Saturday, October 31, 2020

WEIRD WORLD WAR III, edited by Sean Patrick Hazlett

 Good DAY to you, dear friends and neighbors out there in Internet Land! And to family members who find your way here, much of the Preliminary Comments section is devoted to you.

I'm trying to get this posted while working with my phone as a hotspot; Internet is down from the hurricane.

Preliminary Comments. Gentle Reader, if I told you of my disaffection for horror in terms adequate for my innermost feelings, you might just call for the white-coated gents with butterfly nets to take me away; thus do I foam at the mouth, raging at the impropriety of such abominations, solely designed to terrify.

It extends beyond horror: I don’t like getting scared, period. As a 4-5 year old, I used to hide behind the couch when Roy Rogers would walk into the cabin , because I KNEW the bad guy was hiding behind the door, and was going to jump out on him.

This was NOT helped by my new  step-father’s (expletive deleted) love of grabbing me by the shoulder at the climactic moment, and making me jump.

You might wonder, then, how it is that I am reviewing “Weird World War III,” given that these stories are, to say the least, non-standard. It’s a fair question. 

First, I admit to some inconsistency in my views.  I’m a fan of Quentin Tarantino movies, even though my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, steadfastly refuses to watch “Pulp Fiction” with me; something about Samuel L Jackson and cheeseburgers.

What I’d LIKE to say my criterion for acceptance is this: Science is not Horror. 

Even there, I draw lines. I have never seen ANY of the “Alien” movies, deriving all of my knowledge from cut scenes and memes, such as “Nuke them from orbit; it’s the only way to be sure.”

In the end, if you wish to make a deep criticism of my tastes, I can only say this: do not expect consistency from someone who often fails to discriminate between the functions of the dletew key and the bckspace key. 

The Stories.

THE PRICE by David Drake. Whether you are of the opinion that David Drake invented the field of military science fiction, or merely that he took it from tiny crumbs to a smorgasbord, it can’t be disputed that his works give voice to the difficulties of coming home.  It is well enough, that this story is about a particularly difficult home coming: Ab, the older brother, welcomes Jesse, the younger, back into the family residence, after a particularly horrible mission.  Maybe some people come back home as the same people who left; you couldn’t prove it by me.

SHADOW ROOK RED by Brian Trent.   Concept: new tech allows passage between locations on Earth, which are linked to specific locations on an alternate world; except what is sea level here might correspond to a mountain top there, or worse.  The Soviet Union has weaponized it, with success. An essential researcher goes missing. 

THE THIRD WORLD WAR by Mike Resnick. What is an appropriate response by a super-power, when a MILPOS country starts acting like a bully? Take “The Mouse That Roared,” rotate it 90 degrees, and you will get close. 

Mike Resnick

WHERE YOU LEAD, I WILL FOLLOW: AN ORAL HISTORY OF THE DENVER INCIDENT by Erica L. Satifka. I can’t remember the name of the online craze of a few years ago; lots of folks were trying to find treasure points, or something like that. Some people were so focused on the search that they ran into other people, lamp posts, traffic. That really happened; so, this story isn’t really far-fetched. And THAT’S what makes it a spine-shiver. BRRRR.

ALL QUIET ON THE PHANTOM FRONT by Brad R. Torgersen. Torgersen is a stupid name. There isn’t a spell-checker program on the planet, except maybe in some place populated solely by Viking descendants, where it won’t cause a red line to appear on the page, and that’s Not Nice. It’s a good thing that he has SUCH a deft hand at combining AMAZING truths of humanity to make phenomenal stories. For example: she isn’t what they think she is, but she pretends to be so they will leave her alone; he thinks the entire process is an abomination, but participates because he cares for the troops. Torgersen invented a brand new take on the BEM a few years back, but it’s the humanity in his writing that makes it shine. I love the guy.

ANASTASIA’S EGG by Kevin Andrew Murphy. Ouch. They have turducken somethings for sale at my local grocery store, but I’ve never had one. This story both uses things inside other things as a plot point, it IS a thing inside other things. Romanov princesses, ancient djinns, and a mechanical bucking bronco. It might help if you took notes.

TAP, TAP, TAPPING IN THE DEEP by Dr. Xander Lostetter and Marina J. Lostetter. Are the technical aspects of submarines and deep dives accurate? I have not a clue. My son-in-law was a squid, but he took care of the reactor, so I’m not sure enough of his expertise to delay the review long enough to get a verdict from him. I suspect, anyway, that it’s all completely realistic; it certainly READS that way. Stealth, spies, monsters and aliens, lies and loss, and: “The truth is, I love you...”

THE OUROBOROS ARRANGEMENT by Martin L. Shoemaker. A trope in cheap stories goes like this: “Yes, it’s crazy, but it just might be crazy enough to work!” It makes for amusing action sequences, but none of the craziness would actually last past preparation for Step One. On the other hand: what if you found yourself at the end of Step Fifty? All of them were crazy, and all of them had worked? 

LAST CHANCE by Sarah A. Hoyt. I absolutely, positively deny that anyone can write a classic set-up for a slasher film, have it turn out to be something else, and get away with it. It simply cannot be done. Except: Sarah A Hoyt did it. Right here. In this story. It’s as if someone decided to give Hoyt the most impossible story-writing task EVER: “write your way out of THIS one, Beautiful But Evil Space Princess! Moose and Squirrel cannot save you now!” Listen: gentleman feels a compulsion to drive to a distant location. His car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, and his phone doesn’t work.  He is greeted by a Strange But Congenial Stranger! Even I, who refuse any interaction with horror, know how THIS is going to end up! Except, no. Because Science.  Good grief, woman, can NOTHING stop you?

ODERZHIMOST’ by Deborah A. Wolf. Yes, she gives the translation in the text; it means “obsession.” Yes, science, but more besides; this is also an eternal pain that comes from love betrayed (the obsession part!) The creepy old legend of the abandoned love who drowns herself (or hangs herself, in some versions) and then takes revenge on foolish passers-by. 

