Review: The Fortress in Orion by Mike Resnick

Colonel Nathan Pretorius only just survived his last mission. Actually, if you take into account the couple of times he died during surgery, technically he didn’t, but the Democracy doctors have put him back together – prosthetic foot, cloned kidney and spleen and all. Now they want him to lead another mission. Seeing as he is the only surviving member of his last team, Pretorius wants to choose his own people this time.

Rejecting military candidates, Pretorius vets his contacts for less conventional candidates. The team he puts together resembles a carnival side show and is a large part of the fun of The Fortress in Orion. Strong man Felix Ortega has been less fortunate than Pretorius when it comes to hanging on to his original body parts. He’s now more machine than human. Sally ‘Snake’ Kowalski is a contortionist and a thief. Pandora has never met a computer she can’t hack. Circe can tell if you’re lying and probably why and Gzychurlyx has a name no one can pronounce. No one knows quite what he is, neither, but he’s an incomparable illusionist!

Their mission is to replace Michkag, the leader of the alien Traanskei Coalition, with a clone. Their directive allows them to either kidnap or kill the original Michkag, so long as the clone is left in his place. Raised from a tissue sample, the cloned Michkag will then subvert the Coalition’s objectives, thus bringing an end to the war. The catch – there is always a catch – is that the only place they can attempt the swap is a heavily guarded fortress deep in Coalition territory, the fortress in Orion.

Mike Resnick approaches this adventure with exactly the right tone. The mission is impossible and so he puts together a team of implausible characters to take a crack at it. Nathan Pretorius is a likeable hero. His suitability for the mission is quickly obvious. His reticence to actually lay down a plan is a fairly transparent ploy. He’s either brilliant or skidding along on the seat of his pants, probably both. It’s the combination of planning and improvisation that allows the team to navigate the many obstacles in their path, however.

It might be unfair of me to say I expected the mission to end differently. The team certainly faced enough challenges along the way. I thought there’d be this unexpected twist, but maybe I’ve been reading too many over-complicated books or maybe the twist is coming later in the series.

The novel also lacks strong character development, but Resnick does take the opportunity to showcase each team member, giving each a chance to share what motivates them. I wanted to know more, particularly about our intrepid leader, Nathan Pretorius. I’m also sure there’s more to Gzychurlyx than meets the eye, which is a terrible pun, given his nature.

Hopefully we’ll get more up close and personal with the “Dead Enders” in future adventures.

Written for SFCrowsnest

Review: Shattered Shields

Shattered Shields is an anthology of military fantasy edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt and Jennifer Brozek. Included are seventeen new stories from such well-known authors as Glen Cook, Elizabeth Moon and David Farland. Some are set in established worlds, others in new universes. It’s a wide selection of tales dark, light, serious and humorous. Swords and sorcery, hack and slash. About half-way through the anthology, I did have to put it aside for a couple of days. I found it hard to consider each new story with a fresh perspective but I did actually read every single one of them, which is unusual for me. I’m not sure I’ve ever completed an anthology read without skipping at least one story.

The title of the anthology is taken from the first story, “Ashes And Starlight” by David Farland. Set in the Runelords universe, this story is easy to fall into. A prisoner of the Knights of Mystarria proves himself to his captors by saving the king’s daughter twice and uncovering a secret that may save the kingdom as well. In return, the king grants his daughter’s request. The captive will be trained as a guard but she is warned to keep her distance, for

“He is a soldier, a shield. In times like those that are to come, such shields will be easily shattered.”

Continue reading “Review: Shattered Shields”

Review: Honor’s Knight by Rachel Bach

HonorHonor’s Knight’ picks up the story of Deviana Morris right where we left off. To recap, Devi is a mercenary with big plans and a stint aboard the Glorious Fool might just help her skip a few steps on her climb to the pinnacle of her career, an invitation to be a Devastator, one of the Paradoxian king’s elite guard. Soon after she signs on with the infamous Captain Caldswell, however, she learns that there’s a reason very few mercs have survived this particular short cut—and why the walls and bulkheads of the Fool are pockmarked with old bullet scars. Caldswell isn’t what he appears. Neither is his daughter, nor his cook.

The theme of thinly veneered secrets continues in Honor’s Knight. Devi has little memory of the climactic event that left her without a partner and a serious revulsion toward Rupert Charkov, the cook. Conversely, he seems fascinated by her. She catches him watching her at every opportunity. To those of us who read the first book, ‘Fortune’s Fool’, these scenes are mildly wrenching. Okay, a bit more than mildly; there’s a love story buried under all the action-packed science fiction.

Memory issues aside, Devi is still seeing ghostly bugs, or what turn out to be Phantoms, and the crew of the Fool continue to be not who they are supposed to be. Caldswell is so obviously not a trader. What is he? You’ll have to read to find out! His connection to the Paradoxian throne—his Royal Warrant—is real enough, however, and the reason why is the big shocker in this novel.

The definition of enemies and allies shifts quickly in ‘Honor’s Knight’. Rachel Bach also makes good use of the adage: The enemy of my enemy is my friend. In short, once she learns several painful truths, Devi has to figure out who to trust and what to do next. Her honour and conviction will be her guide here.

It’s difficult to talk about the plot of a sequel that builds off the secrets revealed in the first book. For that reason, I’ll leave my summary vague and talk about what I liked and didn’t like about the book.

There is very little I didn’t like. Some of the traveling around in ‘Honor’s Knight’ felt a little pointless, as if Bach needed to fill space between revelations. But the action reads smoothly, as always, and Devi’s frank point of view is still a joy.

Devi makes these books. She’s the strong female lead women want to read, but she’s not so tough she loses all femininity. She has foibles and flaws, many of which she cheerfully acknowledges. I’ve read enough positive reviews throughout the community to know she appeals to the guys, too. In short, she’s a great, well rounded character, and makes a perfect lead into the story.

Honor’s Knight’ a solid entry in the series. It’s definitely a sequel. The plot might make sense to a newcomer, but the questions would outweigh the revelations, in my opinion. There is little need to come to this book without reading the first, however, as both read quickly and well. I’m looking forward to the conclusion, ‘Heaven’s Queen’, due out April 22, 2014.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

Review: Army of One (Star Force, #4.5)

51KdAFi6Z-L._SL600_ Army of One by B.V. Larson.

The ‘Star Force’ novels by B.V. Larson tell the story of augmented human soldiers in a war against powerful alien foes. I’ve seen the books pop up now and again. I think I even have one of them buried on my Kindle somewhere. I probably took advantage of a free deal at some point. I do like Science Fiction with a military bend, but free doesn’t always equal cheap. The analogy fits; as a reviewer, I always have a lot of books to read, so my time is valuable, is it not?

Army Of One is another freebie offered by Audible.com. At roughly two and a half hours, it’s the perfect length for a trip to New York City and back…if, say, you live in Pennsylvania. You’ll want something longer if you’re driving from California. I could make recommendations, but that would be another article. Numbered 4.5 in the series, this novella covers events that occur during the course of the fourth book. The ‘Star Force’ novels are first person, from the point of view of Kyle Riggs. As he can’t be in everywhere at once, despite his enhancements, ‘Army Of One’ is from the point of view of another nanotized man, Bjorn Gaines.

Gaines is a talented assassin. He not only kills efficiently, but has perfected what he terms the more important part of the job: disappearing afterwards. Hunted by men who want to recruit him to spy on Star Force, Gaines employs such talents to disappear in the Florida Keys. There, he indulges in a vacation of a sort, eking out a simple existence on a remote island, until the impending war between the Earth and the Macros lights up the sky.

The war eventually catches up with Bjorn and he is faced with a choice, one that doesn’t include disappearing. Regardless, he does disappear, but only so he can join Star Force on his own terms.

Army Of One is an entertaining story and a compelling ‘read’. The calm narration of the audio version is a perfect counterpoint to the action, which is thrilling, intense and gruesome. Bjorn, as a character, is fascinating. Through his thoughts, enough backstory is revealed to give the novella a place in the series without overwhelming the reader/listener with detail. It’s a perfectly encapsulated adventure. That being said, I would like to read more. I find the idea nanotized humans fascinating and I always like reading about aliens. The more fearsome the better.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

Review: Dauntless (The Lost Fleet)

Dauntless by Jack Campbell
(Ace, July 2006. Paperback, 293 pages)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

John ‘Black Jack’ Geary died a hero just over a century ago. The story of his last action inspired a legend known by everyone in the Alliance Fleet. He was posthumously awarded the rank of captain and his name became synonymous with the decisive action. Black Jack was remembered as both daring and fearless.

John Geary remembers history differently.

When the fleet assembles in the same star system as that long ago battle, to face the same enemy, they discover a hibernation pod. Geary is revived. Frozen for a hundred years, he remembers his last engagement with the enemy as if it was yesterday and is discomfited by the official version of events and his status as legend. Before he can reconcile past and present, he is called on to serve again. Placed in command of the modern Alliance Fleet, he faces an enemy superior in numbers and firepower and this time he does not have the option of sacrifice. The flagship, Dauntless, must return to Alliance space.

Battling legend and superstition, Geary thinks his way out of one situation after another. The century long war has eroded the Alliance he once knew and he strives to find a balance between the way things are done now and they way they were done then. He struggles to embrace the newer, more aggressive attitude and balance it with better discipline and has to deal with hero-worship and disdain. Some believe he can do anything; he is after all a legend. Others believe he might best have been left in his hibernation pod and sometimes he agrees with them.

Nevertheless, the strength of character that drove his actions in the past inspires him to do his best in the future. The story of his personal journey, his struggle against himself, is as enjoyable a read as the military tactics and engagements with the enemy. Beneath both a mystery slowly unravels. There may be another reason for the war between the Alliance and the Syndics and as this novel, ‘The Lost Fleet: Dauntless’ ends, another clue is revealed.

I ‘discovered’ Jack Campbell (a pen name of John G. Hemry) earlier this year when I read and reviewed ‘Armored’, an anthology published by Baen. I reviewed his story, ‘Hell’s Half Acre’ and added his series ‘The Lost Fleet’ to my reading list. I found his novel an engrossing and enjoyable read and the character of John Geary as personable as I had hoped and look forward to the continuing story of John ‘Black Jack’ Geary and the Lost Fleet.

Written for and originally published at SF Crowsnest.

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