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.

Alarm of War— The Other Side of Fear

A while back, I wrote a positive review of Kennedy Hudner’s Alarm of War. Perhaps its greatest downside was that it clearly was intended to have a sequel. For a few months, I checked Amazon, hoping that Hudner had released the second part, but after a while, I quit looking. Then, as I reviewed my “keeper” files, I saw Alarm of War and looked again. Low and behold, Alarm of War, Book II: The Other Side of Fear was published in 2014. Finally, I had the sequel, but alas, it’s really part II of a trilogy. So, I am back to waiting.

However, it would be remiss to not review the second book. So, here’s a true confession: I went back and re-read the Alarm of War because it had been so long that I was certain I needed a refresher. Good plan, as I enjoyed it almost as much the second time. Once I had swiped the last page, I jumped right into The Other Side of Fear, and it wowed me from the opening scene.

While there are some stereotypical situations and characters, there is plenty of depth to Hudner’s ensemble of main characters, who met as they went through basic training during the first novel. My favorite is Emily Tuttle, a former history teacher with a brilliant grasp of military strategy. Other main characters include Grant Skiffington, the favored son of an admiral; Hiram Brill, a geeky guy who instinctively puts together intelligence into workable prophecies; and Marine sergeant Maria Sanchez, who is super gung ho, but reads books and likes to hang out with the nerd, Hiram. These characters all had intertwining adventures in the first book and book two immediately picks up the action.

Rather than write a bunch of spoilers, I will say this: Mr. Hudner’s series reminds me quite a lot of the early works of David Weber, the creator of the great Honor Harrington series. But, by using the ensemble, rather than centering on one character, Hudner is able to bring in various aspects of his universe, but keep the reader’s interest. At times, Weber spends more time explaining his villains than his heroine, and that has always bothered me. As a huge fan of military sci fi in general, and Honor Harrington in particular, it is hard to say this, but, “Move over, Mr. Weber.” Kennedy Hudner is writing some seriously kick-butt military sci-fi. Really.

As of this writing, the first book is a bargain at 99¢, and The Other Side of Fear is $3.99. My gosh, so much entertainment for less than the price of a movie ticket!

Terms of Enlistment

Cover art of Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos

Space Opera!

Okay, I’ve never “served” as military folks put it, but I really enjoy reading about the exploits of those who have done so. Perhaps due to watching the exploits of astronauts with military titles in my youth, I still believe that the military will play some role when (or if) mankind actually goes into space and establishes colonies on other worlds. In my own Trinity on Tylos my main character, Major Venice Dylenski, has a military background, but I viewed her as a bit like “Captain” Miles Standish might be viewed in American history. He’s a military guy who is there for security, and my character is the security chief, because someone ought to be in charge of that when landing on uncivilized planets.

In Terms of Enlistment, by Marko Kloos, the military is far more than security; it is the force that keeps the homeworld (earth) and colonies safe. Andrew Grayson is the main character; he grew up in a welfare section of Boston. Desperate to leave the vicious cycle of generations on public assistance, he joins the military. Okay, that is hardly a new plot line, but as Kloos paints his picture of Grayson’s world, readers can easily believe this dystopian view of the “North American Commonwealth.” As a new NAC recruit, Grayson is under quite a lot of pressure. Failure in any area, from taking orders to passing tests, will cause him to “wash out” and go right back to eating welfare rations and watching his folks succuomb to treatable illnesses. Thus, there is an additional layer of suspense added to the usual risk/reward of enlistment. Once our hero gets through basic, he can expect a five-year hitch, then go back home with cash, and education, and a fresh start.

(spoiler alert)

However, once Grayson gets through basic, instead of being posted to a naval (spacegoing) vessel, he is placed into the TA (territorial army) and tasked with policing the very sorts of places that he sought to leave. However, as the yarn rolls along at its brisk pace, Grayson faces domestic enemies with courage and is able to use his heroism under fire to wangle a transfer to the space navy. Once there, he hopes to be set for his five year enlistment, but an alien species invades, and he has many more opportunities to be heroic, and less and less to return home to, as the government pours all of its resources into saving the colonies, leaving the homeworld to become barely habitable.

While it doesn’t break much new ground, Terms of Enlistment does an excellent job of entertaining the reader. The  main characters are more than stereotypes, and the world building is quite good. I’ve already re-upped for the second novel in the series (Lanes of Departure) and am enjoying it, too.

Terms of Enlistment is a bit like Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, but with less of Heinlein’s political agenda. Fans of space opera and/or military fiction would be wise to check out this well-written novel. Oh, and it is rather long, so for $3.99 it really is a bargain, too.

Tales of Honor— Volume 1 “On Basilisk Station”

Tales of Honor IAs a fan of David Weber, I have been most interested in the new venture he has with Evergreen Studios to turn the adventures of his flagship character, Honor Harrington, into a series of comic books, a video game, and eventually, a movie series. I seldom play video games, so I won’t comment on that aspect, but re-imagining the characters in a semi-manga set of comics is an interesting approach to creating a wider audience for Weber’s work.

I purchased the actual book (a larger paperback) rather than the eBook, because I wanted to examine the work closely and perhaps share it. I’ve read (and re-read) the books, so I am not the intended audience. Fans of Weber’s prose are probably going to be disappointed, because there are not many words in these books. Comics (graphic novels?) are quite different from prose, and Weber uses lots of words. However to bring Honor off the page and onto film will require story boards, so I am viewing this book, and those that hopefully will come later, as elaborate story boards. Weber has a full page introduction in this book wherein he asks fans to be open-minded about the new approach to his work.

On Basilisk Station has a good bit of exposition, and while interesting, it isn’t as tense as some of the later novels, so I found it interesting that Tales of Honor, Volume I begins “in medias res” with the situation at the end of book seven (In Enemy Hands) as the framework for book one. Certainly this approach ramps up the suspense, as Honor faces torture and execution, and remembers these earlier events, because her previous exploits are what led to her capture by the Havenites.

A few posts back, I included some art by a cover artist who really captures the Honor Harrington of my imagination, and this Top Cow/Evergreen Studios version is quite a bit different. Still, art conveys meaning in a different manner than words, and just having visuals of Honor and her universe may alienate some fans, but will hopefully attract others.

Do I like this book? Well, not really. I very much prefer the original. But is it bad? Nope, it isn’t. Honestly, the comic novel manages to get across quite a bit of the original, in very few pages. The pictures are not cartoons, but have quite a bit of detail. Especially interesting are the panels which explain how propulsion and weapons work in Honorverse. Weber always mentions the devastation of warfare, but the visuals here are more dramatic than words alone. My main problem with Tales of Honor is the problem that fans often have with films—a disconnect between what I previously imagined and what I am seeing. This version of Honor is less beautiful, more menacing, and less subtly nuanced than the one in my imagination. And, the Nimitz in this book is unrecognizable. Really. Are these problems created by the artists, or by my lack of an open mind?

As of this writing there is only a one-star review on Amazon, written by a disgruntled fan who is also experiencing this closed-minded disconnect. Hopefully, that will change, because for Honor to become a film heroine, the comic books will need to find more receptive audience. And, I believe Honor’s exploits would make one heck of a good series of movies, so I am gonna hop over to Amazon and leave a review.

A Galaxy Unknown— the sequels

Jenetta Carver image

This is an update as well as a review. A while back, I read Thomas DePrima’s A Galaxy Unknown, and despite some serious flaws, I was so taken with the main character and the “universe” of its setting that I immediately began reading the sequels. Somewhere around book five, I had had enough. The main character seemed way too perfect and the rest of the characters were just there to heap praise upon her. So, I read lots of other stuff, but after running out of new stuff, one night I began re-reading the series. And, when reading them back to back, they seemed a bit better. Or maybe, I got used to the annoying stuff. Anyway, having caught up with where I left off, I just downloaded book 7, so I am clearly enjoying the series.

Space opera, especially the theme sometimes called “galactic empires” is a favorite of mine. Lots of indie authors give this genre a try, so I seldom run out of reading material. However, some of it isn’t particularly entertaining. Jenetta Carver’s exploits clearly owe something to another favorite character (Honor Harrington) but while David Weber’s works have become ever so much complex, DePrima’s stories have not. So, these novels are certainly light reading, but for me that is a plus. If I want to think, think, think when I read, I can always pick up one of hubby’s law books.

If you like space opera with a dash of romance, do try Trinity on Tylos, my stand alone novel. (Right now, it is cheap, too!) But, if you want a series, with very little romance, but a strong heroine, DePrima’s A Galaxy Unknown (and its many sequels) is pretty good.

Rich Man’s War— a review

Rich Man's War cvrA couple of entries back I reviewed Poor Man’s Fight by Elliot Kay, and I really did like that book. Okay, in part, I liked it because it is in one of my favorite sub-sub-genres— a coming of age military science fiction story. But, that book was well-written and highly entertaining, and such books are sometimes too formulaic. Rich Man’s War is the sequel, and it does take up shortly after the events of the first novel in this series. The action, once it really gets going, is almost non-stop in PMF, but RMW is a more complex story, so it doesn’t move with the vim and vigor of the first one. Worse, it is quite easy to get bogged down in the “who is this part about, friend or foe” because the battles are large scale, so the cast of characters has grown exponentially.

Still, I am glad for the sequel to PMF. Somehow, readers just knew that Tanner Malone had a career ahead of him, and there is a natural desire to see the character evolve. Both Tanner and some subordinate characters from the first novel are important characters here, but in this entry, the corporations which have pretty much made Archangel inhabitants into economic slaves are the enemy. The plot development is organic, that is, what happens in this novel often has roots in the first one. I do not believe that RMW stands alone particularly well, so do read the first book first.

That said, I did enjoy the further adventures of highly decorated war hero Tanner Malone, and it is a good read if not a great one.

Poor Man’s Fight— a review

While there are any number of space operas on Amazon’s Kindle format nowadays, I enjoyed Poor Man’s Fight by Elliot Kay quite a bit. The formula is perhaps too much tried and true—yet another coming of age in the military story, but I thought the premise that sets the hero upon his path more thoughtful than many others. Our protagonist, Tanner Malone, is a good student and a nice guy; he’s about to graduate from secondary school. But, in this futuristic yarn, those who perform in a less than exemplary manner on a gi-normous one day test are going to owe a private corporation for their education. Tanner, upset by his dad’s bombshell that he and stepmom are moving off planet leaving him to be “on his own,” doesn’t do particularly well on the test. Owing several grand, Tanner does what any red blooded male teen would do—he consults a girl. (I speak from experience, as the mother of a young adult male.) Anyway, this young lady suggests that he enlist, so that the military will provide him with a home and a job, and that will enable him to begin to pay off the massive debt of his education. In short order, without consulting dad or stepmom, Tanner enlists.

Some other Amazon reviewers mentioned that the book’s set up wasn’t plausible. In a day when student loan debt is at all time highs, I actually thought the scenario of a teen trying to deal with crushing debt was the most realistic part of the story!

However, once Tanner gets into basic training, the action keeps readers entertained. His training is related in some detail, but, eventually, he graduates. Having dispensed with roughly half the novel, the author has to create a military disaster pretty quickly, so the hero has a chance to be heroic. I know, that sounds sarcastic, but it isn’t meant to be. By and large, heros are ordinary folks placed in extraordinary circumstances, and that’s what we have here. There’s plenty of heroism during the last third of the book.

Honestly, Poor Man’s Fight cost me some sleep. I just couldn’t wait to see how Tanner’s intense military training saved him (and lots of others) from the incompetence of his fellow navy types, as they are facing some really dastardly villains. And, once the last big scene began to unfold, the suspense ramped up even higher. I was not disappointed. Not at all.

So, if you like space opera, coming of age stories, or just a suspense filled yarn, try Poor Man’s Fight. It’s a bargain!

Cadets, a space opera entry for young adults

Cadets CoverWhile I prefer more sophisticated military science fiction, readers of all ages should enjoy Cadets, which is an entertaining read. The story follows a group of cadets, who are forced into growing up quickly when a menace from outside the solar system wipes out virtually all of the Earth’s defense force. The characters are not as complex as those readers would find in a space opera by David Weber or Elizabeth Moon, but for the intended audience, this yarn is quite good. The military strategy won’t impress adult readers, either. Still, it is suspenseful, with a bit of Independence Day style peril. A good read, with no worries for the parents.