Friday, June 15, 2018

Brent Weeks's The Broken Eye

When I first sat down to write this review, I was trying to decide whether Brent Weeks was a totally freaking awesome author or just a big, evil meaniehead who got his kicks from torturing his sweet, innocent readers. Then I realized that the two are not mutually exclusive. It's obviously both. I shall, for the nonce, embrace the power of “and.” Then again, we must enjoy it. How else would this guy have sold elebenty bajillion books?

So, yes, I'm behind but I finally got around to reading The Broken Eye and it was freaking epic. Weeks has a way of bringing the mighty low and promoting the weak to power. It's hard to follow sometimes but it's on full display here. The all powerful Prism, with his powers taken from him, is now a galley slave. The son of a drug addicted prostitute is elevated to one of the highest posts in all the Seven Satrapies. I mean seriously, keep a scorecard. Or better yet don't because Weeks has provided one for us in the back of the book. It's like one hundred pages long. But it's cool because a story this huge needs a big cast.

One of the great things about The Broken Eye is how the characters remain themselves throughout everything. Gavin Guile, fallen Prism, now plots to get home instead of to rule the Seven Satrapies. Karris White Oak, scion of a destroyed noble family, marries him and consorts with a member of the Spectrum, the ruling body of the Seven Satrapies. Kip, the kid who grew up poor, now stands to inherit a fortune and the political power that goes with it. Teia, a slave, trains to be part of the Blackguard, a unit of elite bodyguards and the only group allowed to carry arms in the capital. The list goes on.

Weeks knows how to write a hero. Kip is self-doubting but doesn't give up. He nearly dies because of his sheer stubbornness and dedication. Teia does what she must, even though she hates the necessity of some of it. Cruxer, leader of a squad of Blackguard inductees makes decisions and lives with them. He knows how to balance the good of his people with the missions they have to accomplish. Karris White Oak risks her l;ife to save her husband and leaves everything that ever mattered to her behind to follow a new path, a duty she never sought but is forced to undertake.

Weeks also knows how to write a villain. The Color Prince seeks to enslave all around him by telling them they'll be free after he takes over. Andross Guile is the embodiment of self-interest, pushing forward with his goals and the expense of anyone who gets in his way. Seriously, to Andross there are three types of people; those he can use to further his goals, those in the way of his goals and those that don't matter. He's a villain's villain. I love to hate that guy.

The Broken Eye is like every other Brent Weeks book in one respect: The reader cannot allow himself to become comfortable with the way the story is going. Everytime you think things are going to work out a certain way a plot twist hits. Upon reflection they make sense, but you can never see them coming. Reading is one of my favorite forms of physical relaxation. I kick back, put my fee up and crack open a tome. I don't relax mentally when I read Weeks's work. I'm constantly trying to figure out what comes next. It never seems to work but it definitely keeps me interested.

The action sequences in The Broken Eye are amazeballs. Luxin (light turned tangible through magic) is an amazing weapon and the martial arts present here are crazy too. Primitive guns, blades and magic. You just can't go wrong. Well, maybe you could be Weeks didn't. Some of these sequences made me want to go out and hit something just to fit in.

Ok, so the actions of the Spectrum do kind of piss me off, but that's kind of the point. They're so busy denying the fact that they are at war that they won't fight an enemy that is invading their country and killing their people. They're pretty typical politicians in other words. Say soothing things to the population and do nothing to accomplish anything. I have to believe that Weeks is doing this intentionally. They do manage to appoint Andross Guile as promachos (basically a wartime dictator and leader of armies) but then he basically does nothing as well. In actuality, they do manage to throw a big party for their biggest holiday so I guess that's SOMEthing, even if it's the WRONG thing. But what do I know? I'm just the reader.

On the other side of the equation are some of our aforementioned heroes who want to do what they need to. The problem is that they don't have the political power to raise the necessary army themselves and, while some of them are crazy powerful, they don't have the ability to win the war without one. The other side has lots of powerful people too. This war is going to be a battle royale, if the Spectrum ever gets off of their asses and decides to fight it.

Honestly, I wanted to see more of the war than I did. Bad news arrives occasionally, but we don't get to see the fight up close and personal the way I wanted to. It makes sense given the plot of the book, but it's a bit frustrating. A lot of what I enjoy about fantasy fiction is the fighting and the wars. We don't get that here. It's still an awesome book though, and there is a sequel already out.

It's only fair to mention that The Broken Eye is third in a series. The first two were The Black Prism and The Blinding Knife. I recommend them all (and I'm reading the fourth book, The Blood Mirror, currently) but I would not recommend The Broken Eye as a standalone. There is too much going on here that is carried on from earlier books. Seriously, if you're going to read TBE start at the beginning with The Black Prism. You'll thank me later.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Lightforged Arrows

The Broken Eye
Brent Weeks
Orbit Books, 2014

The Broken Eye is available for purchase at the following link:

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Lucasfilm's SOLO: A Star Wars Story

Right, so let's just put this out there: I didn't go see SOLO: A Star Wars Story right away because I thought it would suck. One of the writers came out and talked about Lando Calrissian being a pansexual. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not against people being paansexual if that's what's natural for them. I'm not against pansexuals being portrayed in movies or books or on TV, whatever. What freaked me out was that they were bragging about it. Whenever I'm lectured about diversity and inclusivity I assume that I'm being told that I have to see a shitty movie because I'll be some kind of -ist or -phobe if I don't. Don't think I'm right? Two words: Ghostbusters reboot. 'Nuff said.

That much being said, I kind of wish I had gone sooner. This was a good movie. I'm going to make a comparison here. Some of you are going to be turned off by it, but it's valid, I think. Think about the Star Wars prequels. Okay, I'll wait while you stop swearing. Ready?

Listen, we all hated The Phantom Menace. Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader is not supposed to be a little goofball. Jar Jar Binks was annoying. The plot meandered and in a lot of ways the movie was more about cool stunts by Industrial Light and Magic than the story. Attack of the Clones was a love story. Actually, it was a creepy love story. Padme was so much older than Anakin that it shouldn't have worked. Star Wars is about wars, not lovers. And again, special effects were more important than the plot. If you remember the beginning and the car chase through Coruscant, it was sweet looking. What it didn't do was a whole lot to move things forward. But let's stop for a second and talk about Revenge of the Sith. What were the complaints about that? I don't remember tany. People weren't up in arms about that one.

Revenge of the Sith did what it set out to do. It was the true origin story of Darth Vader. The first two movies were pretty much fluff and filler, but ROTS was a good flick. Yes, it was a special effects extravaganza. Star Wars always has been. The thing was, it was a good story. We found out what happened to Luke and Leia's mother. We saw why Darth Vader ended up in a bionic body and couldn't breathe right. We watched the Jedi fall and Yoda exile himself to Dagobah. We found out why Obi Wan Kenobi lived near Luke. It wasn't perfect. Nothing made by a human ever is. It was pretty close, though.

SOLO: A Star Wars Story is like that, only better. This movie harkens back to A New Hope. SOLO is probably the best SW movie since Return of the Jedi. There is so much in this movie. I don't want to spoil too much, but pretty much everything you wanted to know about Han Solo is in this movie. He meets Chewie. He meets Lando Calrissian and gets the Millenium Falcon. He becomes an outlaw. We even find out how it makes sense that the Falcon made the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs. I mean, it's a bit goofy, but it makes sense and it's Han Freaking Solo. This is Mr. "Never tell me the odds." In context it really does work. OH, and we get to see who shot first in another context. I like it.

For the record, I can't seem to think of a better word for Lando than pansexual. It makes sense. It moves the plot forward. I don't want to get into exactly why I say this, because it's too big of a spoiler, but it works. It also makes Lando even more interested in keeping his ship. In a way, it makes what happens in Cloud City make sense. Emotion often clouds human judgment. I can't think of a better way to hurt a man and make him angry.

Alden Ehrenreich makes a good Han Solo. Look, he's not Harrison Ford. No one _is_ Harrison Ford, except Harrison Ford. But Harrison Ford isn't quite as young as he was in nineteen seventy-seven. They needed someone new and they found him. Ehrenreich did a damn good job of portraying the Solo character. He didn't have all of Ford's mannerisms but he's not Ford. It works.
Donald Glover actually plays a better Lando Calrissian than Billy Dee Williams did. He's just got this awesome vibe. He's so relaxed in his element and he's an awesome pilot/owner of the Falcon. His love affair is believable when it probably shouldn't be. I really got into his character. Let's be honest here. Lando was really a minor character in the original trilogy. In SOLO he takes second place only to Han himself. He gets a lot of screen time. He earns it. I'd hate to say that he steals the show at times, but well, he does. is a hell of an actor. I want to see more of him. I know that SOLO is a standalone but maybe we could see him starring in something else. I'd pay to see it. I'm just sayin'. A quick look at IMDB shows Glover in a lot of movies, but I'd like to see him in a starring role.

