The First Casualty (Society of Humanity I) – Mike Moscoe

The Society of Humanity, more or less representing the “core” worlds, is at was with the “rim” worlds, where political power is wielded by a ruthless dictator. We follow protagonists from both sides of the conflict.

While it has some interesting battle scenes and good characterization, the plot is scattered and weak. As in the early Longknife books, I was left reeling by a rich backstory which wasn’t adequately fleshed out. I had to pay real attention to seemingly throwaway comments from minor characters to fill in the social and political background. The book did serve as a decent introduction to the next two installments, introducing the main players.

Note: Mike Moscoe is more well known under the pen name Mike Shepherd. The Society of Humanity series is set in the same universe as the Kris Longknife books, but several decades earlier.


Mike Moscoe is more well known writing as Mike Shepherd. The Society of Humanity series is set several decades before the Kris Longknife books.

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.

Kris Longknife – Redoubtable (Kris Longknife VIII) – Mike Shepherd

In this, the 8th book of the series, Kris Longknife is still aboard the scoutship Wasp, now in command of a squadron of scoutships with a vague exploratory and anti-pirating mission “beyond the rim”. They come across a planet taken over by thugs, then move on to more serious problems.

While it does move the macrostory of Kris, Vicky and the Iteechee connection forward ever so slightly, this book doesn’t really have much more than some half-decent action stories. Still fun if, like me, you are by now into Kris Longknife, but not unforgettable by any means.

Note: Shepherd has previously written about our heroine’s great-grandfather Raymond under his real name, Mike Moscoe.

 

Nightfall – Isaac Asimov & Robert Silverberg

An expansion of an earlier story with the same name by Asimov. Very interesting novel about a planet with six suns. This astronomical oddity results in a world that (almost) never knows night, and has never seen the stars. Astronomy is all about calculating the orbits of the suns. An astronomer figures out that night is going to fall soon, for the first time in 2049 years. Chaos and madness follow.

The Ugly Little Boy – Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg

An expansion of an earlier story by Asimov in which scientists retrieve a Neanderthal child from the past. A nurse feels empathy for the boy and helps him escape. Competently written, but mostly interesting due to the questions it raises about scientific ethics. Published as “Child of Time” in the UK.

The Draka Series – S.M. Stirling

The series consists of four novels, though the first three are now published in one omnibus entitled The Domination.

  • Marching through Georgia
  • Under the Yoke
  • The Stone Dogs
  • Drakon

The series can really shake you up. It is set in an alternate history in which the Crown Colony of the Cape (what later became modern day South Africa) becomes a powerful nation. This “Domination of the Draka” is utterly elitist and wishes to subjugate all other races to the white master race. It is also fiercely expansionist. At the time of our own timeline’s Second World War, the Domination drives a wedge between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany by invading through the Caucasus. The Domination then proceeds to conquer all of Europe and Asia (except for India), adding these territories to its African holdings. These events are detailed in the first book. The second book is about a spy expedition into Draka territory by the “Alliance for Freedom”, basically what is left of the free world (America and India). It is not quite as good as the rest of the series, and on rereading I have skipped over it completely as it is not essential to the story. The third book is about the final showdown between the two powers. The Alliance is more powerful in technology and the physical sciences, while the Domination, mostly thanks to a scruple free approach to human experiments (they’re just serfs, after all) is very advanced in genetics and bioengineering. The Draka win the war, and the “free” humans mount a last-ditch escape for a precious few to a nearby solar system.

Drakon is a change of pace. In a Draka future, the master race experiments with portals into alternate timelines. A Draka (daughter of the protagonists from The Stone Dogs) is stranded in one of these timelines (our own) and attempts to subjugate it to her will. This novel is much smaller in scope than the other three, but it remains a great read.

The scary thing about the Draka books is that you can easily find yourself rooting for “the bad guys”. These aren’t Hitler’s Nazis. The Draka want an ordered society and a life which does not use up the Earth’s resources without replenishing them. They do not see their use of “serfs” as immoral and they are not given to pettiness. Only ruthlessness. So apart from spinning a great yarn, Stirling is trying to tell us that many would choose the Draka way of life if they had the chance (well, the chance to be Draka). The Draka create an earthly paradise after their victory, and the average standard of living and intelligence of ALL men, including serfs, actually improves after the Draka victory. The series is controversial in this manner and really makes you think about some big issues. It is also a great military science fiction read.

Contact – Carl Sagan

This novel is the story of a radio astronomer who manages to detect a signal from space, and what happens after. The scope is large, but Sagan keeps it going smoothly forward to the incredible conclusion. The discussion of science versus religion is well done, and lacks the bitter antagonism which could easily have creeped in. Fills you with a sense of wonder like few other books, and while it makes you feel small in the Universe, it nevertheless manages to convey a message of hope and love.

I also loved the movie. It was faithful to the spirit of the book, but given the time constraints it did not delve into the interesting details of the book. Also, it glosses over the important and very engrossing religion vs. technology discussion.

One of my favorite novels.

Cosmos – Carl Sagan

This book explains… “everything”. In his great style, using “small words”, Sagan takes us on a wondrous journey through creation. Even if you are not interested in cosmology or physics, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

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.

Threshold (Boundary II) – Eric Flint & Ryk E. Spoor

Our friends from Boundary are back in a pretty direct sequel to the first book. The race is on to find more Bemmie bases. The Ares Project, despite having managed to get a foothold on Mars, is strapped for cash and resources. With some clever maneuvering they manage to get both, and set off towards first Ceres, then Enceladus.

The first book was nicely crafted, with excellent character development. This second one feels much more forced, especially the first half. I really enjoyed going back and seeing what the gang was doing after the previous story ended, but was a bit disappointed at the lack of a strong story. This series will never be “heavy” but it needed a bit more than this effort. That being said, it harkens back to adventure science fiction from an earlier time, before all the dark and broody bits that are so in vogue nowadays. And so I still liked this book more than it perhaps deserves. The ending wasn’t quite a cliffhanger but certainly lacked resolution, leaving the door wide open for a sequel. Yes please.

Agent to the Stars – John Scalzi

A Hollywood agent (for actors that is) acquires a new client: an alien blob named Joshua. It seems the aliens want to contact humans, but their appearance (read:image) is not the greatest.

Scalzi’s debut novel shows off his trademark humor. Great dialogue, funny situations, interesting characters. It does bog down a bit by the end, but unfortunately that is also a Scalzi trademark. Well worth a read. This book is funny!

The Five Fists of Science – Matt Fraction & Steven Sanders

This graphic novel sees Mark Twain join forces with Nikola Tesla and Bertha von Suttner, using technology to bring about peace. The antagonists are J.P. Morgan, in this book a demon-worshipping wizard by night, Thomas Alva Edison and Guglielmo Marconi.

This is a fun little piece. A bit too short perhaps, but not atypically so for the genre. I did find the art, while gorgeous, a bit too dark and often hard to decipher. The action scenese in particular were somewhat confusing.