Saturday, December 16, 2017

From My Bookshelf: A Choice of Destinies, by Melissa Scott

First, I’ll say I’m sorry about missing last month’s post. It’s been one of those months around the old blog, I’m afraid to say. I’ve packed up home and hearth into storage yet again and have moved in with an old friend to save money while I look for work.  After what can only be truly termed a Move from Hell, I am now situated fairly well enough to pick up the blog from where I left off.   


That being said, I now turn to the subject of this month’s post, a book by Melissa Scott, A Choice of Destinies (1986). Its subject is an intriguing alternative take on the life of Alexander of Macedon, more commonly known as Alexander the Great.  Considered one of the greatest military commanders in history, Alexander was born in Macedonia in 356 BC. He succeeded his father Phillip II to the throne at age 20. Over the course of the next ten years, he went on to build an empire stretching from Egypt to the Indus River, only stopping when his homesick troops refused to go further. History records that Alexander the Great died in Babylon in 323 BC, without leaving an heir. Afterwards, a series of civil wars tore the Empire apart, leaving the road clear for the rise of Rome.


Make Alexander Great Again
In A Choice of Destinies, Scott asks what if Alexander didn’t go into India, but turned back west, to firm up his Empire and take on and conquer Rome?  The result is a world-spanning Alexandrian Empire that continues to the modern day, which is probably a more than a little unrealistic.  It’s yet another example of the space filling empire trope where a given alternate history country or empire spreads out to cover the world, and then the stars.  We’ve seen a more than a few of these in the genre literature, so while it’s a little unimaginative, we wink at the conceit and go along for the ride.

Now is A Choice of Destinies a good book?  Ultimately, it is, warts and all.  Author Scott kept me sufficiently engaged with a series of flashbacks that move in and out of the main narrative of how Alexander built his alternate empire. It’s definitely worthwhile keeping your eye out for on your next trip to your local used bookstore.

Up Next:

The holiday season is upon on us, so I hope to stock up on a few genre books that I can review for you in the New Year. The New Year also brings the promise of Season Three of The Man in the High Castle, so watch this space for further developments in that area. In the meantime, may I extend to you and your loved ones my best wishes for the holidays and a safe and prosperous New Year. 

Meanwhile, you can help out a poor unemployed writer by purchasing Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.  Thanks.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Amazon Previews Season Three of The Man In the High Castle


Amazon recently let slip its teaser trailer for the third season of its critically-acclaimed The Man In the High Castle.  And what a teaser it is. 



In this one scene, we see SS Obergruppenf├╝hrer Smith meeting with the Angel of Death, Dr. Josef Mengele. Mengele is showing Smith an unfortunate woman whom he has strapped to a table.   According to Mengele, she has the ability to travel between the worlds of the multiverse. Mengele is cold and clinical, while Smith seems awestruck and perhaps a little afraid. Smith is also told by Mengele, almost as an aside, that the SS is also working on a means of traveling between worlds. 

The apparently natural ability to move between worlds has been already been established as both Trade Minister Tagomi and Juliana Crain have traveled across the time stream, with Juliana seemingly meeting an alternate version of her dead sister Trudy in the last minutes of the second season's final episode, and Tagomi making several transits over the course of the first season and second seasons. Tagomi's assistant,  Kotomichi, is also revealed in the second season to have come from a world where presumably the Americans A-bombed Hiroshima.

In a way, the teaser mirrors one of two chapters Philip K. Dick wrote for an unnamed and unpublished sequel to The Man In the High Castle (published in The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings, 1995 Vintage Books), where  the senior Nazi leadership is discussing the return of an expedition to the Nebenwelt, which is a parallel world where the Allies won the Second World War, and is in fact clearly stated as our world, and not of the-book-in-the-book of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy.

However, what we are presented only whets our appetite as many questions remain to be answered. What will happen to Smith’s son, Thomas, who has a form of muscular dystrophy?  Smith has already taken great pains to hide his son’s condition, including murder, and betraying his SS oath, from a system that would classify his son as unfit and would destroy him. What is really happening when Juliana meets Trudy?  And although the situation between Germany and Japan seems to have settled out – for the moment – how long will this last? And if indeed the Nazi scientists led by Josef Mengele are working on a way to travel the multiverse, what will be the results of their experiments?


We shall see.

Up Next:

We’ll raid my bookshelves for a look at more of my favorite alternate history fiction. Promise. 

Meanwhile, you can help out a poor unemployed writer by purchasing Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.  Thanks.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Book Review: Harry Turtledove’s Fallout


Okay, since there’s been a lot happening back here at the ranch, I’m going to try to squeeze in my review just under the end of the month wire.  

This month, as promised, I’m looking at the middle book in Harry Turtledove’s three-book The Hot War series, Fallout, with the third and concluding book, Armistice, already out in hardcover. Since however, I am still of somewhat limited financial means, this review will concentrate on the paperback edition of Fallout.

First, a little backstory: in the first book of the series, Bombs Away, World War Three breaks out in 1951 when the United Nations Forces are pressed to the wall by advancing Chinese and North Korean forces and General Douglas MacArthur is granted his request by Harry Truman for nuclear weapons to be used. Truman’s use of the bombs is shown to be an epic miscalculation, triggering a war no-one wanted, and one that his character wears like a cloak of guilt throughout the last novel and into this one, as well as the war, drags on and the casualties, both civilian and military continue to mount.


Once again, Turtledove is up to his usual job in plotting and characterization and, but it can be challenging for the reader to sometimes keep the players straight and might have to go back to re-read a section.  His depiction of a society slowly unraveling while the militaries of both sides struggle to sustain their respective war efforts is spot on. 

The only other criticism I have is a bit broader – and perhaps it’s a question of the author’s bias- but he tends to ignore the contributions made by other countries made during the Korean war – yes, Canada (that's my bias)– and factors such as geography.  

In both Bombs Away and Fallout, Soviet nuclear strikes take out major ports along the U.S. west coast, as well as the Panama Canal, crippling the U.S. war effort in the Pacific.  However, just north of Seattle – which did get bombed -  across the Canadian border, is the perfectly usable port of Vancouver, British Columbia, which would seem to be a logical point through which to re-route badly needed supplies. That is, of course, if Vancouver wasn’t nuked. But the point is, we don’t know, either way. That's simply because anything north of the 49th parallel, at least in this book, tends to be a great white blank.

And that’s too bad, because that was the one logical flaw I found in another superlative work. Is Fallout worth reading despite my most nittiest of nit-picking? Of course. Fallout, like its predecessor, is well worth your time and effort. Definitely recommended. I will be eagerly awaiting the final novel of the trilogy.

Up Next:

We’ll raid my bookshelves for a look at more of my favorite alternate history fiction. In the meantime, please take care.

Meanwhile, you can help out a poor unemployed writer by purchasing Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.  Thanks.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Reviewing Taylor Anderson’s Blood in the Water

For me, getting a copy of Taylor Anderson’s latest book in his Destroyermen series is always a cross between opening a Christmas present and sitting down with an old friend.  The expectation of something new is always there and there also is a sense of comforting familiarity.

Note: this review does contain some spoilers.

Blood in the Water, which is the latest paperback edition in the now ten-book series, manages to check both of those columns quite well. That balance of the new and the familiar is exactly what you get with this book and this series.  The first book, Into the Storm, saw the elderly "four-stacker" destroyer USS Walker and its Second World War crew commanded by Captain Matthew Reddy thrust through an unearthly maelstrom into a parallel world where the reptilian Grik are waging a war of extermination against the Lemurians.

In the process, Reddy and his crew found themselves defending their new-found Lemurian friends but also fighting the Japanese. From that point, Anderson has been gradually teasing out the broad elements of his universe: the first three books centered around the initial battle against the insane Japanese captain Kurokawa and the crew of his battlecruiser Amagi, who has allied himself with the Grik, after following them through from their own world.

The USS Walker, DD-163
I’ve found Destroyermen seems to work as a series of trilogies, with large story arcs that are dealt with in three books, while smaller arcs are handled between the covers of a single read. It’s been over the larger story arcs that new players – both good and bad – have been added to the mix, including those who came to this world at different times – and from still other earths.  In the process, Anderson does a first-rate job of world-building, by introducing us to the various time-lost peoples who populate this reality.

The Provence, a Bretagne-class battleship,
which the Savoie was modelled after.
One of the few semi-sour notes occurs when Lady Sandra, Reddy’s wife and “Minister of Medicine,” is captured yet again, this time by the fascist League of Tripoli and is handed over to the Japanese. It only avoids become a Perils of Pauline situation where the female lead keeps getting kidnapped and put into dangerous situations when one of the characters seems to break the fourth wall and address the issue to directly to the reader. Still, twice is enough for this particular trope. Another potential irritant is that by the beginning of Blood in the Water, after having lost the Amagi in the third book, Malestrom, the Japanese now have yet another battleship delivered to them, the Savoie. Although it seems to take us back to square one, I'll reserve judgement on this.

However, with that being said, it’s a testimony to Anderson’s craftsmanship as a storyteller and as a world-builder that he continues to be able to hold the interest of the reader over this length of time. This series continues to be highly recommended.

What’s Next?
I’ve just picked up the paperback copy of the second book of Harry Turtledove’s, The Hot War Trilogy, Fallout. I’ll have a review for you next month.

Meanwhile, you can help out a poor unemployed writer by purchasing Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.  Thanks.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Amelia Earhart: The Smoking Gun?

As many of you familiar with this space may know famed aviator Amelia Earhart is a main character of my novel War Plan Crimson, and of my short story, Chasing Fate, which is part of my collection, Elvis Saves JFK!  So my interest in the recent news that seems to indicate that Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan may have survived their crash comes at least honestly.

As history records, Earhart and Noonan vanished on July 2, 1937, on the transpacific leg of their round-world trip in their Lockheed Electra 10E on the way to land at Howland Island.  A series of garbled messages were received and despite a massive search effort, neither Earhart and Noonan were found.


Since that time, researchers and historians have tried to find evidence of what happened to Earhart and Noonan, but without luck.

But that might've changed. Recently, a photograph, taken in 1937 recently found by History Channel researchers working on a documentary about Earhart in the U.S. Government Archives apparently shows two Caucasians – a male and a female – on the wharf on Jaliut Atoll, which is part of then occupied by the Japanese Marshall Islands.  Facial recognition software employed by the History Channel investigators indicate that the nose and hairline on the male figure standing by the telegraph pole were a match for Noonan, while more advanced techniques were used to match the sitting female figure to Earhart.  In the background and to the extreme right is the Japanese ship Koshu Maru – one of the ships searching for Earhart and Noonan– which seems to be towing something very large and aircraft shaped.


U.S. National Archives
It’s now alleged by the investigators that Earhart and Noonan crashed off Mili Atoll, which is also part of the Marshalls – some 1420 km (883 miles) from Howland Island – and were later taken into captivity by the Japanese. At the time Mili was a significant Japanese base, housing a radio direction finding beacon and a weather station. It was manned by a garrison of 2,045 men from the Imperial Japanese Navy and 2,237 men from the Imperial Japanese Army.

It’s theorized by the investigators that after crashing at Mili, Earhart and Noonan were taken by the Koshu Maru first to Jaliut and then finally, to Saipan, where they are alleged to have died in custody. This would seem to be a dead end, except over the years, there here have been a number of claims by witnesses alleging to have seen the duo in custody on Saipan and even being executed by Japanese soldiers.

Although certainly intriguing, it yet remains to be seen if this is the smoking gun that has been long sought after. Certainly, some of the pieces do fit together: in the tense build-up to the Second World War, could an off-course American plane flying over sensitive Japanese military installations be seen by the Japanese military as act of espionage? Indeed, despite evidence to the contrary, were Earhart and Noonan undertaking what would be called today a"plausibly deniable" reconnaissance flight on behalf of the U.S. government?

Again, without further evidence in either direction, it remains another interesting turn in one of the history’s great unsolved mysteries.

Chasing Fate is now published online at OMNI reboot, and it’s free to read.

What's Next?
I'll have a complete review of the next paperback edition in Taylor Anderson's Destroyermen series, Blood in the Water.  Honest.

Meanwhile, you can help out a poor unemployed writer by purchasing Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.  Thanks.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Reviewing BBC’s SS-GB

First, I’ll say it right off the top: I really enjoyed SS-GB, the five-part adaption of Len Deighton’s classic alternate history novel of the same name.  I'll try to keep this review spoiler-free.


It did happen here
A brief re-cap: the series follows the novel pretty well, touching on all of its salient points.  However, as I’d written earlier, since this is an adaption, some minor points have been changed, which in this context are perfectly acceptable.  The series, as the novel takes place in an alternate November 1941, after the British lost the Battle of Britain and surrendered to Nazi Germany. After Operation Sea Lion, Germany occupies the south and midlands, while leaving the north of the country to its own devices.  The resistance manages to struggle on, bereft of any outside support. 

At this point in this alternate history, Germany and the Soviet Union are still friendly with each other.  As the series opens, a high-level delegation is in London to retrieve the body of Karl Marx for return to Moscow. As in the novel, Winston Churchill has been executed while the ailing King George languishes as a German prisoner.

Enter our main character, Scotland Yard Detective Douglas Archer. Ably played by Sam Riley, Archer tries to maintain a dispassionate but precarious balance in his work, seeing his job as routine a police matter and trying to ignore that his new bosses are the very people occupying his country.  When he is called in to investigate a murder of an antique dealer, the balance Archer has striven to hold onto is sorely tested as he goes deeper and deeper. The people swirling around him come with their own agendas: Sylvia, Archer’s girlfriend and secretary, is working for the resistance and is forced to go underground, while Barbara, the mysterious American reporter he meets and becomes involved with is clearly more than she seems.  Meanwhile, Archer’s German superiors, Kellerman and Huth, clearly have their own endgames, as well.

As I said, with minor and forgivable divergences, and without trying to give away too much, the series follows the novel. The final episode leaves room for a possible follow-on series, which I find intriguing.  My only negative observation was that the sound quality in the first episode tended to be lacking. However, beyond that BBC’s SS-GB is highly recommended and insightful watching, with a subtext that I know, that is far from new, but it is still as relevant today, that war is just as bitter for the winners as for the losers.  

What’s Next:
I’m currently reading the most recent entry in Taylor Anderson’s long-running Destroyermen series, Blood in the Water. As many of you know, financial constraints force me to buy the books I review, so I have to wait in most cases, for the mass-market paperback edition to come out. But in any case, I’ll have my review of Blood in the Water next month.

Meanwhile, you can help out a poor unemployed writer by purchasing Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.  Thanks.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Book Review: The Long Cosmos, by Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett


Well, I suppose there had to be an end to it all. Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett’s Long Earth series, which began with the book of the same name, concludes with The Long Cosmos

And what a conclusion, friends and neighbours, it is. For those who are late coming to the party, the Long Earth that the series is named after is a string of interconnected Earths that can be reached by “stepping.”  In the intervening fifty or so years, humanity has spread out across the Long Earth, while the series’ chief protagonist, Joshua Valente is now closer to his ending than his beginning. Confronting this inescapable fact, Joshua sets out on one of his walkabouts and plunges deep into the Long Earth. 

Even as this is happening, radio astronomers and pick up a message from out of the depths of space-time: JOIN US. It’s this message that is not only received by humans, but also by The Next, the trolls, and the other sentient beings that populate the Long Earth that drives this book and the series to its masterful conclusion. Like each of the characters we have followed through the series, Joshua must reconcile it with his own existence, as his life becomes intertwined into the quest to answer the message.

This is a masterfully written piece of fiction with the authors’ (Terry Pratchett wrote several large sections before he passed in 2015) world-making abilities and the skillful management of a complex plot and full cast of characters are on full display here.  The last few chapters alone, in the way they have been crafted, are well worth the price of admission.  It is truly jaw-dropping stuff.

Recommended. A highly fitting end to an excellent series.

What’s Next

First, I’m pleased to report that my short story, Right of Return has been featured in the online reboot of Omni. You can read it here.  Second, next month, I will have – hopefully- my review for you of the five-episode miniseries, SS-GB, based on Len Deighton's book of the same name.  Finally, I’ll be working on a few other things as well, so stay tuned.

Meanwhile, you can help out a poor unemployed writer by purchasing Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.  Thanks.