What I’ve Been Reading

How is it October already? Just last week (in August), I was thinking to myself: “You need to do another reading post.” I made a note in my planner and… turned the page. As always, I’ve been reading lots of awesome books, though. And, as always, I want to share the most awesome ones with you.

Descender, Vol. 1: Tin Stars by Jeff Lemire

The art caught my eye on this one. It’s an interesting style—less “comic” and more “fine art,” with swift lines and watercolour shades. It reminded me of another of my favourite comics, East of West, and it’s just as good. The story starts simply: ten years ago, giant harvester robots swept through the galaxy leaving destroyed cities, dead bodies, and terror in their wake. Since then, even the simplest robots have become enemy number one and hunting them down has given rise to an entire guild of scrappers who hunt rogue bots with the enthusiasm of bounty collectors. Continue reading “What I’ve Been Reading”

What I’ve Been Reading

I have participated in the Goodreads reading challenge for six years now. It’s the only challenge I’ve ever actually completed – probably because it’s based on the number of books rather than specific titles. This year I lowered my goal from 200 to 100, thinking I wouldn’t have as much time to read. I’m at 97 books right now and June has only just begun, so I think I’ll be adjusting the total back to 200.

Apparently I found time to read. I also found some great books!

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, #1) by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

I hardly need to recommend this book. It has won all the awards, and has over 400 five star reviews on Amazon. I’m going to recommend it anyway, because it’s just that good, and because of the sweet nature of the romance, it will appeal to a wide audience.

I love coming of age stories and I adore the trope “friends to lovers.” Both are handled beautifully in this slow burn love story about two boys whose friendship is all about discovering the secrets of the universe – and themselves. Ari’s struggle to accept himself will break your heart. The way he cares for and protects Dante will put it back together again. The final chapter is just beautiful. Continue reading “What I’ve Been Reading”

Review: The Savior by Tony Daniel and David Drake

The Savior (Raj Whitehall, #10)

Many of us talk to ourselves and consider ourselves lucky if the voices in our head don’t talk back. Major Abel Dashian relies on the fact his voices will talk back, offering information, projection, strategy and advice. His voices have names, too. Center is a computer intelligence and Raj Whitehall is a stored personality. Together, they make Abel’s life interesting. By age thirty, however, Abel has stopped questioning his sanity (mostly) and is fully committed to their mission, that of saving the planet Duisberg and perhaps humanity.

At the age of six, Abel Dashian was unaware he lived on a planet. He lived in the Land and his people warred with the desert people, known as Redlanders. Periodically, the Redlanders invaded the Land. History recorded these invasions as the Blood Winds. They were Zentrum’s punishment of the wicked. Continue reading “Review: The Savior by Tony Daniel and David Drake”

Review: Trial by Fire (Tales of the Terran Republic #2) by Charles E. Gannon

Trial by Fire (Tales of the Terran Republic, #2)

Trial By Fire is a big book. Six hundred and forty pages big. It’s chewy and complicated. Somewhere near the end, I decided the plot was something like a game of chess. Every page and every point of view represented a move and might hide a clue to next six moves planned by that player. The vast battle for Earth certainly reads that way and when that sixth move is finally played, it’s the sort that has mediocre players like me thumping their head against the edge of the board. I’m not much of a strategist, you see, but luckily, Charles Gannon is.

I mentioned a vast battle for Earth. That’s the bulk of Trial By Fire and wonderfully demonstrates the aptness of the title.

Recently returned from a convocation of exosapien species where humanity’s entry to an interspecies accord was hotly debated, Caine Riordan would be right in expecting a short vacation. He has been formally discharged from military service and currently occupies no role greater than ‘one of the dudes who went to meet all the aliens’. Unfortunately for him, that role will continue to define him throughout the course of the next four months and beyond. The opening sequence is fantastic. It’s a fast-paced and coherent way to both show the pressure Caine is under and to remind the reader of the events of the last book. With as much as I read, I sure appreciate the effort, even if Fire with Fire is quite memorable.

