Vorpal Blade (Looking Glass II) – John Ringo & Travis S. Taylor

The sequel to Into the Looking Glass takes up the story more than ten years later. The US is launching its first starship, based on a nuclear submarine and and alien propulsion system. The novel follows the mission. It is an escalation of encounters from very mild to extremely deadly, with quantum physics sprinkled throughout.

Unlike Into the Looking Glass, which I was somewhat disappointed with, I thoroughly enjoyed Vorpal Blade. It is a fun romp with the right doses of humor and action. The characters are engaging, fun and well-written. You really get a sense of being with them on the starship. Fun!

Into the Looking Glass (Looking Glass I) – John Ringo

An experiment gone wrong opens a gate to another dimension. Pretty soon more gates start to open. Mayhem ensues as evil demonspawn aliens pour through some of the gates and try to colonize by exterminating those pesky humans. Hot shot physicist, renaissance man and generally cool guy Bill Weaver teams up with some Navy Seals to figure things out and contain the threat.

As can be expected with Ringo, there’s a lot of action, all of it good and exciting. However, the books does get bogged down in the physics of it all. The writer has painted himself into a corner here. The gates and their function are pretty pivotal to the story, but the explanations required for that angle are yawn inducing, getting in the way of the action. Note that quantum physics actually interests me but that is not why I read the book. Still, if you enjoy Ringo, don’t let that stand in your way. Plenty of kick-ass action as well as a not so veiled ringing endorsement of Bush and his administration.

A Deeper Blue (Paladin of Shadows V) – John Ringo

Book five sees the usual gang take on smugglers and terrorists trying to bring off a nerve gas attack in Florida. But there’s a twist. Events in Unto the Breach have left Mike in deep depression. As he works on that, he isn’t afraid to step on toes in order to get things done.

This one is quite a ride, and my vague familiarity of the territory (the Keys, mainland Florida and the Bahamas) made it all flow smoothly. The culture shock between “by the book” US law officialdow and “get it done” Keldara is played for lots of laughs. Reading between the lines, though, there is an astute critique of current US anti terrorism efforts and the debate surrounding them.

Unto the Breach (Paladin of Shadows IV) – John Ringo

The fourth book of the series has Mike and the Mountain Tigers has them recovering a WMD from nearby Chechnya.

This is arguably the best in the series. It starts a bit slow, but the last 150 pages or so are one long battle with more excitement and fast moving twists than you can shake a Keldara axe at. At the end, some secrets are revealed. And Mike is broken psychologically. Very nice.

Choosers of the Slain (Paladin of Shadows III) – John Ringo

In the third book of the series, things really start to heat up. Ringo takes us on a scenic tour of the white slavery movement in Eastern Europe as a senator “hires” Mike and his Mountain Tigers retainers to find a girl caught up in prostitution and slavery. The subject matter is quite awful but such is reality.

Ringo is really hitting his stride here with great action scenes and development of the characters. This book also inserts some interesting interactions with senior officials of various states. As with the earlier books, I couldn’t put it down.

3½Rosbochs

Kildar (Paladin of Shadows II) – John Ringo

Mike from Ghost is back. While driving through Georgia (the country not the state), our hero is snowed in while in a remote mountain valley. On a whim, he buys the local caravanserai, which also comes with a large farm and most of the valley. He thus inherits the local retainers, a group known as the Keldara. These brew the best beer he has ever tasted, and (of course) turn out to be an ancient warrior tribe. He proceeds to set up a militia to combat Chechen incursions. He is also saddled with a harem of rescued former sex slaves. Storywise, this is more of a set-up book for further novels than anything else.

While Ringo could have continued to write episodic novels about covert operations ad infinitum, he wisely decided to take the character somewhere completely different, both literally and figuratively. Having established that  Ghost is a filthy rich badass former SEAL who likes rough sex and killing bad guys, Ringo decided to make him every man’s wet dream.

It all beggars belief more than a little, but Ringo is unapologetic. There’s also a strong underlying message of the American Way being superior, especially compared to “ragheads from central Asia”. Ringo has written a modern equivalent of John Norman’s Gor Books. There is even a reference in the book. I enjoyed reading it and, like the first, it is a real page turner. It won’t win any literary awards, but that is hardly the objective. Ringo knows exactly which buttons to press with the average male. Sometimes it borders on the insultingly blatant, but that’s fine. This book is actually a guilty pleasure of mine, and I often re-read it when I have nothing else to read. It always entertains.

4½Rosbochs

Ghost (Paladin of Shadows I) – John Ringo

Our hero, Mike Harmon AKA “Ghost”, is an ex-SEAL trying to get by. Through somewhat random circumstances, he ends up foiling a terrorist plot to kidnap and torture American college girls. Now rich with reward money, he moves to the Keys. And ends up foiling a plot to place a nuke on American soil. After that, he ends up in Russia, where he… You get the picture. The book is episodic, with three quite distinct parts. Constant are the visceral, brutal, violent action scenes as well as the explicit and kinky sex.

I came in expecting special forces action. And yes, there is a lot of that. Quite good too. What I didn’t expect was all the erotica. Which is also good if you’re into that sort of thing.

A fun read, but not for the liberal. The hero’s views are quite, ahem, “Republican” when it comes to terrorism and how to deal with it. There is in fact, and somewhat unexpectedly, quite a bit of deep thought between the lines.

East of the Sun, West of the Moon (Council Wars IV) – John Ringo

Book four is about a showdown of sorts, as both sides jockey for control of a ship full of fuel coming in from the outer solar system. The fuel is destined for the reactors powering the council’s interests. As usual, Herzer is in the thick of it. And oh yeah, there are orcs in space, but nothing much is really made of that.

This may be the last book, but the conclusion isn’t unambiguous. The story is rather simplistic. While Ringo is always entertaining, the epic dimension is missing. If you liked the first three books, you’ll enjoy this, but I still felt that it was a bit phoned in.

Against the Tide (Council Wars III) – John Ringo

Book three in the series is a dramatic improvement from the disappointing Emerald Sea. Ringo takes us back to the main action of the war, where a battle for control of the Atlantic (ahem, “Atlantis”) is brewing. The UFS Navy is in terrible shape, so the Queen sends Edmund (with Herzer in tow) to take over and sort it out before New Destiny tries to invade.

Good, clean fun in other words. Plenty of action, laughs and horrible puns. For example the SEAL team is made up of humans changed into seal-form. If you enjoyed There Will be Dragons, you will enjoy this.

Emerald Sea (Council Wars II) – John Ringo

The sequel to There Will be Dragons has a big disconnect from the earlier novel, as the setting changes and the storyline moves forward a few years between the books. It seems Mr Ringo had an idea about underwater action and aircraft (ahem, dragon) carriers and went with it. It’s all good fun for a fast read, but hardly what I would call profound. If you like the other Ringo novels, you’ll probably enjoy this one. Dark humor, cool action scenes and likeable characters.

The short story at the end, “In A Time of Darkness”, is about one of adversary Paul Bowman’s concubines. While it has a part in the macrostory it mostly serves as filler.

There Will Be Dragons (Council Wars I) – John Ringo

This is the first volume in Ringo’s vision of a fallen utopia. Mankind is free of want and ill-timed death. People can do what they wish with their long lives. But there is trouble in paradise. The council that rules the “Net”, the information system that provides for mankind, has fallen out in factional disputes that lead to war. Mother, a watchdog AI, does not interfere very much after the fall, but certain restrictions apply. For example, the amount of explosive force that can be applied is limited, making firearms well nigh impossible, as well as high energy industry. Society is back at a very early industrial level. The struggle in the beginning is just survival. but the war is far from over…

Great fun and entertainment in Ringo’s trademark style.

The Hot Gate – John Ringo

The third book in the Troy Rising series picks up where Citadel left off. Dana Parker is transferred to the new Thermopylae station in order to stiffen up a screwed up squadron of Myrmidon assault shuttles mostly staffed by Latin American personnel. To say there is a culture clash is an understatement. Later, of course, the fecal matter hits the rotary air impeller in a big way as the Rangora decide it is time to deal with those pesky Terrans once and for all.

The cultural issues between Anglos and South Americans are dealt with humorously but with very serious undertones. Mr. Ringo has obviously spent a lot of time thinking about this. While it would be easy to think that he is just an American bashing what he perceives as an inferior culture, he is undeniable right about many aspects. For example the contrast between “honor” and “duty”, as well as the problems with a class society.

The way in which things go seriously pear-shaped at the end is vintage Ringo. Massive action. Massive losses. Heroics with that little bit of Ringo humor that just makes it so readable.

Engineer’s Mate Second Class Dana Parker (hang on, you say, wasn’t she a Coxswain’s Mate in the previous book?) is a perfect protagonist for this kind of book. A true hero.

This may be my favorite Ringo ever. The only niggling criticism is the lack of a dramatis personae. This is not much of a problem in the beginning, but lots of characters are suddenly introduced during the final action, leaving me occasionally confused as to who was who.

The Posleen War Series – John Ringo

Alien invasion stories have been done before, but to my knowledge never quite with this much desperation, lack of hope, or heroism on the part of the defenders. This is rich military SF with a keen eye for the strategic dimension and human psychology as well as kick-ass fun. The “original” series consists of the following.

  • A Hymn Before Battle
  • Gust Front
  • When the Devil Dances
  • Hell’s Faire

The first novel is a sort of “eve of the war” story. I was put off by the cover for quite a while but eventually decided to give it a shot. Good thing too. Aliens have contacted Earth and told them of an ongoing war, and that the Posleen, a very powerful race with a behavior like a cannibalistic Mongol horde, is only five years out from Earth. The Galactics will help, if humans help them fight. The other races are pacifistic in the extreme. There is action (of course) in the form of skirmishes and the defence of an allied planet, and we are introduced to Mike O’Neal, later leader of an elite Armed Combat Suit unit and the main hero of the story.

The second novel covers the assault on Earth. As before, Ringo has a knack for describing the political and strategic dimensions, and is not afraid of throwing disastrous screwups, unexpected developments and plain old bad luck into the mix. The United States is hunkering down, but the question is: Will the line hold for the defenders to marshal their forces?

The third novel of the series is a middle book to bridge the gap between the first Posleen assault on Earth (covered in “Gust Front”) and the climactic conclusion to the war (covered in “Hell’s Faire”). Characters are developed and the stage is set for a whopping showdown. The action scenes are great, as in all Ringo’s work, and the humor just keeps getting better. It’s quite ironic that a story about alien invasion and massive destruction, suffering and pain can make me laugh out loud so much. Ringo is good at capturing the inner essence of characters. This three-dimensionality is welcome, and few authors pull it off so well. He is also very good at developing his characters as they go through events in their lives. Masterful.

The fourth novel picks up exactly where When the Devil Dances left off. In the afterword, Ringo says that the last two should only have been one, but 9/11 gave him serious writer’s block and plans had to change. He even suggests gluing them together. The conclusion is very exciting and satisfying. While many loose ends are tied up, other fundamental questions about the various aliens, which were only hinted at in the earlier books, are now dredged up and given new focus. Why didn’t the Galactics warn Earth earlier? Why did they give intelligence to the Posleen? To answer these questions the Universe is already much expanded, with several more novels written solo and in collaboration.

Citadel – John Ringo

The sequel to Live Free or Die continues more or less where the previous book leaves off. Much of it deals with the continuing construction of the Troy battlestation and its first consort. As is typical with Ringo second books in series, the “three stories combined” model of the first book is abandoned and new main characters are introduced, in this case a Navy assault shuttle pilot and a civilian “space welder”. This being Ringo, there is no shortage of battle scenes in the last third of the book.

Even more than usual, Mr. Ringo has managed to produce a real page-turner. The logistics of designing and constructing the defenses of The Solar System are great reading since it is all interspersed with trademark Ringo humor, well written characters, fun character interactions and lots of just plain cool stuff. I don’t know where the guy gets his ideas but he certainly has never been timid. Arthur C. Clarke, a master of massively huge stuff, would have been humbled. While I mostly “got it”, a schematic or two would have been nice, namely the Troy and a Myrmidon shuttle. Also, while I am up on quite a few military acronyms, a list or at least a spelled out version the first time one is mentioned would have been nice. All in all, another page turner from Ringo. Can’t wait for the next book, “The Hot Gate”.

Yellow Eyes – Tom Kratman & John Ringo

Even more Ringo! For some reason I had been avoiding this Posleen series side story. That came back to bite me as I launched into the follow-up Hedren series and some of the characters popped up.

The story is set before and during the Posleen invasion of Earth, but deals specifically with events in Panama. Realizing that the Panama Canal is strategically important, the US sends military and material aid to bolster the defenses, including three warships. Through a complex series of events, one of the ships, the USS Des Moines, gains sentience. The story follows the defense of Panama, both from the perspective of the Posleen-Human conflict, and from the perspective of the struggle between corrupt officials and honorable ones. The Darhel, overlords of the Galactic Federation, want the humans to win, but only just, so that human civilization is shattered and cannot be a threat to them.

