Friday, December 28, 2018

RJ Batla's Death Cloud

I hope to one day meet RJ Batla, like maybe at a con or something. On that day, I will initiate a three step process:

1.) Shake his hand and congratulate him on his awesome books.
2.) Offer to buy him a drink sometime
3.) Give him a dirty look and a lecture about keeping people up all night when they have to pick their kids up the next day and take them to celebrate Christmas with their extended family. 'Taint fair

Seriously guys, be careful with Batla's newest, Death Cloud. It causes this weird disease where you can't take your eyes off of the page and sleeping becomes something that other people do. I couldn't put this thing down. That can be a problem if you've got some weird real world stuff going on like,  oh, I dunno work or family or school or something. It's worth it. Just plan a vacation or send the kids to Grandma's house or something. I mean, who doesn't need some time off?

Death Cloud is a mix between  Steampunk, Fantasy, Superhero Fiction and a fight movie (ala Bloodsport) or a fighting game (similar to like a Mortal Kombat or Soul Blade) although the Steampunk elements are a lot less pronounced than in the first book. It's a really entertaining mix. Given the fact that the supers in the book have levels to their powers, I kind of wonder if maybe Batla hasn't done a bit of pen and paper RPGing as well. This one sets up and moves.

Those of you who have read the first book will remember that it revolved around the trials and travails of one Jayton Baird and his training and journey to compete in a tournament. Well, now he's there and the fights are intense. watching Jayton try to navigate these fights and plan for his enemies and their abilities is fascinating. Remember when you were a kid and you'd sit across the lunch table at school and argue over who would win in a fight between Green Lantern and Superman? (hint: Green Lantern. Kryptonite is green.) This book is like a series of those fights, except that most of the heroes in Death Cloud have more powers than your average comic book superhero.

And it gets better too, because not only is there a tournament going on, there is a war going on too. This is not Marvel's Civil War either. It's  a war fought the way real wars are fought: As a battle royal, two sides against each other and piles of bodies. It's entertaining but it's a little crazy. I mean, how many different powers can hit all at the same time? What kind of carnage could that cause? And what does war look like on a world where people's most potent weapons aren't the ones in their hands, they're the powers locked inside their bodies? It's an interesting look at something I hadn't really considered before, at least with these kinds of powers.

The characters in the book are pretty amazeballs. Jayton's team is composed of some totally awesome people on it. They're focused on their twins missions of winning the war and helping Jayton win the tournament but they have a lot of other things going on besides. There are romances brewing and personal issues abound. I actually had pegged one of them as a bad guy, but it turns out I was wrong. It looks like they really were who they claimed to be and I'm just a suspicious asshole. Who knew? (Huh? Whaddaya mean everybody?)

There is a cast of villains here as well. Batla did a really good job of making the villains in Death Cloud believable. Most of them want riches and power but how is that different than what ordinary people want? (If you disagree think about it this way: You may be comfortable financially or you may not but you probably want a nicer car or a bigger house. You may claim you don't want power, but there's probably something you'd like to change in society. It takes power to do that.) They're willing to take things further than a lot of us probably would, but those people exist in the real world as well. Gang bangers, mafia members, politicians, etc. are all willing to go to extreme lengths to get what they want. I like villains that make sense. I like villains who do what they do for a reason. Batla did this right.

Our main villain, once again, is the evil Malstrak. He's crazy and wants to run everything. Okay, so that's an archetype from history, but it works. He's got followers and an agenda. He's not going to lose no matter what happens, just ask him. All of Death Cloud is focused on the defeat of this one individual. He's a batshit insane wannabe dictator with an attitude problem. He's the kind of guy I can love to hate. He's perfect.

Our hero, Jayton Baird is believable because he is flawed. He has the same power that makes Malstrak such a complete nutcase (nope, not a spoiler. It was revealed in like the first ten pages of Fire Eyes Awakened, the first book.) and he struggles to overcome it. How he deals with it makes for an interesting subplot. I'm waiting to see where this goes in the next book, because there is something building here and I can't tell what.  I'm waiting for the big reveal. Something big is going to happen because of this power I can't wait to find out what it is. He also finds himself dealing with a major recurring distraction throughout the story. I kept waiting for the distraction to kill him.

Per Batla's mailing list emails,Death Cloud is the second in a four book series. I'm waiting (im)patiently for the next two. The book obviously sets up a sequel and it promises to be a good one. Keep your eyes peeled, because I'm sure I'll be reviewing it here.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Epic Battles

Death Cloud
RJ Batla
Self Published, 2018

Thursday, December 20, 2018

James Young's Aries' Red Sky

So what happens when two groups of humanity that have been separated by so many years and so much distance that they're unaware of each other's existence come into contact with one another? What if one group thought their territory was being invaded by aliens? How would the other group react? If you're not sure (or maybe if you just want to read a good story) ask James L. Young. I'm sure he'll smile and sell you a copy of Aries' Red Sky. He promotes his stuff at cons all the time so I've got to believe he'll have a copy handy. It's worth the price too.

And let's face it. I know it's the holiday season, but pretty soon that'll be over. Your options will be to paint the walls or read a book and you JUST GOT that gift certificate. So I'm here to tell you how to spend that  gift certificate and a few hours of your time and why. And you should spend that time and money on Aries' Red Sky. Keep reading, and I'll tell you why.

Aries' Red Sky is the best kind of Military Science Fiction: It was written by a real veteran, in this case a West Point graduate, so it's got a real military feeling to it. Mil-SF, when written by non-veterans often has one of two flaws: Either the people play second fiddle to the weaponry or they're all just a bunch of paper cutout asshole warmongers. Young, predictably enough for a veteran, gets it. Members of the military are really real people with real people problems, thoughts and emotions. It shows in his work. Yes, his characters have a "proper military bearing" but they also have moments when they're just like anyone else.

But that's not to say that the hardware gets short shrift. Young's warships are built to make war and have all of the fancy little doodads that make them better at it. Aries' Red Sky is a war story plain and simple. It takes place in space so technology is needed and it's there. There is a bit of a conflict between design philosophies and that makes sense too. Anyone who has studied naval warfare during the Twentieth Century can certainly tell you all about the battles between battleship admirals and carrier admirals fought in planning rooms worldwide. It makes sense that different navies would build differently in centuries to come as well.

Speaking of philosophy, the two sides on this war find themselves with very different philosophies. There had to have been a temptation to make one side of the philosophical debate the good guys and the other the bad guys but Young avoids that. Don't get me wrong. Anyone who follows this blog knows that I love heroic heroes and villainous villains. Sometimes though, wars are fought by people just doing their job. That really is the case in Aries' Red Sky.There are times when the two sides in the war see each others actions as barbaric but at the end of the day, the characters are doing what's right according to what they've always believed. It's an interesting dichotomy. A lot of the tension in the book comes from philosophical differences and it just works.

Aries' Red Sky is also a work of Space Opera. You get all of the romance your little heart desires. If some of it ends up in a bunk, well... These are adults and I did mention something about people being people earlier, right?I once heard a Navy veteran talk about "friggin' in the riggin'." And, while there is obviously no rigging used in space, the phrase does seem to fit here. It's not just sex though and that's an important difference. There is romance here.

It sometimes amazes me how little Mil-SF authors skip over other real people things like time with family. Listen, we all know that members of the military frequently get deployed and can't see their family like they want to. The fact remains that I've never met, talked to, or heard of a member of the military who doesn't like to see their family whenever duty allows. Young included that in here and it's good to see.

Of course, in any war story there need to be fight scenes and Young is a master. The space battles in this thing are epic. There's plenty of boom-boom and bang-bang to keep that atavistic streak of yours going. We get both fleet engagements and marines in action so it's varied enough to keep things interesting too. It's not pretty. Every one of the combat sequences in Aries' Red Sky is graphic in the extreme. This is good. Bad things happen in war and they should be given full their full weight in fiction. That much being said, if you're like that one chick I dated back in the Nineties who almost passed out at the mere thought of blood, maybe you should try watching House Hunters or something and leave the action and suspense to the people who can handle it.  As for me, I'll be over here watching things explode.

I'm guessing that Young has read some actual military history. There is a lot going on in Aries' Red Sky that works in a historical setting but not so much in the here and now. That said, it works in an interstellar setting as well. I'm not making sense. Let me try it this way. In the real world, Planet Earth in 1814 the Battle of New Orleans was fought. It was the last battle in the War of 1812. It was also fought after the war had ended. How is that possible? It's possible because the Treaty of Ghent (that's the one that ended the war) was signed overseas and word hadn't reach the North American Continent in general or the city of New Orleans in particular in time to stop it. American General Andrew Jackson (yes that Andrew Jackson) and British General Sir Edward Pakenham were fighting what could have been a vital battle without orders because they had no way to receive any. Aries' Red Sky is the first in a trilogy and I'm wondering how that's going to effect the story moving forward. I can't wait to find out.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Dropped Rocks

Aries' Red Sky
James Young
Self Published, 2018

Aries' Red Sky is available for purchase at the following link:

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Universal Pictures's Mortal Engines

So this past Saturday was my birthday and I decided to treat myself to a movie as a birthday present to myself. Seeing as my next two days off were Sunday and Tuesday and I had an absolute crapton of stuff to do on Sunday, I decided to go see a movie on Tuesday. And, since I was convinced that both Aqua and Bumblebee had opened this past Friday, I spent all weekend trying to decide which one to go to. So, when the time came to choose, I decided that I would find the one in the most workable time slot. Oops! They're both starting this coming Friday and not last Friday! I suck! But I REALLY wanted to go see a movie, so what's a nerd-boy to do? I know! I'll go see Mortal Engines. GOOD CHOICE NERD-BOY!!!

Seriously, I enjoyed this movie. It's got a post-apocalyptic setting and I love those. The acting was good. The special effects were amazeballs (more about those below) and the story was tight. I've looked for a reason to complain about Mortal Engines and I can't find one. It's that good.

Don't blink while you're watching Mortal Engines. This flick moves fast and there is a lot to it. Plot twists abound and not everything is as it seems. Characters come and go quickly and you're never sure whether you should trust the newest person to show or not. I looked down to scratch my nose at one point and missed thirty-seven plot points, four new characters and a major clue about something. I think. Or maybe I'm exaggerating, but why take the chance? Seriously, you paid for the ticket, now pay attention.

The special effects for this movie were orgasmic. I don't know who did them (and I'm too lazy to look) but WOW. Big guns, moving cities, explosions, one thing I'm not going to talk about and more. This was one of the most visually impressive movies I've ever seen in my life. Obviously, a lot of the credit for the concepts put forth go to Phillip Reeve, the author of the Mortal Engines novel that the movie was based on. I'm more than happy to give him that credit because he deserves it. The fact remains that translating that writing into the extravaganza that appears on screen. It seems like every scene has some kind of awesome looking something in it.Whether it's a city on treads or an airship or whatever it all looks awesome and that's good because a Steampunk movie demands a Steampunk aesthetic.

And speaking of Steampunk: I know it's a less popular sub-genre of Speculative Fiction than most. I know it's treated like an unwanted stepchild. I just don't know why. It's kind of weird, but it's not like Wookies and Vulcans aren't. The stories are good. Anyone who has ever enjoyed a Mad Max movie or The Walking Dead can get with post-apocalyptic Steampunk. Anyone who like historical fiction can get with actual steam age Steampunk. So why the hate? I don't get it.

I do know this much though: Taking your friend who doesn't like Steampunk to see Mortal Engines is likely to create a new fan. This movie is that good. Seeing it was maybe the fastest two hours of my life. I mean, I could've brained the guy in the row ahead of me who decided to pull out his phone during one of the good parts, but honestly I can't put that on Universal Studios.

Speaking of Steampunk though, I have to ask: Why is it necessary for every single thing to be different than every other? Is it some weird unwritten rule of Steampunk physics that every airship has to be built differently than every other one? Why has no one ever made the same model mining unit as someone else? I get the fact that things are cobble together with whatever is available. I get the fact that modern-day factories either don't exist anymore or never have. But dude: The American West was settle with Conestoga wagons in a time period with a comparable level of technology to most of Steampunk. It was ubiquitous. So why can't one airship maker create an airship that looks like someone else's? I don't get it. I probably never will.

Getting back to Mortal Engines, I have to say that the characters all make sense and feel real. As a moviegoer, I was able to understand what they did and why they did it. Phillip Reeve apparently understands human nature. Yes, there was one incredibly stupid moment for one the characters. I won't spoil too much but given the character's level of knowledge and experience, what he did makes sense. I can't say I'd have acted much different in their position.

The world building element to this story was excellent. It was a slow build, but that makes sense. We learn things as the story progresses and we need to. A good writer (whether book, TV or movie) can teach us about their world without pages (or minutes) of exposition while we're all just sitting there waiting for something to happen in the story. Reeve and the people who wrote the screenplay both seem to have a sense of what to reveal when and how that works. It's really well done, with our questions being answered it's necessary.

Mortal Engines has all of the good stuff you could possibly want. It's got heroes and heroines. It's got villains who think they're heroes but you hate them anyway. It's got a romance. There's fighting. There's honesty moments. There's trickeration. Everything you could ever want you'll find here. So go see the movie and bring your friends. You'll all thank me.

I haven't read the book (I didn't even know that there WAS a book until the end credits popped up) but it turns out that there is a whole series here. That's good news because I was hoping for a sequel. The bad news is that not enough people have seen it and it looks like it will probably lose money. That sucks because there won't be a sequel unless the take is big enough to supply a profit. I really hope things turn around for Mortal Engines somehow because I want to see more. I guess if it does fail, then at least I've done what I could for it.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Traction Cities

Mortal Engines
Universal Pictures, 2018

Some Mortal Engines related merchandise is available at the following links:

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

IDW's Transformers vs. G.I. Joe Volume 1

There are those of us out there who *GASP* grew up reading comic books at a time when publishers didn't reprint them as trade paperbacks. Yeah, I'm that old. I'm so old my parents let my twelve year old self ride two miles on my back to get to the comic shop alone or with a friend. They thought nothing of it. Yet, the fact remains that I am no longer twelve. I have a car now. And comic book publishers do indeed make trade paperbacks now. So, one day when I went walking into my Local Hobby Shop (that sells comics) in search of a Dungeons and Dragons game to join, I came across something that made me smile. (For the record, I didn't manage to find a game to join. Sucks to be me.)

You see, up on a shelf near the door was a stack of trade paperbacks marked Transformers vs G.I. Joe. I had been dimly aware of the series, but when it started back in 2014, I was fresh off of a divorce and five dollars a month was an amount I just couldn't afford (no, I'm not joking). So I missed it the first time around. I'm going to do my best to make sure I don't miss it the second time around though. Admittedly, it'll be around longer than it was last time. That's one of the things that I love about the trend toward TPB. It makes it much easier, and cheaper, to catch up on the old stuff.

As a wee little Jimbo (which I actually was, back in the Dark Ages) I loved both the Transformers and G.I. Joe. I had way more Joe stuff, but that's just me. I watched the cartoons religiously. I didn't have anything approaching the same amount of Transformers toys as I did G.I. Joe but I enjoyed both immensely. I'll be honest in stating that a lot of the rest of this review is based on nostalgia and less on cold, hard professionalism, but it's my job to call 'em as I see 'em and I loved this book.

See, when I was a kid Transformers vs. G.I. Joe wasn't just the title of a book. It was a game we played. You should have seen what the First Generation Optimus Prime did to my G.I. Joe MOBAT. (That's Mobile Armored Battle Tank for you non Joe loving communists out there.) It was a good time. I'm really glad someone saw an opportunity and decided to tell this story in visual form.

And the visuals are really awesome. The art in this book is highly reminiscent of the comics I had as a kid. I had copies of both  Transformers #1 and G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #3 (yes, really, even if both were hand me downs and in bad shape when I got them) and they looked a lot like this. I'm not saying bad things about the art of the modern era because it's good. I'm just saying that, the whole Transformers vs G.I. Joe concept is nostalgic for me and the art makes it more so.

Growing up one of my greatest disappointments in both franchises was when they released a new generation of toys and the old generation straight up disappeared from the comics and the TV shows. That made me do a major sad. But, I'm happy to say that IDW, in the form of writers Tom Scioli and John Barber, did the right thing by including characters from all generations. Even in the animated Transformers movie from the Eighties all of the older characters are killed off in the first few minutes.

I especially enjoyed the commentary at the end with the writers. I've always said that I would listen to the commentary while watching some of my favorite DVDs but I never have because listening to someone talk over my movies sucks. This is different. It's at the end of the book so I was able to flip back and forth and find out what they were talking about while not having the story interrupted. I get why that wouldn't work for DVDs but it works great here.

I also like the fact that they included some of the rough drafts of the actual panels as they were working toward a finished product. Any writer knows the process of writing followed by revising, followed by more revising and the revising your revisions, but for some reason it had never occurred to me that actual comic book artists do the same thing. It's good to see that other groups of people deal with the same crap that we have to.

I may be just a bit bitter because they gender-swapped one of my favorite characters. I've talked about this before. I am not at all against representation. Hell, it can be a good thing if it's done right. Of course, doing it right means that the groups of people who wish to be represented should create their own characters and write their owns stories instead of expecting someone else to do it for them. Especially since G.I. Joe has plenty of female characters already. I'm not a fan of pandering to the SJW set and there is no reason for it to happen here. That was the one place where I'm going to call bullshit. The rest of the story was interesting and engaging. This was just rampant liberal politics and therefore an unnecessary detraction from the story.

Overall though, this was an enjoyable book and I'll be picking up Volume 2 as soon as I'm able to. Actually, I need to check my email because I think I have a coupon for a discount because my birthday is this weekend. Yep, two more days and I'll be the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. I'm old. I'm not sure what that has to do with the price of tea in China, but what the hell? It's my bloggie and I'll be goofy if I want to.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Energon Cubes

Transformers vs. G.I Joe Volume 1
Tom Scioli and John Barber
IDW, 2014

Transformers vs. G.I Joe Volume 1 is available for purchase at the following link:

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Declan Finn's Death Cult

Ladies and Gentleman (and you in the back) I present to you a plot synopsis of Declan Finn's Latest Book, Death Cult.

Dude, don't
He did?
That sounds like it hurt.
That had to have hurt
Them again
I'm not sure that's physically possible
I KNOW that's NOT physically possible
The End!

 You may all now return to your regularly scheduled lives.


And honestly, I don't thinking I've quite done it justice. There is a slight chance that I'm oversimplifying a bit. The book is after all, quite a bit longer than that so called synopsis. It's worth reading every word though, because Death Cult kicks ass.

In Hell Spawn Saint Tommy fought a demon. It was ugly. There was lots of fighting and many people died to death. It was quite horrifying. I loved the book, but I was a bit worried. Don't get me wrong. Finn is a good author. But when you're writing Christian fiction and you go up against a demon, what comes next? I mean, I didn't see Finn bringing Satan himself to Earth for a straight up rumble, although I'd buy that book. The threats need to get bigger if you're going to keep it entertaining. So what do you do and who do you do it with? You fight a death cult. (No, that's not a spoiler. It's the title of the stinking book.) It works. It's deadly dangerous and definitely something that most Christians in general, and Catholics in particular, would find themselves at odds with.

I will say this much: Some of the symbolism in this book is both funny and a little blatant. I'm thinking of one thing in particular which I'm not going to mention. It makes massive amounts of sense. It's pretty gross. It's kind of funny in a sick sort of way because of how well it fits. I enjoyed it and it works but it's pretty hard to miss.

Finn has built his world very well. We're treated to some old friends and some new acquaintances and they all fit together nicely. I really like it when a book stays true to the universe it is written in. Death Cult does so nicely. The internal logic is consistent, the characters stay true to their own motivations. I don't mean that the book is predictable because it's not. There is, however, a difference between logical and predictable and Finn has found his groove here.

Having said that, it's worth mentioning that not every saint was Mother Theresa. I mean Saint George slew the dragon and the Catholic faith has seen it's share of fights as well as saints that were involved in them. Tommy is no exception. Yes, he's a nice guy when he can be. That doesn't mean he's always a nice guy. My pastor (who admittedly is not Catholic) just did a sermon a few weeks ago about the sixth commandment and talked about how it's not wrong to kill in the defense of life. Trust me when I tell you that Tommy has plenty of reasons to fight God would approve of all of them.

In a way, part of the reason I think I liked this book so much is because Finn picked a villain that made sense in the context of that selfsame commandment. The villain is the kind of person you just want to slap and can't. They are evil personified (and I'm guessing that's intentional) and hide behind a facade of providing a useful service. They really boil my butt. It did me heart well to see Tommy after them.

Finn has always (or at least as long as I've been reading his work) been able to write an awesome action sequence and Death Cult gave him a chance to show off his skills. You start to feel bad for Tommy after awhile because of all the crap he is going through but that doesn't mean it's not fun to "watch". I will say that I have no intention of ever getting on Finn's bad side though. It would appear to be a bad idea. If he can conceive of violence at this level, he might just be able to get the drop on me. That would be a bad thing.

The politics in this book work for me. I have no trouble seeing a liberal mayor cover for an unmitigated evil within his city if it fits his ideology. Finn does a good job of displaying things in a way that would not please the mainstream media, but fits with the beliefs of roughly half the country. It is presented in a manner consistent with religion (his main character is a saint in the making after all) but without being overly preachy. There are conversations I've had with family members that cover some of the same subjects. I'd like to get some of them to read Death Cult specifically, but since they don't really do horror...


Let's face it though. Family or not, if you can't enjoy a Declan Finn book you pretty much suck at life and your opinion doesn't really matter. Seriously, you all need to read this book right now. I'll wait to finish the review. Hie thee off to Amazon and purchase the thing. The link is down there somewhere. Okay, okay. If you haven't bought the first book, Hell Spawn then I'll wait for you to get back after buying both of them. Go ahead.




Back now? Did you put your credit card number in right? Actually, I don't really care as long as you didn't use mine. I bought the Indiegogo with the ARC and the autographed copy so yeah... I dished out the loot already.

Ok, so maybe I talked a bit of trash there, but this is a really good book and I'm seriously looking forward to number three. I think he announced a title, but if so, I'm pretty sure I forgot what it was going to be. That's okay though. I'm gonna read it anyway.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Hail Marys

Death Cult
Declan Finn
Silver Empire, 2018

Death Cult is available for purchase at the following link:

Friday, November 30, 2018

Battling in All Her Finery: Historical Accounts of Otherworldly Women Leaders edited by Dawn Vogel and Jeremy Zimmerman

So when a dude with a love of strong female leads (that's me) gets a chance to review a book named Battling in All Her Finery: Historical Accounts of Otherworldly Women Leaders he takes it. I mean, why not right? If it's what I love and someone is going to give it to me, why wouldn't I take it? I'd have to be stupid to turn down a chance like that. I'm glad I took the chance too, because I really enjoyed this anthology.

I'll get into the individual stories in a minute but I just wanted to include a note about how many different types of leaders there are here. I'm the guy with the history degree and an interest in both military and political history, so when I saw the word "Battling" I immediately thought politicians and warriors. They're the people who fight battles right? I mean, I wasn't wrong but I seem to have left some other types of leadership out of my original thought process. My bad. A lot of these are military type stories, but not all.

Oh, and if you haven't read anything from the Mad Scientist Journal and/or Defcon One Publishing you need to check out them out. Pretty much all of their stories are told in the first person perspective and there are two biographical blurbs at the end of each story about the main character and the author that wrote the piece. I really enjoyed that feature.  

Having said all of that, this is an anthology review. And following my usual pattern for anthology reviews, here are my thoughts on each individual story:

"The Dissolution of the Niamh" by Alicia A. Knaff is a story about a group of women trying to escape from a ship. It's a good one. The only problem I find with this is that it reads like a series of excerpts from a novel instead of a true short story. The solution to the problem is obvious: Somebody throw money at Ms. Knaff until she agrees to write the novel that would tell the whole story. The quality of the writing here is better than some novels I've read and we could get a chance to see what's missing. It might never happen, but if it does, I'm in.

"Curiassiere" by Blake Jessop is an alternate history piece. As such, I'm supposed to hate it because I have a history degree and it might fool some people into believing incorrect things about the history of the Napoleonic Wars. In reality, I loved this story. A woman fights for her country and rises through the ranks by earning the respect of those around her. I was impressed by the character and the story. Blake Jessop is an author worth keeping an eye on.

"Self Selection" by Mathew Murakami is the story of a serving girl who rises above her station to become a warrior and serve with a princess. There is a lot here for such a short story. It's the story of both girls maturing into women. The battles themselves are never detailed. They don't need to be.

"Chasing the Wombship Echidna" by L. Chan was kind of a weird experience. I originally found myself bemused by the concept of a "wombship" and not at all convinced that this would be a good story. Oops. This is a story of survival and escape. It is an action packed tale of fighting and winning at all costs. It's the best story in the whole anthology. I should know better than to judge a story by its title. This story isn't really long enough to make a movie out of it and that's too bad because I bet it would be a special effects extravaganza and a lot of fun to watch.

"Swing That Axe" by Nathan Crowder is a story about a band in search of their missing leader. The method they use to find her will surprise you. It's crazy because I can almost hear the music in my head and it hasn't actually even been written. I'm going to call this one an Urban Fantasy out of lack of a better fit, but I love Urban Fantasy. It's a good time.

"The End of the World" by Matt Moran is the story of facing off an army of intelligent undead. It is a tale of a forlorn hope and a battle lost. It's still a strong story. It could stand to be a bit longer, I think, but that's a good thing. A good author always leaves his audience wanting more.

"Iron Out of Vulcan" by G. Scott Huggins is an alien invasion story with a twist. I don't want to give too much away, but just know that the secret to fighting the aliens isn't what you think it is. Our heroes are a highly unlikely lot but they do what they need to. I really enjoyed this.

"The Dishonorable God" by Priya Sridhar is the story of a young girl forced to rule in a male dominated world after the death of her father and brothers. This is another one that needs to be longer. I mean, I really enjoyed the story but there is a novel to be written her, as she fends off challenges and raises her little brother. Regent-Queen Rajani is the kind of woman I'd like my daughters to be someday. She literally faces down a god. That's guts right there.

"Cassiopeia, Queen of Ethiopia" by Aimee Kuzenski is a stunner. About all I can say without spoiling the story is that it takes place in the ancient world and involves an invasion. It didn't go the way I thought it would, that's for sure. I enjoyed it though.

"The Weeping Bolo" by D. A. Xiaolin Spires is not set in the Bolo Universe created by Keith Laumer. It doesn't need to be. Not only is this story action packed but the main character has a unique method of solving problems that is absolutely unexpected and awesome. Although really, how can you go wrong with a sword that weeps blood? Does it get any cooler?

"Caro Cho and the Empire of Light" by Lin Darrow is a story of technology and subterfuge. This is one of the stories I talked about in my introduction. Our female leader here is a corporate mogul and not a kick ass military type. Her weapons are illusion and deceit. It's not a spy story per se, but it kind of works like one. This was a fun one.

"Why are we standing on the broken wall, clutching swords too rusty to take an edge" [sic] by Tais Teng is a war story but not. It tells of building an army and conquering territory but never gives the specifics of the battles. It held my attention though and I really did enjoy it.

"Dropping Rocks" by Jennifer R. Povey is a story about a war between humans as told by an alien. Something I always enjoyed about Star Trek is the way that Gene Roddenberry and his writers liked to include an alien point of view to make commentary on the human condition. Povey does that here and does it well. Her bio notes that she's working on an urban fantasy series. I'll be looking for it.

"Paladin" by Shirley Vogel is a story about uhh... well, I don't want to spoil it. Let's just say that it satisfies my sense of justice and I'll let it go there. I liked it.

"Unbroken" by Elisa Bonnin is the story of growth from an injured youth into a leader of explorers. It is also the story of a girl and a boy and some complications. It deals with both responsibility and the mental consequences of combat, but in a fantasy setting. There is a lot here in a little space. Oh, and our heroine Eshai is a bit of a badass. That's a good thing.

"Aquarius Ascendant" by Christine Lucas is the story of the search for humanity. We have left the planet and abandoned all of the mythological creatures there. When the rules are broken...

Yeah, read it. It was good.

"There is Only the War" by AJ Fitzwater is a story of reunion, ambition and disappointment, with more than just a bit of disillusionment. I like this one.

"Adelita" by Frances Sharp is a story about a war. It is also a story about responsibility and the cost of power. It is a story about refusing to fail. This is a really good story.

"Pop Magic" by Patrick Hurley is an Urban Fantasy about a messenger and is flat out full of awesome. I love the way magic works in this world. I love the fights there.  I love the ending.

"Breath and Roses" by Leora Spitzer is a SF story with a socialist bent. I can't really evaluate this one because of political differences. Let's just say that I don't doubt that corporations could act the way they do in the story. I just find her belief that a socialist government wouldn't act the same way for different reasons to be a bit naive.

"The Leximancer's Rebellion" by Jennifer Lee Rossman is awesome and needs to be a series instead of a short. The main character is a badass. The fight is important. I find myself trying to decide if this is an Epic Fantasy in an urban setting or an Urban Fantasy with epic overtones. Either way it kicks ass and the magic system here needs a bigger exploration.

All in all, this was a really good anthology. I had fun with twenty out of twenty-one stories (assuming that I counted that right) and the one I didn't like wasn't really poorly written, it was just too far out of alignment with my politics to work for me personally. Seriously. This one is worth both your time and your money.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Battling in All Her Finery: Historical Accounts of Otherworldly Women Leaders
Edited by Dawn Vogel and Jeremy Zimmerman
Defcon One Publishing, 2018

Battling in All Her Finery: Historical Accounts of Otherworldly Women Leaders is available at the following link:

Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes of Grindlewald

I just finished watching Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes of Grindlewald about two hours ago and decided I'd share my thoughts about it.


Once upon a time, during a decade of my life best forgotten, I was told that I should always start off with something positive when critiquing someone else's work. That's good advice, so let's start with this:

The special effects crew for Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes of Grindlewald deserves an Oscar. That was one of the most intense visual experiences of my life. The magical creatures lived and breathed. There was an underwater scene that looked better than anything similar I've seen in movies, TV or gaming. Barely a minute went by when there wasn't something awesome looking somewhere in my view. I seriously hope that whoever did the CGI for The Crimes of Grindlewald gets a raise or a promotion, or maybe a raise AND a promotion. I didn't watch the credits but WOW, WOW, WOW, WOW, WOW. I wonder if somewhere out there some other special effects people weren't watching this movie in awe wondering how they managed to pull some of this stuff off. It was that good.

Unfortunately, I have to wonder if they didn't spend too much of the budget on effects and not enough on a good team of writers. I mean that seriously. It hurts to write this because I've been a fan of Harry Potter since my then-GF (now ex-wife) put me in a spot where I had no choice but to read the first one. I loved all of the books. I loved the movies almost as much. The first Fantastic Beasts was awesome. That doesn't change the facts about The Crimes of Grindlewald though, and the fact is that this was not a very well written movie.

I remember way back in the day, during the same decade I mentioned earlier, I posted the first few chapters of my first attempt at a novel on a website known as Baen's Bar. It was a rough draft, but I thought it was non-sucktacular. That kind of scared me though, because most of the writers I know who feel confident about their work probably shouldn't. I was happy though because the community was very supportive. The worst comment I got was something along the lines of "This reads more like a collection of events than a story." I took that to heart, re-read what I had written and decided that the poster (I don't remember who it was) had a point. I re-worked it and made it suck less. It was a good experience.

It's also something that I wish the writers of Fantastic Beasts 2 had experienced because their work had the same problem. There was no plot here. There's no narrative thread. This happens over here. That happens over there. They're somewhat related, but let's face it, as a human being I'm somewhat related to the Pope. It's something that I can see happening to anyone in a rough draft. It's not something that makes sense in a script that has been edited enough times to appear on the big screen. Someone needed to take charge in a production meeting and get some stuff ironed out. It's glaringly apparent that no one did.

It's not that I'm opposed to large casts and stories taking place with widely dispersed points of view. I've read enough Harry Turtledove and David Weber to be used to it. Hell, I enjoy it. It has to be done well though, and in this case it really wasn't. I'm going to cast an aspersion in absence of knowledge of the facts here, but I honestly believe what I'm saying, even if I can't prove it.

The Crimes of Grindlewald feels like it was written more as a way to show off special effects than as an attempt to tell a good story. The underwater scene that I mentioned earlier was awesome but it had nothing to do with the plot. It just looked cool. Grindlewald did some really impressive looking magic but that's all it was. showed up and got everybody to do one really impressive looking spell but that's really all he was there for. That was as big a disappointment as anything else.

I've got to wonder if the reason this wasn't all that good is because J.K. Rowling wasn't writing it. She invented the universe. She created the characters. She engineered Hogwarts. She was conspicuous by her absence. I really missed her input here. She could have made this story sing. As it is, it barely hums and is badly off-key.

The Crimes of Grindlewald is such a disjointed mess that even when it tries to advance a relationship between two of the most important characters it falls flat. Seriously. The payoff, when it came, didn't move me at all. Seriously.

The worst thing about the movie is that it left me bored. Fortunately for me I went to see the two-thirty matinee and was the only person in the theater. That came in handy when I pulled out my phone and started Facebooking. There was no one around to complain. Yes, I really did need something to hold my attention while I was watching a movie that I had paid to see. I almost got up and left early. There really wasn't much there.

I'm up in the air as to whether or not I'll see the next one. This is, after all, the tenth movie (count again and remember that the seventh book was two movies) set in the Potterverse and they were just about due for a stinker. This should be a fairly easy act to follow as well. It's not like it could be all that much worse. On the other hand, what if it doesn't get better? I'm not rich and even a reduced price for a matinee is seven bucks. I might be better off spending that money on a couple of jerky sticks and a two liter. I guess I'll have to see how the trailers look.

Bottom Line: 2.5 out of 5 Broken Wands

Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes of Grindlewald
Warner Brothers, 2018

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Selecting our Stories - A Guest Post by Dawn Vogel

(Many thanks to Dawn Vogel for the following piece. The anthology mentioned, Battling in All Her Finery, is quite enjoyable and will be reviewed here in the next day or two. This is kind of cool because I received my first ever rejection letter from the Mad Scientist Journal. It was richly deserved.)

We're putting out our anthology of stories, Battling in All Her Finery, and wanted to offer a look behind the scenes. Choosing the stories for an anthology is a big chunk of the work, but not everyone knows how that process happens.

For this anthology, we were looking for stories about women leaders. We opted for a broad definition of "leader," which included not only generals and royalty, but also CEOs, musicians, and more. The end result is an anthology of 21 fantasy, science fiction, alternate history, and other speculative fiction stories of women leaders.

We held an open call for submissions for this anthology and received more than a hundred stories to choose amongst. Submitting authors were from all over the world, including some from non-English speaking countries, and representing diverse races, gender presentations, and sexualities. We received a wide range of story lengths, from very short pieces to longer stories. We had a budgeted word count based on the success of the Kickstarter that funded this anthology, so we looked at story themes, types of leaders, and word count when making our decisions.

For the themes of the stories, we wanted a nice mix of stories with happy endings, bittersweet endings, and even some with more melancholy endings. While we probably tended toward more of the first two of those, that wasn't always the case. Some of our personal favorite stories to emerge from the slush pile were the more bittersweet endings—those that ended on a positive note, but with some sacrifice made by the woman leader in order to reach that ending.

Because we wanted to have a broad range of leaders, this sometimes meant comparing two stories with similar types of leaders to see which one overlapped less with a story that we'd already decided on. It also meant focusing on those stories that didn't have a traditional leader—we received plenty of queens/princesses and generals/other military leaders, so the stories that featured non-military and non-nobility/royalty often provided us with a unique type of leader that couldn't be replicated by another story.

For the word count, we accepted stories between 500 and 8,000 words, which gave authors a wide range to play around with. In past anthologies, we've sometimes selected flash fiction pieces, but for this anthology, our shortest story selected wound up clocking in at 2,000 words, while our longest was right at 8,000 words.

In addition to the other factors in our selection process, we also wanted to create an all-ages anthology, which we wouldn't feel weird about handing to our young nieces, nephews, and other children and teenagers in our lives. While some of the stories still touch on darker themes and subjects, we tried to keep the general "rating," as it were, to a PG-13 at worst. Most of the stories would be easily classified as PG.

It can be a very delicate balancing act to get the right mix of stories for an anthology, but by looking at these factors, we think we managed to put together a collection of stories that readers will enjoy, while still embodying the themes of our anthology, the focus on women leaders, and within the budget we had.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

David Weber's On Basilisk Station

(Before I even get started: I am a huge fan of this writer and this series. I am, in fact, a member of The Royal Manticoran Navy, the fan club of all things set in the Honor Harrington universe. My recent re-read of this book was because I had joined the TRMN and gotten nostalgic.You may find yourself questioning my objectivity while writing this review. I assure that your suspicions are well founded. Then again, if it wasn't a good book, would I really be a fan?)

Once upon a time I worked at a Super K-Mart in Warren, Michigan. There I had a friend who WOULD NOT STOP telling me what an awesome author this David Weber guy was and how I ABSOLUTIVELY, POSILUTELY had to read his Honor Harrington books. Like, since I was a science fiction fan, I had no choice whatsoever. He pretty much redefined the phrase "overenthusiastic pain in the neck." The thing was we had zero authors that we read in common and I was skeptical. I did my best to ignore him.

Then one day I found myself at the mall (Oakland, if you're local) with my then-girlfriend (now ex-wife) and she decided to detour into a shoe store. Being me I gave the battlecry of all real men who refuse to be mistreated in such a way (Uhh... Honey? I think maybe I'll head over to the bookstore. If... That's okay?) And trudged off in search of a good time and aiming to misbehave.

I then checked over the work of my favorite authors at the time and found zero new books by them. I had narrowly avoided the hell of the shoe store in vain. I was going to die of boredom anyway. But then I remembered that I had to look at my friend the next time I went to work and figured I might as well pick up one of those Harrington novels.. Only, uhh.. Which one was the first one again? I had no clue. I'm not too sure he had mentioned it.

So I walked up to one of the cashiers and asked her if she knew what the first book was. She got excited. "Oh, my dad and my brother both love those books. The first one is On Basilisk Station and it's right over here." She actually took me by the hand and led me to the book. That makes twice that a woman has done that. The other time was when I first found out that The Lord of the Rings existed. ( I was the only geek in my house. These things happen.) So, yeah, I bought the book and took it home. That was a damn good decision.

On Basilisk Station is the kind of book Space Opera fans spend their entire lives looking for. It's that good. Our main character, Honor Harrington takes command of her first cruiser (she had commanded a destroyer "off screen" previously) and is as excited as all get-out. Things, however, don't go as planned initially and well...

Life gets interesting, in the sense of the ancient Chinese curse. This is Honor Harrington though. She could lay down and die but she doesn't. Seriously, reading Honor was good prep for my eventual divorce because I could use those books to remind myself that no matter how much life sucks it's possible to keep on keeping on. This is just the first lesson but it's a good one.

As things start going wrong, we not only get to see how Honor reacts to it, but we get to see how her subordinates react as well. Making a crew run right isn't always easy and it's harder when things start to suck. Honor gets that, Weber gets that and On Basilisk Station centers around those conflicts. Don't get me wrong. There is violence galore and ugly doesn't begin to describe some of it, but at the end of the day this is a book about people. To me, that's what separates a great work from a merely good one.

Listen, Star Trek in all it's iterations (except possibly ST:DIS which I haven't watched because I don't have CBS All Access) contains a large amount of Social Justice, but it's not a Social Justice show. It's a show about people and the liberal parts of the agenda come through story and not sermonizing. The History Channel show Mail Call was awesome and it was, in theory about questions regarding the military but it was really about R. Lee Ermey (RIP Gunny) and the people he was working with. Yes, SF in particular and especially Space Opera features cool widgets and big ships and lots of traveling, but dammit it's the people who make it fun. Weber gets that.

And, of course, not everyone is a hero. I can think of one particular character in On Basilisk Station that I would dearly love to strangle. Believe me when I say that there is no more deserving person. Fortunately, he's fictional and so I won't end up in jail but that dude irritates me.

Of course a good story is more than just a conversation between two people and Weber gets that too. On Basilisk Station never stops moving. It starts with a promotion and a blow-up and finishes with a bang. There are no boring moments here. This thing never drags. It never lets up. It's freaking captivating. I sat down yesterday to read a couple chapters before I jumped in the shower and ended up reading over four hundred pages and finishing the book and oh, by the way, I knew how it ended. Thankfully, I'm a Lyft driver so I didn't get myself in trouble for starting late.

I have no complaints about On Basilisk Station. One that I have frequently heard, though, is that Honor is too good at too much, but I'm not sure that's the case. She's simply a quick-thinking woman who gets stuck in bad situations and has to find her way out somehow.What some see as competence, I see as refusal to fail. Feel free to disagree if you must, but I calls 'em as I sees 'em.

Bottom Line: 5.0 out of 5 Energy Lances (even though they're non-canon now)

On Basilisk Station
David Weber
Baen Books, 1992

On Basilisk Station is available for purchase at the following link:

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Reflections on Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

I just got done watching The Day After (directed by Nicolas Meyer for the ABC Television Network, 1983) and it got me thinking. I have watched, read and loved a ton of post-apocalyptic fiction. Today was my first time watching The Day After, but I grew up on the Mad Max movies. The Hunger Games is, of course, set in Panem after a nuclear exchange. The latter two series in the Robotech universe take place in a world that has been savaged by aliens. I could go on forever. Science Fiction fans love post-apocalyptic settings. It's just what we do.

I guess the difference between The Day After and the vast majority of other Post-Apocalyptic settings is that it shows the actual apocalypse and the time before it on a level I've only ever seen exceeded by Jericho. At the beginning of The Day After life as normal is taking place. There is a wedding coming. People are registering for classes. If it weren't for the constant chatter about worsening tensions between the US and USSR from TVs and radios in the background they couldn't have made things more average if they tried. Actually, I'd be willing to bet that they DID try and this was the best they could do. They did a damn good job of it too.

So in a lot of ways, The Day After is one of the few post apocalyptic thrillers that truly shows the cost of the apocalypse itself. The cost of the apocalypse is not just measured in the mess made of a ruined city. The cost is measured in real human beings, shattered families and ruined lives. It is measured in the attempts to come back from the horror of an honest to God nuclear exchange. It's something we've never had to witness on the scale envisioned in the movie and thank God for that, but it is truly terrifying.

I grew up during the time when The Day After was made. I turned seven in 1983. I remember checking books out of the library about military everything. I remember reading about the USS Enterprise (The aircraft carrier CVN-65, not the Galaxy Class NCC-1701) and the nuclear arsenal it carried. I remember watching the news with my dad and my grandpa hearing about some guy named Khadaffi and some bombs that went off in Libya. I was way too precocious and I was reading things I had no business reading at that age. I didn't realize that at the time (what seven year old really understands how young they are?) but I should have waited until I got older. Lesson learned, I guess. I took my daughters to see Wonder Woman and my twelve year old thought that poison gas was fake, so I didn't push her as fast as I pushed myself, right?

What I've never understood though, is why we (I?) like it. I mean, it's exciting and suspenseful. If you don't know what's out there, you don't know what the threats are. If you don't know what the threats are, they could be anything. If you're surrounded by threats, survival becomes a problem. All stories need a problem. Just ask your high school literature teacher. (Mrs. Maloney are you out there?). But why this setting and this problem. What's fun about a setting where ninety-plus percent of the human race is dead?

That's the interesting part for me. I've heard people with doctoral degrees in psychology claim that it's because people wonder about their own death and wonder what the world would be like without them. With all respect due to the people who know what they're talking about, I don't think they know what they're talking about. I seriously think that whoever came up with that thesis never bothered to have a conversation with a real fan of post-apocalyptic fiction. Think about it.

Every fan of the PA game that I've come across thinks that they're Rick Grimes from The Walking Dead. We, at heart, are all The Chosen One, who will survive the crisis and restore order to the world. When the world falls we'll be the finest scrounger. When we set up the camp, we'll be the one who leads the defense of it. When the first new crops are grown, we'll be the person who found the seeds. When civilization is re-established we'll be the person leading it. Us. The nerds. The real science fiction fans who grew up reading about/watching this stuff. I mean, I'm even working on a Mafia/PA mashup. My main character is THE MAN... Or he will be if this freaking mob boss quits telling him what to do.


I think the fact of the matter is that the attraction of post-apocalyptic fiction is really a desire to be in charge. We want to run things our way and it's never going to happen that way. Even most presidents don't make the difference they thought they would. We all know that the world would be better off if we could just get rid of the corruption and fix the system. The real problem is that the system is so broken that it can't be fixed. It has to be disposed of and the only way to get rid of it is a nuclear war, or a zombie apocalypse, or an alien invasion, a terrible disease....

You know, whatever caused the thing. It really depends on the writer, but at the end of the day something wiped out everything that came before and this time we're going to start over and get it right. This time, there won't be any corrupt politicians because if they try that bullshit, we'll just feed them to a zombie...


The average post-apocalyptic fiction fan has a heroic fantasy. We're going to save the world. We don't necessarily count the cost because it's just a fantasy, right? I mean, I spent how many hours playing Everquest and slaughtering the orcs in Crushbone? The people in the fantasy don't exist. Except...

Except, I wonder.

Every power mad dictator in the history of history has had a vision of a world (or nation) that he ran himself and how it would be "for the people." They all thought that they would be the one to save the world. Lenin thought he would feed all of the people instead of starving them. Mao thought his Great Leap Forward would put the Chinese economy on par with the economies of industrialized world instead of killing tens of millions. Pol Pot thought that moving backward was best for the people and created his own apocalypse by killing half of its inhabitants in order to murder the educated and save Cambodia. Yes, even Hitler thought that slaughtering millions would prevent them from breeding and result in the eventual evolution of a Master Race that would then improve the world. Every one of them thought they were working for the betterment of the human race (in Hitler's case he had a narrower view of what constituted a human than I do) and they were all wrong. Every last one of them was a disgusting excuse for a human being. None of them should be remember positively by anyone.

And those were the closest we've come to an actual apocalypse, especially with Hitler and Pot. (Hitler killed more people. Pot killed a larger percentage of the population of the territory he controlled. I'll leave it to the reader to decide which is worse.)

So, nerd friends, I guess my point is this: Be careful what you wish for. The cost is too high and the outcome is probably not going to be what you desire. Even if you get what you want it probably won't turn out the way you want. But, as long as we're keeping it to people who don't actually exist I guess we're okay. Just don't let the zombies eat T-dog. I know, too late, but I miss that guy.

Some Post- Apocalyptic entertainment products are available at the links below:

Friday, November 23, 2018

City of Cayn by Stormy McDonald, Alan Isom and Jason McDonald

Every so often a sequel comes along that is as good as the original. It's not often, but it does happen. I mean, The Empire Strikes Back  was every bit as good as Star Wars, right? (Hey you, stop smirking. You know I'm right. ESB was the best Star Wars movie.) Now, I will grant you that it doesn't always happen that way. But sometimes, every great once in awhile, a blue moon appears and brings with it a worthy sequel. I don't know if it specifically takes an act of divine intervention, or if it just feels like it does. I mention this for a very specific reason:

Fans of Jimbo's will remember when I reviewed Son of Cayn awhile back and I was ecstatic about it. Well, I'm happy to say that Stormy McDonald, Alan Isom and Jason McDonald have done it again. Their latest is City of Cayn and it's pretty amazeballs. I just finished it on Wednesday and I already can't wait for the next one. Of course, this one just came out today and, by my own personal code of ethics, I'm required to wait at least a week before bugging them. Get ready guys. I'll find a way! Something annoying your way comes. I'm just not sure what it is yet. Before all and sundry I make this vow: I will pester you for the next one. And it's very obviously coming because you set it up beautifully.

The cool part is that the authors are part of the Chris Kennedy Publishing Kindle Unlimited Writing Factory. I'm pretty sure they're writing right now. They need to 

Something we didn't see enough of in the first book was magic, but it abounds this time around. Mages in the City of Cayn universe are apparently pretty badass. At one point a character who shall remain nameless pulls off a massive illusion that had me sitting there in awe. I've seen very few works where a single mage could have pulled something that big off. At another point that same character is called out for not being an archmage. Bro, if this is what a neophyte looks like, I don't wanna have to face the master. That was some straight up ass-kickery. He does other really impressive stuff too, but that was what got me the most.

I have to say, I'd love to see this one turned into a movie too. It would be a special effects extravaganza. I'm thinking of two specific scenes that would light up a screen and make me want to dance. I seriously need to see what a Hollywood pyrotechnics crew could do with some of this. It sounds soooooo impressive. I think it could live up to the way I pictured it.

Oh, and I suppose, since I'm talking about a book, I should mention the plot. I don't do spoilers so I can't say much, but damn. This is epic fantasy the way you're supposed to do epic fantasy. Good guys, bad guys and the whole world (well... maybe) in the balance and only our plucky group of heroes can save the whole world for dying... We hope. They have to figure out how first though and right now, it's not looking too good. We're all sweating and rooting for them. And, at the end of the day, that's what I love about the genre. This isn't a story about variable morals and "everything is gray." This is "someone is trying to kill all of us and we have to stop them."

I can't help sitting back and remembering a scene from The Godfather III though. (Yes, I liked it.) At one point, Michael Corleone (played masterfully by Al Pacino) sits back and says "Our true enemy has not yet revealed himself." There is a mastermind behind what's going on. I know it. I have a feeling I know at least one being that he/she/it is working with. I'm just not sure who they are. I'm sure time, and the next book, will tell but I'm straining to figure this out. If it's the obvious choice it'll be cool. If it's someone new to the stage it'll be cooler. I guess I'll just have to wait to find out which it is.

As mentioned before, City of Cayn is a sequel and I highly recommend reading Son of Cayn first. There is a lot going on in this book and a look back at where it started is necessary to knowing who all of these people are and how they relate to each other. It gets awfully complicated, especially for a cast this small. The relations between the characters, and their complications, are a big part of what makes City of Cayn fun, so you really do need to know your stuff.

Of course, there are new characters added too. The authors decided to spice this one up with some additions that just work. One of my favorite characters in the book was not featured in the first book and she's a total badass. She goes through a lot and I feel bad for her at times, but if she wanted an easy life she shouldn't have been in a novel.

As a matter of fact, that's something that really works in City of Cayn. The benefits of success are sky high. The penalty for failing is unthinkable. The route to victory is not a straight one. It's quite frankly a mess. There is no super-successful, gets it right every time person here. The one person I thought might turn into that guy is worse off than almost anyone else. This is a highly detailed, well planned-out story and the authors have pulled it off wonderfully.

Really my only problem with the book is that the sequel isn't here yet. I'm dying to find out how all of this ends. I want to find out if the bad guy is who I think he is. I want to see if somebody slaps that bitch. (She deserves it.) I want to know if the world gets saved. I want to know... when the next book is coming. But trust me, I won't bother the authors for at least a week.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Bars of Soap

City of Cayn
Stormy McDonald, Alan Isom and Jason McDonald
Chris Kennedy Publishing, 2018

City of Cayn is available for purchase at the following link:

Monday, November 12, 2018

RIP Stan Lee

 Once upon a time a young man jumped on his beat up BMX and rode it to a place called the Antique Paper Shop. In that store there were many comics. Some of them were made by Marvel. A lot of them started with the words "Stan Lee Presents..." Those comics, and others like them, made the young man very happy. So happy, in fact, that he never minded the five mile round trip on his bike or the money he spent there. So happy that he never even minded the ass chewings he got from his mother for "wasting all of your money on those damn comic books." He totally thought it was worth it.

Well, if you've been paying attention, you already know that that young man was Yours Truly, the blogger extraordinaire (wink), moi. It didn't get a lot better in those days than breaking away from my parents to go get something that I wanted with my money. And, for a kid who was not yet old enough to get his drivers license, there were no finer stories.

Seriously, for young geeks like myself, and my buddy Jayson that I usually rode up there with, the comic shop was heaven. In an era before the internet was really a thing, I could find people there who shared my interests. I could bask in the glory of rows upon rows of interesting looking books (and let me tell you, I read a lot of stuff in school but I wouldn't consider much of it "interesting.") that I wanted to read. Unfortunately, I had a limited budget and I couldn't buy one of everything in the store, even after I got my first job at fourteen years of age. If you asked my mother though, she'd probably say I tried.

It's sad to say that The Antique Paper Shop no longer exists. The building that it occupied has long since been demolished and the site rebuilt on. You can get some pretty good "New York Style Chinese Food" there now. I'll never know what happened to all  those boxes of back issues, but I didn't get to buy them all, not even the Iron Man and Green Lantern ones. Life is rough sometimes.

The creator of a lot of my heroes was a guy named Stan Lee. The first time I had ever held a comic in my hands it was an old copy of The Fantastic Four, which would never have existed without him. Remember the old TV show Spider Man? That never would have existed without him either. And let's face it, without Stan Lee I never would have wanted to be Tony Stark. It's not possible to be a geek guy my age and never have had the desire to be a man who could fly through the air in a suit of steel and then woo the ladies later. How could you not want to be the guy with a tower named after him? Oh, and if you have at any point in your life not fit into society (possibly because, I dunno... Maybe you were a nerd?) and not been able to identify with the X-Men you don't have any emotions. I could go on.

Yes, Stan Lee was a guy who made life a lot more enjoyable. I don't know how many smiles he put on my face, or how many times I scowled at a bad guy because of him. I couldn't tell you how many times I cheered my heroes in those books or later on the big screen. I'm not even sure how much time I've spent trying to find him in the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. Stan's name echoes throughout the Multiverse. You know what? Multiverse be damned. If it weren't for Stan Lee, the Nerdiverse would be a much poorer place.

Well, if you've managed to avoid the news so far somehow, we lost Stan Lee today. I read somewhere that he was taken to the hospital in an ambulance and died there. This one hit me hard. I literally almost broke out into tears in the middle of a Pizza Hut when I pulled up the article on my phone. I almost started crying again when I opened up my Google app to confirm it. I'm one unhappy Jimbo at the moment. I don't usually get this involved with celebrities. I watched Jerry Lewis give his telethon every Labor Day for years. I wasn't happy to see him go, but I barely noticed. With Stan Lee it's different.

Stan was one of us. I never had the good fortune to meet him at a con, but I know many people who have. It is amazing how much of his time he was willing to give to fans. I've never heard anyone say a bad word about the man. "Never meet your heroes" is an old saying, but it doesn't seem to be one that applies here. I'm really sad that I'll never get to meet Stan Lee because, according to everything I've heard or read, he really does seem to have been everything I wanted him to be.

It's not just how friendly he was that makes him one of us though. We, as geeks, have all looked up at one point and said, "Wouldn't it be awesome if you could..." The superpower that came next was always different (unless it was your one friend who came up with the same idea eighty-seven times a day) but we had an idea about someone who could do something that we wanted to read about or watch. Stan Lee was just better at it than the rest of us. He could come with the person and the power and make a story about it that millions of people would read and watch.

And now he's gone.  I'll never get my chance to say hi to him and shake his hand. We won't be seeing him on the silver screen anymore. I'd bet my ass that it won't be long before we'll be seeing a Stan Lee memorial comic, or maybe a series of them. Someone is sure to complain about crass commercialism, but commercialism is how Stan made his living. The world is worse for his passing. I'll say a prayer for his family and all of his fans, but...

I don't know but what -just- but.

We'll miss you Mr. Lee. You will live on through your creations and in our hearts. Years after the rest of us are gone, someone will be reading about a young kid who got bit by a spider and has great power and the responsibility that comes with it...

You know, one of my friends posted on Facebook today. His post read "The King is Dead. Long Live the King." He was wrong though. The king is dead, but there is no one to fill his shoes. We cannot replace the great Stan Lee. There is no one who can step up now. I mean, sure, there will be more comics. There will be more movies. There will be more people who love them. But we will never replace the man himself. His genius is gone from the world.

And now, I'm just stalling and not wanting to wrap this up, because once it's over I've admitted that he's actually gone. Don't worry. I'll get over myself. I guess there's just one last thing to say. One final word to wrap it all up.


Sunday, November 11, 2018

On the Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month...

(Note: This is a non-SF/F post. I just felt like saying something. The sad part is, it's not really going to be footnoted or anything, so it's not really good to be a proper work of history from a scholarly perspective either.)

At eleven AM on November eleventh, 1918 the guns fell silent and the killing stopped. The First World War ended. The Western Allies had prevailed not because of their own fighting prowess (Germany was still advancing at the end of the war) but because of the collapse of the German government. The Weimar Republic had stripped away the old Reich and established a new one. Their first act was to sue for peace. In a hospital run by the German army was a young corporal, who was actually Austrian, who was pissed out of his mind and recovering from a gas attack. He went on later to "avenge the wrongs" his people had suffered by starting a war that killed millions. Screw you and your mustache, Corporal Hitler.

That's not really what this post is about though. Nor is it about the mistaken belief, held by many historians, that the Second World War was caused by the actions of the United Kingdom, France and their allies in leveling war reparations on the German government. The Germans never paid them anyway. It could be about the folly of negotiating a peace without first thoroughly defeating the enemy and why national pride will send them back for round two eventually, but that's not it either.

No, this post is really about the stupidity of that war and many of the nations who fought it. I just don't get it.  One Archduke gets offed (and depending on you point of view, he may have deserved it) and a few years later, millions are dead. A good-will tour (Franz Ferdinand was in Serbia to see and be seen and make everyone happy) ended up in a conflagration that killed millions and led to parts of the European landscape being uninhabitable a century later.

There was no real reason for World War One to turn into a general conflict. I can see, from the point of view of the Austo-Hungarian Empire (all the Americans reading this just went HUH?) to punish a seditious province and put down a rebellion. I would understand that. But how an internal matter in the Empire to a German invasion of France is something I don't understand and probably never will.

I guess my point in bringing this up is my feeling that it's important to figure things like this out to prevent it from happening again. Don't think it can't. In Europe, where there hasn't been a major war in decades, trains are still built to make loading and moving trips easy. China and Russia are both arming. The United States hasn't faced another major power since the end of World War II but that doesn't mean it never will.

When I read the literature, what I kept finding was that everyone thought that it was time for a war. Really? Everyone just wanted to send their sons and brothers off to die because they hadn't done it in awhile? Is that what you're actually selling? I'm not buying it. And yet, I can't find a fact to refute the belief either. Out there somewhere is a picture taken of the crowd at an Austrian war rally. Right in the middle of it is the aforementioned asshole, the excitement evident in his face. He wanted a fight, at least.

A large part of my studies as a history major centered around politics and wars. I get that it happens. I'll never forget a quote from one of my history professors. "It is sometimes necessary and appropriate to go to war, but it is never pretty." She was right. I just don't see World War I as being either.

So then, why? It wasn't territorial ambition. Germany had invaded France a little over forty years earlier and left after winning the war. The Ottoman Empire and Austria Hungary had far more to lose than to gain as evidenced by the fact that neither one exists anymore. How did all of these countries find themselves training and arming men to kill each other? What made it worth the effort? For the record, I get France's reason for fighting. They were invaded. The same with Russia. What was everyone else thinking?

Whether the United States should have entered the war or not is still debated, as are it's reasons for doing so. Some will tell you that it was for the "Merchants of Death," but that makes no sense. As a neutral power the United States had the right to sell weapons to either or both sides. In practice, we sold mostly to the British, but that made sense. They were the closest and had a navy big enough  to protect our shipping. Put bluntly, this is mainly a theory promoted by Marxists, who seem unable to believe that any war can be fought for any reason other than profit. To someone whose life philosophy is based around crass materialism that would probably make sense. Another theory is the "unlimited submarine warfare" school that says that the US went to war because Germany was sinking too many ships. (And, for the record, U-boats were damn good at what they did.) This makes no sense either. Yes, there had been some American citizens killed on British cruise ships (most famously the Lusitania) but it wasn't that common and the US government had warned its citizens against boarding the ships in the first place because of the risks involved. This boils down to the same

Of course, there is one other popular theory. The British intercepted a German telegram to Mexico offering to return lost territory if Mexico invaded the US. This, theoretically, would keep the US too busy to interfere in the fighting in Europe. (I remain convinced that the US invaded Iraq in 2003 due to similar motivations.) Mexico obviously never invaded, probably because they were sick and tired of getting their collective asses kicked. (For the record: Yes, the telegram could have been faked. No, it has nothing to do with diplomatic pouches. For one thing, the message was intercepted as it was broadcast. For another, countries can and will violate each others diplomatic pouches during wartime. The reason diplomatic pouches are respected during peacetime is because it is considered to be an act of war to open another country's diplomatic correspondence.) So, even if the telegram was the true motivation for the US to go to war against Germany, why were they convinced that it was necessary?

Tom Clancy said it best: "The difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to make sense." Nothing about the lead up to World War I in general or US involvement in the same makes the slightest bit of sense. There is no logic here. Maybe I spent too much time growing up listening to characters like Spock and Data, but the lack of a definable purpose offends my sensibilities.

And when your break down the tactics used by all sides, it gets worse. The history books record what happened on the Western Front as "trench warfare." I define what happened on the Western Front as "dig a ditch and die warfare." For the record, we're both right and the difference is totally semantic.  I still think my version  makes more sense as both sides on the Western Front spent more time dying in place, or for a few yards of territory, than they did accomplishing anything of military significance.

And then, of course, is the part that most citizens of the United States are ignorant of. Someone help me out here: WHAT IN THE BLUE HELL WERE AMERICAN TROOPS DOING FIGHTING IN RUSSIA? Yup, totally happened. American troops, many from my home state of Michigan, were sent to protect supplies meant for the White Russian (ie anti-communist) troops during the Russian Revolution. Within hours of landing at the port of Archangelsk, and before many of them had even disembarked, there were already troops aboard a train headed toward Moscow. They never came close. It still doesn't make sense that they were even there. Ostensibly they were trying to bring Russia back into the war, the Russians having made a separate peace with Germany. I'm still not sure what their real mission was, and that was supposed to be the theme of my Master's thesis if my academic career had not gone under when my marriage did. They damn sure weren't guarding warehouses in a train headed away from the warehouses.

Someday, maybe someone will say or write something that makes this seem slightly logical. It won't be this day, or at least not from this computer. I'm supposed to come up with some big conclusion here that ties this mess together, but the best I've got is that there is no conclusion possible. I guess that's your big revelation. I hope it was worth your time. Anyway, hug a veteran. They've earned it. And, if you think this post is a goofy as I do, feel free to tell me so in the comments.

Feel free to download a copy of the history of some the units that fought in the American Intervention in the Russian Revolution, written by some of the officers that served as part of the expeditionary force, here for free:

If you happen to be in Southeastern Michigan, you can visit memorials to the Michigan Polar Bears (who fought in the Russian Revolution) at both White Chapel Cemetery (look for the polar bear statue off to your right as you pull in from Crooks Road) and at the Detroit Zoo, contained in a class case in the polar bear exhibit. Of course, the coolest place to learn about them would be at Michigan's Own Military and Space Museum in Frankenmuth.

Oh, and word to the Polar Bears themselves: Yes, I promised you guys a book while visiting your graves at the cemetery. It's going to happen. I'm not sure how when I'm not really eligible for academic grants to do the research anymore, but I'll figure something out. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Declan Finn's Hell Spawn: Saint Tommy NYPD - Book One

Did you ever stop to look around you and wonder what the Hell just happened? Yeah, so has Detective Thomas Nolan. In his case though, he meant it literally. I have to hand it to Declan Finn. I really didn't think you could do much to make a homicide detective's day worse. In Hell Spawn Finn decided to throw a demon at one. He owns it and when a demon comes out to play, it gets ugly. Like, double plus ungood ugly. Like, this thing is eviller than evil ugly. Like, I'm cackling evilly remembering how evil this thing was ugly. It's a good time.

I'd be careful with Hell Spawn though. It almost caused me to stay home from work because I couldn't put it down. Oh, and I was reading it while eating solo at a local diner and the waitress was looking at me funny because I wouldn't leave after eating my meal and paying my bill. She was a bit confused. I just wanted to know what happened next. Chick obviously doesn't have a reading problem. Her bad.

Seriously though, don't start this one twenty minutes before you need to be somewhere. Hell Spawn starts off fast and accelerates continuously. Finn has redefined the term "page turner" here. It almost felt like the pages were turning themselves and I was just watching. Sometimes as a reviewer I find myself reading something because it's my job to. This is a book that made me want to read it.

Now, Declan Finn has always considered himself to be a fantasy author. He has stated this on his blog, but I'm too lazy to go find a link. Hell Spawn is a damn good book, but this isn't fantasy. Finn has a much better sense of how to write a plot than most Eighties slasher movie writers, but he's got them beat for gore as well. A lot of what happens in the tome is sick, twisted, disturbing and awesome.

Myself and Mr. Finn don't necessarily agree on the all of the finer points of theology (the whole Catholic vs. Protestant thing) but something we do agree on is the power of prayer. There is a lot of it in Hell Spawn. As a matter of fact, there are an awful lot of times when Christian attitudes are shown. I approve. Actually, I'd like to see more of this kind of stuff. Hell Spawn is a Catholic writer telling a story about a saint in the making. It fits. The fact remains that Finn/Tommy's takes on a number of controversial topics, including abortion, are on display for all to see. They're pretty stinkin' close to what I heard from my pastor a few weeks ago. If you're the special snowflake uber liberal type and just can't stand the thought that someone might disagree with you, this might be a good time to go buy a biography of Che Guevara that conveniently omits his stances towards homsexuals and black people. I hate to say it, but Hell Spawn may not be for you. Finn pulls no punches. I love it.

Finn's view of the police is somewhat nuanced as is  - surprisingly- his view of saints, but make no mistake about it: Hell Spawn  is about a battle between good and evil. Saint Tommy versus the demon (and no, I'm not telling you which demon. That would be spoiling.) is an epic throwdown between the darkness and the light. That much is made clear.

Somewhat missing though, and this may be intentionally, is a clear view of where Tommy v. Demon fits in the framework of the grand battle of God and Satan. It's treated as a personal battle, albeit one fought with allies. We're not really given much of a sense of the more colossal grand battle. That's the view I became accustomed to a long time ago as a fan of fantasy fiction. Then again, this is horror.  It works differently. And  Hell Spawn is book one in a series, so maybe I'll get to see where this fits in later. Maybe not too. The book was freaking awesome without it and it's Earthbound, so personal appearances by God and Satan might not work.

Finn lives in New York. The book takes place in New York. I've never been to New York (I know, I'm working on it) but having read Hell Spawn I almost feel like I have been. Finn's relationship with New York is in some ways analogous to Anne Rice's relationship with New Orleans. Both have stories that take place outside of their respective hometowns but both continuously return to the city they love in their fiction. It shows in the work. Both authors lay things out in their work that make you love their cities too. I'm really impressed by this. It's almost like you could make the car trips that take place in the story using the directions in the book. Oh, and do you know how I could tell the book was written by a native New Yorker? There were no references to  the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street or Broadway. There is not a single scene in Times Square. It's almost like Tommy had lived all his life in the city and had no desire to comment on things that he took for granted. It made him feel more real and human.

I can't say much more about the plot without giving the whole book away, but it moves. It's logical. The entire thing works within the rules of the work itself. There is no massive, gaping plot hole that you could float an aircraft carrier through sideways. That's always a fear when reading a work like this. It's pretty epic and it's easy for an author to get excited and forget about something. That doesn't seem to have happened here and that's good.

That's not to say that Finn tied up all the loose strings. Hell Spawn is the first in a series, not the last. There are some very obvious plot threads still dangling but there need to be. I am, after all, looking forward to the next book. How could there be one if Tommy solved everything the first time?

Oh, and if you're wondering: Hell Spawn is the current front runner for my Dragon Award nomination for Best Horror Novel next year. That is, unless Finn beats himself with the sequel to this master piece which is due out in Mid-December, just in time for my birthday.

Bottom Line: 5.0 out of 5 Praying Chaplains

Hell Spawn: Saint Tommy NYPD - Book One
Declan Finn
Silver Empire, 2018

Hell Spawn: Saint Tommy NYPD - Book One is available for purchase at the following link: