Wednesday, January 16, 2013

REVIEW: Through Struggle, The Stars

Title: Through Struggle, The Stars
Genre: science fiction, military
Price: $2.99 (ebook) / $13.99 (paperback)
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
ISBN: 978-1461195443
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

Through Struggle, The Stars is Lumpkin’s first novel, and wow is it good.  His next book, The Desert of Stars, is due out early this year, and I’m putting it on my “to buy” list.  I purchased Through Struggle based on a series of reviews by other writers.  As a reader of military SF, and as somebody currently working on a space opera set on another star system, it’s right up my alley.

The novel is set in the year 2139, and stars Neil Mercer and Rand Castillo, two very junior American officers on their first off-planet posting.  Neil is an Ensign on a US destroyer, Rand a Second Lieutenant assigned to a ground-based aerospace artillery unit.  In Lumpkin’s world, the US has become a second-tier power, with Japan and China being the world’s first tier nations.  When the latter two nations go to war, the first war in space in decades, the US at first officially tries neutrality, but quickly gets sucked in, fighting with the Japanese against China. 

I have several quibbles about the book, which I’ll just comment on here.  First, the US and most militaries have adopted naval ranks for their space fleets.  Although a Navy man myself, I felt this needed a bit of explanation.  Second, India is conspicuously absent from the geopolitical situation, which as one of the world’s top two countries by population felt odd.  Lastly, Neil, who has already killed dozens in a space battle, becomes squeamish about killing at a too-convenient-for-the-author point of the book. 

But those are quibbles.  I loved this book!  Lumpkin goes to extraordinary lengths to make his space battles as realistic as possible.  The only piece of handwavium on evidence are artificial wormholes, but even those are created by sending conventional ships travelling slower than light out ahead.  Fuel, weapons, speeds, the ability to detect fleets at stupendous distances, all of this is kept at a realistic level. 

What I also love are the characters.  Many space operas use as their lead characters Admirals or other senior officers.  Here, we see things at the deckplate level.  Also, in many space operas, battles always go to plan, at least for the good guys.  Not so in Through Struggle.  There’s one space battle in particular that reminds me of an American battle during the Guadalcanal campaign.  I suspect Lumpkin read Neptune’s Inferno, as did I.  In fact, he may be setting up for a rerun of the Guadacanal campaign, with the US playing the Japanese role.

In short, Through Struggle, The Stars is highly recommended.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

REVIEW: Singapore and the supernatural

I first heard about Singapore and the Supernatural by Regina Long (iUniverse, Amazon) from a press release.  I immediately suspected I would not like the book. A supermodel gets magical powers and saves the world?  Oh, please.  But because I don't believe in making assumptions based on stereotypes, I decided to challenge my preconceptions and get a copy.

I didn't like it.

On the up side the story had an interesting setting and it is well enough written that you can tell what is going on.There are some repeated glitches like long info-dumps and incorrect word usage (e.g. crotch instead of crouch, calling large cats "canines"). But if that was a deal breaker I would have given up reviewing a long time ago.

The plot whirls around a lot but basically involved a young woman who starts seeing ghosts and eventually realizes she need to bury an old treasure to end a terrible curse on her family.

Unfortunately the main character is shallow and racist, an outlook that permeates a narrative where gays are "faggoty", Greeks are "greasy", and calling people racial epithets is apparently perfectly acceptable behavior.There is no doubt in my mind that the author wishes us to root for her heroine and her love interest despite their only obvious virtues being that she is beautiful and he is rich. Almost all of the characters are shrill, immature and frequently cruel.

I will not say too much to avoid spoilers but feel readers should be warned, if you consider rape an unforgivable crime you may want to avoid this book.


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Over the last few weeks I have kept track of the number of reviews coming in. It is not a huge amount, but certainly greatly exceeds our review output. So if any of you guys would like to join the review team, do let me know.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

What A POD Peep Reads - The Gripping Hand and Outies

Title: The Gripping Hand
Title: Outies
Author: Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven
Author: J. R. Pournelle
Genre: SF
Genre: SF
Price: $6.35 (ebook)
Price: $2.65 (ebook) $14.03 (paperback
Publisher: Amazon Digital
Publisher: New Brooklyn Press
ISBN: 978-0615434148
Point of Sale: Amazon
Point of Sale: Amazon

I’ve long been a fan of Jerry Pournelle, but much of his work is out of print.  Fortunately, he decided to e-publish his backlist, and so I purchased his novel The Gripping Hand, which was a sequel to perhaps his most famous work, The Mote in God’s Eye.  Amazon being more than a big river in Brazil, they pointed out that his daughter Jennifer had written an authorized sequel to The Gripping Hand, entitled Outies.  In for a dime, in for a dollar I thought, and so I downloaded that ebook as well.

On a technical note, The Gripping Hand ebook is very much a self-published work.  The original (now out-of-print) novel had several maps and charts.  These are reproduced in the book, but they are very clearly just scans from a printed copy of the book.  I suspect that the ebook text is OCR, although well-edited, but it was still quite readable.  Outies, on the other hand, was created in 2011, and so is a full-fledged member of the ebook world. 

The books are true sequels of each other and The Mote in God’s Eye.  Basically, in Mote, elements of the Second Empire of Man discover aliens in the vicinity of the Coal Sack Nebula.  Pournelle postulates a red giant star, which when viewed from a certain set of stars makes the Coal Sack look like the eye of a hooded man.  The aliens appear to come from this Eye, using a lightsail powered by a green laser.  The green laser is seen as a “mote” in the Eye of God by some locals, resulting in the aliens being christened “moties.”

The aliens are the first encountered by man, and are seen as a giant threat to mankind.  Fortunately, humans are able to prevent the aliens from leaving their star system, although at great expense.  The Gripping Hand starts 25 year after the events of Mote.  Horace Bury, a wealthy merchant, has (not entirely voluntarily) dedicated his life to making sure the Moties don’t get out.  It seems that they have gotten out, which causes great alarm and activity and propels the events of the book.  Outies then takes place a year later, and wraps up the events of the second book.

It’s very difficult to follow the events of these two books unless you read all three in order, as they build very closely on one another.  To a certain extent, that’s a shame, and since Gripping Hand came out almost 20 years after Mote, this linkage resulted in Gripping Hand getting some bad reviews.  In fairness to the reviewers, Gripping Hand is simply less “novel” than Mote – after all, we’ve already discovered the aliens.

I found Outies much the better of the two books.  Jennifer Pournelle was involved in reconstruction in Iraq, and her experiences greatly informed the events of Outies.  In addition, the book frankly had a more coherent plot and a stronger ending.  Still, I found both books entertaining, and frankly you have to read all three to understand what’s going on.