Of course, it's not a perfect movie. Han seems to be a bit more naive than I thought he would be. Granted, he fell for Leia pretty quick in the original trilogy but the way effects him in this movie is crazy. He follows her into a situation that quite frankly doesn't make any sense. This guy's name is Solo because he's a loner. This is the guy that rescued Leia for money to pay off his debts. Han Solo is not Mister Nice Guy. I don't know if I like that part of the plot. Also, we had never heard of fuel in Star Wars until The Last Jedi. This film centers around it. The Kessel Run turns out to be about getting unrefined fuel. The whole thing is centered on a substance that no one knew existed through the first four decades of the franchise. I find that to be a bit annoying, even if I didn't have a problem believing it. All in all though, the film was a good time. It's a popcorn flick and it delivers that feeling of fun.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Blaster Bolts

SOLO: A Star Wars Story
Lucasfilm, 2018

Some SOLO: A Star Wars Story related merchandise is available at the links below.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Chuck Wendig, False Accusations of Racism and Leftist BS

(Screen shots of Chuck Wendigs comments can be found at this link.)

My friends, I have a confession to make. Whenever I hear a cast or crew member (or a director if he's not part of the crew, I always get confused about that) come out with an announcement about a character's sexuality and/or status as a trans person and/or talking about "representation" in a film I assume it's because they're trying to lay a guilt trip on all of us. Think about the Ghostbusters reboot that we were supposed to see, not because it was a good movie, but so our daughters could "have their own heroes." As long as there is a good story behind a film, I'm all about it. But in too many cases, I think Hollywood has mistaken "inclusive" for "entertaining." I don't go to a movie to see "inclusion." I have a limited amount of money and I worked sixty-five hours last week. I spend my time and money on your product because I want to escape for a couple hours. A good story helps me do that.

That's not to say that inclusion is a bad thing. Black Panther was inclusive as all hell and it was one of the best Marvel movies up to this point. Wonder Woman was an excellent flick and had a female main character. Of course, action movies in general have had black leads for decades. Just ask Wesley Snipes and Will Smith how they spent the Nineties. The Star Trek franchise, especially the original series, was inclusive when inclusive was still referred to as "integrated," and it's been a favorite of mine since before I learned to walk. They were good stories and I enjoyed them all.

It's just that when I hear a Hollywood insider bragging about how inclusive their movie is I assume that it sucks. When they start bragging about things other than the plot and the characters, I start assuming that they're either

A.) Looking for an excuse as to why the movie bombed ahead of time


B.) Trying to keep it from bombing by telling us all that we're either an -ist or a -phobe if we don't go see it and therefore attempting to force us to buy tickets.


C.) Hopefully B but maybe A. This is probably the most common reason.

That's why I waited to go see Black Panther (It was a damn good movie. See my review.) and also why I hesitated to see Solo: A Star Wars Story. When writer Jonathan Kasdan came out stating that Lando was I just assumed that what I just talked about was happening. Looking back on it, I guess it was inevitable that people would talk about skin color and the cast of Black Panther but I was hesitant there for the same reason. In both cases, I waited to see what other people would say after they saw the movie before I went. In the case of both movies ninety plus percent of the people I know who saw it loved it and I, therefore, went to see them. In the case of Ghostbusters I can't remember a single person who said they like it after they saw it and I haven't see it. I didn't go see it at the theater. I haven't rented it. I don't plan to. If Hollywood wants my money for an inclusive movie they can have it IF they can make a good movie, that I want to see.

All of this leads me to Chuck Wendig's little hissy fit. Apparently, anyone who didn't like The Last Jedi or hasn't seen SOLO is, indeed, an -ist or a -phobe. The audience didn't hate TLJ because of the extreme stupidity of some of the characters or because they ruined Luke Skywalker for us. They hated it because the characters had different skin colors and the main character was female. Listen guys, I've had enough of the lying here. I'm going to lay it out for you.

Yes racism still exists. No, it should not. Not everything that happens is good. That much being said, it's not the be-all, end-all reason that everything happens. Really. Are there some people that hated TLJ because it had a mixed cast? I'm sure there are. I haven't met, talked or electronically corresponded with any, but I'm sure they're out there. I already admitted that racism happens. The thing is that we're talking about a very small percentage of the fan base here.

And yes, I'm aware of the harassment suffered by Kelly Marie Tran. Some assholes ran her off of social media. That's exactly what they are: Assholes. That doesn't make them racists (Yes, all racists are assholes, but not all assholes are racist) and it doesn't make them misogynist. I had no problem with the Rose character, but a lot of people did. They were too stupid to separate a character from the actress who played her. Harassment is illegal and Tico would be perfectly justified in taking some type of legal action but don't mistake straight up trolling for racism. Sometimes an asshole really is just an asshole. And, for those out there who missed the entire point of this paragraph, no it was not okay that those assholes harassed Tran.

The problem like Wendig and others like him is that they live in a world where what succeeds should depend on how well if supports their political beliefs and not whether or not it's a quality movie. Listen folks, it doesn't work that way. For one, not everyone believes as you do. For another, you haven't reached the level of political power where you can force people to watch something just because you told them to. This is still the United States and not Panem. There is no such thing as required viewing.

And yes, you are lying when you try to make everything about racial hatred. It is possible to dislike something a non-white (or not-male, or-non straight, or non-cis) person did on its own merits and not because you hate them for being what they are. Really. It's even possible to like something that a non-white, or non-male or non straight or non-cis person did and not like it just because they fit into that category as well. Seriously. I loved Doogie Howser as a kid and How I Met Your Mother as an adult. Barney Stinson is the man. I'm a Neil Patrick Harris fan. No, it's not because he's gay. It's because he's a good actor. That's the way it should be.

Yes, modern social theory does say that we should seek out -isms and -phobias in all of their forms, but you're forgetting that there is something called confirmation bias. Basically, and this applies to all human beings including myself, if a person expects to find something they will. If a person expects to find racism they'll find it. If a person expects to find sexism, they'll find it. If a person expects to see evidence that the other side is over-reacting to something because they perceive something as an -ism when it's not they'll find that too. I'm not perfect but at least I acknowledge my biases and try to work around them. Those of you out there who like to label everyone they disagree with as an -ist don't bother. We're all the same to you and any objection to your ideas means hate, at least as far as you're concerned.

Star Trek is a cultural icon. In a society where flashes in the pan are common it has thrived for over fifty years now. It was the first integrated show. It featured the first interracial kiss. It has tackled ideas like racism, sexism and environmentalism for decades. If you don't think that having a bridge crew featuring white men, a black woman and an Asian man was cutting edge in 1967 then you really need to take a history class. The reason that it works is not that it supports those ideas. The reason it has succeeded is because it is entertaining. If you want to get your point across you need to chill on the screaming hatred and finger pointing and work on putting a quality product together because we're not going to buy your crap just because you yell -ist. Nor do we care if you're offended.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Kacey Ezell's Minds of Men

(Due to the fact that I pretty much suck at life, Kacey Ezell got left out of my Memorial Day promotion featuring works written by veterans of the United States Armed Forces and featuring the US Military in action. I didn't get word to her quickly enough and by the time she inquired about submitting, I didn't have time to read and review the book. My fault, not hers. My bad, Kacey. At any rate, Kacey is a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy (class of 99). She flew the UH-1N and Mi-17 helicopters. She had at least one deployment to a war zone, that being Iraq.)

Psst.... Hey, you. The one reading the blog. I see you there. You think I'm talking to someone else. Listen, I need you to work with here, okay? I'm about to share with a review about a book named Minds of Men by Kacey Ezell. But uhh... well...

*Jim looks over both shoulders*

It's umm... Alternate history. And I've got a history degree. And if one of my old professors were to find out that I read a book that they'd consider to be historical fiction, I'd be in deep doo-doo. If they found out I enjoyed it, I'd be in even deeper doo-doo. And if they found out I featured it on my blog and encouraged others to read it, I'd get to find out if it was possible to impeach me and take my degree away. So, I mean, yeah, Minds of Men kicks ass, but if you talk to any history professors from Oakland University (where I got my BA) especially, or Wayne State University (where I did some graduate work but never finished) then you didn't hear how good this book was from me. K? I mean, you can still say you read and enjoyed it if you don't mind the inevitable backlash. Just don't tell them it's my fault. I've got kids.

On the other hand, Minds of Men is a really excellent book. Kacey did a great job of creating a world where things are close enough to be recognizable but just far enough away to be considered fiction. She sucked me into this thing quickly. I really did enjoy the premise of this story. It gets going and doesn't stop. Ezell knew what she was doing when she wrote this. This is, to the best of my knowledge and belief, her first published novel, but it doesn't read like it was written by a rookie. It's entertaining as hell and holds together well.

The premise of the book is that some very few rare women are able to communicate telepathically. By using this ability they can effectively create a network among people. The Women's Army Corps recruits twenty of these women to send on bomber missions during World War Two in Europe. They end up flying in B-17s. This results in faster communication and saves lives and improves accuracy. The real joy of the book is in the characters as always, but the telepathic networking is what holds the story together and it is fascinating.

I have to say this: In order for the premise of the book to work, you have to give Ezell about ten pages or so. It's not a lot and it makes more sense once you see what they're doing in action. I was a bit skeptical at first. I mean, radio was in common use by every side in World War Two. I didn't see how telepathic communication would be any faster or work any better. I kept reading though and I'm glad I did. The difference between radio and psychic networking is the difference between dial up internet and a gigabit connection. It just takes a bit of patience to let the characters explain it to you. Oh, and without going into massive amounts of spoilers, let's just say that networking isn't the only thing these ladies are capable of. Seriously, read the book if you want to learn what all they can do. There is an awful lot there and almost all of it makes sense.

Minds of Men is well named. It turns out that they psychic women can bond better with men, even though (or maybe because for all I know) men don't have psychic ability. Our heroine, Evelyn "Evie" Adamsen, bonds psychically with her crew (and yes, she becomes as much a part of the crew as any of the men because she earns it) and goes through hell on Earth with them. Seriously. I've often thought (as someone with zero combat experience) that in all of the wars in history and all of the places that humans have fought and all of the specialties of the people who have fought, the worst job literally ever would be to end up hanging in the sky over Europe in a plane flying straight and level about to drop bombs with nowhere to hide and no way to dodge. Knowing that someone is trying to kill me would be bad enough. Making it easy for them so that I can get my job done is probably a bit more than I could get through. Evie does it though, and so does her crew.

There is more to Minds of Men than simply bomber missions though. I don't want to spoil the book, so I'll just say that possibly the most harrowing part of the work doesn't happen in the sky. Ezell, having been a pilot herself, shows us what I would expect most pilots nightmares to look like. This aircrew goes through some bad stuff. They come out of it okay-ish though, and a lot of that has to do with Evie herself. Her gifts save them all.

Speaking of Evie, she's a damn well written character. I watched part of a video earlier today about the problems with women in fiction. The vlogger (whose name I don't remember and am too lazy to go look up) spoke about a dichotomy between the wilting violet type and the utter badass type. Weak feminine characteristics versus masculine women. Evie is neither. She doesn't straight up bitchslap dudes, and she doesn't just fold up and die and wait for the men to come and rescue her. Evie uses her abilities and keeps her guys alive but she is not the physical threat that some women are, despite differences in muscle mass and size that most women would face in the real world. I really enjoyed her.

Oh, and the cover says it's book one of The Psyche of War. That means we've got more coming from Ms. Ezell. I'm stoked. This is some seriously good stuff and I'm in for the next one. Whenever it gets here. Of course, I'd never be that fan and actually bother an author about when the next one's coming. I wouldn't dare tell someone to shut up and take my money or anything. That's just not me.

Now, I guess it's time for the disclaimer: If you're a feminazi who can't stand the thought that a woman might need some help from a man at some point in her life then maybe this isn't the perfect book for you. Conversely, if you're a whiner who wants to pretend that a female MC is some kind of political statement, like the guys who whined about the women in the new Mad Max, maybe you should spend some time doing manly stuff instead. I mean, it does include members of the Women's Army Corps. So, if you're a whiny little bitch on either side of the line then, assuming you can't develop the maturity to handle a good book based on its merits and not your politics, I would suggest something else. On the other hand, if you have at least as much mental and emotional maturity as the average eight year old, buy this book and read it.

Bottom Line: 5.0 out of 5 Stars

Minds of Men
Kacey Ezell
Theogony Books, 2017

Minds of Men is available for purchase at the following link:

Monday, May 28, 2018

John Ringo's A Hymn Before Battle

(This is the third and final installment in my Memorial Day series of reviews of books written by veterans of the United States Armed Forces that feature the American military in action. Todays author is John Ringo, a veteran of the US Army who served in the 82nd Airborne for 4 years, and two years in the Florida National Guard. He completed his hitch at the rank of Specialist. Also of note is the fact that I'm a blatant fanboy and have been reading his work since before I met my ex-wife. Our oldest daughter is twelve.)

Every once in awhile you stumble across a new author. If you're lucky that author can lead you to new authors. Once upon a time, that's what happened to me. One of my co-workers would NOT. SHUT. UP. About this David Weber guy and his Honor Harrington series. It finally got to the point where my only option left was to either read the book or fight the co-worker and I needed my job. I bought On Basilisk Station. After reading the entire Honor Harrington catalog as it existed at the time, I switched over to the Prince Roger series. That was when I became aware of an author named John Ringo. Soon after, I rushed over to Barnes and Noble and picked up There Will be Dragons and A Hymn Before Battle. Both began a series. The subject of today's review is A Hymn Before Battle

I've already warned you that I'm a fanboy. It should come as no surprise that I have read A Hymn Before Battle many times, most recently ending last night. This is a work of fiction I have enjoyed way too much. A Hymn Before Battle is precisely the kind of story I've always loved. Speaking as a man with a history degree, whose passion has always been war and politics (and yes, I am aware that they are one and the same) I love the way Ringo wrote this book.

A Hymn Before Battle is the classic mix of war and politics. I don't want to spoil the whole series, but once you've read what comes next it becomes pretty obvious how Ringo is building the future of his universe. The political maneuvering leads to the fighting, which..well... read the book. The two mesh together so effectively that at times it can be hard to tell which is which. Oddly enough, that's how the real world works as well.

A Hymn Before Battle (and the Legacy of the Aldenata series which follows it) is the Science Fiction equivalent of epic fantasy. The stakes are huge. The overlords are corrupt. The technology is effectively magical in the “any technology that is advanced enough will seem magical” sense. The enemy is coming and they are relentless. The crisis is existential. Only our heroes can stop it. And Mike O'Neal is a bad man and he's coming for his enemies.

O'Neal is a man on a mission. I mean that both in the literal sense (He's a member of the military who gets sent on a mission) and the metaphoric sense. He won't stop. He continues on when, by all rights, he could just lay there and die. He wouldn't do it. He is faced with a commanding officer who is a complete piece of trash. He could in good conscience let nature take its course. He won't. About the only thing he tries to weasel out of is promotion from enlisted man to officer. Even that he accepts, although he doesn't really like the idea.

Some authors just excel at certain things. David Weber writes the best naval battle, whether it's a wet navy or a space navy. David Brin constructed a future society that was so twisted yet realistic that it still gives me the creeps. Tom Kratman can mix his story with moral and political lessons and keep it amazingly entertaining. Harry Turtledove can create a cast of ellebenty bajillion and tie it together while switching back and forth between varying points of view better than anyone else alive. George Lucas can tell a story and use it to sell things like no one else. John Ringo is the king of asskickery.

Seriously, if you ever want to learn how to write a straight up ass-whooping ask Ringo. I mean, you may have to lose half the troops in your novel in order to rout the unroutable enemy, but who cares. When “boom” comes to “bang” comes to “Oooooh... that sounds like it hurt... a lot” look to this dude as your exemplar. I'd like to buy Ringo a drink and try to figure out how his mind works when he's writing this stuff. Seriously. It's not just the battle tactics themselves. It's that he can come up with solutions to problems that no one would seriously consider until the history of the battle was almost argued out two hundred years later but he drops them into his story contemporary with the battle. It's not standard but it makes sense and it works. It's really stinking cool too.

Ok, so the characters are pretty awesome as well. Not just Mike. His unit, his wife, the general he serves under all work. They live a breathe. I want to sit down and have coffee with some of them. Others I'd like to slap. At least one group has me twisted around to the point where I don't know if I want to shake all of their hands or put them all in the stockade. Actually, both might work. And it's not just the good guys.

Ringo writes an alien race that makes sense. It takes a bit before we get a look at things from their point of view, but he makes their motivations plain. This is not the look into the society of the Posleen that Yellow Eyes, which he co-authored with Tom Kratman does. It does, however, give a good if somewhat brief, look into the mind of the enemy.

All in all, A Hymn Before Battle is a masterwork. It sets up a magnificent universe but it works as a standalone. Granted, that may have something to do with the fact that it is the first book. It grips the mind and imagination. If you get lost in this one you may very well not want to find your way back out. It will have you cheering. It will tempt you to cry. It shows humanity at its best, its worst and its most opportunistic. A Hymn Before Battle is a book that is not to be missed. If, however, you don't read it, don't blame me.

Bottom Line: 5.0 out of 5 Antimatter Explosions

A Hymn Before Battle
John Ringo
Baen Books, 2000

A Hymn Before Battle is available for purchase at the following link:

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Chris Kennedy's Red Tide: The Invasion of Seattle.

(This is the second installation of my Memorial Day weekend binge of reviews of books written by veterans of the American armed forces and featuring the United States Armed Forces in action. Mr. Kennedy is a former Naval Aviator. He flew the A-6E Intruder bomber off of carriers as well as the EP-3E reconaissance aircraft. He flew during the Kosovo conflict and during Desert Shield and Storm. He retired after 20 years as a Commander. Oh, and yes it's more Speculative Fiction than Science Fiction, but who gives a rip? It's a good book.)

You know, it's hard to say this, but I kind of wish this book hadn't been written by a veteran. Don't get me wrong, Chris Kennedy is a good author and Red Tide: The Chinese Invasion of Seattle is a damn find book. It's just that when I read some of what's here (I'll explain in a bit) I'd prefer to believe that the author doesn't have a clue. I'd really like to think that it can't actually happen. When it's written by someone who has been there/done that, it's a bit worrisome on a real world level. I mean, when someone points out holes like this in our national defense I want to be able to reject what they're saying. I can't really do that when they're in a position to know what they're talking about.

Having said that, I really did enjoy this story. It's action packed and has believable characters behaving in a believable manner. I don't remember who it was, but someone posted a question on Facebook the other day inquiring as to whether or not you have to like the characters in a book to make it entertaining. My response was that a character doesn't have to be _likeable_ to be entertaining but I do have to have a rooting interest in the book. Red Tide delivers precisely that. A lot of what happens in the book comes down to people not doing their jobs right. I don't like people who don't do their jobs right. Granted, they don't really have advanced notice that they're not doing their jobs right, but when you're dealing with the national defense not knowing is no excuse. Then again, I do have a rooting interest. I'm an American. I root for the home team.

This is the first book in (I believe) a duology and I've already bought the second one. It's that good. I had to. I couldn't stop myself. Honestly, I should've waited a week because I had just spent a bunch of loot on my munchkins but it wasn't going to happen. *SIGH* I wish I could say it was the first time I spent money on a book that I shouldn't have. I love it.

Red Tide is, as advertised, about a Chinese invasion of Seattle as a distraction for their main thrust into Taiwan. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that the US starts this fight off in a bad way. I don't want to give up too much, but yeah, things don't look good for my boys. That's putting it mildly.

The villains in Red Tide are actually pretty villainous while not being the type that cause unbridled hatred. They're Chinese diplomats and soldiers simply doing their jobs. Seriously. They're not the people making the decisions. They're the people following the orders. And follow the orders they do. If they might use a wee bit of subterfuge, well it is a war. That's how things go. If Sun Tzu recommended it, it probably makes sense to use it. I mean, not only is he still studied by every military on the planet, but he was actually Chinese. I get why they do what they do. I'd do the same thing in their situation.

I really like that fact. Kennedy's villains are not just cardboard cut-outs. I mean, I loved Battle: Los Angeles but the people who complained that we didn't know a lot about the aliens weren't wrong. Kennedy gets something I think a lot of authors miss: Everyone is the hero of their own story. The Chinese people in Red Tide aren't dastardly villains cackling in their lairs like Cobra Commander in a bad episode of GI Joe. They have planned well. They follow the plan well. They don't see themselves as bad people. They believe they're doing the right thing. The Americans may disagree, but the Chinese are not interested in the opinions of the Americans.

It's worth mentioning that the Chinese are as humane as they can be. I mean, it's war and people die. The fact remains that they only kill when they have to and several of the steps they take are clearly meant to avoid kill people unnecessarily. These are reasoning human beings who do what they need to do but don't do more than that. I've never met Kennedy personally but he seems to be a warrior with a respect for other warriors. I like that.

My one bitch about Red Tide is that sometimes I felt a bit like I was being talked down to. Kennedy was obviously aware of the fact that he is a Naval Aviator writing for a primarily civilian audience. Sometimes he gives a bit more of an explanation of various terms than I really feel is necessary. Maybe I'm not the best judge of this, I've read military fiction of one type or another for a few decades now and I've studied military history. Someone was actually goofy enough to give me a history degree after I wrote long papers about the security of the Manhattan Project and the involvement of the Heer (the German Army) in the Holocaust so I probably have a better understanding than most. The fact remains that there were times when I felt like I was being talked down to. If I had more time I'd try to find someone who hadn't done all the reading I have and see if they felt the same way.

Other than that though, this is a really strong story. Kennedy's military experience really shines through. There are a couple of aerial combat sequences that just work, and I can easily see why. Kennedy also seems to have a solid grasp of planning and executing an operation from an officer's point of view. It sometimes irks me that the officer is almost always the star of the story, but this time it makes sense. Kennedy himself is an officer so of course that's how he's going to write his books. And maybe I should just stop whining because the other two books I reviewed this weekend centered around and enlisted man and a mustang.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 AMRAAMs

Red Tide: The Chinese Invasion of Seattle
Chris Kennedy
Self Published, 2015

Red Tide: The Chinese Invasion of Seattle is available for purchase at the following link:

Saturday, May 26, 2018

J.F. Holmes's Zombie Killers: Falling

(This is the first installment of my three part Memorial Day Review Series featuring stories written by veterans of the US Armed Forces and featuring the selfsame American military in action. Today's author is J.F. Holmes, a retired NCO who Served 22 years in the Army and Army National Guard with Tours in Cuba and Iraq. He also responded to the attacks on September 11, 2001.)

Far too many zombie stories start off either well into the apocalypse or use the whole “Oh, look the world is going crazy. Let me spend the next week, month, whatever asleep and when I wake up it'll be all gone to shit.” Not so with J.F. Holmes's Zombie Killers: Falling. We get a view of the fall of the world from the sharp end. Nick O'Neil, our hero is there at Ground Zero of the zombie apocalypse just as it is starts.

Holmes's portrayal of the military and the way it is treated is accurate as well. Nick's guard unit starts the story running a traffic control point in the Continental United States. They don't know why they're there. They don't know what they're guarding against. Put bluntly, they're treated like mushrooms, kept in the dark and fed shit. One guard member gets it right based on guesswork and they all think he's loopy. It's pretty typical and kind of cliché but it works. The military is trained to follow orders without questioning and that's what they do. The politicians seldom care what the military thinks. Even once details start to leak, Nick's unit only learns that there is a plague to the east, but not what it is. They don't know what the threat is until they witness it for themselves.

Seriously, this book starts so early in the fall (it is called Falling after all) that no one has any clue what is going on. Well, for the most part. At any rate things get ugly quickly and it all just goes to hell from there. The running. The fighting. The sudden death. It's crazy.

Holmes's zombies are just plain scary as well. They move quickly. The kill quickly from even the smallest bite. They turn so fast it'll make your head spin. That's probably their most horrifying trait. Like “Oh no, he's dead. OMG HE'S EATING ME!!!” That fast. They have glowing red eyes too. This is both terrifying and awesome. It also makes them easy to spot, but that's a separate issue.

Falling has all of the craziness and heartbreak you would expect from a zombie novel. I don't want to get into spoilers but trust me, one part of Falling had a big, bad, rough, tough, hardcore dude almost crying. Seriously, it hit me hard. I mean, the gut-wrenching heartbreaker is kind of a zombie staple, but Holmes knocked this one out of the park.

It's always a treat reading military science fiction written by someone who has served. There is a certain feeling that needs to be in a story about the military. It's hard to describe but it's kind of a mixture of “I've got your back,” mixed with “I love all of you,” crossed with “Fuck you and the horse you rode in on,” with just a touch of “I'm sick of this shit... even though I actually love it.” Holmes did a good job communicating that.

Something else that this book offers that most zombie stories don't is a goal. Somewhere to get to that actually exists. Remember the first season of The Walking Dead when Rick and company fought and fought to get to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta so that they could find the cure for the virus? Remember it not being there? I've seen an absolute buttload of that in zombie stories. Crying characters disappointed because they knew with absolute positivity, that there was a safe place to get to. There was somewhere that they could be sheltered and protected. But then they get there and it's not safe. The dead are stacked up like cord-wood or, more likely, scattered around in a mess of random death. But not Falling. Falling actually works backwards from that. Nick has no clue that there is anyplace to run to until he finds it and stumbles in with tears in his eyes.
My only complaint about Falling is that it doesn't end when the story ends. There is a definite arc here. I read this thing all the way through, enjoying myself the whole way, and then got to the end of a chapter. I was satisfied. I turned the page, fully expecting to see an excerpt from the next book there. What I got was a new chapter. I was...uhhh... not disappointed, exactly. As a lifelong fan of the written word, I'm always sad to see a good story end. It was a bit confusing though. Having read it, it's obvious why it's there. It sets up the rest of the series.

Falling starts off a series known as Zombie Killers. I get the fact that the end of the book sets up the rest of the series. I kinda, sorta get the fact that it needs to. It was just a bit perplexing to see it there though. Before the last couple of chapters, Falling works as a standalone book. As a matter of fact, it is a pretty champion standalone before those last couple of chapters. With that addition though, this book really only makes sense in a wider context than what is contained in its pages. I can't help think that Holmes added that last little bit for marketing purposes and, while I don't disapprove (authors do like and deserve to get paid for their work), I don't really see that they add much to Falling as a whole. It's almost like a bonus short story at the end of the book. Kind of like The Cleansing of the Shire at the end of The Return of the King except at least Holmes made it entertaining.

All in all though, it was a good book and I do plan on picking up the rest of the series at some point in time. I mean, Holmes has made the whole series available at a good price on Amazon and who am I to argue with quality fiction at a good price?

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Bitten Appendages

J.F. Holmes
Self Published, 2017

Falling is available for purchase at the following link:

The complete ten book series (which I have not read) is also available at: