Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sarah Hoyt's Darkship Revenge


Have you ever sat in a cab at three in the morning with no fare in the back reading when you should have been taking a nap? Have you ever gotten home from a thirteen hour shift driving a cab knowing you only had five hours to sleep before you went back and did it all over again and sat starting at words on a cell phone screen anyway? If not I'm guessing that either:

A.) You've never read Darkship Revenge by Prometheus Award winner Sarah Hoyt.
B.) You don't drive a cab and work midnights.
or
C.) Both.

First the disclaimer: This is the third book in a series.  I think it would work pretty well as a stand-alone but I've read the first two.  The reader may want to start with Darkship Thieves and Darkship Renegades. Then again,  you don't really NEED to unless you're anal about reading a series in publication order like a certain blogger we all know and lone.  *COUGH*

The story centers around Athena Hera Sinistra, daughter of Goodman Sinistra, ruler of one of the seacities in Hoyt's future Earth. Athena is an interesting character, possibly in the sense of the ancient Chinese curse. She was raised to be a body donor for her father. He did what he had to do to attempt to control her. It didn't work very well. I wouldn't want to be the guy who tried to control Thena. I guess that makes me smarter than him. Then again, Daddy Dearest was gene-engineered to be smarter than the rest of us, sooo... yup. Smarter than anyone who would try to control this chick. She's a little out there. But what do I mean by a littler out there? Either she is;

1.) Totally off her rocker (I don't believe this but she seems to.)
2.) A little "off" (Totally possible)
3.) A sociopath who somehow manages to care about her family, if not anyone else (I'm thinking no, but some of Thena's thoughts about herself seem to tend in this direction)
4.) A hardcore pragmatist who  ignores humanistic concerns (This sort of works, but not really. She does act like her nuclear family and her in-laws. Also, her treatment of the boys in the story is both pragmatic and humanistic.)
or
5.) The only sane person left (This options scares the hell out of me. What she does works too well to be crazy, but if THIS is what sane looks like...)

Since Wonder Woman was my last review, let me say this as well: This is how you do an empowered female character. Thena is a take-no-prisoners, no-holds-barred type who sees what needs to be done and does it. She won't take know for an answer and she survives things that would kill most people. Thena doesn't give up when she has a goal in mind, ever. She has the protective instinct in spades and she cannot be stopped when it comes to defending her own.

Thena has a child in the first few pages of the book and, while she doesn't think she will make a good mother, she actually does in her own fashion. I mean, I'm not sure that having an infant strapped to your chest during a firefight is all that great of an idea even if you can't find a babysitter but Thena manages to do it without getting either one of them killed so... It's all good... I guess? Right?

The supporting cast is also impressive.  Thena's husband Kit lives and breathes as much as if he were sitting next to you on the couch. The kids Thena and company end up saving come across as true to life as well.  I started out wanting to hate these kids but the time the story was over I wanted to adopt one.  (I'll admit that it didn't hurt that they had named themselves after famous fictional characters.  OK,  so maybe I'm a little testy about a story that includes a Christopher Robin but no Tigger but I'll get over it.)  Nat, Luce,  Simon all seem real. I could almost feel the stress these guys were going through myself.

The story itself has a relentless pace. I've heard it said that if an author feels their story becoming boring they should drop a mountain on their characters. Well, I'm guessing that Hoyt believes in pre-emptive strikes and that the Himalayas are missing a few peaks, because the hits keep coming and the action doesn't stop.

Part of why I like this story is because I love a good villain and Hoyt's Good Men are the type of person I can totally love to hate.  Anyone who would send down a plague to wipe out most of humanity in order to enslave the leftovers is worth killing.  What they do to the children in their care is quite frankly disgusting as well.  Hoyt has obviously taken great care in gifting us with people we can root against.  She's done a damn fine job. It's not often that an author can make me hate a group of characters badly enough to want to choke them all to death but Hoyt manages it with aplomb.

The technology in Darkship Revenge is either really cool or horrifying. Gene-engineered space plants that grow power pods that you can run a city with are sweet.  Characters fly around on anti-gravity powered brooms. Flying cars are everywhere. And of course,  the plio revolves around defeating a biological weapon that is devastating.

There is one facet of Darkship Revenge that drives me batshit insane.  Hoyt's characters shoot at each other with weapons called burners.  They're kind of a cross between a phaser pistol and a welding torch.  In and of itself that's okay.  The problem emerges with the unbelievable shooting skill her characters display under pressure.  I mean, the miracle head shots displayed in  The Walking Dead make me crazy but what these characters do with burners is at least an order of magnitude more difficult.  That being said,  it's called The Rule of Cool for a reason. All in all though,  this book kicked ass.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Brooms

Darkship Revenge
Sarah Hoyt
Baen,  2017

Darkship Revenge is available at the following link:

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Writing From a Different Perspective - Guest Post by Jon Del Arroz

A question I get asked a lot from reviewers of For Steam And Country is: Is it weird to write from a first person perspective of a sixteen year old girl?
The answer is yes. It took me several passes to actually dial in what Zaira Von Monocle’s perspective would be, and I had to work extremely hard to get her to the point where she’s the fun character in For Steam And Country that my advance readers tell me they love.
I’m going to give a little peek behind the curtain as to my learning as a writer, and my process as I came up with all of this, in hopes that it is both interesting to readers, and potentially helpful to newer writers.
When I first conceived the novel, I knew that I wanted to write a Steampunk fantasy, to create a fantasy world of kingdoms and airships, alchemy and swashbuckling, high adventure that most books in the steampunk genre had shied away from. Most books in the genre either went going something darker and grittier, or dipping further into romance. I also wanted to make it somewhat YA (I consider the finished product a tweener between YA and regular fantasy, though it’s perfectly suitable for all ages), which I thought would allow me to take a lighter tone.
YA fantasy novels take the first person perspective more often than not, allowing for a real sense of feeling like you’re inside the head of the protagonist, or at the very least sitting across from them while you take high tea. A recent trend has them in first person present, which makes people really feel in the action, but I didn’t want to go that far, as it’s very few and far between I read a book in the present tense that doesn’t annoy me.
I actually had this plan to write in the first person perspective from the onset, getting to worldbuilding and character creating. In keeping with YA, I wanted to keep the protagonist young, and also to the market, having a female perspective seemed the way to go. I looked at the idea and thought, “wow, do I really want to write a 16 year old girl in the first person?” It sounded pretty daunting, and like it required a lot of work to keep realistic. Once I looked at the job from that perspective, I viewed it as a writing challenge to myself.
Very little gets me motivated like a challenge, competition, even if it’s something as small as posing the question to myself if I could pull something off. In fact, a lot of my best work comes out of such challenges. It sounds silly, but in writing, self-motivation is about the most important skill you can learn. It’s hard to go through scenes, especially some of the heavier ones, and it’s much harder to edit. If you have other goals that trick yourself into feeling like a game, then you’ll more often than not breeze through something that seemed at first like a chore.
And this turned out hard to do, not in the sense of it took me a long time to write--I actually had so much fun with this world and with these characters that I breezed through my first draft-- but when I went through it the first time, the character didn’t come across as a good protagonist at all.
In my figuring this out, I observed teenagers, and tried to remember what it was like to be a teenager myself. Frankly, I found teenagers to be a bit rambunctious, acting without thinking, and extremely low in self-confidence (for the most part, there’s always exceptions). And I wrote my character as such. In my early submissions drafts that I sent out to agents and editors, the character whined a LOT. She was combative, teasing her love interest a bit too hard. Honestly, it felt very realistic to me from what I’ve seen of a lot of teenagers, but those behaviors grate on a reader if they’re too pronounced, and I found that many of the editors didn’t connect with the character because of that.
I later learned the value of connection over realism in writing, something I wish I would have learned a lot easier and sooner. Readers want to see some flaws, some mistakes, but they don’t want that to be overwhelming, don’t want to find a person annoying. And in a heroic adventure, some of those life quirks need to be toned down rather than be presented as too realistic.
I let the book sit for awhile, wrote Star Realms: Rescue Run, and released that to quite a bit of fanfare. When I looked at this novel again, I saw it was close, but I needed to push that perspective character to the next level. I thought of who this character was, and how it would have shaped her so she’s different than just a normal teenager. Zaira’s lived mostly abandoned, on her own except when the neighbors checked in on her. She’s had to work for herself, farm for herself, wash her own clothes, cook her own meals for a couple of years now. That’s a pretty hard life to have 14-16, and one that requires a lot of work. As such, she’d be tougher. The whining had to go. She’d also have a very strong sense that she could do anything herself, including going in and doing things like flying an airship (minor spoiler, but I think you probably figured out that airship flying occurs by this point!). That has negative effects like stubbornness, which provide for some good conflict that a reader can relate to more. With those major facets of her personality in mind, I rewrote the book. And this time, everything clicked.
Even though there were heavy rewrites, I flew through this last pass because I made a character that was compelling and fun for me. And that’s what it takes to make something compelling and fun for a reader.
Authors often strive too hard for realism, to the point where it makes a lot of works bland and boring. Something that we can’t connect with because we’re not wishing we were in that person’s movie. And that’s what the author has to create. We as readers want people to rise up and be heroes, to meet challenges, to exceed expectations. That’s why we escape into fantasy in the first place. Realizing that changed my world, making Zaira Von Monocle into the farm girl-turned-hero that she ended up being in For Steam And Country. She’s still got her inexperience, but her wide-eyed sense of wonder and being willing to take on big challenges makes her a fun protagonist. I hope you enjoy reading about her as much as I enjoyed writing her.
Jon Del Arroz is the author of the Alliance Award nominated and top-10 Amazon bestselling Space Opera, "Star Realms: Rescue Run." His second novel, "For Steam And Country," is just out. He hails from the San Francisco Bay Area, is a guest contributor to the Hugo Award-nominated Castalia House blog, and regularly posts to http://delarroz.com. Twitter: @jondelarroz Gab.ai: @otomo

