Saturday, February 21, 2015

REVIEW: A Sword Into Darkness

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.


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.


Sunday, February 08, 2015

REVIEW: Riding the Red Horse

Title: Riding the Red Horse
Editor: Tom Kratman and Vox Day
Genre: military SF / military non-fiction
Price: $4.99 (ebook)
Publisher: Castalia House
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I am not a fan of Vox Day.  He holds views diametrically opposed to mine on, if not everything, most things, and has a tendency to be very controversial.  I’m also not a fan of Colonel Tom Kratman, although I do respect his service.  Having said that, I've never felt that I should restrict myself to reading only books written by people I like, and so I took a flyer on Riding the Red Horse.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, there were a series of anthologies entitled There Will Be War. The books were a mixture of military SF and non-fiction.  Red Horse is a revival of the same concept, and some of the same authors (notably Jerry Pournelle) appear in both anthologies.  The basic concept of both books is history has not ended, and Man (and probably Non-Man) will always fight wars.

Red Horse has 26 separate works, half non-fiction and half short stories.  I found all of them well-written and thought-provoking, even if some of them I didn't agree with.  In short, I can recommend this unreservedly for fans of military SF.  Some noteworthy articles were:

Sucker Punch – the fiction debut of Eric S. Raymond, this is a near-future story in which China invades Taiwan.  I had an issue with some of the naval tactics employed, but the story as a whole was reminiscent of Tom Clancy’s better work.

Understanding 4th Generation War – a non-fiction article by William S. Lind, this was well-written and provided a good summary of an important concept.  I (and I suspect Col. Kratman) don’t agree with the concept, but that’s in part the point of an anthology like this.

A Reliable Source – Vox Day’s contribution to the book, which makes a point that should be obvious but apparently isn’t, namely the weakness of aerial drone warfare is the base “back home.”

The Hot Equations – a non-fiction article by Ken Burnside, a genuine Rocket Scientist ™, which says “there ain’t no such thing as stealth in space.”

The General’s Guard – written by Brad Torgersen, this is an interesting story on women in combat and on the idea that, as Stalin supposedly said, quantity is a quality all its own. 


Wednesday, February 04, 2015

SFWA Opens to Consideration of Self-Published Authors

"....the membership of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has approved bylaw changes that enable SFWA to accept self-publication and small-press credits for Active and Associate memberships in the organization. We are using existing levels of income but are now allowing a combination of advances and income earned in a 12 month period to rise to the qualifying amounts."