Black Triumph (Dark Victory III) – Brendan Dubois

Following the events of Red Vengeance, now Lieutenant Randy Knox is captured by the alien Creepers. What he finds in Creeper captivity is horrific in many ways, with human living as weird prisoners, typically without defined parameters for their captivity, and no prospect of change.

While the book does provide a conclusion to the Dark Victory series, the whole thing goes out with a whimper. Much of the action seems unrelated to the main story, only serving to vaguely illustrate the fact that the Creepers are aliens, and as such do not have easily fathomable behaviours or motivations. This turns the novel into a bit of a slog, in sharp contrast to the previous books.

In the first two books, the Creepers were a faceless evil. Once the evil is explained, it comes out as rather anticlimactic, with an ending that feels tacked on and unsatisfactory.

Dark Matter (Star Carrier V) – Ian Douglas

Dark Matter continues the Star Carrier story some time after Deep Space. A new and massive alien artifact has been discovered, hinting at a population even more powerful than the Sch’daar. The conflict between the USNA and the Confederation continues. Now Admiral Grey gets a new mission.

Unfortunately, just as in Deep Space, the infodumps have taken over the asylum. The characters can’t seem to have three lines of consecutive dialogue, barring over-the-top and overlong combat communications chatter, without being interrupted by the author with a long and typically pointless exposition on physics, politics or futurism… Even more irritating is how Mr. Douglas repeats the same explanation of background, or even earlier plot points, with astounding regularity. I got about two thirds of the way through by skimming through the infodumps. Then there was a passage explaining who Stephen Hawking was and I had enough. What happened to the Ian Douglas who wrote really quite engaging military scifi? Even the first three books in this very series were pretty good.

Red Vengeance (Dark Victory II) – Brendan Dubois

The second book picks up directly after Dark Victory. After the surprising events at the end of the first book, Randy is seconded to a regular army unit. And it seems that the Creepers are hunting him specifically.

While not quite as good as Dark Victory, this is a fine continuation of the story. It does raise more questions about the motivation of the Creepers, but there are clearly more books coming.

Dark Victory (Dark Victory I) – Brendan Dubois

Ten years after the Creepers attacked Earth and decimated the population, the United States is reduced to a nineteenth century existence. Any significant use of power or radio results in an orbital strike. Creepers roam the landscape in almost impregnable exoskeletons, burning and killing. Randy Knox is a sixteen year old Sergeant in the New Hampshire National Guard. He has been in the service four years. A veteran soldier with several kills under his belt, but also a teenager who attends school and thinks about girls a lot. One day, Randy receives orders to escort a government emissary to the capital.

While flirting with the Young Adult genre, this feels like a more mature tale. Mr. Dubois has woven an intense story full of action, courage and desperate choices. Randy is a hero, but an imperfect one, prone to brusque outbursts and impatience. A young man hardened by years of bitter warfare. This makes him much more realistic than the more typical young adult protagonist. A great read.

The Last Man on the Moon: Astronaut Eugene Cernan and America’s Race in Space – Eugene Cernan with Don Davis

On 14 December, 1973, Gene Cernan re-entered the Lunar Module Challenger after the third and final moonwalk of Apollo 17, the final Apollo Moon Mission. It was the culmination of a lifetime’s aspirations, first as a US Navy Pilot, then as an Astronaut. This is his story, told in his own words.

Mr. Cernan comes across as a straight talker with a rock-solid work ethic; a conservative in the traditional sense. When he wrote this memoir, he gave the impression of being long past any point where he needed to impress anyone.  His account is frank and does not mince words about anyone, including himself. While Cernan will never be remembered like Neil Armstrong, Apollo 17 had much more value from a scientific standpoint. It had the longest stay on the surface, the longest space walks, the longest distance traversed, the heaviest load of samples and the speed record for the lunar rover (unofficial).

A great book for any fan of the space race, or even flying in general.

In a sad coincidence, Mr. Cernan passed away on 16 January of this year, while I was in the middle of reading his book.

River of Gods (India 2047 I) – Ian McDonald

RiverofGodsIndia one hundred years after nationhood is divided into multiple states. The monsoon has failed in the past several years, heralding an impending war over water between Bharat and neighbouring Awadh. Bharat is not a signatory to the international Hamilton accords limiting the intelligence of AIs, choosing instead to allow some development and self-police through its Krishna Cops. Bharat is a haven for datacenters but there is always the risk of a rogue AI ruining everyone’s whole day. Meanwhile, AIs are the actors in India’s premiere soap opera Town and Country, which harbours deeper complexities than anyone imagines.

The world of River of Gods is immensely detailed, chaotic and complex. Reading the first third of the book leads the reader into massive culture shock as he is forced to navigate the storylines of multiple complex characters. The characters are many. Tal, the “neut”, who has surgically eschewed gender and risks persecution by a mob too easily turned to violence. Mr. Nandha, a Krishna Cop bound to his duty. Lisa Durnau, a cosmologist who researches the structure of universe, only to find that the reality is far more intriguing and disturbing. Thomas Lull, Durnau’s mentor, who is sought out by a mysterious woman who knows everything about everyone and can control machines with her mind. Vishram Ray, the scion of a powerful family who escaped to be a comedian in Scotland and has now been forced back into the family business. And many more major and minor.

It is sometimes tough going through the first half of the book, as there seems to be no real story, but as the novel progresses the plotlines become more defined and come together. The underlying theme is the nature and meaning consciousness and intelligence, or “the meaning of life,” if you will.

The final triumph of understanding is deeply rewarding to the reader. Having said that, I did feel that the book was overlong and that some of the secondary plotlines could have been culled, no matter how much Mr. McDonald’s dazzling prose is a pleasure to read.

4Rosbochs

The Savior (Raj Whitehall X) – David Drake & Tony Daniel

RajWhitehall10TheSaviorIn the second and final part of the tale of Abel Dashian on the planet Duisberg, things come to a head as Zentrum manipulates the Redland barbarians into invading The Land. Center and Raj have other plans.

While a satisfying conclusion that contained many great action sequences, this book is like its predecessor not quite up to the standard of the earlier books in the Raj Whitehall series. A fair part of the novel is made up of flashbacks, which in this case are both unnecessary and confusing. Many parts are not as fleshed out as they should be either, and I kept feeling that this book should have been longer. The last quarter in particular felt very rushed towards a conclusion. Having said that, it is still a fun and easy read in the military science fiction genre.

3½Rosbochs

Dinosaurs & a Dirigible – David Drake

Dinosaurs&ADirigibleWhile this is a short story collection, but the first four stories can be thought of as four parts of an episodic novel. The fifth story is a singleton. All five have been published separately before, but I had never read them.  The four connected stories follow Henry Vickers, master hunter and game guide, who becomes hired by the state of Israel to work in their time travel initiative. So he becomes a game guide in the time or early man, and in the Cretaceous when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Wildlife adventure and annoying clients abound. The last story is about a dirigible on its way across America around the turn of the 20th Century.

Henry Vickers is not the most likable character, and that is on purpose. He is interesting, however. These hunting and survival stories with dinosaurs tickled my inner child, who like most boys would very much have wanted to see real dinosaurs. This collection is an easy read with lots of action.

4Rosbochs

Starliner – David Drake

StarlinerRandall Colville is about to undertake his first voyage on the staff side crew of the giant starliner Empress of Earth, largest of her kind and the pride of Earth. He has made his way up from poverty on his desolate homeworld, through a stretch on a “Cold Crew”, the contingent on a starliner that deals with the horrific job of adjusting engines while underway, to his current position of Third Officer. Trouble brews as two of the world-states en route are about to declare war on each other. But the show must go on, and the ship must run smoothly for the rich and powerful in first class.

‘This novel is great fun and an easy read. High adventure in an exotic environment modeled on the classic ocean liners of the early 20th Century. The protagonist is at once naive like a teenager and at the same time deeply scarred by his experiences, making him an interesting viewpoint character.

On a side note, the seed for some of the concepts in the RCN Series, in particular with regards to starship propulsion and class structure in society, are evident in this book.

4Rosbochs

The Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick

TheManintheHighCastleGermany and Japan have won World War II and now control most of the world between them. The former United States are split between them, with the backward Rocky Mountain States situated between a Japanese puppet state in Western North America and a German puppet state in Eastern North America; acting as a buffer zone of sorts. Fifteen years after the war ended, the two superpowers are engaged in a cold war, with Germany expanding into space and Japan falling behind. The book follows several characters in events far from the core of politics, including a German secret agent, a Japanese trade official and a woman seeking audience with the author of an intriguing novel. The novel is about an alternate history where Germany and Japan lose the war, thus more closely resembling our own.

Mr. Dick cleverly implements the device of using characters very peripheral to the main thrust of history. These see historical events without the sureness or clarity of a history book, and color them with their own perceptions, each flawed in its own way. There are long passages of reflection on the nature of manufactured objects, of their “historicity”; in other words their connection with historical events. How does history reflect on the present through its relics? The discussions on race and the open use of race to profile people and cultures gives a glimpse of the way things might perhaps have been if the Axis had won the war. The social mores depicted unfortunately date the book somewhat, especially the depiction of Juliana’s ready subservience to a new man in her life. However it remains a classic for good reason.

3½Rosbochs

Deep Space (Star Carrier IV) – Ian Douglas

StarCarrier4DeepSpaceDeep Space takes place twenty years after Singularity. Admiral Koenig is now the president of the North American 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, the America 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.

2Rosbochs

The Heretic (Raj Whitehall IX) – David Drake & Tony Daniel

A free-standing TheGeneralTheHereticcontinuation 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.

3½Rosbochs

 

The Sign of the Four (Sherlock Holmes II) – Arthur Conan Doyle

TheSignofFourThe 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.

3½Rosbochs

 

A Study in Scarlet (Sherlock Holmes I) – Arthur Conan Doyle

AStudyinScarletThe 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.

3½Rosbochs

Singularity (Star Carrier III) – Ian Douglas

Book three seamlessly segues from the end of Center of Gravity. Admiral Koenig leads the battlegroup further into Sh’daar territory, towards the enigmatic center of the Sh’daar civilization. Meanwhile Lieutenant Grey’s personal odyssey continues.

I was disappointed with the last book in the trilogy. The action is still good, but it is upstaged by the exploration of the enigma that is the Sh’daar. Wormholes, discussions about transcendence and the evolution of civilizations abound. Douglas has thought the whole thing out quite well and the ending makes sense. Unfortunately it feels as if the more lofty macrostory and themes don’t mix well with the military science fiction setting. Long discussions on the deep future and the deep past of technological civilizations slow the pace down too much. Mind you, these discussions are interesting, but they just don’t fit in well in this book.

On the character side, the developments are not very original, and the dialogue is wooden at best. Grey is a metaphor for humanity itself. Koenig is the consummate military officer. The rest are cardboard cutouts.

Center of Gravity (Star Carrier II) – Ian Douglas

Book two starts where Earth Strike left off. Admiral Koenig is set to launch a raid deep into enemy territory, with the aim of scouting, disrupting enemy momentum, and keeping pressure off Earth.

Great action scenes. However the political stuff is quite heavy handed, the message being that politicians are idiots who can’t make rational decisions and military men (well, American military men) know better. A Churchill-like politician would have added greatly to this series.

Earth Strike (Star Carrier I) – Ian Douglas

In this new series by Ian Douglas (AKA William H. Keith, Jr.) Earth and its colonies are on the defensive, hemmed in and attacked by a vast and enigmatic interstellar empire. The action focuses on the Star Carrier America and its fighter spacecraft. The first half deals with a rescue mission on a far-flung colony world, and the second with an attack on Earth itself. Sure, spoilers, but it is right there in the title.

The action is good, clean military science fiction fun, just like in Mr. Douglas’s three connected trilogies dealing with space marines. There are some quite interesting discussions regarding the impact on technology on human society. This goes far deeper than most military science fiction books, which tend to gloss over any impact outside of that on military technologies. The story is very entertaining as it rapidly moves from action scene to action scene. Douglas knows pacing.

The Road of Danger (RCN IX) – David Drake

Once again we join Daniel Leary and Adele Mundy with the crew of the Princess Cecile. A Cinnabar national is inciting rebellion on an Alliance world. With the two nations now at peace, the political situations is sticky. If the rebellion succeeds, it could mean resumption of hostilities, and that would be ruinous for both sides.

Another fun adventure with our friends, this time rather interestingly splitting our two protagonists up for a good long section. While I do enjoy the reading, I get the feeling that Mr. Drake is treading. Leary and Mundy seem so superior to any challenge posed them that there are no real challenges. They are almost ridiculously awesome. Unless Drake puts their back to the wall against real odds again, this series will peter out into dullness.

What Distant Deeps (RCN VIII) – David Drake

Peace has broken out between the Republic of Cinnabar and The Alliance of Free Stars. Captain Leary and the Princess Cecile are tasked with taking a new commissioner to the backwater planet of Zenobia. It is supposed to be a quiet and uncomplicated mission, but of course danger and intrigue are lurking. A plot by a local planetary ruler to invade Zenobia soon throws a wrench in the works.

I enjoyed this one greatly. Leary and Mundy are in fine form, The space action is very good, especially the final battle which takes up a good chunk of the book. There is also an abundance of colorful characters, even more than usual for the RCN series.

Diplomatic Act – Peter Jurasik & William H. Keith

The story is somewhat stereotypical. Aliens from an advanced federation have been secretly watching Earth. However, they don’t understand that fiction is fiction. They kidnap an actor who plays a great diplomat on a science fiction TV show since they think he can help them defuse a potential galactic war. Back on Earth, they replace him with an alien in disguise.

Peter Jurasik is more well known as the actor who played Londo Mollari on Babylon 5. William H. Keith is a prolific author who also writes Military SF under the pseudonym Ian Douglas. The novel is a cute piece, and frequently laugh out loud funny. The satire elements are dead on. The aliens are neither all powerful nor all knowing. In fact, they are prone to big errors of judgement. As such, the interaction with our hero, who is completely out of his element once abducted, works very well. It is obviously written for laughs, but there are some very clever twists to the story.

In the Stormy Red Sky (RCN VII) – David Drake

The seventh book in the RCN series sees Leary take his new command, the heavy cruiser Milton, on what is supposed to be a milk run: escorting a senator to the Montserrat Stars to re-establish relations with the local authorities. Once they get there, it is clear that the Alliance has more or less taken over, having handed the Republic of Cinnabar Navy a humiliating defeat. IT should come as no surprise to regular readers that Leary and the rest must now fix the problem.

Lots of action and a strong story make for an entertaining book. The fact that Leary has now “graduated” to a larger ship, and spends some time in command of a makeshift squadron, is a definite plus. While tooling around in the Princess Cecile was all well and good, Drake couldn’t have Leary and Mundy do that forever. Speaking of Adele Mundy, this book is definitely very much about her, with significant developments for her character.

1634: The Galileo Affair – Eric Flint & Andrew Dennis

The first of many sequels to 1632 and 1633, this book focuses more on the theological-political impact of the Ring of Fire. The newly formed United States of Europe sends a delegation to Venice. This leads, more or less on purpose, to links with the Vatican and involvement in the trial of Galileo. It is a decent read reading, but there is much less action than in 1632 and 1633.  Overall, this book is nowhere near as much fun as the first two.

 

Orbiter – Warren Ellis & Colleen Doran

In the beginning of this graphic novel, Kennedy Space Center is shown as a vast squatter camp. Suddenly, the Venture Space Shuttle appears and lands. Apparently, manned spaceflight was abandoned when the Venture disappeared ten years previously.

When the Tide Rises (RCN VI) – David Drake

After the mild disappointment of volumes four and five, Drake is back in good form. Leary is sent on a mission to destabilize what one might charitably call a banana republic in order to relieve pressure from a Cinnabar stronghold. The Bagarian Republic is modeled after South American revolutionary governments, complete with generalissima and corrupt politicians with plenty of unearned decorations. Needless to say, Leary and Mundy manage to perform several daring raids in order to complete the mission.

Clarity returns to the series, then. Leary, Mundy and their companions on the Princess Cecile are as outrageous and entertaining as ever. The action scenes are frequent and of the usual high Drake class. Character development of some of the supporting players is emphasized, definitely a good thing. This book has made me eager once again for the next installment.

Some Golden Harbor (RCN V) – David Drake

Lt. Leary, sans ship, is sent to Ganpat’s Reach as an advisor. His mission is to untangle a messy inter-system invasion that threatens the interests of a Cinnabar ally. Conveniently, he can hire his own former ship, the Princess Cecile, and most of the Sissies, to convey him. On arrival, he finds a complex web of intrigue and machinations.

I was rather disappointed by this installment. While it was entertaining enough to keep me going, the plot felt haphazard and overcomplex. The three system polities involved weren’t sufficiently fleshed out, and I was often confused about who did what and to whom. Individual scenes were top notch as usual, but the arc of the plot was muddled.