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

DC's Wonder Woman Starring Gal Gadot

(*SIGH* Before I get into the fun  part, especially with this being a DC Comics related post, I have to share my thoughts on the passing of Adam West. I want to cry. I've been a fan of his since before I can remember. One of the local independent TV stations used to carry Batman episodes back to back on weekends. I've always loved them. So Godspeed Adam West. That's another piece of my childhood gone.)

(I got to go with my kiddos! Check us out in our 3D glasses!)


For the longest time I've been a DC movie hater. Seriously. I'm guilty. I will admit to a bit of an obsession with Wonder Woman though. I watched the live action TV series in re-runs as a kid. I loved the Super Friends/ Justice League cartoon. I haven't watched a Batman movie since the Clinton Administration. I'm a blatant Green Lantern fanboy but I was disappointed by the GL movie. For whatever reason, though they go this one right. And not just a little right. Wonder Woman was everything I wanted the GL movie to be and more.

I'll be honest in stating that I was a bit disappointed that the movie was set in World War One as opposed to World War Two, when Wonder Woman's birth took place in the comics. I'm not a true hardcore purist but I do have enough purist tendencies that I was  bit annoyed with such a massive change in timing. That lasted about ten minutes into the movie. I don't want to give too many spoilers but the story just worked.

Wonder Woman has always been a story with one half based on Greek myth and the other based on the real world. The movie exemplified that. When  you've got an invasion of the island of Themyscira  by the German army (the World War I version, not the Nazis) it can't be anything else. German troops are from the  real world. Themyscira is from myth. Poison gas is (horrifyingly) from the real world. Ares, God of War, is from Greek Myth. I could go on. There is a point here though:

The Wonder Woman mythos has always depended on the ability of the writer to blend the two worlds well and here they've done it flawlessly. The blend is seamless. I'd say they transition back and forth well, but the bottom line is that there is no need for the TO transition. They two are straight up blended. The writers did a wonderful job with this script. There are no two ways about it.

Oh, and another thing: If Wonder Woman doesn't win the Oscar for best special effects someone needs their ass kicked. Someone as in, like, the entire Academy. If there is a problem finding someone to do it, I will volunteer as tribute. Everything about this film looks gorgeous, from the Lasso of Truth, to the explosions, to the poison gas, the costuming, everything. The fight between Diana and her target is epic. I hate to say it, but I'm almost wondering if they stole some people from Marvel because this movie is beautiful.

Of course the true key to any adaptation of Wonder Woman is the title character herself and Gal Gadot knocks it out of the park. She is Diana, Princess of Themyscira. She has the look and the personality just right. The only actor I've ever seen play a super hero this well previously is Robert Downey Jr. Yup, you heard it hear first: Gadot plays Wonder Woman as a well as Downey plays Tony Stark. Coming from me, that's high praise indeed.

Granted, Diana grew up on an island where she was the only child and there were no men. She does not have a working knowledge of modern society because she didn't grow up in it. The first time she sees a baby she marks out but it all makes sense. She wasn't raised in a normal environment and so she isn't used to normal things. Gadot plays this part of her character to a t and I'm wondering how she did it.

Of course, a good Steve Trevor always helps as well and Chris Pine nails it. He plays the perfect soldier: The mission means everything. All else is secondary. He falls in love with Diana and makes you believe it. He's got the cocky thing down (and Trevor is both a pilot and a spy, therefore making him cocky as hell) but he's level headed enough to wish he didn't have to fight and he makes you believe all of it. Very few actors will ever fit into a role they way Gadot does in this one, but he comes close.

Any story is improved with a good villain and Wonder Woman delivers those in spades. Whether it's Ares, Greek God of War, a German general who wants the war to continue, to the evil Dr. Maru inventor of a horrifying chemical weapon that can destroy gas masks (and also a woman with a career in STEM) there are plenty of people to root against. It's always good to see the protagonist win, but it's even better when you want to see the bad guys lose. Oh, and speaking of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics:

I've heard a lot of debate about whether or not Wonder Woman is a feminist movie. Consider the following quote:

"You are stronger than you believe and more powerful than you know" - Antiope to a young Diana Prince

Consider the fact that Diana does things her way, places her mission over the mission of the men she is with (albeit while ultimately believing that her mission is more important and will complete the mens mission for them.) and completes it by defeating a man. Consider the fact that she is expected to fail and succeeds anyway. This is a woman who takes her own counsel, who does not back down when confronted by anything and who does not let anything deter her from her path. Diana is a woman who kills a Greek god using only her own innate power. In short, this is a feminist film.

Yes, I've heard the complaints that Wonder Woman is not a true feminist because she is a straight white woman and in good shape, but check facts: It is not necessary to be a fat lesbian person of color to be a feminist. I'm not generally a fan of expecting kids to find their role models in the entertainment industry, but if my girls go that route I want them to watch this movie and see something to emulate. Yes, this is the message I want all young girls everywhere to hear: You can be what you want, do what you want and achieve anything with or without a man.

It's worth noting that both of my daughters loved this movie so much that they thanked me for taking them when we went on Saturday, then again when I saw them on Sunday and again when I saw them today. My youngest was a bit scared of the poison gas scenes (Honestly, so was I. I've read about what that crap can do.) and even the older of the two called them "creepy". They're both kind of right but this movie wouldn't work if it was all wine and roses.

My only complaint her is kind of lame, but I'm going to put it out there anyway. This is an awesome film. It needs a sequel. I'm not sure where they left room for one though. The main villain is deader than disco. His two accomplices have been wiped out. There is no unfinished business. Dammit, I want another Wonder Woman movie. DC better figure this out and get me one. You finally got one right DC. Follow up. And for the sake of all of your fans PLEASE use the same writer and director. You can still screw the next one up. I would prefer if you didn't.

Bottom Line: 5.0 out of 5 Bullet Proof Bracelets

Wonder Woman
DC Entertainment, 2017

Some Wonder Woman related merchandise is available at the links below:





Thursday, June 1, 2017

Christopher Nutall's Ark Royal

What happens when humanity becomes confident that they're the only species in space and gets comfortable? What happens when no one plans for conflict with an alien race? How about if humanity is so worried about border skirmishes with other Earth nations that they're not looking outward for trouble? Well, if they're in Christopher Nutall's Ark Royal they start off getting their asses kicked. It makes sense.

