Monday, February 22, 2016

Larry Correia's Monster Hunter International

I think we've all had the boss we didn't like and got sick of putting up with. Maybe we've even gotten a major ass-chewing that made us wonder if our boss was a werewolf. I don't know of a single person, myself included, that has ever thrown said boss out of a window in order to save our own lives. Well, unless you include Owen Zastava Pitt, protagonist of Larry Correia's Monster Hunter International. Owen is a bad man and a hardcore survivor. An encounter with a boss who tries to eat him is merely his introduction into a shadow world where monsters exist and so do the people who fight them.

I'll be honest here and admit that I've read this book many times and felt like writing about it. I've been a Correia fan since not long after Baen published this and have followed him ever since. If this review comes about a bit fanboyish, well, guilty. That much being said it was this book that my fandom of his work was based on and believe me, he's earned it. If I hadn't been hanging out on the Baen's Bar site and seen it talked about repeatedly I never would have picked it up. That's weird because once I got it I couldn't put it down. It's that good.

The world of MHI is well conceived and executed.  There are monsters. The government knows this. The government has both worked with and banned monster hunting in the past. At the moment, they've just eased off the ban and now Monster Hunters International (the corporation is recruiting) decides to sign on a big, smart, gun geek of an accountant. The story centers around Owen's recruitment, training and early missions.

Owen is discovering a whole new world around him, based in ours. This works well because we learn about Correia's world as Pitt does. There is no need for the vaunted info dump. Correia Heinleins his details in a manner that keeps us all interested and tells us what we need to know. This may honestly work better because Pitt is at the beginning of his career as a Hunter and leans heavily on those around him. He's smart enough to know that he needs help and as he gathers whatever information he can from whatever sources we're learning as well. This is something I struggle with in my own writing and I refer to this book occasionally to try and steal his techniques.

The amount of things that can go wrong on a monster hunting mission are apparently endless and the pace of this book is relentless. Whether it's personal problems between the Hunters, the pursuit of a beautiful woman or actual outright violence there is always something going on. There was no chance to get bored, no time when I suddenly remembered that I needed to get the laundry done. There may have been a time when I showed up late to my ex-wife's mother's house for dinner because I lost track of time reading but I refuse to confirm or deny those accusations. I enjoyed the pot roast that night though.

Correia is a Certified Firearms Instructor and his book reads that way. As a gun owner myself, although not an expert to the level he is, I want to slap some authors for the obvious mistakes they make with firearms. That is not a problem here. Correia knows his stuff and he very obviously enjoys sharing his wealth of knowledge. This is a good thing. I like reading about guns that work like guns actually work. If he jacks with his ammo a bit to make it kill monsters that's good. He mixes monster mythology with firearms reality really well.

Pitt's reactions in the book are pretty much what you would expect from a heterosexual male. I would know, I am one. This has bothered some people who were offended when he noticed how pretty a given character was and actually, GULP, thought about it. This may not be the book for people who are fill with liberal butthurt about men who like women. I will say this though: If this woman was half as hot as she sounds in the book I would have been thinking about it as well. Why? Because that's what straight males do. Julie, the extremely attractive female in question, is also an extremely good shot herself, partial owner of the company and one of it's leaders. She is by no means only her looks as some have alleged but, well, men are men and they notice these things. It makes sense and, given later developments, it needed to be there.

This is the first book in an ongoing series and it sets the scene well. We're introduced to the threat from the past, the threat from the deep past and a bunch of new ones to boot. I don't know how much time Correia spent planning out his entire series while or before writing this book but I'm guessing it was a bunch. There's too much in her that leads to well into what's coming for it to all be happenstance. He did it with malice aforethought and he did it well.

Correia's views of government are fairly apparent as well. The government Hunters, the Monster Control Bureau, are a bunch of overconfident, insufferable pricks out to keep everything under their own jurisdiction. They want to keep the private companies out of the way to do the job. They're well trained to fight human opponents but not to fight monsters. They have more resources and accomplish less with them. That sounds like government to me too. One solution fits all and we can handle everything with no innovation is the standard Washington response to everything.

I do have one complaint about this book: Correia is a big guy, a gun nut and a retired accountant. Pitt is a big guy, a gun nut an accountant and a Hunter. I hate to use the phrase Mary Sue, but uhh... well... umm... Pitt's an ENTERTAINING Mary Sue? Seriously the character is a lot of fun with plenty of complications and everything but yeah. It couldn't be any more obvious. Pitt even uses some techniques used by real life competition shooters. Correia has shot competitively. I struggle to find a different way to put that but there it is. That much being said, this book still kicks ass.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Silver Bullets

Monster Hunter International
Larry Correia
Baen, 2009.

Monster Hunter International  is available for purchase here:

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Fiona Skye's Silver Shackles: Revelations Book Two

I'm thinking that perhaps angering a queen of Faerie would be a bad idea of the "really should have found something else to do that day" variety. I'm guess that Riley, heroine of Fiona Skye's Silver Shackles would agree with me. Fervently. If you're not sure why she would think this, or how she angered the Neve, the Queen of the Unseelie Fae then you really need to read more. You can start with Taming Shadows: Revelation. Go ahead. I'll wait.






In this book, Riley faces the wrath for what she did last time around. I don't do spoilers so that's as far as I'm going to take it. For now we'll just say that from the antagonist's point of view, she's done more than enough to face a reckoning and an airing of grievances the exact nature of which was alluded to in the first book. What starts out as a mysterious phone call goes off the rails and things happen at an incredibly quick pace. This one cooks with grease. (I'm sure that's a metaphor that Skye could agree with given the fact that both of the books in this series end with recipes that sound outstanding. Well, except for the fact that she mentions cheese enchiladas in the About the Author. *SIGH* The best enchiladas are made with beef! At any rate...)

Skye has clearly done her research into the monster of myth and legend. Every being has a weakness to exploit and a strength that is terrifying. Even Riley transforms into a were-jaguar capable of extreme violence and possessed of heightened senses. It hunts deer better than I can too but don't tell my family I admitted that. We've got people that can only be killed with cold iron, a demigod that can be controlled with a horn, a vampire with the associated weakness, etc. The part that makes it work is that all of the above are well aware of their soft spots and do whatever they can to guard against them. There is no monologue followed by something incredibly stupid. The bad guys are bad but they're not dumb. A good villain is a villain that falls prey to something the heroes and/or their allies do and Skye nails that here.

The heroes are not infallible either. As a matter of fact I'm left wondering if David isn't out there somewhere kicking himself after missing something that was clear in retrospect. Riley isn't exactly perfect herself and gets caught up when she probably could have avoided doing so, but here's the thing: Both make mistakes that are perfectly in character for who and what they are. Neither does anything forehead slappingly stupid when they should have done the exact opposite. Every person, real or imagined, does something they realize later that they shouldn't have done at some point. The key is making the mistakes make sense and Skye makes that happen.

Parts of this book are quite frankly horrifying and that's good because they need to be. The revenge of a Queen of the Fae is a terrible thing to behold. Some of the details of the torture she suffers are just plain sick and twisted. Some of what she puts herself through mentally at the end of the work may possibly be worse. All of it adds to the story though and none of it seems to be there just for the sake of being there. Through all of the pain we get to know more about both Riley and Neve. We also learn just how far Neve's followers are ready to go for her. This is a woman with not just a lot of mystical power but a lot of political power as well.

I'm excited to announce that the end of the tome sets us up for a sequel that I'm very much looking forward to. It's not quite a cliff hanger but there are some loose ends that are mentioned very prominently at the end. I don't want to go into detail here because spoilers but when the thread of this book runs out things are still really unsettled and there are a million and five different ways they could go. I can't wait to find out what's next. Is it too soon to start pestering the author still? I haven't really gotten on an author in a bit but I'm not against doing so. I guess we'll just have to wait but dammit, I don't wanna.

I do have one complaint about Silver Shackles and it's fairly major: This book needs to be a lot longer. David finds himself convinced to take along a new partner far too quickly. One of his/Riley's partners (Onyx) from Taming Shadows antes up and decides to come along for the fight. That makes sense, but he was a major character last time around with a major part to play this time, and he's barely in there. He needs more uhh.. screen time? What he has is just not enough to do the character justice. He's not the only one either.

The part I missed the most was the fight. Skye mentions that one is going on and we're alerted about a couple of the wounded and/or dead (with some characters it's not clear which side they fall on and I'm guessing that's intentional) but not much actual action. David, in particular, is stuck in a situation where he is forced to sneak around but it's completely left out.  Granted, it is entirely possible that I'm just a spoiled reviewer but I think not. I grew up on the tradition of the grand battle. Lord of the Rings is full of them. The battle for the crown at the end of Dragons of Spring Dawning was epic. There are many battles against Thread in Dragonriders of Pern saga. There just needs to be more here.