NO PLAN SURVIVES FIRST CONTACT by Stephen Lawson POW! There might NOT be a completely new idea in this story, but WOW! The way he puts the parts together is terrific! Where did the Soviets get the advanced technology? How did they move so fast? Alien crash? But wait: even OUR primitive craft have rescue beacons! So, yes, science, but also Mongo, who, before he NEEDS a candygram, goes for a run, bringing along a nasty, nasty captain. Just for company, you know. 

THE SCHOLOMANCE by Ville Meriläinen.  Not explained in the text, but readily available for discovery to anyone with a connection to the internet, the Scholomance was a mythical black magic school in Transylvania. We are introduced to this school in 1777, under the rule of Catherine the Great, and then we have brief glimpses under regime changes in 1817, 1918, and 1977. Mostly, the problems are the same as in any school: kids running in the halls, keeping order. That sort of thing. And maybe one other.

IT’S A MUD, MUD WORLD by Peter J. Wacks and Bryan Thomas Schmidt. This story is set in 1985. Gentle reader, I’ve been wading through these stories, without considering whether the background will be comprehensible to chronologically-deficient individuals. If you haven't seen the movie “War Games,” I believe it’s on Netflix. Go watch it, if you want to really understand this story.  Also, there is quite a bit of computer code that might obscure; it purports to be  code which permitted access to computer bulletin boards of the day. (I used a program that came with my 300 baud modem.) MUD is referenced, but not defined in the story. I believe it’s an acronym for Multi User Domain, or Multi User Dungeon, perhaps even Multi User Dialup; at any rate, it describes the way people talked to each other with computers prior to sometime in the 1990s.

A THING WORTH A DAMN by Alex Shvartsman.  In this timeline, Kennedy wasn’t assassinated in Dallas, and somehow he managed to bankrupt the country in competition with the Soviets in the Space Race. California and Utah seceded; Cali goes socialist, and falls under the influence of the Soviet Union. (No word on Utah.) Nothing works, except the famine. A Soviet officer is tasked with securing a scientist who tried to escape California, and get him to Cuba for processing.

EVANGELINE by C.L. Kagmi Evangeline has some ability to interact with the dead. The story seemed a bit short on explanations to me, but for some reason she is notifying people whether or not their sons/lovers/brothers/whatever are alive in Vietnam. She’s kidnapped by government agents, who want her to something.

BLEAK NIGHT AT BAD ROCK by Nick Mamatas.   “Cold War” makes a convenient name, to cover all the organized violence done during a certain time. You can decide for yourself whether the efforts were to make the world safe for democracy, or to enable peaceful coexistence. Certainly, the US and the USSR were not the only countries impacted by the Cold War. Beyond that, this story addresses the impact of belief.

ZIP GHOST by T.C. McCarthy. Alternate realities/multiple dimensions can make you crazy. Don’t worry, though, we have something for that. Here, take this peyote. And here’s an injection to give you syphilis. That combination should work pretty well. Now, go blow stuff up, and try not to die. 

DENIABILITY by Eric James Stone.  We start with the idea that Kennedy’s assassination was ordered by Khrushchev, and that the Warren Commission report was just to calm people in the US down. Then, postulate a person with the ability to kill people remotely. Feel like implementing a revenge program? It cascades. It ALWAYS cascades.  One of the best features of this story was the way that lead characters used language to appear to say one thing, while meaning something else entirely.

SECOND FRONT by John Langan. You ain’t gonna BELIEVE this, but: both the US and the USSR built secret bases on the moon, without each other knowing! Truly, I loved the part of the story where the reasoning behind keeping the US base a secret for was revealed through, at least, four different Presidential administrations. We could have stopped there, but I suppose we did have to have an invasion by intelligent lobsters at some point in the book.

A Final Note. Mike Resnick crossed over earlier this year. He wrote one of the stories in this volume; he wrote a LOT of stories. He won awards. I hope he made a bunch of money, but I have no idea about that. Regardless:

“Mike always made a point of giving back to the science fiction and fantasy community by taking new writers and editors under his wing." Sean Patrick Hazlett. Weird World War III (Kindle Locations 88-89). Baen. Kindle Edition. 

We would all do well, to leave such a heritage.

Peace be on your household.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Deep Pink, by Sarah A. Hoyt

Great good morning to all my friends and neighbors out there in Internet land! And to whatever family members have stumbled on this review, remember this: I don’t do horror! This book is NOT horror!

Sarah Hoyt has written a delightful book! Whether it will be a book for a tiny little niche of readers, or something with wide appeal, remains to be seen. However, I loved it! Here's the cover art, also by Hoyt under the Covers Girl brand, followed by an Amazon Associates link to the Kindle edition. Click it, and if you buy it, I get a quarter or so.

A quick aside, before I forget it: a number of the characters that appear in this novel have the same names as fans (and perhaps fledgling authors) I have encountered in places where the author has a presence. I believe this practice is called red-shirting. However, usually red shirts only show up long enough to get killed. That doesn’t happen with these characters. You don’t have to know who these people are in real life to appreciate the story, but it’s a delightful little inside joke. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve been red-shirted twice, and it’s a wonderful experience; immortality without all the work.

The plot. There is a crisis occurring among the death metal bands in Cleveland Ohio, and that’s a sentence that I never thought I would generate in my lifetime. Bands are changing their names from (these are just examples I fabricated) Filthy Slime Killers to Precious Pink Kitties; the members wearing pink frilly clothes and Hello Kitty head bands, and singing music about bubbles and puppies and kitties in falsetto voices. This does not sit well with their fans.

Attempting to get to the bottom of things, death metal band manager Ron Rando calls private investigator Seamus Lebanon Magis, known as Leb, and asks him to investigate. Magis visits the apartment of one Albert Schneider, a semi-prominent band member, and finds that his residence looks like “multiple Disney princesses have exploded.” All of the décor is pink, glitter and stuffed animals are everywhere, and Schneider Is wearing a pink jumpsuit. However, Schneider says he is still a servant of the Dark, but that he’s under new management. At this point, both Schneider and Leb hear an ethereal voice saying “Tut-tut, don’t talk!”, and Schneider is terrified. Leb starts to ask if he really believes Satan is in control, but Schneider interrupts, says to call the Boss “Peggy”, and refuses to say more. 