The action quickly escalates. Allied exosapien forces launch an attack on Barnard’s Star, apparently devastating the human forces. Caine is caught in the crossfire, of course, and with his ‘pal’ Trevor Corcoran, pulls of a daring self-rescue. They meet up with an Arat Kur diplomat and form a relationship of a sort that will remain important throughout the course of the book.

With a hole punched in the line of humanity’s defence, the exosapien fleet advances to Earth and quickly establishes a ground base in Indonesia, a target which is chosen for very specific and strategic purposes. What follows is pure military Science Fiction. If you love it, you’re going to love this book. If you don’t, you might have a hard time pushing through. Every battle is nailed down and examined from several angles and points of view. There are a lot of characters and voices to follow and a lot of strategy to absorb.

Thankfully, Gannon likes rewarding his readers, meaning the bulk of his teasers are followed up very quickly. More significant, however, is my chess analogy. Yep. On the surface of it, you think you know what is going on. But there is another game being played, one that drives the war between the Arat Kur and Hkh’Rkh (no, I can’t pronounce it neither, just grunt inside your head) and the humans. Overseeing proceedings are the Ktor and Dornaani and they are both inscrutable and ruthless in their methods.

Caine is the ultimate pawn. The reader should be prepared for this as he was used and abused in the first book. There is no better tool, however, than one willing to work. He weaves through the war, adopting one role after another until he is perfectly placed to strike, only to become ensnared in his own trap. The convergence of Caine and his companions, Trevor, Opal and Elena, is another thread of strategy that interlaces the story of the war and the greater plot.

The conclusion of the war might feel ‘foregone’. No one wants to read a book where humanity loses, right? Not many of us, anyway. We’d rather celebrate our ingenuity and uniqueness on the galactic stage. The conclusion of the war is not the conclusion of the story, however. It’s merely the end of a single match, and the revelations contained therein… WOW! They make the journey through every one of the previous six hundred pages more than worthwhile. I highlighted several revelations just so I could annotate my copy of the book with: aha! And later: AHA! A little later on: EEE!

As an aside, I highlighted many wonderful passages throughout the book, snippets of dialogue that I felt told the story ‘in a nutshell’, until I came across the next and amusing turns of phrase like: ‘warbling phlegm’, which described the voice of one of the exosapiens. I’ll take another second here to note how well Gannon writes his aliens. They’re separate and consistent with marvellously contrived speech and behaviour patterns.

The best part, though? The story isn’t done. Not by a long shot. There are so many new plotlines to follow, in fact, that I can imagine Mr. Gannon has several thick journals of notes, each tucked away under a gleeful smile. Really, my only complaint is that I’ll likely have to wait a year for the next book.

Written for SFCrownest.

Review: To Sail a Darkling Sea

In ‘ To Sail a Darkling Sea’, the sequel to ‘Under a Graveyard Sky’, the Smith family continues doing what they do best: killing the infected and reclaiming the world, piece by bloody, zombie-ridden piece. As they recover ships and rescue survivors of the plague, Wolf Squadron becomes something more than a rag tag fleet of vessels. It becomes a machine (not well-oiled) representing the blood, sweat and tears required to raise a civilisation from the ground up. Or, in this case, from the ocean.

Stripped back, this book is about logistics and in that respect, it’s a fantastic read. The aftermath of any apocalypse is likely to be messy. Zombie apocalypses in particular. Dead or undead, zombies have atrocious manners and little respect for personal hygiene. Any space left in their care is soon going to stink. They don’t mind, but the survivors do…and not just because of the smell. Unsightly messes aside, rotting bodies will breed new and wonderful diseases. It would be a shame to survive one apocalypse only to succumb to the next super bug.

Steven John “Wolf” Smith already ran a tight ship (nautical cliches are a must for this one). He and his family – wife Stacey and daughters Faith and Sophia – began clearing ships and rescuing people just two weeks after disaster struck. But as the contingent grows, so does the need for order, and this is where ‘To Sail a Darkling Sea’ excels. The details. John Ringo covers everything from likely conditions for survival, for both the infected and the uninfected, patterns of behaviour, transition to the world after, and finding a job and a purpose within in the fleet. He examines politics and government, which are two entirely different things, economy and order, how to mesh civilian and military discipline, and how to raise children in a world that is not their own.

There is also the matter of the disease that caused the problems in the first place. There are plans for a cure, but plans take plans and those plans take plans. The world isn’t going to save itself and organising more than four people can be like herding cats. Hence the introduction of military discipline.

I reveled in these details, particularly the careful instruction of guns and ammo with a meticulous breakdown of damage per weight – how many zombies they can kill with the ammo they are carrying. In a video game, the value of a weapon (and ammo) is generally determined by a DPS (damage per second) ratio as compared to what you are killing. It’s the same principle, and the discussion of ammunition types is also fascinating. I’m a writer (and some time housewife). I don’t own a gun. But I’ve been killing stuff for thirty odd years on my computer. I know the differences between 5.56mm and 12 gauge and in the face of a zombie apocalypse, I’d be kissing a box of 12 gauge.

The structure of Wolf Squadron is fascinating. A place must be found for everyone they rescue. A fighting force needs support staff; cooks, cleaners, administrators and caregivers. The list is endless. Someone has to print up ration chits. Someone has to design them. They need mechanics and engineers. Mariners and pilots. I found it amusing that they had a surplus of solicitors.

The scale of the disaster is represented well, as are the problems of the reemergent civilisation. The military action is superlative. The zombie killing and clearing scenes are gripping. So, what’s the problem with this book? The women. In particular, Faith and Sophia, ‘Shewolf’ and ‘Seawolf’. The daughters of Steven Smith. They’re thirteen and fifteen, respectively, and they are BADASS.

I had a lot of difficulty suspending disbelief here. I tried. I tried really hard. I more of a problem with Faith. As a caricature, she’s kind of funny, but the author’s love for her comes across as sycophantic at times. It made me uneasy. Faith is an idea, not a person. She does make for an entertaining read; I had images of ‘Lollipop Chainsaw‘ in my head; young girls swearing and swinging weapons around, barely bothered by the gore splashing back at them. There is a playlist for every action and Faith could fire and reload in time to the music, whilst dancing. Neither Faith nor Sophia get seriously injured, however. Even after being ‘dogpiled’ by zombies. They handle the death of comrades and the aftermath of the apocalypse with grit and determination. They gain the respect of every man, even those more than four times their age. They are inducted as marines, without training and given rank, command and medals.

That their father let them carry on the way they did bothered me. He did respond to some of their antics with a combined father/commander talk, but then he turned around to smack down anyone who crossed his daughters’ paths. That their mother apparently had no say bothered me more. Stacey Smith is conspicuously absent from this book. I understand she will get a chapter of her own in the print version. I doubt she will be upbraiding her daughters for their unruly behaviour, from flirting with men twice their age, swanning around in bikinis, drinking at thirteen and swearing like the proverbial sailors.

It’s the end of the world and the old rules don’t apply, obviously. But with Steve Smith paying so much attention to the other aspects of rebuilding a civilisation, I would think he’d be more protective of his children. Of their reputation and well-being, at least. If not their psyche.

In general, women are not flattered by this novel. I’m not a rampant feminist and I did appreciate the author’s attempt, at times, to blur the line between the sexes, to insist women could be as BADASS as men. But did they have to wear bikinis while doing so? Did they have to enjoy having sex with four different men whilst being trapped in compartments for six months awaiting rescue? I think a lot of men would find these passages unflattering as well, as they indicate a guy can’t keep it in his pants (or in hand) for more than a couple of weeks.

Then there is the container of Paris-original dresses that Faith nearly sacrifices her unit for, because she needs something to wear to the Marine Corps ball. She’ll never get to prom, poor thing, because, you know, zombie apocalypse.

Stepping back, I can say ‘this is a story’ and leave it at that. It’s the author’s interpretation of events. His world, his rules. As a writer, I can appreciate that. But as a reader, I find it hard to enjoy a book that is constantly poking my more delicate sensibilities. Not sure, yet, if I am likely to read forward. There is a plan in place to reclaim the world and kick start our civilisation. I would like to see what happens next and I can hope John Ringo has a plan to mature the girls. But will I like it? Guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

(Featured image taken from the original painting by KMI Studio, LLC)