Friday, August 31, 2018

Dragon Award Finalist, Best Mil Sci Fi: A Call To Vengeance

The nice picture link, for those without ad blocker...

...and the bare-bones text link for ad blocker users: A Call to Vengeance by David Weber, Timothy Zahn, and Thomas Pope.

Preliminaries and disclaimers. This is the 18th AND LAST book review I'll be doing for the finalists for the 2018 Dragon Award; this is also the 5th (and last) of the books in the 'Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel' category, out of the six finalists.
A quick recap: For the 'Best Science Fiction Novel' category, I was able to get 4 out of 6 finalists.
'Best Fantasy Novel (Including Paranormal)' category, 5 of 6.
'Best Alternate History Novel' category, 4 of 6.
No conclusions should be drawn about the 6 novels I couldn't obtain. I contacted all of the authors, with a single exception, but it's likely that my signal got lost in all the noise that the Dragon Award and good book sales generates. Therefore, if you have the chance to read one of the books I didn't review, take it. It's probably a good book. 
The only author I did NOT attempt to contact was Brandon Sanderson, who wrote 'Oathbringer;' and the reason I didn't make the attempt is because that book was described as massive and 'epic,' and I just couldn't see giving a disproportionate amount of time reading even a GREAT book, when I was under a deadline. 
As a reminder, I STARTED this series as soon as word of the Finalists came to me in the form of a ballot, which was August 8. So, I had 23 days in which to get these read and reviewed. I originally had planned to include the  'Best Young Adult / Middle Grade Novel' category as well, which would have meant a total of 30 possibilities, but I quickly discovered that NONE of the books in that category were available to me through my usual sources, and decided not to try to make contact with any of those authors/publishers. 
There were 8 books in the categories I DID select which required me to contact authors and request a review copy, and 3 of those complied. Baen Books provided me with 4 books; the remainder I got through Kindle Unlimited.

A brief and inadequate review. Now, only PART of the reason for the shortcomings of this review is due to my mental state at 9 PM on Friday night after a three week reading & reviewing marathon. The other part is that this book, like many others on the list, is a single installment in a series. However, unlike the other finalists, the three volume series is only a small part of the overall body of work in the Honor Harrington/Manticore universe. It's a bit of a numbing experience to try to do justice to a single patch in the quilt.
That isn't meant to be a criticism of the book. It's well-written, good characters, good story; all the things you want to find when you pick up a space opera, with a sufficient quantity of exploding spaceships. The ONLY way in which the book suffers from being a part of such an extensive library is that the cast of characters is....massive. I include in 'characters' not only people, but factions, governments, and entire systems. They are so developed in the OTHER parts of the body of work, that they have to be included to some extent in any installment that isn't specifically limited to a specific individual or incident; for example, the treecat-human relationship. That can be, and was, executed with very little reference to the outside world. In a novel of this type, though, those well-developed entities must appear, and it can be overwhelming, unless you have made it a point to read everything in this universe.

And speaking of: Lt. Travis Long is a young man of proficient skills, as well as the ability to have flashes of insight that can make the difference in a battle. He does NOT have the ability to keep his mouth shut when people with power and influence are being stupid, and that gets him into trouble. Fortunately for him, his talents have been noticed by people who are a bit above the ordinary political games, and he is given the opportunity to develop some additional sets of skills (as in: espionage).

Elizabeth had the misfortune to be born a royal, but because she had an older brother who bore children, she was able to do things other than be an aristocrat. That didn't last. It's rather amazing just how far the reach of her commitments to her people goes.

And meanwhile, everyone in the entire planetary system has been placed on notice that their lives and security are nothing more than dust in the wind, when repeated attacks by unknown forces bring every defect in their naval defenses to light, in the worst way possible.

Conclusions and comments. I had a VERY strange experience as I started to read this work: I felt like I was sinking into a relaxing pool of water, and letting all my weary muscles get a rest. I really wasn't expecting that; yes, I have greatly enjoyed stories in this universe before, but I wouldn't claim to be a devotee. However, I just KNEW I was going to enjoy reading the book, that it wasn't in ANY sense going to be a struggle. Thus, I can highly recommend that you read this, BUT:
BUT, you really shouldn't make this the FIRST book you read. Certainly, you should read the first two entries in this mini-series; to get the full impact, read a LOT more of the installments in the Manticore story.
And that raises the question, for me at least, of whether or not this book, ON ITS' OWN MERITS, deserves selection as the BEST military sci-fi novel. I think that's going to have to be a personal decision, since I'm not aware of any criteria that recommend OR exclude it from consideration.

Final thought: Earlier in this series, I mentioned Rob Howell in the context of providing hypertext links to the wiki supporting his work. Once again, I really have occasion to recommend that approach. It takes a while to be able to learn who the good guys are, and who the bad guys are, and I'm NOT referring to various political parties within a government; I'm talking about the guys driving the ships. While that would have to be managed carefully to avoid spoilers, it seems to me that providing links to an Order of Battle would be relatively easy. So, when I say to myself, "Who in the heck is THIS guy?" I can click on his name, and find out. It really doesn't even have to be as complex and as elegant as what Rob is doing; if you can insert footnotes, why CAN'T you provide a scorecard? 
Eh. Maybe it's not a big deal. If it is, it will happen. 

Peace be on your household.

Dragon Award Finalist, Best Mil Sci Fi: Price of Freedom

A picture link for those without ad blocker software...

...and a text link for those who do: Price of Freedom by Craig Martelle and Michael Anderle.

Preliminaries and Disclaimers.  This is review #17 in the series I'm doing on the finalists for the 2018 Dragon Award, and is #4 in the category of 'Best Military Science Fiction.' It's also the next to last of the books I'm reviewing, which is a good thing, since Dragon Con is this weekend, and voting ends at midnight tomorrow. It's ALSO the last of the books I was able to get through the Kindle Unlimited program, which was the biggest single source of all the books I obtained, with 11 coming from KU, four coming from Baen, and three received directly from the author.

Several of the books I reviewed were part of a series, going as deep as #8, I believe. "Price of Freedom" is number three in the series, and I suppose it was inevitable that this was going to happen: : I had problems with continuity.

The authors took pains to keep that from happening, with an exhaustive cast of characters listed in the front of the book. Alas, that wasn't enough for me. Your mileage may vary.

An utterly inadequate book review. The defects in this review are completely due to my inability to grasp the Big Picture of the story arc. Incidents are described clearly, dialogue is usually informative and snarky, with pleasing references to ever-popular cult movies such as Monty Python's Quest For the Holy Grail, and I understood the significance SOMEWHAT of the main battle, but I really didn't know how it all fit together. So:
A dimensional rift exists on a planet far out on the frontier of known space (that's NOT the Niven Known Space!), and monsters are coming in. The Bad Company goes in to wipe out the monsters, rescue to inhabitants, and gain access to a portable power plant technology that will revolutionize warfare, communications, and pretty much everything else.
Meanwhile, one of the sentient computers is going to night school to become more advanced. The resident Mad Genius is a bit miffed at being told what to do, and hundreds of liberated prisoners housed nearby go nuts when they see a woman. 

Yeah. Not much of a review, was it? Don't get me wrong: I ENJOYED reading the book. It's just that in this particular case, THIS reader wasn't able to make sense of how all the characters interacted, and where the story came from, and where it was going. The humor and pathos of duct-taping a sentient German Shepherd face-to-muzzle with a team leader was not lost on me, nor were the other japes and jams; I just never knew, when a particular person/event entered the picture, if that was unusual, or something everyone expected to happen. 

Conclusion. While the writing was entertaining, I suffered from lack of story. If you have been reading the series, everything is likely to make sense, and therefore, you might see this as the perfect candidate for the Dragon Award for Best Military Sci Fi. I can't support that choice, because it's just TOO dependent on prior work to stand on its' own. I have no idea as to how popular this series is, and if there is a huge population out there which was waiting breathlessly for this installment, it might cop the award.

Peace be on your household.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Dragon Award Finalist, Best Fantasy Novel: The Traitor God

An ad blocker will keep THIS picture link from showing... if you don't see the picture, here's a text link: The Traitor God by Cameron Johnston .

Preliminaries and Disclaimers. This is book #16  in my series of 2018 Dragon Award finalists, and is the 5th and LAST book in the category 'Best Fantasy Novel.' That's 3 out of 4 categories completed; I have two more Military Sci-Fi books to read and review to complete the not-quite-Herculean task I assigned myself.

This book was not available through my usual sources, but the author responded most kindly and promptly to my request for a review copy, for which I am grateful. In this picture, you can see in the background the reason that so one in Scotland grows rice: the land goes up and down, not side to side.
A Scotsman (not on a horse)

And speaking of pictures, this is only my opinion, BUT: I like the cover art. It's by a person who is so cool, my ordinary character set won't even get the name right. Using the American English character set, though, it's Jan Wessbecher, and you can check out the art for yourself if you like.

A review, sort of. Ten years ago, Edrin Walker made a solemn promise: first, {do something}; second, leave town and never come back; third, never talk to anyone about anything.  In exchange, his only friends in the world would live. As a post-script: "Oh, yeah: don't let the monsters kill ya, but for that you are on your own."

Leaving was rather a sad thing, what with having to start a new life without the friends he loved dearly; and because of the monsters, he had to keep on the run, so he couldn't settle down and make new friends. But not telling anybody anything?

That was easy: with respect to the bracketed 'do something' statement referenced up above, he had not a clue.  Evidently, someone had made partial amnesia part of the deal. 

He didn't COMPLETELY sever all ties, though; he and his best friend had arranged via magic to have a mental connection. It wasn't enough for real communication, but it did allow him a thin sense of companionship with his best friend Lynas, who remained in Setharis, the magic capital of the empire. And, as long as he has a sense of Lynas' well-being, Walker will continue to stay away and not talk.

Then, a bad thing happens. 

Just as he is about to move on down the road (down the sea, actually), nasty pirate people try to kill him; they DO kill other people; and they burn down the town of Ironport, where Walker has been lingering until his ship left.

In the midst of this, Lynas sends a series of frantic, high bandwidth messages: he is being hunted; he has been caught; he is being killed horribly; and then, inexplicably, his last message is of a scene when he and Walker were on the receiving end of a rather nasty schoolboy prank.

We discover later that the prank nearly cost them both their lives, and that this was what had cemented their friendship, all those long years ago.

Without entering into the land of spoilers, the rest of the book is a murderous magical mystery, with monsters, meanies, and memories, all making an appearance at the appropriate time.

Some minor commentary. I found that the scenery almost rose to the level of a character from time to time. For example, Walker rents a room, sleeps on the straw mattress, and wakes up in the morning itching, because the place is lice-infested. There are also numerous contrasts drawn between the squalor of the lower city, where the poor people live, and the clean, well-ordered streets of the upper city. This is particularly significant when Walker notices a decline in the maintenance of formerly prosperous areas. He also does a nice job of describing the filthy state of the water around the docks, and the pollution running through some of the waterways.

This is a perfect fit for this category; as I have mentioned before, I tend to avoid fantasy, so my opinion is that of an amateur, but I think this is well-done. Yes, magic IS used, BUT so are brains. It is as good a job of dragging out a reveal as anything I've seen anywhere. Perhaps it is easier to do that when the MC is cut off from part of his memories, but I don't think THAT should be a hindrance if you writing fantasy (or sufficiently advanced technology).

It's a good read, with strong characters exhibiting strength, self-sacrifice, and affection. I found it to be well worth my time, and I can recommend it as being well worth your investment; and, once again, I am compelled to say that if this one wins the Dragon Award, I would not be surprised.

Peace be on your household.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Dragon Award Finalist, 'Best Science Fiction Novel': Sins of Her Father

For those who are NOT running an ad blocker, here's a lovely picture link:

And for those who HAVE an ad blocker, here's a text link: Sins of Her Father by Mike Kupari.

Preliminaries and Disclaimers.  Unless I have miscounted, this is the 15th book I have reviewed in this series of Dragon Award Finalists. It is the 4th and last of the entries I will be reviewing in the 'Best Science Fiction Novel' category; I have yet to receive a response to my request for a review copy for the last two books in this category. By my count, after this book, I will have three more books to review, and 4 days to do it in, so that's a walk in the park.
This is the second novel in the series "Privateer Andromeda;" I have not read the first in the series, but I do believe that all of the important issues covered in the narrative of this work, without spending a lot of time on artificial means to bring the reader up to date.

A bit of a review. Nickson Armitage is at loose ends on Planet Heinlein. He has money, he has time, but he doesn't have a job, because he doesn't have a ship. His last ship was smashed when the captain got too ambitious in pursuit of an enemy warship, a mistake he paid for with his life, and the life of others.
Nick's not a fire-eater. He can handle a crisis as well as any man, but the appalling number of casualties on his last trip, and the evisceration of the ship upon returning to port have left him a bit skittish. Still he knows where his skills lie, and he makes a deal to return to the Deep Black with the crew of the Andromeda, on a run that looks, at first, to be a fairly straightforward VIP escort. It's critical to the understanding of his behavior for the rest of the story: Nick did the best job he could do, but despite his advice, the captain of his last ship got them into a fight they couldn't win. Nick did well to bring the pieces home. And he's tired, and he really, really doesn't feel prepared for another tour in a place where people are trying to kill him.
Zander Krycek, on the other hand, is rather used to people trying to kill him.  As the war leader who toppled a monarchy, and tried to rule as elected President, he is familiar with the people who use guns, as well as the people who use contracts and words, and he has stepped away from all of that. It really is a case of a voluntary resignation of power, in his case; and only the most dire circumstances would bring him out of retirement to re-enter the planet administration business. Enter, dire circumstances.
In a different corner of the galaxy, Wade Bishop and Marcus Winchester are doing a job that could have been done in Wyoming, any time from about 1870 until 2020 AD. There are some modern touches, but they are essentially doing law the way Wyatt Earp and Walt Longmire do law. And,as happened sometimes to those Western-style cops, the political ramifications trump the law business, and after shutting down the bad guys, but aggravating an undercover spook, they find themselves sitting beside the trail without even a gold watch.
And that's where the Andromeda's Captain Blackwood, with an offer to provide security for a man the entire galaxy seems to want dead.
There are two or three more MAJOR plot elements, but these few I've related are enough for me to set out what seems to be the core ethical issue here: What criteria do you use to know when to enter into a fight, especially a fight that could result in your death? Although THIS dilemma is expressed in terms of planetary warfare, those issues crop up for everyone. On one extreme, you have absolutely no stake in the outcome, and the outcome is trivial in nature. On the other extreme, you are completely invested (whether in terms of paycheck, patriotism, or family obligations, it doesn't matter), and the outcome might be as extreme as a matter of life and death. It's easy to make a decision based on the extremes, but on several occasions, the players in this drama get a much more tangled set of circumstances`.

Minor comments: There were several nicely done cultural references tossed in as little tidbits. I wanted to look at a map or globe of Planet Heinlein, and see what the other locations were named. I picked up on Coventry, but I tend to blow past names, so there may have been more nuggets I missed.

But, of ALL the characters I might have expected to crop up, NEVER would have anticipated this guy right here:
Homestar Runner

And with that, I'm done. You just CAN'T follow Homestar Runner with anything. At least, I can't.

So, this is my last review in the category 'Best Science Fiction Novel.' Of the four I read and reviewed, it really could go to any one of them. Good luck to all!

Peace be on your household.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Dragon Award Finalist, Best Mil SF: Ghost Marines - Integration

This blog post reminds us of  the life and sacrifices made by Sgt. Rodney M. Davis, USMC. He graduated from a segregated public school system in 1961, and joined an integrated Marine Corps. On September 6, 1967, at the age of 25, Sgt Davis gave his life that his fellow Marines could live.
When his body was returned to his family in his home town of Macon, GA, it could not legally be buried within the city limits. More than forty years later,  his burial site was rescued from obscurity, thanks to his fellow Marines, and by other concerned citizens.
I am honored to say I come from the same home town as Sgt. Davis.

