Sunday, April 30, 2017

Remember Bowling Green: The Adventures of Frederick Douglass, Time Traveler review

Remember, Remember, the 10th of March
The Day of Ronald Trump's start
I see a reason, that time-traveling treason
Should make his campaign stop

    Okay, I'm not exactly a poet but, fortunately, Frederick Douglass is. This is basically a political polemic inspired by the arrival of a certain controversial figure in the White House. However, if you don't mind heavy-handed political satire then I recommend this book in the same category that I recommend the Illuminatus Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. Just without the sex, which admittedly means the Illuminatus Trilogy wins in any contest. Despite this, it does feel like a really oft-kilter episode of Doctor Who and I can't say I disagree with the message being the Left-leaning trust-fund baby anarchist that I am.

    The premise begins when a masked shooter massacres sports fans in Bowling Green, Kentucky. This ia a reference to the infamous fake news cited by Kellyanne Conway to justify the ban on Muslim immigrants to the United States in February 2017. While I suspect that event will be just one political gaffe in a long series of them, it was enough to spark the imagination of the authors. The Bowling Green Massacre turns out to be a false flag operation by caricature Roland Krump and his media baron Scanlon in order to buy up all of the city's property then gentrify it under the population's nose.

    As evil plans go, it's mostly noticeable by the fact it asks us to believe anyone would want to buy Bowling Green since I've been there and know that's only slightly more believable than the Illuminati. *makes the sign of the Golden Temple that only the true followers of the Pyramid can perceive* However, Frederick Douglass is friends with H.G. Wells and has a time machine. Foreseeing that Krump will eventually destroy the world, he resolves himself to eliminate the politician before his plan can go off.

    I also mean eliminate as, unlike the Doctor, Frederick Douglass has no problem straight up murdering Krump or his equally scummy relatives across the timeline. Unfortunately, unlike the Doctor, Frederick is actually quite bad at murder. He manages to screw up a number of his attempts to alter history despite his otherwise capable self and it's up to a group of Bowling Green residents to undermine Krump's over-the-top evil in the present. Ultimately, it all comes down to a single rally which has the potential to propel Krump to the highest office in the...well, county! Can our heroes stop him!? Well, they have Frederick Douglass and a time machine so if they can't then they really don't deserve to win.

    I really enjoyed the supporting cast in this one and they could have carried the novel even without the space and time bending poet from the past. I also thought it was a nice fake-out to have one of the protagonists named Hannity and have him NOT turn out to be evil given the thinness of the caricatures. I also felt the most intelligent piece of satire in the book is that Krump's plans mostly succeed because they're so monumentally obvious and over-the-top crazy that no one is able to object before he's done. Much like his real-life counterpart.

    The only real objection I have to the book is it feels the need to be more obvious with its caricature than it needs to be. There's a lot of references to President Drumpf, his candidacy, and plans which feel less clever than they needed to be. I think we all got who Krump was supposed to be from the beginning so we didn't need tiny hands or "Make America Awesome" to remind us. Also, real-estate scams are things Trump did in real life so it would have been nice to discover he was at the head of an alien invasion or was actually a human-suit for a colony of sentient spiders or something suitably over-the-top.

    In conclusion, I very much enjoyed Remember Bowling Green and I hope people will check out this book. Obviously, some people will probably be offended by the politics but we've got plenty of right-leaning fiction out there too and this is just a bit of fun either way. If David Weber can have welfare lead to French Revolution Nazism in Space (see Honor Harrington) then the left can have this.


Friday, April 28, 2017

Lucifer's Star is now out in paperback!

 I'm pleased to announce Lucifer's Star, my dark space opera novel taking place in the 1003 A.S of the New Calendar, is is now available in paperback form for purchase! It's a story I wrote after having watched The Force Awakens said, "You know, I think I could have done that better."

From the bestselling author of The Rules of Supervillainy:

Cassius Mass was the greatest star pilot of the Crius Archduchy. He fought fiercely for his cause, only to watch his nation fall to the Interstellar Commonwealth. It was only after that he realized the side he'd been fighting for was the wrong one. Now a semi-functional navigator on an interstellar freight hauler, he tries to hide who he was and escape his past. Unfortunately, some things refuse to stay buried and he ends up conscripted by the very people who destroyed his homeland.

LUCIFER'S STAR is the first novel of the Lucifer's Star series, a dark science fiction space opera set in a world of aliens, war, politics, and slavery.

Pick up your paperback copy here

Pick up your Kindle copy here

The Little Ships (Alexis Carew 3#) by J.A. Sutherland review

    I've mentioned on numerous occasions how much I love J.A. Sutherland's Alexis Carew series. I've already reviewed the first two books in the series but had to take a brief break before working on the third. I'm glad I did as it allowed me to read it with a fresh mind to absorbing the character's latest adventures. Given the book takes Alexis to her seventeenth year, it also prevented me from being too confused if I'd read them back-to-back-to-back.

    The premise is Alexis Carew has been recruited for a clandestine meeting with the Grand Republic of France (in SPACE). Being forced to learn dancing, polite conversation, and etiquette--she is also educated in the history of the setting. It turns out that the present state of the galaxy is due to a revolt by Deutchland (In SPACE) losing its Hanover colonies, followed by said colonies becoming an aggressive military dictatorship. Now New London, France, and Deutchland struggle to keep Hanover's ambitions in check. In the current war, New London fights alone and they're hoping to bring the Grand Republic in on their side against the Hanover. Alexis will be critical to this as she has, however briefly, had contact with the locals on the Hanover-aligned but culturally French Berry March worlds.

    I must confess to a certain amount of disappointment to Hanover's portrayal and the use of them as the central antagonists in this story. It seems virtually all science-fiction invariably turns to some variant of Space Nazis as the enemy. In this case, the Hanover are stated to believe they wish to rule all of the galaxy and I wouldn't be surprised if they were meant to believe themselves superior. I say this is a disappointment, really, because I rather like the idea of the Napoleonic Wars in Space and would have been interested in seeing the Grand Republic or its allies as the enemy.

    Despite this, I actually enjoyed watching poor Alexis struggle to keep her dignity despite the fact she was wholly unsuited for court life. It's also nice to see her deal with situations that she's out of her depth with but still trying to understand. The straightforward Lawful Good Alexis is a poor fit for a story which is fundamentally about realpolitc, espionage, and propaganda. Yet, that's precisely what makes the story intriguing as it forces Alexis to confront, again, New London society is not all that great.

    I liked the depiction of French culture in the book even if it tended to veer a tad into the stereotypical (was it really necessary to make the ambassador smell bad as well as be a lecherous old man?). Still, there were quite a few interesting characters and the return to the Berry Marches is something I was actually looking forward to after their introduction in Mutineer. We also get a return of the characters there and knowing what happens as a result of Alexis' actions was poignant to say the least.

    The book is roughly divided between two different sections with the first being Alexis' political nightmare in New Paris and the latter being a disastrous military campaign in the Berry Marches. The book adapts the Dunkirk evacuation but goes beyond to show just what happens in places where overconfidence outstrips planning. We also get to deal with some other interesting elements of war like pregnancies (not Alexis') as well as vengeance killings against those even tangentially connected to the enemy. I appreciate this Gray and Gray Morality and wonder if we'll get to see any "good" Hanover characters.

    In conclusion, this is an excellent continuation of the series. Despite being YA novels, Alexis Carew deals with many serious issues and I'm intrigued by their mix of sci-fi as well as historical fiction. I hope J.A. Sutherland will continue to adapt famous naval battles and events as they make the series all the better.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Ciaphas Cain, Hero of the Imperium review

    In the grim dark future, there is only black comedy. The word grimdark is a portmanteau created created by 4chan to make fun of the opening crawl of Warhammer 40K's text i.e. "In the grim dark future there is only war." This is due to the fact Warhammer 40K was originally created as a parody setting of countless over-the-top dark science fiction elements blended together with what was, essentially, a really dark campaign of Warhammer. Which was, itself, a really dark campaign of Dungeons and Dragons.

    Eventually, the rise of George R.R. Martin resulted in grimdark being primarily applied as a term to doorstopper "realistic" fantasy stories in the same vein. The connection to Warhammer 40K was de-emphasized and there were actually questions whether dark science fiction qualified as grimdark at all. I strongly disagree with that, part of the reason I created Lucifer's Star, and will now share one of my favorite series from the Warhammer 40K universe. I speak, of course, of Ciaphas Cain, HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!

    The premise for the books is a Colonel Commissar Ciaphas Cain has recently died of natural causes and his occasional lover, Inquisitor Amberly Vail, has decided to assemble his deathbed "confession"/memoirs into historical documents for the Inquisition's archives. The fact we know Ciaphas Cain manages to survive to a ripe old age despite living in the ultimate hellish universe and die as a beloved hero should suck all tension from the book--but doesn't, because the whole point of the series is analyzing what it means to be the One Sane ManTM in a universe driven by blind fanaticism.

    Ciaphas Cain, you see, died as a legendary war hero but believes himself to be a secret coward and fool who survived myriad encounters with Chaos, Orks, Tyranids, as well Tau (one of these is not like the others) due to an inappropriate desire not to get himself killed in the line of duty. To facilitate this heretical idea, he also has the idea of keeping his fellow soldiers alive to serve as human shields against the enemies trying to kill him. The fiend!

    Much of the book is a deconstruction of typical ideas found in fantasy (light or dark) where zeal replaces good tactics as well as prudence. Death is always around Commissar Cain so he does his absolute best to be prepared before things go utterly poing shaped (as he's fond of saying) as they inevitably do. Despite this, this isn't a source of pride to the Commissar but an actual source of shame as the body count inevitably includes friends as well as loved ones but he manages to escape to another day.

    Cain is ostensibly based on Harry Flashman, at least the George MacDonald Fraser version but actually reminds me a good deal more of the WW1 incarnation of Edmund Blackadder. He is, much like said character, trapped in a situation destined to kill him (or not in Cain's case) so all of his deeds are designed around surviving that inevitable fate. Also, his resigned jibes contrast against the blind stupidity of those around him.

    I'm actually as fond of the supporting as I am of Cain himself. Colonel Kasteen is a wonderful supporting cast member, serving as Cain's platonic life partner. A wonderful snarky scarlet-haired soldier who would have made an excellent protagonist in her own series. I actually was disappointed the author didn't have them hook up despite that being the embodiment of cliche as well as against regulations. Note: Cain, amusingly, has a quite active love-life despite the fact his primary lover could have the planet he's on bombarded.

    Cain's Valhallan unit from a Nordic-Russo Ice world is a dark and hilarious gang of killers who are more upset about the fact they have different dining habits than they're all going to die horrifyingly in their next engagement (probably). The fact it's made of two single-sex regiments smashed together is also a source of some intentional hilarity in the early parts of the series.

    Fans of grimdark may think this isn't a qualifier because Commissar Cain is hilarious. His dry observations, wit, and ability to out-think his enemies aren't very grim. However, the world is still portrayed as a horror show of tyranny, fascism, and various monsters out to eat humanity at every time. The fact it's presented in a jokey off-hand fashion just makes it more fun like how "The Wheels on the Bus" now includes lines about running over heretics in kindergarten.

    Weirdly, the enemies are also made more terrifying by this approach as the Orks go from being soccer hooligans and working class Londoners to being an implacable force of destruction. Similarly, the Necrons are a mindless unkillable army of Terminators than the somewhat pathetic slaves of their masters which gamers know them to be. Even the Tyranids show themselves to be clever and dangerous conquerors than "mere" animals.

    The books are annotated, it should be noted, by Inquisitor Vail as she adds a near endless amount of funny details to the story. Commissar Cain is trying to be self-deprecating, after all, while she's more interested in the truth both good and bad. Cain is also a raging egomaniac even when trying not to be so he only talks about events which pertained to him and often misses the larger context--that the annotator corrects. It must have been murder on the Black Library editors to do the books this way but I think it's one of the series' best parts.

