warpcordova

Born in Orange, California, author Jason Cordova has written books ranging from the fantastical realms of fantasy to the militaristic side of science fiction. His latest should be out soon. Really. You should probably buy it. Check Amazon . Demand it at your local store. Pay for his kitten kibble.

Homepage: http://www.jasoncordova.com

AIM: WarpCordova

Empress Theresa — Norman Boutin’s Masterpiece (titles now laden with heavy sarcasm!)

(Warning: this review contains foul language and fouler grammar due to the reviewer’s rage and disgust. Reader discretion is advised and, quite frankly, is totally understandable if you want to get out now before the screaming and the bleeding from the eyes gets to be too much.)

Empress Theresa2Very rarely do I come across a book that literally stops me in my tracks and forces me to ask the age-old question, “What the unholy fuck?” Norman Boutin’s self-acclaimed literary classic Empress Theresa is just such a book.

From the very first page I knew that this book was going to be different. Hubris is not in the author’s vocabulary, and in the introduction alone he challenges you by saying that this is a book unlike you have ever read. All I can say to that is, “You aren’t kidding.” The introduction does give us some insight into the creative process of the author, however, and it’s a terrifying glimpse of an attempt at literature gone terribly awry.

My brain was slammed with a large, ice-cold bucket of “the fuck?” on page 1 of the book. Suggesting that Scout from Harper Lee’s classic To Kill A Mockingbird led a charmed life led me to believe that the author hadn’t even read it, simply skimmed through the cliff notes version you can pick up online, and forced me to question my own sanity when it came to requesting this book for review. I had to go back and check Wikipedia to ensure that yes, this is the book he’s talking about and no, I hadn’t forgotten the plot. I mean, holy shit man, did you actually grasp the context of the book or did you simply watch the (excellent, by the way) movie? Or are you getting this confused with John Grisham’s lame ripoff A Time To Kill? What are you doing to me, Norman Boutin? I want to know more about your character, damn it. And while the main character (Theresa Sullivan, TYVM) tells you that she has a story to tell, she really doesn’t seem to know how to tell it. So far, all you’ve covered on the first page is a screwed up comparison of a classic literary novel with a dash of fired buckshot across a brief family description! I’m not expecting the greatest opening in the history of mankind on a first-time author’s very first page, but I’d expect a little… something.

Nonetheless, I soldiered on. I chalked the first page up to new author jitters, and figured “Hey, maybe it’ll get better.”

Note: do not get your hopes up. I did, and all that precious hope was shattered and shat upon, spread across the ground and then piled haphazardly in the darkest, deepest corner of Hell.

Theresa talks about going to different places around the world in the past tense, as well as suggesting that Theresa may well indeed become something far greater than a boring little girl from Farmingham, Massachusetts. Her parents are wonderful and bland, and rely on a computer to babysit her when she plays outside while they are at work. Her parents have convinced her, at the age of 10, that she will avoid drugs and boys through her high school years. Yes, I know, I was shaking my head here too.

But her story begins with the sighting of a red fox. In broad daylight. Weird, since the only time a fox is out in broad daylight is because they’re rabid (ed. note: it was brought to my attention that foxes are out in the daylight when they don’t fear humans and live in parks and whatnot. Living on a farm, we shoot foxes because they are after our chickens, especially the potentially rabid ones out in daylight, so I’ll accept that foxes are sometimes seen in daylight. Regional bias on my part), but Theresa doesn’t fear this in any way and watches as the fox walks up her back porch, sits down and stares at her. Then suddenly, a bright ball of light leaps from the fox and slams into Theresa’s stomach. She screams and runs inside, locks the door and… calmly watches the fox disappear.

Okay, think about this for a moment. No 10 year old girl would be rational at this point, no matter how normal and boring they are. 10 year old boys and girls flip out over the weirdest stuff, and a glowing white ball leaping out of a fox and hitting you is pretty fucking weird. Hell, I’m the most rational person I know (I should get out more, I agree) and would have freaked out. Of course, I also probably would have grabbed the .22 and disposed of the fox because I don’t need rabid animals on the farm.

But I digress. This is starting to make my head hurt, and I really wish I had more booze on hand.

I really can’t get over how poorly the first two pages are written, by the way. It takes real effort to be this bad and, for a moment, I had a sneaking suspicion that the author was trolling everyone who had read the book. I looked him up and, well, he’s a real author and takes himself very, very seriously.

He is not going to like this review, I can guarantee that much.

So anyways, back to the story. Theresa admits that she’s worried about her weight (her mother says she’s too skinny, so this is the first time that the character has been portrayed in any semblance of “realistic”). Thinking she was hallucinating due to lack of food, she goes into the kitchen and makes fried eggs, bacon, toast and milk…

…and then a bunch of firetrucks appear.

No scene buildup, no suspense, just BOOM! and let’s keep moving. This could have been executed very well if the author had any talent at making the reader give a shit about Theresa. Even though it’s early in the book, this is reminding me of a book I read once called The All-American by John R. Tunis. But, you know, without the talent. Or skill. Or character development. Or a plot.

I’ve spent just about 900 words talking about the horrors on the first THREE pages and I’m starting to wonder if this is turning into a slam piece. I mean, I want to be professional about this review, but when I’ve wasted hours of my life reading this book (and never getting them back, I’ll add) I get really irritated.

Okay, so it suddenly got very warm in the middle of a summer day (she’s not in school, parents are at work, she has an idyllic lifestyle… I’m assuming this is the middle of summer here) and someone called the fire department to report a fire. I… come on Norman, what the hell? I can’t even lose myself in this book because you keep yanking my suspension of disbelief right out of the book with inconsistencies. You’re trying to make this sound like present-day, but it sounds more like Andy Griffith. I… I just…

Damn it, this review is never going to get finished. I can’t even talk about the basic plot of the first chapter without losing my shit.

Okay, I’m skipping ahead, because basically the next few chapters are Theresa becoming inhabited by an alien AI, meeting kindly Federal Agents who do not whisk her away to Area 51 to cut open her brain, and her becoming super smart and being able to throw a baseball very hard (this girl is a cheater, by the way, for using an alien intelligence to make her a better athlete than everyone else around her but hey, morals don’t matter when you’re Empress motherfucking THERESA). It’s strange, because the author even managed to make all of this completely boring. This could have been a great bit about her wrestling with the sudden expansion of her mind and awareness, discovery of hypersensitivity and perfect memory retention, or even simply watching a 10 year old outwit and outduel a grown woman (things that kids actually will enjoy reading about). Instead, the author falls flat again and deprives the reader of some quality character development.

I really can’t describe how horrid this is. Putrid, fetid stink emanating from an old urinal cake that was forced through a septic system is the closest thing I can think of, and the argument could be made that I was insulting the urinal cake. By the way, if someone sends me something like this again, I will find you, and I will do things to you that would make even Liam Neeson shudder in horror.

Now, one thing the author does well (yes, a compliment) is show the various interaction between the Canadian and British governments. Of course, the immediate question which came to mind is why the US government is completely ignoring the girl after discovering that she is interacting with an alien machine. Unfortunately, by this time the author has flayed the reader’s mind with numbing agents called “words” in a vast attempt to write a literary masterpiece that falls somewhat short of Atlanta Nights. I still can’t shake the feeling that I’m being catfished by the author the further I go. It’s like I’m Alice, he’s the White Rabbit and we did some horrible peyote before falling into the well from The Ring (complete with creepy murderous girl).

Theresa promised to save the world for Prime Minster Tony Blair but unfortunately she is unable to crack the alien code of HAL (what she calls the alien machine inside her). While the pace is moving along, I just can’t seem to garner up the energy to give a damn about Theresa or her new husband Steve. I’ve never seen an author go out of their way before to make a main character so bland and boring, and kill any attempt that the reader may make to engage her. She’s a Mary Sue, half-assed fantasy of a man who doesn’t grasp the concept that characters need to do more than walk through the pages of a book. She’s trying to save the world, and all I can think at this point is that I’m not even halfway through the book and I want to end the pain.

But I can’t stop reading, because my seemingly endless suffering is for your amusement. Yes, dear readers, I love you that much.

You all owe me. You owe me big.

The world begins to die for inexplicable reasons, droughts reign, and crops wither and die, all the while the world sits back on its ass and waits for an 18 year old girl to save it. The science in the book started to drive me crazy. Bad science, horrible science, and not even explained rationally enough to make a YA reader (because really, that’s the target audience here) to say “Okay, cool” and continue on with the story. Really, I went back and read that bit three times trying to figure it out. I mean, maybe kids would skimp over it and cut him some slack (because YA readers are a forgiving bunch; look at how well they adapted to Catching Fire after The Hunger Games came out! #/sarcasm).

This book review is starting to make me sick. I’m getting a stiff drink to see if I can finish this up without losing my sanity. I’m changing the author’s name, by the way. No more shall he be called “Norman Boutin”. No, Norman shall henceforth be known as “The Black Goat of the Woods, Shub-Niggurath, Devourer of Souls, Eater of Sanity, Beholden of Chtulhu and Smiter of the Righteous.” Seriously, our hero and savior changed the poles in the book so that everyone can have summer all year long! That’s great for people in England. Sucks to be in the southern hemisphere but hey, fuck those guys, amiright? I think that the author should have gone into the Dark Arts. They’d love to learn just how well he can cause suffering at levels they had only previously masturbated to. H. P. Lovecraft couldn’t even imagine the horrors held in these pages. This book breaks the confines of a pandemic outbreak, requiring handling in full CDC garb, and should be called “Litbola” (courtesy of a Twitter follower, @zeewulfeh)

Much of what the author shows throughout seems to have been made up on the fly, including (and not limited to) the military, the government, how things work, nature, aliens, terrorists, OPEC, treaties, gravity, physics, water…

*long suffering sigh*

Look… this is, quite frankly, one of the worst pieces of published fiction I have ever laid eyes upon. For some reason, the author thought that he could project his world domination fantasies onto a populace in the form of a young girl, fixing all of the worlds problems without considering that the basis of human nature is to fight against being controlled. This is not a book for kids (unless you want them to hate reading), and I wouldn’t even say this is for adults (adults, hopefully, know when a book is so bad that nothing can save it). This is nothing more than idiopathic projection in literary form.

I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, or by merely one book review, but for the love of your unborn children, run away. Run as far and as fast as you can. Do not look back. This is your Sodom and Gomorrah, kiddies. Don’t look back or a pillar of salt you shall become. Don’t waste your money, time, or sanity trying to make it through this book. Don’t even try to start it. Don’t force yourself to get to chapter three. Don’t swallow the arsenic and push to the end. The payoff isn’t worth it (since there isn’t really any payoff) and you’ll hate yourself for it afterwards. I suffered through this so you would not have to.

Don’t make my suffering be in vain.

Grade– *is “Ebola” a low enough grade? Did I go too far? Did I go far enough?

-Reviewed by Jason (May God have mercy on his soul)

 

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First Strike — Good Story, but A Little Plain

First StrikeChristopher G. Nuttall has a fan in me, I’ll have to admit. After devouring his Ark Royal series (which was an homage to both Battlestar Galactica and David Weber’s Honor Harrington), he’s climbed into the “probably going to buy” ranks of writers I enjoy and will gladly spend money on. So I didn’t even hesitate when his publisher sent us First Strike, the first book in a brand new series.

From the very beginning of the book, humanity faces a crisis unlike one that has ever been seen. An alien has invited the major leaders of the world to a summit to assist them — and warn them that the barbarians are at the gate, and humans have very little time to prepare. Then Mentor disappears, and the book fast forwards to 15 years later, when a new member of Mentor’s species arrives to warn humans that a grave threat has emerged — the same one which Mentor warned them about years before. The Funks, as humans have taken to calling the neighborhood bullies on the intergalactic scene, have already conquered one human colony world (through nefarious legal means, proving that everybody in the universe is cursed with lawyers) and are quickly moving to take the rest of Earth’s space in the same manner. In order to prevent Earth from falling under the “benign” rule of oppressive aliens, the Federation decides that a first strike is necessary to warn the Funks that Humans will not go quietly into the night.

Enlisting the aid of billionaire merchant and former Navy Captain Joshua Wachter to harass the Funks trading lines in the rear (which, given the vastness of space, is something that the author never talks about how they triangulated such a thing in the first place, much to this reviewer’s annoyance), Admiral Tobias Sampson has come up with the plan that with either protect humanity for all time — or be its untimely doom.

Nuttall’s writing is clear and concise, staying away from the common every day tropes that usually litter the pages of new military science fiction. Minus a few name drops of Star Trek characters throughout (Beverly Troy was humorous, but I’m that kind of nerd…), that is. The action is well-timed and hard-hitting, and there is just enough boom to make me happy without turning it into a Michael Bay movie. He does his aliens well, creating one character (Lady Dalsha, a Funk) whose evolution on-page from enemy to villain is worth noting. The plot is well done, though the subplots could have been fleshed out a little more, but it did not leave me wanting. Some characters were done very well, while others were there and then simply gone, leaving no hole from their disappearance from the pages. All of these problems, however, are very minor ones, and really not worth the energy to worry about.

The problem worth worrying about with this book (and truthfully, the series as a whole moving forward) is, quite frankly, plain. It’s vanilla SF (which I can enjoy, if done properly). Everything in the book goes humanity’s way, save for one little hiccup. While I’m all for the nerdy kid punching the schoolyard bully in the mouth and standing up to him, I still want there to be some drama. That element is missing from the book, the uncertainty of what is to come, and the actual feeling of humanity’s desperation is not felt. Indeed, I continued to get the sense of Imperial British “Oh dear, old boy… we might just die. Hand me another crumpet, will you?” Regulars who were stuck in a air-conditioned office battling paperwork instead of a “do or die” scenario. It lacked a sense of urgency, in other words.

All in all, I enjoyed it. A little too plain, but I have high hopes for the rest of this series moving onward. Definitely would recommend.

–Reviewed by Jason

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John Ringo’s “To Sail A Darkling Sea” — Review by Chris Smith

Welcome back our irregular reviewer Chris Smith as he tackles “To Sail A Darkling Sea” by John Ringo.

To Sail A Darkling SeaWell, here we are. Yeah, it’s really late, since the book was released months and months ago (Februrary-ish) but I finally cleared my extremely busy schedule to write the review. Work, work, work, that’s me.

(Dramatic pause, sheepish look)

Ok, I forgot that I told Jason I’d do it.

This is the second book in the ‘Black Tide’ series, John Ringo’s take on a zombie apocalypse. For those that haven’t read the first one, stop reading now and go read it. Really, Under A Graveyard Sky is a lot of fun, and you need the background to fully get what’s happening in ‘Sail.’

(Hey, Jason, this would be a good time to link to the first review, maybe with one of those cool embedded link things that makes this parenthetical the actual link.) (Ed. note: Yeah, yeah… I got this.)

Moving on…

‘Sail’ takes up a totally different  aspect of the whole zombie genre, with our characters spending a lot of time on introspection and really getting to know the infected. What is this person’s motivation? How can we look at the human condition in the same way after the majority of humanity has been reduced to their base wants and desires? Are you really a good person if you don’t take the time to get to know the infected person in front of you before you slam a kukri into their eyeball? Can’t we just use the power of love and inclusiveness to conquer all?

….

Ok, that was tough to get through with a straight face. C’mon folks, it’s Ringo. The only good zombie is a dead zombie.

‘Sail’ picks up very close to the end of  ‘Sky,’ with some overlap. The opening scene shows the beginning of the breakout aboard the Iwo Jima, and progresses from there to the Smith’s clearing the ship.

As the story progresses, we get to see the, now larger, Wolf Squadron in action, as well as the flotilla coming together as a unit. This is important, since it’s a four book series.

Don’t worry, there’s still prime Faith moments, as well as interaction between she and Sophia that anyone with two kids will recognize. (I have taken to calling my two daughters Faith and Sophia when they pester each other, and have read some of the more relatable passages from the books to them to illustrate my point.)

Here, though, we get to see more character development, as well as the addition of several key supporting roles. Where ‘Sky’ set the stage as to the personalities of the main characters, here they get to grow.  Basically, what we see is two young girls becoming members of an active military unit, and Steve dealing with the weight of command.  Faith has to learn how to be a junior Marine officer, and the conduct that requires, Sophia deals with the pressures of being a ship’s skipper, and the emotional and physical burdens that brings. Steve juggles the double load of sending his daughters into harm’s way, knowing they are capable of handling it, but also dealing with the consequences of their ‘personality quirks’ for lack of a better term, in a professional military manner.

The supporting characters are excellent, from the sleazy former movie producer Zumwald, to the ‘Old Salts’- Chief Petty Officer Kent Schmidt, US Navy (Ret), and Sergeant Major Raymond Barney of Her Majesty’s Light Horse (Ret). You’re going to love hating Zumwald, and you’re just going to love the two crusty guys. (If you’ve never seen the Yeoman tour guide at the tower of London, go watch him. Here’s a link: http://youtu.be/DeiW_bWZ2Is. He’s all I could think of reading Barney.)

Here’s one of the things that endears the series so far to me. I’m a former Air Force Brat, with no time in service. That puts me in the position of straddling the line between Active Duty and Civilian. There’s some things that I ‘get’ about the military lifestyle and being AD, but there’s a lot I don’t, simply because I never had to quite follow the same rules as the AD. However, the Black Tide series allows us to see that career and what it entails through the eyes of Faith and Sophia, two (sorta) Brats thrown into a full Active Duty situation. They were civvies, now they are Service. Their mistakes and mindset- and more importantly, how they evolve- give us non-service folks an insight into what it means to sign on that line.

Perfect case in point- Faith handles a harassment situation instinctively, and is subsequently corrected by a superior officer, [Marine Capt.] then THE superior officer, Steve. Steve is required to handle the situation as both a commander and father of a teenage girl. Seeing him wear both hats, and still react accordingly is eye-opening for a civilian. (Granted, this is an idealized version of what happens, however, it is a great example of how it SHOULD be done.) Later on, Steve confronts Faith’s superior. How he is written,  as both a Commander and father, is handled adeptly.

‘To Sail’ is less world building, but more character and squadron development heavy. This is not a bad thing. There are plenty of great, funny, and hair-raising action sequences, but the infected are not the core focus of the book. This is not a bad thing. Like UAGS, the survivors are just that-survivors. No hand wringing for hours about a course of action that doesn’t offend the masses, just the desire and know-how to make decisions quickly, effectively, and lethally. We are allowed to see how this group begins to come together as an effective unit, and honestly, this is where we see the groundwork for its success in the future. There is hope for the future, simply because the right people are trying to bring it around.  All in all, it sets the pace for the next book, bringing Wolf Squadron together as a functional unit, one that can keep the flame burning in the worst darkness human kind has ever experienced.

An excellent addition to the series, a fast read, and fun.

–Reviewed by Chris

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Two-fer Monday — The Chaplain’s War & City Beyond Time

Typically I don’t review two books on the same day by two separate authors, primarily because the voices are too dissimilar and the subject matter at hand varies drastically, but today I decided to make an exception after reading both The Chaplain’s War by Brad Torgerson and City Beyond Time by John C. Wright. Both are extraordinary works, bordering on instant classic status, and have compelling voices, arguments, and stories abounding within.

city beyond timeFirst up is Wright’s City Beyond Time: Tales of the Fall of Metachronopolis, a collection of stories which begins with the story of a private investigator turned Time Warden. Jake Fontino is a down on his luck private investigator who, through the course of his investigation, is offered the position of becoming a Time Warden — while being recruited by their arch nemesis, Anachronists, who believe that all time travel (except for sight seeing) is immoral. A visceral tale with a deftly-woven plot, City Beyond Time stamps the “Writer to Watch” label on John C. Wright.

The best part — the absolutely best part — of this first novella is the fact that it is written out of order, and yet it works. I have no idea how the author managed to pull it off, but somewhere along the line the disjointed story of a time traveler works better when it is told out of order. I tried reading it both way– once in numerical order, and once as it was presented by the author. In numerical order, the story is a quaint piece on time travel and a man with a good enough moral compass to question both the ethical realities of time travel and the strength to do what was needed. In the order presented by the author, however, it’s an amazing tale of discovery, loyalty, inner strength and how a man must face the consequences of the decision he makes. A splendid start, in other words.

The rest of the stories follow the typical short story collection format, though the storytelling level never falls off. The final story of the collection, The Plural of Helen of Troy, is another small masterpiece in the making, with Jake Fontino fighting against time, paradoxes, and destiny all as Metachronopolis begins its fall. A masterful collection of stories, one that I am absolutely thrilled to have read. I should note, however, that while I talked about Jake Fontino the most, the character Owen Penthane, from the short story within titled Choosers of the Slain, is quite possibly the best written character in the entire collection.

Overall, this is a solid collection of works, and much like Frank Miller’s Sin City, it’s a story that you will not be able to put down. A definite A+, must buy book.

the chaplain's warNext up is Torgerson’s The Chaplain’s War, which is the story of the reluctant Chaplain’s Assistant as he struggles through war, peace, uncertainty, and questions of his own faith as humanity fights against an implacable enemy. Received as an electronic Advance Reader Copy back in May, I gobbled this one up in one sitting, and Torgerson joined my list of “Writers to Watch.”

Harrison Barlow is a trapped POW on a planet with other humans who survived a disastrous assault upon the planet by an alien race who seem to resemble mantis cyborgs. Humans, because of how we are, call them Mantis. As Barlow is tending to his flock — he continues to profess a lack of certainty involving any particular deity or religion, which endears him to his fellow prisoners of war — in his handmade chapel (while keeping his promise to the Chaplain, who died trying to protect the others), he is visited by a Mantis who calls himself Professor. He is both a researcher and a teacher, and he is very curious to learn about humanity’s faith in religion. Barlow, not sure what he can offer the Professor, tries to teach the teacher that there can be more to humanity than at first glance. Standing against the Chaplain’s Assistant is the very nature of humanity itself, as well as preconceived biases against humanity on the part of the Mantis.

Part of the allure in this story is that, unlike most SF novels with war against the aliens in it, this one is more about the search for peace, not victory. It’s a fine distinction to be had, for if victory is achieved, a certain peace could be had. However, the strategic importance in which the author lays on the “true peace” methodology over “true victory” profoundly impacts the story, and Barlow as a character. Take note: while this has action and military in it, this is less of a military science fiction novel and more of a classic Heinlein novel (Stranger In A Strange Land comes to mind). The author’s work is tremendous here, and shows the skill and prose of a writer far more mature in his years than Torgerson is.

This is also the first time I instantly messaged a writer after completing their debut novel and thanked them for writing the book. Yes, I’ll admit, I had a fanboy moment.

Another must-buy book here.

Grades:

City Beyond Time — A+

The Chaplain’s War — A

 

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A Cloud in the Desert — A Decent Debut Novel

A Cloud in the DesertA solid first entry into the world of international spy thrillers, Martin Lessem’s debut novel, A Cloud in the Desert, is the first entrant into the Steven Frisk series and offers twists, turns and international espionage to sate the reader’s thirst.

The book opens up with a clandestine meeting in Washington, D.C., regarding an ongoing mission currently taking place along the contested Afghanistan/Pakistan border. Pakistan appears to be ready to move into Afghanistan, and there are few assets “on the ground” in the region that the CIA can rely on, Fortunately for them, one of their best and brightest, Officer Steven Frisk, is on location. But there are other elements at play as well, including some shady individuals who are letting a live nuke “go into play”, as it were.

Frisk, however, is not alone in his attempts at stopping what could turn into a nuclear event in Afghanistan. His junior agent in the field, Ali Hassan Ashwari, code-named “Desert Fox”, is also a CIA operative and working deep undercover in Afghanistan. Together they must work to stop a deep, dark attack which could plunge the region — and possibly, the entire world — into a nuclear war.

Part of the strengths of this book is the author’s intimate familiarity with the streets of London (flashback scenes) and Foggy Bottom, home to the CIA. He paints the scenes here with detailed strokes, masterfully bringing you to the actual location without taking the reader out of the book. His characterization of Frisk as a more action-oriented Jack Ryan (of Tom Clancy fame) is fairly solid, though parts of him are too good, as it were. Frisk, while struggling to complete his mission, does not seem to have any normal flaws that people have. Overall, though Frisk is believable hero, even if he is somewhat overshadowed (in this reviewer’s opinion), presence-wise, by his junior agent, Ali Hassan Ashwari. There is also a noted hat-tip to David Weber and his Honor Harrington series in the book as well, which caused me to chuckle a bit.

There are some weaknesses in the book as well. Part of it is an inconsistency towards technical details, such as “Her Majesties” instead of “Her Majesty’s” (he meant possessive, and used plural). His imaging of the Middle East is not as rich and refined as his scenes of London and Foggy Bottom were (which is understandable). There was a bit too much “I’m going to slap Frisk upside the head because he doesn’t see this coming from a mile away!” moments throughout (if the reader can pick up on a few subtle hints about things that are going down, then a seasoned CIA FSO should be able to spot it as well).

Reviews like this are difficult, because one can’t give too much into detail without revealing massive plot points. However, I can say that, given time and patience, the Steven Frisk novels can be a worthy contender to carrying on the Jack Ryan spy thriller genre. I’d read it again, and pick it up on Kindle.

Grade: B –

Reviewed by Jason

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The Fallen Race — A Tale of Two Novels

The Fallen RaceIf you were the son of a traitor and sent out into the border regions of your empire to languish and (hopefully to some) die, how much loyalty would you have if you found out that suddenly those who banished you desperately needed your help when the entire universe is on the line?

This question is just among the many confronted by Baron Lucius Giovanni, commander of the War Shrike in Kal Spriggs’ science fiction novel The Fallen Race. The alien Chxor have completely decimated the Roma Nova Empire and, with his back against the wall, Baron Giovanni is struggling to keep the remnants of its citizens — as well as his make-shift fleet — alive. Assuming his political masters back home allow him to even retain command of his ship, that is.

After keeping his ship alive just long enough to help a convoy escape an ambush of Chxor vessels, the War Shrike stumbled onto a barely-alive Ghornath dreadnought. Surprised, Baron Giovanni discovers that the alien captain is the same one who spared his life many years before. He rescues him and a few of his crew and bring them on board the War Shrike. It is then that Baron Giovanni finds out that there is a human world in the system, one that nobody had known was there. A small world, still loyal to the Imperium, called Faraday.

Part of the charm of this novel is the obvious homage to the Honor Harrington novels by David Weber. This book has it all — aliens, telepaths, pirates, staff meetings… all in direct correlation to a Weber novel. Now, don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a straight “filing off the ISBN numbers” book, far from it. The fall of the Roma Nova Empire is something that is fresh and different, and the turning of the main character from ostracized ship commander to military warlord (of sorts) is very reminiscent of a Mad Max in Space vibe (I don’t know why, that was just the feel I had while reading this book). It’s a fun joyride through space.

However, there are some major issues in the first half of the book, enough so that I had a heck of a time just getting through it. There are some minor issues like the changing of the Roma Nova Empire (it goes from Nova Roma to Nova Roman to Roma Nova in about three pages), as well as a very tedious “staff meeting” where the author hits us with an info dump that is oddly placed and ill-timed. There is also mention of the main character’s father being a traitor, but without any context outside of the title “Baron” that the main character has, you really don’t get a feel for just how deep the word really goes (until about midway through the book, when suddenly everything has a much deeper feel to it, and just how poorly the word “traitor” has been used throughout thus far). There is also nothing really setting anything up as the author tries to counter world-building with random action, which unfortunately doesn’t work well initially because there hasn’t been enough time to create any sort of relationship with the main character.

All that said, this is not a bad book, not in any sense. Because while the first half of the book is problematic, the second half of it is simply stellar, and that can be laid at the feet of Kandergain, the psychic pirate captain (yeah, that combination is just as awesome as it sounds). The book, quite frankly, could have been written from her perspective and been an amazing novel. The author handles her much better than he does the main character, and she is a likable, mysterious individual who dominates every single scene that she’s in. It’s almost as if the entire first half was added just to delay her arrival, because once she does, the pacing and action flow smoothly, the dialogue is crisp and fits the characters well, and it changes from being a run-of-the-mill SF novel to being something special.

I’ll give this one 4 stars. I can forgive some of the editing mistakes (as this is an indie novel), and when you have such an amazing character as Kandergain, that can cover and hide a lot of other, smaller mistakes that would normally derail you. Solid story here. I’d definitely buy this one on Kindle.

Reviewed by Jason

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What’s the Idea with American Craftsmen? — A Guest Post by Tom Doyle

note: Shiny Book Review would like to welcome guest author Tom Doyle. Tom is here to talk about his new book, American Craftsman, which came out last week. Please give him a warm welcome.

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What’s the Idea with American Craftsmen?

by Tom Doyle

Looking at the cover of my debut novel from Tor, American Craftsmen, you might get the impression that my main idea from the outset was to write a modern-day fantasy of military intrigue. The craftsmen of my title are magician soldiers and psychic spies. Two rival craft soldiers, Captain Dale Morton and Major Michael Endicott, must fight together against a treasonous cabal in the Pentagon’s highest covert ranks.

It’s an active area: though a relatively new subgenre, modern-day military fantasy has (along with military SF) grown increasingly prominent. But what I think sets my story apart from related SF/F works are the other ideas I had before I focused on the military-intrigue storyline, ideas that gave my novel more of a sense of history, both literary and real world.

To my own surprise, one of my initial inspirations for this book was L. Frank Baum. When he began telling children’s stories, he had the notion of discarding the existing European folk tales and building a fantasy that was modern and distinctly American. That’s how we got The Wizard of Oz.

I wasn’t going to write a children’s story, but the thought of confining myself to a U.S. mythos for an adult fantasy was oddly exciting. I looked at American folklore, but I ended up spending more time with the great early American writers of the fantastic such as Poe and Hawthorne.

As Classical myths reveal the deep hopes and fears of the ancient Greeks, our nineteenth-century authors may be part of the country’s subconscious. If this is true, the overall creepiness of early American fiction should be worrisome. The founders of our independent fictional canon aren’t known for stage comedies filled with wordplay or for novels centered on the marriage plot. Nor did they master the simple pragmatic optimism that on the surface seemed to be the national zeitgeist. Rather, in tales filled with occult obsessions and morbid fascinations, they explored the shadowy underside of the New World’s psyche.

I fed the classic stories into my conceptual pot, and I didn’t just throw in the tasty bits from the usual dark suspects. For example, the parlor of the House of Morton has sickly yellow wallpaper in a nod to the early feminist story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

As I read or reread American fantastic literature and it stewed away in my mind, I saw the lineages of influence: for example, Poe to Chambers to Lovecraft. This reminded me of a concept I had played with in one of my earliest published stories: American families of magical practitioners stretching back hundreds of years. At first, my book was going to cover a whole secret world of American magic, with old families and new practitioners from a variety of backgrounds. But the reader of my earliest draft section, author Stephanie Dray, saw the military intrigue element and said, “This is great. Do this.” I really owe her a lot for getting me to focus on that plotline, as I wasn’t inclined to write a doorstopper-sized epic.

Once I made that choice, the military elements dovetailed nicely with my family lineages, as readers of Lucian Truscott IV would already know. The magic system emerged organically from the classic stories and from military necessities. My world almost seemed to build itself, and I was ready to populate it with my post-traumatically stressed magician veterans and my dangerously confused psychic spies. I hope you enjoy meeting them.

For more about American Craftsmen and my other stories, please visit www.tomdoylewriter.com or connect with me on the social media platform of your choice.

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