The Gods of Sagittarius – Eric Flint & Mike Resnick

In the future, humanity is part of an interstellar society. A security expert is tasked to escort a scientist as he investigates a murder with seemingly paranormal aspects. Meanwhile, an alien seeks vengeance for the extermination of her religious sect. Unlike the science-rooted humans, the alien knows that magic is real.

The novel is space opera with a large degree of comedy. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the overwrought dialogue and interactions very funny. The story isn’t very entertaining either.

 

Castaway Odyssey (Boundary V) – Eric Flint & Ryk E. Spoor

Victims of the same accident that stranded the Kimei family in Castaway Planet, Sergeant Campbell and four boys ranging from almost adult to eight years old find themselves adrift in a damaged shuttle.

This instalment is an improvement over the previous one. It is still overly corny at times, but the lack of a family as protagonists makes the interpersonal dynamics more interesting.  The dialogue is so littered with overly rational behaviour and humble apologies it is hard to suspend disbelief.

The Alexander Inheritance – Eric Flint, Gorg Huff & Paula Goodlett

A modern cruise liner is transported back to the beginning of the “Time of the Diadochi“, after the death of Alexander the Great, when his successors fought over his splintering empire.

The premise is a fine idea, but unfortunately the story suffers from being set in a very messy historical time. Dozens of players are rapidly introduced, leading to just as rapid confusion. While the story does gel somewhat around the characters of Roxane and Euridyce, it is hard for the reader to get to grips with the wider political situation. Where the book shines is when dealing with the culture shock of people from ancient civilisations being suddenly introduced to things like steam engines, refrigeration and modern views on gender equality. There is a wide ranging discussion of slavery which manages to be quite interesting.

This book is part of the wider Assiti Shards Universe, though it can be treated as a singleton.

Castaway Planet (Boundary IV) – Eric Flint & Ryk E. Spoor

Boundary4CastawayPlanetThe Kimei family is on a colony transport when an accident during a lifeboat drill leaves them stranded on an uninhabited planet. Through happenstance, the Bemmie “Whips” Harrater, best friend of second daughter Sakura, is with them. Deprived by an accident of most of their supplies, they have to survive on a hostile world.

While it is billed as the fourth volume in the Boundary Series, this novel has almost nothing to do with the preceding three, though they feature marginally as historical fact. While I did mildly enjoy the struggles of the Kimei family, I found the writing verging wildly into corny far too often. The story is predictable and bland. Certainly not on par with the fun in previous volumes.

2½Rosbochs

The Rats, The Bats & The Ugly (Rats, Bats & Vats #2) by Eric Flint & Dave Freer

TheRatsTheBatsandTheUglyThe second book in the series picks up directly where book one left off. Chip and Fitz are unfairly accused, Virginia is drugged and hidden. The Korozhet are known by our heroes to be the enemy, but they hold all the cards.

The first half of this book, while necessary, is not really that much fun and humor. And that is a problem. Without fun, this series is too absurd to be really good. Thankfully, the second half more than makes up for it. A good read assuming you’ve read the first book.

3½Rosbochs

 

Rats, Bats & Vats (Rats, Bats & Vats #1) – Eric Flint & Dave Freer

RatsBatsandVatsOn the colony planet of Harmony and Reason, the colony’s shareholders are an entitled and elitist upper class, while the rest of the population is poor and indebted. Most of the lower class is made up of “Vats”, vat-grown humans based on genetic material brought from Earth. To make matters worse, insectoid/arachnid aliens have invaded, and the incompetent shareholder military leadership is doing poorly. With the aid of alien technology, the humans “uplift” rats and bats to help fight the war. The bats are flying sappers with Irish accents and strong political views. The rats are nymphomaniac drunks acting as infantry. The action centers on a group of grunts who find themselves stuck behind enemy lines.

Despite the completely absurd premise, or perhaps because of it, this was quite a fun book. It is written with tongue firmly in cheek and humor firmly in the gutter. I enjoyed the misadventures of this one particular group of misfits, replete with constant inter-species sniping and a bitterly resigned attitude towards the idiocy of the brass.

3½Rosbochs

Pyramid Power (Pyramid II) – Eric Flint & David Freer

PyramidPowerThe sequel to Pyramid Scheme takes place shortly after the first book. Our heroes are adapting to life on Earth, or back on Earth as the case may be, when agents from the newly constituted Pyramid Security Agency (PSA) decide to start operations in the mythworlds. Needless to say, things quickly go awry. The PSA embodies all the worst about hastily created government agencies, and is a clear reference to the Homeland Security Agency as a kneejerk reaction to 9/11. Our heroes find themselves not back in mythical Greece or Egypt, but in the Norse world of myth, populated by such classics as Thor, Odin and Loki.

Just like the previous book, this one is written with tongue quite firmly in cheek. Awful puns and funny situations are de rigueur. Sadly the story itself is somewhat muddled, and I had a hard time following the twists and turns, many of which took place off-screen and were then presented as faits accomplis.

2½Rosbochs

Portal (Boundary III) – Eric Flint & Ryk E. Spoor

PortalAfter the debacle at the end of Threshold, our heroes plus the few survivors of the EU ship Odin are marooned on Europa, a moon of Jupiter thought to have a liquid ocean underneath a globe-spanning icecap. The first half of the book focuses mainly on survival, while the second deals with the exploration of the Europan icecap and the obligatory thrilling cliffhanger.

This book is almost a throwback to old school “explore the solar system” science fiction. The struggle for survival itself becomes the subject of examination and discussion, but without becoming boring. The Universe is light and cheery and full of wonder despite its many dangers. The fleshed out characters make things come alive. The dialogue may sometimes be cheesy, but it always feels authentic. Real people don’t always spout cool one-liners, and some real people love horrid puns. The physics are real and well researched; I have learned more about ice behavior in low pressure and temperature than I thought I needed to know, but it was interesting. As with the previous installment, the story was on the light side, especially the conspiracy subplot. Also as with the previous installment, I liked this book more than it probably deserved simply because it is a joy to be with the characters on their fantastic adventures.

4Rosbochs

Time Spike – Eric Flint & Marilyn Kosmatka

This singleton Assiti Shards novel sees a maximum security prison in southern Illinois get sent back in time, dragging along with it large group of Cherokees from the 19th Century, conquistadors from the 16th century, and Mounds people from prehistoric times.

The idea of dragging a prison back in time is interesting. What do you do with the convicts? How do you keep guarding them? Unfortunately, that is pretty much the only bright point in this novel apart from the action scenes and the fact that it is an easy read and the vaguely interesting historical tidbits. Most characters are so two dimensional and cookie cutter that I had a very hard time remembering who was who. The portrayal of men and women falling in love more or less instantly was naive and plain silly, the argument being that since they had to survive, they’d better pair up.

The subplot with the “present day” scientists was completely superfluous, and seemed to be there mostly to tie in with possible sequels and bring needless exposition. Again, the instant love trope reared its ugly head here.

Crown of Slaves (Wages of Sin I) – David Weber & Eric Flint

This is the first of a spinoff series in the the Honor Harrington Universe. My guess is that Flint is doing most of the writing since he is the one who came up with the Zilwicki characters in the Honorverse anthologies.

All the way through reading the book, I kept thinking that Weber and Flint can do much better than this. While the characters are engaging, the plot is lackluster. There’s a lot of interesting material here, but it just doesn’t feel like the high adventure it’s supposed to be. The whole thing is rather construed and feels forced. The first half is very dull, but the novel thankfully picks up during the second half. And then there’s the endless exposition; just as in the later works by Weber, the explanations drone on and on. If I hadn’t been a fan of the Honorverse, I would probably not have finished the book.

Boundary (Boundary I) – Eric Flint & Ryk E. Spoor

The title “Boundary” refers to the K-T Boundary, an event 65 million years ago in which a large number of species, most famously including the dinosaurs, became extinct, probably due to the impact of a meteor. A group of paleontologists find a very strange fossil grouping, with bizarre anomalies including what look like bullets. The fossil sits right on the Boundary, meaning it is from the time of the event. A little later, the first mission (unmanned) to Mars’ moon Phobos reveals an abandoned, and ancient, alien base. The space program is accelerated to allow a large scale manned mission to Phobos and Mars.

This is the kind of adventure novel that I really love. Engineering, science, fun characters, and a great plot. A journey of discovery with a good sprinkling of old fashioned sense of wonder. It is not without its flaws, however. The dialog is often stilted. There is no deep exploration of interpersonal relationships as the characters mesh far too well. Love and friendship sprout in neat couplings and groups. I enjoyed this book a lot, but it could have had a bit more depth.

Pyramid Scheme (Pyramid #1) – Eric Flint & Dave Freer

A mysterious pyramid appears in the University of Chicago Library. It starts “snatching” people at random. Almost all return within a few hours, dead or nearly so. Then a larger group is snatched. They end up in a mythical version of ancient Greece.

This romp through Greek myth (with a brief detour in Egyptian myth) by a haphazardly composed gang of modern humans is a great deal of fun. The concept is very clever and thankfully the authors don’t take the whole thing too seriously. Heroics, adventures and awful puns!

Slow Train to Arcturus – Eric Flint & David Freer

Howard is a farmer in a deeply religious, backward society. One day an alien lands in his tomato plants. This starts his journey to discover that his world is actually one of several enormous spherical colony habitats strung like beads on a string. Each habitat contains a different society, all seemingly extreme in some way. Howard is more or less forced to help the alien, who is an explorer from a nearby star that this slowtrain of habitats is passing.

This combination adventure and pilgrimage tale reminded me a lot of early Niven. There’s the Big Dumb Object, the little explorer in a world he cannot control, the unexpectedly cosmic scale of the whole thing. The novel has some issues, for example many events are a bit too good to be true. Also the middle part seems a bit rudderless, but the ending explains things. Much can be forgiven, however, when there is good adventure to be had and lots of humor to go with it. Not to mention a rather unexpected ending and a valuable message about modern “nanny society” delivered with at least a little subtlety.

Diamonds are Forever – Eric Flint and Ryk E. Spoor

This novelette from the anthology “Mountain Magic” deals with a young man from Kentucky taking his fiancee, a New Yorker, home to meet the parents. Little does she know that the Slade family hides a secret centuries old, about strange beings who live underground.

While not stellar, this story is entertaining enough to while away a few hours. Flint and Spoor have an easy style and a lovely wit.

1812: The Rivers of War – Eric Flint

Another alternate history story from Flint and technically an Assiti Shards novel even if removed from the main thrust of that series. This one, the first of a new series, rewrites the War of 1812. Instead of being wounded in the groin at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Sam Houston is only grazed in the arm. And so he can participate in the defense of Washington against a British raid. Flint spins an interesting tale of how influential (American) Indians, whites and blacks begin to form strong bonds and plan for the future. It helps if you know some of the history, but even if you don’t, Flint is pretty good at filling in the blanks.

I enjoyed the book mildly, but it is by no means perfect. Flint has a great sense of humor and the book is a page turner. However, he is a bit too in love with his characters, and the smugness with which he describes them is often grating. Having said that, if you liked 1632 and so forth you might enjoy this.

 

 

Mother of Demons – Eric Flint

This early Flint effort shows signs of his future greatness. Hidden behind the horrid cover and the rather simplistic few humans on a hostile world lie deep layers of meaning. A human colonization ship to another star has an accident. The only survivors to make it to the habitable planet are a few scientists and an historian, along with a host of young children. The natives are in the local Bronze Age. The story tells of how the historian must overcome her fears of the evil she knows the future will hold, and help lead her small band, and native allies.

There is great moral strength in the story. Flint is unfortunately a bit too enamored with the historical concepts he is exploring. He shows greater maturity in later works such as 1632, where he is more subte about the whole thing. That being said, Mother of Demons is a fun read full of Flint’s trademark humor.

The cover and the blurb both annoyed me. While the cover is a very accurate depiction of a key moment in the story, and the blurb does sum up the key players rather neatly, I think they probably scared away a large part of the potential readership.

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.

 

Grantville Gazette II – Eric Flint (Editor)

This is the dead tree edition of the second volume filled with “user generated content” in the Assiti Shards Universe. It continues Flint’s experiment with not only opening his universe, but letting other writers actually add to the stories and developing landscape in a major way. Flint does not set strict guidelines, allowing other writers to take his own creation in totally unexpected directions.

The book is a mixed bag. Some of the stories are cute, some are more serious. The novelette about setting up a medical school that fills a large part of the compilation is engaging but fails to pull out all the stops and ends up rather flat. The non-fiction is mostly interesting. None of the content is bad but there isn’t really anything that stands out as particularly good either. It’s interesting if you’re into the other books, but cannot be read as a standalone.

Ring of Fire – Eric Flint (Editor)

An anthology of stories set in the Assiti Shards Universe. I would recommend reading 1632 and 1633 before this one. The most interesting thing about the Assiti Shards Universe is it’s shared nature. Flint has only set the most general guidelines, and other authors (both professional and non) are free to develop their story lines as they see fit, even if they affect other story lines in a major way. Flint is thus the editor of an evolving history that he has much less than perfect control over. The interesting part of the experiment is that it very much mirrors real history, which is non linear and chaotic.

1633 – David Weber & Eric Flint

The sequel to 1632, not unexpectedly titled 1633, is just as good as the first novel, if not better. Mr Flint now has the cooperation of David Weber. For the experienced Weber fan, this is discernible in the sometimes slightly long-winded expositions on politics and religion. No matter. The book is very good, especially the last ten chapters. The theme of predestination (or lack of it) is very well developed and thought provoking. The battle scenes are, as one would expect, very well written. The trademark Flint humor is still there, along with, sometimes, a certain gravitas.

1632 – Eric Flint

1632 is the story of how a West Virginia mining town gets transported to Germany in the time of that most horrible of conflicts, The Thirty Years War.

While it may be slightly formulaic and cliché at times, and not at all as sophisticated as S.M. Stirling, the characters are quite likeable and the story is high adventure at its best. It is easy to think that that the twentieth century was the worst when it came to savagery, but the the people of the seventeenth century were just as bad, if not so systematic, about their cruelty. It is hinted in the book that the death of Gustav II Adolf (Gustavus Adolphus for non Swedes) at Lützen eventually led to the creation of modern Germany and thus, the two World Wars. While this may seem a bit farfetched, I find myself by and large agreeing with the thesis. But I digress. 1632 is just plain fun, easily read in a day or two.

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 Crucible of Empire – Eric Flint & K.D. Wentworth

This direct sequel to The Course of Empire takes up the story two years after the events of the previous book. The nascent Terra taif consisting of both Jao and humans finds clues that the Lleix, a race practically exterminated by the Jao during their time as an Ekhat slave race, may have survived, but is in imminent danger from the Ekhat. Terra taif’s newest ship, the gargantuan Lexington, is dispatched to the system in question.

It is a rare sequel that is as good as the original, but Flint and Wentworth have managed to pull it off. The inclusion of the fascinating Lleix and the telling of sections from their point of view is excellently done and brings a necessary new wrinkle to the story. Flint is a master at telling a story from various points of view and really getting into the psychology of various people and races. While, of course, neither the Jao nor the Lleix are truly alien, they are different enough to make the contrasts and interactions interesting, especially when written with a good measure of humor as here. There is even a passage written from the point of view of the Ekhat, as frightening as they are powerful and utterly mad. A real page turner, this.

The Course Of Empire – Eric Flint & K.D. Wentworth

This is truly an undiscovered gem of a novel. Almost discreetly thrown out there, it will unfortunately be missed by many readers thinking it just one more of Baen’s (admittedly mostly excellent) military scifi offerings. It is much much more than that.

The story it draws closely on the history of the English occupation of India. The Jao conquered Earth twenty years ago in their struggle to hold ground against the powerful and enigmatic Ekhat. Since then, Earth has suffered under an abusive Jao viceroy. Humans still do not understand the Jao and their complex society. Most Jao see humans as lesser beings to be used up in the war against the Ekhat. But things change as a new Jao commander of ground forces arrives with fresh ideas. Meanwhile, the Ekhat are closing in and the mysterious Jao faction known as The Bond of Ebezon watches closely, ready to intervene.

The book is a page turner with plenty of action, but I did struggle with the alien Jao in the beginning. They are not written to be easily understandable. Flint and Wentworth have made them complex and truly alien without succumbing to the temptation of explaining their quirks and affectations in human terms. It’s a bit of a hump but well worth conquering. The Jao are fascinating creatures that misunderstand humans as much as humans misunderstand them. Not since Niven & Pournelle’s The Mote in God’s Eye have I encountered aliens that are truly alien and not just humans looking different.

Flint & Wentworth masterfully take the reader from simple beginnings and purposeful confusion to understanding and enlightenment. This journey parallels that of the main protagonists, both Jao and human. Excellent!