    The first omnibus puts the protagonist against Tau, Tyranids, and Necrons in stories which I completely approve of. If you are a newcomer to Warhammer 40K or a long time fan, I recommend this collection. I note also recommending the collection since Black Library still refuses to release their books on Kindle so it's better to just get the larger volume than try to collect all the smaller ones.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Cover sketch for Lucifer's Nebula!

I'm presently working on the sequel to Lucifer's Star, Lucifer's Nebula, which will continue the adventure of Cassius Mass and the crew of the Melampus. Here's the wonderful sketch for its cover by Alex Raspad.

The influences are obvious but that's the point. I'm also glad to have Isla be a bit more in the action this time than on the first cover.

If you're interested, check out the original book here.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Secret King: First Contact by Dawn Chapman review

    The Secret King: First Contact by Dawn Chapman is the sequel to the first novel, Lethao, which chronicled the journey of the human-like Aonise to the planet Earth after their sun exploded. One part 1970s Battlestar Galactica, one part Jack Kirby, and one part Game of Thrones--it was a very enjoyable story which made me eager to review the next one. Even so, I had to admit a certain amount of trepidation due to my overwhelming hatred of humans.

    Perhaps I should explain. When I speak of humans, I generally mean that Earthlings in these sorts of stories never end up appealing to me. Mankind meeting aliens in the present is always going to either have to bend over backward to make the aliens awful people or will result in us looking like the rednecks of the universe with our general backwardness. Take Doctor Who under the 9th and 10th Doctors? We did not cover ourselves in glory presenting Rose Tyler's family as the model of our species.

    Dawn Chapman avoids the flaws of this (as well as Battlestar Galactica 1980, which it superficially resembles) by presenting the humans of 2016 as surprisingly enlightened. Despite upending everything we know about the universe, evolution, and our place in the universe--the United Kingdom accepts the two-million Aonise into its territory as a peaceful exchange of technology for resources begins. I think we could have spent a little more time on the human reaction to this news but I think the author made a good decision keeping the perspective squarely focused on the aliens during this.

    Rather than deal with the dumb apes on this world, we have the Aonise's perspective on humanity and trying to fit in. There's a little too much focus on the romantic troubles between a few characters from two humans to a adulterous human/Aonise relationship but, overall, I enjoyed the pace as King Kendro tries to make peace while not tipping his hand too much. The fact everyone more or less deals fairly with one another in negotiations was so surprising that it actually counts a genre subversion.

    It's interesting seeing the perspective of a 70s science fiction race like the Aonise have to deal with the mundane humans of our world. The Aonise have what amounts to psychic powers and healing magic while also being tall Flash Gordon dressed people. It makes you hate being a Muggle but there's a few interesting moments which are noteworthy like the fact human genetic experimentation shocks the Aonise as does their willingness to push taboos. There's even a disturbing moment where Kendro debates whether they'll eventually have to "bind" humanity just to keep us in check.

    My favorite subplot deals with the establishment of a new house among the Aonise outcasts. The Heiako are a people who have been treated as vermin so long that even on a rationed starship, they have gangs in order to instill order. The idea of them creating their own noble house to rival the others intrigues me. I'm looking forward to seeing more of them and their rise to power soon. I also like the fact adultery does occur in the "main" couple because, honestly, there are too much books with unrealistic treatments of romance. Some men and women are just cheaters.

    Much of the book depends on your familiarity with the characters from the previous book as well as how much you're invested in their personal crises. It's less about making peace with humanity and the possibility of war (though that's there too) than keeping the heir hidden, the love between two officers, and the continuing threat of Dalamaar. I'm disappointed there wasn't much Lady Katesh as well since she remains my favorite character in the series as well as infinitely more interesting than the ostensible villain.

    In conclusion, I enjoyed First Contact a great deal. While I didn't enjoy it as much as Lethao and think it could have pushed a few more envelopes, it's a solid piece of science fiction from beginning to end.


Friday, April 21, 2017

The Secret King: Lethao by Dawn Chapman review

    I'm in a space opera kind of mood which, if my genre fondness holds out, means I'll probably spend the next couple of months absorbed in the genre before moving on. That means trying to find good examples from both mainstream and independent authors. While the "easy" sources like Star Trek, Star Wars, and newcomer in the Expanse are out there, I wanted to try something which was not linked to a major franchise. Steve Caldwell (The Bookwyrm Speaks) recommended I try out The Secret King series by Dawn Chapman. I'm glad he did because it was a treat.

    The premise of the book is very similar to Battlestar Galactica in that a space opera civilization of Earth-descended humans must flee their colony world to return to their ancient homeland. However, it's very much in the vein of the original 1970s BSG with Lorne Greene, Richard Hatch, and Dirk Benedict versus the modern version. It also has elements of a Jack Kirby-esque universe of feuding New Gods-esque families, bloodlines, and psychic powers. There's even a few elements of the Silver Age Krypton thrown in. For those who prefer dark and gritty space opera, this is pretty much its antithesis but I'm a major lover of grimdark yet loved this work.

    The premise is Kendro of Aonise is the psychic God-King of said world. Having had a vision of his planet's sun exploding, he's assembled four arks to take them to safety along with the other houses. Unfortunately, no sooner has this come out that their ancient enemies in the Zefron decide to finish their extermination by attacking their refugee ships as they flee. Kendro's life is complicated further by his wife's troubled pregnancy, a mysterious new enemy trying to usurp his throne, and (just to make things complicated) his second-in-command developing adulterous feelings for one of his men.

    The Secret King was apparently developed as a TV series and it's a pity this didn't get a chance as one because the characters grow over their episodic struggles. A book isn't limited by budget, though, and I'm able to imagine the glamorous costumes and scenes hinted inside the work. It also has a nicely balanced cast with the King, his wife, their doctor, the chief of security, and other supporting cast members. There's also some nice subplots related to the fact Aonise is kind of a awful society, despite the king being our lead, since a good portion of its population are treated as second-class citizens because they weren't born with the mystical marks that unite everyone to their leader.

    Kendro is a strong lead character and I was interested in his adventures despite my anti-royalist sentiments even in fiction. You can see he's just imperious enough that I buy him as the hereditary dictator of a long-line of conquerors but nice enough that I believed this was actually going to cause him trouble. I also enjoyed the romance between the King's second and his lover as that was a genuine surprise as well as not a typical lovey dovey story. No, it's a story about regret, duty, and the fact sometimes love just isn't enough.

    Much of the book is concerned with the issues of surviving once they've taken off from their doomed home planet. There's numerous space battles with the Zefron, questions about using the life-force of the dying to heal those who can be salvaged, succession, as well as what point tradition may or may not serve in a refugee colony. All of these are interesting tidbits and help enrich the larger character-based stories.

    I like the world building in the story as it hints and references rather than outright explains. While it's frustrating in places, we get the sense of an antique society that has existed for multiple millennium and lost its larger history. There's also a grandiosity to the characters speech and mannerisms that makes them feel larger than life. These are people who are dwelling in a somewhat Shakespearian world, which makes their brief psychic sojorn to Earth feel all the more contrasting like Tolkien's hobbits being visited by Gondorians--or people from the 1980 Flash Gordon movie.

    There's some flaws in the book in the fact the first part of the book has a bit of a pacing issue until the arrival of a certain Lady (you'll know when you meet her) who brings a lot of energy to the story. There's also the fact we never really learn anything about the Zefron, who remain frustratingly inscrutable throughout. I would have very much liked to have discovered why they're so hell bent on eradicating the Aonise as we only get an answer which opens up more questions. The story could have used a bit more Dalamaar, too, as he doesn't quite solidify himself as the kind of epic evil ala Ming the Merciless or original Baltar which this kind of story needs.

    Even so, I heartily recommend this book to anyone who loves space opera and wants a colorful fantastic story about psychics, bonds, kings, and spaceships. There's some decent action, excellent plotting, and good storytelling all around. I'm looking forward to the next book in the series and can't wait to pick up a copy.