River of Bones (Destroyermen XIII) – Taylor Anderson

After taking and holding Madagascar in Deadly Shores (IX) and Straits of Hell (X), and conclusively dealing with Kurokawa in Devil’s Due (XII) the Alliance is preparing to finally land in Africa. It is a race against time, as Grik leader Esshk has been able to breed, train and equip his “Final Swarm” in only a few years, and is planning a breakout along the Zambezi River. If the Final Swarm reaches the ocean and manages to scatter, the rapid breeding of the Grik will eventually create an almost insurmountable numerical advantage. Unfortunately, the Allied invasion force is not quite ready. Russ Chapelle takes the USS Santa Catalina at the head of tiny task force up the river, in order to block passage until reinforcements can arrive. It is a desperate race against time.

On the American Front, the story advances only slightly, as New United States forces prepare to join the fight and the League of Tripoli makes overtures towards the Dominion.

Mr. Anderson continues to focus on one front at a time, which works to the series advantage. Most of this installment is taken up by the events in and around the Zambezi. The battles are real nail-biters, in large part because the author has managed to convey the catastrophic consequences of defeat. Even after driving the Grik back all the way from Balkpan and across a vast ocean, our heroes still find themselves with their back agains the wall.

With the still unresolved Dominion War, and the looming threat of the League of Tripoli, the Destroyermen series doesn’t seem to be moving towards a conclusion any time soon. If the quality remains this high, that can only be a good thing.

 

 

Gunpowder Moon – David Pedreira

In a post-climate disaster future, the superpowers have begun mining the Moon in large scale. Life on the frontier is rough and fraught with danger. However, old rivalries have not disappeared. Disillusioned American mining chief and veteran Dechert is confronted with the mysterious murder of a miner, while the powers that be seem dead set to go to war with the Chinese.

Dechert’s outlook is bleak. He has seen the elephant and exiled himself to the Moon in order to escape the ghosts of his comrades from his military days. But war is coming to the Moon and Dechert cannot escape it. He is a beautifully written protagonist, wavering between abject fatalism at the inevitability of repeating history and self-aware naive idealism about this new frontier being a new beginning for mankind. He is firm on one thing: doing his utmost to protect his people, something which he was unable to do during in the past despite his best efforts.

The novel plays out like a good thriller, showing a small slice of larger events, but it is the personal aspect that really shines.

 

All These Worlds (Bobiverse III) – Dennis Taylor

In the last book of the trilogy, things are coming to a head in the conflict with the Others. At the same time, Bob continues to live in android form among the Deltans, something of a hermit from his own kind.

Mr. Taylor does not lose steam at the end; rather the opposite. This volume brings things to a satisfying conclusion while continuing the thematic exploration of humanity, mortality and the nature of loss. There is also significant discussion on the duty of an individual to society. Is a Bob, or any other individual for that matter, honour bound to serve humanity just because he or she has the ability?

We Are Many (Bobiverse II) – Dennis E. Taylor

By now a well-established presence, the Bobs tackle issues large and small. The human race has all but annihilated itself in Sol system, and the Bobs must help. At the same time, the looming threat of the powerful others must be prepared for. The group continues to grow and diversify, in interesting ways.

The Others are the large, looming threat, but the story really shines in Original Bob’s interaction with the stone age Deltans. Mr. Taylor has hit his stride with the story, as each of the short chapters brings interesting developments. Interactions with humans, which some of the new Bobs have started calling ephemerals, bring challenges and solid exploration of themes. Is immortality something to wish for, or does it just involve “spending immortality doing chores”, to quote one character?

We Are Legion (We Are Bob) (Bobiverse I) – Dennis Taylor

Bob Johansson has just sold his software company and signed up for cryopreservation when he gets run over by a car and is killed. Over a hundred years later, his mind is resurrected in an electronic matrix by the theocratic government of North America. A very volatile cold war is on between the handful of superpowers on Earth. Bob is tasked with crewing a ship which will colonise other star systems. As his departure date approaches, the war heats up, and things start diverging from the plan rapidly.

This novel took me by surprise. It starts in fairly conventional fashion, but some way through the originality of the premise becomes apparent. Bob is not only a cryopreserved human resurrected into an unexpected situation, he is capable of cloning his mind into other “Bobs”. The personality differences and interactions between the Bobs is used to good effect in order to conjure interesting themes of existence, soul and uniqueness. The complex relationship that the Bobs develop with humanity are equally well explored. What does an original intelligence really owe its creators?

The fact that Bob is endowed with a geek’s personality and a dry sense of humour helps the accessibility of the narrative. Good fun.

 

Persepolis Rising (The Expanse VII) – James S.A. Corey

Thirty years after Babylon’s Ashes, Earth has rebuilt, while humanity has spread across the thirteen hundred worlds beyond the gates. Comparative peace prevails. The Outer Planets Alliance has morphed into the Transport Union, which despite its own best efforts at trying not to be political, is effectively a governmental organisation. Led by Camina Drummer, Fred Johnson’s former chief of staff, the Union controls trade from Medina Station in the centre of the gate network. The crew of the Rocinante has spent decades together, carrying cargo, prisoners and messages for the Union.

One day, an old enemy re-emerges from Laconia system, where the renegade elements of the Martian fleet have spent thirty years in isolation, their doings unknown to an otherwise occupied human society. The now immensely powerful Laconians have been preparing for this moment, and they make a grand entrance.

The authors’ choice to move the narrative forward by three decades is jarring at first, but soon shows itself to be inspired. While there are no doubt plenty of stories to tell of the intervening period, having a new and powerful antagonist upset the apple cart is a more engaging story. (Nothing says the authors can’t return to the past in future novels and short stories, either.) This instalment is a real nail-biting page-turner, and one of the best books in an already excellent series. More good things should come along in the next book, as the end of this one leaves many things unresolved.

 

Forged in Blood (Freehold) – Michael Z. Williamson (ed.)

This short story collection set in the Freehold Universe has an interesting twist. It follows the wanderings of a sword from prehistoric times to the far future, as she passes from owner to owner, sometimes by chance, sometimes by design. We also get to visit with Kendra Pacelli of Freehold and Ken Chinran of The Weapon and Rogue, taking up their stories years after the events in the original books. Neat.

The stories, some by Mr. Williamson himself, but by other authors, are all of high quality, with one glaring exception. The connecting device of the sentient sword, fleshed out with brief interludes by Mr. Williamson, works really well in connecting the stories and making the collection feel like whole.

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.

Devil’s Due (Destroyermen XII) – Taylor Anderson

The Destroyermen series continues. This installment focuses on the African front, as the Alliance, with new friends, prepares to assault the Grik heartland. Kurokawa still remains on Zanzibar, however, and must be dealt with.

The scope of the series is becoming worryingly broad, but Mr. Anderson seems to have decided to focus on one war at a time, as it were. This allows the reader to focus on one campaign without constant and jarring flipping back and forth. The series shows no signs of slowing down, with the stakes remaining high and the action tense and exciting. A page turner.

Angeleyes – Michael Z. Williamson

angeleyes-9781476781860_hrAngie Kaneshiro is a Freehold-born high tech vagabond. She crews on commercial vessels trading between the various polities in Williamson’s Freehold Universe. She likes to dance, have sex and see new places. Then the Freehold War breaks out and things turn ugly fast. After barely escaping a major accident on a space habitat, she volunteers with the Freehold covert forces, acting as a guide for a group of elite special forces on covert missions.

Angie’s secret war is terrifying and gut-wrenching. She repeatedly puts her life at risk, is tortured, loses friends and has to kill innocents to protect herself and her team. As the novel progresses, it transforms from the chronicle of a fun-loving, easy going but streetwise woman to a much darker place as Angie sees her grip on sanity crumble away until there is only the mission first, and survival second. This transformation echoes the descent of the war for the Freehold from resistance to an unjustified aggressor to resorting to mass murder in order to survive.

Like The Weapon and Freehold, this book depicts the horrific effects of war on those who fight it without diminishing their heroism and bravery. The personal cost of killing innocents is very high, and in the end it all seems so wasteful.

Side note: There’s a lot of rather graphic sex in this book. In my view, it was not put there to titillate the reader, but because Williamson wanted to show that Freehold society is very matter-of-fact about such things, and more importantly because a female character can love sex without having to be a slut.

5Rosbochs

 

Blood in the Water (Destroyermen XI) – Taylor Anderson

Destroyermen11BloodintheWaterFollowing the taking of “Grik City” in Straits of Hell, the Alliance is attempting to both consolidate its foothold on Madagascar and set up for a strike on the Grik heartland. The powerful League of Tripoli is meddling, howerver. On the other front, the Dominion is refusing engagement, but the Allies may be able to bring a new player in to the war on their s
ide.

Despite the fact that this series is now on its eleventh book, it still moves along nicely. Mr. Anderson had not let it bog down into clean-up operations with obvious outcome, and the challenges facing our heroes are as great as ever. This book, like some of the previous installments, is more about setting the stage for future developments and thus doesn’t contain any decisive action, but for fans of the series will still bring satisfaction.

4Rosbochs

United States of Japan – Peter Tieryas

UnitedStatesofJapanThe setting is Southern California. It is the late 1980s in a world where the Axis won World War II.  The occupied Western United States are now the United States of Japan (USJ), and the occupiers rule with an iron fist despite the appearance of a happy and prosperous nation. The secret police tortures and “disappears” people at the least hint of treason against the Divine Emperor. Beniko Ishimura is an underachieving Captain in the Imperial Forces working as a censor for videogames. Ten years earlier, he took part in quelling a major revolt in San Diego, and now those events are coming back to haunt him.

Oh, and there are giant robots. This is seldom a bad thing.

Even without Mr. Tieryas’s explicit admission in the afterword, it is obvious that this book was heavily influenced and inspired by The Man in the High Castle, down to the dissenting material showing an alternate reality that is in fact that of the reader; one where the Allies won and the world is very different. The world-building is excellent, showing a dystopian USJ that is struggling economically and socially while all criticism of the regime is harshly punished. The cruelty of the torture and death inflicted by both USJ agents and dissidents is graphically described to the point of making the reader squirm, but in this world such things are sadly normal.

The story is somewhat opaque in the first half of the book, but things rapidly clarify towards the end, when flashbacks to the San Diego revolt and events in the present converge. Themes of betrayal, loyalty and forgiveness are strongly emphasized in a strong ending.

3½Rosbochs

Fortune’s Pawn (Paradox I) – Rachel Bach

œF$¿Æ‘$8Òò¤»däå¸R8BIDeviana “Devi” Morris is a native of the planet Paradox, a high-tech feudal society known for its martial obsession. She is a decorated veteran and currently a mercenary, fighting in combat armour. Her career goal is to join the elite “Devastator” military unit; the best of the best. In order to further this goal, she hires on as a guard on a peculiar trading vessel run by an enigmatic captain. Apparently this captain is well connected, and the crew sees more action than seems logical.

Initially, I liked Devi. She makes no secrets about her ambition and goals, even to herself. She is blunt and straightforward to the point of rudeness, but nevertheless loyal and absolutely professional.

However, once the falling-in-love subplot kicks in, everything falls apart. The love interest has secrets (obviously) and this gets Devi into trouble. This could have been interesting, but I mostly found it tedious. It didn’t help that Devi’s behaviour once she fell for Rupert seemed very much at odds with her character as written in the first part of the book.

I get the feeling that Ms. Bach wants the ship and crew to be Firefly a bit too much, but this does not succeed. The dynamic between characters is wooden and most of them are cardboard cutouts. I could never see the logic behind their behaviour. I have a feeling that “all will be revealed” in future installments, but the author could at least have thrown the reader a bone on the overarching story of the trilogy.

One the plus side, the action scenes are a lot of fun.

2½Rosbochs

 

V-S Day – Allen Steele

V-SDayIn this alternate history novel, Nazi Germany is building Silbervogel, Eugen Sänger‘s proposed “antipodal bomber”, in an attempt to firebomb New York during WWII. Learning about the work from spy efforts, a US team led by Robert Goddard builds a counter-weapon, an American suborbital interceptor.

For a fan of the history of astronautics, this novel is a treat. While in reality Nazi Germany focused its rocketry efforts on the A-4 rocket, better known as the V-2 ballistic missile, it is not a big stretch to imagine how efforts could have gone towards Silbervogel instead. Steele mixes real people and fictional events in a very plausible “what if?” of history.

4Rosbochs

 

A Long Time Until Now (Temporal Dispacement #1) – Michael Z. Williamson

TemporalDisplacement1ALongTimeUntilNowWhile in a convoy in Afghanistan, ten soldiers are suddenly transported back in time around 15000 years to the Paleolithic Era. All they have is two vehicles, their weapons and gear. They must survive, ensure their own security and plan for the future. Meanwhile, other groups have been transported back in time, including a tribe from the Neolithic Era and a contingent of Roman soldiers.

As with most books by Michael Z. Williamson, this one is rather longer than other entries in the genre, almost reaching 700 pages. Much of this length is taken up by detailed descriptions of technological things, for example the construction of a forge or a palisade. For anyone interested in technology, it is a fun read. Williamson’s premise of a very small modern unit being stuck with a lack of resources in a hostile environment ensures our heroes cannot just brute force things with more manpower. They must use their skills as force multipliers. It is also interesting that even with all their modern technology, they are often at a disadvantage compared to more primitive peoples when it comes to hunting, forging and primitive construction. These skills are simply lost.

Style-wise, the prose flows easily, and I found this to be a page-turner. However, the shifting strict point of view between characters could be confusing, and it often took me half a page or so before I realized whose eyes I was “seeing” through. A more explicit introduction to each point of view change, ideally with the character’s name as a title, would have made things more clear.

While the story does have a definite conclusion, there are many loose ends. This seems to be the first of a series, and a look forward to any future installments.

4Rosbochs

Straits of Hell (Destroyermen X) – Taylor Anderson

Destroyermen10StraitsofHellBattle is joined on both of the Alliance’s fronts. In South America, Shinya must hold against the full force of the Dominion counterattack. In Madagascar, Reddy is subject to an avalanche of Grik forces in the newly taken “Grik City”. After the leadership issues in Deadly Shores having now been sorted out, what remains is the daunting task of defeating two numerically superior enemies on their respective home soil.

Even after all the successes in previous books, the Alliance is still in dire straits. This may be the tipping point in the war against the Grik, but just as the Grik may be close to breaking, the Alliance is strained to the extreme, with overstretched supply lines and a shortage of personnel. Mr. Anderson conveys the precariousness of both the tactical situations and the overall strategic picture to great effect. Another solid installment in the series.

4Rosbochs

Deadly Shores (Destroyermen IX) – Taylor Anderson

Destroyermen9DeadlyShoresAfter the successful relief of the Pete Alden’s Allied Expeditionary Force in India and the start of offensive operations against the Dominion detailed in Storm Surge, the Alliance uses its current strategic momentum to mount a daring raid against the Grik capital on Madagascar. However, muddled leadership and unclear priorities quickly turn what should have been a raid in force into a potential disaster. On the eastern front, Shinya leads the first confrontation with the “home” forces of the Dominion. As the Alliance continues to grow rapidly, cracks are showing in the leadership, which makes the story all the more interesting.

Mr. Anderson commendably avoids projecting the rest of the series into a big roll-up of the Grik. New and surprising elements are introduced, and for certain our heroes continue to suffer greatly. On a side note, the author always leaves room for chaotic and unexpected events that show the randomness of the world, as well as colourful touches like the little pet lizard-bird Petey. These elements make the world seem as vast as a real one.

While this is firmly an alternate history and war series, the strong elements of adventure fiction truly make it shine.

4½Rosbochs

 

Storm Surge (Destroyermen VIII) – Taylor Anderson

Destroyermen8StormSurgeFollowing almost two books of plot fragmentation and scope expansion, Storm Surge brings things to a head. The Alliance industrial machine has hit its stride, supporting a gargantuan war effort across three continents. Following the near disastrous invasion of India in Iron Gray Sea, the Allies are ready to strike back in force. Abel Cook and Dennis Silva go looking for the native population of Borno. Finally, the eastern front is properly opened with the first landings on the Dominion home soil.