Next morning, Schneider’s body is found, butchered.

Pretty creepy, right? I can’t say that it gets worse, but it does get...more involved.

In short order, we have the reappearance of Emma, Leb’s long lost love, a little girl (Lilly) who has vanished, and a big Chevrolet (The Brown Disgrace) that exists pretty much on its own terms.

Nothing links the bizarre behavior of the band members and Lilly’s disappearance, until Leb follows a lead out to Mary of the Pines Seminary. There he meets a former member of the band Punk Sausage, a seminary student who lost his faith, and experimented with being in a band. However, when bizarre things started to happen, he had the theological training to recognize that this was more than drug-induced mental illness. He briefs Leb on what he thinks is going on. 

In an amusingly intricate monologue about the distinctions between the natural, preternatural, supernatural, he loses Leb LONG before he runs out of things to say. 

(I call this amusing, because it is EXACTLY like Theological Disputes I Have Known; but if you get trapped into one of those, it won’t be amusing at all. Hoyt captures the essence of the savant in lecture mode, making one long to have it never happen again.)

In addition to the theological hypothesizing, though, the seminarian DOES provide Leb with evidence that something bizarre IS happening, and warns him to stay away. 

(and small spoiler, provides support later).

And we go on from there!

It’s rare to find an author who can exposit the supernatural aspects of a commonly-held belief system, without sounding either evangelical or contemptuous. Hoyt is one of the few I’ve seen who can do that, and remain WITHIN the framework of mainstream science fiction and fantasy. And her portrayal of the Dark One is a FABULOUS bit, with the Father of Lies sporting pigtails with pink ribbons, wearing a pinafore, and attending a tea-party. Evidently, there are SOME rules that must NOT be broken, else consequences, you know?

As always, her plot is consistent, and her characters are recognizable as people you might encounter, or live with, or be.

I hope this was a fun book for her to write; it certainly was fun to read.

Peace be on your household.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Mamelukes, by Jerry Pournelle

Greetings and exuberant blessings to all my friends and neighbors out there in Internet Land! And to the family members who have stumbled across this post: to the best of my knowledge, today was the first day I actually MADE fried chicken for my morning meal. Had it cold for breakfast many times, of course, but never fired the deep fryer for that purpose. It’s rather nice!

The cover art, by Dominic Harman, and an Amazon Associates link. If you click on it, it will take you to Amazon; if you buy something while there, I get some coins.

Things that will only appear in this blog post. Feel free to skip this, or to go to Goodreads or Amazon for a review with no back story. 

This is likely going to be an EASY review to write. If not, it will be a PEBKAC error, and nothing else. That possibility DOES exist, for two reasons:

1. There was a period of time, starting somewhere in the 1970s, when I thought science fiction had abandoned me. It was dreadful! I think I found “Have Spacesuit, Will Travel” when I was 10, in 1963, and suddenly, I had a refuge, safe from the world. But gradually, it seemed that refuge had vanished. Then I discovered Larry Niven in 1978 or 1979, and then Jerry Pournelle, and David Drake; and, eventually, Baen brought me treasures I could not have imagined.

Janissaries, the first volume in this series, was one of the books that kept me going. It was published in 1979, and somewhere in my baggage there is still an illustrated copy that I picked up at a used bookstore prior to 1986. So, I have MUCH affection for the series, and thus for this book.

2. I have a bit of a track record for not wanting to finish a series that I love. I have yet to watch the final episode of a Ricky Gervais series about a lovable autistic nursing home attendant. More recently, I didn’t watch the final episode of “The Mandalorian” until the previews for the new season went live. My rationale: as long as I don’t watch the last episode, the story isn’t over.

HOWEVER!!! I did NOT allow that to stop me in this case. I grabbed it, read it between meals and while waiting to see the doctor, and finished it last night, despite being dead tired. And thus: I think this will be an easy review to write, because love and stuff.

The book review begins. This is what will appear on Goodreads and Amazon, with, perhaps, minor edits.

The title page states that this is a book by Jerry Pournelle, with contributions by David Weber ( a long-time fan) and Phillip Pournelle (Jerry’s son). The Wikipedia entry on the book provides interesting information about the development of the text. I could only find ONE Weber-ism I was reliably certain of (a reference to BuShips); the story, and the text, are entirely consistent with Jerry’s earlier writing, and we may truly thank those involved in the revival process for that.

The story arc starts as Captain Rick Galloway waits for death, an expendable pawn in a proxy war in Angola. On his side are a platoon-strength body of men, all that survived out from a battalion, recruited and supported by the CIA. His command is scattered in hasty defense positions scraped out on a hill that was supposed to be an extraction point. But Headquarters just told him no evacuation is possible.

Coming up the road is a vastly superior Cuban-lead force, intent on their destruction.

How will they survive THIS? Well, they don’t, actually. Instead, a spaceship lands and rescues them. Sort of. As it turns out, the rescue has only two exits: exile to lifetime incarceration, or exile to supervise production of a particular harvest on a distant planet, containing various primitive cultures. They elect the farming-supervision choice.

Over the first three novels, which have since been combined into one volume in “Lord of Janissaries,” we follow the progress of Rick and his men as they emerge into the strange world of Tran. There never seems to be good stopping point to the story, because the life-and-death conflict never ends. First, there is the conflict that quickly forms among Galloway’s troops. Lead by the other surviving officer, some realize that their weapons are so superior to those of the indigenous people, that they can set themselves up and rule as kings.

Second there are the conflicts with the various groups existing on the planet. It appears that the aliens have regularly kidnapped small-ish military units for the same purpose as Rick’s group, and some of them had enough of a core group that they were able to sustain a solid cultural presence over the centuries. And, with few exceptions, a state of war exists wherever there are people. Even though their weaponry is primitive, compared to what Rick is supplied with, even a rock can kill you.

Finally, there is a conflict with the aliens that brought them there. From oral traditions found on the planet, combined with some clues provided by the abductors and other members of the Galactic society, Rick discovers that the plan is to have his group organize the harvest of the desired crop. As a reward, they might all be killed, probably by kinetic strikes from space. But, if they do NOT cooperate, they most certainly will be killed.

In this last volume, we finally get to the endgame for Rick’s command. The endgame can’t come too soon for Rick; he has become sick and near death from the strain of command, and the knowledge that there are innocent civilians who die as a result of the constant war. Other than the few troops left out of the group he brought from Earth, he has scarce sure allies; the most powerful nations always have their own best interests at heart, and require constant attention to keep them on the same path as Rick. That grows more difficult with each battle.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, the aliens are preparing for another abduction, with a very strange composition: a woman who was formerly a member of the San Francisco Police Department; a disgraced high school science teacher who is methodically drinking himself to death; and, a former heroin addict with a long-ago tour as a community builder in Africa. They collect a vast assortment of educational technology, and a few other things, and anticipate being relocated to a primitive village in a distant part of the world. As with Rick’s troops, they don’t find out the truth until too late.

And another group of aliens is interfering with the process.

And Rick grows more weary…

It’s a great last chapter. While I think that new stories could easily be written in the universe, the cycle of the tale is finished. At the end, we know what will happen next; not the details, but the path. Since it’s been almost forty years since I started my relationship with Galloway and Company, I’d like to send a letter to my youthful self, promising that the read will be satisfactory, not only in the short term, but also in the end.

Peace be on your household.


Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Dread Pirate Arcanist, by Shami Stovall

 Good afternoon, friends and neighbors out there in Internet Land! And, to those family members who may have dropped by: if you have a recipe for catfish stew, OR for Mama's Chicken Garden Skillet, could you get in touch with me?

Allegedly, the cover art is by one "Darko Paganus." (No comment.) Immediately UNDER the cover arty is an Amazon Associates link to the Kindle book on Amazon. Click on the link, then buy something, and I get some coins.

As far as I could tell, there is no link, whatsoever, to Princess Bride. However, the title HAS to be in homage to the characters. Feel free to correct my misapprehension.

Things I don't like: I don't like having to fool around with How-To-Make-My-Computer-Work when I am trying to get some work done. Had to do that. You'd think copying and pasting would be EASY. Not always.

Things I love.  I LOVE it when an author throws in something wonderful. It can be a DELIGHTFUL choice of phrase; maybe a throw-away line that tells you EVERYTHING; or, probably my favorite, when the author shows a gifted insight into the way people work. When I find a passage like that, I want to run to someone, and READ it to them, because it's just that good. And that last thing I love? Stovall presents it here in this book, in a most excellent gift package. There may be bonbons attached; I wouldn't be surprised.

The rest of the review is going to be me, striving to tell you what she did, without spoilers. Rest assured; I will deprive the review of the best reveal, BUT you MUST read the book!

In this second book in the Frith series, Master Arcanist Zelfree has taken on six apprentices with their bonded eldrins:

Volke, with Luthair, the Knightmare; Ilia, with Nicholin, the Rizzel; Zaxis, with Forsythe the Phoenix; And, I don't remember the names of the last three eldrins, and don't want to stop writing to do the needful search:  Atty, with a Phoenix; Adelgis, with an Ethereal Whelk; Hexa, with a Hydra.

A starting competition, to find apples, reveals the personalities of the six, and also shows protagonist Volke that he is relying too much on his physical abilities, and not on his magic. 

This artificial  task is immediately followed by a task of significant importance: find two missing griffins, magical creatures who were to be present at a bonding. This one becomes sinister in a hurry, and it sets up the tasks for the remainder of the book. 

The second task also reveals much about the character of Volke and Zaxis, particularly the latter. He has always come across as a shallow, self-centered braggart, but he begins to reveal other sides as well. 

Meanwhile, there are other feelings just below the surface within the group; some reciprocated, some not. It's romance stuff, and it's what you would expect in a mixed group of apprentices. However, this appears to be a highly moral culture, at least in some respects, so the only late-night visits are for plots, fears, and support, and not for smooching.

And another thing that is becoming more evident is just how WIERD the master arcanist is. His primary presentation is that of a grump, but sometimes, it's clear that he has great concern and affection for his students. But mostly, he works overtime to distance himself from them. But, if he doesn't like apprentices, why did he take SIX?

I have to stop now, because to go further would be getting into MAJOR spoiler land. Without getting into specifics, though, I'll tell you that Stovall has a very clear insight into how much devastation can come, when you try to keep a lie hidden, even from people you should be close to.

Yes, there are more books in the series, and they should make excellent reading as well.

Peace be on your household.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Long In The Land, by Laura Montgomery

 A great good evening to you all, Internet friends and neighbors! And, to any family members who have dropped by, somehow we missed Pizza Friday, so we are had Pizza Saturday instead, and there are plenty of leftovers. Everybody is welcome, and there is cake for those who want dessert.

“Long in the Land” is the second book in the Martha’s Sons series, which gives us some backstory to the Waking Late trilogy, set on the planet which was Not What We Were Looking For, or NWWWLF.  The first book, Simple Service, I reviewed in September of 2019, in what was probably the worst review I have ever written; certainly, in the bottom five.

Here's the cover art, by Tom Edwards, followed by an Amazon Associates link to the book on Kindle. If you click on the link, and buy the book or something else, I get small change.

The following contains some material that was incompetently left out of the review for Simple Service.

The Dawes family lives some distance from the city of First Landing, where almost all technology is concentrated. The government of the city has things locked down tight, and they control production, the weapons remaining from the founding colonizers, and the means of training men at arms. 

Not content with his control over the people in the city limits,  the governor orders his troops to confiscate the weapons in the hands of the outliers, and those are turned in without conflict. Resentment grows, however.

The protagonist is Peter Dawe, the youngest of 10 children of Martha, the scholarly mother, and Nigel, who probably has some good points.

Actually, let me not be TOO hard on Nigel; he is, after all, a good provider, who has carved out a prosperous holding, in soil which requires much work before it will support life transplanted from Earth. And, since survival trumps all, I suppose he does finish with a score in positive digits. 

I must point out, however, that regardless of his abilities as a provider, he’s a lousy father. Prolific, yes, he is that. However, he appears to run his house with no regard for actually training his children in the ways they should go. Certainly,  he demands they work around the holding, essential life skills which are absolutely necessary for survival. But we are given no evidence that he considers the kind of example he is setting for them; his approach seems to be “might makes right; my way, or the highway.”

And THAT’S a life-lesson that son Simon, the next oldest brother to Peter, took to heart. From his earliest days, he went out of his way to torment Peter unmercifully. While it did equip Peter with a resolute character, it was a blatant misuse of his age and position on Simon’s part, and eventually, even Nigel noticed. 

However, being Nigel, he picked a rather stupid solution. Whereas he should have intervened when Simon was younger, and forced him to treat his younger brother with appropriate consideration, Nigel’s solution was to postpone intervention until the boys were older, and then force them to work in close proximity with each other. While it does show that Nigel was at least aware that there was a problem, he provided ZERO corrective instruction, supervision, or discipline, and consequently, Peter remained the butt of all Simon’s japes, and was further distanced from Nigel.

Peter has a plan to get the confiscated weapons back from the city, and Nigel forces Simon, unwanted, into the expedition. Peter manages to get back with the blasters, but the news of Simon’s death finalizes his alienation from the household.

He accepts a choice to flee to his oldest brother Edward’s farm, five days away. The surface reason given is that it will prevent the government me, who seek him as a blaster thief, from taking reprisals against his family. However, it’s largely agreed upon because Peter’s mother and father can’t bear the sight of him any more.

Shortly before he sets out, Peter and some other locals spot an aircraft, which is something never seen even in First Landing. There is a suggestion that it might be from the break-away colony of Seccon, an idea Nigel angrily rejects; he wants no discussion of the possibility of Seccon in his house.

Toward the end of his trip to Edward’s holding, Peter sees the aircraft again.

And the plot thickens…

Other significant characters introduce further plot developments: 

Silas Zeelander: the last pilot of the last aircraft; he hails from Seccon, the break-away colony, bringing his newborn son Zak. Zak is sickly,  suffering from failure to thrive. Silas used the plane to recon for a new nursing mother, and found Adelia, Edward’s wife. Silas has the hardest head, EVER. Having grown up trusting, he thinks everyone is trustworthy.

Elian Matlin: government man from First Landing, currently working for room and board at Edward’s farm. He’s looking for Silas’ plane, but knows of the hunt for Peter. 

Milo and John: First Landing residents who work for Edward during harvest. They are also informal spies for First Landing.

Megan, Robin, Laurie, Emily, and newborn Pearl: Edward and Adelia’s children.

Montgomery tells a GREAT story, and you can catch all sorts of similarities between the developments of NWWWLF and historical events on Earth. Don’t try to analyze that to death, though. 

Part of her story telling is her attention to detail. Here’s one example:

After an hour she had the kitchen fires banked, Laurie assigned to his post as lookout, three baskets of food of different sizes for carrying by all, including the smallest girl Emily, if not the infant Pearl, and they were ready to head out through the vegetable garden to harvest the toadfat. (Montgomery, Laura. Long in the Land (Martha's Sons Book 2) . Kindle Edition.)

How MANY times have we read about people setting out on adventures, with nothing more than a pocket handkerchief? True, sometimes that is done because it’s a plot component, but more often I think it’s because the author just doesn’t want to be bothered. Now, a MASSIVE attention to detail would likely bore everyone except a dedicated logistics officer, but please: let us not pretend that expeditions don’t take preparation and organization. 

Here, Montgomery strikes what I believe to be a perfect balance, between keeping the story alive, and giving us some insight into to the character of Adelia, a farm wife, who has become a master of organizational skills, just in the course of doing her job, every single day. She’s no Mary Sue, either; at other points, we see her suffer at the prospect of her children risking their lives. Nope, she’s an efficient, hard-working lady, who doesn’t need to be rescued, but isn’t afraid of delegating, either, with “here, you hold this baby for a minute, while I go feed that one.” 

Circumstances have prevented me from finding out if the series has been carried on further; if it has, though, I will be sure to read it.

Peace be on your household.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Knightmare Arcanist, by Shami Stovall

 Greetings, and Happy RED Friday to all my friends and neighbors out there in Internet Land! And, to those few family members who find their way here: couscous is great, particularly if you add some crunchies. 

Here's the cover art to the book I'm reviewing, followed by an Amazon Associates link. If you click the link, and then buy something, they give me a little money (but it doesn't cost you anything):

 I’m not quite sure how it’s done, but I recognize it when I see it: really GREAT writing. Shami Stovall generates GREAT writing. In fact, her writing deserves a better review than this, but I've been trying to get this written since 7:30 AM, and I don't want to put it off another day.

Look to her work, and you’ll find she absolutely NAILS the execution of the ideas, putting everything into the just-right sequence. She has the ability and the stamina to infuse page 180 with the same energy that’s found on page 1. I’m inclined to believe that the stamina is what keeps most people from getting that novel published; it’s just too hard to sit down, hour after hour, day after day, and punch the words into the keyboard. If my count is right, she now has eight books published, and that is some pretty amazing output.

Solid writing is a necessary but not sufficient requirement for GREAT writing, though. To that, Stovall adds some AMAZING brilliance in the concept. I was overjoyed and flabbergasted when I discovered she had based one novel entirely on the concept of The Prisoner’s Dilemma (“Star Marque Rising”), and that her construction was so flawlessly executed that it didn’t come across AT ALL like a gimmick.

In this book, the concept that I cherish is the bonding between magical creatures and humans. We have seen similar items before, ranging from a witch’s familiar, to were-creatures, to sinister mimics and pod people. Where Stovall differentiates herself, however, is in both the mechanics of the bonding, and in the transformation of both the human (the arcanist) and the magical creature (the eldrin). Some of each blends into the other, and they take on each other’s traits with time. I’m not aware of anyone doing anything quite like this; the closest I can think of is Weber’s treecats, but it’s not the same thing.

So: she nails the technique; she nails the concept; what about the story?

It’s a great old story, of poor and repressed folks, perhaps undiscovered royalty, arising from poverty to greatness. Surrounding them are people of privilege, which is given to them by accidents of birth. Tell the story the wrong way, and it is TIRESOME. Tell it the right way, and it refreshes the spirit, and gives you hope. Stovall tells it the right way.

Her Good Guys have flaws, her Bad Guys have good motives. There are sufficiently subtle plot elements that you might not be sure which are Good and which are Bad, until the story has progressed significantly. It makes for a really great read.

I have quite a few more books by Stovall to read and review, and I’m looking forward to the prospect. 

Peace be on your household.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Hell Spawn: Saint Tommy, NYPD, Book 1

 A great good morning to all my friends and neighbors out there in Internet Land! And, to any family members who drop by, I’ve got some GREAT fried chicken left over from last night in the fridge (it was $0.99/pound for leg quarters yesterday).

So, yay! Another long-overdue review! I actually got this book a year ago yesterday. I read it right away, but was just not able to review back then. If the information I have is correct, this is Book One of Seven (so far?) in the series. This is the cover art to the book; the link below it is an Amazon Associates link, which means that if you click and buy, I get money (but you don't pay extra).

Prefatory materiel! I MUST point out something about perceptions of reality before going into the specifics of the plot and characters. Due to some technical problems, at this moment I can’t see how the book is classified for marketing purposes on Amazon, but I suspect it’s listed as fantasy.

This may sound a bit weird to you, but: there is nothing in this book that would place it beyond the realm of every day reality for the orthodox Christian believer. That’s a pretty bold statement, and feel free to dispute it if you like. It’s true, though, that classic, traditional Christianity teaches that angels, resurrection from the dead, demons, and a variety of miracles, are absolutely valid. Those beliefs are discussed at length in theologically-oriented books, which are readily available. Similar themes are found in some popular movies and television shows. 

Where Finn stands apart is that his protagonist, Tommy Nolan, is a good guy, an average blue-collar guy, working as a police detective in New York, who suddenly finds that his work combating conventional crime is “enhanced,” shall we say, by the tools and desire to combat authentic demons from Hell.

And: YES! That can be said to be COMPLETELY CONSISTENT with my belief systems. I’m not the same ‘flavor’ of Christian that Finn is, BUT, as I said earlier, the things he puts forward have traditionally been orthodox teachings of the mainstream Christian churches. If that seems too outrageous for sane people to believe, I recommend you look closer at the history of the Church, PARTICULARLY the foundation documents, including the Biblical accounts.

And now, to the book:  As stated, Tommy Nolan is a good guy who finds himself gifted with super-powers so he can fight evil in physical form. That’s the premise, and I have to say that I found it delightful, perhaps largely because of my Christian perspective. 

A very few days ago, I was given the opportunity to watch "Constantine," a movie which shares some of the same themes of power, demons, Heaven and Hell. However, the additional themes of betrayal, isolation, and unforgivable sin combined to alienate me, and I stopped less than half-way through. 

What I liked about "Hell Spawn: Saint Tommy NYPD" is his constant virtue, in the form of his dedication to his wife and son, and his compassion even for the criminals he has to arrest. Long before he found himself in the role of A SAINT (!), Tommy was investing himself in his community and the people he encountered. This is NOT the story of a worthless, ineffectual dweeb who discovers a magical weapon in the desert, and is transformed into a great American hero. This is a story of a regular guy, who commits himself to BEING a great American hero to his family, friends, prisoners, and anyone else he encounters, just with the tools of his hands and feet, mind, and heart. While the reason he was selected for sainthood and super powers isn’t disclosed in this installment, I believe it was simply a recognition of who he was becoming on his own. 

A couple of closing remarks

1. I don’t read horror. There were elements of this story, in describing the crimes of the Bad Guy, that were horrifying. They may not be tolerable for those who are squeamish, and I would not recommend this to my 15 year old Kenneth. However, those grotesque elements were essential clues to the nature of the killer. So, I hung in there, but I’d kind of like some brain bleach.

2. Although Tommy Nolan is a practicing Catholic, I didn’t see this as a distinctively Catholic novel. True, Tommy DOES use some strictly Catholic elements to battle evil, but it’s not so obscure that it can’t be understood by this non-Catholic. If you have to look up the definition of a word, do it. 

3. A couple of real-life murderers are mentioned as patterns/examples for the method the Bad Guy uses to murder his victims. I suggest you do NOT research their names; the crimes were horrific, and the failure of regulatory/supervisory agencies to intervene is likely to cause you to lose faith in certain systems which should be guarding public health. Again: I’d like some brain bleach.

Under normal circumstances, a phrase I have heard before but don’t believe I comprehend, I would have already finished the Saint Tommy series. Keep checking in on me, and lets see how it goes.

Peace be on your household.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Terra Nova: The Wars of Liberation - Tom Kratman and Company

 A charming good AFTERNOON, to all my internet friends and neighbors! Usually, I start writing fresh in the morning, but I’m putting myself on an accelerated pace. And, to my family members that have clicked on this link, as soon as you can make it up here, my schedule is clear, and it will be RANGE TIME!

Once upon a time, and multiple times since, I pointed out that my FAVORITE reading material is military science fiction. By and large, that is still the case. Yes, it’s true that for the 2019 Dragon Awards I had to review something that claimed to be in that category, and found it to be small-minded, depraved, poorly written, and nasty. Didn’t have any impact on my opinion of the genre, however; it just provided me with a good reason to suspect Simon and Schuster of attempting to curry favor with haters, and to be very careful of any endeavor featuring an author with a name rhyming with Hameron Kurley.

At any rate, I find that when I hit a period of stress, my comfort-food-for-the-brain is almost always military science fiction. And that’s why I picked up a copy of “Terra Nova: The Wars of Liberation” as soon as it became available. I was not able to review at the time; I was really even having problems reading. 

That's a joke, of sorts. 
It's an Amazon Associates link;
(I get paid if you click it and then buy something)

I was sure this volume was going to be balm to my disturbed self, and I was right.  I have enjoyed the previous installments in this series by Tom Kratman, going back to 2007. Unlike the other eight books (if I have counted correctly), this volume is a shared universe, with 11 authors, in addition to Kratman himself, providing material.

Beginning with the second in the series, all of the books have an introductory section called “What Has Gone Before,” which does an EXCELLENT job of briefing the reader on the high points of prior story development. That has become rather lengthy with new material being added, but I am going to condense it, ENORMOUSLY:

In the not-too-distant future, a gateway to another universe is discovered by accident; an Earth-like world is included. Named Terra Nova, it is initially seen as a spot for exploration and colonization. Before too much time has passed,  a degrading political climate on the home world causes the powers-that-will-be to decide to dump all the malcontents from Earth there, where they can be abandoned, exploited, or worked to death at the whim of the planetary administrators. Eventually, those on Terra Nova rebel.

There: EIGHT books, summarized in 82 words. Awesome, if I do say so myself!

The 12 stories in this volume are each given a bit of prefatory material, which ties them together and makes the context clear. I’ll not review them, except to say that you don’t want to skip them; they are interesting, and they do include background.

The stories:

1. The Long, Dark Goodnight by Vivienne Raper. This tells the story of the failed first attempt to colonize Terra Nova. Earlier volumes give the bones of a story of cultural conflict exploding into violence. This story breathes life into those bones. The price paid by those who tried to keep the peace comes across almost as clearly as if it were happening in real-time.  

2. The Raiders by Mike Massa. The UN holds dominion over the planet. It’s not a monolith, though; there are facets! And those facets look out for their own interest, and really don’t mind making others pay the price. Massa once again shows the perspective of troops who know that the price they may have to pay is ultimate; they will do their job, as long as it’s worth it. 

3. Sacrifice by Peter Grant. The hatred between competing factions that existed on Earth turned out to be the most easily exported commodity. True, the planet is designed to kill intelligent life. Unfortunately, people seem to have that same design. In opposition to that is a man of war, turned to peace, who must again take up the tools of war.

 4. Doing Well by Doing Good by Chris Nuttall. Not every UN official was intent on literal and/or figurative rape. Those who attempted to perform ethically found themselves at odds with The System.

 5. No Hypocritical Oath by Robert E. Hampson. This story combines techno-thriller, with a bit of romance, and the nastiest examples of personal bullying and vindictiveness. And then more, in the form of institutional bullying and vindictiveness.

6. Bellona’s GIFT by Monalisa Foster. It’s not easy to be the child of the leader; no one REALLY feels safe around you. So, how can you feel safe around them? But, outsiders really don’t know the rules.

7. The Panther Men by Justin Watson. A Colonel of the warriors, and a Prince of his people, Alexander has conflicting loyalties even before he sets his feet on the ground. Once there, though, his conflict grows more intense. On the one hand, he finds purity in the cleanness of straight-forward combat. On the other hand, the things he finds he much do seem to be killing his soul.

8. Desertion by Kacey Ezell. Captain Lele Campbell can fly like an angel, but her world is nothing like Heaven. She must always be on her guard; her commanding officer makes no secret of his lascivious intentions toward her, and the system provides no escape. Everywhere she turns, she finds more betrayal. Everywhere. 

9. Blood, Sweat, and Tears by Christopher L. Smith. Whether a fish is caught or not, the bait is certain to be mangled. All Marko wants is to be able to do his job. However, his reputation prevents him from fading into safe obscurity.

10. Wellington by Alexander Macris. There are a very few locations on the planet where the UN isn’t  an ever-present force. Wellington is one of those. For an organizational bully, that would be enough reason to intervene. The presence of a thought criminal, and the temerity of locals who try to provide sanctuary, are just the icing on the cake.

11. HUÁNUCO by Lawrence Railey. Two American ex-pats, with significant skills as independent software contractors, run afoul of the authorities in Mexico, and find themselves deported to a somewhat similar country in Terra Nova. From scant existence as agricultural workers, they are given an opportunity to help their drug-producing boss strike back at the oppressors from Earth.

 12. The Redeemer by Tom Kratman. General Titus Ford is given the job of straightening up all of the messes that exist on Terra Nova, and the title of Inspector General. His actual power isn’t limited at all by the scope of his job, or his titles. The peoples of Terra Nova received some benefit due to the incompetence of their masters. No longer; Ford has a better idea.

In his Afterword, Kratman suggests that he might have two more conventional works in the series, and two more of these shared-universe collections. I suppose we can get by with that; as long as he continues in other areas, that is.

We all need comfort food for the brain, after all.

Peace be on your household.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Bob's Saucer Repair, by Jerry Boyd: Bob and Nikki #1

 Happy October 4, 2020, to all my friends and neighbors out there in Internet Land. And, to those family members who accidently stumbled upon this post: I can't really BLAME this on you, but it IS your fault.

The Amazon  link below the cover art provides me with a small referral fee if you wind up buying it. That might have been important if I had done the review in a timely fashion. However, the book now has over 300 reviews, which indicates that it has been wildly popular. Thus, any pathetic belief that THIS review will result in some compensation is resoundingly trashed.

(this was the cover when I got it 13 months ago)

If you need to know why I am reviewing this most delightful book on October 4, 2020, when I obtained it via Kindle Unlimited on September 3, 2019, send me a SASE. 

Yes, I said "most delightful book;" I did NOT say "mostly delightful book." There is a difference. This one is most delightful; I found nothing to object to. The book has had some changes in the cover art, and the most recent cover reminds me of "The Hitchhikers Guide" series, and that's good. It's funny; there is an adventure story, but don't come looking to have exploding spaceships take you all the way. Instead, relish the dialogue:

“You have a point. Your hair covers it, though.”

Boyd, Jerry. Bob's Saucer Repair (Bob and Nikki Book 1) . Jerry Boyd. Kindle Edition. 

