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.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Book Review: The Day After Gettysburg by Robert Conroy and J.R. Dunn

The American Civil War is an evergreen topic for alternate historians. Staring with short fiction such as If Lee Had Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg, by Winston Churchill, or Bring on the Jubilee by Ward More, it has grown to become a full-on sub-genre, populated by such works as The Guns of the South, by Harry Turtledove, and the epic Southern Victory Series, also by Turtledove, or lesser-appreciated works such as David C. Poyer’s The Shiloh Project (reviewed earlier in this blog).

Some authors like Churchill, Moore, and Peter G. Tsouras, author of Gettysburg: An Alternate History, have rightly focused on the Battle of Gettysburg, as a key turning point. Digging deeper, some others have focused on “the high-water mark of the Confederacy,” which is the area along the stone wall on Cemetery Ridge and furthest point reached by the Confederates, during Pickett’s Charge on July 3 1863, and the last best chance for the Confederates to break the Union Army and to force an end to the war on their terms.

Obviously this is a topic I could go on about at length, but we do have a book review to get to, don’t we? And that book is The Day After Gettysburg, by Robert Conroy and J.R. Dunn, and published posthumously after Conroy’s death in 2014.


I will tell you right now that I really like this book.  If we are talking personal high-water marks, this must be one for Conroy as an author. I believe this is his best work since 1882: Custer in Chains and 1901. Conroy’s eye for detail and history clearly shines here. Together, with Dunn, Conroy chooses a moment in history when after Union General Meade has won his victory at Gettysburg and Lee is retreating back into Virginia, he is goaded by President Abraham Lincoln to attacking Lee’s retreating columns with the hope to ending the war then and there.

In our history, Meade did no such thing. However, in Conroy and Dunn’s book, Meade, who was a far better general on the defensive, attacks Lee with disastrous results.  This sets the stage for a battle that not only threatens the city of Washington, but the Union itself.

Both authors – and I believe it is a testament to Dunn's work  - that is so seamless, that it reads like a Robert Conroy book, weave a mixture of historical fact and fiction so the end result is a very believable work of alternate history with all of the far-reaching implications. Characterizations, which have always been on the problematic side with me with some books by Conroy, are well-presented with clear motivations and well-defined arcs. One of the interesting things here is that there, as in war, there are no protagonists or antagonists, just people making decisions, for better or worse.  Historical players such as Lincoln, Lee, Grant, Booth (whoops!), Meade, and others are similarly well-handled.

This book is highly recommended and a fitting adieu to a major figure in the alternate-history field.

What's Next?

I've also started to re-read 1945, by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen, with a view to conducting a serious reappraisal. Does it still earn that Worst Alternate History Book Ever rating? Will I throw it across the living room yet again in disgust? Stay tuned and find out.

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, January 30, 2019

A Look At Season Three of Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle

I’ve finally binge-watched season three of The Man in the High Castle and what I’m writing now are my initial impressions. 

First, I’ll say I liked what I saw. Although I was concerned that as they entered season three that showrunner Frank Spotznitz and his crew would have precious little left from the original Philip K. Dick novel from which to mine. The first season stayed pretty close to the novel’s plot and while season two tied up some loose ends to be close enough, what they would do with season three left me with those nagging questions.  I had speculated (and correctly as it turned out), that they might take a piece from Dick’s unpublished sequel to High Castle by exploring the concept of the Nebenwelt, or a larger multiverse.


Details, details...

I continue to admire the care and attention to detail given by Spotznitz the others behind the show to building a believable alternate world.  It’s all about the details, whether it’s the cars on the streets or the picture phone on Smith’s desk or having historical persons like J. Edgar Hoover and American Nazi leader George Lincoln Rockwell make appearances during the course of the season. It adds up to that feeling of a waking nightmare. 

Now a warning: here be spoilers. Several major character arcs came to apparent ends or transitions (with a whole multiverse in play, as we’ve seen, we can’t be too sure) and new characters far removed from the original book, are introduced. We see Tagomi and Juliana Crain draw closer as they discover they have more in common than they thought. We see the newly-minted Reichsmarschall John Smith as the ultimate survivor and careerist as he moves up the Reich’s food chain. With the death of his son and the gradual disintegration of his family throughout the third season, we can only guess what must be going through his mind. Smith is still human enough, after all, to be quietly horrified at the Nazis’ plans for Year Zero and the experiments of Dr. Mengele in his maniacal pursuit of the Nebenwelt project. There may yet still be time for him to save his soul.


The Nebenwelt welcomes careful drivers

Juliana Crain’s own character arc has intersected with that of Smith's and his family during season two. The third seasons sees her begin her relentless drive to unravel the mystery of the Nebenwelt at all costs and has her reunited with Smith, much to his chagrin and with some major revelation. 

Trade Minister Tagomi walks a fine line. He is one of a growing number of Travellers, those who the ability to cross universes (and we meet more in season three). He also represents the Empire of Japan, that we see at the beginning of the third season has just detonated its first nuclear device. Tagomi, among others, recognizes they can’t win an arms race with the Reich and begins to seek another way, which may mean a “lighter touch” and eventual liberalization of Pacific States of America. Certainly, by the end of Season Three, this realization is even dawning on people like Kenpeitai Chief Inspector Kido. 

The big news is that season four of High Castle has already been greenlit, so we will see how this all plays out. Season three ends with some major cliff hangers. I will be watching.

     
What’s Next?
I have a couple of projects on the go: I am currently reading the last book written by James Conroy, The Day After Gettysburg, which was published after his death. I hope to have a review on this for you soon.  As well, I will be looking at what I remember as the worst alternate history novel I’ve ever read, 1945, by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen. Does it still earn this label? Have I been too harsh? I will let you know with a review after I’ve read it again.

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.