For those without ad blockers, a picture link:

And for those of you WITH ad blockers, a text link: Ghost Marines: Integration

Preliminaries. This is the 14th book I have reviewed in the series for the 2018 Dragon Awards. This is only the THIRD military science fiction novel I have reviewed, which speaks of great restraint on my part, as mil sci-fi is by far my chosen diet of reading material. 
As straight-up military science fiction, it works, it works, it works! However, the author has chosen to have this work ALSO reflect a somewhat-ignored crisis point for Americans: the integration of blacks into all aspects of the military. He writes from the perspective of the Marine Corps, which is fitting, as he is a retired Marine officer. I was US Army enlisted, and I came along after the very worst resistance was over. There was plenty of hassle to go around, but I refer to the FORMAL resistance. The last person to hold the position of Secretary of War was forced to resign due to his refusal to cooperate with the orders to integrate all aspects of the services. As a trainee in 1972, I had some long-service instructors who had been in the Army since the earliest transitions, and one fine afternoon in a rage at some verbal example of trainee stupidity, an old black sergeant told us that in the old days, if a man called you by any name other than what was printed on your name tag, you just pick up your gun and shot him. The consequence: they fined you a dollar to pay for the cartridge, bought you a pack of cigarettes, and shipped you to another post. (I have since heard that procedure applied to a guard who shot a prisoner, but this was my first contact with the story.)

A review. Away off on some dusty backwater planet, young Leefe is beside himself with excitement, because his cousin is entering his coming-of-age ceremony. From context, we discover that these are not humans, and that the animal his cousin is facing is not a lion, and that there exists some tension between the dominant humans on the planet and Leefe's people. His cousin successfully fights off the deadly beast, and Leefe looks forward to his turn in some years later. That day is followed by the celebration of the preparation of the spices, and the entire village is geared up for the feast. In the midst of preparations, however, a human airship descends. To their horror, Leefe and the rest of the tribe discover they are slavers. The slavers quickly wipe out the elders, and begin paralyzing and binding the young, in preparation to loading them into the ship for transport. When all is lost, the Imperial Marines arrive, and make short work of the slavers, freeing Leefe and the other survivors.
A period of years later, Leefe and his friends have arrived at a Imperial Marine Corps recruiting station. He wishes to pay them back, and to become a warrior as well.
However, the prospective recruits are warned by a very senior elder that they must always be on their guard, because there is much resistance to them being joined to the Imperial Marines. Much of it, he doesn't understand; however, he does understand when he is treated with contempt, by those at the recruiting station, and later, by his training officers. 
Situations worsen when the small group of wyntonsn trainees are blended in with humans. Intended to keep Lief (his new, official name) and his people from suffering from discrimination, it has the effect of closing them off from self-support. 
We follow Lief and his companions through training, and see them encounter some often dramatic examples of bigotry. Other items, such as the lack of anything resembling their native food, are basically ignored as the cost of doing business. 
Deployment follows training, and the troops must individually determine the best way to make it forward. Frictions exist beyond the squad bay doors, and those must be addressed as well.
And if I haven't ALREADY tossed too many spoilers at you, then I'm stopping now. 

Closing comments.  As mentioned earlier, this book WORKS as a straight-up example of well-written mil sci fi. However, it's the recounting of the personal experiences that Leefe Leif had on their way to becoming Marines that is particularly striking to me. As I said, by 1972, when I entered the service, The worst of the institutional forms of racism were gone; that doesn't mean that there weren't still problems! But, I shared days in the army with guys who had been there, even before Truman had signed the first of the executive orders. And as a quiet mouse in a hole, stationed in the office as a runner, I heard some of the old-service guys talk about the old days, and whether they were better; it WASN'T a simple question.

Peace be on your household.

Dragon Award Finalist, Best Alternate History: Uncharted

A picture link, for those without ad blockers:
And a text link for those WITH ad blockers: Uncharted.

Preliminaries and Disclaimers. This is the 13th book I have reviewed in the series on Finalists for the 2018 Dragon Awards. This is the fourth book in the category of 'Best Alternate History Novel,' and will in all likelihood be the very last I review in this category(!), as thus far, requests for review copies of the other two finalists have gone unanswered.
I obtained my copy directly from the Baen website, although the book is also available on Amazon. I'm pretty sure I have never gotten a BAD book from Baen, although there have been a couple, but ONLY a couple, I didn't finish. I've also never gotten a bad book from either Sarah A. Hoyt or Kevin Anderson, DESPITE having to silently close the Magical Shakespeare trilogy and sneak away under the cover of darkness; I'm just not enough of a Shakespeare/ Shakespeare era scholar to catch the nuances. It's a personal failing, although not one that causes me much remorse. On the other hand, I'm neither a dragon scholar nor a diner scholar, and I love 'Draw One In The Dark' and the follow-up books. Go figure.

The review. Halley's Comet was destroyed in a massive battle of wizards. This resulted in some bizarre outbreaks of magic in North America; as far as the rest of the world, we just don't know, because there is an impenetrable barrier in the Atlantic Ocean, and thus no communication with any place in Europe.

Some of the same figures that were prominent in colonial America are still influential in this timeline. Thomas Jefferson lives as a wealthy planter, but has no role to play in government. Benjamin Franklin, on the other hand, has magically had his aging process arrested at about a vigorous 70, and is the most prominent wizard on the continent. He is quite famous, and fabulously wealthy, and at least as inquisitive as he was in real life.

He has been considering sponsoring a trip to explore the land west of the Mississippi, both to see what lies out there in that great undiscovered territory, as well as to determine if there is a possible route to Europe by crossing the Pacific. Following a serendipitous introduction to Meriwether Lewis, during a dragon attack of all things, he proposes that Lewis head up the expedition.

And thus, the famed Lewis and Clark Expedition of OUR timeline is initiated in theirs. Although this is a private venture, and not sponsored by a non-existing government, the essential purpose is the same, except for the magical components of this expedition.
A pleasing bit of research & writing: the names of the members of the fictional L&C expedition are the same as those of the real expedition. I wouldn't have noticed that, had I not been jotting the names of the characters down. In fact, even the original expedition dog Seaman is included in the book. That's nicely done, don't you think?
The 'Uncharted' expedition encounters the same environmental challenges that the original trip did: rivers, mountains, hostile natives, bugs, weather. And, just as happened on the original trip, Sacagawea appears to serve as a guide. However, her motivation in the book is that she is looking for the magical dragon warrior who can protect her and her child, and rescue her husband, along with the rest of the country, from the depredations of the evil wizard. Nasty, nasty person, this evil wizard: raises up long extinct predator animals (which we recognize as dinosaurs), who have a devastating impact on the buffalo herds; kills people an reanimates their bodies. Nasty guy.

The characters are depicted with sympathy. I can't really go into detail about this without spoilers, but I'm struck by how Sacagawea is presented as such a resolute and courageous figure, based STRICTLY on her human qualities. William Clark pours out his heart to his young fiance in Virginia, knowing his letters may never reach her; he strives to find the right words to tell his story, without bringing the horrors into her living room.

Alas, tragedy does strike others not a part of the expedition. One luckless trader/trapper, not very good at his work, is brought low by the pinpricks of a tribe of pygmies. Poor fellow, he was at one point forced to boil and eat his boots during a particularly bad winter, and was ever after known as Barefoot Johnny.

Even the deities of the natives are treated with respect. The two principals here are Coyote and Raven, and the writers do an excellent job, in my opinion, of demonstrating that whatever standard they think they might be judged by, it's doubtful that the opinions of the rapscallion explorers will be a factor in any way.

Concluding comments. The historical character of Meriwether Lewis just couldn't get a decent break, afer coming back from the expedition. He died alone, not many years after returning, and there is controversy to this day as to whether or not that was a result of murder or sucide. Read up on him; it will be enlightening. In THIS book, however, Anderson and Hoyt manage to put into his character some resiliency factors. It's a nice thing they did for him.

