The Bear and the Dragon – Tom Clancy

A return to form for Clancy after the lackluster Rainbow Six, this novel nevertheless struck me as pretty formulaic. It was very cool, though, to see military cooperation between Russia and the United States. I enjoyed this one a lot. Watch for Pavel Petrovich Gogol, a very cool guy.

The Sum of All Fears

Jack Ryan brokers peace in the middle east and discovers that nuclear weapons in the wrong hands can be dangerous. Solid Clancy, and I especially like how he is not afraid to blow big stuff up just because it happens to sit in the continental United States.

The movie, although quite good, changes the story significantly and does not really reflect the breadth of the novel.

The Lost Fleet: Fearless – Jack Campbell

Campbell is back with the second installment in the Lost Fleet series, in which “Black Jack” Geary continues to fight internal and external enemies to get the fleet home. Part of the fleet defects, leaving Geary with an even greater shortage of ships. But by the story expedient of being unpredictable, he continues to fight on. The internal struggle is interesting, as Geary realizes how powerful he can become politically if he brings the fleet home.

This was very much a middle book. No resolution. I have no problem with Campbell’s rather short (by today’s standards) novels but this one could easily have been amalgamated with “Dauntless“.

Note that Jack Campbell is a pen name for John G. Hemry.

The Lost Fleet: Dauntless – Jack Campbell

This is solid military SciFi. The premise is that an attack fleet from the “Alliance” finds the century old survival pod of legendary commander John “Black Jack” Geary, with the man himself hibernating inside. Just after that, the fleet is stranded in “Syndic” space after being soundly defeated in an ambush. All the flag officers have been imprisoned and shot, so by virtue of time in rank, Captain Geary is now in command of the “Lost Fleet”. But in the century of his absence, two interesting developments have occured. First, he is seen as a legend; a larger than life hero viewed by the personnel now under his command as a savior. Secondly, the long war has led to high rates of attrition, loss of command know-how, and acceptance of atrocities. To add spice to the mix, many of the surviving captains are not happy about the new regime. And now the fleet has to fight its way home.

The prose is straightforward, with the point of view character always Geary himself. He is tired and sick from his long hibernation, baffled and angered by the ruthlessness and incompetence the fleet, and frustrated at the idiocy of many of his commanders. The novel (first in a series) is a study in leadership, and the necessity to perform both the right actions and use the right words in order to ensure loyalty. Beyond that, it is a fun and fast paced little book. It doesn’t hold immense depth, but if you like military SciFi, you’ll probably enjoy it.

Note that Jack Campbell is a pen name for John G. Hemry.

The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

In the sequel to “Angels & Demons“, out hero Robert Langdon inadvertently becomes accused of the murder of the Louvre curator, and has to team up with the curator’s granddaughter to solve the mystery of his death. Without giving away the plot, suffice it to say that it is a long and well plotted Grail quest liberally sprinkled with ghosts from the past of Western civilization.

Like its prequel, this is an exciting and engrossing read. Much has been said about Brown’s “extreme” interpretations of historical anecdotes, fact and legends, but in my opinion he has just used poetic license to great effect. Unfortunately, the book suffers from the same lack of depth as the prequel. It is one long chase from one breathless climax to the next. If it hadn’t for the background of historical mystery, I doubt this would have become such a bestseller.

Jupiter – Ben Bova

Although I am getting a bit bored with the titles in Bova’s “Grand Tour of the Solar System“, Jupiter is pretty cool, with the crew having to live in an oxygenated liquid in order to cope with the crushing pressures of Jupiter’s atmosphere. Luckily, the question, of, erhm, human waste in such a system is not examined too closely.

Test of Fire – Ben Bova

Although a bit dated, and somewhat simplistic, this rough and ready tale of Martian grassroots insurrection is fun. The coming of age story contained within is, although not terribly original, well written and engaging. If you can look past the nineteen seventies vintage stuff, this will keep you entertained for an evening or two.

Manifold: Time and Manifold: Space – Stephen Baxter

Manifold is not a series per se, but rather different explorations of the theme “Are we alone in the universe?”. In “Time”, a portal is discovered in the solar system, and some fascinating stuff happens related to preserving life and intelligence in the long term. In “Space”, The Fermi Paradox is suddenly reversed, with aliens appearing everywhere and the whole universe is just one big fight for resources, to the point of utter barbarism.

I had some nasty nightmares after these, which is why I will probably never read the third book, “Manifold: Origin”. On a certain level, this is very stuff, but not like a horror movie. It scares me on a very deep level that I can’t rationalize away. The same level that knows that the goody two-shoes future of Star Trek simply is not a realistic vision. Still, I would rather watch Star Trek since I don’t want to wake up screaming in the middle of the night, however good Baxter is. Read the books if you feel you can take it. They are very good and the themes and subjects are both engrossing and fascinating.

Titan – Stephen Baxter

Initially I thought this book was going to be rather upbeat, but the mood goes on a downward spiral towards the end. Humanity loses interest in space exploration completely. In fact the only thing to still progress is the search for shallow consumer happiness. NASA decides to go for one last hurrah and sends a one way expedition to Titan. As the years pass during the voyage, the small crew gets increasingly on each others nerves while listening from afar as humanity fades away to oblivion back on earth. The novel is powerful and moving, with there is a glimmer of hope in the end when those among us most suited for it, the voyagers and explorers, get to carry on the seed of humanity. Life goes on despite short-sighted humanity.

The High Crusade – Poul Anderson

A classic, hilarious romp in which invading aliens are defeated by Middle Age knights. The knights take over their ship and don’t stop until they rule the whole alien empire. Completely unserious, and therein lies the charm.

The Honor Harrington Series – David Weber

Space Opera in the spirit of Horatio Hornblower. Action, adventure and all that. And really good. Although I feel that Weber has lately slackened off a little, and is given to perhaps excessive verbosity in his tangents, I still eagerly await each new release.

  • On Basilisk Station (HH I) – Arguably still the best Honor book. Lots of action, but also humor and great characters. This kind of editing would do the books after 6 good..
  • The Honor of the Queen (HH II) – An incredible ride.
  • The Short Victorious War (HH III) – Long on the action, short on the characters. But that’s fine 😉

  • Field of Dishonor (HH IV) – Weber shows how even Honor has a dark side, and it’s very dark.
  • Flag in Exile (HH V) – An interesting character study of Honor.
  • Honor Among Enemies (HHVI) – Perhaps my favorite Honor. A great story of redemption.

  • More than Honor (Anthology)
  • In Enemy Hands (HH VI) – Very exciting but not quite as good as books 1 through 6.
  • Echoes of Honor (HH VIII) – Great storyline, but unfortunately Weber’s style is slipping by this point, with overlong exposition and contrived dialogue among the still great action.

  • Worlds of Honor (Anthology)
  • Ashes of Victory (HH IX) – Losing steam, which unfortunately stays lost in “War of Honor”.
  • Changer of Worlds (Anthology)

  • War of Honor (HH X) – Pretty ho-hum compared to the others. Definitely an interim book.
  • The Service of The Sword (Anthology)
  • At All Costs (HH XI) – This definitely shows a partial comeback of Weber’s old form. Although he still hems and haws his way through dialogue, the action is great and the stakes are high.

Some of the stories in the anthologies contain background for later novels, so it is rather important to read them as part of the sequence.

Around War of Honor (HH X) The Honorverse branches off with the “Saganami Island” and “Crown of Slaves” series.

Winterfair Gifts – Lois McMaster Bujold

This short story forms an epilogue of sorts to Komarr and A Civil Campaign. It is told from the viewpoint of armsman Roic. A few days before Miles and Ekaterin’s wedding guests in the form of Miles’ friends from the Dendarii Free Mercenaries arrive. Taura in particular is focused on in a brief tale leading up to the wedding.

The story is cute, but would not be worth much if it hadn’t been tacked on to the end of the Miles in Love omnibus. It is certainly worth reading, and it forms a nice bookend to the macrostory of Miles and Ekaterin’s courtship, but it is not a good standalone.

This short story is collected in the “Miles in Love” omnibus.

Wild Blue – Steven Ambrose

The late and great Ambrose on USAAF bomber crews flying over Europe during WWII. Very well researched and focusing on the men (and their families) and how the conflict affected them. Enjoyable and worth the read even if you are not into aviation or militaria.

Brothers in Arms – Lois McMaster Bujold

While traveling with the Dendarii Mercenaries, Miles ends up on Earth. While there, he is entangled in a plot to replace him with a clone.

The elements to create a good story are in place. Miles’ clone brother Mark is an excellent addition to the series, seeing as how he can act as a counterpoint to Miles himself. The character development and exploration in this book is on par with McMaster Bujold at her best. The plot, unfortunately, is not. It seems a bit forced, somehow. And while still an enjoyable read (this woman is a fabulous writer) it is weak compared to other installments in the series.

This novel is collected in the “Miles Errant” omnibus.

Cetaganda – Lois McMaster Bujold

Miles, now a Lieutenant working for Imperial Security, is sent off to a Cetagandan state funeral along with his less than brilliant but dashingly handsome cousin Ivan Vorpatril. While there, they are embroiled in a complex plot to stir the waters of Cetagandan nobility genetic engineering.

The plot is in fact very complex, and while showcasing Miles’ intelligence, it goes perhaps a bit too far. The Cetagandan empire is a remarkable edifice constructed by McMaster Bujold. The highest caste controls the evolution of their own and the soldier caste through rigidly held gene banks and elaborately calculated pairings. It is almost worth reading the book for the descriptions of ceremonies, locations and people. Unfortunately, the plot is not as strong as one would want, and quickly bogs down in far too many twists and turns. I’m all for a nice mystery but there is very little actual action to propel the mystery along. I caught myself no longer caring very much what actually happened, as long as I could read about Miles and his ever entertaining adventures.

This novel is collected in the “Miles, Mystery & Mayhem” omnibus.

The Warrior’s Apprentice – Lois McMaster Bujold

This was the second novel that McMaster Bujold wrote, and the first one about Miles proper. Miles fails the entrance exam for the Barrayar (military) Service Academy in spectacularly humiliating fashion. The physical handicaps caused by his in utero poisoning make him short, crooked, brittle boned and ugly. As a young Vor lordling, he doesn’t really need to work for a living, but he is expected, and expects of himself, to serve Barrayar. For now, he is sent off to visit his grandmother (Cordelia’s Mother) on Beta Colony, a world as egalitarian and “modern” in its views as Barrayar is feudal and provincial. A chance encounter on arrival eventually leads to Miles commanding his own mercenary fleet. As if that’s not trouble enough, collecting such a personal army is tantamount to treason for a Vor lord.

It is not necessary to have read “Cordelia’s Honor” in order to enjoy “The Warrior’s Apprentice” but it does help with understanding the background, in particular the peculiar character of Sergeant Bothari and his relationship to his daughter Elena. The novel is a lot of fun. Miles as a character, with his boundless energy and quick thinking, is enormously entertaining. The plot is quite far fetched, asking the reader to make some rather challenging leaps of faith. If it weren’t so engaging and frequently humurous, this novel would go from pretty good to awful.

This novel s collected in the “Young Miles” omnibus.

Do Unto Others (Ripple Creek II) – Michael Z. Williamson

In the sequel to Better to Beg Forgiveness, Williamson revisits his team of six elite bodyguards. This time around, they’re not only a well oiled machine, but an experienced and perfectly meshed well oiled machine. They are tasked with protecting the twenty-something year old daughter of the richest man in the world(s). The action starts in Wales but soon moves to a gargantuan mining operation at the heart of the customer’s business empire. Not completely unexpectedly, there are multiple threats.

Just like the first book, this one ramps up slowly and spends a lot of time focusing on technical skills. Williamson takes what is often a very tedious and mind-numbing routine and makes it sound interesting. He is also very good at describing characters who do not act entirely rationally, who act out, who think they are doing good while in fact completely misguided. By the end, the book is a total page turner, moving the reader deftly through some rather amazing and well-crafted locales. If I have one big gripe, it is that the team itself is perhaps a bit too perfect. Fascinating to read about, but do such superhumans really exist? Or more properly, can disbelief be suspended? I certainly found mine cracking at times.

Yellow Eyes – Tom Kratman & John Ringo

Even more Ringo! For some reason I had been avoiding this Posleen series side story. That came back to bite me as I launched into the follow-up Hedren series and some of the characters popped up.

The story is set before and during the Posleen invasion of Earth, but deals specifically with events in Panama. Realizing that the Panama Canal is strategically important, the US sends military and material aid to bolster the defenses, including three warships. Through a complex series of events, one of the ships, the USS Des Moines, gains sentience. The story follows the defense of Panama, both from the perspective of the Posleen-Human conflict, and from the perspective of the struggle between corrupt officials and honorable ones. The Darhel, overlords of the Galactic Federation, want the humans to win, but only just, so that human civilization is shattered and cannot be a threat to them.

The Panama aspects are very interesting, and it shows that both authors have been posted there during their military careers. The story itself is quite good, with predictably excellent battle scenes. It is a worthy addition to the Posleen series, but should probably not be read as a standalone.

Tai-Pan – James Clavell

This massive novel dramatizes the events surrounding the founding of Hong Kong. Our hero, Dirk Struan, is a merchant prince, head of his trading house. He is known by the Chinese expression “Tai-Pan”, meaning “supreme leader”. The book chronicles his efforts to found and develop Hong Kong as a way to both open up trade with China and ensure that the West be exposed to Chinese influence.

The book is skillfully written and a page turner. The characters are larger than life. Great fun all around. Clavell shows a keen eye for the way different people are motivated based on ethnicity and culture, sex and social position. The many action-filled twists do not seem confusing, but drive the story forward without seeming like just pointless noise.

Contact with Chaos – Michael Z. Williamson

Set in the “Freehold” universe, this novel is about first contact with a planetbound race that has almost no metals. They turn out to be quite advanced in ceramics, steam and other sciences, all developed without metals. Humanity, in the form of a joint Freehold/UN mission, makes efforts not to expose the race to metals. This inevitably causes tension.

While not as action packed as other Williamson novels, I found this highly enjoyable. The plot is both smart, entertaining and clever. The characters are perhaps somewhat unoriginal, but do the job adequately. I did have a hard time keeping track of some of the secondary characters. A dramatis personae would have been great. Williamson is at his best when describing the effects of weapons and other technology. Many other authors would have turned this book into a boring scholarly piece, but Williamson manages to keep the technology discussions both entertaining and fascinating. The story has many interesting twists to keep it going.