Posts tagged ‘book reviews’

Overture, Earth Song Book 1, by Mark Wandrey. A review.

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Overture is the story of the end of the world. A Near Earth Object, previously thought to be in a safe orbit, has mysteriously shifted onto a collision course with our planet, and no one knows why. At the same time, a device has appeared in New York’s Central Park. One of 12 placed by aliens. It may represent an escape, but only for a small fraction of the population, and only if the team studying it can figure out what it is.

In the meantime, the other 11 devices have inflamed tensions around the world. As certain factions come to realize what the device is, a possibility of escape from the devastation of the impact, violence and conflict erupt as they vie for access and control of the portals.

This story introduces us to Mindy Patoy, a disgraced former astronomer, as she tries to decipher the purpose of the device, how it works and where it leads. Further complicating the issue is that this device, like each of the 11 others around the world, will only transport 144 individuals before shutting itself down. She must try to survive, as various different groups try to seize control of the device for their own ends, all before a world killing asteroid destroys all of humanity.

Overture is the first book in a series of four available, with more forthcoming. It is, as far as I can tell, Mark Wandrey’s first published work, and self-published, at that. I went into it with some trepidation. Mark is someone I know and talk to online, and I’m always a bit leery or reviewing someone I know. He didn’t ask me to read it, nor know I was planning on reading or reviewing it. My plan was, in fact, to give it a shot and if it was bad… we would never speak of it again. As far as I was concerned, it would never appear here. At least, not from me.

And yet, here it is.

It’s good. Really good. All of the technical aspects of a good, professional author are there. The dialog is believable. The characters act on believable motivations in believable ways. As to the story itself, it flows very well and I found myself reading deeper and longer, just one more page, one more chapter. This does not appear, to me anyway, to be the effort of an amateur.

As a fan of science fiction, I found the science to be solid, believable, and internally consistent. To me, there is nothing more likely to jar me out of an otherwise good story than just bad science. I have no problem with McGuffins, mind you. You know, those plot devices, like faster than light travel, or laser swords, or portals to other worlds for that matter, that the author asks you to accept when we don’t have the science to back it up. That’s not bad science, it’s just speculative, and that’s OK. Mark has his McGuffin in there, but no bad science.

I will say that it isn’t the absolutely best book I’ve ever read, but as I look over to my bookshelf, I see Tolkien, Pratchett, Herbert, Heinlein and McCaffery, so best book is quite a high hurdle. On the other hand, I honestly think that Wandrey can go on that bookshelf in good company and deserving of inclusion. In fact, I’m going to give the best one-sentence evaluation I think I can give an author or a book in a series.

It’s time to buy the next book.

So I’ve been away. To get back into it, here is a review of Son of the Black Sword, Larry Correia

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I have to admit, I approached this book with some concern. I have greatly enjoyed every book I’ve read by Larry Correia, which is all of them, but all of his books prior to Sonof the Black Sword take place in worlds very much like our own. Monster Hunter International is in our world, but with all of the legendary monsters we grew up fearing. The Grimnoir books are what our 1930s might have looked like, if people started gaining magical gifts in the 1800s. Even the Dead Six books, with Mike Kupari, are our world, if perhaps a small step into our future. All of these worlds are easily understood and relatable. The characters are very much like people we all know, with the same experiences and backgrounds to which we ourselves can relate. So the thought of Larry going into a completely new direction, a fantasy world that he has designed from the ground (or sea) up… Honestly, I was a bit concerned that it might (just maybe) be more than he can handle.

Wow. Was I wrong.

Son of the Black Sword introduces us to Ashok Vadal, Protector of the Law. In a world were all have their assigned place, and demons rise from the seas, the Protectors are given magic and authority to stop the depredations of the demons, and enforce the Law at any cost.

A single Protector could be a match for a riot, an uprising, or even a demon, but even among the Protectors, Ashok is powerful. He is unquestioning in his enforcement of Law and custom, devoted to the mission of the order, and would be considered among the most dangerous even when not bearing a powerful, magical sword.

But what would happen if the most dedicated servant of the Law found that his whole existence was prohibited by the very Law he upheld? What if his life and memories, and even his very dedication to the Law itself was nothing but a lie, a construct forced on him?

Trapped by his own unswerving dedication, Ashok is declared an outlaw and imprisoned, and the Order of the Inquisition forces a sentence on him that causes him to betray the very society that he had defended his whole life. As Ashok is forced to confront his black and white world, he is shocked to discover that not everything is black and white, and not everything within the sway of the Law is just. The consequences of which lead him to a path of rebellion, war and a return of the forbidden gods.

As I said, I was initially concerned about Larry Correia, famous and successful for writing urban fantasy and what he cheerfully refers to as “Pulp”, writing pure fantasy in a world of his own creation. But as I always seem to be after reading one of his books, I was incredibly satisfied with the finished product. He has built as complex and original a world as any in the fantasy market. In all honesty, probably a lot more original than most. He has populated it with believable characters placed into extraordinary circumstances. All of the characters are understandable and sympathetic, even the ones that you are not cheering along. He has written incredibly good action sequences and he’s done it without a single firearm present.

So after all is said and done, if you haven’t picked up on it so far, I highly recommend this book, not just to Correia fans, but to any fan of good fantasy. I couldn’t wait, so I bought the Advanced Reader Copy from the fine folks at Baen.com (I swear, it’s like they deal in crack. I look over my bookshelf, both real and e-copy, and I see an awful lot of Baen logos…) and it’ll cost you $15.00. If you are more patient, and love the real books, the Hardcover version will be released 27 October and currently, they are asking 18.63 on Amazon. They are calling it an Epic new fantasy series, I cannot disagree.

~Shib out…

Monster Hunter International, by Larry Correia. A Review.

They say that a great novel will grab your attention immediately, so let’s look at Monster Hunter International…

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On one otherwise normal Tuesday evening I had the chance to live the American dream. I was able to throw my incompetent jackass of a boss from a fourteenth-story window.

 ~~

You, Sir, have my attention.

Now I know that many if not most of the readers on this page are already familiar with Larry Correia, AKA The International Lord of Hate (pbuh), and the book itself has been out for several years, so this review might not be needed. But hey, there are always new readers. We should be in the business of expanding the base and by Heaven above, business should be good! Besides we should be happy to show new folks from whence we have come so they can experience all the fun and excitement our genre has to offer. Also, and just as importantly, Baen Publishing is offering the first book of the Monster Hunter Universe, Monster Hunter International, as a free e-book. Free. Here.

http://www.baenebooks.com/p-1024-monster-hunter-international.aspx

It comes in many formats, including Rich Text Format which means you can read it in Microsoft Word on your computer. And, as with all Baen e-books, it is DRM free. So not only can you read it, you can also addict your friends! What’s not to like?

Ok, now that every here has absolutely no excuse to NOT have this book, let’s talk about it!

Monster Hunter International, the first of (currently) five books in the Monster Hunter Universe, introduces us to Owen Zastava Pitt, an accountant working in Dallas, and hating his boss. Owen is a big guy, as accountants go, and has a fondness for guns. I know what you are thinking, Larry Correia, a great big former accountant with an inordinate fondness for guns, is writing a story about a great big accountant with an inordinate fondness for guns… We aren’t exactly stretching much, are we? And the term “Mary Sue” comes to mind. You know what, that’s fair. Many journeyman writers often hear from the Pros, “Write what you know,” and perhaps Larry took that to heart. He then proceeded to write a heck of a rip roaring story. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and it’s never, ever boring. If you follow his blog, you know Larry loves what he calls “Pulp” stories, and he loves B grade monster movies. He then proceeds to share that love with the rest of us, and thus, Monster Hunter International is born.

So we’ve met Owen, and now we get to meet his vile boss, Mr. Huffman. From the very first, Owen doesn’t like Mr. Huffman who, from all accounts, is not a good boss. Angry, prone to blaming others for his mistakes, lazy and not real bright, I’m sure none of us have ever had a boss that could fit that description (maybe a little sarcasm, there). However, Mr. Huffman is going through a bit of a life change. You see, a month before, he had been bitten by a werewolf. Now, he plans on eating Owen.

We now begin to learn that all those scary stories, all those things that go bump in the night, are not as make believe as we all would wish. After surviving his encounter with the werewolf and waking up in the hospital, Owen is introduced to two of mankind’s answers to the supernatural world. One is a government agency, the Monster Control Bureau (MCB), tasked with suppressing outbreaks, and also suppressing the knowledge of the monsters from the normal world. The other answer, in true capitalist American fashion, is a representative from Monster Hunter International (MHI), a private contracting company that makes its living killing monsters for the government provided bounty. MCB is there to kill Owen if he has been infected, and to threaten him into silence if not. MHI’s Earl Harbinger is there to recruit him.

After he is released from the hospital, Owen meets again with Harbinger and another representative of MHI, Julie Shackleford. Julie is described as, “…beautiful. In fact she was possibly the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She was tall, with dark black hair, light skin, and big brown eyes. Her face was beautiful, not fake beautiful like a model or an actress, because she was obviously a real person, but rather Helen of Troy, launch-a-thousand-ships kind of good-looking…” (Shib here. In another world, in another life, I think she might be named “Bridget”. Just saying.) Julie is there to help recruit Owen, and give another perspective on the business of monster hunting. As she tries to explain how the government has set up a fund to pay bounties on harmful, unnatural creatures, providing an unusual business opportunity for the right type of people, Harbinger answers Owen’s questions about the various types of creatures that are running around in the world. We’ve already run into werewolves, and we now learn that there are zombies, ghouls and vampires as well. Some of our stories and legends get them right, some do not, but they are out there.  After the meeting, Owen finds cannot return to the world pretending that the werewolf never happened, and agrees to become a Hunter.

Owen joins other recruits at the MHI compound in Calzador, Alabama. Among the recruits are Holly, a stripper captured by vampires, and Trip, a high school teacher whose class had turned into zombies. These two, with Owen, form the core of our developing cast of characters going forward. We are also introduced to the veterans of MHI, Sam Haven, the former seal and now one of their instructors, Milo Anderson, resident gun smith and weapon tech, and Grant Jefferson, another instructor and, much to Owen’s frustration, Julie’s boyfriend. The training is understandably hard, both physically and mentally. Much as in the military, the best place to find out if someone on your team cannot handle the stress of this extremely dangerous job would be during training, as opposed to out in the field.

We also get (and this is quite refreshing for a lot of us) accurate depictions of firearms, their uses and their capabilities. As a veteran, I cannot tell you how frustrating it can be when you see Hollywood turn a small handgun into an AutoCannon of Death and Destruction, with included infinity-clip™! Or when a hand grenade detonates into a 30 foot fireball, or when a normal sidearm knocks a villain head over heels, flying back 10 or 15 feet. You will not get that from Mr. Correia. He is a fire arms expert and an instructor. He knows his equipment, and he doesn’t insult his audience.

As we move past the training, we are introduced to the main conflict of the novel. Master Vampires, along with another, unknown creature, are seeking an artifact of great power, one capable of threatening humanity, and possibly opening access to the Earth to creatures that are beyond imagination. Here we can see Mr. Correia’s familiarity with the world of Lovecraft, the possibility of things so alien that they cannot functionally interact with humanity, whose goals and needs go beyond hate and evil, and are so far outside our reality, that for them to intrude into it, would cause death and destruction on scales that could only be compared to an extinction level event. As MHI tries to get out in front of the vampires and stop their depredations, they are also trying to find out the goals and objectives of this new creature, to stop him from using the artifact and destroying civilization.

Monster Hunter International is a great fun read, and is interesting for many reasons. It is Mr. Correia’s first novel, and sometimes, that shows. Some of the development could be smoother, and some of it is predictable. That said, the action scenes are first rate, and the book is never, ever boring. On top of that, it is a fun, exciting story, not bogged down by trying to shoehorn heavy handed messages about whatever the cause de’jour the author might posses. This is a great example of a book and an author that started out as an experiment in self-publishing that went wildly right. Mr. Correia was so successfully publishing this that Baen offered him a contract to republish it. That turned into a sequal, and then turned into two other series (The Grimnoire Chronicles and Dead Six, with Mike Kupari). Additionally, Mr. Correia has published Iron Kindoms with Skull Island Expeditions.  Mr. Correia is rightly considered a new and rising star in the world of Science Fiction/Fantasy as well as an amazing promoter of other new talent through his frequent Book Bombs on his blog, Monster Hunter Nation (http://monsterhunternation.com/).

So, you know you want to read this, and the price is certainly right (FREE! FREE! FREE!). If you don’t already have the book, you have to ask yourself, “Why the Heck not?” Whatever your reasons, just remember…

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            After reading (and re-reading) this book, I know it isn’t Mr. Correia’s best work, but it is still very, very good. I would give it 4 of 5 stars. I’ve purchased more than one copy, as gifts, and at least once as a replacement when I loaned it to a friend and mysteriously never got it back.

The World(s) that Pratchett Built

I have never spoken to Terry Pratchett, yet I feel he was among my dearest mentors, teachers and friends. Because though I never spoke to him, for over 30 years, he spoke to me.

We often debate the differences between Message Fiction, and Fiction with a Message. The importance of a great story versus the importance of advancing an idea or a value. Can you enjoy a story when the story itself is overwhelmed by the message the author is trying to promote? Is there value in a great story with no message at all? Can a story be great without a message? These are all great debates to have, an import discussion that our community should go through often. But ideally, I think we can all agree that if an author were able, on a regular basis, to embed messages and values into engaging and engrossing stories so well, that at the end, all you could do would be to tell friends, “you have to read this, it may be the best thing I’ve read this year”. And in all that, you’d never even talk about what a great message it was, well, that author would be a Master. Which brings us to Terry Pratchett.

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Most famous for his Discworld books, Pratchett has authored 41 books within that setting. While I would consider any of them appropriate for any reader over the age of 12 in your house, 5 of these books, The Tiffany Aiching series (The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, and I Shall Wear Midnight) and The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents are considered “Young Adult”. Additionally, he has collaborated with Stephan Baxter in The Long Earth series and Neil Gaiman in Good Omens. Finally, he has assorted other works, many related to the Discworld, such as The Discworld Companion, The Diskworld Mapp, and Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook. But enough about his bibliography, let’s delve into the stories of the Discworld.

For a new reader, in might seem a little daunting at first. 41 books, where to start? Do I have to read them all? Will I get bored? There are several ways to approach this challenge and for just about the only time in my life, I am not going to recommend reading them in the order they were published. While it probably wasn’t his original intent, Pratchett’s Discworld books very conveniently break into themed runs or groups. While there are several books, such as The Small Gods, Pyramids, and Moving Pictures that could all be considered stand alone, most of the books can be grouped into the following categories; Rincewind, The Witches, The City Guard, Tiffany Aiching, Moist Von Lipwig, and of course, Death. Since I really don’t like to recreate the wheel, I’ll just point you to a great table, breaking out the order of publishing as well as the groups on the Discworld Wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discworld). For my purposes, I’m going to concentrate on the City Watch.

I think the reason I love the City Watch books so much is that in these books we see most clearly the development and evolution of characters within their universe. Or perhaps, the characters get tested and stressed, until we can see what was at the core all along. Sam Vimes we meet as a drunkard, a man stuck in a job that he knows will probably, eventually, leave him dead in an alley, unmourned. Carrot, a human adopted and raised by dwarves, but in all the ways that matter, a dwarf in his heart. He must learn about human expectations and society as an outsider And of course, Sgt. Colon, who just wants to make it home each morning, and Corporal Nobs, who carries a document attesting that he is, in fact, human.

But Sam Vimes rises. The drunkard is burned away, and what is left is the steel of the Servant of The Law… eventually. From the first book, Guards! Guards!, Vimes chafes at the restrictions forced on him by expectations and the numbing force of the city bureaucracy. He has given up, and retreated into the bottle, but finds that he cannot stay there. When a dragon is unleashed on the city, he comes out and fights to protect what is his. He pushes through on stubbornness and a sheer refusal to be stopped.

All of this is presented in a gloriously funny manner, poking fun along the way at government, bureaucracy, secret societies, dragons and dragon-slayers. As well as any other targets of opportunity that might present themselves along the way. While it is not the first Discworld book, it is a great place to start. Guards! Guards! brings us into a more developed world than Color of Magic (The first Discworld book) and The Light Fantastic (The second), one that has allowed Pratchett to work out his mythologies and rules that govern his fantastic universe. In it, he builds wonderful characters with lives and histories and motivations. Each endearing, and each relatable in their own way. Within the city of Anhk-Morpork, and within the city guard, Pratchett is able to explore, the themes of crime and punishment, racism (or on Discworld, speciesism), the challenges of women in field populated mostly by men, the role of Kings and government, the rule of Law, and military adventurism. And still, with all the messages and points that he wants to talk about, you never feel like the message is the point. Rather, you feel like you’ve read a great story, one that you will return to read again, to share with your children. One that you will tell your friends that they have to read, because it might be the best, funniest, most amazing thing you’ve read all year.

Unfortunately, Pratchett has gone on to meet his maker. He made a wonderful character of Death, so I hope that when the final messenger came to meet him, it was as two friends who have talked many times, going off for a final walk together. I believe that was the attitude that he himself held. After all, this is the man, when knighted, chose to include in his personal Coat of Arm the phrase, “Noli Timere Messorum”. Do Not Fear the Reaper.

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Sir Terry Pratchett

April 28, 1948 – March 12, 2015