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Posts Tagged ‘Chris Bunch’

A Review of Chris Bunch’s The Gangster Conspiracy

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 17, 2016

Chris Bunch's The Gangster Conspiracy: A Star Risk, Ltd., NovelChris Bunch’s The Gangster Conspiracy: A Star Risk, Ltd., Novel by Steve Perry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Chris Bunch’s Star Risk, Ltd mercenary team is back and all I can say is, Thank God! After Bunch died in 2005 after publishing his fourth and presumably final Star Risk novel, it was a tough pill to swallow, apparently for a lot of people, so esteemed sci fi vet Steve Perry and his son Dal stepped up to the plate to write a fifth in the series in Bunch’s style and they did a damn good job, in my opinion. I think they did Bunch proud. I’m not sure I would say this is the best Star Risk book, of course, but this fits in well with the series and certainly doesn’t do a disservice to the name at all.

The book centers around the mercenary team dragging itself back together after being demolished by a huge competitor in the preceding book and wondering how they’re going to get jobs and pay the bills, just when someone walks through the door offering them a job! He’s someone named the Reverend Josiah Williams from the Artegal System, with several planets in it, and he’s representing the system’s workers, who are being screwed by the system and want to go on strike, but are being strong armed by the government into not going on strike by other mercenary outfits and strong arm tactics, and Williams and his people are desperate. And willing to pay. And he dangles a one million dollar check in front of the Star Risk team. Who eagerly accept the job. Hey, they’ve got bills. And they are immediately, right then and there, attacked in their own new, secret headquarters and are forced to defend themselves with lethal consequences for their attackers. Things are serious.

Soon, they’re on their way to the Artegal System. There are four planets and five of them in Star Risk. They figure out an attack plan and begin their “assault.” The weak link is an underboss named Makko. They begin with some of his nightclubs and his alcohol supply, as well as some of his men, most of whom go poof. Makko gets worried. His boss doesn’t like things like this happening. When things like this happen without resolutions, people go poof. Since his right hand man has died, somehow, he appoints a new man who has figured out some things. He has figured out Williams is probably behind things and he killed him, stupidly. Makko’s boss, Susa, isn’t very happy about that. He wanted to know who was behind what was going on in the system, because other mysterious things are happening too. Makko has to make amends.

Meanwhile, now that Williams is dead, Star Risk ponders ending the contract since the person behind it no longer lives. However, someone else steps in – Williams’ son, Joe. I think this is one of the weak links of the book. They have been estranged for decades. Joe is a billionaire through a casino business and has had nothing to do with Williams. They can’t stand each other and haven’t spoken in decades. But he’s heard of his father’s death and wants it avenged and is willing to pay any price to see it through. So, he spends tens of millions of dollars, including over five million to Star Risk and over five million to buy a dilapidated casino and much more to fix it up in order to establish a “legitimate” business front in order to help find those responsible for his father’s death. But would someone who didn’t even care about his father’s existence for 30 years really spend $10-20 million to avenge his death? It seems highly unlikely to me. But then, what do I know of such motivations? I guess it’s possible. At least, in the fictional world of Steve Perry, it’s possible.

Joe dies in a shootout with Makko’s new right hand man and his henchmen and Makko is beside himself. He knows Susa will kill him. Meanwhile, the Star Risk personnel are mega-pissed. It’s now personal. Two of their clients are dead, one of whom had become a friend. It’s bad for business. They’re going to get both Makko and Susa. But how? Both are closely guarded with over 100 armed guards. Well, where there’s a will, there’s a way, right?

I won’t spill the details. You’ll need to read the book yourselves. Even though this is the fifth book in the series, unlike other series’, this can be read as a standalone book. You don’t need to have read the previous four books to enjoy and understand this book, so if you’re interested, find this book and read it. It’s a pretty good and an enjoyable read with lots of good action. I’m not convinced it’s a five star book, even though I’d like to give it five stars. I can’t just give out five stars to every book I like just because I like them. Five star books truly have to stand out. This book is very good, but I’m not sure it truly stands out. That said, I think it’s a very solid four star book at minimum. Steve Perry and his son would make Chris Bunch proud, I’m sure, and they sure made me happy in writing another Star Risk book. I just wish they had continued to carry on the tradition and had written a few more. Twas not to be, I guess. Oh well. Good, fun book. Quick read, enjoyable. Good action. Definitely recommended.

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A Review of The Dog from Hell

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 18, 2016

The Dog From Hell (Star Risk, #4)The Dog From Hell by Chris Bunch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This fourth Star Risk, Ltd. novel is pretty good, much better than the previous one. The mercenary group is back, but this time, their nemesis, Cerebus Systems, a huge “security” firm with thousands of operatives spread out on hundreds, perhaps thousands of worlds, with a huge fleet and massive armies, has decided they’ve had enough of the five person Star Risk group and decides to do away with them. And they ruthlessly do. It’s ugly and painful to see and, decimated, the group disbands while they’re still alive. Unfortunately, things are so bad, that even when they go their separate ways and are trying to make livings on their own or are even at home relaxing, Cerebus attacks them still and in Riss’s case, demolishes her beloved home, almost killing her in the process.

Slowly and secretly, the group gets back together, hearing about a possible job that involves Cerebus, and decides to try and act on it, both with the idea of replenishing their decimated funds and sticking it to Cerebus. The job in question involves a politically unstable system with armed rebels and a pirate problem. They’ve hired Cerebus to quell the disturbances, but so far, things haven’t gone well. The Star Risk group, no longer calling themselves that, decide to infiltrate the main planet’s capital city and see what sort of mischief they can get into.

And mischief they find. They befriend the rebels and both deliver them goods and materials, help train them, and ultimately lead them into combat. They find a decent armed ship and become pirates themselves, which frankly is a little disturbing, but they do this to make some money in order to fund their efforts. They eventually enlist the aid of their former pilot buddy and some more pilot mercenaries and their ships and ultimately quite a few more. They assassinate the leading Cerebus official there and we see the Cerebus board get ticked at their problems there, not realizing Star Risk is the cause. Star Risk ultimately assassinates the next high ranking Cerebus official sent there, and the system’s president, causing great political upheaval, and things unravel quickly. Soon, their identity is given away by a mercenary traitor and Cerebus is out to get them. A mini-war happens and, well of course you have to know who comes out on top, but I won’t tell you what happens or how it happens as I want you, dear reader, to read the book for yourself. Ideally, you’ll read the series, but this can be read as a standalone book with no problem whatsoever. You don’t need to have read the previous books in the series to understand what is going on.

This is the author’s final Star Risk book before he died shortly after. A fifth was written by Steve Perry and his son. I have it and will read it soon, but I doubt it will be as good as Bunch’s. Bunch has a unique talent that I doubt can be duplicated. This isn’t the best Star Risk book, but it’s not bad. There’s a lot of action, as always. It’s good military sci fi, which you can always expect from Bunch. Recommended.

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A Review of The Doublecross Program

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 31, 2015

The Doublecross Program (Star Risk, #3)The Doublecross Program by Chris Bunch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was somewhat disappointed with this book and that surprised me. I really like Chris Bunch and I really liked the first two books of this Star Risk, Ltd. series, so when this one seemed to be sub-standard, it was a real surprise and, as I said, a disappointment. Basically, M’chel Riss and the Star Risk, Ltd. mercenary team are hired by one planetary system to train and lead its armed forces against a neighboring planetary system, only to double cross them and go to the other system for the same deal. And back again. And so on. It’s an entire book of double crossing. And it doesn’t really endear the group to me, I’ve got to say. I mean, I know they’re mercenaries, but still, have some ethics in how you do business. If you have a contract, do your damn job! I thought better of these people.

The thing that makes Chris Bunch books good is not only are they action packed military sci fi novels, but they’ve got intrigue, and plenty of it. There’s a mystery and it’s a good one. And there are plot twists and you wonder how the heck the protagonists of his series’ are going to escape whatever predicament they’re in. That was the case in the first two books of this series, as well as all of the Last Legion books. Not so with this book. It’s plenty action packed. A lot of tension, I suppose. Perhaps. Maybe not. I mean, you know your heroes probably aren’t going to be killed off, so really, how much tension is there? So, in this case, the book seems to be mostly a straight ahead military action novel. No real intrigue, no real mystery. No wondering who did what, who’s going to do what. No real wondering how they’re going to escape, other than how they’re going to either end this war or get away from it, which is frankly anti-climactic and when it does “end,” it is anti-climactic. And for once, they actually don’t conclude their job, technically. It’s a fairly dissatisfying ending to a dissatisfying book. I’ll be starting the fourth book in the series in a little while. I have hopes that it will be an improvement and will return the series to its normal status of excellence. Because this is not typical Chris Bunch. If you’re reading this series, I guess you might want to read this, but it’s not essential. I don’t think you’ll be missing a lot by not reading it. And frankly, if you’re not reading the series, I see little point in reading it, although it can be read as a stand alone book. Whatever the case, not recommended, sadly.

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A Review of Homefall

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 18, 2015

Homefall (The Last Legion, #4)Homefall by Chris Bunch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Homefall was a great book and I am sad to have finished it because, since it was the fourth and final book in the Last Legion series, and a really great series that I have seriously enjoyed is now over. It’s a real pity. This book was quite different from the three preceding it in that the Legion is no longer having to defend Cumbre from attackers and rebels. Instead, Garvin and Njangu and the rest decide to finally go looking for the Confederation, the giant mystery hanging around the neck of each book. They’re part of the Confederation’s military machine, sent to Cumbre for duty, when all contact with the Confederation ended and no one has heard from or of it for a decade. No one knows what has happened. It seems to have literally disintegrated. Garvin decides to get a group together and disguise themselves as a circus troop going from system to system until they finally reach the home system of Centrum, hoping to find out the cause of the mystery and, if the Confederation is indeed dead, perhaps to jump start it back to life. Why a circus? Garvin comes from a long line of circus performers and in a dangerous universe, what better way to travel than as nonthreatening entertainers?

They get a massive ship, load it with a zillion weapons and a number of specialized fighters, about 150 soldiers, and then they go to a real circus planet to hire real circus people and animals. Which they do. And they practice. And then they hit the road, er skies. And the shit hits the fan. Every world the come to is freaking insane! Everyone tries to kill each other and kill them. There are insane plots, treacheries, dictators, paramilitary groups and private armies, with everyone enjoying watching the circus perform until they realize they can either make use of them and their equipment, etc., or until they realize they just want to kill them. In either case, the Legion comes under attack, has to fight back, and escapes, usually just barely. There’s one system that’s particularly evil and insane and I wasn’t sure at all how they were going to escape that particular trap. But they did. And found the home system. And what they found was not what they hoped for.

Since the first three books were about their wars with the rebels, the aliens, and their planetary neighbors and since they no longer had any enemies nearby, I thought this would be more of a political book, but I was wrong. This book was about the journey and it was all intrigue and action. Serious tension too. Very well written, great plot. My only complaint is the ending. The final chapter is a mere two pages, with them arriving back home and splitting up, going their separate ways. I was a little shocked, because there had been romances and relationships, bonds that were established, futures to be groomed, and it was all shot to hell in two pages. No one rode off into the sunset with the girl. Hell, the two best buds didn’t even end up going off together to do their own thing. Even they split up and went their separate ways, in the space of a few paragraphs, and that seemed really unlike their characters. Really unbelievable. I found the final chapter really hard to swallow and thought about downgrading the rating a star, but I enjoyed the book and the series so much overall, that I’m still giving it five stars. This book, unlike the previous two, could possibly be read as a stand alone book, but I would start with the first one and read the series in order. I think readers would get much more out of that. Best series ever? No. Really damn good? Damn straight! Definitely recommended.

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A Review of The Scoundrel Worlds

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 15, 2015

The Scoundrel Worlds (Star Risk, #2)The Scoundrel Worlds by Chris Bunch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The mercenary team from Star Risk, Ltd are back for their second book/mission and for some reason, the publisher’s marketing flunky who came up with the book’s back cover synopsis blurb apparently didn’t even bother reading the book, because even though it begins with security for a major sporting event, that’s not at all what the book is about, nor what the vast majority of the book is about, so for the synopsis of the book to describe it in that way is to do a gross disservice.

Anyway, M’Chel, Freidrich, Grok, Jasmine, and Chas are back and this time they are hired by Premier Reynard of Dampier, who has recently been dethroned and wants his power back. But that’s not his primary reason for hiring them. He wants one of his friends and colleagues who has been framed for treason, tried and found guilty by a kangaroo court, sentenced to death, and is in a heavily guarded prison on death row, freed and the “real” traitor found to replace the innocent man. Dampier has a nearby star system it has gone to war with three times over yet a third star system that they both claim for themselves and each is saber rattling again. Star Risk agrees to take the job and soon appears on Dampier, where they find a lot of lawlessness and violence awaits them. And a lot of people are anticipating their arrival and are none too happy about it, including the police, the intelligence service, the secret police, etc. Soon, they, and the mercenary sub-contractors they hire, are under assault from all sides and they have to go into ultra violence mode to teach some people a few lessons about who’s the damn boss. It doesn’t help that the big boys on the mercenary block, Cerberus Systems, is also in the picture, mysteriously working for the other side. There’s also a mysterious religious cult and a group of armed revolutionaries and it’s a complete mess.

While everyone is off doing their own thing, Freidrich decides to visit this other planet, Torguth, to see how much truth there is to the Dampierian rumors of their military buildup. Turns out they’re fairly accurate. He also goes to establish contact with and extract information from two sources the revolutionaries have on planet. Torguth is a dictatorial, heavily militarized planet where pretty much everyone wears a uniform of some sort. It’s a very dangerous place to be. He meets both people and agrees to meet them again in a day or so. And he’s sold out. Fortunately, he’s ex-military and in good shape and he’s hidden small weapons around the city in anticipation of just such an event, so he escapes, barely, and is glad to do so.

At the same time, there’s a group of thugs called The Masked Ones going around beating up and even killing groups of demonstrators and protesters with the approval of the police who do nothing to stop them. Star Risk doesn’t approve of their actions, tries to find their identities, finds some success, finds some of them tied in with the secret police (shockingly), and slaughters a number of them to teach them a lesson. This doesn’t sit well with the chief of the secret police, but he does nothing to them — for the time being.

Meanwhile, they’ve been visiting the prisoner in the off-planet prison, softening things and people up, making plans to spring him. Their plan is ingenious.

One cool thing about this book is the role ex-Marine M’Chel Riss plays. She plays a much bigger role than in the previous book, I believe, and is a major, major bad ass. I like it. She plays for keeps and kicks ass. I like her character a lot. Another cool thing about the book is the plot is so convoluted and complex and everything is such a mystery that it’s almost impossible to unweave until the end. The downside is, the ending is actually so incredibly obvious that I thought it was far too obvious and thought there was no way it could actually be THAT and assumed it would have to be someone else (the traitor), someone no one had considered before, but I was wrong. It was one of the two most completely obvious suspects and that was really disappointing. I think Bunch did his readers a disservice here and should have worked harder as an author to make things more complicated than that. He took the easy way out and if I hadn’t have enjoyed the book so much, I’d consider knocking the rating down by a star, but I’m not going to because it’s still a very good book.

So, if you like a good sci fi mystery with ultra violence, conspiracies, assassinations, poisonings, military assaults, etc, this is the book for you. And even though it’s the second book of a series, it’s really a stand alone book. You don’t need to have read the first one to enjoy this one. It’s not the best book I’ve ever read and I’m not completely convinced it’s worth five stars, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and can’t think of any real good reason not to give it five stars, so I’m going to go ahead and do so. I just think it’s a really good book. Definitely recommended, as is the series.

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A Review of Storm Force

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 13, 2015

Storm Force (The Last Legion, #3)Storm Force by Chris Bunch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this third book in the Last Legion series and feel like it’s good enough to give it five stars generally, but I’m not. Because it’s military sci fi and I feel like David Weber is the gold standard by which all military sci fi is weighed against and virtually no one can come close to his standards, so even though Chris Bunch is good, even very good, he’s not Weber good, so it’s four stars. Perhaps 4.5 stars.

In the last book, Cumbre’s neighboring system’s leader, Protector Redruth of Larix and Kura, had shown up in force to offer his “protection” as some sort of scam in an obvious effort to ultimately take over the Cumbre system, only to be driven off by the alien Musth in their war with the human Legion in the Cumbre system. Now that the Legion has won and driven the Musth off, Redruth is determined to add Cumbre to his empire.

The book opens with a Larissan spy on Cumbre who is captured and who, in the most unlikely and hard to believe fashion, commits suicide by chewing his tongue in half and bleeding to death overnight in his cell. Is that even possible? Whatever the case, Last Legion hero Njangu Yoshitaro becomes a double agent, posing as the spy, as Redruth and his minions have never seen him, and obtaining extract from Cumbre, fleeing to Larix where he is set up with a sweet deal as a senior officer and adviser with major plans for his future in the invasion of Cumbre. Of course his mission is to get intel back to other Last Legion hero Garvin Jaansma and others, so they may prepare for the war and even prepare to go on the offensive.

There are two new and pretty cool things about this installment of the series. First, there are a lot of space battles. With the Legion having saved Cumbre’s ass and taking so many casualties and with more war on the horizon, the government has provided for some pro-military taxes and conscription, so that the force is being rebuilt and it ultimately reaches twice its original size, 20,000 troops. Ships are also being built, a number of them based on the superior Musth technology, and there are a number of Musth mercenaries who have come to pilot them, which is good because they are superior fighter pilots. Unfortunately, Larix and Kura have a greater population and larger infrastructure and can build more ships faster and start building much bigger cruisers later into the book that the Legion has to work hard to devise ways to defend themselves against and later attack. Nonetheless, great space warfare action. Second, for the first time in this series, the Legion generally goes on the offensive in a major way. Larix and Kura attempt to invade Cumbre and are annihilated. Cumbre bides its time, develops a strategy, and sends its own invasion force, foolishly thinking it’ll be a piece of cake, and they take heavy casualties while trying to defeat Redruth and win the war.

So Bunch really expands in this novel. Before it was small scale offensive operations, going after rebel forces here and there, as well as defensive fighting and guerrilla warfare. Now it’s space combat and invasion of other planets in other systems. That’s big. And Yoshitaro and Jaansma are still at their bad ass, sassy best in this book. They really make a great team, even if they are separated by Yoshitaro’s double agent role for a good part of the book. I really enjoy their characters. There’s one more book in the series and I’m going to miss them when I finish this series.

So, I really enjoyed this book. I’d normally be inclined to give this five stars. I think it’s really good. But the space battles aren’t as good as Weber’s naval battles and the land battles come nowhere close to Weber’s land battles, so I don’t see how I could possibly give this book five stars when comparing the two. There is no comparison. That said, Bunch is my second favorite military sci fi author and he’s no slouch. If you like decent military sci fi action mixed in with some crass humor as well, this is probably a series you would enjoy. Although this is probably not a stand alone book; you’d want to start with the first one and read the series through. Whatever the case, recommended.

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