Deep Space: Star Carrier, Ian Douglas, Harper Voyager, ISBN 978-0-06-218380-4, 355 pgs., $7.99

Twenty years have passed since Admiral Alexander Koenig’s daring assault on the Sh’daar created a halt in the interstellar war being waged. The star carrierSh’daar,Image a collective race left behind when most of their species shifted to apparent godhood, have religiously stamped out any advance in technology beyond a certain point. Koenig’s discovery of their secrets, coupled with a daring raid almost to their homeworld, created the peace that has been eyed suspiciously since. Koenig is now president and John Gray, the fighter pilot who helped secure that victory is now commander of the America battle group. But the peace is not just uneasy among the stars. On earth the confederation is about to go to war with the North American alliance over control of resources. As a new menace enters the picture and the Sh’daar prepare to launch a new attack, civil war breaks out in the solar system. Fighting breaks out everywhere with little planning and little thought to what the future might be holding in store.

This if the fourth book in the Star Carrier series and Douglas has lost none of his stride. Sure some of the battle sequences are a bit redundant at this point but how many different ways can you describe fighter combat? This is space war and Douglas does an excellent job of detailing some of the strategic and tactical issues as well as the communication problems that arise when trying to fight in vacuum. Physics, in many ways, is not your friend in space. That’s not saying you can’t use it to your advantage.

The only issue I really had was I am not sure, given the technology that is proposed, that humans are still needed to pilot fighters. Seems to me that with all the AIs and the computers and composite materials, the human factor is the weak point. Douglas does address this early on in the book but it’s still a weak link.

I enjoyed the book as much as I have enjoyed the series and I look forward to seeing more from Douglas. Definitely recommended and if you’d like to get your own copy you can find it here:Deep Space: Star Carrier: Book Four

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By the Blood of Heroes: The Great Undead War: Book I, Joseph Nassise, Harpoer, ISBN 0-06-204875-2, 345 pgs., $14.99

The Red Baron

The Red Baron (Photo credit: jarrodvk)

It’s 1917 and the Kaiser‘s scientist’s have stumbled on a new type of gas to be used in the trenches–one that turns the dead into zombies. They’ve also discovered that if they use it on a battlefield devoid of their own living then all of the reborn dead attack those who are living, primarily the enemy soldiers. But there’s an oddity as well, and that is that occasionally, one of the new-born dead remains conscious of thought. One of these is the Red Barron, who continues to fly and shoot down British planes even though he died in a crash. When veteran American Ace, Major Jack Freeman is downed behind enemy lines and taken captive, Captain Michael, Madman Burke is recruited to go in and get him back.  Burke, and his merry band of oddball madmen, have to work their way behind enemy lines, break into a prison camp, and then return with Freeman to the allied front.

Okay, so Zombies in World War One may be stretching the whole zombie experience a bit too far, but, hey, if it’s fun then it’s worth it.  Nassise does a credible job with taking what could be just a really silly premise and keeping it pretty straightforward.  A couple of the characters are pretty stereotypical but no more so than you would find in any war movie of the period.  Making the Red Barron one of the aware zombies is a bit of a stroke of positive intelligence as you get not only a known name villain but a pivot point for some of the action.

It’s an interesting book, entertaining, fairly tight in it’s plotting with decent characters.  There is one major error in the book however. At one point the allies have one of the bad guys tied to a chair in the prisoner of war camp and they are working him over for information.  One of the Americans says, “let’s shoot him.”  And then there’s a noise outside, they leave the room.  Never to return.  I assume the guy is still sitting there, tied to that chair.  Kind of a bone head error.  I assume the book was read at least 3 times for errors so it got through each time. I read that passage 5 times just because I was sure I was missing something, some word, some thought, that would make this behavior okay.  Nope, not in there.  Ah, well, I suppose when zombies are involved you have to expect the occasional brain error.

I’d recommend it but only conditionally. If you’re not a zombie fan then there’s not going to be much here for you.  Otherwise, it’s worth picking up.

And, to get your own copy, just click here: By the Blood of Heroes: The Great Undead War: Book I

Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds, Ace, ISBN 9780441020430, $8.99, 560 pgs

Terminal World cover

Terminal World cover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Quillion is a pathologist, working in a morgue where the frequent bodies that seem to collect on the outside ledges of Spearpoint, the tall, miles high structure where everyone lives, are taken for final disposition. Quillion has a specialty–Angels, those beings that fall from the celestial levels. Angels are modified humans who were changed so long ago that no one really remembers how or why. But that’s the way with all of the denizens of Spearpoint, which is divided into very specific zones, the boundaries of which you need medication to cross.

One day an angel is brought to Quillion but before he can cut into it he realizes it is alive and bearing a message–for him. The message is simple: get out, get all the way out, they are coming for you and your survival will see their plotting come to naught. And so, Quillion meets with a friend, one of the few in Spearpoint who realize that he is also an Angel, albeit one transformed to survive in the lower levels. Soon Quillion is matched with a guide who starts him on a journey that none of them could imagine in their wildest dreams. Their travels will take them across the planet and into decision points that will determine whether everyone survives or not.

This book has dirigibles and I have to admit that I enjoy books with dirigibles. Besides that the book has a very interesting story and a hodge podge of characters that bring the phrase steampunk to fruition. Reynolds has built a very interesting world constructed around a series of circumstances in the past that have left both artifacts and events that trigger change through the entire society. And to make things more interesting, everything is changing and the circle of characters around the protagonist are key to resolving the conflicts that are becoming more common place and more intense.

This is a fun book. Besides dirigibles, the book has interesting characters, more than one twist in a complex plot, and a universe built around some very intriguing concepts. I liked the way that Reynolds worked his characters through the settings and conflicts that arose through the natural consequences related to what was happening in the world. In simple terms, it all made sense even though it was, at the same time, fantastical. Definitely highly recommended.

To get your copy, click here: Terminal World

Uncharted, Christopher Golden, Del Rey, ISBN 0-978-345-52217-7, $15.00, 322 pgs.

English: Uncharted's series logo Italiano: Log...

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Nathan Drake is a treasure hunter, rogue and all around good guy.  On his way back to the US from a near escape in South America he gets contacted by old friend and often business partner, Victor (Sully) Sullivan.  Seems that Sully’s old friend, a world famous archeologist has just been found murdered in Manhattan.  Teaming up with the dead man’s daughter, the three decide to figure out just what the old man was up to.  soon, they are dodging assassins, traveling the globe, quipping and fighting it out as they search for three long lost labyrinths.

I have to admit right here that I did not finish the book. It did try, honest, a couple of times.  But, the writing and the editing kept getting in the way.  Here’s a couple of examples.  The book opens with a wild jeep ride through the jungle, the  kind where the driver barely manages to keep control.  To make things worse, the jeep is being chased by two more jeeps full of bad guys who are shooting at them and bullets fly all around.  So, what better time than for the driver of the jeep to have some witty conversation with the passenger?  Did I mention it’s a long conversation that continues as the chase gets more and more intense?  Here’s the next problem a few pages later, and I quote “…walked toward Drake with his gun held down at his side.”  Two sentences later we get this, again, I quote “He pulled a pistol from an armpit holster and strode over.”  Must have done that with the hand not holding the gun at his side I guess, although it’s really not clear.  And, yes, the two sentences are about the same character.  And there’s more but that should give you some idea of the quality of writing/editing here.  I say writing/editing because it’s not clear where these issues arose but they certainly should have been caught by either the writer in a final draft process or through the use of final readers, or the editor.  These kind of errors are like being poked in the eye with  stick.  Every minute I need to spend going back and re-reading passages because I’m confused is time I am being pulled from the story.  Not good for narrative flow.

Perhaps it’s because this book is based on a video game and perhaps it was just rushed to publication but errors of this nature are not really excusable.  And maybe it’s the whole video game thing that entices the writer to think they can write very visually, because certainly the scene with the jeep in he jungle can be done on film or in a video game.  But it does not work in print.  You can, in one sentence describe how horribly difficult it is to drive and then in the next sentence have the driver take all attention off the driving to banter with the passenger.  James Bond can do it, sure, but we also see that situation unfolding so we can see it happens in a way that works visually.

I certainly can not recommend the book based on what I read.  On the other hand if you are a big fan of Uncharted then maybe you want to take a shot at it.  Regardless, this is one book that it would make some sense for you to read a few pages before plunking down three Lincolns.

To get your own copy, click here: Uncharted: The Fourth Labyrinth

Retribution Falls, Chris Wooding, Ballantine Books, ISBN 978-0-345-522511, $16.00, 461 pgs

Steampunks - models Liza James and Jared Axelr...

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Darian Frey is Captain of the Ketty Jay, an airship running the lesser ports and landings of Vardia. He and his crew all have checkered pasts–smugglers, criminals, murders, oddities–and reasons to stay away from the law, authority, and remembering. It’s a marginal living–carrying marginal cargo for marginal profit, occasional low level piracy, doing the odd job for the odd price for the odd customer–but it keeps them flying and keeps them away from the past.

Until Frey takes on what looks like a fairly simple job for a large payoff. All he has to do is ambush a ship in a desolate region of mountains and make off with the cargo. The payoff would be enough to keep him happy for the rest of his life. That he’s going to keep the payoff from his crew hardly bothers him. He figures there will be enough other plunder to keep them happy. Besides ,they’re just crew. And then it all goes horribly wrong. The ship to be ambushed has fighter protection, more and better than expected, and a shot that should have simply disabled it instead destroys it, and everyone on board. Shortly after, the Captain and crew of the Ketty Jay find themselves the most wanted individuals on the planet.

