Friday, August 11, 2017

Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum

Review: Son of Justice by Stephen L. Hawk


Remember the hedonistic thugs of Rollerball? "In the future there will be no war. There will only be Rollerball." Hawk's future with no war has an Earth where expressions like "when the shout hits the air" and "don't give a flock" have replaced their more violent, vulgar predecessors. 

Yet even a peaceful society needs warriors—especially when their space is invaded by warring aliens. That's where Eli Jayson comes in. He's joined the ranks of a military where most of the privates are orphans from Earth, raised in an institutional environment that promotes a level of competition unwelcome in general society.

Not Eli, though. He's incognito; his real surname is "Justice" and his father is the renowned commander of the Shiale alliance of four races: Human, Telgoran, Waa, and Minith. Eli grew up on Waa, was trained in weapons-handling by truly-fierce Minith warriors. He learned a bit of all three non-human languages. And he's determined to make it on his own, without trading on the family name. 

All he needs to do is not stand out.

That, he discovers, is an impossible task when you can almost defeat one of the Hulk-sized green Minith with their oversized staves, or understand what the Minith sergeants are muttering when they conspire to wash out large numbers of the human soldiers and send them back to Earth.

Then Eli manages to enlist the help of one of the stand-offish Telgoran natives of the world where they are training, and use his assistance to win an unwinnable test assignment. His Kobayashi Maru victory lands him in a court martial.

If you have already encountered the worlds of the Shiale alliance, the name of Justice is familiar. I, however, was unacquainted with The Peace Warrior trilogy, but decided to buy SOJ when I saw the title on Kindle Scout. (I missed the campaign to nominate it.) Now that I've nearly finished the tale of Grant Justice's son, I've purchased the omnibus volume of the trilogy to read. Better late than never!

Either way, I strongly recommend Son of Justice for mil-SF fans and Bildungsroman-readers alike. Eli Justice is a winner.

By any name!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Bug Wars: Initial Infestation

Review: Tarantula (The First Swarm War Book 0) by Chris Pourteau


Addison Halsey and Sam Avery didn't begin as heroic captains; twenty years ago the UEF spaceships they trained on had Russian and Chinese enemies. Both women were midshipmen in command roles on a monitored mission. The Swarm was yet unknown (although it had already won its first unheralded battle with Mankind).

For Addison Halsey, the thrill of taking command on a routine survey run is a natural outgrowth of her Academy studies. According to her friend Sam, she's a natural leader. As long as the mission is counting space rocks, she's comfortable.

When the ship intercepts an SOS in Russian from a ship crashed on the surface of Ceres, the midshipmen assume it's part of the training exercise at first. Then Halsey realizes their monitor, Commander Vickers, while still assessing their performance, is no longer relaxed. 

This was not in the script; it's a real crash. Possibly with real Russian enemies aboard. Russians who had no business anywhere near UEF-controlled Ceres.

Her acting XO, Sam Avery, takes an away team to the surface to rescue or recover whatever they can from the scout-ship RK Tarantula. And now, natural leader or not, the implications of her command decisions crash in on Halsey:
Having all those lives in her hands … for the first time, Halsey understood the phrase weight of command.

This prequel novella is best read after Books 1 and 2, since reading it first may confuse you, offer major spoilers, or both. Fortunately I was forewarned by a college chum of the author. Read after Book 2, however, it is a satisfying flash of back-story for the ladies who command in the full novels.

And I'm still waiting for the other shoe I noted in Bug Wars: Then Come Assassins to drop.


Liner Note:

At the time of this review, the novella was available only in ebook format.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Bug Wars: Then Come Assassins...

Review: Avenger (The First Swarm War Book 2) by Chris Pourteau


Pourteau's entry into the Legacy Fleet universe continues the emphasis on Addison Halsey, but gives another strong woman, IDF Captain Samantha Avery, her own place as co-protagonist. 

For "Sam" Avery, command of the IDF Avenger comes with downsides, one known (her CAG or Carrier Attack Group commander is one Laz Scollard, ex-pirate), and one unknown, a secretive assassin hidden aboard, determined to kill her. For Halsey, the promotion to captain of IDF Invincible means she must operate under the direction of a decidedly un-strategic station commander.

These issues turn out to be minor when considered against the vastly-expanded Swarm fleet they will be fighting. 

As in Book 1, we also see Swarm-infected human traitors, and political maneuvers that may, or may not, be generated by such treachery. The "Integrated Defense Force" of IDF is still in name only, since the ships in the force were all once UEF resources. Perhaps the Russians will eventually step up to help. Maybe the Chinese will throw off their Swarm-generated abstention and send aid.

Meanwhile, Addie and Sam, along with Captain Noah Preble of IDF Independence, and the rehabilitated Laz Scollard, will have their hands full fighting the stolid idiocy of their local commander and the secret treachery of a hidden enemy, as well as the ships of the Swarm. The nail-biting action never lets up, especially when it becomes obvious that the Swarm has learned from their previous battles with Halsey, et. al.

And these bugs are not stupid.

Liner Notes:

  1. There is a major undropped shoe in the story. A crisis delayed near the start of the novel is left still resolved at the end of Avenger. But don't let that stop you from reading the book: it will probably be an opening issue in Book 3. Or maybe Book 4.
  2. The next available book in the series is a prequel named Tarantula, and guessing from a scene in Avenger (plus the afterword from Chris Pourteau, who wrote both books), it concerns Addie and Sam twenty years back, when they were midshipmen cadets. I'm diving into it as soon as I finish writing this!)
  3. At the time of this review, the novel was available only in ebook format.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Bug Wars: First Come Traitors...

Review: Legacy Fleet: Invincible (The First Swarm War Book 1) by David Bruns


I often get a suggestion from Mitch Utsy, an SCA maven and reader who shares my taste both in books and Chick-fil-A, to catch a new mil-SF novel I've missed. His latest was an offering from a mutual friend, author Chris Pourteau. Chris' books were the second and third in reading-order in a trilogy, the Legacy Fleet series. I had no choice other than to buy them all and begin reading.

Hooked immediately by Book 1, I found myself thinking of previous series featuring epic-space-battles and strong women with strategic smarts. Honor Harrington, of course; but also Elizabeth Moon's Vatta and Serrano family sagas.

This Kindle Worlds shared-universe series gives us another satisfying helping of women warriors, demonstrating that duty, honor, and strategic thinking are not irrevocably linked to the male sex. It also brings back that classic concept of retro science fiction, alien bugs. (At least, I think it does. The alien opponents are called "Swarm" and operate as if they have a hive mind.)

Invincible has the misfortune to encounter the initial ships of the Swarm during a live-fire exercise. Captain Baltasar is behaving very strangely, micro-managing instead of letting his XO, Addison Halsey, do the whip-and-carrot work with the crew. When Baltasar turns over fleet friend-or-foe ID codes to the oncoming Swarm, Halsey has a choice: watch her world die—or jump ship, recruit an ex-lover-turned space-pirate to aid her, and take on the alien fleet and the Invincible in a battle to save Earth.

The action is easy to follow—not always the case, especially if a novice writes a space battle. Bruns is obviously no neophyte. Politics back on Earth becomes a lot more complex than East vs, West, and even though the future of the soured romance between Halsey and her ex-lover is not hard to foresee, its course cannot follow the cliché. 

In Halsey's re-ordered world, where anyone may be an unsuspected traitor, strategy takes on a whole new aspect, and communication is vital to victory. So, as always, is courage.


Liner Note:

At the time of this review, the novel was available only in ebook format.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Wolf in a Hood

Review: Forever Scarlett (The Everly Girls Book 3) by V.B. Marlowe


What if the Big Bad Wolf was wearing the red riding hood? How would the story go from there?

The Everly Girls series makes our fairy-tale protagonists immortal, cursed with a situation that will not improve until they take drastic actions. I already reviewed the Kindle Scout selection Forever Snow (see Princely Kiss Cannot Save This Snow White); Snow needed the heart of another cursed child to escape her dilemma. Cinderella, who was cursed to live in pain (surely you didn't think glass shoes were comfortable), also sought a heart in Forever Ella.

So too with Scarlett, whose red hood hides a vulpine anger. 

And she shares that wolfish nature, and her curse of immortality, with her grandmother. In modern times, it has become ever harder to hide in the woods, real or virtual. One can never have a Facebook page, never send a Tweet. And never mind having girlfriends in for a sleep-over!

When Scarlett befriends the wrong girls, granny winds up dead, and Scarlett must flee to the only sanctuary left: a school for the similarly-cursed called Everly.

The first two books were full-size novels, setting the atmosphere and back-story (and providing a preview of too much of the action found in this novella.) At 110 pages, Scarlett is barely a third the length of Snow or Ella. Nevertheless, once you move past the repetition of action from Scarlett's perspective, and she winds up at the school, the promise of the series is renewed. 

And remember, where there's a big, bad wolf, there will be gnashing of teeth! If not, I will be very disappointed.

Liner Note:

At the time of this review, the novella was available only in ebook format.