That was Now, This is Then (Temporal Displacement II) – Michael Z. Williamson

In the sequel to A Long Time Until Now, a new displacement occurs, with a neolithic youth appearing in modern day Afghanistan. The same team as before is contacted for a new mission, but not all are keen to go. A pair of scientists are added, much to the dismay of the future humans, who would rather not see too much technology transfer as this could lead to timeline disruption.

The characters are well fleshed out, and there author uses the setting to delve into issues of post-traumatic stress, separation, obligations of marriage, and other things common in deployments. The conflict in the book is not about an external enemy, but rather about the challenges faced by individuals. Much of the book has to do with the strictures and traditions of organisations, and it helps that Mr. Williamson can make discussions on logistics and camp setup interesting reading.

Spectre Rising (Spectre I) – C.W. Lemoine

F-16 pilot Cal “Spectre” Martin was ousted out of the Air Force after a friendly fire incident in Iraq. He now works in southern Florida at a gun shop. His fiancé, also a fighter pilot, has just broken up with him when she disappears during a training mission. Specter determines to find the truth, which turns out to involve more than one foreign intelligence agency.

The story, while occasionally somewhat contrived, is engaging, especially if you are into aviation. The flying parts in particular are well written, obviously accurate but still accessible as the author, a former fighter pilot himself, does not delve too deeply into the arcana of the profession. The characters are rather two dimensional but serviceable.

Grunt – The Curious Science of Humans at War – Mary Roach

Exploring such varied subjects as developing crash test dummies for IED simulation, stomach upsets in a war zone, sleep deprivation, and submarine rescue, this is a fascinating and oftentimes hilarious book.

Ms. Roach’s signature dry humour is very much on display as she asks pointed questions that unravel the ostensibly serious subject matter. Interesting whether the reader is into military science or not.

The Great Santini – Pat Conroy

Marine Lieutenant Colonel “Bull” Meecham, AKA The Great Santini, is a stereotypical Marine and fighter pilot. Loud, brash, driven to excel, and with a gigantic ego. On the family side, however, he is a bullying parent who tries to handle his kids like raw recruits. He teases and cajoles them constantly; sometimes he beats them. His Southern wife keeps up appearances. As the family moves to the town or Ravenel, South Carolina, tensions brew after Meecham has been away on assignment for a year.

While it is a somewhat interesting exploration into extreme family dynamics in the shadow of a truly gigantic ego, I could not bring myself to finish more than about a third of the novel. Not much really happens and I had little empathy for even the bullied protagonists. Mr. Conroy revels in admittedly lovely, but long, descriptions of family life and life in the South. His characters are deep and rich. And yet, this one failed to maintain my interest.

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.

Tide of Battle – Michael Z. Williamson

Short story and essay collection. The fiction runs the gamut from entries in the author’s Freehold Universe, to Victorian fantasy, and a rather interesting novella set in an alternate Bronze Age, pitting sentient humanoid felines against mind-controlling dinosaur-like reptiles. The essays contain some amusing musings on rifle technology, as well as very inappropriate, and often hilarious, cocktail recipes.

While I don’t always agree with Mr. Williamson’s political views, even in his fiction, he offers insightful political and social commentary with a great deal of thought and research behind it. There is a short passage about how his views have developed in the two decades since he published Freehold. This passage provides tantalising glimpse of an interesting mind which does not deny the impact of new data.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, Cheating Death, and Hollywood Glory as One of America’s Best Fighter Jocks – Dave “Bio” Baranek

TopgunDaysDave Baranek joined the US Navy in the early eighties, becoming a RIO (Radar Intercept Officer) on the mighty F-14 Tomcat air superiority fighter. This is his account of his days on deployment and as a Navy Fighter Weapons School (Topgun) instructor. He was involved in the making of the famous film as a technical consultant, providing assistance with dialogue and during filming of the air combat scenes.

For anyone even vaguely interested in aviation, this should be an interesting read. For me, the details of radar intercepts, flying off a carrier, and how Topgun operated back then were pure gold. I was fifteen when Top Gun came out and it made a huge impression on me, helping to stoke a budding love of aviation that hasn’t abated three decades later. Mr. Baranek explains things clearly for the layman, but knowing something about aviation helps with visualizing the flying described.

Mr. Baranek made a conscious choice not to describe his personal life in order to focus on the professional life of a Navy flyer. Unfortunately this makes the book a bit dry. Some more “out of uniform” stuff, for example details about how Mr. Baranek grew up and how he came to be so interested in flying, would have helped flesh out the book and the person.

4Rosbochs