Wednesday, March 25, 2015

REVIEW: Freedom at Feronia (Asteroid Police Book 2)

Title: Freedom at Feronia (Asteroid Police Book 2)
Author: Richard Penn
Genre: SF
Price: $3.99 (ebook) / $10.99 (paperback)
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
ISBN:  978-1500830663
Point of Sale: Amazon  
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I first heard of Richard Penn via another reviewer, who made an off-hand comment about Penn’s second book, Freedom at Feronia.  I reviewed Book 1 earlier, so here’s Book 2, which is a close sequel.

In Book 1, our heroine Lisa ends up with her very own spaceship, or at least the core for one.  After some not-terribly-interesting discussions, she decides to take it out with a crew to Feronia, a real asteroid, there to undertake a commission for the Asteroid Belt Police.

In Penn’s universe, space travel is awfully slow, which causes the plot of this book to drag.  Eventually, our heroes make it to Feronia, which consists of two stations, a ground-based one and an orbital one.  The two halves are in the midst of a cold war, largely because the ground station has been overtaken by a group of American libertarians from Tulsa, who are doing all sorts of quasi-libertarian / religious hijinks.  Lisa’s problem is to end the hijinks with her crew of six police in a way such that she can leave without fighting returning.

One of my criticisms of libertarians in general is that they don’t seem to understand how humans work.  Much the same can be said of the author, Penn.  He comes up with an innovative solution to the problem, which only works if people are much less stubborn than they usually are.  Considering that these colonists are true believers (or they wouldn’t be there) I found that hard to buy.

I wish I could say that the breathless prose and other stylistic points salvaged the story for me.  They don’t.  The prose is workmanlike at best, and the dialog clunky.  I also felt that the POV shifted around a lot for no apparent reason.  About the best I can say for Freedom at Feronia is that it provides a more solid ending than that of the first book.  I would really consider both books as one novel for purposes of plot.


Interesting concept, not well-executed.

Monday, March 23, 2015

REVIEW: The Dark Colony (Asteroid Police Book 1)

Title: The Dark Colony (Asteroid Police Book 1
Author: Richard Penn
Genre: SF
Price: $3.99 (ebook) / $9.99 (paperback)
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
ISBN:  978-1500357252
Point of Sale: Amazon  
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I first heard of Richard Penn via another reviewer, who made an off-hand comment about Penn’s second book, Freedom at Feronia.  Since both books were $3.99 ebooks, I bought them and read them in order.  My overall assessment is merely okay.

The Dark Colony, today’s book, is set on a colony orbiting the very real asteroid Terpsichore.  Our heroine, Lisa, is an 18-year-old junior cop in the very small colony (around 400 people all told) whom, in Chapter 1, finds a dead body.  What’s especially shocking is that said dead body is the first stranger Lisa has ever met.

Thus begins my many, many heartburns with the book.  Penn, in an attempt to be realistic, has kept his travel between points in space slow – arguably too slow, and too infrequent to support a realistic economy.  I have other world-building issues, such as a colony spun to produce 1/100th of a G gravity.

My biggest heartburn begins when the investigation gets up to speed.  Nobody would reasonably expect the police department of a 400-person village to handle a murder all on their own.  So they call for help from Mars.  But because of the travel issues, Mars is really just computer help and talking heads on a video screen.  Yet when Lisa is told by Mars to arrest people she’s known her whole life, she does so without a peep!  Moreover, the locals stand for it.

Now, I have to say I found The Dark Colony a refreshing change of pace from typical SF asteroids of late, which seem to be infested with gun-toting libertarians.  The economy and politics is much more (realistically, in my view) collectivist.  But I do believe than Penn has tossed the baby out with the bathwater in regards to how people would realistically behave.  Simply put, if The Authorities can’t actually put boots on the ground (or whatever passes for ground locally) they aren’t really in authority.

I wish I could say that the breathless prose and other stylistic points salvaged the story for me.  They don’t.  The prose is workmanlike at best, and a fair amount of the dialog is maid-and-butler.  I get the feeling that Penn hasn’t ever lived in a small town, which is reflected in his characters.  Like much self-published stuff, The Dark Colony is an interesting concept not well executed.