Ark Royal features a few classic tropes that just make my day. The first and most obvious is old-ship-comes-out-of-mothballs-to-kick-ass. I like this trope, but Nutall does it better than most, simply by providing a reason that the Ark Royal is able to light it up. Simply put the Ark Royal is armored. The new ships are not. The older ship can take a beating that would leave nothing of the newer ships but a debris pile. I like the trope and it's even better when it makes sense. Nutall got this one straight as well.

Ark Royal is a tale of redemption not just for the ship but for her crew and her captain. The vast majority of the crew was stationed on the ship because they were problems. Commodore Sir Theodore Smith is the captain of the ship... but he should have been cashiered because of his drinking problem. He starts off the book hung over and craving another drink. He manages to bring himself back from the abyss though. The whole crew does.

In a weird sort of way (and I'm not sure if Nutall intended this or not) the redemption of the crew is also the redemption of humanity. The human race has become complacent. It has done nothing to protect itself from outside attack. Humanity has not armored its carriers. It has no workable plans in place to protect itself from attack and no one trained to handle a peaceful first contact. Yet, when the Ark Royal's crew gets itself together, things get better for the Earth. The first victories against the aliens are led by a recovering alcoholic and his misfit crew.

It's odd too that the Ark Royal is a ship of the British Royal Navy but is put together from parts of only God and her captain know how many various nations. Honestly, I'd almost bet that the captain would have to sit down and count. This reflects the fact that all nations of the Earth are going to need to work together to repel the alien threat. Again, I'm not sure if Nutall meant it this way or not but the ship again takes on the mantle of the entire human race. The juxtaposition is a fascinating aspect of the story. I'm just not sure it was intended.

Nutall's alien invaders are mysteries throughout this first book. I like this approach. The humans know nothing about their enemies. They just know that these things showed up and started killing people. They're not even sure why or what the enemy wants. They work out how to fight them based on trial and error. It's all they can do. I am often a fan of the reader knowing things that the protagonist does not but this time I think Nutall has done the right thing.

Now, I will grant that there are eight books that follow this one (Ark Royalis the first in the series) and at some point I hope that Nutall makes more of the alien thought process known to his readers. That only makes sense. In an ongoing series more will most likely be revealed. I just started this series though, so I can't comment on whether or how it happens.

The combat scenes in the book work well. It helps that the aliens aren't stupid. The Ark Royal has a weapon that the ships they've fought previously have already abandoned and it catches them flat-footed.It makes sense in the context of the story. Just as important though, is the fact that the aliens respond and find an intelligent way to fight back. This leads humanity to adjust their tactics... and so on. This is how wars actually work in the real world though, so that makes sense. Both sides use whatever information they can find about the other side against them.

Commodore Smith's superiors don't trust him as much as he would probably like and that makes sense too. He is a known alcoholic. It's interesting though, to see how the loyalty of the people under his command shines through when they're asked to spy on him. It's twice as interesting to watch how the perceptions of one particular character change over the course of the book. Nutall does a good job showing the interlocking and sometimes conflicting duties and loyalties of a member of the military. Loyalty is key but it's not always clear which loyalty is more important. Nutall shows this clearly and his characters agonize. It fits. The battles with family/marital loyalty make sense as well. He even teases a problem with for the next book. I'm betting dollars to doughnuts that I've figured out at least part of it, but I could be wrong. I haven't bought it yet. (Sorry, Mr. Nutall. Rent was due.)

Smith and crew are hardcore and resilient. They think outside of the box. In short, they're precisely what they need to be to defeat a force that superior in both technology and numbers. It's often a close run thing but they fight and/or find a way through. Their missions turn out at least marginally successful because they refuse for them not to. This is a crew you can really admire. I'd go to war with them.

I'm trying to find something to complain about and it's just not working. I'm not going to say that this is a perfect work of Science Fiction but there are no MAJOR flaws that I could detect.I was never thrown from the story. The only characters I found annoying were the ones that were supposed to be annoying. I'm no expert on the tactics of space combat but everything in the book made sense from a fan's point of view.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Mass Drivers

Ark Royal
Christopher Nutall
Self Published, 2014

Ark Royal is available at the link below:

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Vanessa Ravencroft's Eric Olafson: Midshipman

(First a bit of housekeeping. I've started a Facebook group for this blog. Please join and tell your friends!)

I love a good space opera. It's pretty much impossible that I wouldn't. I mean, I grew up on Star Trek: The Original Series and then got into every iteration that came after. It's in my blood. That much being said, I'd like to say this: Thank you, Vanessa Ravencroft, for upholding my faith in my favorite sub-genre of Science Fiction. Seriously. Eric Olafson: Midshipman knocked it out of the park. I'll get to why in just a bit, but for now the disclaimer:

This is the eighth book in the series. I was able to follow 95% of it easily. It was all entertaining. I'm really only mentioning this because I know some people (and I happen to be one of them) prefer to start a series at the beginning. If you're looking for book one, it ain't here. If you're looking for a rollicking good time though, look no further. This one owns it.

Eric Olafson is not your typical midshipman/cadet. He has decorations that many senior officers don't, including the equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor.  He seems to be beloved by just about every race of aliens in the galaxy, including the mysterious ones that no human seems to understand. And believe me, no one who is not a Narth really understands the Narth, but they love them some Midshipman Olafson. Seriously. That's really cool though because we get to see all kinds of alien races. With apologies to the Honor Harrington saga, the best Space Opera always includes aliens. Trek, Wars, Green Lantern, etc. It's an old tradition and it gets carried on here.

I want to praise Ravencroft for something else as well: Many authors have characters that are either gay or have some kind of weird gender but very few get it right. Ravencroft does. EO:M is a story about a person named Eric Olafson who has two genders (I may be describing this wrong, I'm not an expert on the subject) but the story is about his second and third years at the United Stars Naval Academy. This is not a story about someone having a mixed gender, it is the story of a mixed gendered person. It's a good story. Very rarely have I seen books with mixed gender and/or gay characters that actually managed to tell a good story but Ravencroft pulled it off. Kudos to her.

There is something else that works with the whole mixed gender thing. Eric thinks that no one knows but everyone does. They just don't care. He's in the closet for no reason. I like that. Most people have no problems with a person being mixed-gender and/or homosexual in today's society. A lot of the supposed transgressions committed by those of us who are not gay (although certainly not all) are more a matter of the way things are perceived. Ravencroft seems to get this.

The story of Eric Olafson: Midshipman focuses on the titular characters second and third years at the naval academy. Olafson and his friends get into more trouble than the Harry Potter gang. Really. These guys could walk into a Kool-Aid tasting and walk out with a collection of black eyes and scalps. It makes the book fun. If you're looking for action look here because you'll find plenty.

Olafson alternates between extremely humble and a take no shit attitude. It fits though. I want to know how Ravencroft pulled this off. One minute, Olafson is like "Aw shucks" and the next he's like "Yes, I am an officer and I earned these medals. Follow my orders, dammit!" It's impressive.

The book offers several interludes. These switch point of view and location of the narrator. This is a good thing. This is the exact technique used by just about every movie or TV show ever. More authors should do this, because it gives the reader a much better understanding of what is going on in the wide world without necessarily informing the main character or something he doesn't need to know. And let's face it: We all love to squirm when the MC acts without knowledge that we have as readers/viewers. It just works.

Some of the gadgetry in the book is just plain cool as well. Every Space Opera ever (I may be exaggerating) has a device that produces a pressed uniform on command, but only the Galactic Chronicles has a device that will put your outfit on you. The power armor in the book includes rockets so that Marines can work/fight in space. The list goes on. I like SF doohickies. Chalk this one up as a win.

I'm confused though. This book is clearly labeled as eighth in the series, but there is only one other book available. I want a chance to read the rest of these books and I'm willing to pay for them, but I can't. That's frustrating. I want to give my money to read the books. This should be a fairly easy thing to negotiate. I mean, I know some authors get frustrated with the whole "Shut up and Take My Money" thing but damn. Where are the other seven books?

While I'm kvetching about things that have nothing to do with the story... I received this book as an ARC for review in e-book form. Yet, when I check Amazon I don't get a link to an ebook. I have nothing against a hardcopy release but I'm confused. The work has already been done. Why is there no e-book available? It seems to me that she'd make more money selling both for whatever that's worth.


My only complaint about the actual story is one that has been made over and over about heroes in stories. Olafson is way too good at, well, everything. He doesn't seem to have a weak spot. He out battles one of his friends who comes from a race that is supposedly invincible in hand to hand fighting. He commands the biggest starship in the fleet on his first day as a cadet and gets through his first combat almost perfectly. He boards another ship in combat and comes back alive and victorious. I mean, this guy couldn't mess up if he tried. Oh, and he's a diplomatic wiz too. The various alien races in the book all recognize Eric as one of their own, even though he is clearly human. Overall though, the story was awesome and the flaws forgivable.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Auto Dressers

Eric Olafson: Midshipman
Vanessa Ravencroft
Createspace, 2017

Eric Olafson: Midshipman is available at the link below:


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Memorial Day Post: John R. Taylor's Return to Normandy

(Yes, I know that I'm a day late and a dollar short but this is my annual Memorial Day post dedicated to all of those who went off to fight for the United States of America and didn't make it home. "Home of the Free because of the Brave" is a cliche but it's true. This post is also dedicated to anyone who has lost a loved one in the service of the USA. Let's not forget that every service member who passes leaves a family behind.)

There is very little in the world as satisfying as reading a work of military science fiction written by a veteran. They can portray things in a manner that is believable and authentic because they've been there. The relationships between the characters work on a level that can't be faked. The tactics make sense. The characters are neither cowardly nor psycho gung-ho and eager to die. They are, in short, just like members of the real life military. All of this is true of John R Taylor's Return to Normandy. He nailed it. I really enjoyed this book.

The premise of the book is pretty simple: In celebration of the seventieth anniversary of the D-Day invasion, several of the nations that participated in the battles on D-Day, including the Germans, send paratroopers to drop on Normandy. This actually happened in the real world. In Taylor's version the lead plane is filled with American paratroopers who are transported back in time to June 6, 1944 and arrive before the invasion troops. They have period weapons and uniforms as part of the festivities, but no ammunition. Things get interesting quickly.

Our heroes don't know what to do at first but that makes sense. They were planning on landing in a wide open field in front of a huge crowd of spectators and instead they're getting shot at by Germans at night. I can't help but think that confusion is the only possible reaction. It's not like this was some kind of experiment intended to transport them. I mean, when they first hit the ground they don't know when or where they are. Once they figure it out they can't figure out how they got there and a few members of the platoon reject the idea. It's natural and believable.

I don't have the details of Taylor's actual military service (his bio lists him as having served in the 101st Airborne just like his characters) but I'm guessing he never made high officer rank. He seems to have a healthy dislike of those who give orders and get soldiers killed. That makes sense too. According to his Amazon bio, Taylor served in combat in Vietnam and obviously lost some buddies. I can't blame him for being bitter. High command was hated in Vietnam and for good reason: A lot of the men giving the orders behind the lines had no clue what conditions were for the troops they were issuing orders to. They understood the war they were fighting from an academic point of view but not what it was actually like since they hadn't been in those conditions.  I'd hate to be the officer he patterned some of these characters on but that's neither here nor there.  It does bring up a good point though.

I'm as big a fan of stories like the Honor Harrington saga as anyone, but sometimes it can get a bit frustrating when everything is told from the top down. One of the things that I really enjoyed about this book is that it's told from the point of view of the common soldier. The main character is the lieutenant but he's still a man in the field facing the same dangers as his men. I love that. He gives the orders but he's no Dwight Eisenhower, leading from hundreds of miles away. That is, in my opinion, the best way to tell a story.

I don't do spoilers, but I'm going to this time. Taylor's men meet up with the men from Easy Company, a la Band of Brothers. Talk about a good time. They actually know who they're meeting up with since they've seen the show. It's a good time for them and for the reader as well. I found myself grinning like an idiot when it happened and it fits so well that it didn't throw me out of the story at all. I got a big kick out of it.

Getting back to the point about officers: At one point, Lieutenant "Spike" Wilson gets an order to take out a mortar emplacement. It should be a good order. Americans are dying because they're taking shells and someone needs to take it out. He's told that there should be a company defending the mortars and that he's supposed to take them out with sixteen men while massively outnumbered. He's a soldier so he follows his orders - right up until he realizes that the enemy is in battalion strength and he has no chance of success. Once again, what we're seeing is the battle between officers in the field and their commanders . One knows what's going on and the other doesn't. As someone who has studied the Vietnam War (but has no actual combat experience) this seems to match up with what I've learned about the way things worked there. The realism here is palpable.

My only complaint about Return to Normandy is a weird one. The first chapter of the book takes place in Afghanistan. I get it on an intellectual level. It focuses on an elite airborne unit in the modern US military that would have deployed into combat zones for obvious reasons. It sets up the relationship between Spike and his platoon. Spike shows how much he cares for his men and that is key to the rest of the story. I should be okay with it, but...

It threw me. I was looking for a story in Normandy and I ended up in the rock pile. I felt lost and disoriented for a bit. It's not that it was poorly written. In actuality it was very well done and entertaining. It just wasn't what I expected. I actually went back and checked to make sure I had ordered the right book. (Yes, most of my reviews come from people who have sent me their books in exchange for a review but I didn't have anything that would have worked for a Memorial Day review so I bought one. I'm glad I did.) All in all though, this story still kicks ass. It just took a few more minutes to get through the first chapter than it would have ordinarily.

(Yes, I know that I'm a day late and a dollar short but this is my annual Memorial Day post dedicated to all of those who went off to fight for the United States of America and didn't make it home. "Home of the Free because of the Brave" is a cliche but it's true. This post is also dedicated to anyone who has lost a loved one in the service of the USA. Let's not forget that every service member who passes leaves a family behind.)

There is very little in the world as satisfying as reading a work of military science fiction written by a veteran. They can portray things in a manner that is believable and authentic because they've been there. The relationships between the characters work on a level that can't be faked. The tactics make sense. The characters are neither cowardly nor psycho gung-ho and eager to die. They are, in short, just like members of the real life military. All of this is true of John R Taylor's Return to Normandy. He nailed it. I really enjoyed this book.

The premise of the book is pretty simple: In celebration of the seventieth anniversary of the D-Day invasion, several of the nations that participated in the battles on D-Day, including the Germans, send paratroopers to drop on Normandy. This actually happened in the real world. In Taylor's version the lead plane is filled with American paratroopers who are transported back in time to June 6, 1944 and arrive before the invasion troops. They have period weapons and uniforms as part of the festivities, but no ammunition. Things get interesting quickly.

Our heroes don't know what to do at first but that makes sense. They were planning on landing in a wide open field in front of a huge crowd of spectators and instead they're getting shot at by Germans at night. I can't help but think that confusion is the only possible reaction. It's not like this was some kind of experiment intended to transport them. I mean, when they first hit the ground they don't know when or where they are. Once they figure it out they can't figure out how they got there and a few members of the platoon reject the idea. It's natural and believable.

I don't have the details of Taylor's actual military service (his bio lists him as having served in the 101st Airborne just like his characters) but I'm guessing he never made high officer rank. He seems to have a healthy dislike of those who give orders and get soldiers killed. That makes sense too. According to his Amazon bio, Taylor served in combat in Vietnam and obviously lost some buddies. I can't blame him for being bitter. High command was hated in Vietnam and for good reason: A lot of the men giving the orders behind the lines had no clue what conditions were for the troops they were issuing orders to. They understood the war they were fighting from an academic point of view but not what it was actually like since they hadn't been in those conditions. I'd hate to be the officer he patterned some of these characters on but that's neither here nor there.  It does bring up a good point though.

I'm as big a fan of stories like the Honor Harrington saga as anyone, but sometimes it can get a bit frustrating when everything is told from the top down. One of the things that I really enjoyed about this book is that it's told from the point of view of the common soldier. The main character is the lieutenant but he's still a man in the field facing the same dangers as his men. I love that. He gives the orders but he's no Dwight Eisenhower, leading from hundreds of miles away. That is, in my opinion, the best way to tell a story.

I don't do spoilers, but I'm going to this time. Taylor's men meet up with the men from Easy Company, a la Band of Brothers. Talk about a good time. They actually know who they're meeting up with since they've seen the show. It's a good time for them and for the reader as well. I found myself grinning like an idiot when it happened and it fits so well that it didn't throw me out of the story at all. I got a big kick out of it.

Getting back to the point about officers: At one point, Lieutenant "Spike" Wilson gets an order to take out a mortar emplacement. It should be a good order. Americans are dying because they're taking shells and someone needs to take it out. He's told that there should be a company defending the mortars and that he's supposed to take them out with sixteen men while massively outnumbered. He's a soldier so he follows his orders - right up until he realizes that the enemy is in battalion strength and he has no chance of success. Once again, what we're seeing is the battle between officers in the field and their commanders . One knows what's going on and the other doesn't. As someone who has studied the Vietnam War (but has no actual combat experience) this seems to match up with what I've learned about the way things worked there. The realism here is palpable.

My only complaint about Return to Normandy is a weird one. The first chapter of the book takes place in Afghanistan. I get it on an intellectual level. It focuses on an elite airborne unit in the modern US military that would have deployed into combat zones for obvious reasons. It sets up the relationship between Spike and his platoon. Spike shows how much he cares for his men and that is key to the rest of the story. I should be okay with it, but...

It threw me. I was looking for a story in Normandy and I ended up in the rock pile. I felt lost and disoriented for a bit. It's not that it was poorly written. In actuality it was very well done and entertaining. It just wasn't what I expected. I actually went back and checked to make sure I had ordered the right book. (Yes, most of my reviews come from people who have sent me their books in exchange for a review but I didn't have anything that would have worked for a Memorial Day review so I bought one. I'm glad I did.) All in all though, this story still kicks ass. It just took a few more minutes to get through the first chapter than it would have ordinarily. Heck, I've already picked up

Oh and, for the record, I'm pretty bitter. If I had read this before I did my Dragon nominations I'd have put it up for Best Alternate History. Oops. That's just plain bad timing on my part.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Missed Drops

Return to Normandy
John R Taylor
CreateSpace, 2017

Return to Normandy is available at the following link:



Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Don't Make Me Use My Dad Voice

There are two types of Science Fiction and Fantasy fans in the world:

1.) Those who acknowledge both new and old works as being relevant to the genre.
2.) Those who are wrong.

Yep. That completes the list. That's everybody. I don't know where you fall into the list, dear reader, but you're on there somewhere. I don't get why anyone would denigrate either, but there it is.
Some readers are never going to like certain authors. That's the way it should be. The fact remains that not liking an author doesn't make them irrelevant to the genre.


This rant started because of things I've read recently after seeing them linked on Facebook. I can't seem to find them. One had an explicit statement that anything published more than fifteen years ago is no longer relevant. I believe that it was written by a young person. I understand the hubris of youth and the belief that history started the day that person was born, but no it didn't actually happen that way.

Everything in SF/F builds on what has come before. The roots of modern fantasy go back at least as far as The Epic of Gilgamesh. (And possibly farther. Since it's the oldest known written document it's hard to say for sure but that's the way I'd bet.) Science Fiction goes back to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Everything in either genre derives from those two works in some way, shape or form. Everything. ALL OF IT.

Now don't get me wrong. Lots of work is still happening in both genres and it's all relevant too. Harry Potter is a bit older now, but it has legions of fans. The boom in Young Adult literature (much of which kicks ass) is attributable directly to J.K. Rowling. Authors like Veronica Roth, Suzanne Collins and Rick Riordan have all benefited from the popularity of someone else's series. (Please understand that I'm not demeaning any of the above. Their work is awesome. I'm just stating that Harry Potter created a market for them to get the recognition they deserve.) This is a good thing for SF/F and those individual authors alike. It's also good for a guy like me, who likes a good story regardless.

Speaking of the Hunger Games trilogy and the Divergent series, I'll offer dystopic science fiction as a case in point. Darren Allen has an excellent post on this very subject here. I won't go into the types of dystopias he has mentioned. He does a terrific job of that himself. My point is the relevance. Those older works are relevant based on the influence they still have on work today.

The relevance of the more modern work is probably more evident to a younger person. The wave of modern day dystopic fiction probably started with the success (and yes, that's key) of The Hunger Games. The books and the movies related to Suzanne Collins work is long and becoming longer. She re-popularized the sub-genre and sent it higher in popularity than anyone who came before her. She deserves a ton of credit. The fact remains that her work built on a foundation established decades earlier. It's all relevant.

The same can be said of works like The Time Machine and Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. The Time Machine opened another entire sub-genre of SF/F: that of time travel. Journey to the Center of The Earth introduced science fiction to the ancient concept of the fantastic journey. Seriously, every SF work that contains space travel owes a debt to Jules Verne. Every episode of Star Trek, every Star Wars movie, every Green Lantern comic book and all the rest can trace their roots back here, with an assist to the French silent film A Trip to the Moon.

So go ahead and play Halo.  Enjoy it. It's relevant to a new generation of fans. Just don't think you invented the space travel or power armor. Power armor has been around since at least the debut of Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein. It's awesome. It's fun. It's just not original. But relevant? Oh hell yeah. Have you seen the hype this game generates? Have you watched the movies or read the novels? (No, I haven't read the novels but if anyone wants to let me know where to start, I'm there. The influence of this video game on an entire generation of fandom is immense.)


Oh, and since I'm rocking out with my dad voice...

There has been a movement recently to add more women into SF/F circles. This in and of itself is a good thing. What is not good is the bullshit people are peddling when they try to highlight their cause. Are you paying attention here people? I have a statement to make:

If someone tells you that women have historically been ignored or pushed aside in SF/F they are either a liar or an idiot. 

 

As a matter of fact, if they're dumb enough to believe that anyone who knows anything about the genre is ignorant enough to believe their bullshit they're probably both. I spent five minutes on the Hugo Awards list site compiling the following list of Hugo Awards won by women before 1980:

Weyr Search” by Anne McCaffrey [Analog Oct 1967] Best Novella 1968
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin [Ace, 1969] best novel 1970
The Word for World is Forest” by Ursula K. Le Guin [Again, Dangerous Visions, 1972] best novella 1973
“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin [New Dimensions #3, 1973] best short 1974
The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin [Harper & Row, 1974] Best Novel 1975
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm [Harper & Row, 1976] Best Novel 1977
Eyes of Amber” by Joan D. Vinge [Analog Jun 1977] best Novelette 1978
Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre [Houghton Mifflin, 1978] Best Novel 1979


There have been others since, but I've got to work in a bit so that's as far as I took it. Also, I didn't look into the retro awards, so there may have been some there. To be fair, there may not have been as well.

And let's not forget that Mary Shelley was the FOUNDING AUTHOR of Science Fiction. The technology in the work may appear dated to modern eyes, but the book was first published in 1818. No, that's not a typo. Next year is the two-hundredth anniversary of the first published Science Fiction work. It is also the two-hundred anniversary of the publication of the  first ever Science Fiction story written by a woman. A woman who has at least three separate awards named after her. Seriously. Please, people learn something about a genre before you bash it. Check your fucking assumptions and do some god damned research before you start spouting horse manure. Really. The amount of books, movies and toys that come from Shelley's work is beyond my ability to calculate.

Some works mentioned above are available at the links below:












Saturday, April 22, 2017

SF Predicts the Future: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

(PLEASE NOTE: The picture below was not in any way created/altered/conceived/etc. by me. I blatantly stole it from a Facebook post and have no intent to take credit for it. If someone knows who made this tell me and I'll give them credit. They deserve it. I don't.)




I once read a Facebook post by none other than SF/F author John Ringo in which he lamented the fact that he was having trouble keeping ahead of engineers with his writing. It appears that Science Fiction authors are so good at predicting the future that engineers are following right along and inventing new products directly from the pages/from the screens of works of Science Fiction, only the engineers have gotten so good at it that they are now catching up to what SF writers have predicted. I'm not sure if this is because SF authors and screenwriters are so used to recycling tropes now that the engineers are hip to what comes next or if it's because engineers are just that damned good. I have a feeling it may be some strange co-mingling of the two but I have no evidence of that either. For purposes of this blog though, I will confine myself mainly to what's been seen on screen. Movies and TV will

It's worth mentioning that Star Trek in no way has a monopoly on guessing what's coming. Plenty of writers and movies have made predictions. I used that picture because it got me thinking, not because of any belief that only Trek is accurate. We'll get to who else is in a moment. This is something I've been meaning to write about. Hey, maybe I'll even make a prediction or two of my own.What could go wrong with that? Heh.


The Good:


Well, I started the article off with a Star Trek picture. Trek predicted all of the above and more. Trek gave us the communicator/cell phone, PADD/tablet, etc., etc., etc. Interestingly enough, it gave us more though. I know that a lot of fans of the "hard" sciences don't exactly suffer from an overabundance of enthusiasm for the social sciences but Trek predicted a lot of future trends there as well. "Seeking out new life and new civilizations" would be any anthropologists dream and, while we don't exactly have any aliens to observe yet, they have sought out many groups of people in less populated parts of the world to study. Kirk's Enterprise featured an integrated cast. There was a black woman and an Asian man on a bridge mainly populated by white people. At the time that was science fiction. No one in the modern US Navy would bat an eyelash at it.

The Battlestar Galactica reboot predicted cyber warfare before it was cool. The Galactica survives because it is the only ship in the fleet whose computers are not networked. The Cylons, being robots and therefore having computer brains, were able to easily access the computers of the other Battlestars and destroy them. In our own world, we're just beginning to see true cyber warfare take place but it is here.It's going to get more pervasive. The worst part is that it's not a shooting war and so it's hard to spot until it's too late.

George Orwell's 1984 predicted the rise of the surveillance state and the media-governmental complex. Seriously. There are cameras everywhere, especially in places like Great Britain. The NSA watches everyone in the United States and their communications. The Thought Police seemingly exist today as well, just not as a government agency. We have the media for that. When Brandon Eich, CEO of a major corporation, can be forced to resign for giving money to a group that supported traditional, as opposed to same-sex, marriage and Kelvin Cochran, Fire Chief of the City of Atlanta can be fired from his job for stating that homosexual sex is a sin while off the clock, the though police exist. This time, they're the media though. 

The Six Million Dollar Man predicted the use of mechanical replacements for lost limbs. Not only are prosthetic limbs fairly common but some actually are mechanical. Three D printers have made them much less expensive as well. They will continue to improve.

Exoskeletons, such as in Iron Man or Starship Troopers (the book)  are on their way. They are currently being tested for military applications by several countries. While it is unlikely that we'll be seeing a workable model in the extremely near future they're on the way. It's just a matter of figuring out what will work. I do find it unlikely that the first working model will be invented by a millionaire with a bad heart working with hand tools in a cave but what do I know?

The Bad:

Just about everybody has predicted the invention of a portable laser pistol. Whether it's Star Trek's phaser or  a Star Wars blaster it's just not going to happen, for a few reasons. One is practicality. No one will ever be able to generate a bright enough beam and focus it tightly enough using a package small enough to fit in one hand. Yes, the Air Force is working on a laser that can shoot down aircraft and missiles. It takes an AC-130 to carry one. They haven't made it work yet, but it's probably coming. It's just never going to be small enough to be man-portable.

Dick Tracy had an atom powered watch. Look guys, I'm a proponent of nuclear power on a macro scale as long as the technicians aren't dumb enough to pull out all of the control rods (Chernobyl) and the reactor isn't built in a freaking tsunami zone (Fukushima). The fact remains that nuclear power produces radiation and no watch is going to be able to contain it. Sorry all, but we need to leave the nuclear power generation to plants that are big enough to contain the radiation.


 Mutants, such as those in X-Men  or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles  are simply not possible. Yes, mutation has been going on for as long as there has been life but it is far more likely to lead to the death of whatever just mutated. Even successful mutation doesn't lead to the kind of changes in TMNT. Something as simple as  super strength isn't going to happen all at once based on simple genetics.

The Ugly:


Umm... I love them too.. but...uhhh... Lightsabers are never going to happen. Light doesn't work that way. Two beams of light that come into contact won't rebound... they'll simply pass right through each other.  The only way to make something that looked like a lightsaber would be to get something small enough to fit in one hand that could generate a plasma field. It would be so hot that it would burn its user to death as soon as they turned it on. This one just isn't going to happen.

Mecha, such as those in Robotech, Battletech, Avatar and four million other things are just not going to happen either. There is no benefit to a mech when compared to a tank and they'd be harder and more expensive to build. Listen, I know about the rule of cool but that doesn't apply in real life. Such a machine would have too many problems balancing to stand up. Having read that, I'm going to go suck my thumb and watch Robotech. I've been a fan for thirty plus years now.

I loved The Jetsons too but the mass use of flying cars is never going to be a thing. There isn't enough room for runways. The air traffic control requirements would be impossible to meet. Tightly packed lanes are a pipe dream. People would be flying off in nine million different directions and mid air collisions would be common.

No one - and I mean not a single living human being that I'm aware of- predicted the internet before it became popularized. Even Babylon 5, which existed in the era of America Online, Prodigy and Compuserve ignored it. They had William Edgars, the millionaire, read an actual hardcopy newspaper instead of looking up the news on a laptop. The internet may be the single biggest technological innovation of the last fifty years that wasn't predicted on the page or on screen by a SF writer. It amazes me.

Well, that's what I've got. The list is obviously not all inclusive but those are some of the big ones from my point of view. All of the opinions above are, of course, mine. Feel free to tell me I'm full of crap if you have a mind to.


Some products related to things I mentioned above are available at the links below:










Friday, April 21, 2017

Good Luck Terry Foster. We'll Miss You

(This is a Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog, but this is NOT a science fiction and fantasy post. I know most of my readers come here specifically for that kind of content. I respect that and I respect you. This is, however, my blog and I've got something I want to get off of my chest. My normal insanity will return soon. I have a blog planned about the best and worst predictions in SF, a review of Sarah Hoyt's Through Fire and several other books planned. Today though, it's my bloggy and I'll post if I want to. You would post too if it happened to you!)





As a lifelong Detroiter (well, minus a year in Tulsa) I've followed the sports scene in the D since before I can remember. I remember the voices of George Kell and Al Kaline on a hot summer day. I remember Ernie Harwell doing the radio broadcasters. I've heard Mark Champion say "Man, oh man." so many times during Lions games that I can hear it in my nightmares. I've been known to look at the clock at work with an hour and thirty minutes until lunchtime and say "One and a half to go in the half." The five most import things in my life before I had kids were, in order:

1.) The Detroit Red Wings
2.) The Michigan Wolverines
3.) The Detroit Lions
4.) The Detroit Tigers
5.) The Detroit Pistons

(Yeah I read a lot of SF/F and  watched a lot of TV shows and movies. I just didn't do it while a game was on, unless it sucked.)

Yes, I was a Wings fan before it's cool. I'll never forget a column I read by Mitch Albom about a young guy the Wings had just drafted named Steve Yzerman. I'll never forget the look on my dad's face when he realized that I could read well enough to understand a newspaper article given how young I was either. There was always a newspaper in the house and a game on TV. Those poor, abused sports sections had to go through my father and myself before they were done. And contained  in those sports sections was a writer named Terry Foster.

Wikipedia says that Terry's first job locally was as a high school sports writer, starting in 1982. That sounds right, but I don't remember that. For one, I turned six in 1982 and for two, I've never paid much attention to high school sports. As a student at Hazel Park High School in the nineties, I attended precisely one sporting event that I had to pay to get into. I wouldn't have gone to that if there hadn't been a girl in the crowd that I wanted to talk to.  My first memories of the name Terry Foster came later: When he started work as the beat writer for the Detroit Pistons during their championship years. Dude, I noticed, could write. It's odd though. The only newspaper writer I've really felt a relationship with was Bob Talbert. Terry's writing was good and I enjoyed it, but I didn't really connect to him as a person until later. For that, I have to thank my cousin Ron.

Not long after I graduated from high school, Ron told me I should start listening to sports talk radio. At the time in Detroit that meant WDFN. He kept after me but I only listened to two things on the radio: Games and music.  Then one day, I got a job driving a van for a living. I wasn't into oldies at the time and Top 40 radio gets really old really quickly when you're in a vehicle for 8+ hours a day. Ron kept after me to try sports talk as an alternative that wouldn't make me crazy. Eventually, I gave up and started listening to sports talk while I was at work. I loved it. There were a lot of shows that I enjoyed. Jamie and Gregg was the first show I ever listened to. Then came Stoney and Wojo. The ride home, at least for me, came during a show called the Sports Doctors.