It took almost the entirety of the two previous books in the series to build up to the events in Storm  Surge, but the payoff was well worth it. While the epic battle to finally conquer Eastern India and rescue Pete Alden’s embattled Allied Expeditionary Force dominates the proceedings, several less significant actions also vie for the spotlight, in particular Cook and Silva’s unexpected encounter.

Mr. Anderson skillfully weaves the complex story, keeping the pace up without bogging down in minutiae. He also continues to throw large wrenches in the works, not fearing to kill off key characters or serving up tragic setbacks. Many series have run out of steam after this many installments, but Destroyermen seems set to continue being captivating.

4½Rosbochs

Armada – Ernest Cline

ArmadaZack Lightman is a typical teenager living in a small town in Oregon. He is about to graduate high school. He works part time in a vintage video game shop. He plays the hit space combat game “Armada” quite a bit, with a player ranking of sixth worldwide. He also plays the companion ground combat game Terra Firma, but is nowhere near as good as his friends. The whole world seems to be playing these games. Then one, day, an Earth Defense Alliance shuttle looking just like in the games turns up at Zack’s school to pick him up for duty. Apparently the alien invaders are real and the games are a training simulation.

Like in his debut novel Ready Player One, Mr. Cline plays heavily on nostalgia and homages to the pop culture of the eighties. The story itself is heavily influenced by The Last Starfighter, which is also is referenced in the text. However in this novel the element feels somewhat forced.

The book is a fun romp and a lighthearted read. However it feels rushed and unfinished. The reader is left with the impression that there is so much left to say about these characters, but the story moves on rails, far too rapidly tracking towards what is a predictable conclusion despite the too obvious twist.

3½Rosbochs

 

Iron Gray Sea (Destroyermen VII) – Taylor Anderson

Destroyermen7IronGraySeaThe Allied First Fleet attacks Grik-held India, while Captain Reddy and Walker go after a powerful Japanese warship.

Certainly the action in India is riveting stuff, but most of the novel felt more like a setup for future installments. Still a fun read but no grand events. The addition of a new player at the very end will hopefully throw a new wrench in the works. Tipping things off balance just when they seem to be working out is something that Mr. Anderson continues to do well in the series.

4Rosbochs

Firestorm (Destroyermen VI) – Taylor Anderson

Destroyermen6FirestormThe main story threads continue to multiply. Silva, Princess Becky and Sandra Tucker are shipwrecked and presumed lost. The invasion of Ceylon begins. The invasion of the British Empire held Hawaiian isles by the Dominion is in full swing. On the home front in Baalkpaan, the industrial buildup is really hitting its stride.

The pacing could well have suffered due to the more fragmented story, but Mr. Anderson makes it work. The actions on Ceylon and New Ireland especially are well written. Our heroes also suffer some major setbacks that feel like gut-punches. This is especially gratifying as the a common trap in these series is for things to become just a long but unsurprising slog to victory when the tide seems to be turning. It was nice to get more of secondary characters, especially Silva. They certainly add color.

Mr. Anderson has also finally dispensed with the embedded summary of previous installments. This was weighing heavily on the first few chapters in the last few books and I was glad to see it replaced with brief sections designed to jog the memory of returning readers.

4Rosbochs

Rising Tides (Destroyermen V) – Taylor Anderson

Destroyermen5RisingTidesThe slower pace of Distant Thunders continues in the first half of Rising Tides. The story itself is divided between the Allied mission to the Empire of New Britain, salvage efforts on the S-19 submarine and a cargo ship full of fighter planes, the Allied offensive against Rangoon, and finally the adventures of the castaway Silva, Princess Rebecca and Sandra Tucker. This makes for a somewhat scattered narrative. However the action soon picks up in the second half with a harrowing climax in the heart of the Empire.

The scope of the overall story arc continues to expand and I was somewhat worried that the whole thing would become too large to retain the focus and excitement of earlier installments. However Mr. Anderson returns as soon as he can to the tight pacing of books one through three. The opening of a second front will also likely keep the story from devolving into a long mop-up ahead of the final victory.

4Rosbochs