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.

In Conquest Born – C.S. Friedman

Certainly impressive for a first novel, In Conquest Born details the struggle between Anzha and Zatar, prime representatives of their endlessly warring nations. The structure of the novel is unusual, as every chapter is somewhat like a short story in itself, often with different narrators, viewpoints and styles. The advantage is that exposition can be made from several angles. The disadvantage is a certain feeling of disjointedness as the device weakens the motivation to find out what happens next.

The narrative is epic with regards to time, space, and character development. The characterization is masterful indeed. Friedman goes on a deep dive into the conflicting cultures of the novel, especially the secretive Braxaná. This is, in fact, more a story of people than of technology. Few scenes have more than two or three characters, and we are treated to a well written exposé of the workings of the mind. It is very far from hard SF. While it could be called Space Opera, I would define it a psychological SF story.

Friedman proves that she can write a very complex novel without leaving the reader hopelessly confused. For that she definitely deserves credit. I enjoyed this odd semi-classic, despite the fact that it was a slog at times. At the end was the reward. The surprise ending made everything clear, tying up the many many tangents.

The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank

As is well known, Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl, hid for years in the back of a house in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation. She later died in a concentration camp. This is her diary. A frightening work in many ways, but also a monument to innocence in a terrifying world. I suppose the historical significance of the work makes it an important read, but frankly I didn’t find it that interesting.

A Call to Arms – Alan Dean Foster

Book one of “The Damned”. A man is kidnapped by aliens, who are shocked to find that humans are so good at war and violence. All alien species are pretty useless at the stuff. Humans, though obviously and abomination and blablabla, will be a useful asset. Written with a great does of humor, but maybe I just didn’t get the joke. Yawn…

The Lost Regiment Series – William R. Forstchen

I have read the first three books in the series:

  • Rally Cry
  • Union Forever
  • Terrible Swift Sword

An American Civil War regiment gets transported to a world where a savage species comes around every few years and collects tribute in the form of human flesh. This series trods a well-worn path of military sci-fi (a prime example is Jerry Pournelle’s Janissaries), Fortschen does decently well. The first book is not bad, but by the time I got to the end of book three, I discovered that the story was not really going anywhere anymore. There is better stuff than this out there.

The Hornblower Series – C.S. Forester

Set during the peak of the Age of Sail in the Napoleonic era, the books detail the exploits of Horatio Hornblower from Midshipman to Admiral. Full of action and adventure, they manage to include shiphandling minutiae without bogging down the story. Page turners for young and old alike. I would recommend starting with Beat to Quarters (AKA The Happy Return) since the earlier books by internal chronology (yet written later) tend to be of a slightly lesser quality.

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower – This short story collection covers the early career of our young hero, from his first onboard ship experience to his two and a half years of captivity in Spain. By the end, Hornblower is promoted to Lieutenant. Even though it is a short story collection, it flows quite nicely and is more of an episodic novel.

 

Lieutenant Hornblower – The still very young Hornblower has to deal with a tyrannous and insane Captain. He then distinguishes himself by helping in the destruction of a Spanish fortress and taking prizes.

 

Hornblower and the ‘Hotspur’ – Although the action is fast and furious, this one is a mite tedious. Hornblower spends a couple of years on blockade duty off the coast of France. This sort of duty was demanding and harsh, but also monotonous and performed in cold, dreary weather for much of the year.

 

Hornblower during the Crisis – The chronologically fourth novel is unfinished due to Forester’s death. Nothing much happens since only the first 100 pages or so are written. Hornblower is about to become a spy. Also included are a two short stories, the latter showing our hero in old age.

 

Hornblower and the ‘Atropos’ – This one is very episodic in a singularly annoying way. Apart from the one ship commanded throughout, there is no single thread to pull the reader along. Disappointing.

 

Beat to Quarters (known as The Happy Return in the UK edition) – The first novel to be written, this one is a masterpiece of plotting and action. Hornblower, in command of the frigate Lydia, heads to the Pacific coast of Central America in order to make life difficult for the Spanish colonies there. He also has his first encounter with Lady Barbara. The sailing and combat action is excellent, but one should not forget the evolution of the relationship with Lady Barbara. In the beginning, Hornblower strongly dislikes her, but in the end he loves her. And we see the process every step of the way.

 

Ship of the Line – Hornblower takes command of the two-decker Sutherland. He carries out five daring raids against the French, but ends up a prisoner after defeat against overwhelming odds. This one ends in a cliffhanger of sorts as our hero is imprisoned in French oppupied Catalonia. Great action, perhaps even better than in Beat to Quarters.

 

Flying Colours – This picks up immediately where Ship of the Line left off. Hornblower is on his way to Paris to be tried for purported war crimes. Napoleon is trying to score some propaganda points. However he manages to escape and makes his way back to England, where he finds a hero’s welcome. This one is quite introspective in some sections, with Hornblower’s cynicism and doubts coming to the fore. He hates himself in certain ways, not daring to realize how much he means to people. He is afraid of failure despite great success. And finally he cynically realizes how the British use him for propaganda as much as the French meant to. At the end of the book, we find Hornblower widowed with a young son. But Lady Barbara is also widowed. Opportunity awaits, perhaps.

Commodore Hornblower – Our hero is now married to Barbara, and in the landed gentry. He is sent on a mission to the Baltic to ensure that the Swedes and the Russians don’t join the war on the side of Napoleon. Action as usual but not a whole lot of character development.

 

Lord Hornblower – The action moves to the English Channel as the Napoleonic era draws to a close and the French mainland can now be invaded (ahem… liberated). The last part is pretty boring as Hornblower, together with his friends from Flying Colours, fights a guerrilla action against the new Napoleonic regime during the “hundred days” following the Emperor’s escape from Elba.

Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies – A short story collection in all but name. While mildly entertaining, Forester is basically treading water here. A disappointing ending after such great novels as Beat to Quarters and Ship of the Line.

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 Serpentwar Saga – Raymond E. Feist

Another epic tale from Feist, but this one falls far short of the mark. The characters are not as interesting as in previous novels, and the story does not feel nearly as epic as the Riftwar Saga. The antagonist is too simple and stylized. Feists style seems to have suffered. Having said that, if you loved Riftwar, you will probably enjoy this series as well. The series consists of:

  • Shadow of a Dark Queen
  • Rise of a Merchant Prince
  • Rage of a Demon King
  • Shards of a Broken Crown

 

 

 

 

 

The Riftwar Saga – Raymond E. Feist

Consisting of:

  • Magician: Apprentice
  • Magician: Master
  • Silverthorn
  • A Darkness at Sethanon

This straightforward fantasy saga is very well plotted and written by Dungeons and Dragons aficionado Feist. I am not much into fantasy, but if you want a truly epic tale with kingdoms, magic and so forth, you won’t go wrong with this.

Prisoner’s Hope – David Feintuch

I had run out of books during a holiday in the Greek islands and had to scurry to a second hand bookstore before I lost my sanity. I had seen the “Hope” books in bookstores before, and hoped (ahem) that the books would be more or less good copies of the Honor Harrington series by David Weber.

I gave up after a hundred and fifty pages or so. The main character is a total bastard, who takes offense at the smallest slight. The author seems to think that military command entails being a despotic father figure. There may have been a story. And don’t get me started on all the religious stuff. Steer clear of this one and go buy the Honor books instead.