Review: The Heretic

The Heretic by David Drake

Shortly after the death of his mother, six year-old Abel Dashian wanders into a locked storage shed. He has a fair idea what he’ll find in there: nishterlaub. Forbidden articles of old and broken technology packed away behind lock and key. Abel is a precocious young lad; he turns the key, ducks into the room and begins exploring. The priests know it’s there, right? They collected it and put it away. So long as he doesn’t actually try to use any of it (lock aside), he won’t be acting against Stasis. Six year-old logic, right? When a pair of voices begin to speak to him, Abel assumes it’s the nishterlaub, which it is, in a way. He’s actually being spoken to by a computer and the reconstructed intelligence of a famous general.The General, Raj Whitehall. They take Abel on a tour of the shed, explaining this item and that based on his reactions, decide he is the one they have been waiting for, the boy who will become the man who will change the course of history.

It’s a lot for a young boy to take in. Convinced he’s gone mad, Abel attempts to bash himself over the head with a stone. Center, the computer, repairs the damage and Abel leaves the shed with a terrible headache and two permanent guests.

A handful of years at a time, the story skips forward, showing us glimpses of Abel’s rise within the ranks of the Scouts, a militia unit attached to the military. It’s not the career his father, Joab Dashian, Military Commander of the district, wanted for him, but there is no doubt Abel has found his niche. Along with his own natural pluck, Center and Raj ensure Abel is an exemplary scout. He is brave and resourceful.

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Review: A Few Good Men (Darkship #3)

A Few Good Men by Sarah A. Hoyt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Set in the same universe as Darkship Thieves and Darkship Renegages, Sarah A. Hoyt’s new novel A Few Good Men picks up the story on Earth from an alternate viewpoint. Luce Keeva has been in prison for fifteen years, fourteen of which were spent in solitary confinement. He’s sure he’s no longer sane. A raid on the submerged prison where he is being held frees him.

Luce is not prepared for the world he emerges into and, as it turns out, that world is not prepared for him. His father and younger brother are dead, leaving him Good Man (ruler) of Olympus Seacity. It’s a role he was trained and groomed for until the incident that led to his imprisonment or so he thought. The truth is actually more insidious.

Fifteen years away has left Luce ill-prepared for society in general. The secrets revealed shortly after his release will change his perception of the world entirely. Being a Good Man is more than being a ruler. He is different in a world where being so might be illegal. His former lover also held a host of secrets, casting doubt on a memory that keeps him strong. Finally, his household is staffed with revolutionaries heeding a charter older than the Seacity, itself.

Before Luce has time to adjust, civil war is upon them and he must choose between himself and people he barely knows. Will he be a Good Man or a good man?

Fans of Hoyt will know what’s going on before Luce does. That does not mean there is nothing new here. Luce is an engaging character and I enjoyed reading events from his point of view. His struggle to accept the facts of who and what he is made for an engaging story. His feelings for Ben, his former lover and best friend, were deftly handled. His odd friendship with Ben’s nephew, Nat, is intriguing.

Once the war starts, however, the author seems to lose interest in the plot. So much of the action is summarized by Luce’s thoughts. Nat’s point of view would have added action and verity to these events and a degree of sympathy in the reader for the odd relationship developing between him and Luce. We’re also cheated out of a proper view of events at Circum as this story intersects Darkship Renegades. Again, we’re offered another summary instead of a decent slice of action.

I enjoy Hoyt’s characters and I think she has created an interesting universe. I would like to see her spend less time in her characters’ heads and more on their deeds. Here’s hoping the next book shows us some more action as the story continues.

Written for and originally published at SFcrowsnest.

Review: A Cosmic Christmas

A Cosmic ChristmasA Cosmic Christmas by Hank Davis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

‘A Cosmic Christmas’, edited by Hank Davis, is an eclectic mix of stories by prominent Baen authors. The stories vary greatly by genre, length and attitude and span several decades of speculative fiction. Not all of them have a ‘Christmas’ theme; for some the setting is merely incidental. Others take full advantage of that setting. The anthology also includes an entertaining introduction by editor Hank Davis and each selection has a foreword, a feature I always look for, and a brief summation of each author’s career. What drew me to ‘A Cosmic Christmas’, however, was the authors. Catherine Asaro, Mark L. Van Name and Sarah A. Hoyt are names I look for when perusing Baen’s catalogue. Also included are Poul Anderson, Mercedes Lackey and Connie Willis. One of the most interesting stories, ‘Roads’ by Seabury Quinn, first appeared in ‘Weird Tales’ in 1938! Yep, it’s an extremely diverse collection.

‘Lobo, Actually’ by Mark. L. Van Name is set before Jon and Lobo become a team. For those of you unfamiliar with the ‘Jon And Lobo’ novels, Lobo is an enhanced machine intelligence dwelling within the skin of a Predator-Class Assault Vehicle (PCAV). In the novels, he is essentially Jon Moore’s partner. He’s smart and a smart arse and the most loyal friend a man could ask for. In the last novel, ‘No Going Back’, we got to know Lobo better through a series of chapters written in from his point of view. ‘Lobo, Actually’ is another rare insight into a mind that is not human and yet exhibits a curiosity and empathy that is eerily familiar.

Weapons systems damaged, Lobo spent a number of years ‘stationed’ on Macken, a backwater planet, as a memorial of a sort. A park sculpture. While his body (the PCAV) remained inert, Lobo continued to explore the galaxy through the network of machine intelligences, following pathways unknown even to the architects of the vast data networks. It’s a local sequence of events that captures his interest, however. A young boy wants to buy a bible from a disreputable second hand dealer. Using his ‘network’, Lobo listens to the drama unfold and decides to step in and help. Not because it’s Christmas but because he can. It’s a really touching story.

I recently read and reviewed ‘Darkship Renegades’ by Sarah A. Hoyt. In that novel, we ‘meet’ Jarl Ingemar, the mule (genetically enhanced human) who was designed as Earth’s ultimate ruler. He’s not an entirely likeable man, but has his sympathetic moments. The reader gets the idea his life has not been easy. ‘Angels In Flight’ is set when Jarl is nineteen and offers a very different perspective on him. He is naïve, brave and almost tragically sweet.

After escaping from the home where he is kept, Jarl encounters a couple who are sympathetic to the plight of mules. In the beginning, mules were seen as specialised labour, designed and bred for specific task. Many of them lacked normal intelligence and all were discriminated against. During the course of later novels, we learn Jarl’s generation is different. In ‘Angels In Flight’, Jarl is still learning about the world and himself. He ends up rescuing the rescuers and the reader is left wondering if he will remember the incident decades later. I think Hoyt has a duty to her readers to write more stories set in between!

When reviewing an anthology, I usually pick my three favourite stories to cover in detail, but often find I need to mention others. Catherine Asaro’s story, ‘Dance In Blue’, a story about a ballet dancer navigating a maze of holograms, highlights again the author’s multiple talents. ‘The Grimnoir Chronicles: A Detroit Christmas’ by Larry Correia has the whole hardboiled detective story feel, with the addition of some interesting magic. ‘The Vampires Who Saved Christmas’ by S. N. Dyer is just plain funny and Mercedes Lackey’s offering, ‘Dumb Feast’, is creepy. Finally, ‘Roads’ by Seabury Quinn reads like an epic adventure and the language is just beautiful.

The last story in the anthology, ‘Newsletter’ by Connie Willis had me asking the question: why am I not reading more Connie Willis? In the tradition of great classics like Heinlein’s ‘The Puppet Masters’ and movies like ‘Invasion Of The Body Snatchers’, Willis explores what happens when everyone suddenly falls sway to the Christmas Spirit. It’s the little things that tip off Nan and her co-worker, Gary. People are being nice and polite and it’s the holidays. Weird. As they begin investigating, they soon discover the nice people are all wearing hats and hatch the theory they have been possessed by aliens. Research includes watching old movies and reading gardening manuals to discover an appropriate pesticide. Interweaving humour and a little romance, “Newsletter” is a great story about Christmas, people and parasites.

To recap, the stories collected in ‘A Cosmic Christmas’ are extremely varied. Some had a nostalgic feel, reminding me of Science Fiction themed anthologies I read thirty years ago and some of the stories are brand new, adding episodes to adventures by authors I’m keeping up with now. It’s a solid collection that well represents Baen as a publisher. I’d love to see the ‘franchise’ extended, perhaps become a yearly edition.

Written for and originally published at SFcrowsnest.