It's not just the love of slaughter that leads me to say that either. The ending of this book feels a bit rushed. It's almost like Skye was in a hurry to get it finished and decided to leave some things out to get it done sooner. I guess I'll never know her reasoning but it should have been here. There are enough details filled in later to keep the thread of the series moving but it would have been far more entertaining to see it all as it was happening. That much being said, this was a damn fine novel and I'll be picking up a copy of the sequel as soon as it comes out.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Summoned Brownies

Silver Shackles: Revelations Book Two
Fiona Skye
Self Published, 2015

Silver Shackles is available for purchase here:

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Andy Weir's The Martian (The Book)

I've always loved tales of being marooned. Being marooned in space just makes them better. In fact, the very first review (and second post as the first one was a "Welcome to My Blog" post) was of Ryk Spoor's Castaway Planet. So when I heard about Andy Weir's work The Martian I knew I had to check it out. Unfortunately, I was running a book review blog and I was busy trying to keep up with submissions (and I only have one left. Details about how to submit are in the top right corner of the page) so I couldn't get to it right away. I wish I had because this thing rocks.

I have a dirty secret to admit to: I was a bit worried about this one. I had heard all of the praise of the book for its scientific accuracy and I was afraid that it was going to turn into more of a scientific tract than a novel. Seriously. I know nerds. I _AM_ a nerd. I was really afraid that I was going to end up bored to tears reading detailed instructions about how to grow things and find water on Mars. I mean, I'm a nerd but I'm a history nerd. Seriously, buy me a drink sometime and I'll tell you all about why The Patriot and The Last Samurai may be entertaining but they SUCK from a history perspective. Whatever you do though, don't let me tell the story about the guy I know who thought that Apocalypse Now was based on a true story. Fortunately, I refused to take council of my fears and I read it anyway. This is a good thing because this is a book that absolutely refuses to get bogged down in details to the detriment of story.

What else works is that although the science is there, it's not dreary. (Warning: There are some spoilers for the rest of this paragraph. Some of you may want to skip it.) It's just somewhat simplified and not expounded on to the point of insanity. Seriously. There are some orbital calculations made, but we're not expected to sit through them. It's just stated that they've been done and some basics given. We know that the ship will use some gravity to do thus and so but we're not expected to do the Calculus ourselves. The steps necessary to grow food on Mars are gone through in less than excruciating detail, except for the fact that I couldn't keep myself from picturing the smell anyway, and it just seems so real. We're talking about something that doesn't just sound plausible, it sounds possible. 

I'm a total fan of Space Opera with its FTL travel and space battles but The Martian gives us something that classic Space Opera doesn't: A feeling that this could happen in our lifetimes. A feeling of "Wow, I see what he did there." Don't get me wrong. I know the feeling of the hyperdrive not kicking in on a ship that has done the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs. I cringe when the dilythium crystals crack. This isn't that though. This is "Wow. That method would work now. I can see how you could do that now that you've explained it. I just don't know how you'd deal with the smell. 

I need to get a hard copy of The Martian (I read it on my Nook) so that I can hit people with it when they say that Hard Science Fiction is boring or that the characters are cardboard. Weir not only got his science right he made his characters into people. This guy has a gift. I actually cared whether Mark would make it out alive or not. I found myself rooting for him. I got a chuckle out of some of the things he did and other times I agonized with him. At least once I remember being taken back to a project on my car and how well it DIDN'T go. I got a chuckle out of that one and it happened because of the realism of a situation in the book.

The other members of the crew are well drawn too and so is the team at NASA. The boss is a bit of an over-officious prick but who hasn't had a boss like that at some point? At the same time, he acts like a prick because he is worried about all of the astronauts and not just the one that is stranded. It's totally understandable even while it's infuriating.

The odd part about castaway stories for me is that I like them. One of my favorite things to see in any story is a good villain. Whether it's Queen Takhisis and her followers in The Dragonlance Chronicles or Khan Noonian Singh in Star Trek it's always good to have someone to root against as well as someone to root for. In this type of a novel, nature has to stand in for the villain and it works here. Mars is an evil bastard every step of the way. From lack of an atmosphere to the opening dust storm to lack of water it stands in Mark's way every time he tries to accomplish something. I know the malevolence isn't intentional. Mars may be named after the god of war but it's not actually sentient. That much having been said, it feels malevolent to Mark and therefore to us.

In his afterword Weir mentioned that he wanted all of the problems experience by his characters would be predicated by their own decisions. Having read the book I can see what he's talking about. There is a dust storm at the beginning of the book that results in Mark being stranded. He can't do anything about that. After that though, everything happens according to this one principle. Nothing happens without cause. Weir repeatedly introduces problems to the plot but they all make sense. There are no Hand of God moments. Things happen in a logical manner without being predictable.

The one problem I had with the book is that it needs an epilogue. I wanted to know what happened after the end of the story. I'm not talking about anything Tolkien-esque, just a few pages to let us now what happened at the completion of the mission. I get this feeling a lot at the end of novels about people who have been marooned. The only time I've seen it done is in Castaway with Tom Hanks. But maybe that's just me. What was there was awesome.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 stranded probes

The Martian
Andy Weir
Crown Publishers, 2014

The Martian is available for purchase here:

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Jeb Kinnison's Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3

Dammit Jeb Kinnison you made me break my “OH SHIT” button. Badly. Where am I supposed to find another one this time of year? It's all your fault. Seriously. And honestly, have you ever ridden public transportation? Have you ever missed your stop and had to do extra walking on tired feet because you couldn't wait to see what was next? Your latest book, Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3 had me hanging on every word. It's hard to watch out of a window to see how close I am to my stop when my nose is stuck in an e-reader.


Seriously folks, this is a good one. Fans of the site (both of you) will remember that I have reviewed both of the first two books in the series, The Red Queen and Nemo's World and enjoyed them both but this is easily the best of the three. Once again we see the fight against Big Government and a crackdown on the dirty little guy, this time on an existential level. It's not even about a human government anymore. This one is all about the fight of humanity to survive against a force that is regulating the substrate. If you don't know what the substrate is, it's because you haven't read the first two books and that is a mistake you need to fix quickly. The links are listed below.

As a fan of Science Fiction and Fantasy, one of my favorite things is an epic plot and an existential threat. Kinnison got both of those into this book in spades. The Red Queen was about a renegade group of students rebelling against oppression. That's good stuff. Nemo's World was about setting up a government and what to do with dangerous criminals. It was a lot of fun as well. This one is not just bigger than either, it's bigger than both put together. The impressive part about the whole thing is really about how well Kinnison humanizes it though.

The previous cast of characters is all still here and they're all doing their thing. Some are perhaps a bit older, wiser and more mature but things tend to work that way in real life so that's hardly surprising. What is incredibly surprising is the inclusion of a young girl on whom the fate of the entire human race depends. Whether she is up to the challenge or not... well... read the book. I don't do spoilers. I will say that she gets put into her position because she is a unique young lady and that the decision is not made by a human being. Humans have friends among those who would try to kill them. And that's one of the things that I really, really enjoyed about this book.

Look, I'm okay with a cardboard villain if it fits the story. Battle:  Los Angeles was a good movie that pretty much went "The bad guys are here to steal water and they're going to kill us all to get it," and left things at that. This book is not that way. Kinnison's villains are every bit as much motivated as they are dangerous and they have very clear motivations that MAKE SENSE. I get the fact that alien reasoning may not always be obvious to a human mind, especially given the fact the motivations of a person from another human culture can be opaque at times. Still, the enemy, known as the First because they were the first culture to discover the substrate, is looking to perpetuate their own existence against anyone they see as a threat. New species are, to them, a threat to take up the space they need to live.  The Shrivers that Kinnison named his book after are their method of doing so.  Nuclear annihilation awaits those that aren't unique and impressive enough.

I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical about the ability of anyone to wipe out an enemy that has access to the substrate when I first read about it. That lasted until I had read a little further. It turns out that there is a fairly simple way to mess with a computer program (a virus) and that a society who has had access to the substrate for billions of years is better at using it than we would be. Go figure. It works here though because it's so familiar. I had missed the possibility but the reasoning was sound and it made the story easy to follow.

This tome cooks from beginning to end. It just doesn't let up. Problems come up and are solved just in time to set up the next round of problems. I wonder if perhaps Kinnison didn't run out of mountains to drop on his character and decide to start using meteors instead. After all, they're plentiful and require less lift.  Things go from bad to worse to OH SHIT and pretty much stay there until the last page or two when my least favorite character shows up. I don't know why Cliff Hanger is such a popular guy but I'd like to break all of his teeth. Then again, at least this means we'll be getting another sequel and that's a good thing.

The politics of the story drift a bit in the work as well. At first it was a plucky bunch of kids rebelling against an overreaching government. Then it was those kids a few years later finding a way to turn things into a government in which everyone has a say. Those were impressive. But now things are shifting a bit. Control of the substrate is control over the future or humanity and its use is restricted to just a few people who are planning to pass that control on to their children. This has potential to lead to a government even more repressive than the one they overthrew. So far they haven't gone down that road but the possibility to do so is certainly there. If Kinnison will steer his series away from that eventuality. If he does so it will be interesting to see how he pulls it off. So I'm waiting (im)patiently for the sequel to see what comes next.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Micro Black Holes

Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3
Jeb Kinnison
Self Published, 2015

The books in the trilogy are available at the link below: