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 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 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.

Princess of Wands (Special Circumstances I) – John Ringo

An ordinary Southern homemaker, Barbara “Barb” Everette has three kids and a full life. She is the epitome of the churchgoing soccer mom, with the only slight quirk her prowess at martial arts. But on a weekend off, she ends up foiling the attempt of a demon to take over a village in the Louisiana bayou. And then things get even weirder as she is recruited into a super secret organization that battles supernatural beings as they manifest on Earth.

Once again Ringo has managed to write a page turner. The prose and action are excellent as usual, and peppered with the author’s dry humor. Just like Ghost, the novel is episodic, although the characters could hardly be more different. Barb is a very unusual Fantasy heroine, being a deeply religious woman who deems men masters of the household, even her useless one. It is interesting to see how Ringo makes this trait her very strength in her battles against the forces of darkness. There is a also quite a bit of fanservice, as Ringo drops Barb into a typical SciFi convention replete with the requisite authors, geeks and role players. Making the villain a thinly disguised David Drake who hates and envies a thinly disguised Robert Jordan is a nice touch. Unfortunately the convention is also the novel’s weaker section. Too many characters are introduced at the event, and the plot does not flow very well at this point.

While it is not the best Ringo plot wise, the quality of the writing is high as usual. Very entertaining.

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.

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.

The Way to Glory (RCN IV) – David Drake

Leary has finally been promoted, but due to political machinations he is not given a new ship command. Instead, he is assigned as the executive officer of a paranoid Captain whose last move was to violently quash a mutiny by massacring the perpetrators, one of whom was a senator’s son. Leary cannot play humble, and ends up squarely in the sights of his superior.

The series certainly isn’t becoming dull, but I find that Drake missed an opportunity here. The main plot complication in the early part of the book is the contrast and conflict between Leary and Captain Slidell. However, Leary quickly manages to get himself assigned to detached duty, robbing the readers of a whole raft of interesting situations. If you can look past that, this is still a strong book in the series, though not quite as good as those preceding it.

The Far Side of the Stars (RCN III) – David Drake

At the beginning of the third RCN book, Lt. Leary is beached on half pay after peace has broken out between the Republic of Cinnabar and the Alliance of Free Stars. Through an unexpected turn of events, he is able to once again take command of the Princess Cecile, which has been sold out of navy service but is chartered as a yacht by a wealthy foreign couple who want to venture far into the lawless “north”. Their aim is adventure, gambling, big game hunting, but also a search for an elusive relic, the Earth Diamond.

As is now usual with these books, the main plot is not very linear, with many subplots seemingly there to provide amusement and adventure rather than support the main plot. And as is also usual, I didn’t mind at all. Not totally unexpectedly, Lt. Leary finds a way to return to navy service both himself, his crew, and the Princess Cecile. The action is fast, furious and humorous and maintains the high standards of the previous books.

Lt. Leary Commanding (RCN II) – David Drake

After the heroic deeds on Kostroma in With the Lightnings, Leary is unexpectedly permitted to retain command of the captured corvette Princess Cecile. Mundy becomes an intelligence officer for Cinnabar’s elusive spy chief, Mistress Sand. Leary and his crew must catch up with a squadron en route to prevent a rebellion on a vassal planet. Through high level machinations, one of their passengers is the putative heir of the planet’s ruling family.

The main plot is not terribly strong, but it doesn’t matter much. This series is about high-flying adventures, exciting locales and interesting characters, not exact plotting. There is a certain disjointed feeling to the story. For example the incident with the pirates could have been a self contained short story and feels like an excuse to provide some amusing action more than a necessary story element. But as mentioned, all that doesn’t really matter. Revisiting Daniel Leary and Adele Mundy is a treat unto itself.