The Panama aspects are very interesting, and it shows that both authors have been posted there during their military careers. The story itself is quite good, with predictably excellent battle scenes. It is a worthy addition to the Posleen series, but should probably not be read as a standalone.

Live Free or Die – John Ringo

More Ringo? Why yes. You can never have enough Ringo. Live Free or Die is the start of a new series (that man is a total workaholic) called “Troy Rising“. Aliens pop up, drop a stargate (well, it is) in space, and leave. A while later, another race pops up and demands tribute in the form of most of Earth’s more valuable metals. Humanity has no choice but to comply. Through a combination of luck and deviousness, Tyler Vernon, an IT guy reduced to doing odd jobs, manages to find something that another race of aliens actually wants to buy. In the process he becomes the richest man in the world. And so starts humanity’s long road towards independence.

Like several other of Ringo’s first novels in a series, this one has three “episodes”. I don’t know why he does this but it works. What I particularly like about this novel is how humanity is thrown in at the deep end of a very deep pool without the least knowledge of how to swim. The Horvath, basically the local bullies, come in and just say “give”. It is a refreshing change from the many first contact scenarios where human technology is more or less equal to that of the aliens.

As usual with Ringo, this is an intelligent page turner with lots of cool action. The only part that became slightly confusing was the whole “many mirrors” bit. Would a schematic or two have killed you, Mr. Ringo?

The next book in the series is Citadel.

The Last Centurion – John Ringo

This near future novel starts with a major plague that wipes out over half the planet’s population. Then there’s global cooling as the Earth enters a mini ice age. Our hero Bandit Six, who tells the story from a first person perspective, is a US Army Captain with a farming background. He becomes stuck in Iran (invaded by the US before the story started) with one company of infantry guarding an enormous amount of supplies left behind as US forces pull out. Meanwhile, the US is crumbling due to the global disasters and inept political leadership. Bandit Six has to pull of a heroic extraction of his men to get back to civilization, but he becomes more than that. A symbol of hope in a “time of suckage”.

Right up front, I should tell you that this novel is right-wing, very pro-America, racist (but only if you misinterpret it), anti-liberal, pro-military and littered with the f-word. Bandit Six tells the story in the first person, using a blog style tone. In your face doesn’t even begin to cover it. Bandit Six is old school conservative (not the same as “modern Republican”). He truly believes in good old Americans and good old American know how and perseverance. He believes that people should be treated like adults and not be coddled. Liberals, the press and  “tofu-eaters” (organic food eaters who don’t want to know where their food comes from) are roundly criticized for being short sighted and just plain stupid. Now, I may not be as right wing as Bandit Six, but I have a hard time disagreeing with most of what he says. His theses are well argued. He is right about a lot of things. Ringo does his usual great job of using dry humor to tell a story. And it is a very good story. Gripping, exciting, humorous despite the enormous tragedy and suffering suffusing it. The Centurion metaphor, setting America as the new Rome, a beacon of civilization in a barbarian world, with the military defending it, is well done. Even if you don’t agree with the book’s views, do read it. The salient points are better argued than what you will hear on the conservative news or by conservative politicians. That alone makes it worth it.

Much of the story is based on Xenophon’s account of the “Ten Thousand” and their march back to Greece in 401-399 BC.

Eye of the Storm – John Ringo

After having spent quite some time on side stories, the “Legacy of the Aldenata/Posleen” universe finally gets back to the central core of the story, if you will. Peace is at hand, but there is trouble as the Darhel keep trying to screw humanity over in a sort of grand plan for their own domination of all races. Pretty soon, all that falls by the wayside as a new threat is looming. The Darhel now have to come to terms with the fact they need those pesky humans. However, unlike during the Posleen War, humanity is well aware of what is going on, and can dictate terms. Mike O’Neal is brought back from disgrace (he was framed) to lead.

One thing I loved about this novel was how many of the main protagonists from both the central Posleen War stories and the side stories were brought together. It was like a Greatest Hits album with only cool songs. The reunion of Cally and Mike O’Neal, with the latter being unaware that his daughter was even alive, was entertaining as hell. And any excuse to bring back the SS troops from “Watch on the Rhine” is a good one. Like the early books in the Posleen War series, this one focuses on preparation, leaving a cliffhanger as the main action finally begin. Looking forward to future installments.