7/10

Monday, March 02, 2015

Mark Lawrence publicity opportunity

If you have self-published a fantasy book you might be interested in this opportunity to get some high quality blog reviews.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Title: A Sword Into Darkness
Author: Thomas A. Mays
Genre: Military SF
Price: $3.99 (ebook) $14.39 (paperback)
Publisher: Amazon
ISBN 978-1939398086
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

There’s an ongoing debate in Science Fiction at the moment.  One very loud faction says people are abandoning SF because all our stories are “social justice novels” and we’re handing out awards not for good work but to hit a racial / ethnic / gender checklist.  Since I vote on one of the awards (the Hugos) I found that argument rather unconvincing. 

One of the gentlemen on the other side, I discovered, had penned an SF novel entitled A Sword Into Darkness. The ebook price was right, so I bought it and read it.

Overall, it's a pretty good book - I'd give it three stars. The action is engaging, the science is solid, and his invading aliens have unique motivations and modes of travel. (It's important to figure out why they are moving so slowly.)

But it's not a 4 or 5 star book.

Sword is in many ways old-fashioned. Chapter 1 is a temper tantrum thrown when a wealthy alt-space guy can't convince NASA with five (5) (five!!!!!) months of telescopic data that the aliens are coming. After five months, with dozens of telescopes and hundreds of astronomers looking, everybody would know the aliens are coming. Yet NASA somehow keeps the lid on the invasion for decades.

So, in Chapter 3, wealthy industrialist decides to invest his billions in developing and building the type of tech we'd need to defeat the invasion. This goes surprisingly smoothly, despite government interference (of course the government interferes - ignore the fact that they're paying SpaceX and others) and has few technical glitches. (It's only rocket science, after all.) 

Oh, and there's a hijacking of a ship that I saw coming for a while. And the US Secretary of Defense has to be fired in order to put a stop to his obstructionism. (It's only an alien invasion.)

Now, despite all of this I did find the story entertaining. Also, the aliens were unique, so it's not all recycled material. But there's a lot of recycling going on. It was enjoyable, but cotton candy for the mind.  It will not be on my Hugo list.


7/10

Friday, February 13, 2015

REVIEW: Death Stalks Door County

Title: Death Stalks Door County
Genre: mystery
Price: $26.95 (hardcover) $10.49 (ebook)
Publisher: Terrace Books (University of Wisconsin Press)
ISBN 978-0299299408
Point of Sale: various, listed at author's site
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

My local library held a local authors’ fair in January.  I attended the event, sold a couple of books, and of course bought a couple.  One of the books I bought was Death Stalks Door County by Patricia Skalka.  It’s a contemporary mystery, but I firmly believe one should vary what genres one reads.  It helps that Death Stalks is a very good book.

Death Stalks is Patricia Skalka’s first novel, although the author enjoyed a long career in non-fiction writing.  It’s set in Door County, Wisconsin, which is a peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan.  For reasons cultural and geographic, when Chicagoans are looking for a weekend getaway, they go north to Wisconsin, and Door County is a heavy recipient of that traffic.

The protagonist is Dave Cubiak, a newly-minted state park ranger and former Chicago cop.  His wife and child were killed by a drunk driver, and Dave crawled into a bottle.  In an attempt to help him get out of said bottle, his buddies set him up with the job in Door County.  It wasn’t helping.  Then, the brother of the man who killed Dave’s wife takes a fatal fall (or was he pushed?) from the top of the park’s observation tower, and Dave discovers the body.  Thus ends Chapter 1.

This is the first of a number of suspicious deaths, all of them occurring just as the county is getting ready for their annual “start of the tourist season” festival.  The big wheels in the county, thinking tourists are coming to escape big-city violence not get dead in it, want these murders to stop and things kept quiet.  It turns out that there are other plans afoot, some of which are even more threatening to Door County.

It’s hard to write a review of a mystery without giving it away.  All I can say is, everybody is a suspect, and Skalka plays fair with her clues.  When the final reveal happens, it’s fair and I could mentally go back through the book and lay out the clues I had missed.  There’s an especially subtle touch towards the end with an Indian feather head-dress worn during a parade. 


All I can say is, read this book.

8/10