Dust World— review and commentary

Dust World, by B.V. Larson, is the second book in a series he calls “Undying Mercenaries” because of some nifty alien technology that allows dead soldiers to be reborn via genetic encoding of a clone body. While I enjoyed this story, I didn’t find it nearly as dramatic as the first book in the series, Steel World. Basically, this is the continuing adventures of James McGill, a young man who joins up with Legion Varus in the first book. As this entry in the series opens, McGill is at home on leave, and is rather bored with his earthly existence. After having faced fierce adversaries and been born again a few times, lounging around the house is bound to get old, I guess.

Anyway, before long, McGill is recalled by his Legion Varus leadership, and his training and adventures continue. The book has plenty of action, but some of the characters remain a bit flat. Military fiction tends to suffer from stereotypes, and this novel is no different. The brass is bad, the guys in the trenches are good: yada, yada.

(spoilers beyond)

Basically, the action in this novel pits the legion against fellow humans, as they are members of a lost colony. This colony is a big problem for Earth, as colonization is against Galactic Law. Now that Earth has forcibly joined the Galactic Union, and the mercenaries of Legion Varus are sent to deal with this long lost colony. The frontier planet is inhabited by colonists who have adapted to the harsh environment. The colonists seem to have perfected some particularly damaging nanites, which they use to enhance their primitive weapons. Every time one of the legion is knifed, he or she dies a dramatically painful death. Of course, the legion is supposed to bring back these troops, but there is a problem.

These colonists have enough sense to attack not only the legion but the machine that spits out regenerated soldiers. As the action on this planet proceeds, the machine is damaged and all of its techs are dead. Therefore, if the remaining troops can’t revive the machine, those who die on this planet will be permanently dead. McGill has his hands full as he tries to fight these fellow humans, but not kill them, and he needs to get that machine back to work. Negotiations do take place, but there is treachery on both sides. McGill does make things happen, but it is never easy.

All in all, this is an entertaining entry in the series, and I recommend the series to fans of military fiction, science fiction, and (especially) space opera.

Not with a Whimper: Producers

D. A. Boulter was one of the first authors I read when I first downloaded the Kindle app for my (now passed on to a grandchild) iPad2. Gosh, I loved the app, the book, and that iPad. Fast forward a few years, and I have quite a few Kindle books in my virtual library, a newer iPad, and Amazon Prime, which allows me to read a lot of stuff for free. However, I recently purchased Not With A Whimper: Producers. Despite the odd title, this novel fits into the “universe” that I first explored when I read Courtesan by Boulter.

I was prepared to love this book, as I have generally liked most of the books I’ve read by the author, and the description seemed interesting. However, as I slogged through the early parts, I wasn’t so sure. Somewhere around the 50% read portion I got seriously interested, but in the interest of not spoiling it, I won’t say why. The rest of the book was a quick read.

The main character of this story is a not quite 19 year old Larry Clement, and in many ways this story reminds me of the coming of age yarns that were the foundation of Robert Heinlein’s science fiction writing. Larry is a very unhappy young man, but a fundamentally good person, as the story opens. His girl, Sandra, and his fellow students are not fleshed out too well, but the relationship with his father is a main focus, so dear old dad, aka Robert Clement, is also a well thought out character. While I think that Courtesan is among this author’s best works, it isn’t necessary that readers read it first, as this novel stands alone quite well. However, the stories do share some characters, so I enjoyed the connections.

When I last reviewed a story by Boulter, I commented that his works don’t have many reviews and seem to have few readers. That’s a shame, because this guy has plenty of stories in him, good ones, and in a time when there is such a dearth of new material for readers, he deserves more reviews and the readers that write them. Indeed, anyone who likes science fiction or simply a good story should check out D. A. Boulter’s $2.99 Kindle books. Honestly, that’s cheap reading— less than a decent hamburger!

Trading for a Dream— review of book 2 in the Yrden Chronicles

TradingDreamcoverSince I first began reading eBooks on my iPad, I’ve used Amazon’s Kindle more than any other app, because it works well and the content is both plentiful and inexpensive. An early favorite author was D.A. Boulter, whose novel Courtesan impressed me quite a lot. I’ve revisited his work from time to time, and recently I read the latest entry in the series that began with CourtesanTrading For A Dream (The Yrden Chronicles Book 2).

Boulter’s Yrden books are based upon the idea that somewhere in the future, Trading Families will own fleets of cargo ships that not only carry paid cargo, but that there would be trade representatives on board who scout for local merchandise at each port of call, buying and selling or bartering, providing new goods for their customers as well as adding profit to the Family. Of course, the Yrden Family is the core group, but Courtesan is a stand alone book which occurs some generations before the events in the two available Yrden Chronicles novels. Trading For The Stars (The Yrden Chronicles Book 1) recounts the story of Clay Yrden and Colleen Newborn who meet on a primitive planet, Erin.

Trading for a Dream continues their story, but the main point of view character is not one of the Family; instead, as the novel opens, the reader meets Adrian Telford, who is engaged in arranging an accident (i.e. he’s a hit man.) However, when the victim’s wife and son witness the “accident” Telford loses his taste for a life of crime. In an effort to clean up his act, Telford rides a shuttle to Liberty Station, a space station which is on the trade route of Blue Powder, a Yrden Family ship.

(spoiler alert)

When Blue Powder docks, Clay and Colleen soon meet Mr. Telford. Clay sees him as too risky due to his past association with criminals, but Colleen sees a desperate man in need of a hand up. Needless to say, the interactions between the Yrdens and Telford make up the rest of the novel. The yarn is suspenseful due to the efforts of the baddies to make Telford go back to his former profession, as well as an attempt to relieve the Yrdens of some of their goods.
While there are some mostly stereotypical characters, the author does a reasonable job of creating engaging characters, including the folks on the ship, the bad guys who used to be Telford’s business associates, and other folks who get involved, so there are quite a few of them for the reader to keep straight. Having read the other novels in the series helped me a bit in that regard.

I’ve enjoyed Doug Boulter’s stories, and I really liked this one, too. The only caveat I have in recommending these is if you want sex scenes, you’ll be disappointed, as these stories are remarkably clean without being intended for a young adult audience. These stories are reasonably priced on Amazon, and I encourage readers to discover this relatively unknown author. I am so glad I did.

Son of Justice— a quick review

Son of JusticeEli Jayson is a recruit, struggling to get through basic training, just like many others. But, he has knowledge of military matters far beyond his fellow recruits, because his real name is not Jayson, it is Justice, which is the name of the supreme commander of Allied Forces, and Eli’s father. Having grown up in his father’s shadow, Eli may be the perfect soldier, or not. But he must succeed or fail on his own, for as Eli Jayson, he isn’t getting any special treatment.

That’s just a summary of the opening of this novel, Son of Justice, which is the beginning of a trilogy by Steven Hawk. I’m a fan of military fiction, and the “recruit grows up fast” plot line is hardly a new one, but Hawk does a reasonably good job of blending traditional story elements with fresh insights into both how the military mind thinks, as well as building his sci fi universe. As this is the opening of a series, he must also lay the groundwork for the rest of his trilogy as well as keeping the action flowing to entertain his readers. I rather liked this book, as the author manages all those tasks fairly well.

Often, such beginning of a trilogy books suffer from the cliffhanger ending, but this yarn stands alone quite well, so readers who want to sample Hawk’s writing can read this one without being roped into other purchases.

From a Distant Star— quick review and commentary

From a Distant StarThere are many themes in science fiction, and the one about an alien who is trapped on earth entering a host body isn’t exactly a new plot line. However, in this young adult novel, Karen McQuestion taps into the “kids dealing with big stuff” storyline that seems to be popular right now. (Think “Stranger Things” on Netflix or even Stephen King’s, IT! on the big screen.) Anyway, I didn’t find it difficult at all to get into this book and stay with it until the end. The main characters, Emma and her cancer stricken boyfriend Lucas, are believable, engaging, and their exploits are entertaining. Emma is particularly well drawn, and she is the point of view character for most of the novel.

I’m not a big fan of young adult fiction, but I genuinely believe that the most creative stories these days are found in that genre. Publishers, large and small, are not prone to take any chances with fiction intended for adult audiences, but they are more open to new authors and new ideas in YA fiction. This has been true for quite a while, and this trend plays out on the big screen. The Harry Potter novels were quite successfully adapted to film, as were the Hunger Games novels. The Divergent Series is another YA science fiction series that made it to the big screen. Even Twilight and its sequels begat movies.

Probably From a Distant Star won’t be the basis for a Hollywood block buster, but it would make a dandy film for the folks over at the SyFy channel. In the mean time, readers can find it in various formats, from $4.49 for the Kindle ebook to $10.95 in hard cover.

The Senator by Ken Fite— quick review and commentary

VFR

No kickstart on this VFR

The Senator: A Blake Jordan Thriller is the beginning of a series, which now has two other entries, and it can be read as a stand-alone, but it does a good job of introducing the federal agent, Blake Jordan, character.

This contemporary novel begins as Senator James Keller is set to receive his party’s nomination for President of the United States, but he doesn’t make his acceptance speech because a kidnapper manages to abduct him right before he enters the arena where his party awaits him. His protection detail is headed by ex-Navy SEAL and federal agent Blake Jordan. The action moves quickly between the senator and the agent, who wants to find Keller before something worse happens, and the suspense never lets up. (I like that!)

I noted that some reviewers on Amazon mentioned that the novel wasn’t entirely realistic. I agree, and here is an example: A character, wanting to be stealthy, walks his sport bike (a Honda VFR) out of an alley onto a main road and then the rider kickstarts it before roaring away. Okay, an experienced and strong rider might have no issues with walking a full sized bike for a ways, but it is a chore. Worse, I’m pretty sure Honda hasn’t put a kickstart on a full sized sport bike in about 30 years, and I have never seen a VFR with one. I didn’t stop reading at that point, but I did have a moment of doubt. The old saying is “write what you know” so I began wondering what else the author didn’t know, or failed to research, which was a distraction for me. However, the novel is quite suspenseful, and many readers would not be bothered by this minor glitch in regards to motorcycle matters.

Ken Fite is a new author for me, and while he did stretch my “willing disbelief” a time or two, I would not be averse to reading more of his fiction. The Senator is available for the Kindle, and as of this post, is $2.99, which is a bargain, for sure.

The Heart of a Dog by Albert Payson Terhune

The Heart of A Dog by Albert Payson TerhuneWhen I was a kid, I read The Heart of a Dog, a collection of short stories by Albert Payson Terhune, over and over. The collection of seven stories is good for adults more so than children. One of the things I did when I first began teaching was to read to my middle school students, and I did read a story, The Meanest Man, from this book to them. Although it was first published in the 1920s, these stories are still very interesting.

All of the stories feature a different member The Sunnybank Collies, and the stories have various themes. One tale of survival, “One Minute Longer,” has a plot wherein a young man gets trapped in some icy water and his life depends on the efforts of his collie friend, Wolf, managing to this convey the situation to the adults back home. This story holds up quite well for modern readers, and it has been used in reading anthologies in the past, but the references to hunting and guns wouldn’t make it past modern censorship. In “Youth Will Be Served” the reader follows the difficult decision of dog show judge Angus McGilead, who wants to award the best in show prize to the old favorite collie, Bruce, but realizes that the young collie Jock, sired by Bruce, should win. Yet, the decision is his, and his alone. Okay, this sounds so boring, but it isn’t because the author does a great job of describing every aspect of the dog show, along with criteria used by dog show judges to pick the best of the best.

“The Meanest Man” is my favorite story. It is about a farmer, Link Harris, a well-trained collie, Chum, and the dog catcher, Eben Shunk. Even those who haven’t read it will know who the meanest man is, but the way that Link and Chum deal with him make this story very amusing, if rather dated. Anyway, my students liked it quite a lot, and according to my notes (still in the book) it takes 45 minutes to read aloud.

I’ve linked to the Kindle edition of this book, because it is a very good deal. The copy of The Heart of a Dog  that I have looks like the one pictured, because it was issued by a children’s book club. If you are ever antiquing and see one of these editions, grab it, because the illustrations are cool, too.

Stranger in a Strange Land— another item from my “Keeper” shelf

Stranger CoverAs a youngster, I loved science fiction. From being a little kid watching Fireball XL5: The Complete Series on television to reading the novels of Robert Heinlein while in school, to seeing the original Star Wars: A New Hope at the cinema while in college (gosh, I’m old, right?) I really loved sci-fi. Actually, I still do, but this is a blast from the past post, so here goes.

Heinlein, now considered one of the “grand masters” of classic science fiction, wrote young adult novels and short stories for a number of years. However, his groundbreaking and movie inspiring Starship Troopers is considered a turning point into adult fiction because this novel begins his exploration of themes that appeal to a more mature audience, including libertarian politics. Perhaps modern readers wouldn’t realize it, but the powered body armor in Starship Troopers was one of those prescient inventions that makes reading and watching science fiction so important to the development of technology.

Stranger in a Strange Land (Remembering Tomorrow)was published a couple of years after Troopers, and while less “realistic” the novel takes some giant leaps into thematic explorations. The novel deals with the life of one Valentine Michael Smith, the first human born on Mars, and because he was orphaned he was reared by the natives of that planet, and later brought back to earth as a young adult human who knows absolutely nothing about his home planet or its inhabitants, hence the title. This situation is a fabulous set up for what science fiction does best: explore what makes humanity work (or not.) I used to read this novel annually, and I have never tired of it, because there are so many themes. Indeed, while doing a master’s degree in English, I wrote a pretty decent term paper on the topic of how Heinlein uses the world savior theme in the novel, and didn’t get thrown out of my fairly conservative program.

The characters in Stranger are often larger than life, but Jubal Harshaw, lawyer, doctor, and homespun philosopher (as well as the voice of the author) is my favorite. His employees and associates included Anne, a “fair witness” which is sort of a human version of a body cam, as she only reports what is seen. As in many Heinlein works, there are any number of gems, but even people who haven’t read Stranger may use the invented word “grok” which is a Martian term for being one with someone or something, in such a way that it is fully understood or appreciated.

Modern science fiction has split into many sub-genres, but Stranger in a Strange Land pre-dates that, and in a good way. Grand Master Robert Heinlein was not restricted to hard science or the softer “social” aspects of the genre, although he uses both hard and softer themes to challenge societal norms. Indeed, this novel broke new ground when first published, and it is just as thoughtful and thought provoking today. Certainly, it deserves a read, but it is so complex that it almost needs a Cliff Notes commentary but not quite yet. Despite its age, it is still in print, so go get a copy!

From my Keeper Shelf — The Impossible Virgin


When I was young (alas, quite a long time ago) my mom would take us to the library every two weeks. There is no way I can express how important this was in my journey toward being a teacher and a writer. We didn’t have much money, but we had a wealth of information at hand, in the form of borrowed books. As I made the transition from young adult fiction to things written for an adult audience, mom was a valuable guide, because she was quite a good reader herself. One day, she handed me a book with a title that was a bit unusual: The Impossible Virgin. I’m sure I said something like, “Really, Mom?” She assured me that she had read it and that I would like it. OMG, was she right. I really loved that book.

Peter O’Donnell wrote an entire series of books featuring a better than James Bond heroine, Modesty Blaise, and The Impossible Virgin was my introduction to the series, although it is actually book five of thirteen books. The books generally followed a pattern, a bit like a James Bond movie of that era, wherein there is some action sequence at the beginning, then some exposition to get the reader up to speed on the characters, plus plenty of mid-level action before a dramatic series of events that leads to a climax with a very short denoument. Each book is decorated with highly eccentric characters, both the villains and the “guests” that Modesty and her friend Willie Garvin are helping with whatever dastardly doings drive the action.

(Some spoilers follow at this point.)

The Impossible Virgin centers around Modesty’s guy friend, a doctor named Giles Pennyfeather. He gets involved with some bad guys over in Africa, and Modesty helps him out. Later, Giles and Modesty are abducted by the baddies, and friend Willie is thrown out of a plane without a parachute. Giles ends up injured by a gorilla, so he has to walk Modesty through performing an emergency appendectomy  on one of the minor characters, and all that happens before the big climax, which involves a battle with quarterstaffs and a heck of a lot of wasps.

Most of the books in this series are really good, and I have all of them. Some books spend very little time with me, as they are forgettable, but The Impossible Virgin, along with others in the series, including Modesty Blaise, Sabre-Tooth, and I Lucifer are on my keeper shelf, and I have re-read them from time to time.

Modesty Blaise was the subject of a truly horrible movie, so bad that I try to forget that it was ever made, and a really good short film still available on DVD by Quentin Tarrantino, entitled My Name Is Modesty.

Mr. O’Donnell also wrote some nifty “romantic suspense” novels as Madeline Brent, and those are memorable as well.

Half Way Home— by Hugh Howey


This is apparently one of this author’s early works. I really enjoyed Howey’s Beacon 23, so I went back to the well looking for another space based novel and chose this one. The premise is really good and the resulting novel is entertaining, but a bit troubling, too.

Our protagonist, Porter, is part of a 500 person colonizing venture, wherein the genetically engineered people are to land on a promising planet, having absorbed all sorts of knowledge relating to some colonial speciality while in a gestation tank. When he awakens, Porter quickly learns that he and his fellow travelers awakened far too soon, on a hostile planet, and the mother ship tried to self-destruct, thus killing off 450 or so of the original colonists. Porter isn’t programed for leadership, indeed, he’s not fully educated because of the early awakening. As the action of the story moves forward, he is ultimately thrust into that role, by circumstance as well as a plot-line that seems to owe a bit to “Lord of the Flies.”

At times, this book is really fabulous, especially the survival struggles of the characters and the world building that the author does as he sets his stage and moves his players through the plot. There is quite a bit of bloodshed, as would be the case when some largely untrained humans try to survive on a hostile planet. Unfortunately, at times he goes off on odd tangents that don’t further the plot at all.

That said, this work is a worthy read, and I am glad I got a chance to go along for the ride. Half Way Home is an interesting, if not perfect, science fiction yarn. I read it via Amazon’s Kindle program for free, but there is a paperback available as well.