The Sports Doctors show was sheer madcap insanity punctuated with occasional bouts of lucid argument. I loved that show. On one side was Dr. Terrance RRRRRRRRRRRRReginald Foster the Third. On the other was Art Regner. Some of their shows were epic. I remember one about low flush toilets that had me laughing for days afterward. They did awesome shows when the local teams won world championships. It was during this show that I really realized that you could care about an on-air personality.

I won't get into the day their "It's Official" bit started because there was some controversy and I don't want to get involved. If I talked about the day they started it, I would talk about how hard I was laughing and how frustrated Terry got with Art. About how I almost died that day because driving on the expressway and laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes was not a good plan for long term survival.

Seriously, I'm not the type to get caught up in the lives of famous people, at least not as far as what most people think of "famous". I have a degree in history but that's different. Those are mostly dead people whose lives have influenced massive amounts of people for generations after they were gone. I don't worry much about the adventures of Brangelina. I have no interest in who Russel Crowe is screwing this week. I don't know how many men Elizabeth Taylor was married to or which celebrity adopted a kid from what country. Don't get me wrong. I don't wish bad things on celebrities but that's just not me. With the WDFN crew, and especially The Sports Doctors, it was different.

These were guys who loved the same things I did. As I got a little more mature and started looking toward a wife and children of my own. I had, after all, just lost my father a few months earlier and didn't have time to talk to. None of the men on the air were mentors, per se. I've only ever met one or two of them in person and never for long enough to do more than exchange pleasantries. Still though, when they weren't talking sports they talked about life.

It seemed like every day Terry had a story to tell about his wife or one of his kids or maybe all of the above. At first when I heard him do it I kind of rolled my eyes. It was a sports talk station right? I wanted to hear someone screaming about the failures of the Tigers (it was the 90s after all) or the Lions and their pathetic excuse for a team. I wanted to hear someone celebrate the National Championship the Wolverines won. Oh, and of course the Wings won two Stanley Cups in the same time period as well. Somewhere along the line though, maybe about the time T started building his man's room, that all changed. I mean, I still wanted to hear about the sports but I started caring about the people too.

Over the years, I got more and more interested in the side conversations. A couple of the guys had kids including Terry.  They talked about the WDFN family, but it felt like it was my family. Seriously. I hung out with these guys ALL DAY LONG when I was driving for a living. I followed everything on that station. Everyone had their favorite shows and hosts and mine was the Sports Doctors show and Terry Foster.

Terry was (and still is ) one of us. I don't know if anyone from outside the Detroit Area would get this or not, but Detroit takes a lot of crap from the rest of the country and in a lot of ways, we've written it off. Oh sure, we cared about 9/11 (which I found out about while listening to WDFN) or national elections or whatever but on a personal level, it's whatever. Terry though, Terry grew up here. He graduated from Cass Tech. He got his degree from Central Michigan University. A lot of people from around here go to CMU. He loves our town and our teams. Foster is the kind of guy that a local can identify with. When someone talked some trash about us, Terry responded. I don't know if I can articulate how much it means when you can listen to one of your own have your back on the radio. I'll miss that.

WDFN was eventually forced to cut its local lineup in favor of national talent, in large part because of the fact that another local station, at the time 1270 AM, went sports talk. Once the 1270 AM lineup moved to FM on 97.1 the feud was effectively over. WDFN is an AM station. It couldn't compete and a lot of on air talent left the station and went to The Ticket. Terry was no exception.

How Mike Valenti and Terry Foster ended up working together is better explained here but for my purposes I'll just say they did. Mike and Terry were awesome together. I just watched a video where Mike talked about how he'd been doing a show with Terry for thirteen years. I had no idea it had been that long. Terry kept being Terry. He brought the fire. When Terry FREAKING Foster said something is right or wrong in Detroit, whether in sports or in the actual city, he was right. Even if he wasn't right he could convince you that he was right. He had the energy and the passion. He could bring it. There were times I thought Terry was going to murder Mike or vice versa. It never got boring.

He kept talking about his family and we kept following him. We watched his marriage develop and his kids grow up, or at least we listened to it. As a divorced man who doesn't get to see his kids anywhere near as much as he wants to (wish me luck in court on Monday as I attempt to change that)  it was awesome to be able to know what was going on in the lives of someone's kids. Listening to him made me miss my kids more but it also helped me cope. I'll never forget that.

So now he's had a couple of strokes and can't do it the way he used to. He's decided that it's time to move on. It takes guts to admit that and I respect him for doing so. Too many people cling on to the past instead of admitting what they're at in life. He did what was right for his family. No one who had listened to him over the years expected anything that would harm them. Actually, let me rephrase something I just said: He did the right thing. Period. Dot. End of sentence.

The only part of this whole thing that bothers me is that he didn't really get a chance to go out on his terms. I'm not talking about the fact that he didn't do a farewell show. All I've heard is that he wasn't able to. No one has hinted that he wasn't allowed to and I've heard it stated that he was offered the chance to do so.  It's that I wish this could be some kind of magnificent thing. The man has earned the right to do this the way he wanted to and now he can't do it. If you read this T (and you probably won't) please understand that I'm not mad at you. I really am pissed at the fact that your body sold you out though. This just doesn't seem right.  We'll miss you Terry. You take care. Detroit sports will not be the same without you. And know this: If I were empowered to give out a Golden Scalpel Award for Best Talk Show Host, I'd give it to you.


Bottom Line: 5 out of 5 Awesome Shows


The Great Detroit Sports Debate is a book Terry co-authored with fellow Detroit sports writer Drew Sharp. It is available at the links below:



Sunday, April 2, 2017

Declan Finn's Live and Let Bite

(You can check both myself and Declan Finn out at the webcast he hosts and I appeared on. I promised him a blog at the time that the webcast was originally supposed to happen but my net has been down all day, so I'm a little late. Sorry Declan!)

First off the warning: Yes Live and Let Bite is book three. Yep, that means  there are two books before it. You should check them out too. I've reviewed them here and here. They're worth checking out. I mention this simply because you're going to want to read the first two books before reading this one. I really enjoyed this book and I'll talk about why below, but I'm not at all certain that this book would work as well as a stand-alone. There are a lot of references to what has come previously and it may be a bit confusing if you're not familiar. This is not a bad thing. It just means that you need to start at the beginning.

 Live and Let Bite is the story of our hero, Marco Catalano and our heroine Amanda Colt, the world's finest female vampire and their battle against existential evil. This time our evil takes the form of an ancient vampire assassin. She is a little off mentally and very impressive physically. In a universe where the bane of vampires is fire she takes a daisy cutter to the face and keeps running. She shrugs off things that should kill her and just keeps fighting.

Let's take a second to talk about our villain: Nualla is dark and mysterious. She  comes straight at Marco and he doesn't know why. She may work for a Council which may or may not exist. What we do know is that she is definitely an evil vampire (and one of the things I really like about these books is that vampires exist on a scale similar to the Dungeons and Dragons alignment system) who is extremely powerful and has a vendetta against Marco. The reason she gives (nope, not gonna spoil it) is nebulous at best and helps set up the next book (which will get here soon, I hope).

I don't generally do spoilers. They're not my thing. But I'm going to break the rule here: MARCO AND AMANDA ACTUALLY GET TOGETHER!!! And FINN DID IT RIGHT. When an author hints long term at a relationship it always makes me nervous when they finally let it happen. It often turns into a total cheesefest. The last episode of JAG comes to mind here. But Finn makes it believable. He makes it fun. He makes it awesome. This is a payoff worth waiting for. How things are going to work between a twenty-five year old mortal and a century old vampire is yet to be seen but at least they've admitted that they're both interested. Things are still in the early stages but I can't wait to see where this goes.

Finn once again delivers with the fight scenes. They're well planned out and vicious. I would not want to meet these guys in a dark alley. Well, meeting Marco in a back alley might not be all that bad. He tends to save the innocent, but the villains in this book are bad news. I do have a kind of complaint here though.

Marco and company have a tendency to prepare a battle space to a "T". This makes sense but it seems that once they've prepped a space the fight always goes the way they thought they would or at least close enough. The enemy gets a say in what happens and sometimes I think Finn forgets that. That doesn't mean it's not exciting. It doesn't mean that the good guys have won just because they think they've won. It's just really tightly plotted.

Finn has a healthy disrespect for government and it comes through. One of our main characters reveals that they were a government agent hunting the supernatural in the nineties and got downsized. Now another of our favorites has become the new guy with a much smaller department and budget.  So even with the lives of its citizen on the line, the US government found an excuse to cut the budget.  I'm  sure they managed to give a few phones away with the savings though. I got a good chuckle out of that.

A huge part of what I enjoyed about this book was that it always looks forward. Finn is building something here. The storyline is racing ahead and things are hinted at. There is a constant interest building. Finn is building a world one step at a time here. Things are opening up slowly and I'm following along amazed. He has very obviously planned out an extended plot going on here.

I did a post awhile back about Hollywood and some books that need to be turned into movies. In this case though, I'm going to suggest that maybe this series gets the Game of Thrones treatment. There's a television series here. I mean that. We may need to give Finn a bit of time to get a little further ahead before it gets started but this makes sense as a series. It's written that way and it works that way. I have zero pull in Hollywood but if I ever get some (about as likely as my getting hit by lightning twice on the same day as I hit the lottery) I'm going to make Finn an offer for this one.


So anyways, I'm totally waiting for the next one. Hopefully it will be here soon. I want to find out what the bigger threat is. I'm wondering if I'm right in predicting that we're going to see Marco go through a Luke Skywalker type storyline in the near future. His attitudes, his love for a vampire lass and Finn's alignment system have me wondering if we're not going to see a redemption story soon. We'll see how that goes. I'm anxious to see if I'm right.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Vials of Holy Water

The books in the Love at First Bite series are available at the link below:







Friday, March 3, 2017

Top 10 Songs about Games and Gaming

Congratulations to me! This is my one hundredth post! I had to go with something big. I couldn't decide what to do. I mean, I could do another book or movie review, but that's what I ALWAYS do. That didn't appeal. I could have come up with some kind of long ass post talking about how great I am (true) and how awesome all of the authors who have submitted their work for review are (still true) but I'm just not that type. So, what to do? Well, when I started this blog, I listed some things that I considered to be SF/F. Books and movies were givens. I also listed comics and gaming. I haven't done much with either, other than to list them as part of the Dragon Award lineup.My comic budget is pretty anemic though, and the last game I bought was World of Warcraft: Legion. It's the best expansion yet, but that's not what I wanted to do either.

Then I thought about it. Okay, what really happened was that I accidentally clicked on the Youtube app on my phone when what I wanted was Yahoo, but nobody's perfect. That's when I saw the video to my favorite song about a game and thought to myself, "I should do a post about the best songs about games." So now you're all stuck reading about it. MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!

First off the disclaimer: No, I had no involvement in producing any of this. No, I'm not going to spend days posting all of the relevant information. Each song will include a link. If you're interested in finding out who produced any or all of this stuff, feel free to click on the appropriate link(s) and get your information there. And without further ado...

Number 10: Natural 20

Musically this track is just there. It's got the guitar riffs and Mikey Mason has the voice to carry it. Let's face it though. The charm of this track isn't just that. If you've ever sat down at a table and played a pen and paper RPG then you know why the phrase "natural (or nat) twenty" would bring a smile to any player's face. If not don't bother asking. Just go to the hobby shop and pick up a book and some dice. Now. I'll wait.



Number 9: If I Had a Billion Platinum

First off, I've been a Weird Al fan since the Eighties. I love parodies! Second off, I love The Bare Naked Ladies. Third off, when I was a broke ass n00b in Everquest, I found this track on Youtube. It was one of the earliest gaming songs on the internet. And besides, who doesn't want all the Kunark loot? (Well, other than anyone who played starting with Scars of Velious or later.)



Number 8: Hard Like Heroic

World of Warcraft. Music parody. Double entendres. What else do you want? How about some hysterically funny video footage? Seriously. Go "Do it like a druid in the general channel." If you don't know what I'm talking about, find out. This is awesome.



Number 7: Just Loot It

Gear and gold. That's what MMORPGs are all about. Oh, and when you're from Detroit, the only thing better than a gaming parody is a gaming parody of an Eminem track. If it's not obvious enough, this was inspired by Just Lose It. That's just another reason to love this one. Raiding +  Detroit hip hop = win.

 


Number 6: Crank that Druid Boy


When I first started playing WoW I wouldn't participate in Player versus Player content. No, not ever. I played on a player versus environment server, I didn't do PvP quests. I didn't do battlegrounds or arenas. I wouldn't touch it. Then I saw this video. That night I logged in and figured out how to queue for battlegrounds. The song itself is good but what really makes this video is the PvP content in the video. You've got to check this out. Then you've got to go pwn some n00bs and cap a flag.


Number 5: End of the World (of Warcraft)

I almost didn't put this on here because it's too catchy. On one hand, that's a good thing. Things don't get stuck in your head unless they're good. On the other hand, I'm going to be hearing this song in my head for for the next two weeks. Oh, and since this is a parody of The End of the World as We Know It I want to watch Deep Impact now too. There's nothing quite like mixing the images of Orgrimmar and Morgan Freeman to really make your brain tingle. Ouch.

 


Now comes the hard part. I don't wanna have to slot these last four! I don't wanna! Good Lord. I guess I'll do it. Gimme a sec to figure this out.

Number 4: Uhhhh.... Game On

Picture this with me. You're sitting in your girlfriend's bed. She says she doesn't feel like gaming. It's your girlfriends bed. It's Tuesday night. Raids just reset. It's your girlfriend's bed. The solution to the problem is obvious: Call out a bunch of Bollywood dancers to dance around the room and convince her to jump in Vent for the raid. That's really the only viable solution. You can't let The Guild down right? Oh and, if my girlfriend didn't read this blog, I might be tempted to point out that any video with Felicia Day in it is probably going to be fun to watch.


Number 3: Do You Wanna Date My Avatar?

Yes, two of my top four videos are from The Guild. Sue me. It's another video featuring Felicia Day.We get to see quite a bit of Amy Okuda too. It doesn't get any better than an online relationship with a girl when you don't even know what she actually looks like. I've seen crap like this happen and it cracks me up. The fact that someone made a video about it just makes it even more funny. Just be careful with the winkies in guildchat. Oh, and yes I'm a fanboy of The Guild. That makes sense though. There are three types of people in the world: MMO players who love The Guild. Non-MMO players love The Guild and non-MMO players who don't love The Guild. That completes the list. If you don't love The Guild, you're not a true MMO player. Period. I almost had three videos from The Guild on the list, but then I realized Now I'm the One that's Cool isn't about gaming even if the show is.



Ready for the top two? I'll guarantee this is going to piss a few people off. Some of you out there only consider all "gaming" to involve video games and both of the top two are from table top RPGs. Here we go...

Number 2: Roll a D6

No it's not Like a G6 it's Roll a D6. If you don't know what they're talking about you've never done any tabletop RPG playing. The video is epic. The lyrics are on point. Anyone who has played can identify with what they're talking about in the song. Ignore the comments on this one. It's a song people, not a documentary. Some of the details are a bit off, but who gives a rat's ass? Not this guy.


Number 1: Best Game Ever (A Different D&D Song)

Mikey Mason FTW!!!!! This one will take you back if you're a pen and paper RPG player. You know that one dumb-ass you used to game with? The one that got killed every damn week and pissed everyone off? Remember all of the horrible shit you wanted to do to him? This is a song all about doing it. It's hysterically funny. It's so well performed. The emotion Mason shows singing this song is something I've only really seen from Jack Black before. Spoiler: They beat the dragon at the end. I started thinking about doing this post a few days ago. I've watched this video eight times today. It's playing right now. After all, once you've "Saved a barmaid, slayed a dragon, got some treasure, raised a flagon and we split up some XP" (yeah, I
plagiarized that part) does it get any better? Not in my book. Go. Watch it. Love it. Buy it. It's worth it. I wish I had a prize to send him. Thanks Mikey! I enjoyed it. Oh, and you bookended the list. That's worth something, right? Oh, and his bookshelf is epic.






Some products related to the songs above are available at the links below: