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Archive for July, 2016

A Review of Starship Eternal

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 30, 2016

Starship Eternal (War Eternal, #1)Starship Eternal by M.R. Forbes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had never heard of the author of this series until Amazon recommended him to me. I’m really glad it did. I enjoyed the hell out of this first of a five book series. I thought it was well-told, engrossing, action packed, well plotted, and left me wanting more. I’m hooked.

The book begins with Captain Mitchell “Ares” Williams, the Space Marine war hero pilot who fired the “Shot Heard Around the Universe” in the Battle for Liberty, a battle that saved the planet and possibly saved the Alliance itself. It was amazing and it’s made for great PR. The problem is, it’s a fraud. His lover and wing mate did it in a suicide attack on a huge dreadnaught. He’s the only survivor, so he’s the lucky flunky the brass has decided “took the shot” and who they’re parading around the Alliance worlds to give speeches, autographs, and amp up recruitment, which is exactly what is happening. Oh, and he’s getting laid a lot too. A lot.

But then comes an assassination attempt. His military handler gets killed in the action and he kills some of the assassins while attempting to get them all. While he’s hailed, again, as a brave and miraculous survivor, the truth is civilians died, and it’s his fault because they were late getting to an event because he was in a bar feeling sorry for himself and his handler was there trying to talk him into going. If he had gone, no one would have died. New handler. Major Christine Arapo. Serious, won’t take shit from him. But he’s wounded in the attack. His implant’s been scrambled and needs to be fixed. After it is, he starts hearing voices and is freaked out. He hears voices telling him to “find Goliath.”

At that point, we find ourselves 400 years back on Earth where an alien ship has crash-landed and a young girl named Kathy has seen all of this on TV while they all discuss and debate about what to do with what they call “XENO-1.” From it, they develop their own alien technology built starship years later with Kathy piloting it. It takes off for hyperspace, disappears and is never seen again. Everyone wonders whatever happened to it. It was named Goliath.

Mitchell continues going along with the sad ruse until he is lured into a bad sexual liaison with the Prime Minister’s wife. Accused of rape and exposed as a fraud, he has only one option—run—but where? He is helped, first, by Christine, then by his past self (it’s complicated). He makes it out into space and joins up with a crew of spec ops called the Riggers who are a complicated mess. All of them are on the fringe, all have been court martialed, many would have been executed by now, some are guilty of murder – or worse – but they have skills that the Alliance needs, so they’re on this seemingly innocuous freighter going around the galaxy running opps with minimal opposition, as no one expects anything from this ship or this crew. And Mitch joins them, becoming the captain’s lover and XO. Millie is a good and feared captain, a murderer, but her heart belongs to the Alliance. So when things start happening that make no sense…

Mitch keeps hearing voices about Goliath. He keeps thinking of Christine, even though he’s now with Millie. And Mitch heads back to Liberty to look for Christine, only to find it’s become overrun with alien invaders. A gigantic alien entity has implanted itself in the planet in the middle of his old city and has taken over everyone with implants (meaning the military), as he’s quickly discovered. He’s had his implant ripped out by now. He barely makes it out of there and gets back to rendezvous with the Riggers. They have new mission orders. I forgot something. If they disobey mission orders, there is a kill switch. Their ship can/will get blown up. They have to obey commands. Mitch tells Millie what has happened, what has happened to the Alliance, to Alliance implants, how important it is to get rid of them asap, and of finding Goliath and of going back to Liberty to find Christine and rescuing her, as she could be key in helping to find Goliath and helping to save the Alliance from these invaders. But all of this means disobeying direct orders. Millie ponders it. Her crew is definitely opposed. She decides to go with Mitch and tells her crew to head to Liberty. It’s a tension filled book. Naturally, I had to get the sequel. And then that book’s sequel. Etc., etc.

Starship Eternal has some time travel elements to it, but they’re mostly hinted it. Probably more in future books. It’s military sci fi, high tech, but also with a definite space opera feel to it. Which is a nice mix. There are a number of typos, especially toward the end of the book, which incline me to lower my rating from five stars to four stars, which is unfortunate, because this is a really excellent book, but the author needs to invest in a good copy editor. It’s his own fault if he produces substandard work. It’s his responsibility. I realize there’s “officially” a publisher listed, but I’m 99%+ confident this is self published, like so many of the recent spate of decent sci fi titles out there. Many of them are quite good, but most of them could use some good copy editors. Nonetheless, a very solid four star book and certainly recommended. And I’m already reading the second book in the series and enjoying it very much. Good series. I wish I had known about this author a while ago. Thanks, Amazon, for recommending him to me!

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A Review of Doomsday Book

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 18, 2016

Doomsday Book (Oxford Time Travel #1)Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I’ve never heard of Connie Willis, the author the Doomsday Book, which won both the Hugo and Nebula awards for best science fiction book of the year in 1992. Apparently, she’s quite successful, having won six Nebula awards (more than any other science fiction writer) and six Hugo awards, yet again, I’ve never heard of her, nor have I ever seen any of her books. I happened upon this book in a used bookstore, selling for a nickel, and I think that pretty much says it all. I don’t know how the hell she has won all these awards for books I’ve never heard of, and I’ve been reading science fiction since the early 1970s and know most of the prominent authors – just about all of them, in fact – but I’m almost willing to say she’s faking this bio, that her publisher is faking this bio, that there’s no way in hell she’s won all of these awards, because no one I know as EVER HEARD OF HER and you NEVER SEE ANY OF HER BOOKS IN A FUCKING BOOKSTORE!!!

So, this book. It’s about time travel. Specifically about a young history student at some made up college in England (I guess it’s a college, although the student must be a dwarf, because she’s only a meter and a half tall), who gets a tutor from another college to teach her about the Middle Ages because that is where she wants to travel to, specifically England, 1320. She learns all sorts of things, languages, spinning, riding, cooking, dressing oneself, etc., and after awhile, she feels she’s ready and her academic advisor believes she is too. The trouble is, her tutor, Mr. Dunwoody, doesn’t think she’s ready at all and thinks this is a huge mistake and furthermore thinks her academic advisor is an idiot who is pushing things too quickly, etc., while the student, one “Kivrin,” is champing at the bit, knowing she’s ready. And off she goes. And Dunwoody frets. And worries. And talks about it – incessantly. As in that’s all he talks about to anyone. And he complains – that she’s in danger, that she shouldn’t have gone, that she might not have gone to the right year, the right location, that anything could have gone wrong, and … well, you get the picture.

Meanwhile, Kivrin DOESN’T wind up in 1320. She apparently winds up in 1348, the year the Black Plague started and she finds herself very, very sick. And nothing is as she prepared for it. Everyone is wrong. Her clothes are wrong. Her name is wrong. Her cover story is wrong. Her language is wrong, as no one can understand her, and she can’t understand them. Her built-in translator doesn’t work. And she must go back and find the drop zone, so she can go home. She says this over and over again to everyone she meets. She must find the drop zone, she must go back to the drop zone, where’s the bloody drop zone? She also thinks about Dunwoody – a lot. Mr. Dunwoody was right about this, right about that, he’s probably not worrying about me, he probably is worrying about me, come save me Mr. Dunwoody.

I’ve never read a book where two characters, especially characters separated presumably by some 40 years, obsess so damn much over each other, repeatedly, over and over, four, five, six times a page. It’s fucking annoying as hell! I made it to page 202 out of 578 pages and decided if I read about the damn drop zone one more time and if I have to read about Dunwoody freaking out about Kivrin and Kivrin thinking over and over again about Dunwoody, I’d go psychotic and then no one could hold me responsible for the evil things that I would do. Rather than have that drastic outcome, I decided to stop. Holy shit, what an annoying book! I had read some one and two star reviews that commented about the damned repeating crap that goes on in this book, but I really wasn’t prepared for this idiocy. Willis could have cut out the repeating and shaved half the page count off the book and actually possibly made it readable. I don’t know how the book has a 4+ rating, because I think it’s utter rubbish. And the tech who sends Kivrin through to the 1300s collapses before he can provide Dunwoody and the others with crucial information and all he does, apparently, throughout the entire book, is raise his head up from his bed and remark that something terrible happened. Well, no shit asshole! Why don’t you tell someone something sometime some year, you jerk? Quit whining and be a man! Geez, what a pansy. Crappy book. No more than one star and most certainly not recommended under any circumstance.

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A Review of House of Reeds

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 13, 2016

House of ReedsHouse of Reeds by Thomas Harlan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The House of Reeds is the sequel to Wasteland of Flint, a book I thought very highly of and gave five stars to in this review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show….

In this current book, xenoarcheologist Gretchen Anderssen and her team return and are sent to the planet Jagen – just to file a report, for big money, which must mean something bad. Also, in this book, we find Imperial cruiser, the Henry R. Cornuelle, has been sent to the same location (Jagen), again captained by Captain Hadeishi Mitsuharu of the Imperial Méxica Navy. Why?

On the planet Jagan, there are unusual aliens who have some definite ideas about humans and self-rule and a few other things and there are some with a few scores to settle. And it just may happen that there may be some others out there who are stirring up a hornet’s nest, unbeknownst to Anderssen or Hadeishi or any of a number of other Imperials who are about to be impacted.

In this novel, the Emperor’s youngest son, a foppish screw up if I’ve ever seen one, and one I desperately kept hoping would grow the hell up, is sent to this planet with a few bodyguards to either take credit for putting down a major uprising, ideally with holos of him in blood spattered battle armor and weapons standing over dead enemy bodies, or dying heroically in battle. It’s a win either way for the Emperor. Of course, only certain people know this, obviously none of the aforementioned people. But as soon as he sets foot on the planet, the dandy creates a nightmare for everyone around him and gets himself into impossible situations so that you feel so.very.sorry for his bodyguards.

Gretchen befriends an alien in a hostile alien city and finds a First Sun relic, what they’ve been after, and gains immense knowledge and power, without anyone really finding out, but has to escape with the help of this alien and as the planet explodes around them, the bulk of the book takes place with everyone trying to escape to other places, looking for safety, even with Mitsuharu and his crew trying to get to and from and to the ship again, even though it has been violently attacked and partially destroyed.

The book is almost as good as its predecessor, but I’ve got to knock it down a notch from five stars to four for one major reason: it’s too damn complicated! That’s not to say I’m a complete dumbass. I don’t think I am. I’m not one of the smartest, I know, but I’ve got a fairly decent IQ and I read a lot (95 books by mid-July this year) and I usually understand most books (having read Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, which was one of the hardest ever), but this book is ridiculous. First, there are way too many characters to keep track of. So many, that it’s almost as bad as a David Weber novel, which is saying something. But at least Weber puts a list of his characters at the end of his books so you can look them up. This just leaves you hanging, wondering who the hell they are. More importantly, as you jump from chapter to chapter, from passage to passage within chapters, you just start to get confused, because there are so many different scenes taking place in so many different locations at once, that you’re just lost, at least I was until the very end of the novel. It took me forever to catch up and figure out who was where, when, and at what point. Call me dumb, but I thought it was needlessly difficult. I’ve read harder, but those books have been what I view as intentionally intellectually more difficult and more stimulating. This book is simply supposed to be an intriguing, entertaining, action/adventure/mystery within a sci fi genre without making you bang your head against the wall five times. At least, that was my expectation.

Anyway, I mostly enjoyed it, frustrations aside. I think it’s a good series. Ambitious at times, but good. An interesting story. It’ll be interesting to see what Harlan does with the third book. Four stars for what could and should have been a five star book. Recommended.

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A Review of The Helverti Invasion

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 11, 2016

The Helverti InvasionThe Helverti Invasion by John Dalmas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Helverti Invasion is the second novel in John Dalmas’s Monitor Service series, following The Lizard War. In the previous book, Brothers from the Order of Saint Higuchi infiltrated the Saint Lawrence People’s Democratic Republic in order to attack a number of aliens, the Lizards, who had been manipulating the local government and goading it to invade neighboring states. In the book’s climax, Luis Raoul DenUyl managed to gain access to the alien spaceship, kill the captain and other aliens, wreck many controls, and disable their shield. Meanwhile, Lemmi Tsinnajinni penetrated the PDR headquarters and killed the Chairman. Excellent book.

In this novel, five years later, Luis and Lemmi and two other Higuchi masters are flown to the brother house at Moleen in a Monitor Service aircraft where they are then briefed. They learn that a group of alien Fohanni chaos cultists has made “illegal” contact with the primary chief of the Dkota tribe and is probably stirring up a war with the Kingdom of Sota. Three years ago, the Dkota and Sota had signed a peace treaty; the king of Sota is a peacenik who refuses to listen to any talk of the Dkota breaking the treaty. Lemmi is tasked with studying the Dkota situation and Luis is ordered to check the readiness of Sota.

Meanwile, Jorval, the leader of the Fohanni cultists, learns that all is going well with the war plans, but the Dkota chief, Mazeppa Tall Man, has made changes to the plans. He wants to start the war sooner, with more warriors, and to a far greater extent than previously thought.

This story involves war and an effort to avoid war or, if it is inevitable, to force the invaders to lose an unacceptable number of warriors and be routed. The situation is complicated by a vision that Mazeppa once had that told him that he was destined to rule the whole area. Jorval has made things worse by telling him that the Sota kingdom is planning to kill all of the buffalo. And King Eldred is weakening Sota by eliminating the militias and reducing the number of guards allowed in each duchy and barony.

The invasion occurs, with numerous warriors. The defenders… Are they prepared? You really should read the book.

This book was a great sequel to an excellent first book, and if one likes detailed plots, intrigue, and ultimately some good combat, it too is a very good book. Is it worth five stars? No, but it’s a solid four-star book and comes recommended.

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A Review of Freehold

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 11, 2016

FreeholdFreehold by Michael Z. Williamson
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Since this book has a 4.01 rating on Goodreads, I started off reading it with high hopes. Especially as it’s the beginning of a series that is highly rated. And the back cover synopsis made it sound interesting. But as I got into it, I started wondering about it. A lot of minutia, but where’s the action? Much detail, but is anything going to happen? And I started wondering about the author. I read a lot of military sci fi. Even though I’m largely a liberal and many if not most military sci fi authors are conservatives, I don’t mind it because most don’t get didactic or dogmatic in preaching their political viewpoints, ie David Weber, Chris Bunch, etc. They just write good military sci fi. But occasionally you run across screamingly conservative Tea Party/Libertarian nutjobs who preach at you and who shove their fucking politics down your throat repeatedly and that drives me nuts. John Ringo’s one of those, which is why I no longer read his work. Well, apparently Michael Z. Williamson is one of these types of authors too, and surprise, he’s collaborated with Ringo! This author has a serious Libertarian bent that he shoves and shoves and it gets really old. He makes sure we know he loves Ayn Rand. He shows evil fascist Earth as the gigantic polluted, bureaucratic, militaristic, overcrowded, welfare state, big brother state, paranoid, UN dominated, global world it has become and compares it with Utopian world Freehold, where our protagonist Kendra, has escaped to from Earth. On Freehold, there is no government. There are no taxes, although people are allowed to donate if they want. Yet, “government” services exist and run well. Somehow. Magically. I’m assuming education, healthcare, fire and police services exist and are free? Public transportation? Not sure. Everyone gets jobs. The pay is decent. Everyone gets housing of some sort, not great, but not bad. And everyone packs! EVERYONE! This is to avoid rape, although there is virtually no crime on Freehold. And as the author argues, vapidly, and more importantly, in the capital city of several million, this is to protect yourself against the scary wild animals that wander into the city of SEVERAL MILLION – animals that could get to the city parks in the center and eat you. So you need to pack heat to kill them. Yep. Kendra finds out real fast that she needs a gun.

Kendra meets a new male friend on day one who is the nicest, kindest, sweetest gentleman who ever existed and acts as the dashing hero for and to her, and she soon meets a nice, sweet, beautiful woman, who happens to be both ex-military and a female “escort,” an occupation on Freehold that is looked highly upon. The three become lovers. You see, public nudity is part of the status quo on Freehold, as is bisexuality. It’s natural, even though it’s new for Kendra.

There are a number of problems with this book. For one thing, it’s too damn long. The author could have cut it in half and still made a partially decent story out of it. In line with that, nothing happens in the first 250-300 pages. Kendra spends time playing tourist, letting her new friends spoil her and engaging in sexual interplay with them. She eventually joins the military, just in time for an invasion from Earth, for no apparent reason, but that’s halfway through the book. And of course, the book is one long preachy, didactic, dogmatic, rambling discourse on the evils of liberal viewpoints and philosophy and the wonderful aspects of the great Utopian Libertian world that Williamson would have us all envision with him. Which is overly simplistic and pure fantasy.

For the life of me, I don’t see how this book merits a 4+ rating. I guess it’s all the conservative military sci fi lovers out there. Which is a little scary. Conservative military vets? Am I just generalizing? Probably. However, I’ve seen a ton of one and two star reviews complaining of the propaganda, dogma, preaching, politics, etc., so I know that I’m not the only one by far. I’m one of many. A ton of people who read military sci fi don’t want politics of any type shoved down their throats. I’m one of them. That’s not why we read this genre. We just want to read great military sci fi. Is that too much to ask? So, one star and not recommended. Also, I have the sequel and I won’t be reading it, unfortunately, because I had been looking forward to it. Oh well.

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A Review of Orphanage

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 5, 2016

Orphanage (Jason Wander, #1)Orphanage by Robert Buettner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An interesting and entertaining first book in an undoubtedly decent series. I read someone comparing it to Chris Bunch’s The Last Legion series and I’m glad I read that because that thought occurred to me as I was reading it, but I pushed that thought aside as irrelevant, but then apparently it wasn’t. I’m glad to see I’m not the only person who thought about that. You see, I really love Bunch and his military sci fi series.’ I think they are excellent and I think Bunch writes some of the best military sci fi out there. Now I think Buettner might be close to Bunch. The only difference is Bunch uses some wicked humor in his books in his dialogue between characters, while Buettner generally does not. Otherwise, the military tactics are there, the action is frenetic, the butchery is shocking, the apparent “realism” to those who have been in the military is significant, and they are excellent writers writing excellent books. Of course, there’s that huge detail I haven’t touched on yet that every reviewer mentions. I don’t know why I bother, but I guess I will. Starship Troopers. Yes, Orphanage is a lot like Starship Troopers. There, I said it! Happy? The book follows a new infantry recruit as he trains to fight a slug-like alien enemy busy destroying major Earth cities with huge projectiles from one of Jupiter’s moons (Ganymede). There are also supporting characters such as a school friend who becomes a major pilot and a stereotypical drill sergeant. A huge secret mission is launched to go to Jupiter, take the fight to the enemy, and save humanity. Starship Troopers anyone?

Jason Wander is an orphan. His mother is killed when the city she lives in, Indianapolis, is demolished by a huge projectile sent down by the slugs, as is the case with cities all over Earth. Tens of millions of people, hundreds of millions, are dying as cities are obliterated. Jason doesn’t handle it well and beats up his teacher in school, is sent before a judge and is given two choices: jail or the Army. He chooses the Army. We follow him through basic training and it’s interesting, but what’s really interesting is that the world’s military is really out of date. No major wars have been fought in a very long time. There certainly are no interstellar fleets to go kill the slugs. No great plasma weapons, or anything like that. But as cities keep getting wiped out, the governments (mostly the US, I believe) come up with a one time possibility – take “orphans” – soldiers with no families left – train them, send them on a giant ship up to Ganymede, and attack the slugs in a winner take all battle/war for supremacy. It’s a gamble, but it’s all they’ve got. Unfortunately, all they’ve got, too, are weapons from the late 20th Century and a huge starship dating from a similar time, for the most part. And it’s going to take hundreds of days to get there!

Jason is one of 10,000 soldiers chosen and trained, quickly, and then loaded onto the ship. One of his old buddies, Metzger, is the pilot. He becomes friends and combat colleagues with a fiery little female Egyptian solider he calls Munchkin. Jason develops a relationship with his own landingship’s pilot. So, there are big plans on how they’re going to go in and land and then proceed to take on the slugs. Then it’s time. They take off for the surface and his ship is second in line, but things don’t appear “right.” The first ship disappears, and then his love/pilot starts shouting a warning and makes a crash landing, killing herself in the process, and the whole line of ships landing starts crashing into the moon’s surface that was supposed to be composed of a completely different type of surface with mountains elsewhere. What they land on isn’t compatible with what can hold their ships. It’s a blood bath. Thousands die. About 2,000 soldiers survive the landing, only 20% of the invading force. Nightmare.

Things get worse. The force heads off looking for shelter and discovers some caves that look safe. They set up a defensive perimeter and people bed down in the caves. Jason wakes up in the middle of the night, thinks he sees some shadows moving, realizes he does, and realizes the slugs, nearly invisible, are in the caves, and are suffocating soldiers as they sleep! He attempts to wake everyone he can and people start firing, but they lose hundreds of more soldiers that night and morale plummets even further. All this before they even face the slugs in battle.

Finally, they get out onto the battlefield the next day. I believe by that point, Jason’s been promoted from Specialist Fourth Class to something higher, can’t remember. The field promotions start coming fast for everyone. His general really relies on him a lot, for reasons I never fully understood. I could go on with details, but suffice it to say that the troops keep getting whittled down as they face tens of thousands, maybe even more, of the slugs who march straight at them and the human soldiers just take horrible casualties. Promotions keep coming and Jason keeps rising up the ranks. Soon he’s a captain, then a major. By attrition. Munchkin is still with him. She and Metzger have gotten married and she’s pregnant with his child. Jason’s “spook” buddie, Howard, comes to believe the slugs have a “hive” mind/system, that there’s really only one master slug and that they’re being pumped out by this master slug and that if they could kill this slug, they could kill them all. But how? And meanwhile, they keep coming by the thousands and humans keep dying. Soon, there are fewer than 1,000 soldiers and Jason’s general has been taken away after pinning his insignia on Jason, making him general of all the human forces, youngest general in human history. Jason really feels like this is surreal, he’s not cut out to be a leader, he’s a follower. But he gives it his best shot. He and Howard and Metzger come up with a plan to kill with master slug and end the war. It won’t go over well with everyone and it’s got to be a little lucky to work, but if it does work, it should end the war. The slugs make one last push, while the soldiers try and hang on again. Metzger takes the ship in orbit and soars down into the skies overhead toward the slug area and plows into what had appeared to be the headquarters buildings, blowing himself and the whole area up in a near mini-nuclear explosion. And all of the slugs fall over and die. It worked! He sacrificed himself, Munchkin is devastated, especially since their son, who Jason delivered, will never get to see his father, but the Earth is saved and the 700 remaining soldiers – out of 10,000 – have been saved! General Wander helped save the Earth. He’s a hero. Earth has sent a small fleet some time ago with reinforcements and they arrive shortly to help and to take the survivors home.

I’ve already started on the sequel, so I know a little bit about what happens next, and I won’t say anything in this review, but I really enjoyed this book. It was hardcore military. Took itself almost a little too seriously, if it’s possible to say that. Whereas Bunch’s characters could let down and goof around in between missions and even during firefights, just for some levity, it didn’t seem that was Buettner’s style, which is fine. Every author is different. He doesn’t have to be Chris Bunch. It’s just that it’s a little more somber. Again, that’s okay. Just be prepared to laugh a lot less than you will with Chris Bunch. Nonetheless, non-stop action, lots of blood and guts, fascinating tactics, good story, good potential for an interesting series. I’d like to give it five stars, but I have concerns with some of the decisions made by the officers above Wander, especially his commanding general, particularly as relating to his nonstop field promotions all the way to general within days. It just doesn’t seem that realistic to me and I find it hard to believe there weren’t other soldiers just as or more qualified than him to be promoted to those positions that quickly. Just not sure if I fully buy it. Still, four solid stars and definitely recommended.

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