With the Lightnings (RCN I) – David Drake

I was put off from reading this for a full eight years mainly due to the horrible cover, but also some misgivings about David Drake. While I loved his Hammer’s Slammers, his writing has often been a bit wooden. The blurb just didn’t do it for me either. Well, I’m so happy to be proven wrong. “With the Lightnings” is quality military SciFi. The RCN series has been likened to the Hornblower books, However Drake himself says they are actually based on the Aubrey/Maturin books. Since those are in themselves inspired by the Hornblower series, I suppose both comparisons are apt.

Lt. Daniel Leary is an officer of the Republic of Cinnabar Navy. Cinnabar is a “great power” opposed by “the Alliance”. As in all good adventure fiction of this stripe, the Alliance is “evil” and Cinnabar is “good”. Leary is a supernumerary on a diplomatic mission to the planet Kostroma. Meanwhile, Adele Mundy, a Cinnabar information specialist in exile, has been hired to set up the ruler’s library on Kostroma. While they are there, the Alliance invades Kostroma. Leary and Mundy join forces and, with the help of a group of Cinnabar ratings, set about attempting to escape.

Swashbuckling action only begins to describe this book. Drake has adapted his technology and political/social structures to mimic the age of sail to a degree that would be ridiculous if it wasn’t such a good background for a story. Leary and Mundy are the perfect characters for this kind of thing. Daring, courageous and humorously cocky, yet by no means arrogantly sure of themselves. The locales are colorful, the characters engaging, the action furious and exciting.

The Belisarius Series – David Drake & Eric Flint

Military SciFi/Alternate history in which an evil empire appears in India in the fifth century. Famous historical general Belisarius receives a warning from the future and must counter the threat. This series goes deeper into philosophical and poetical tangents than similar works. Eric Flint’s classic wry humour pervades the prose. The books can almost be read as historical novels and contain quite a few interesting tidbits about the period. The series consist of:

  • An Oblique Approach
  • In The Heart of Darkness
  • Destiny’s shield
  • Fortune’s Stroke
  • The Tide of Victory
  • The Dance of Time

The sixth and final book, The Dance of Time came out over two years late and seems a bit of a late addition. It tied up all the loose ends neatly, even though the actual conclusion to the conflict was foregone by this time. However, the habit of the authors to show off their characters’s cleverness, while only a minor annoyance in the first five volumes, really grated on my nerves in the sixth book. Endless uses of “Why not?” and equally endless enumerations of “how cool are we” items both in the exposition and the dialogue are just plain bad style. Still and all, a satisfying conclusion.

The Raj Whitehall Series (I-VIII) – David Drake, S.M. Stirling & Eric Flint

The human galactic federation is in ruins, and the worlds have devolved to various levels of barbarism. On the planet Bellevue, which is at about the early nineteenth century in development, a young officer named Raj Whitehall and his friend venture into the catacombs under the capital. There, they find an ancient battle computer named Center. With Center’s help, Raj must unite the planet and enable humanity to retake the stars. The story is at least somewhat based on that of the Byzantine general Belisarius.

The first seven novels are written by Drake and Stirling. The last one by Drake and Flint. David Drake writes very detailed outlines, while his collaborators write the actual text.

The first five novels are a set and deal with the conquest/unification of Bellevue. They are nowadays published in two volumes, known as Warlord and Conqueror:

  • The Forge
  • The Hammer
  • The Anvil
  • The Steel
  • The Sword

After finishing the conquest of Bellevue, the personalities of Center and Raj are imbued in computers that are sent to other worlds with launched asteroids. This scenario has infinite permutations as human worlds at various levels of development can be written about. The first of these follow-up novels is:

  • The Chosen

It is a great singleton set on a world with early twentieth century technology. Finally there is the two volume story consisting of:

  • The Reformer
  • The Tyrant

Here, we take a serious step “back in time”, as the planet Hafardine is at about Roman Empire level in it’s technology. The Tyrant is rather different in style from the others due to being penned by Flint. However, his trademark dry humor meshes well with the overall thrust of the series.

This is great military SciFi, with excellent battlescenes and great characters, not to mention a dose of dry humor. Very highly recommended.