Wednesday, October 31, 2012

REVIEW: Insurgent: Book 2 of America's Future

Title: Insurgent: Book 2 of America’s Future
Genre: alternate history, thriller
Price: $17.95 (paperback) / $4.99 (Kindle
Publisher: Cincinnatus Press
ISBN: 978-0979411496
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

This blog (or at least this writer at this blog) has been a fan of Charles Sheehan-Miles since I devoured and loved his novel Republic (see my review).  So, when I heard that he’d (finally!) released a sequel to that book, called Insurgent, I jumped at the chance to buy and read it. 

I think the best way to summarize the book is to quote the description from the Amazon page:

Three months after the end of the West Virginia civil war, Valerie Murphy faces her worst fears as the violence escalates. Former Congressman Al Clark, now Governor of the bankrupt state, must quell an insurgency even as he struggles to put the state back together. 

In a small town south of Charleston, West Virginia, Corporal Jim Turville faces combat, love and fear in a conflict which grows increasingly dangerous with every day. 

As implied by the summary above, the book does start immediately after the events of Republic, but I think that enough of what happened in the previous book is explained in Insurgent to allow people to catch up.  Sheehan-Miles’ view of a future America is not a pretty one, and can be charitably described as corporations and security theater run amuck. 

Sheehan-Miles draws heavily on the events of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and paints an unstinting picture of insurgency.  It’s a book where in one chapter rooting for troops under fire and in the next one mourning the death of an innocent civilian killed by those same troops because her house was in the line of fire. 

Republic started with a terrorist attack in Washington, DC.  In Insurgent, we start to see who (apparently) caused or at least enabled that attack, and let’s just say it’s not who you’d expect.  Sheehan-Miles has little sympathy for extremists of any stripe, and he’s identified a group of extremists to play the “big bad” in this story that may surprise some people.

Insurgent is a gripping, exciting and well-written book, and highly recommended. 


Monday, October 29, 2012

REVIEW: Entities: The Selected Novels of Eric Frank Russell

Title: Entities: The Selected Novels of Eric Frank Russell
Author: Eric Frank Russell
Genre: science fiction
Price: $29 (hardcover only)
Publisher: NESFA Press
ISBN: 978-1886778337
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

A while back at a science fiction convention one of my fellow panelists mentioned that the novel Wasp was “the best military SF novel he’d ever read.”  Google being my friend, I discovered that Wasp had been written in the 1950s by Eric Frank Russell, and re-issued with other novels in 2001 by the New England Science Fiction Association.  Based on this recommendation, I purchased the book, which at 691 pages is a bit of a doorstopper.  Trust me – it’s well worth the purchase.

The lead novel in the collection is what’s considered Russell’s very best work, the novel Wasp.  In this book, set in an undefined future, one intrepid Earth-man, James Mowry, is surgically altered to look like an alien race and dropped behind enemy lines.  Mowry’s orders are to act like a wasp, and keep stinging the enemy, causing panic and draining resources while a conventional war is being waged.

Mowry is, in short, to be a terrorist.  Aided by a conveniently repressive government and a stack of cash with which to purchase cooperation from the local criminal gangs, Mowry busily and rather gleefully creates terror.  Assassinations, bombs, propaganda stickers and barrels with curved pipes sticking out the top all play their rolls.  The famous SF writer Neil Gaiman optioned the book as a movie, but after 9/11 decided the market for merry terrorist movies had dried up.

Wasp in particular and the rest of the novels in the collection suffer somewhat from being written when they were.  As Jo Walton said, they were apparently written before women were invented, and so have few if any female characters.  They also feel a bit dated technologically – people rely on phone booths, printed newspapers and physically-mailed letters.  Still, Wasp holds up as a truly engaging novel.  It probably should – Russell, a Brit, spent his war working with one Ian Fleming, and so at least some of the dirty tricks applied in Wasp were tested elsewhere.

The rest of the collection is secondary only in comparison to the masterpiece.  Russell frequently explored the theme of hidden powers, and two of the works, Sinister Barrier (in Russell’s preferred and later version) as well as Sentinels from Space feature aliens either controlling or protecting humans.  Both are gripping reads. Call Him Dead takes the hidden aliens theme a step further, involving a (hidden) human telepath who is the only person that can detect the aliens.  Lastly, returning to the One Versus the World theme, we have Next of Kin, in which one military misfit helps win the war for the human race.

Three short stories round out the collection, of which the one that stuck with me was Legwork.  In this short story, an alien is scouting out Earth circa 1950s as a potential invasion target.  The alien has some cool tech, but his biggest ability is use hypnosis to convince any member of any intelligent species anything.  One would think that the invader would be invincible, but cracking that knot is what Russell does in the short story.

Entities is highly recommended for any SF fan.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

REVIEW: Living Canvas by Karla Brandenburg

Title: Living Canvas
Author: Karla Brandenburg
Genre: Romance
Price: $9.99 paperback
Publisher: Createspace
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Veinglory

 Audrey is facing losing her job as a sinister man takes over the company she works for. Greg, a widower with two young sons, is looking to start a new life running a scenic bed and breakfast. The reader is teased with the possibility of a holiday fling turning into a real relationship against a melange of mystery and mystical hints and clues.

Did Audrey' new boss commit murder twenty years ago? Who sent her the painting that makes a mystical connection with her? Who is the man in the silver car that follows her wherever she goes? Why is Audrey and Greg's relationship so hot-and-cold for no really good reason?

The parts of this story are strangely balanced with most of the focus on a sweet contemporary romance. But with the magical and crime elements peeking through so it is hard to work out how many of the numerous coincidences that drive the plot are meant to be accidental, magical or sinister.

Perhaps my issue with the balance is that these elements don't seem to connect. For example, Audrey has uncanny intuition and paranormal experiences but seem to have no spiritual beliefs, traditions, explanations or even curiosity about either. The police have a cavalier attitude to possible evidence for a murder, just borrowing it for a few days and then returning it.

 I found this to be an entertaining but bemusing novel, with a decent romantic core but strewn with details that never seem to quite slot together into a completely coherent story.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A word about blog tours

If you wish to invite me to join a blog tour:

1) Offer me a copy of the book to review
2) Offer to provide content for established features of the blog (e.g. 'free book friday' or 'my story')
3) Do specify the date for posting that is a realistic time away if I need to do a review (i.e. a month)
4) Do specify what the post should include to fit in with the tour
5) Do explain why I would find this book interesting and this blog tour worth participating in

DO NOT (all these have occurred, recently)
1) Lead in by saying that I don't have to review the book.  If it is not interesting enough to review, it is probably not interesting enough to promote
2)  Offer me duplicate content that will appear on a dozen other blogs
3) Offer me a generic pre-written post saying your book is the best thing since bound pages
4) Suggest I fake a review without reading the book based on your promotional materials
5) Send follow up emails demanding to know why I haven't responded to your request.  No response was my response