Sunday, September 29, 2019

Book Review: Afterwar, by Lilith Saintcrow

After finishing the novel Afterwar, I still can’t make up my mind whether the story occurs in an alternate history past or the near future.  While I’ll leave that up for you to decide, I will tell you the warning it delivers – when and wherever it is situated – is both timely and important.

 And that's why I’ve given it space on this blog.

Afterwar, as the name implies, occurs at the end of a conflict, in this case, as the Second American Civil War is winding down.  The Federal forces, after 10 years in exile on the west coast have driven out a brutal fascist government led by a dictatorial president, who possesses certain parallels to the incumbent of the Oval Office. We meet our protagonists, Swann’s Riders, a group of irregulars attached to the Federal armies as they liberate a concentration camp. We also met our primary antagonist, is the camp’s second-in-command, at the same time. It's not a spoiler to say both their paths will cross but not quite meet until the novel's conclusion.

Even though the war might’ve ended, there are still many pieces to pick up, and Saintcrow takes us through a well-crafted vision of a post-war America, which she conducts us through in brisk style, but at the same time sparing us no details or horrors. Both protagonists and antagonists have complete and satisfying arcs and Saintcrow demonstrates some very fine storytelling here.

The book seems timelier than ever before as America seems as politically and culturally divided as it was just before it lurched into the Civil War in 1861. Certainly some of the rhetoric is far from encouraging. 

For all of these reasons and much, more, this book is highly recommended.

(Note: I had planned on reading Afterwar and reviewing it in this space months ago.  I only published it some hours before I saw the Trump tweet. Sometimes I wish that fiction didn't imitate reality so well.)

What’s Next?


I’ll be reviewing the next novel in S.M. Stirling’s alternate World War One series, Theatre of Spies. After that, I’ll also be looking at The British Lion, a novel of Britain under Nazi occupation, by Tony Schumacher. 

In the meantime, 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 28, 2019

Book Review: Airborn, by Kenneth Oppel


Airborn is a novel of high adventure set in an alternate Edwardian era where heavier-than-air travel never quite got off the ground. Instead, giant airships have become the primary method of transport, plying the air routes around the world.  

Our chief protagonist, Matt Cruse, is cabin boy aboard the airship Aurora, the same ship his father once sailed upon before he met his untimely demise. For a novel of just over 320 pages (in paperback), author Oppel takes great care in both character development and in building the world they inhabit.

While serving as a lookout during a cross of the Pacificus (read: Pacific Ocean), Matt spots a battered balloon drifting nearby. It is brought aboard with its sole passenger an elderly man clinging to life. He later dies, but not before he and his diary reveal tantalizing clues about strange winged creatures.

Flash forward one year later. Matt is still serving as a cabin boy on the Aurora, after narrowly losing out to a much-deserved promotion to the son the airship line’s owner. In true heroic fashion, Matt tries to keep above it for the most part and Oppel plays this internal struggle quite well. One of the late-arriving passengers is a young woman whom Matt immediately develops a connection with her and her priggish chaperone (a bit of a cliché here).

Our course now firmly set, the plot moves forward to a climax involving dastardly air pirates, a mysterious island (what novel would be without that?) the resolution of the mystery of the winged creatures, young love, and much daring-do.

Airborn has many touches right of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs and later authors such as Michael Moorcock and should satisfy every reader.  And although classified as a “young adult” (see my comments below), I highly recommend Airborn for all ages. 

If you haven't made your acquaintance with this novel, it's past time you do.

Sidebar:

A funny thing happened on the way to this book review.

I found Airborn sitting on the shelves of my local thrift shop; since knowing the book was set in an alternate world and thus fit into the scope of this blog, I picked it up and took it to the cashier.  

The cashier looked at the book and sniffed at me, “That’s young adult fiction!”


I looked back at her, the hint of a Clint Eastwood glare in my eyes. Yeah, I got that. Just ring me through already. 

There is still a remarkable bias towards so-called “young adult fiction.” That the bias exists is something of a head-scratcher; after all the category occupies a growing space on the shelves of most bookstores, particularly in the SF and Fantasy sections, prime examples being the Harry Potter and The Hunger Games series, both of which are best sellers and major motion picture franchises.  Of the books in the SF category, many do fall into the alternate-history genre, in particular, the more specialized steampunk sub-genre. Much of this success can be attributed to readership among young adults; however, one doubts they would have become the successes they are without their adult readership.

Funny indeed.

In the meantime, 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, July 22, 2019

Book Review: River of Bones, by Taylor Anderson

Taylor Anderson’s 13th novel (this is a review of the paperback edition) in his Destroyermen series, River of Bones picks up exactly from where the previous novel in the series, Devil’s Due ends.

Destroyermen centres on the exploits on the crew of the elderly “four-stacker” destroyer, USS Walker, led by Commander Matthew Reddy and her crew who, catapulted from their own universe in the early days of the Second World War in the Pacific into an alternate world, they find themselves in the midst of an even more desperate struggle between their soon-to-be Lemurian allies and the reptilian Grik.

Now almost three years into their new war, and after acquiring new allies – and enemies – Reddy and the alliance are at the tipping point. Still recovering from the pyrrhic victories from the events of the previous two books, they must undertake a desperate Hail-Mary pass, sending the merchantman-turned-protected cruiser Santa Catalina and her crew up the Zambezi River and deep into Grik Africa to block the oncoming Final Swarm and buy time.

Once again, Anderson treats us to wall-to-wall action wrapped up with top-notch characterizations of both protagonist and antagonist alike as the outnumbered crew of the Santa Catalina fight for their lives in last-stand combat worthy of the Alamo. Of course, with a series this long and well-developed, the author leaves himself plenty of time for characters to develop and when we experience their deaths, we feel it even more so.  As I’ve mentioned before, the author’s skills in both world-building and in the slow reveal are on full display here as he gives a master’s level course for any aspiring author. 

Over the next few novels in the series, it looks like Anderson is setting us up for the final battle between the Grik, while at the same time, building the pace for the ultimate showdown with the newly revealed alliance between the Holy Dominion and the League of Tripoli. 

I highly recommend the book and the series – that is, for anyone who is not yet familiar with it. Other than that, I can only pay it perhaps the highest compliment I can give in my current financial straitened circumstances: I almost bought the next book in the series, Pass of Fire, in hardcover.

What’s next?

I’ve just started reading Airborn, by Kenneth Oppel, a so-called “young adult” novel, which takes place in alternate late 19th/ early 20th century where heavier-than-air flight never got off the ground and giant airships are the means of commerce. More on this later.

In the meantime, 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, June 22, 2019

Book Review: Clemhorn: Nightfall

Clemhorn: Nightfall by Andrew J. Harvey, is the first novel in what promises to be an epic multivolume series. 

The novel tells the story of one of the ruling families of the Cross-Temporal Empire, the Clemhorns. The empire they help rule harkens back in the best possible way to those other great timeline-spanning dominions of science fiction such as Keith Laumer’s Imperium or H. Beam Piper’s Paratime.

As we are introduced to the Empire and its inhabitants, we are made aware that all is not well. There is a power struggle at the very top between the ruling families with the death of Empire’s First Leader, setting the stage for a civil war. The action of the novel focuses primarily on the younger generation of Clemhorns: Conrad, Arnold, Donald, and Ivy. For the most part, characterizations are strongly developed and each is clearly delineated with solid narrative arcs, with the plot moving along briskly.  Each timeline is given enough detail as to present its own sense of otherness. 

I enjoyed the book.  But I will also say it demands attentive reading. You may find yourself consulting the appendices that the author has thoughtfully provided at the end of the book as I had.  With something this epic, spanning multiple worlds and potentially multiple novels, the thought is definitely appreciated.  

Recommended. 

You can obtain your copy of Clemhorn: Nightfall  in either trade paperback or ebook formats, from Amazon or other online retailers.

Note: This review is based on a copy of the book provided by the publisher.

What’s Next?

Currently, I’m reading the River of Bones, the 13th book in Taylor Anderson’s multivolume Destroyermen series. I hope to have a review for you next month. I also plan on bringing you a review of Afterwar, by Lilith Saintcrow, which tells the story of a second American Civil War, but I’ve added something a little different to the mix as well, Airborn, by  Kenneth Oppel,  a “young adult” novel which takes place in a “reimagined late 19th Century,” filled with airships, sky pirates, and all sorts of daring-do.

In the meantime, 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, May 26, 2019

Book Review: The Delirium Brief, by Charles Stross

The Delirium Brief, the latest entry in paperback of author Charles Stross’ long-running Landry Files series, sees everything finally come unglued for our valiant band of heroes.

Now pay attention: if you’re not familiar with the series here’s a quick catch-up. The series’ primary protagonist, Bob Howard, a member of the Laundry, which is a super-secret British spy agency tasked with defending humanity against the Many-Angled Ones and other Things that Go Bump in the Night. That somewhere along the way, Bob has become an Eater of Souls and not quite human anymore is almost quite incidental. But not.

However, for the Laundry and its staff, things have gone very bad.  Not only is the Grand Conjunction upon us, when the Nameless Horrors will seep through the walls of reality and begin to snack on our brains, but its deep cover has also been blown, thanks to a very messy extradimensional invasion of London by an elven host that was ultimately defeated.  Thanks to this and other unseen events that slowly come to fore, the Laundry and its people face perhaps its greatest adversary: privatization. Even worse, Bob is forced to do… public relations. 

That’s all I will say here, except to note that the novel ends on a definite downbeat where certain trade-offs are made. Stross’s writing is stylish and witty, punctuated with sharp satiric barbs that reflect certain ongoing events in the U.S. and in the UK. This seems to be more of a wrap-up novel, as storylines and character arcs from previous novels in the series  – protagonist and antagonist -are brought together and tied up, setting the stage for deeper and more ominous events to come.

I know, strictly speaking, The Delirium Brief and the Laundry Files series aren’t alternate history novels – well, except they have involved the occasional foray into alternate universes and dimensions – it is a series well worth your attention if you haven’t picked it up already. If you like your Lovecraftian horror with dose a of Len Deighton, then these are the books for you. Very satisfying.

What’s Next?
I am continuing to read with interest Clemhorn: Nightfall, the first book in an epic multi-universal empire series by Andrew J. Harvey. I am looking forward to having a review on this book in my next post. 

In the meantime, 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, April 27, 2019

The Orville to the Rescue!


I should’ve waited a few days before making the previous post to the ol’ blog. Mainly because, The Orville (Fox TV/ City-TV in Canada) has come to my rescue with a tightly-plotted and ultimately rewarding alternate universe tale.

The Orville has rapidly become my go-to show.  The reasons aren’t hard to find: well into its second season, where it has matured, the show has grown beyond its roots as an affectionate homage to Star Trek. With its emphasis on character development and episodic storytelling with positive messages within larger arcs, executive producer, and star Seth MacFarlane has created a series that stands on its own two feet.

Now with the season (and possible series) finale, The Road Not Taken, MacFarlane (who plays the Orville’s skipper Ed Mercer) takes us out on a high note to a universe that would not exist save for a decision made by Kelly Grayson (Ed’s first officer on the Orville) not do go out with him on a second date seven years ago due to a time travel accident in the previous episode.


I won’t try to recap the whole season or even the last two episodes, except to say the new reality created by Kelly’s decision is a dark place. In the last nine months, The Kaylon, a race of AI beings with a genocidal bent, have in the last nine months,  exterminated half the sentient biological life in the galaxy. In order to save the universe and reset the timeline to where it should be, a crew member must go back in time to get past Kelly to go out with past Ed. Now, it's safe to say alternate universe stories are favourites of mine. In The Road Not Taken, we do exactly that - go down a different road where people  –  and the whole universe they inhabit  –  is different. This is storytelling at its best.

I won’t say any more, except the episode ends on a hopeful, if not positive note, which is true to the series. If you don't know the show, I recommend you give it a try. As for Fox, I can only urge them to please renew The Orville.




Thursday, April 25, 2019

Updates...

Well, this will be a short one. It was One of Those Months: between my continuing job search, a family emergency, and a client who I have a hard deadline to finish a major project for, there wasn't time for a regular posting. Ouch.

But the least I can do is tell you what I’m currently reading and what I hope to be looking at in the next few months:


The first book I’m currently reading the latest entry in Charles Stross’ the Laundry Files Series, The Delirium Brief, which finds Bob Howard and his colleagues not only going toe-to-toe with the Many-Angled Ones but with also with the prospect of something far more sinister: privatization. I’m about a good third way into the book and can report that I’m liking it. More on this to come.

The second book I'm reading is Clemhorn:  Nightfall, by Andrew J. Harvey. I’m well into this one book, as well. It’s an epic piece with a large cast of characters set across a paratemporal empire. It reminds of me of Game of Thrones with shades of H. Beam Piper.  I'll have more to say on this one. 

After that, I'll look at Afterwar, by Lilith Saintcrow. It’s the story of a second American civil war, but when and where it exactly occurs is hard to pin down.  Is does it occur in a parallel universe or does it take place in a time a few years from now? Nonetheless, the book and the author’s style has intrigued me enough that it’s earned itself a place on the review list. 

Finally, as I mentioned previously, I'm also looking forward to the fourth and final season of Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle. While the show struggled at points in the third season without the original content material from the Philip K. Dick novel to base itself on, I still have hopes for a strong conclusion. 

In the meantime, 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, March 30, 2019

1945, by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen: A Reappraisal

Full confession here: in my initial post discussing this novel, I referred to 1945 as “odious.” Well, I may have a retraction to make. Upon finishing my second reading, I found myself rather enjoying this novel – with one big caveat, which I will explain later.

I always had to hand points to authors Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen for asking this intriguing question: what if Hitler didn’t declare war on the United States following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor? Contrary to what many may think, there was no treaty obligation that forced Germany to declare war. When Hitler declared war on the U.S., on December 11, 1941 he granted FDR’s most desperate wish to enter the war on the side of Britain against Germany. 

In Gingrich and Forstchen's alternate history, the authors posit Hitler being involved in a plane crash that puts him into a coma, just after Pearl Harbor.  In his place, a junta of German generals takes control, first pulling their troops in more defensive positions on the eastern front, second, signing an armistice with exceptionally easy terms with the British, and third, and most importantly, not declaring war on America. By the time Hitler had recovered enough to take power again, the Soviet Union had been defeated and Nazi Germany was victorious. Meanwhile because the United States is able to pay its full attention to Japan, the Great Pacific War, as it is called, is fought and won on a shorter timeline.  It is not clear however, while the authors state the atom bomb is not ready for use by 1945, how that war is finally ended though.

By the end of the Pacific War, the United States and Nazi Germany are eyeing each other across a narrowing Atlantic Ocean. When word of a Manhattan Project that will shortly bare fruit reaches Berlin, the Nazis launch a desperate plan.

That’s as far as I will go as I will not be dropping spoilers. Against Gingrich’s and Forstchen’s fast-moving plot and generally well-drawn backdrops, characters, both historic and fictional, are introduced. Once again, these characters when to compared to those in similar genre novels, are generally well-handled with good developmental arcs. However, the dialogue sometimes falls into modern techno jargon which unfortunately, does not ring true.

So, these are the positives, which are many. However, it’s time for that caveat. It’s a big one, and despite what I said in the last paragraph, it’s kind of a spoiler and at the same time is infuriating: on the very last page, as the bombs start to fall, it says in big letters, To Be Continued…

…the problem being, it never was continued. Although the authors had apparently mooted a sequel entitled, Fortress Europa, this, for whatever reasons, has never seen print.  As I said, very infuriating. So that’s it. If you think you can read a book that has a cliff-hanger ending that leaves you hanging, go ahead. On its own merits, 1945 is a very good book; however, it’s the follow-though that is exceptionally lacking and therefore disappointing.  

If like me, you can sketch out in your mind’s eye, what would happen afterwards, again, this book might be for you. I’ve developed a pretty good sequel in my own head; if either author wants to reach out and kick it around with me, they know where to find me.

What’s Next?

I’m reading two books for future reviews on this blog. The first is Clemhorn: Nightfall, by Andrew J. Harvey, and the second is the eighth book in the Laundry Files series by Charles Stross and its latest paperback entry, The Delirium Brief. Also forthcoming, sometime in this autumn, is the fourth and final season of Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, which I am eagerly anticipating.  Until that time and to whet our appetites, the good folks at Amazon have provided us a preview:




In the meantime, 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.