The protagonist is: a mechanic. Bob, the mechanic. He arrives home at the end of a work day, anticipating chili and beer, and discovers a broken spaceship (not an exploding spaceship!) in his garage. He does NOT freak out; he invites the pilot, Nikki, to hang out while he mends a coolant pipe. Amusing cultural differences emerge, and the effect is made delightful by the fact that both Bob and Nikki are quick with a quip and an insult.

She is a pilot/guide to interstellar graduate students, who sought to cut costs by procuring a junker spaceship. Bad choice. Fortunately, Bob, then his medic buddy John, pull their chestnuts out of the fire. In doing so, they present an opportunity for continued commerce (and Bob and Nikki interact chemically, or something; anyway, they both want to smooch).

Translator devices; direct-brain-interface learning machines; some other different super-advanced tech, but, this ISN'T a story about gadgets. Do you like...SPACE PIRATES?

It's a thorough romp, the first in the series, and it's my understanding that installment 11 has recently gone live. Amazing....

Peace be on your household.



Friday, October 2, 2020

The Good, The Bad, and The Forgiven, by Tim the Idahoan : It takes a big man to do a big job…

 ...and a big gun often is quite useful. 

I am SORELY tempted to wax eloquent about The Pistol carried by The Preacher, but will restrain myself, EXCEPT to say: utterly plausible. More later. Maybe.

In his Dedication, the author tells us of being challenged to write something as good as that incomparable chronicler of Western life, Louis L’Amour. Sadly, I cannot say whether he accomplished that goal, not being a student of L’Amour’s work. Regardless, it IS a smashing great read.

The Preacher. Eli Helmsman was raised on a (mid-western?) farm by a devoutly Christian mother and a hard-working father with poor communications skills. He heard the call to preach at an early age, and unlike the majority of jack-legged country preachers, went East to go to school for training. 
Thus, he was in New York State when the Civil War broke out. He felt strongly that he could not postpone his calling to free men in the spirit in order to engage in violence to free them in the flesh. When his parents can no longer support his education, he gets a job with the Remington arms plant near his seminary, and reduces his course load. Ever the dutiful son, he sends part of his pay home to help his family. 
In 1866, before he graduates, his mentor invites him to join in circuit-riding out West, where there are not enough ordained ministers to serve a single congregation. His co-workers have a farewell party for him, and gift him with a prototype revolver, chambered in the SIGNIFICANT rifle cartridge of .50-70. 
His journey leads him, in 1884, to the little boom-town of McLaurin City.

The author has an astounding ear for the voice of his characters. Nowhere is this more evident than with Eli! During on lamentable phase of my life, I was required to read much theological writing, dating from this time (1862 – mid 1880s), and his conversation PERFECTLY reflects both the formal and informal communications of a theologically trained person of this time. It is strange upon our ear, but it is part of the writer's craft of drawing you back to that particular point in time, way out there in the West. 

The Bad Guy. There are LOTS of bad guys in the story, and Eli does his very best, every single time he has an opportunity, to win them from their wicked ways. With some, this works! With others, they walk away, shaking their heads, but thinking about what he said. 
And, unfortunately for the remainder, they attempt violence upon the person of Eli or those under his care. This NEVER works out well for them. Whether it’s a divine intervention, fast-twitch muscles, or some other factor, Eli is finished using his Remington before the other person has an opportunity to do A Bad Thing.
That said, Eli always regrets having been placed in that position, and earnestly appeals to his opponents, without threatening, to accept God’s forgiveness and turn from their sinful ways. His philosophy, which he repeats to both friend, and to those attempting to be his foe, is:
“There are only two kinds of people in this world, my brother—sinners who’ve accepted God’s plan of salvation, and sinners who need to.”


For the main story, though, there is a single Bad Guy. 

His name is Court McIver, and he has an economic stranglehold on the town. He owns the mines that generate most of the income, and he owns saloons and gambling joints that serve to take the paltry salaries he pays the miners, and return them to his coffers. He offers the appearance of a gentleman, living in a big house, smoking fine cigars, all the trappings, but he also employs a group of thugs to intimidate anyone who stands against him. When intimidation doesn’t work, fists, knives, and guns are called into play.

The setting: McLaurin City, Territory of Montana. Eli shows up at the request of Rev. Thomas Thatcher, who has struggled to provide a place of worship for those of the area who are spiritually minded. However, when he arrives, he finds that Rev. Thatcher has just been killed, and the church meeting house burned. Although everyone knows it was some of McIver’s men who did it, they have not been arrested. 

Eli sets out to rectify that matter, and the story begins.

We get much more of Eli’s history through stories told by some incidental characters, explaining how he grew from an inexperienced, naïve seminary student (but one with a great work ethic) to a Preacher With A Gun type. However, Eli never becomes hardened to the times when he has to pull his Remington in a life-or-death situation, and that’s essential to understanding his character. He never forgets: there are just two kinds of people.

I am a life-long voracious reader. In 1973,  I had a radical conversion experience while serving in the Army in Germany.  I found it IMPOSSIBLE to find good fiction to read! I think I still have the copy of “Augustine’s Confessions” I bought at the time; it’s in a plastic bag, because all the pages came unglued from the binding. The plots of the “Christian” novels I could find were awful, and the characters never rose to the level of a Mary Sue. (A Mary Sue would have been GREAT!) 

I did, eventually, discover C. S. Lewis, and later, found others, but I read a lot of works like “The Power of Prayer on Plants” while wandering through bookstores and libraries. Oh, how lovely it would have been to find a book like “The Good, The Bad, and the Forgiven!” 
It’s a great adventure story; the characters are REAL, even the Good Guy and the Bad Guy, AND, it’s got some great theology worked into the story. It didn’t feel a bit preachy to me, either;  perhaps you might get a copy and give it to a pagan friend, and get their impression.

Alas, this has gone on far enough, and I’m not going to give the reasons I validate the possibility of a prototype Remington .50-70 revolver existing. 
Except to say: yeah, it could have been.

Peace be on your household.