Deep Space takes place twenty years after Singularity. Admiral Koenig is now the president of the North AmericanÂ Union, and Trevor Grey is the captain of the Star Carrier America. Trouble is brewing as a mysterious object appears at the fringes of known space, destroying the scout force sent to investigate it. The Sh’daar resume hostilities by attacking a human colony. Finally, the Confederation is in trouble as the EU seeks to eliminate North American Union independence. Naturaly, theÂ AmericaÂ and its fighters are in the thick of things.
At its core this is a decent continuation to the the Star Carrier series. The story is fine, and the action, especially in the second half, is pretty decent. Unfortunately the book is hampered by seemingly endless repetition of the same factoids of history. How many times do we need to know about the Sh’daar’s obsession for transcendence, the way the Chinese Hegemony bombarded Earth, how the periphery of the North American Union is swampland inhabited by primitives? This book would have been much better if Douglas had edited out most of his repetitive infodumps.
In a small town in Maine, High School teacher Jake Epping is asked by his acquaintance, diner owner Al, to come to the diner. When he arrives, Al has aged years and has gone from healthy to terminally ill in cancer. It turns out that Al has found a sort of time portal in his pantry. The portal leads to 1958. Al’s plan was to live in the past until 1963, and then kill Lee Harvey Oswald, John F. Kennedy’s assassin. Al believes this would change history in important ways, preventing the Vietnam war and other horrors. Unfortunately Al contracts cancer and cannot complete his mission. Is the past pushing back against those who try to change history? Al returns back to 2011. Things have changed, but not enough, and when the portal is used again, the past resets to how things were. Before dying, Al dragoons Jake into completing the mission. He cannot just kill Oswald a few years before the assassination attempt, however. He must be sure that the man is acting alone, and not part of one of the many purported conspiracies surrounding the Kennedy assassination. Thus starts Jake’s adventure in the past, where many things are different, yet many things are the same.
Mr. King’s research into the late fifties and early sixties is extensive and meticulous. The fact that people smoked constantly and everywhere is an obvious factoid, but the differences go much deeper. From food prices to idioms to the fact that bathrooms in the American south were still segregated, it is fascinating to discover how very unfamiliar current Americans would be with society and its mores in “The Land of Ago”. Â Jake’s quest takes him on many side tracks as he must become an inhabitant of the era. He makes friends and even falls in love, but he cannot reveal his true purpose. He must be careful lest his use of modern idiom mark him as strange. He must also keep his focus on the objective through five years of “ordinary” life peppered with research and the intermittent stalking of Oswald.
King’s mastery of style, pacing and character building shines in the prose. Despite its considerable length (eight hundred and forty-nine pages for those who still read on paper) it is not a slog to read through. Even trivial adventures become interesting when written so well. I did feel, however, that the book had perhaps been unnecessarily padded, or more accurately insufficiently cut to size. While many events serve to build the character of Jake, they might have been excised without hurting the story, and perhaps things would have moved forward a bit faster. Having said that, the many vignettes of life in the past are fascinating, often funny and as often horrifying to more modern sensibilities.
Without revealing the ending, I will say that I was somewhat disappointed that King chose to reveal some part of the “inner workings” of the time travel mechanism. While as a science fiction fan, I typically want to find out about such things, perhaps in this case it would have been better if it had simply stayed a magical mystery without explanation. I did not feel that it really added to the story, and the point made through the reveal had already been made.
A free-standing continuation of The General Series, this book takes place on the world of Duisberg, a fallen human colony reduced to pre-industrial times. Due to an extremely dry climate, civilization is concentrated around a single river, much like it is by the Nile in Egypt. Outside The Valley, nomadic barbarians roam the badlands. In an interesting twist, a malfunctioning planetary management computer is attempting to keep things in stasis, eking out survival for humanity, if not progress and success. As in “The Chosen” and “The Reformer/The Tyrant”, Center and Raj Whitehall’s minds arrive on an interstellar probe to change things. Soon they take control of young Abel, child of the local military commander.
While it is not quite up to the standards of previous installments, particularly “The Chosen”, it is nevertheless a fun read for the military science fiction buff. Technological and geographical constraints are skillfully used to create challenges. The characters themselves are not very fleshed out, but serve their purpose well enough.
Steve Smith is not a survivalist in the “nutter” sense of the word. He is a former special forces soldier who takes what most would consider excessive precautions against various “end of the world” scenarios. His teenage daughters are well versed in weapons usage and know how to pack for the apocalypse. When Steve’s brother Tom sends him a coded message that the zombie apocalypse is coming (yes really!), he sets in motion a well-prepared plan to get his family out of harm’s way. Zombie apocalypse wasn’t one of the more likely scenarios, but he can deal. His thirteen year old daughter Faith is reasonably happy though. She has always dreamed of a chance to kill zombies.
This is an unusual zombie novel since Mr. Ringo has actually taken the time to make the zombie trope somewhat, and I use the word loosely, realistic. Your classic zombie might as well be a magical being. No matter how much zombie-ism is made out as a disease, zombies would still need to get energy from somewhere, and evacuate waste. “Normal” zombies don’t poop. Mr. Ringo neatly solves the evacuation issue by having the tailored zombie virus induce a very strong itching feeling when it strikes, giving the afflicted an uncontrollable urge to strip just before they go on the more traditional murdering cannibalistic rampage.
As usual with Mr. Ringo, the novel oozes dry humor. Some of the one liners felled in the middle of zombie killing action are laugh out loud funny, and the whole thing is extremely entertaining despite the subject matter. The “Last Concert in New York” scene is particularly quirky and absurd. I look forward to coming installments.
The second novel in the series, also known as “The Sign of Four”, is set a few years further on from the events in A Study in Scarlet. Holmes and Watson have lived together for a few years when a young woman comes to them with a mystery. Her late father disappeared years ago and now an unknown person sends her a pearl once a year, along with a strange note. The adventure then unfolds with Holmes having to solve a locked room murder, and unraveling a complex tale of treasure and alliance among criminals.
Just as A Study in Scarlet, this one holds up very well today. The style is engaging and the story moves quickly. However, just as with the previous novel, I found the very long “explanation flashback” to be excessively long and quite jarring. Still an enjoyable novel for the brief time it takes to read it.
The first novel in the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Dr. John Watson, freshly returned from campaign in Afghanistan, becomes what we today would call Holmes’s roommate. Holmes is a mysterious character, addicted to deduction in the service of the detective arts. He is called in to solve a murder and Watson observes.
Despite being well over a century old, this novel stands up very well today. It is eminently readable, even a page turner. It reads more like a historical novel than a dated document written in a forgotten past. Holmes as a character is perfect; mercurial, ironic, enigmatic and arrogant. I had two problems with this novel, and I am hardly treading new ground here. First, it violates that cardinal rule of detective novels. It is impossible for the reader to figure out who did it before this is revealed. Secondly, just as Holmes is about to reveal all about halfway through the book, the story flashes back a few decades on an immensely long backstory set in Utah. While this was certainly more page turning action, I found the transition quite jarring.