With respect to your vote for the Dragon, THIS is an alternate history novel, as are two other entries in this category ("Witchy Winter," by DJ Butler, and "Minds of Men," by Kacey Ezell). I can't speak for the two I requested but did not receive ("Dark State" by Charlie Stross, or "The Sea Peoples," by S.M Stirling), but any one of these three would be an excellent choice.

Tough call, isn't it?

Peace be on your household.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Dragon Award Finalist, Best Alternate History: Dream of the Iron Dragon

A link with a PICTURE (YAY) if you don't have an ad blocker running:

And, if you DO have an ad blocker running, a text link: The Dream of the Iron Dragon

Preliminaries AND Disclaimers. This is the 11th book I have reviewed in my series on the Finalists for the 2018 Dragon Awards; I've also written two additional blog posts ABOUT the series, that don't review specific novels. This is the third nominee in the category 'Best Alternate History Novel.'
Disclaimer: I am not on the Dragon Awards Committee, and that's something for which I am truly grateful. However, if I HAD been on the Committee, I don't think I could have allowed this as an entry in the 'Alternate History' category. Yes, it SAYS it's alternate history, right there in Amazon listing, the full version of which is: The Dream of the Iron Dragon: An Alternate History Viking Epic (Saga of the Iron Dragon Book 1). But, for those of us of a certain age, we remember that there used to be a product known as 'Carter's Little Liver Pills' that had absolutely nothing to do with the liver. Saying it don't make it so; this is a time travel story, mostly. A bit of mil sci-fi as well. But I just don't see calling it alternate history. 

The review part. In the present day, an American air force colonel and a British air force major are engaged in a cover-up of ancient artifacts related to space travel. The current find is a thousand-year-old space helmet.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, two hundred years in the future, humans have zoomed all the way from space flight to space colonies to space empires to space refugees, with only a few, out of the way planets still alive on the losing side of the genocidal war waged by the Cho-ta'an. An exploratory probe ship picks up a beamed transmission of the first 17 numbers in the Fibonacci sequence. The author, by the way, includes those number, split into two bite-sized pieces, for those of us who have forgotten what the Fibonacci sequence is. I appreciated that.
The beam is, of course, from the aliens. A splinter group, actually, evidently infected with a love of numerology, and SERIOUSLY out of favor with the Cho-ta'an leaders. They have discovered a planet-busting bomb in the ruins of an abandoned race, and have flagged down the humans so they can present it to them, so the humans can wipe out the Cho-ta'an home world.
I was seriously tempted to spell the alien name differently every time I used it in this blog post. Cho-at'an, Cho-ta'ra, Cha-ta'ru, and so on. Would you have caught me in that feeble attempt to protest alien names, Gentle Reader? I think not.
Wait: we haven't gotten to the weird part yet.

A different alien faction decides to retrieve the planet buster (it liquefies solids, briefly, long enough for all life to die and buildings to fall) , and chases the human exploratory ship. At high accelerations. High enough that it's not safe to use a warp gate, but there is no other option, and at the warp gate, SHAZAM! enough bad things happen that the humans AND the aliens are transferred back through time, to Earth in 883 AD. The human ship is damaged, no longer capable of interstellar voyage, and the aliens are still after them.

However, this IS an exploratory ship, after all, and thus there are a number of scientists and engineers aboard, in addition to the regular Navy-type ship's crew, so they put their heads together and come up with some CRAZY ideas. One of them, of course, is So Crazy That It Just Might Work, and so they send a landing party of four down to Earth so they can fix the Big Metal Thing That Makes It Work. Those four are Head Engineer, Chemist/Geologist, Biologist/Shuttle Pilot, and the (usually red-shirted) security guy who is a former Marine/amateur historian, and y'all ain't gonna BELIEVE this, but in the future, Space Marines provide their own MEDICS, and he is one of those, too! I don't know HOW that happened, because the Navy provides the Marines with medics, but, this IS a work of fiction, right?

And then, all the typical clash-of-cultures-across-time things happen. Book ends, not so much on a cliff-hanger, but on a 'here's what we are gonna do next' note.

Commentary. I do NOT know how you can communicate a Fibonacci series unless you have a shared language system, but evidently all that is worked out.
I also don't know how you go from where we are today to the peak of technology they were at before the aliens appeared, in only two hundred years.
The social/ political systems have changed enough that there is support for a galaxy-wide ban on eating meat. That's carried over to the point that the engineer has a conniption fit when she discovers that some horses are going to be used as meat. It's a big issue; really it is.
I found this to be fascinating reading. Even though I didn't particularly like any of the characters, except for a couple of the Vikings on 883 Earth, I was intrigued at how they were going to survive, once they lost the high-tech weapon systems.
In all of the other time-traveler stories where the people from the future have to go back to black powder, the sulfur is just...there. In some cases, and I'm thinking particularly of 'The Wheel of Time' series, the future-tech people have access to a highly developed transportation system, and mines are already established. However, I had no idea that iron pyrite (fools gold) could be processed to produce sulfur, but the author did; and that is, by the way, a real thing, that was at one time a common industrial process.

A sort-of conclusion. The book is highly entertaining, and I can recommend it as an interesting read. With respect to the Dragon Award in the 'Best Alternate History' category, though, I'm just not making the connection. However, it's pretty obvious that others do NOT hold to the rather narrow definition of 'Alternate History' that I evidently have developed, else it would not be included in that category. So, you be the judge; that's the way it works!

Peace be on your household.  

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

PREQUEL to Dragon Award Finalist for Best Sci Fi: Qualify

For those of you without an ad blocker, the picture link:

And if you DO have an ad blocker running, here's the text link: Qualify.

Preliminaries AND Disclaimers. I'm writing a series of reviews of the 2018 Dragon Award Finalists in the categories of Best SF novel, Best Fantasy Novel, Best Mil SF novel, and Best Alternate History Novel. This is the 11th book in that series, and the third contender in the Best Science Fiction Novel category.
The novel which is the finalist is 'Win,' by Vera Nazarian. I HAVE a copy of that novel, courtesy of the author, but it is my understanding that THIS is a case in which reading the novels in sequence will make a difference.
It's a tough problem for me, because my time is limited; I only have 10 days left before Awards Day. That's further aggravated by the fact that these are hefty tomes. 'Qualify' comes in at 600 pages;  the second installment, 'Compete,' has 530 pages, and the third installment, which is the actual contender, boasts a beefy page count of 930 pages. I just do NOT see any way that I can do an adequate treatment of the nominated work with the time constraints imposed on me by the small window Dragon Con gave me between announcing the finalists and making the award.
So, rather than risk an incoherent attempt to digest the massive third course of the meal, I decided to review the first installment NOW. This will at least provide you, Gentle Readers, with an exposure to the story and style, and give you SOME basis for forming an opinion. 
I will review the last two books in the series as soon as possible, once the Dragon Awards are in our rear-view mirrors.

A brief review of the book. It's 2047, and we are all about to die; the Sweet Meteor of Death, which we had all longed for during the last presidential election, has been sighted, and it's composed mostly of heavy metals, so there is no way we can divert it with our nuclear arsenal.
However, just as the winter brings the snow, and the dead rhinos bring the hungry vultures, so the impending arrival of SMOD brings back our long-lost relatives: the folks from Atlantis. It seems that they escaped the sinking of their civilization by going to the stars, where they have lived and prospered; now, seeing Mother Earth about to be smashed into planet juice (pulp included), they have returned with a fleet of space transports to rescue a remnant.

Alas, it is ONLY a remnant. They don't have the space to take everybody, and they are also concerned that the Earthlings will have some difficulty in adapting to their culture, so they have determined that only people between the ages of 11 and 20 can be considered for rescue. Furthermore, they insist that the selection process be competitive. There will be a series of screenings and competitions, which will decide who gets to board the spaceships, and who becomes Meteor Chow.

Four children of the Lark family seek selection. Their parents, who obviously harbor a deep hatred for their children, have given them all names beginning with G: George, Gwenevere, Gordie, and Gracie. The children, in a pathetic attempt to make light of the mark of Cain branded on their foreheads, refer to each other as G1, G2, G3, and G4. You can't REALLY blame the parents, of course; the father is a professor of antiquities, and the mother was an opera star before cancer took away her ability to sing. With that kind of parentage, I suppose the children should be grateful that their names aren't Abelard, Heloise, Brunhilda, and Igor.

The story is told from the POV of nearly-seventeen Gwen, who feels herself to be an ugly duckling, with no hope of becoming a swan. She excels in academics, but is not confident socially, and has neither skills nor experience with athletics. 

The Atlanteans provide very in the way of information about the testing program, and some of the tests seem nonsensical. The entire program is mysterious, bordering on creepy, and there is inevitable backlash to the idea of teenagers being swept off into the sky, leaving behind everybody else. 

And with this, I conclude the REVIEW part, because to go further would be to get into the realm of spoilers.

Final comments. I can already hear someone grumbling out there. You say, 'why, this is derivative of "The Hunger Games.."'
Nope. It ain't.
Yes, they do share the feature of a life-and-death struggle between young people, but that's the ONLY thing they have in common. There are supposedly only some very small number of unique plots anyway, right? What makes a book valuable, it seems, is not having some exciting new plot twist. Those are RARE. Brad Torgerson came up with a completely new vision of the BEM a few years ago in "The Chaplain's War," but really, that's the first true innovation I've seen since I became aware that some of the greatest stories were simply older stories with the serial number filed off.

Nope, what makes a book a GREAT book is the way the story is told. And I have to tell you, quite honestly, that I didn't think I was going to like this story. For one thing, most of the characters are teenagers, and I was a middle school counselor for 16 years, and am raising teenagers #5 & #6  at the moment, and frankly, the little monsters aggravate me. Wonderfully, there is only enough of that teen-age emotional storming to remind me that they ARE teens, and not so much as to make me want to drown them. But, even with that bit of prejudicial disfavor, I found myself DEEPLY involved with the story. Nazarian is one HECK of a good writer, and I think this would be an excellent book to take along on a long plane flight, drive across country, or to curl up with and turn the real world away. Actually, I tend to forget that not everyone reads a zillion words a minute, the way that i do; this volume in itself might make for some nice reading on a weekend getaway, and the entire series might last you Earth People for an entire two-week vacation at the beach. You could surely do a lot worse!

As it should be, the competition for Beast Science Fiction Novel is going to be intense. At this point, I wouldn't dare to hazard a guess as to who is gonna win this category. I wouldn't whine if "Win" won, if for no other reason that it makes such a moofie sentence to write. However, Nazarian's work made the 'Finalist' cut, and I have great hopes that her bank account will reflect that popularity, as fans vote with the TRUE award, which is little green pieces of paper. 

Peace be on your household.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Dragon Award Finalist for Best Mil Sci Fi: Legend

For those who are not running an adblocker, here's a picture link:

And for those of you who ARE, a text link: Legend.

Preliminaries. This is one of the two Dragon Award Finalists (the other was "Minds of Men" by Kacey Ezell) that I reviewed before the finalists were announced. I didn't select them because they were going to be award finalists; I just wanted to read some good books by authors that I have enjoyed reading in the past. Good call, huh?
I am just now posting this blog post, because I don't always blog on books I review. My lack of consistency in this causes me only the SLIGHTEST discomfort, but I wish I had written this earlier. 
Alas, I didn't.

Commentary. I really, really love reading stories about blue-collar heroes. I have no particular objection to stories about millionaires who slip into costume and fight crime on the streets of Gotham, or the debonair couple who identify the murderer while dancing and sipping champagne, but I don't KNOW any of those people. 
What I do know is guys who drive trucks, teach history, cut grass, and fix televisions. I know guys who sell cars, and guys who repair power lines, and guys who pour cement. I know the guys who fix my car, and kill the bugs at my house.
I LIKE those guys. I ride motorcycles with them. I go to meetings with them. And I like to read books written by them, and books written ABOUT them becoming heroes. Because frankly, I think those guys are heroes. They get up every day and go to work, and they take care of their kids, and mo'bunches of them have been in one of the services, and I ain't never had one of them call me a psycho because I own and operate firearms for fun and self-defense.

And that gives me any number of reasons to appreciate the writings of Christopher Woods. I first discovered his work with the 'Soulguard' series (and I'll insert the link later, I'm under a terrible time crunch to get this published so I can go babysit) (HERE'S THE LINK!), and I found his hero and the hero's posse mostly are people I would enjoy eating some Checkers burgers and fries with. I hope I do not suggest that I DON'T appreciate the work of people who make millions of dollars per year and work where there are soft carpets and air conditioning, as I reckon they probably earn their paycheck, too; it's just that I don't know any of those people.

The review, lifted ALMOST straight from Amazon.  (<=<=<=that's a link) And the reason the word 'almost' is included is because once I got back from my babysitting gig, I did the revising I didn't have time to do earlier.
"Legend" is an expansion of a character in a short story in the Four Horseman Universe collection "A Fistful of Credits."
Martin Quincy doesn't really WANT to be a merc, even though he is very, very good at what he does. He also doesn't want to command a merc company. Nobody seems to care.
He is NOT one of those guys you run into who are full of stories: "No kidding, there I was,all alone on the Plain, with nothing but a gnawed antelope thighbone...." His defect runs the other way. He much prefers to stay in the background when there is no active fighting going on, so he dislikes it when OTHERS tell his war stories. And many of those stories exist, too, because he most decidedly does NOT stay in the background when it drops into the pot.
Along the way, he picks up what may be regarded as Boon Companions; mercs who share his approach to the ethics of warfare. They like being on the side of the Good Guys; that isn't always apparent at the beginning of their contracts, in the earliest days of Earth mercs, but the wisdom gathered by participating in a number of battles finely hones his sense for the team he wants to play for. That isn't always a good move, either financially or in terms of personal survival, but it's the path he chooses, and his team goes where he goes.
Even if one of them only does it so he can kill Martin when the time is right.
I have two objections to make, and one of them is slightly ridiculous.
Slightly ridiculous objection: sex with aliens? Nah. Ain't never gonna happen. Human sexual response is primarily determined EARLY in life. Now, PERHAPS the resemblance of one of the species to a sexualized cartoon characters of the mid-80's is a factor here, but otherwise, I'm not buying it. That's ridiculous, because how you gonna have a modern hero without a romance, and I've already accepted 10 other impossible things, but I still don't buy the concept.
The second objection I have is to the lack of place/time designations in the story. The book is laid out in a series of flash-forwards / flash-backwards, and it was a little bit difficult to keep up with where certain events took place in the story. This one may also be slightly ridiculous, because I tend to skip past those labels as I read, but if they are THERE, then at least I can refer back to them if I get confused. I wish that there were clear cues: '10 years earlier, on Planet Yeep....'
Having said that, I devoured the entire book as fast as I could. It was delicious. I have been a fan of Christopher Woods work for a year or two, and my one regret is that he wasn't able to put a Checkers hamburger joint on Planet Karma. The Greek diner will have to do.
The banter between Martin and his buddies is delightful. Lots of running gags, loads of snark. You'll love it!

Closing comment: No, seriously, I HAVE to leave now to babysit!

Peace be on your household.

Postscript. As SOON as I published this post, I grabbed up some stuff I needed for baby-sitting, and precisely. exactly. perfectly. dumped the remains of my dinner, which was a smoothie consisting of protein powder, a GIANT Honey Crisp apple, plain yogurt, milk, and ice, right on the keyboard of my laptop. I didn't even have time to clean it up. I just up-ended the laptop, and put it on my chair, hoping the sheet I have covering it would soak up the gunk. Well, the laptop is working now, but I include this so that you will KNOW that I pay a price to get these posts out to you. It's worth it, though, because it's for the children.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Dragon Award Finalist for 'Best Fantasy Novel' Warhammer

For those without an ad blocker, the picture link:

And for those with an ad blocker, the text link:

Preliminaries. If my count is right, this is the tenth book in the series of reviews I am writing for the finalists for the 2018 Dragon Awards. It's the NINTH blog post, because I reviewed Christopher Woods' Legend  before the finalists were announced, and I haven't gotten around to writing the blog post on it yet (but I will). This is the fourth post for a contender in the category 'Best Fantasy Novel (Including Paranormal).'

Disclaimers. I don't read a lot of fantasy, unless my betters compel me. Thus, I was previously unaware of the author or his books.  Two things to say about that:
1. It appears that I may have to abandon this prejudice without remorse, as there are some really excellent things being written in the field.
2. Somehow, the craft of the author allowed me to pick up the EIGHTH book in a series, and dive right into the world, without wandering around for hours being lost. Kind of amazing to me, really.

A word about the cover art. At the intersection of (whenever possible) and (when I remember it), I like to give credit to the artist behind well-executed cover art. I would do that here, except that I can't find an attribution. It's a nicely done portrait of a hero-type sitting in a throne/chair with two birds perched by his shoulders, gloomily illuminated by a burning city. I USED this cover art to show my first-born son the quality and theme of some of the books I'm reviewing... (prepare for a segue into the review)...

A brief-ish, imagine my surprise when I start reading this anticipated grim, Road-Warrior/Conan volume, and discover that it opens with a paintball fight, ambushing a werewolf and assorted friends with explosions of paint, leaving them as angry, garishly-colored clown animals, out for revenge.
With a daylight-loving vampire at the controls of the getaway ATV.
Yeah. I wasn't expecting THAT, either.
This was looking like it was going to be a FUN book!

And that turned out to be the case. Note: I MIGHT have expected the opening if I had been familiar with the story, but, as mentioned above, that isn't the case.

Nate Temple is the lead character, and he has a posse of strange creatures who follow him around. That includes, among others, the aforementioned vampire, who feasts on sun, instead of blood; the werewolf, accidentally attacked by paintballs; a sort of were-cat; three dragons; another man-sized reptile with a fondness for stiletto heels; and other significantly strange characters, including a sentient house as well as a sentient tree. Nate himself is enabled/afflicted with an indeterminate number of magical powers, and has some serious influence over others. For example, in this book, both Van Helsing and Baba Yaga are semi-employees.

He also has supernatural enemies as well, two of whom figure prominently in this adventure. Both are out to kill him, albeit for different reasons. One is angry because Nate diverted his gang from following him; the other is Nate's multi-great grandfather, who (mistakenly) believes Nate  to be guilty of a variation of the Grandfather paradox.

The core of the story is a rescue mission into the Land of the Fae, where prior action left a wounded ally and intended bride of one of the company. There are additional storylines about connections to King Arthur, and the confrontations that take place with the enemies. Essential questions for Nate about his parentage are asked, and mostly answered, and there is plenty of Deus, without ANY Machina.

Sufficient plot elements are resolved to make this NOT a cliff-hanger, although there are significant threads left for the next books in the series.

Commentary. There is plenty of fighting, explosions, and warfare to be had here, which I find to be very gratifying. There is also a bodacious portion of snarky dialogue, which fits in very well with the personalities of the characters. It's ALMOST appropriate material for middle school boys, a comment I make in light of raising one now, with some previous parenting experience under my belt. Let me put it this way: I wouldn't give the book to Kenneth, my 13 year old. However, if I discovered he had found it on his own, and read it, I wouldn't be disturbed. Any bedroom action takes place behind a closed door, between bonded pairs, and I just don't recall any language issues, although the MC is referred to as 'foul-mouthed' in one of the blurbs about the book.

Another unexpected aspect to the book for me (aside from the slapstick humor elements) is the attention paid to the emotional well-being of the characters. All of us who live into maturity have had plenty of opportunities to see relationships go south because of unintended consequences of words and actions; why should supernatural characters be exempt? Most of us have had the benefit of having our earliest conflicts supervised by parents and grandparents, who offer sage advice  about the consequences of our words; while that might not have been the good fortune of Nate, he does have the opportunity to have sudden appearances of rabid-reindeer-tending archetypes drop in and visit him in his private chambers, cryptically encouraging him to play well with others. In all seriousness, I found this aspect of relationship maintenance to be very well done.

There are only two more entries in the 'Best Fantasy Novel (Including Paranormal)' category, and I doubt very seriously that one of them is going to be reviewed, due to the length and so-far unavailability of the book. Has the fat lady sung yet?

Peace be on your household.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Dragon Award Finalist for Best Alternate History Novel: Minds of Men

If you aren't running an ad blocker, here's a link for you:

And for those who ARE running an ad blocker, here's a text link:

And here is the link to my Amazon review, which was published on November 15, 2017.

Preliminary comments. This is the 8th book and the 11th blog post about the finalists for the 2018 Dragon Award; it's also the second book in the category "Best Alternate History Novel." I read reviewed, and blogged this book way, way back in November of '17, when snow had fallen and the ground was as hard as stone, or something. What you are reading is an edited version of that November blog post, deconstructed, rehabilitated, and semi-defenestrated in my attempt to give the same signal strength to THIS finalist novel as I have to the others in the series. 

 A much reduced bit of fan-boy praise for the author.  When she is not otherwise occupied, 
she flew helicopters in places where it mattered, and that speaks to my medic bones. My first company commander was a First Lieutenant who flew medevacs in Viet Nam, and drove a white Corvette, and had a gorgeous wife, and that sort of sets the stage for the way I feel about chopper pilots. (Umm...on the other hand, I also knew a staff sergeant, a former warrant officer chopper pilot in Viet Nam, who had more rows of medals than I could count; he was as ugly and as pleasant as my next-to-last dog, so even MY mileage may vary.)

Her stories grasp the nature of being, and service, and I guess all that comes natural; and what doesn't is something you learn when you are driving a truck through the air with the tracers reaching up for you, looking for the green smoke at the LZ and yelling for your crew chief to turn off those ***ing alarms because you are only going to bounce once, and we'll fix it when we get home.

I first met her as a character in John Ringo's series 'Paladin of Shadows,' only later discovering THAT person was based on a REAL one. Then, I read her work.

She writes stories of cheerleaders who carry guns, and are determined to have a life that matters.
She writes stories of terrifying choices, where there is NO good outcome, and it just doesn't seem clear where your path vanished. She writes with co-authors, which I think must be more than twice as hard as writing by yourself. I have NOT been able to determine who wrote what, in any of her co-written works.

A review, of sorts. And then, she writes BOOKS, and this is her first one. "Minds of Men" is Book One in the series 'The Psyche of War,' and it addresses the role played in warfare by women who have the ability to communicate telepathically. It's set in World War II, at a time when bombers launching from England to strike military and industrial targets had to manage their own defense, since there was no long-range fighter support available.

As a result, they took some terrible losses. Imagine flying straight and level during a bomb run, while flak and German fighters swarm the flight path: that's the sort of thing that the WWII B-17 crews experienced at this stage of the war. The first mission in the book reports the loss of 17 out of 30 B-17 bombers on a single mission.

And then a miracle happened.

Y'all ain't gonna BELIEVE this, but: General Durant, the United States Army Air Force commander, is personally acquainted with the as-yet-not-public ability of certain women to communicate via telepathy. His wife is one of the ladies with that ability. The amount of institutional resistance that is thus avoided, is enough to permit the introduction of selected women with psychic abilities into the crews of many of the bombers still targeting the German war effort.

Evelyn Adamsen (Evie) is one of those women.

The story follows her through her introduction to the crew, and their immediate mission the next day. Her ability to reach into the thoughts of the crew is instrumental in gaining their acceptance, as is the practical value of her efforts while in the air. Bombing accuracy is increased, and she is able to to act as a sort of psychic medic when a crewman is wounded. (Speaking as a former medic: the FIRST thing you tell a wounded person is that they are going to be okay. Say that directly into someone's head? Any medic would give a body part to be able to do that.)

And the crew continues to fight the war, with Evie a full member of the team.

The bad guys have psychic women, too, although they use them differently. Not having read the book, they are unaware that they ARE the bad guys, a valuable trait when fighting a war.

German psychic Adalina Sucherin (Lina) serves as an interrogator, and is usually able to gain necessary information without resorting to the more brutal techniques advocated by her superiors. Driven to seek revenge on Allied forces by the loss of her family during a bombing raid, she welcomes the opportunity to serve alongside soldiers with a similar history. They form a specialized hunter-killer team, seeking out downed Allied airmen.

Evie and Lina's paths cross.

The book does NOT end with a cliffhanger; HOWEVER, it does include the promise of more to come, and some bits of that are even now in the process of being delivered.
One of those bits is the short story "Wicked Angel." You've heard, perhaps, of the story of the Angel of Mons, aka Angel of the Marne? This one is better. Note: if you get confused a bit after reading it, google "The Patron Saint of Happy Passing."
I've read quite a few 'first novels,' and most of them are flawed in most respects. For whatever reason, that is not the case with "Minds of Men." Even though it is in a TOUGH category, with some pretty incredible competition, nobody is gonna yell "THE FIX IS IN" if it wins the Dragon for 'Best Alternate History.' Ummm....two reasons for that: mostly, it's just that good; secondly, there is no way to fix the Dragon vote.

Peace be on your household.

PS: if you read the original November 17 post for this book, you may have some idea of how hard it was for me to trim away the extraneous material. I want a cookie for that.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Why No Dragon Award Review Today, and Why it Matters

Greetings, all friends and neighbors out there in Internet Land!

In order to calm your fears and expectations, I want you to know that you will PROBABLY not get a blog post or Amazon review today for a 2018 Dragon Award Finalist. I have started reading my next book, which is 'Warhammer' by Shayne Silvers, but I have serious doubts that I'm going to be ready to review it today.

Reason: "I have engaged in a great work, and I cannot come down" (Neh. 6:3).

What is this great work, you ask? Well, I'll tell you.

If you have been reading this blog for very long, you probably know that I am a veteran. Yup, I am Generation 3 of 4 (so far) of enlisted Army veterans, going back to WWI.

You may also know that my firstborn son represents Generation 4, although he is not the ONLY member of his generation in my family to serve. He's not fond of me telling his story, but you need to know this: He suited up, and he showed up, and he had a really bad day in 2013 at Shindand Air Base in Afghanistan. Consequently, he was medically retired a few years ago, and has spent much of the time since then, along with his wife, and kids, and friends, and medics, and some pretty fantastic veterans' groups, discovering how he can make a difference in the lives of others, after having been dealt a pretty bad hand.

And that has lead him to start a community-based group that is reaching out to service members who are deployed. He is concentrating at this point on people who, in civilian life, are cops, firefighters, and EMT types, Tomorrow, he will be assembling the first six packages to go out to them.

Each package is going to have three components: letters; Reminders Of Home; and personal care items. Some of the people may be stationed in air-conditioned barracks in rear-echelon areas; others might be way out in front operating in very small teams. Regardless, they will all receive the same three components in their packages.

Letters: these are going to be letters from people back home to remind the deployed individual that they are not forgotten. There is no standard format; only requirement is that they are meant to uplift and encourage.

ROH (Reminders of Home). These are some item that will be a tangible connection to home, something that the service member can hold in their hand, or put in a pocket. Books, keychains, whatever; it's an ROH.

Personal Care Items. These are MOSTLY going to be used by the troops deployed so far forward that they don't have access to regular showers and bathrooms. Hand sanitizers, wet wipes, that sort of thing.

My son knows that my daughter and I have a small, small, small business called 'The Chained Bullet' that sells recycled ammo, made into keyrings, zipper pulls, necklaces, whatever. He told me I was going to supply him with a set of keyrings made from a .30-06 round.

And so instead of reading this afternoon,  I made these:

These eight .30-06 keychains are going to be shipped overseas tomorrow.

Cool, you say, but why does THAT matter?

It matters because in a week, or 10 days, or whenever I finish the Dragon Award series, and my son finalizes the arrangements and paperwork on his organization, you will be able to contribute to this outreach yourself! And I'll post the details on how that works, as soon as it's available. I can tell you that everything is going to be processed by the charitable corporation, so tax deductions can be taken for donations.

Some of the people reading this have offered me personalized copies of their books before, and I haven't been able to accept those, because it's a violation of the Terms of Service on Amazon for a reviewer to receive anything of value in exchange for a review. (The ONLY exception to that is the industry-standard practice of supplying a copy of the book in exchange for a fair review.) Since an autograph or personal message increases the value of the book, I have not been able to accept those kind offers. However, anything sent in to go to the deployed troops will be run through the charitable organization, and tax deductions apply.  And I'll be talking to people who are smarter than I am to make sure, BEFORE any requests are made, that everything is done properly.

Tomorrow, I expect to resume my Dragon Award series. Right now, I've got to get ready to go to church, and I have to go drop the keyrings off at my son's house. 

Peace be on your household.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Dragon Award Finalist for 'Best Fantasy Novel': Shoot the Messenger

The professionally done graphic for 'Shoot The Messenger' by Pippa DaCosta/

And, the link for those of you with AdBlock, or similar software:

Preliminaries. I picked this book because it is a finalist for the 2018 Dragon Award for 'Best Fantasy Novel (including Paranormal).' This is the ninth book I have reviewed in this series, and the third finalist in this category.

Disclaimers. I believe I try to avoid reading books with the 'Fantasy' label, because all too often I have found them to be overblown and pretentious, and unsubtle, badly executed  imitators of either 'The Lord of the Rings' or the 'Harry Potter' series. Therefore, I probably miss out on a great deal of really very good books; and, when I am dragged by my betters, kicking and screaming all the way, and FORCED to read a fantasy work, I find that I enjoy what I am reading.
Nonetheless, I prefer science fiction. I like exploding spaceships.

What is Magnificent About This Book.  First, to address my lowbrow prejudices, this book is neither a Tolkien nor a Rowling knock-off. It has plenty of action, and while I read nothing which is TECHNICALLY an exploding spaceship, science fiction themes are central to the plot.
In fact, the CORE of the book is about the tension between science fiction and fantasy, expressed here as the tension between 'tek' and magic. I think it is lovely when writers take Clarke's Third Law (Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic), and bend, fold, spindle, and mutilate it, or even apply it directly,and come up with a nice work.

A near-criminally brief, and totally unfair, review of the novel.  This, by the way, is strictly the Amazon review that I submitted a little while ago. If they have published it before I finish the blog post, I'll link it HERE. If they haven't, I'll put the link in the comments section. That way, the comments section will get used for SOMETHING, anyway, since none of you seem engaged enough to share your opinion. I mean, really. (last edit: well, it published. So much for the comments section of THIS post...)
Kesh LaSota is a Messenger. With her sidekick, an upgraded former war drone named Sota, she delivers high-value, high-priority messages across the world of Calicto. She has a special talent for the work, being invisible to the ubiquitous surveillance that covers the entire population.
Her crisis unfolds after she delivers a message to a gangster-type, telling him he has 18 seconds to live, followed 18 seconds later by a bullet to his head.
And thus we enter the fantasy part of the novel, because the actions described in that interval would take a HECK of a lot longer than 18 seconds to transpire in Mundane Land.
Everything that happen after that is a fantasy function as well. Every commodity is available to the population, except ...water. There is a synthetic form of water, though, but good old dihydrogen monoxide costs a bundle.
Lots of action. Lots of hunky men. A few gorgeous women. And plot convolutions you won't believe, even after you see them, If you are a fan of the genre, this is going to blow you away. It's going to make the author a lot of money.
As for me, I couldn't wait for the book to be over. Umm,,,, I mean that literally. I read the first half, realized I still had to post about it, and skipped chapters until I got to the end. I am utterly fine with that,as I am with the fact that this book outsells almost every single book I really like.
Quite possibly will win the Dragon Award.

Closing commentary on the review, and whatever else comes into my head. It was the scarcity  and incredibly high monetary value of water that really kicked me out of the novel. Synthetic water? REALLY? Honestly, my reaction to that was to go check on the the author's background. She CLEARLY was writing at an adult level, but synthetic water is a concept I would have expected to see in a story written by a sixth grader. And, by the way, the author has an astounding number of published novels, and she's publishing in a field that I understand to bring in carloads of cash for those who write it, so, sure. I guess she gets to write about synthetic water if she wants to.
Personally, though, once I was knocked out of the narrative, I stayed out.

This is the opening volume in a 'slow burn Reverse Harem' series, and the author is careful to point that out to us. I do not know what a 'slow burn Reverse Harem' is, and my 'Freakishly Aversive Reaction To Reading Even Soft Porn' warning light started flashing when I came across the word 'harem.' As I disclosed in the review, I skipped a LOT of the last half of the book, but from what I DID read, it's obvious that there is some magically-induced non-consensual sex action I missed, for which I am grateful. I accept that it is a rule of certain genres that there MUST be incorporated some explicit sex, and that bedroom doors are a fiction. This will likely garner votes for this book, as it has garnered cash for the author.

Peace be on your household.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Dragon Finalist for Best SF Novel: It Takes Death to Reach a Star

The book being reviewed here is:

If you have AdBlock, or something else that eats picture links,  you can go here:

Preliminaries. I obtained this book upon request from one of the authors, in exchange for a fair review.
I requested this book because it is a finalist for the 2018 Dragon Award, in the 'Best Science Fiction Novel"  category. I started working on this series on August 8, and plan to spend AT LEAST another ten days on it (more, if I can get the books).

For the title of my Amazon review of the book, I took a passage from Psalm 139:
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
And a bit more context for that verse says a bit more about the context of the novel:
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You. (Psalm 139:7-12, NASB)
Disclaimer. Now, USUALLY, I try to make my Amazon review tiny, and expand here in the blog. Well, I TRIED, with some success, in doing that, but there was really so much stuff that needed to go on Amazon, that it turned out longer than I intended. Therefore, the first part of this blog is an expanded bit of the Amazon review; The second part of this blog is a CONDENSED version of the Amazon review; and the THIRD part of this blog isn't IN the Amazon review. So, I want you to do two things:
1. Read BOTH this blog post, AND the Amazon review (the link is up above), and
2. Vote 'helpful' on the Amazon review.

 Part 1: Expanded from Amazon. The book is set five hundred years in the future, after World War III and the New Black Plague killed almost every man, woman, and child on Earth. Those few who survive are huddled in the bizarre architecture of Etyom, north of the Arctic Circle in what once was Siberia, but now is nothing. As far as any of the residents know, there are no other humans alive anywhere.

Humans are divided in three ways: class, based on genetics; location  of residence, either at the top of buildings five miles tall, or in whatever shelter they can cobble together from the ruined city at the base; or role defining belief systems.

At the top of the class structure are the Graciles, the very best form of human that can be designed. Between 7 & 8 feet tall, they are uniformly perfect in features and health. Any imperfections are ruthlessly destroyed before birth, or through a process called Axiotimos Thanatos, commonly referred to as being Ax'd, if discovered later. They rule the entire city. The next class below that are called Robusts, consisting of humans without any genetic manipulations, who make their living the best way they can in the frigid temperature. At the bottom of the heap are the Rippers, who have been cast out from Robust society, and live as feral humans. They produce nothing, existing by scavenging through garbage and attacking any Robusts or Graciles who wander away from their enclaves. They are cannibalistic.

Residential divisions mirror the class distinctions, in that the Graciles live, literally, at the top of the city. Great towers spread out at the five mile level, forming structures aptly named 'lilypads.' These are kept in place both by gigantic support towers, and by enormous bags of helium gas, which help to stabilize them.  The Robusts live in one of eight enclaves at the bottom of the towers, separated from each other by walls which are of some value defensively, but do nothing to ameliorate the debilitating weather conditions. Outside these enclave, in open areas with no infrastructure called 'the Vapid' live the roving bands of Rippers. Some commerce goes on between enclaves, but a group traveling without extensive protection will be attacked by Rippers, killed, and eaten.

The final division between people are their defining belief systems. All of the Graciles begin and end with a materialistic, fatalistic view of existence, and regard themselves as being the highest form of existence possible. The Robusts are divided into two, possibly more, groups, with their roots in either Christianity, in the case of the Logosians, who worship Yeos, or the Musuls, derived from Islam, and regarding Ilah as their supreme being. The Logosians are heavily persecuted by the majority Musuls, and find no favor with the Graciles, either.

Part 2: CONDENSED from the Amazon review. Mila is a Robust Logosian orphan who makes her living as a bouncer and courier. Demitri is an alienated Gracile scientist. Through alternating chapters, they tell the story.

Mila just wants to survive, learn to be a better fighter, and live out the Logosian principles in her life. She's doing pretty good with parts 2 & 3 of that, but she is just BARELY surviving.

Demitri is not only of the elite class, he is at the very TOP of the elite class; the Leader is higher, but no one else is. He has, literally, everything that money can buy, and some things that NO amount of money can buy, due to their rarity, such as vinyl records and bound books. And he has to cut his wrist in the morning so he can feel something. He is empty, and isolated, and the only person who talks to him is the voice in his head, which tells him he is a loser and a coward, constantly. He has to resort to illicit drug use to silence the voice. It's been with him as long as he can remember; he gave it the name Vedmak.

Mila just wants to make the rent; Demitri believes the Leader will use his work to destroy the world.

Part 3: Not included in the Amazon review. I expanded on the quote from Psalm 139 for the blog post, ONLY because they won't let you use that many words for an Amazon review title. Actually, I could have used a different Psalm, one that goes like this:

 By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down and wept,
When we remembered Zion.
Upon the willows in the midst of it
We hung our harps.
For there our captors demanded of us songs,
And our tormentors mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
How can we sing the Lord’s song
In a foreign land? (Psalms 137:1-4, NASB)
If the concept of God being taken seriously in a work of science fiction is anathema to you, then you won't like this book. That's because the ENTIRE BOOK is about living a life without meaning, and desperately seeking something that is the reason for it all; or, if not a reason, then something that at least gives life purpose.  The primary Bad Guy in the piece has more power and control than everybody else combined, and it's still not enough. He is driven to find MORE, and quite literally would expend everyone else in pursuit of his goal. Sitting at approximately at the other end of the scale is a young man who just wants to be able to take care of his little sister. The smaller goal does not make HIM smaller; instead, he is large enough that he takes time to say thanks to people who have helped him.

With some of the books I review, I find that the story is excellent, and it's STRICTLY a story, that it carries no deeper messages. With some of the books I review, I find them nothing BUT message, and those usually get tossed, earlier, rather than later. This book is essentially demanding that we take a look at the ULTIMATE question, about Life, The Universe, And Everything, does NOT trivialize it by saying that the answer is 42, and delivers a smashing good yarn to delight the most depraved of us who thirst for MOAR EXPLODING SPACESHIPS!!! Look, you pays yer money, and you makes yer choice. That's the way this works. If this ain't yer cup of tea, okay. If it is, you'll love it.

Closing but HIGHLY significant comment!As a sort of throw-away at the very VERY end of the book,and I mean the VERY last entry, you find this:

As it happens, the author had already told me there was some good material there, so I went and looked. (That's ONE of the reasons I spent ALL DAY with this book, except for the time I spent teaching Kenneth and Alicia how to change a tire.)

This is me, not reading the book.

For one thing, there is some BEAUTIFUL art work by John Byrne, who designed the cover. We can hope we will see some of this artwork for sale at conventions or elsewhere.

But, ALAS! There is so much GREAT stuff there, and it's JUST NOT incorporated into the book!

P. S. It CAN be done, too. The author I know who has done the BEST job of incorporating a book/world wiki into an ebook is Rob Howell, and an excellent example of his art is "A Lake Most Deep." I wish a LOT more authors would follow his example. 
In the interim, check out the book, check out the website, and see ya at DragonCon, where this just might get the win!

Peace be on your household.