Friday, April 30, 2021

Reviewing Season Two of For All Mankind

I’ve just finished watching Season Two of For All Mankind on Apple TV+.  It comes from the fertile mind of Ronald D. Moore. Last year, in season one, Moore and his writers asked the question, “What if the Soviet Union landed on the moon first?”

The second season starts by asking, “What next?” When season two starts it’s the early 1980s, and Ronald Regan is already into his second term as president, having been elected in 1976. Both the United States and the Soviet Union have large south polar lunar bases at Shackleton Crater and the Cold War is at a boil. The two adversaries are staring at each other across the crater.   The continuing tensions over the ice deposits in the bottom of the crater make the Americans decide it's time to send in the Marines.

Things go badly from there.

The world Moore and his writers have crafted is a mixture of the familiar and the tantalizingly off-center. John Lennon is still alive, but the Middle East peace deal brokered by Jimmy Carter never happened because Carter never became president.  Because of the accelerated pace of the space program, technologies such as electric cars and cell phones appear decades earlier than in our timeline, with NASA becoming self-funding off the patents. However, some things remain the same as in our timeline, when the KAL 007 shootdown occurs on schedule in September 1983 with major repercussions.  It’s an entirely believable reality.


Our protagonists have moved on. After the death of their son in the first season, Ed and his wife Karen Baldwin have adopted a Vietnamese girl, Kelly as their daughter.  Gordo Stephens and his wife Tracey have not only broken up but have moved into different orbits. Other characters, such as Ellen, who is left on the moon to give the first season’s valedictory address, also move forward.

In that sense, Season Two takes things onward and upward, culminating in a lunar standoff reminiscent of the Cuban Missile Crisis, with the Soviets blockading the Americans. How this is successfully resolved is a demonstration of excellent storytelling. 

Moore and his writers handle character growth mostly well, except the business involving Karen that seems to move on a predictable trajectory.  Meanwhile Kelly, after some serious reflecting, is definitely being set up for a larger role in Season Three. Ellen, who by the end of Season Two is the head of NASA, also seems to be set up for a greater role next season – that is, if her private life remains private. 

I  enjoyed Season Two. There is a lot more I could talk about here, but I’ll restrain myself. The highlights of the second season are the character arcs of Gordo and Tracey.  Redemption has never been so bittersweet.  Their actions frame the third season, which as of this writing, has already been greenlit. I'm eagerly awaiting more of what the season's final episode pre-credits teaser is promising us.

This show demonstrates how a believable alternate history can be constructed. If you’ve not watched it yet, you’re missing out. Highly recommended.

What’s Next?


Next month, I will have a review of Shadows of Annihilation, the third book (so far) in S.M. Stirling’s alternate history of the Great War, which continues the adventures of American Black Chamber super-spies Luz O’Malley Arostegui and Ciara Whelan. 

In the meantime, you can purchase 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.

Until then, please take care of  yourselves.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Book Review: Winds of Wrath, by Taylor Anderson

Well, it had to come, didn’t it? In this post, I'll be looking at the 15th and final instalment of Taylor Anderson’s Destroyermen series, Winds of Wrath.  For those who are unfamiliar with the series, Destroyermen follows the adventures of captain Matthew Reddy and the crew of the USS Walker, an elderly American destroyer thrust from the Second World War in the Pacific to a parallel world where they are suddenly fighting a different but just as deadly war.

Note: Spoilers Ahead:

Winds of Wrath finds the ancient enemy of Reddy's Lemurian allies, the Grik, has been all but defeated in Africa. However, one holdout Grik general, Esshk,  remains with his army, and he has a lot of fight left in him.  

Much of the action has shifted west to the Caribbean and the showdown with the fascist League of Tripoli and their allies, the Holy Dominion. On the land, General Shinya's Allied army is driving towards the Dominion’s capital of New Granada. Meanwhile, the hastily-assembled Allied fleet under Reddy is about to meet the League’s task force of modern battleships, cruisers, and destroyers.

The ensuing action on land, sea, and air is fast and furious. Author Taylor packs a lot of action into this, the final volume, and is perhaps his work as a storyteller here is among his best as he puts it on display as he invites us to become almost an active participant.  It’s Taylor’s habit to knock off a couple of main characters in each book; expect a lot more of that here. And be warned: there are a couple of shocks coming. This is especially hard because the author spent the series developing their character arcs and we've become invested with them, so when it happens – umph!

I also like how Anderson has engaged in a bit more world-building here, which frankly, I wish he would’ve done earlier.  We find, for example, that this world in the grips of an ice age, which is behind the League’s drive for Lebensraum.

Like all good things, the series has to end, as Taylor points out in his afterward. I understand that there may be some dissatisfaction with how the book and series ended. Honestly, without giving away the ending, I think is this ending the most logical outcome, given the weight of forces deployed against the Allies. I can’t really imagine Reddy and company charging into the Mediterranean for one final war of liberation. It just isn’t possible and wouldn’t ring true from a storytelling standpoint. That being said, can we expect further adventures in this world?  We just might, according to Taylor. 

I hope so.  Winds of Wrath is an enjoyable, fitting conclusion to the Destroyermen series. Highly Recommended.

What’s Next?

I apologize for missing the last month. I’m currently watching the second season of For All Mankind, now airing on Apple TV+. It picks up a decade after the first season with a fully established Jamestown lunar colony, Ronald Reagan in the White House four years early, and Cold War tensions at an all-time high. 

 I am loving it and will have a more in-depth review for you later.

In the meantime, you can purchase 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.  


Take care of yourselves.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Book Review: From the Ashes: An Alternate History Novel, by Sandra Saidak

Here we have another novel, From the Ashes: An Alternate History Novel, by Sandra Saidak, where the Nazis have won the Second World War.  Not only have they taken over Europe, but they have also taken over the world (I wonder what their former Japanese allies would have to say to that).

I’ll come right out and admit it: I don’t like this book very much. I really tried to like it, but there were too many things that got in the way. And that’s too bad because there are some positive points about this novel.

Author Saidak builds from an imaginative standpoint based on the historical fact that had the Nazis won, they had planned to establish museums in the perverse memory of the cultures they obliterated.  It is in one of these museums dedicated to the memory of the Jews,  that a group of young university students of the Reich’s elite gather to explore the shards of Jewish culture.

Okay, so far, so good.

But suddenly, things get out of hand. Both for the characters and the novel they inhabit. Suddenly our chief protagonist Adolf Goebbels (an imaginative name) gets mixed up in a revolution against the Nazis.  Quickly, perhaps too quickly, not only does Adolf become a Rabbi, but he also becomes a leader of the revolution.  Surely, the Ministry of Enforced Irony is working overtime here.

The writing and plot are a lot like that:  forced, plodding, and pedantic. Where the author could use a light touch, she instead hits with a sledgehammer. And where she should be showing, building out a world that has been under the Nazi jackboot for generations, she tells. Showing is the mark of a good storyteller, where all of the physical senses are engaged by showing what the protagonist’s reactions and feelings are to their environment.  Telling is simply that: telling. Unfortunately, in this instance, Saidiak does too much of the latter and not enough of the former.

In summation, a good premise, poorly executed. 

What's Next?

Next month, I'll have another review for you.

In the meantime, you can purchase 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.  


Take care of yourselves.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Happy New Year: Looking Ahead

The year 2020 could not have ended too soon.  It was like an unwelcome houseguest that had overstayed its welcome.  From COVID-19, to the continuing sad, sorry saga of Donald Trump and the the civil unrest that gripped much of the world over racial inequality, I think we will be glad to bid good riddance to the year. 

Nevertheless, 2020 is almost over, which is perhaps the best thing that can be said of it.  I believe that 2021 will be a better year and am certainly looking forward to it.  In terms of my reading schedule, I am looking forward to a significant reviewing schedule, including:

  • From the Ashes, by Sandra Saidak, is a novel that takes place roughly a century after the final victory by the Third Reich. I am currently reading this novel, and I will review it next month in this space.
  • Winds of Wrath, by Taylor Anderson, is the final installment in his 15-part epic Destroyermen series that has followed the adventures of Captain Matthew Reddy and the crew of the time lost USS Walker. I’ve been following this hugely enjoyable series since it first appeared and will be looking forward to sharing my thoughts with you.
  • Shadows of Annihilation, by S.M. Stirling, is the latest entry in the author’s action-packed alternate First World War series, furthering the adventures of ace American superspies Luz O’Malley and Ciara Whelan.
  • Finally, expect a review of the second season of For All Mankind, the alternate history of the space race, premiering February 19, 2021, on AppleTV+   Ronald Regan is in the Oval Office and the Cold War is getting hot on the moon. 

Thank you for staying with the blog for the over ten years that I have been writing it.  It has been, to quote the Grateful Dead, a long strange trip. I hope that you will join me in the New Year and that 2021 will be both safe and productive for you all. 

In the meantime, you can purchase 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.  


Take care of yourselves.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Book Review: The Oppenheimer Alternative, by Robert J. Sawyer


This is not a perfect book, but nonetheless, I quite enjoyed it. 

The Oppenheimer Alternative is a biographical piece of alternate history, expertly researched and written by author Sawyer. It closely follows the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer as he led the research effort under the Manhattan Project to develop the atom bomb and the period. He emerges as a fully-fleshed out historical character, warts and all, which is a testament to the author’s storytelling abilities.

It’s something of a slow burn to get the meat of the novel and the point where our history spits from that of the novel. Much of the early part of the novel is spent in the careful building of relationships (and conflicts) with historical personages such as General Leslie Groves, Enrico Fermi, Edward Teller, Richard Feynman, and many others. 

When the point of divergence comes it’s a big one.  While researching the atom bomb, the Manhattan Project team uncovers that all life on earth is doomed in 2030, when a massive solar coronal mass eruption one astronomical unit in diameter (the orbit of the earth around the sun) that they dub the solar purge will occur.

Wanting to avoid a panic, Oppenheimer assembles a dream team that grows to include some of the major scientific luminaries of the mid-20th Century, including Albert Einstein, Wernher von Bruan, and Jon von Neumann, as well as a great many of his Manhattan Project colleagues. The group named the Arbor Project works in secret even as the Cold War dawns and the Red Scare takes hold, which eventually brings about Oppenheimer’s fall from grace. The goal of Project Arbor is no less than the relocation of the human race to Mars, which falls outside the radius of the solar purge.

Here be spoilers:

Unfortunately for our heroes and the rest of the human race as it seems, Mars is not what it seems to be. Instead of the world with water flowing through the canals of Percival Lowell they had expected, they face the reality of a cratered, desert world presented to them by the images from the first space probe to reach Mars, Mariner 4, in 1965. This is almost a terminal disappointment.

Almost.  What comes next is almost – almost – out of left field. Sawyer does foreshadow what’s to come in a blink and you’ll miss it a moment, just so much that the resolution doesn’t drop out of the sky, all dues et machina when it finally happens. And that just doesn’t ring particularly true for me, which is unfortunate. 

Ultimately, with that single but significant proviso, The Oppenheimer Alternative succeeds as an alternate history story. It's much better, more demanding reading than the good half-dozen usual "what-if-the-Nazis-won" alternate history novels circulating out there I could name. 

Recommended.

 What's Next?

I have several novels I'm looking forward to reviewing over the next few months. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, you can purchase 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.  


Take care of yourselves.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Book Review: Pass of Fire by Taylor Anderson


The latest entry in paperback in author Taylor Anderson’s Destroyermen series, is Pass of Fire. It’s the 14th  and penultimate entry in the series, which begins the set up for the events to come in the final novel, Winds of Wrath.

For newcomers to the space, the Destroymen series tells the story of the captain and crew and the crew of the aging “tin-can” World War Two destroyer USS Walker, thrust into a parallel earth, where the asteroid strike that wiped the dinosaurs never occurred.  Throughout the series Captain Matthew Reddy and his crew allied themselves with friendly Lemurians who  against the reptilian Grik, who have allied themselves with the crew of a Japanese battlecruiser, Amagi, commanded by Captain Kurokawa, whom the transition between realities has been too much who has become insane.

The series can be best seen and digested as occurring in a series of cycles that first see Reddy and his allies (who grow to include various groups of descendants of other time-lost humans) stop the Grik and then ultimately start to push them back. Other cycles introduce newer enemies including the bloodily theocratic Holy Dominion and most recently, the more technologically-advanced  fascist League of Tripoli, the latter who come from an alternate second world war.

Spoilers ahead

I’ll be upfront here. Pass of Fire is all about clearing the decks for the action to come in the concluding volume of the series. By the end of this installment, the Grik have been all but defeated, except for a small remnant commanded by General Esshek. Reddy and his allies have taken the Grik capital, and not only capturing their queen, the Celestial Mother, but making them allies as well.

But now the emphasis shifts solidly on what’s to come. News comes that the League of Tripoli has sortied its battlefleet of modern battleships, cruisers, and destroyers, in aid of its ally, the Holy Dominion.  The odds are against Reddy and the Allies who are scrambling to develop modern warships of their own.  He must gather together his scratch force which is both smaller presumably smaller in size and quality. 

For fans of the series, like myself, this and the next book will be required reading. Throughout the series and into this book, author Anderson maintained a steady narrative drumbeat. Characters continue to be refined and developed – although how much can do be done with a cast this large – is debatable, but this is a natural outcome of epic series like this. 

Strongly recommended not only for fans of the series, but for fans of the genre. If you haven’t picked up the series yet, or have put it down along the way, there’s still time for one massive binge-read.

Mea Culpa

I must apologize for missing last month’s post. I seem to be getting sloppy. I have been struggling a little bit as of late, and sometimes things do slip. I hope all of you are well and are managing in the current situation. 

What's Next?

Up next, I have a novel by Robert J. Sawyer, The Oppenheimer Alternative, which retells the story of one of the 20th century’s most influential scientists in a different light. 

In the meantime, you can purchase 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.  

Take care of yourselves.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Apple TV+ Previews the Season Two of For All Mankind

Apple TV+ has finally dropped a teaser trailer for the long-awaited second season to For All Mankind.

If you’ll remember, For All Mankind is an alternate history story that asks what if the Soviets beat the Americans to the moon in 1969. In season one, showrunner Ronald D. Moore -  producer of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica – did an excellent job in exploring the implications of this question.


Now with season two in the offing we see that Ronald Reagan is in the Oval Office and Cold War tensions are ramping up. There are astronauts on the moon carrying assault rifles and the world seems to be dancing on the knife edge. For anyone like me who lived during those times, the images brought back the feelings of low-level fear immediately. It seems all very real.

One scene that I must nit-pick is that we a space shuttle apparently returning to earth from the moon. I don’t know how that would work and even YouTube space guy Scott Manley has problems with it.  I just hope it’s not  a sign of bad things.

In the meantime, you can purchase 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.