Monday, August 9, 2021

J.A. Sutherland's Alexis Carew series




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Seriously, if you're an Honor Harrington fan and you haven't read J.A. Sutherland's Alexis Carew series, what are you doing with your life? And if you're an Alexis Carew fan who hasn't read Honor Harrington, what's wrong with you? 

Or sumfin' 

I mean, the two series are far from identical, but they have a lot in common. The plucky young woman who takes a position of authority in the navy, the career growth, the love interest, a certain willingness to do what  is necessary even if it doesn't -strictly speaking- match up with the exact wording of their orders as given, etc. 

 The thing is, we get to meet Alexis younger and follow her career sooner and that means, potentially at least, more death rides than Honor got to have. We all love that, right? The charge directly into fire, the blasting away, the shooting, the carnage, horror, it all works for those of us who like a particular kind of literature, and it's all here. This is combat in its gritty, horrible detail, and yet...


It's not what you'd expect from a typical work of Space Opera. I mean that. And the reason is because of how the combat and interstellar travel are conducted.

Combat in the Alexis Carew series is closer to that of the Age of Sail than David Weber ever dreamed of for his Honor Harrington series. Stop laughing. I'm serious. When Alexis charges into battle, she's not loading a missile. She's loading a cannon. Granted it's a cannonball coated in Gallenium to decrease the effects of Darkspace (keep reading, I'll get there) but it's a freaking cannon, on a rail that has to be loaded from the muzzle and fired over open sights. When Ms. Midshipwoman Carew goes into her first boarding action, she's not just armed with a flechette pistol, she's carrying a cutlass. Yes, just like pirates used to use. And she's not afraid to use it. She actually does really well with it.

Space travel is so Age of Sail that it hurts. Real space transits are made to Lagrangian points, where the ship transitions to Darkspace. This is where the Age of Sail thing really takes over. It works out that Darkspace is filled with dark matter, which flows and creates "winds" that ships can sail on. It also collects in places and creates dangerous "shoals" that ships can founder on. So it is really close to real life travel on the high seas circa the seventeen and eighteen hundreds. The ships are actually three masted (sticking off the sides and top of the ship one hundred and twenty degrees apart) so you get people actually working the masts. The best of the crew are referred to as "topmen" because they handle the highest sails. Add in the fact that dark matter causes shots to curve and drop like what would happen when firing a normal cannon on planet Earth and if it wasn't for the loss of oxygen and need for suits, you'd never know you weren't in a real world naval battle two hundred years ago. Sutherland did some serious research to write this novel and it shows. I don't know that John Paul Jones could have wrote a more accurate and entertaining account of combat at sea than Sutherland has.

Alexis Carew is not a character for the squeamish or for those of you who will rise up screaming about political correctness and strong female characters. Alexis is a teenage girl with a girl's smaller physical frame and more powerfully displayed emotions. She also starts out stuck on a world where she cannot inherit her grandfather's lands and political power due to her gender. That's why she takes to the stars. She is strong, proud, smart, tough and brave. Her guts get her through when nothing else will. l wanna buy this chick a drink, only I can't because she's too young. Also because she doesn't really exist, but nobody's perfect.

Alexis finds herself in a world where she is doubted by the provincials that she has chosen to protect. She puts them all to shame, not with her words but with her actions. This is a woman that I would gladly follow. She has the grit, the determination and, above all, the intelligence to lead a crew into their duty. That's not to say that she's the nicest person ever. Her job is to fight wars and wars are fought by killing people. It's that she understands her job and that mistakes on her part will cost lives on her side. She is also forced to accept that doing the right thing will sometimes lead to the deaths of her "lads". I won't say she's happy about it, but she doesn't shy away from it. Well, for the most part.

This is a series of books that goes much further toward showing the true costs of war on the people that survive it than anything else I've read. Alexis looks the horrors of war straight in the face...

And blinks.

Hard.

It almost ruins her. She struggles with the guilt of giving the orders she had to give. She feels the weight of every crew member she loses in combat. That's not a small amount, especially for such a young girl. She attempts to balance some of the losses against some of the lives she's saved, but it's not easy. There may be a bottle involved...

It gets ugly.

Let's face it though. War is ugly. What war does to people is ugly. This is a fairly accurate depiction, which means it's going to be ugly. Kudos to Sutherland for the hard work he put into creating a character that acts the way she really would. And no, I don't say that because she's a girl. Men act like this too and it's time we acknowledged the cost. 

There are six books to this series so far and I've read them all. Of course, I would read more but there aren't any more to read and I find myself somewhat vexed by that. Now, it happens that Sutherland had a somewhat rough 2020 (he's err... not the only one by the way) and didn't get any novels completed last year. I'll give him a pass because 2020 was pretty terrible, but still I've subscribed to his newsletter and I keep hoping to see an update about a new novel coming soon. It hasn't happened yet, but I'm confident that it will. The ending of the last novel lead me to believe that more was coming and that's all I'm gonna say about that.

Bottom Line: 5.0 out of 5 Cutlass Blades

Into the Dark/Mutineer/The Little Ships/HMS Nightingale/Privateer, The Queens Pardon
J.A. Sutherland
Self published, Various Years

The Alexis Carew Series is available for purchase at the following link. If you click the link and buy literally anything from Amazon, I get a small percentage of your purchase at no additional cost to you.

Nathan Lowell's The Golden Age of the Solar Clipper




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Listen folks. I have, indeed, been known to wax poetic and speak eloquently (in my mind at least) about works of fiction with major space battles with huge body counts, gigundous missiles and massive blowuptuations that render entire star systems into piles of spare parts. I have praised authors for their talents in describing battles and the bonds of those who fight side by side. Let's face it. I like that stuff. Having said that, there is room in science fiction and fantasy for works that don't center on  violence and it’s practitioners. A world where a peaceable man can do his best to make a buck by honest trading and working his way up the ladder and across the space lanes. A series that takes an honest look at the people who sail the high seas in the real world, only putting the story IN SPACE so we’ll all read it.


Nathan Lowell has written that story. It’s called The Golden Age of the Solar Clipper.  It’s a really awesome series about a guy named Ishmael Wang and his journey from a raw youth just trying to survive to a ship owner (and no, that’s not really a spoiler when the title of the last book is Owner’s Share). It’s a story of personal struggle and sacrifice and love, both between and his ship, a man and space and a man and a woman. 


The series was recommended to me by a good friend with similar tastes in books, but I was still a bit skeptical when I found out that there were really no battles, no derring-do and nothing a hardcore action junkie would expect. It turns out that I was dead wrong to be concerned. There is plenty going on here. It’s just non-violent. Seriously, one of the most important moments in pretty much every book in the series is the first time Ishmael makes coffee. Yeah, I know that sounds lame but it’s true. When the coffee starts brewing, so does the story. Trust me here. It works.


The story is richly woven and surprisingly well rendered. It’s weird how little of this series I was able to predict and how much sense it made. Nothing went quite the way I wanted it to but I was happy with how things turned out. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but it’s true. This series would have gone very differently if I had written it, so maybe it’s a good thing that I didn’t. Lowell finds ways to make things work that make tons of sense after they’ve unfolded. It’s pretty obvious that he spent a lot of time planning and editing to make it all work, but it had to have been worth it for the story to turn out this well. 


Of course, Ishmael isn’t alone in his mad dash (or slow poke) across the stars. He has friends along for the ride and maybe one or two people he just doesn’t seem to get along with. The friends all serve a useful role in the story and the one or two enemies may serve a bigger one. Watching who a man associates with is always useful in telling what kind of person he is, but seeing what he’ll risk himself to oppose may tell you more. Ishmael Wang is the kind of guy I sometimes wish I could be. He does the right thing even when it may technically not be the smart thing. This is one character I can respect.


Ishmael’s first friend is a fellow youngster named Pip. Pip is unstoppable, irrepressible and just a fun dude. He comes from a long line of spacers and knows more about interstellar trade in the  Golden Age series than anyone besides Nathan Lowell, who probably spent a long time thinking “I wonder what Pip would think” while trying to make his universe work. Pip’s ideas are not conventional, but they seem to work and it’s weird how well that mimics some of the things I’ve studied in history classes.


You have to really read the series to get a sense of the character arcs present. Along the way, things move kind of slowly and you never quite notice how much our heroes are changing. But then you finish Owner’s Share, the last book in the series, and reflect and it’s just like “Wow, how did THAT KID do THAT?!?!?!?!” I mean that in a good way though. It makes sense if you followed the story but when you try to consider it all together it’s just like “WHOAH”.


Uh-oh. Lowell quotes famous works of literature throughout the series and I just quoted Joey from the 90s sitcom Blossom. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t be very proud of me right now. Whatever. I loved that show when I was in the right age bracket for it to be relevant.


At any rate…


The method of space travel as described in the Golden Age series is not at all reminiscent of Trek  or Wars or anything else you’ve read. The term space clipper really does apply here because there are elements of technology that were common during Earth’s Tall Ship Era that are in play while traversing the stars. Throw in a bit of jump technology ala Battletech and you’ve got a pretty close match for how things work. It was fun and the fact that it takes a bit longer to get places than it would in many other franchises works given the internal logic of the setting and also helps set up some things that wouldn’t make sense in other universes. Longer trips provide more opportunity for tension and thus drama and entertainment.


My only complaint really is that Nowell likes to start off each book with a line directly lifted from a literary classic that is no longer subject to copyright. This threw me for the first couple of books, but once I got past the first sentence I was good. Most of the other literary quotes throughout the books are spoken directly by Ishmael (his mother was a literature professor) and make sense, but those were a bit weird. All in all though, if my biggest complaint is about six sentences in a six book series, I suppose I should get over myself. Oh, and if the lack of action has made you feel put off of the series, just trust Lois. And if you don’t know what that means READ THE BOOKS.


Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Precious Cargoes

Quarter Share/Half Share/Full Share/Double Share/Captain’s Share/Owner’s Share

Nathan Lowell

Durandus, various years


The Golden Age of the Solar Clipper books are available at the following link. If you click the link and buy literally anything from Amazon, I get a small percentage of your purchase at no additional cost to you.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Space Force: Building the Legacy, edited by Doug Irvin


 


(Welcome to Day Two of Jimbo's 2021 Memorial Day Extravaganza! For your reading pleasure [COUGH] we've got an anthology today. Not all of the authors are military, but the following (and maybe someone else if they left it out of their author bio in the book) are:


Chris Dinote, 20 years USAF and USANG and still serving.
Ray Daley - 6 years RAF and we love our allies here at Jimbo's. 
Brennen Hankins worked for the Air Force on the ground. That's all the bio says.
Ali Abbas isn't technically military but he served as a civilian contractor to the military, so he gets an honorable mention.
Karl K Gallagher served as a crew commander and mission planner in US Space Command in the 1990s.

I'm sorry if I left anyone out. I'm too lazy to do the real research on five authors for one book.)

So I have to admit that I was pretty jacked up to read Space Force: Building the Legacy. See, I have a degree in history and what I do is primarily military and political history (so the Potsdam conference and the effect of the US Civil War on the election of 1864 would both be of interest to a guy like me.) and the creation of the Space Force was a wow moment for me, because I’ve never been alive for the creation of one of the Armed Forces before. I mean, the Army, Navy, and Marines were all founded at the beginning of the American Revolution. The Coast Guard was founded in 1790. That all happened before my family emigrated from the Old World. The US Air Force was founded in 1947, before my mother’s parents met and after my father’s parents met but before he was born. I didn’t get to witness any of that. But then one day, the Donald was on TV announcing a new military service and I was here to see it! That was an exciting day. I honestly meant to get to this sooner and I’m kind of sad that I didn’t,  but I’m also kind of happy that I get to do it for Memorial Day.


Thoughts on Space Force: Building the Legacy as a whole:


I never, ever recommend this, but you should start with Irvin’s note at the beginning of the anthology. I usually hate the foreword because it gets in the way of reading the first story, but this one actually feels relevant. There’s a first time for everything I guess. But seriously, he’s right about some things that I should have already considered but didn’t.

What comes after that is a collection of stories that all have remarkably different points of view and occurences. What could have been a series of stories about battles really isn’t. The point of any military force anywhere is to fight wars…

And yet that’s not all that goes into it. Somehow, Irvin managed to find authors who wanted to tell the stories that are super important but get left out. Good on him.


And now for the fun part:


“Best and Brightest” by P. A. Piatt


I like this one. If you read my review of Piatt’s first novel, then you know I love his whacky, zany, madcap style. Of course part of that is probably because it’s nice knowing I’m not the only person with a penchant for pushing out words and a sanity deficiency, but Piatt definitely knocked it out of the park on this one. I never thought you could use a bulldozer like that but hey, it sounds like fun.


“Frickin’ Guard Guys” by Christopher DiNote


This is the story of a disgruntled former member of the US Space National Guard’s JAG corps. He gets is head turned around something fierce. I liked this one too. There may be a bit of irony here but hey, I like irony. 


“For the Duty” by Ray Dudley


Is about a Brit who gets seconded to the USSF. HIs impression of what’s going on around him isn’t necessarily everything you would want it to be, but he gets the job done. The historian in my likes this one because it matches up with everything I’ve read about British attitudes toward the American military during the World Wars. 


“Dick Dibble’s Birthday” by Susan Murrie MacDonald


I love the premise of this one and how it’s based on an old USN excuse to throw a party. It reminds me of a poster a friend of mine had back when we had first gotten out of high school. The main character of “DDB” is Sean Fitzgerald Rooney and he is a world class genius of the non-genius sort. If it can be done he can do it. He’s not always on the up and up but he’s always out to help a friend. If he enjoys himself in the process, is that his fault? I also like his irreverence. Seriously, I’d totally buy Rooney a Guiness if only he actually existed.


“The Decision” by Brena Bock


If you’ve ever seen Master and Commander then you know that, when in the service, one must always choose the lesser of two weevils. Or sumfin’. Look, sometimes people in the military have to do things that suck in order to keep things for sucking worse. This is the view of someone who has to do something truly sucktacular in order to save a bunch of lives. This is what Jack Nicholson is talking about when he says “You can’t handle the truth.” It’s the whole point of the ST:DS9 episode “In the Pale Moonlight.” It’s a sad story, but as part of our Memorial Day event, it is perhaps important to remember the officers that had to make the tough calls that kept everything that went to crap. This is a somber story, but it’s a good one and it needed to be here. The ironic part is that it started out so optimistically. Bock outdid herself here and I wouldn’t argue with her if she wanted to make this a novel. I’d even review it for her.


“CAG” by Richard Paolinelli


If the entire planet and every human being on it were under the threat of death, what would you be willing to sacrifice to save it? What if there was no time to even consider an outside intervention and it was just you out there doing what needed to be done? How far would you go?

I love this story as it is. I don’t think it would work as a novel the way “The Decision” would, but I’d love to see a full length treatment about Robert Carrington, the CAG and his rise through the ranks though. I think he deserves it.


“Olivia and the Asteroid Pirates” by Jim Robb


I don’t want to say too much about this story because it’s too easy to spoil. Let’s just say that I loved it and leave it at that.


“Slivers of Hope” by  Rosie Oliver


Wow. Just wow. This is a story of human resilience. It is a story about human brilliance. It’s something I wish I had written, but didn’t. I’m not sure about the science here, but it makes sense from a layman’s point of view. Yeah. This one is going to haunt me.


“One Time, One Night on Aldrin Station” by Brennen Hankins


This one is the story of the old salt and the newbie. It’s a tale that has taken place millions of times in just about every military ever and that’s awesome. Of course, the old man (Stargeant Grantham) has a few tricks up his sleeve, well, isn’t that the way it’s supposed to work?


“What We Learned from the Fire” by Ali Abbas


This is well written and sobering. It shows the dark side of military service but that’s a valid part of it. It also includes a bit of gallow humor, but that fits as well. 


And last but not least...


“Visitors” by Karl K Gallagher 


I loved this story! It’s the story of a new alien race and the only human that can be found to serve as an ambassador to them. I don’t want to spoil the reason why, but it works. I love that the anthology ends on a positive note, but not necessarily a triumphalist one.  I could see this as a novel as well.


Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Successful Launches

Space Force: Building the Legacy Doug Irvin, ED Midlands Scribes Publishing, 2020


Space Force: Building the Legacy is available for purchase at the following link. If you click the link and buy literally anything from Amazon I get a small percentage of the purchase at no cost to you.



Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Declan Finn's Hussar




So how's that promotion to Lieutenant feel Mr. Nolan. Are you enjoying yourself some time with your feet up and some paperwork in your hand? How does it feel to be in an office and have no one trying to kill you for a change? Well...


Uhh...

He wouldn't know.

See, Lieutenant Tommy Nolan is the main character in Declan Finn's Hussar, the eighth book in the Saint Tommy, NYPD series and he's having a rough...

Uhh...

Day?

Week?


Month?


Year?

Li…


Yeah, that works.


Our boy Tommy is having a rough life. That’s actually rather common among saints. They sometimes have to fight the Lord’s battles for him and, well, battles sometimes get messy. His wife, children, friends, church and home have all been assaulted. Then, just when he gets promoted to the land of head-aches and a sedentary lifestyle everything goes to Hell, again.


I mean that literally. Tommy fights demons, cultists and other assorted weird Satan spawned monsters. His weapons are his wits, his charisms (gifts given by God to saints), his gear and his God. Tommy is the kind that won’t give up no matter what because he knows he’s right. 


Speaking as a Christian man myself (albeit Protestant versus Tommy and Declan’s Catholic) I find that to be the best part of these stories. You don’t have to be a Christian to love Tommy Nolan, but you do have to respect a person who has faith and acts accordingly. Tommy puts himself on the line and does what is necessary because he believes in something higher than himself. He knows that he is a tool in the hand of God and he’s okay with that. It’s a lesson I’m still learning but one that I’m trying to embrace. 


Seriously, Tommy vs. Most of Society is like Sonny Corleone versus Michael Corleone in Godfather II. Michael enlists to serve in World War II because he believes in the United States as something larger than his own life. Santino disagrees. He tells Michael he’s stupid.


From a crooks point of view, he’s probably right. From the point of view of a person who believes in a higher calling, he’s dead wrong. The fact that he can’t see why is a character flaw. Tommy has his flaws, but lack of belief in something bigger than himself is not one of them.


Tommy’s family joins him on parts of this little adventure to save the world in unexpected ways. They do a good job of it. He has a hard time dealing with parts of it, but it works given what has come before. I’d almost consider the essence of what happens to have been inevitable even if I couldn’t have predicted the exact details. When you raise a child a certain way a given outcome should be expected.

And yet…

There is one scene in Hussar that kind of got my goat. I don’t believe Declan has any children and it kind of shows. At one point in the story, and I don’t want to say too much here, Tommy and his son Jeremy get into an argument about things and stuff. Tommy gets a bit angry. What Finn missed was the pride and above all, the fear that Tommy would have felt here. Many times as a parent, the anger you’re expressing comes from fear for your child. It kind of threw me for a second.


I  mean, don’t get me wrong, I’d be mad too. I’d be fuming. It’s just that it’s more complicated than that.


Other than that one scene though, Hussar is a rollicking good time. The action sequences in the book are fast paced and entertaining. Tommy’s knack of finding a way through however he needs to shows up again. He needs it. Finn keeps finding different beasts from mythology to throw at his protagonist and they’re all legitimate threats. I don’t think Tommy has ever had a walkover fight in his life.


One battle in Hussar comes to mind. Tommy’s method of winning the fight was something that I never could have attempted. It had consequences after the fight that he didn’t anticipate, but hey, nobody’s perfect. It actually did my historian’s heart well to read that part of the book. And anyway, it helps keep the atmosphere of this series going in the same direction it has. I’ve always considered Saint Tommy, NYPD to be an urban fantasy series, but it certainly does have elements of horror to it. That one brawl certainly brings that feeling back around again.

The return of an old enemy recast in a new light is a lot of fun as well. I love it when an author can turn a villain into a sympathetic character and make me believe it. What Finn managed here was similar to what Suzanne Collins achieved in the Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes with Coriolanus Snow. I was really impressed.

Hussar, just like the rest of the series, is a weird mix of today’s headlines mixed with fiction and that makes it even more interesting. When an author of fiction can throw in things like the current crisis along the southern border of the US with church burnings in Europe then mix in a Texas Ranger (law enforcement, not baseball) and cross it with golem armor, the Spear of Destiny and a necromancer and (this is key) make it all MAKE SENSE, you know you’ve got something good in your hands.


Although I did love this book, I’d recommend starting at the beginning if you’re new to the series. Hussar is eight books in and there’s a lot of back story that it would be helpful to know. Yes, I am saying that the story might be a bit hard to follow if you’re just starting out. That’s okay though, you’ll love the first seven too.


All in all, I’d call Hussar a worth descendant of the first seven books in this series and that’s saying a lot. I work between fifty-five and seventy hours a week and I always (eventually) make time for a new Saint Tommy novel when it hits. That’s not counting the time I spend on my other geeky habits. I also get free books on a regular basis from people who want reviews. If I make a point of buying an author’s new book and reading it, you know it’s worth your time. I’ve read and reviewed every Saint Tommy book so far and I plan on doing the same with the next one. Once it actually comes out. Not that I’d like, you know, urge you all to start a letter writing campaign to get the next one published soon or anything. That would be mean. And if you do, don’t tell him it was my idea. But I really want to see if…


Ahhh..


Nevermind


Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Holy Water loaded Super Soakers


Hussar

Declan Finn

Silver Empire, 2021


Hussar and Hellspawn (first book in the series) are available for purchase at the following links. If you click the link and buy literally anything from Amazon, I get a small percentage at no cost to you.



Monday, May 17, 2021

William Lehman's Shadow War

(Welcome to Day Three of Jimbo's Memorial Day Weekend Extravaganza. We're honoring those lost by honoring their buddies who made it back and wrote a book in the Science Fiction or Fantasy genres. 

Today, we're honoring William Lehman. He has twenty years in the US Navy and another twenty as a civilian employee of the Navy. That's forty years in public service if you're keeping score at home. He started out his lifetime of service as a Sonar Technician, Submarines. Of course, he can't tell me where he was deployed because he was in subs and he was never in the places where he was, never did any of the things that he did and was given awards for reasons that have been redacted because the stuff he got them for never occurred.

Or sumfin'

Those awards include the Navy Expeditionary Medal, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the Arctic Service Medal and a Navy Commendation as well as "some other stuff." He once circumnavigated the globe in ten minutes while surfaced at the North Pole, except that he didn't because he was never there.

Capisce?

He served on the USS McKee, the USS Alabama (g) and the USS Florida (g), as well as the Trident refit facility where he was seconded to Base Security for the duration of Desert Storm and finished up as the Work Programs Director for Naval Brig Bangor. He can't tell me about any of the fun toys he played with because those don't exist, either.

He is married to Kitiara Lehman and his kids, Michael and Amanda, are both grown. He also has three grandchildren, Scarlet, Lillian and Gracie-Ray. Oh, and at some point he found time to dual class into policeman, serving with the Bremerton PD concurrent with his service both in the USN and as a Navy civilian.)

 


Okay, so there are some things that Jimbo just doesn’t do, like ever. Or at least since I was twelve and picked up a copy of L. Ron Hubbard’s Death Quest. Stop laughing! It’s a good book when you’re twelve!


Anyway, having read through the sixth book in the series FIRST, I then had to go back and read the first five. It was expensive (when your allowance in a dollar a week, a five dollar paperback takes a LONG time to get) and half of what was in the books was spoiled because I came in after they had been published. Nope, never gonna do that again.


Well, until I get a request from a vet to accept an Advance Reader’s Copy of his book that’ll be out sometime soon. Uhh…

He’s a vet, right? SO you kind of have to, because vet on Memorial Day, and offering to read the first one might work but uh…

Yeah.


All of that to say that I REALLY REALLY enjoyed William Lehman’s Shadow War and I can’t wait to read the first two, since it’s the third in the series. Seriously, this hero is a heroic hero that does, like, heroic stuff. I like that. He’s not afraid to fight when he needs to and he’s willing to use his brain when necessary as well. If he’s a master werecougar and an Asatru priest in a world where magic exists and he can go berserk (only he spells it baresark. I’m guessing that’s the Nordic spelling) and do magical stuff too, so much the better.

Although, honestly, this is one of a very few Urban Fantasy works that I’ve read that could have worked without the Fantasy part attached. Don’t get me wrong. I loved the fantasy elements. I just think that the basic plot of the novel is good enough to stand on its own without the magic if that’s the way that Lehman wanted to write it. I’m kinda glad he didn’t, because the only thing cooler than a detective novel/spy thriller mashup is a detective novel/spy thriller/fantasy story mashup. I just think he built his world well enough that it fantasy is a useful addition instead of the main attraction.

Of course, he used a couple of real world cities (Seattle and San Francisco) to set Shadow War in probably does help. He had like street maps and stuff, and being a retired sub vet there’s a good chance he spent some time in Washington State as there is a sub base in Bremerton, Washington. Actually, I think there’s one in San Fran too. Ok, so that probably saved him a bit of trouble with research, but hey, there is nothing wrong with being a SMART author.


Or sumfin’


It’s weird though, because although Lehman himself is a bubblehead, his main character is a Marine who was with Seal Team Twelve. Never heard of them? I guess that’s because they’re the preternatural SEALs and you’re not read in. Yup, that’s where they send all of the ‘Thropes (short for lycanthrope, get used to seeing it) vampires, etc. They’re the A Team, the guys you don’t want to mess with. He used to be one until he retired, joined the Park Police and went out to live the simple life.

Or sumfin’


Apparently he ended up with a life more complicated than what he anticipated, but he and his girlfriend, a Native American shaman with magic of her own, seem to do pretty well dealing with what they’re faced with. For the most part. I mean, it’s not easy but they get through it. Somehow.


I also really like the fact that Lehman, like another personal favorite Declan Finn, adds things in that make his work that much more realistic. Think about it this way: How many times have you ever seen Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh (think Lethal Weapon) have to fill out paperwork after a gun battle? Lehman doesn’t dwell on it, but it’s there. It adds a lot to the atmosphere of Shadow War and it makes it a lot more realistic. I like that.


But that’s not to say that this is a book all about paperwork. Shadow War is a work of art with plenty of action and intensity to keep the reader interested. Some of the specialized munitions in the book sound fun all by themselves and when you add in the real world firearms and missiles then toss in some hard fighting with edged weapons, well, it just works, especially if you’re already in the mood for some skull cracking to begin with.


There is plenty of political intrigue in the background as well. Actually, it’s not really in the background, it’s pretty much in your face during large chunks of the book. It makes sense though. Shadow War isn’t just the name of the book, it’s a good description of what happens in the book, at least in general terms and Lehman gets it: Wars aren’t fought just because of hate and a desire to kill the people we don’t like. They’re fought  to further political ambitions using actual force instead of political pressure and money. Alliances rise and fall because of the political goals of the allied nations. His story makes sense because he gets the way things work in the real world.


Lehman’s service to his country is obvious in his characters as well. These aren’t just people who have been stationed in the same part of the country. They’re not just friends, although they are that. They’re comrades, people who have been welded together through shared training and shared danger. I’m a historian because of the real life equivalent to the characters in Shadow War. Seriously, if Fisher actually existed I’d buy him a beer. He’s good people.


And I’ve already gone and downloaded the first book in the series, Harvest of Evil. Of course, I had to boot a book from my Kindle Unlimited queue to get it, and that’s all Lehman’s fault. I’ll have to stick my tongue at him if I ever meet the guy. It’s all his fault that I’ll never read…


Uhh…

Whatever that other book was.


Bottom Line: 5.0 out of 5 Severed Claws


Shadow War

William Lehman

Pymander Press, 2021

Shane Gries's From the Ashes of a Dead World

(Welcome to the last day of Jimbo's Memorial Day Weekend Extravaganza 2021, where I honor our fallen by honoring their buddies who wrote Science Fiction and Fantasy novels. Yes, I am aware that Memorial Day is to honor our war dead, but I'm not aware of anyone who was KIA and also wrote a SF/F novel. If anyone knows of an author in that category tell me, especially if the royalties go to any surviving family. Our Gold Star families deserve any help we can give them.

Today though, we honor Shane Gries. Shane originally enlisted in the Army National Guard in 1989, before going Regular Army in 1994 when he was commissioned as an 0-1 after attending college on a ROTC scholarship. He's served Stateside, in Germany, Korea, Afghanistan and Australia. He is a bird colonel (0-6) Infantry officer who has been awarded the Expert Infantryman Badge, the Basic Parachutist Badge, the Ranger Tab and a Bronze Star. Right now he's doing diplomatic duty as the US Army Attache at Canberra, Australia. He has gotten to play with some really cool toys in his time in. He's worked with the M113A2 Bradley APC and the M2A2 Bradley IFV, as well as a boatload of communications and small arms. 

He's got a wife, two kids and no pets. His kids are grown now. He's been a lifelong fan of SF/F and dreamt of writing since he was a kid. He's planning to write full time after he retires and I think he's off to a great start.)




Ya know, it's been a LOOOONG time since I read a book all the way through at one sitting. Before I met the ex-wife I used to do it all the time. It became a norm for the release of new Battletech novels. (So did going to work tired the next day, but I was working in a grocery store, soooo… yeah.) I’m not sure what the last time I did it was, but it would’ve been sometime between when I met Nicole in 2002 and when I married her in 2004. That is, until this weekend. I went through Shane Gries’s From the Ashes of a Dead World in like three or four hours on my day off. I only stopped once and that was to use the bathroom. Honestly, I’m kind of bitter that I had to stop that long, seeing as I only had thirty pages left, but…

Ah well. No system is perfect.


But From the Ashes of a Dead World  comes pretty close. It took me a bit to warm up to it, but that’s normal for an author I haven’t read before. He has his own style and that’s a good thing, but it just wasn’t one I was used to. Once I knocked the first ten pages or so down though, I was off and running. I just couldn’t put it down. 


Remember Star Wars? Like the movie actually named Star Wars. The kids like to call it “Episode IV,” but us old school types know better. It was the first episode, whether you young whippersn…

AHEM


Anyway, imagine a story starting like that only it was written by someone who had spent a lifetime studying military tactics and went on for long enough to REALLY get you sucked in. That’s how FTAOADW starts. Like, we’re in the fight pretty much off rip. The action lets up about the time that Amazon asks you to review the book because you’ve finished it. Along the way, we get our heroes, our villains and our outright monsters and that’s all just in the first few chapters.


I like the way Gries sets up his society. It makes sense. The military exists to defend a society that doesn’t always do the right thing. Some of the decisions made by the nobles in the book (The Interstellar Protectorate is a constitutional monarchy) quite honestly deserve infamy preceded by a tail-kicking but that makes sense. Every society has its entitled class and members of the entitled class always want more than what they have coming. That’s whether the individual’s attitude of entitlement comes from being born a noble or from collecting welfare. A belief in the right to take from others to maintain oneself is part of the human condition. 


So, quite frankly, is the overweening sense of ambition seen in some other members of the society. The chief villain of the piece is a real piece of work, but in a way I’m glad to see him. There’s nothing I enjoy so much as an evil villain to hate on and Gries has done his work there. Of course, his ambition brings him into conflict with other ambitious people and there is conflict. There are actually several conflicts. 


There’s more to it than that though. Many of the people (and a lot of the military) are solidly good people. Many of them sacrifice more than they should be asked to. That, unfortunately, is probably the most common condition among members of the military that I’ve come across in my study of military history. The fact that so many answer the call so readily is what makes them worth celebrating. It’s not spoiling too much to say that many of the military types Ashes don’t make it. War causes casualties.


Combat in Ashes goes from deep space to dirtside. It’s all well thought out and easy to follow. Gries’s description of deep space combat is less technical than some others, but for those of us who don’t do orbital mechanics as a hobby that’s a good thing. His description of a fighter squadron sounds a lot like any workplace I’ve been in that has long term employees, although a bit rougher than some. That’s to be expected though, because it IS the military. Gallows humor and a bit of irreverence are common among people who risk their lives and are around death a lot. The only setting where you might find more dark humor than in a military unit is in an emergency room staff and the reasons for such aren’t that dissimilar.


Really my only complaint about Ashes is that it’s a little too short, I would’ve preferred just a bit more to the story but that’s not the worst thing ever. I mean, Gries left me wanting more and I guess that’s how it’s supposed to work. I still think that maybe the denouement (LOOK EVERYBODY!! I USED A SCHOOL WORD!!!) was a bit more rushed than it needed to be and there could have been just a touch more suspense in spots. Then again, it’s not like I ever got bored and I’ve already purchased the next installment in the series, so it should be fairly obvious that the story wasn’t killed by brevity. Maybe I’ve just read too many David Weber novels and gotten too used to nine thousand word infodumps. Possibly. 


And I guess one of the reasons that I’m so looking forward to reading the next one (after I finish reading the other two books for my event) is that it was so short. There are an absolute buttload of things I’m still wondering about. Granted, a lot of what I’m wondering about is what comes next, but there are still holes in the backstory that can be answered in further books. I guess it’s too soon to call for a prequel series so I won’t. I’m totally not saying Gries should write about the rise of the Interstellar Protectorate or how the war that brought it down got started. I’m just saying I’d buy it if he did. I’d probably even review it here. But, like, no pressure and I’ll sit down now.


Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Pursuing Spaceships

From the Ashes of a Dead World
Shane Gries 
Ring of Fire Press, 2020

From the Ashes of a Dead World is available for purchase at the following link. If you buy literally anything from Amazon after clicking the link I get a small percentage of your purchase at no additional cost to you.