who is coming in an altogether unexpected direction? I can see this emerging as a thought problem in an after-con discussion. Bad intelligence from the REMFs, check. Sacrifices for comrades in arms, check. Rating: +

THE KRA’DAAR by Chris Winder

An unknown something is setting fires for some reason on a planet where that is particularly bad, for reasons that are partially revealed. No, you aren't going to get much more description than that. I'm not fond of stories that leave out significant details. Primitive world exploited by Galactic Union, check. Former savage despises roots, check. Rating: -


BLOOD OF INNOCENTS by James Young

At best, a second-tier merc company can expect second-tier jobs with second-tier pay. When a truly lucrative contract appears, it's because no one else will take it.
So far, so good.
But then, I lost the story in the middle of the witty repartee being conducted between the leader of the mercs and a sentient owl, representing one group, and a horse-faced Peacemaker, representing...something. I re-read the story, looking for details I missed, but it didn't work. I don't know who the mercs were working for when they hit dirtside.
And the story just...stops. No resolution, no hints.
I hope we don't die, check. Rating: -


MESSENGER by Nick Cole

Years ago, there was a saying: “There are no atheists in foxholes.” I don't know if that expression still exists; it's been 42 years since I took off the uniform for the last time, and I'm out of touch. There's a basic truth, though: when you are alone, and facing death, you become very devout.
It doesn't take an actual foxhole to make that happen. For lots of young guys, having the comfort of home stripped away, facing a seeming eternity of wearing a uniform, in what seems to be a consistently hostile environment, those factors are what raise the question of the nature and meaning of life. And, once converted, they become enthusiastic, dedicated evangelists; they burn with a pure fire.
And that's the story here: sift the messengers as fine as you like; you may find them to misinformed, they may be ignorant; but their devotion is as pure as clear water and sunlight. Continue the mission, check. Rating: +

FAITH by Chris Kennedy

There are a lot of reasons mercs are distrusted by civilians, but one of the most insidious is the mixed hatred and contempt that people in power have for an armed force that isn't under their control. In this story, we find out one of the consequences of a world government: if you use a firearm in the commission of a crime, your sentence is automatic: life without parole. In a cave. On Phobos, orbiting Mars.
Pretty bleak, eh?
There are no such things as extenuating circumstances; nobody is concerned about whether the dead 'needed killing' or not. The government would take away all firearms if possible. However, since the economy now depends on mercenaries, that isn't an option. So, they grudgingly ignore the armed mercenaries in their midst, until they have an excuse to incarcerate one forever.
That's the thing about totalitarian authorities: they will go to any lengths to enforce their system on the rest of the universe. And that's why we can NEVER have any truce with kings. Bad intelligence from REMFs, check. Loyalty to comrades, check. Rating: +

TINKERMAN by Jake Bible

Another variant on the theme that authority cannot tolerate power not under its' control. For a person raised in the exact opposite end of the country, it takes a bit for the incongruity of Oregon as tumbleweed country to sink in, but I DID catch on by the time I read that there was no snow on the mountains. Ancient refugee engineer stymies modern corporate tech, check. High Noon revisited, check. Rating: +

THE START OF SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL by Kacey Ezell

If you want to believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast, this story is a good place to start.
It's IMPOSSIBLE not to shudder when thinking of the giant spider warriors known as Tortantulas. It simply cannot be done; we are hard-wired to hate spiders. These aren't just spiders, though; they are gigantic spiders, with lasers. And they eat their prey, and just about anything that exists qualifies as prey. One of the looming events in the Four Horsemen saga is a battle scene involving a gratuitous assault by Tortantulas; why couldn't it be butterflies? Because butterflies, even giant butterflies with lasers, don't produce a visceral reaction, that's why!
To make things even worse, they are accompanied by furry, wile-tempered, bitey riders. We hates them, yes we do, precious, nasty monsters with rats on their backs!
And yet...
...this one is...cute. Sort of.
At least in these circumstances, which frankly seem to be the only way in which such a horrid pairing could be concocted. We assume it follows under the category of imprinting, or symbiotic relationships, or science or something.
If you can't find six impossible things to believe in THAT, here's one more for you: This is the last story in the book, but it's the first one I read. This turned out to be a REALLY GOOD THING, because otherwise, I would not have kept reading; I disliked five of the first six stories, and it was really because of THIS story that I knew there had to be more material I would enjoy.

Women warriors, check. Cuddly monsters, check. Team loyalty, check. Rating: +

And thus endeth the review. Many thanks again to those who helped me verify that my perspective wasn't distorted. 

And I'm looking forward to MORE writing in the Four Horsemen Universe.

Peace be on your household.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Insurgents, by Margaret Ball



The short version review can be found on Amazon here. Check it out, and I can use the votes if you find the review helpful.

When you have literate friends, you are always going to be prompted to read new material. This is TRULY important for someone like myself, by which I mean the kind of person who reads no newspapers, watches no TV, subscribes to no magazines. I'm sure that the latest lovely works are being promoted in all the customary places, but I pay less attention to those than I do to the occasional coffee stain on my monitor. (I get those from time to time, because I read something goofy, and spew coffee through my nose.) I frequent one or two Facebook sites, subscribe to a couple of blogs, and that's it. Literate friends post in those places, and I use their research to my advantage.

So a couple of weeks ago, some of my literate were raving about Margaret Ball, and her latest book. I do not know this Margaret person, and perhaps that means that my environment is sealed just a bit too severely. Couldn't say. Don't really care. But one thing was clear: Margaret Ball issuing a new work was making people run around in circles, emitting squee noises; people whose opinions I respect.

So, I figured, I'll get the book. Assorted Huns and Mad Genius types like her work, it's worth a try.

Then, I looked at the cover art.

Oh, my.

This is the kind of art that screams to me : "DO NOT GET THIS BOOK!"  It is very well executed, I should make that clear. It's just that it trumpets 'ROMANCE' to me, and romance, dear friends, is something I do.not.like(true). My gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, likes romance. She also likes Hallmark movies. Especially Christmas movies. I wouldn't mind that so much, if she didn't want ME to watch them WITH her. 

And this looked like the kind of book she would read. There is a beautiful blond woman, staring dreamily off into the distance; standing behind her is Mr. Tall Darkan Handsome. He gazes on her with just the right amount of love and intrigue in his eyes...

STOP THE MADNESS!!!

But, despite the cover, I got the book.

And it's great! It's not a cow-eyed romance at all, although there IS love and affection exchanged between the two characters portrayed on the cover.

It's an adventure story, with intrigue, and treachery, and adherence to principles, and honor, and all of the good sorts of things that produce a nicely done story. It is, I suppose, going to be forced to bear a YA label, just because there isn't any naughty language or scenes with heaving whatevers. Don't let that YA thing put you off, though. It's a great read. And this recommendation is from a guy who left off reading this book and immediately for sheer reading pleasure picked up one of Ringo's earliest Baen books, about the Posleen invasion.

The core story is that on a planet far, far away, a group of idealists have formed their society, and now demand everyone else conform to the terms of their perfect social order, or be deported. Eventually, that's not only murderers and thieves, it's anybody who has an innovation in mind.

The penal colony rebels. The parent civilization sends governors who repress, and then a general to rescue the governor. And he takes his daughter along.

That's her on the cover. And that's one of the lead rebels standing behind her.

But it's not a romance! Oh, my, NO! It's an ADVENTURE story!

Get the book!

Peace be on your household.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Proverbs Sex Talks with Pre-teens, and Boys in Africa by LawDog



The link to the LawDog's book has NOTHING to do with the first part of this blog, but I put it up front because I don't want to change my habit. I WILL address the book at the end of the blog! If you can't wait that long, click here to read the abbreviated version.

First, though, I want to comment about one of the minor difficulties I believe all writers face from time to time, which is: coming up with the right title. Ideally, the title should give the prospective reader a good clue as to the nature and tone of the material, and hook the RIGHT people to read the work. But, there are space limitations.

I was thinking about this yesterday when I was looking for a particular movie that I had seen sometime back, about a cop and a robber, and a gunfight, and a bank robbery. As it happens, I also remembered that the two leading characters were played by Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, and so I was able to Google my way to 'Heat.'

And I thought: crummy title.

It's crummy because it doesn't tell you pea-turkey about the movie. Of course, it's a striking movie, and I suppose most fans would remember a one-word name. Not me, though. I can remember 'Pulp Fiction' most of the time; with other movies, I'm reduced to saying "John Wayne plays a one-eyed drunk marshall, and the little girl shoots the bad guy down by the creek," and hoping someone can get 'True Grit' out of that. I won't forget "Stagecoach," because they are in a stagecoach, or "The Alamo" because it's about the Alamo.

But, most of my blog post titles can't be reduced to one word, particularly when it's a combo blog post and book review.

Actually, I COULD make the titles of my blog posts longer. It's just that they wouldn't fit into the assigned space provided when I reference them on Facebook.  Hence my cryptically short title today.

I WANTED my title to day to be :
"Gratitude for Truancy During Proverbs Sex Talks with Pre-teens, and Boys in Africa, by The LawDog." 
And I KNEW that was too long to fit any graphic box I was allowed.

Here's the deal: Our morning routine (sort of) is for me to get up at 6 AM, and then at 7 AM, I wake up 7th grade Kenneth and 6th grade Alicia and my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA. I tell them all to meet me downstairs in 10 minutes. And this school year, during those 10 minutes, neighborhood buddy Jacob, also 6th grade, frequently drops in to join us, and when we are all assembled in the kitchen, we read the ancient wisdom contained in the  Proverb corresponding to the day of the month. Depending on how much conversation that generates, we often find time to read a Psalm, and a selection from the New Testament, but we ALWAYS get the daily Proverb.

Sigh.

Today is October 5, so the reading was Proverb 5.

Do you know what Proverb 5 discusses?

SEX. 

Can you guess how much I do NOT want to talk about sex, at 7:30 in the morning,  with an 11 year old girl, her 12 year old brother, and the 11 year old neighborhood buddy Jacob? Hint: it's a LOT.

The first part of the Proverb isn't so bad. We have been around the cycle plenty of times, and everybody knows what an adulteress is, and how bad stuff will happen, yada yada, yada. So, that's the first 14 verses. And I have a funny (and true) story about a crazy person in the hospital who wouldn't eat or take his meds because he wanted water from his own cistern. So I can finesse through verse 18.

Alas, for the brutal honesty of verse 19 awaits.
19 
As a loving hind and a graceful doe 
Let her breasts satisfy you at all times;
Be exhilarated always with her love. 
For why should you, my son, be exhilarated with an adulteress 
And embrace the bosom of a foreigner?

No WAY can that explicit language be avoided, nor SHOULD it be! But, time and place for everything, I say, and today, I was guiltily grateful that Jacob didn't drop in.

Perhaps his parents were also attuned to the reading of the day and just told him to sleep in this morning.

I'll take what I can get.


And now on the the LawDog, and his stories of growing up in Africa.

I just don't see how anyone who grew up in the country can fail to recognize the truth of these stories. His environment may have given him more opportunities to handle explosives, and the wildlife he encountered may have been a bit more lethal, but with practically every adventure he recounts, I'm thinking "you know, Butch and I did something like that."

And Mark Twain did NOT pull the Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn out of thin air.

Here's the deal: you take two small boys, parents who have an expanded view of childhood safety, and place them in a frontier environment, and you WILL get stories like these:

15 foot pythons in the bedroom, hiding from a four ounce mongoose.
Traders accepting a deal because Madame is going to get her machete.
Lizards setting fire  to the world.
Bowling ball cannon and corrupt officials.
Lizards who drink alcohol.
American cops who encounter expectations of small children raised in Third World economies.

You will ALSO get the reflections of those small children, now of a certain age, and gifted by the variety of their experiences, when they encounter the blatherskite who waxes profoundly about things of which they are profoundly ignorant.

As icing on the cake, there are little snippets of brilliance, intended to follow the signature line in an online post. (I proudly proclaim that I am a member of a/the forum that first brought LawDog to prominence; alas, I joined much later than he, and missed a lot of the good stuff.) I think of these as re-telling of the fairy tales, if they had been written by an advocate of 2nd Amendment rights. Actually, I posted the rest of these on my Facebook page last week, leaving this for the review:
“Plan A is to ask the ogre to change into a mouse. I eat the evidence, no muss, no fuss, no body” said Puss-in-Boots as he screwed the silencer onto his HK Mk 23. “Plan B gets messy.”
Lawdog, D.. The LawDog Files: African Adventures (Kindle Locations 1157-1158). Castalia House. Kindle Edition. 
Plenty of cautionary tales, here: don't hook your nose with a fishing lure; don't expect your cat to run for help. always know where your Kevlar gloves are (and wear them).

This is NOT meant to be a criticism, but as an observation. In the previous book, Lawdog Files, his experience with humanity in their worst hours brought forth some sweetly painful stories. Here, he is just funny. He makes the pain funny. He has followed the sage advice of his grandfather in THIS volume, and told the stories in ways designed to amuse.

And boy, do they amuse!

Preferably, theses stories should be portioned out, a bit at the time, in order to give us something to look forward to. However, they are quite delightful when taken in a single serving, although digestion may suffer.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Nocturnal Rebellion, by Amanda S Green



For those of you who come here in order to read my latest philosophical or theological struggles,  I warn in advance: this is a book review about a police detective who is also a reserve Marine officer who can shape-shift into a jaguar. Don't anticipate passion and depth, beyond that found in story dealing with the line-of-duty loss of fellow police officers.

This book was released on August 15, 2017, and with great anticipation, I obtained my copy through the Kindle Unlimited program on August 17. I hear you mutter, 'but this is OCTOBER 2! What happened?'

Well what happened was a trip to the hospital for a small bowel obstruction, which resolved well. That was followed by multiple trips to the dentist, for major dental surgery, and a few major family health issues, and, well, just LOTS of things. My output of reviews and blog posts suffered. It's aggravating.

As for the book: There are two different groupings of shape-shifters. One group inherits, and can pass on, the ability to transform; the other has to get bitten, first. The first group, the Pures, tend to be more powerful and they are in a role somewhat resembling that of aristocracy. The second group, the lycans, tend to be less controlled and are generally more likely to prey upon humans.

There is a question debated among Pures: when shall we reveal ourselves to the world at large, if ever?  And there is also a faction that wants to reveal themselves so that they may finally exert control over the mundanes, or exterminate them.

While appearing to work within the system of government of the Pures, the Conclave, there is a rogue element that seeks covert control, and it really seems to amount for a desire for personal power more than a desire to influence policy. At least, their actions seem to be of the 'burn it all down' nature.

Now, it's one thing to write about secret operatives exposing plans to bring down civilization by introducing an Ebola variant into spray containers at trade shows across the USA. As it happens, I've read and enjoyed those stories as well; at least, I've enjoyed the stories where the good guys win and the bad guys lose.

It's another thing entirely to present the tragedy in such a way that we can feel and empathize with the loss experienced by the hero. And that's what sets apart this book; Mac, and others, had a deep relationship of trust and loyalty to the group of officers who were killed in an ambush, and yet, they MUST shut up, suit up, and show up if there is to be any justice done.

It's really very well executed.

It does not bring the dead back to life. That loss must somehow be endured, which is precisely the treatment that makes the fantastic tale of shape-shifters something that we can relate to. Without kryptonite, we cannot care for Superman, because he is untouchable. It's the weakness of the heroes, not their strengths, that makes them real and allows us to care for them.

And Amanda S Green does it AT LEAST as well as anyone in the field.

Get the book; you won't regret it!