Now, Darian Frey has to use all his wits and skills, as well as those of his crew, to figure out what happened and how to get out of it. That they were set up is obvious, but the who and the why still eludes him. And it looks like the secret may lie in Retribution Falls, legendary hidden pirate town and safe refuge for all who manage to make their way there. Of course, first he has to figure out where it is and then he has to avoid getting shot out of the sky on his way there.

This book is almost classic steam punk. It’s an adventure on an unknown world where great ships ply the airways using chemical reactions and steel nerves. The characters are a hodge-podge of criminals, people caught on the wrong side of the law, circumstances gone horribly awry at the wrong time, and one or two who just have no where else to go. Essentially, the book is about two processes; figuring out the mystery of the set up and the gelling of a group of disparate individuals into a crew.

I found the book very entertaining. The universe that Chris Wooding has developed is intriguing and bigger than the book. This is a good thing. There are bits around the edges that are mentioned but never really explained which lends a credibility to the plot. The writing is sharp and to the point, the pacing is generally quick, and the characters are definitely an interesting bunch.

I recommend the book to anyone looking for a steam punk fix or just a rousing good adventure.

To get the book go here:

Retribution Falls

The Griff, a Graphic Novel, Christopher Moore and Ian Corson, William Morrow, ISBN 978-0-06-197752-7, $22.99

Map of USA with Florida highlighted

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So, Earth has been invaded.  Not by giant robots or by little gray men or by huge spaceships but by eggs.  Turns out the eggs contain alien dragon-like creatures that immediately go on a rampage of destruction.  They take out infrastructure of importance and lots of people.  Lots and lots of people.  Turns out our defenses don’t work because they are based on attacking things made of metal and not meat.  (I’m going to have to check on that since I’m pretty sure the heat seekers would still work and there are plenty of missiles that are still point and click and lots of things are made of ceramics or carbon fiber and can still be targeted and destroyed pretty easily by missiles).  In any case, they don’t work here and soon there is aught left but big, alien dragon like things and a few humans.  Two of the humans are Steve and Mo in New York.  Two others are Oscar and Liz in Florida.  The trick they have to figure out is how to survive in a world that is nearly destroyed and which is now ruled by serious predators. 

Then, suddenly, one of the ships crashes.  (Did I mention that the plot is a bit weak in places?)  No one really knows why, it just does, although we do sort of find out later.  The Griff (short for Hippogryph).  (I know, I know, if you follow this logic they should probably be called The Drag, but you see where that goes.)  So, Mo and Steve are in NY and meet up with Curt.  (They do meet other people but they tend not to last long as the Griff chew ’em up pretty fast.)  Off they go to Florida because they heard of the crashed ship.   (Look, I don’t make up the plot, I just report on it.)  So, in any case, off to Florida.  Along the way they meet a guy in a tank (who ends up just fading away after a few pages) and continue on until they get to Florida and meet up with Liz.  Oh yeah, Oscar gets eaten too.  Liz, it turns out, has imprinted a few of the Griff and soon they are merrily on their way to sneak into the new spaceship that has arrived, evidently to investigate how the old one crashed.

I won’t give any more away other than to say that this is a graphic novel, which  anyone over the age of twenty should recognize by the old name, comic book.  And, remember, comic books have never been the residence of solid plot or logic.  That being said, it does have pretty pictures and it is word light so you can finish it easily in one sitting and it’s pretty much a straight line from beginning to end so not that hard to follow either.  It is definitely entertaining which, if you are buying one of these I would think you are looking for.  I enjoyed it and if you consider it akin to a B movie then you will probably enjoy it too.  Assuming, of course, that you like B movies.  Hey what do you have to lose.  Well, $22 bucks, but you know that going in so use the information wisely.

I should also mention that Christopher Moore is known for his humor and this graphic novel is full of funny stuff (well funny if you are a fourteen year old boy or happen to have the brain of a fourteen year old boy).  I have two.  In their original jars.  Rarely used.

Sure, it’s easy to make mock but I’m built that way.  Which is to say graphic novels are built this way so you should go in expecting nothing less.

Click below to go to Amazon and buy.

The Griff: A Graphic Novel

The Native Star, M. K. Hobson, Bantam Spectra, ISBN 978-0-553-59265-8, 387 pgs., $7.99

Hecate, illustration by Stéphane Mallarmé, in ...

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I try to keep an open mind when it comes to books. In other words I have to remind myself not to judge a book by its cover, or blurb, or title, or author, or any of the other ways we tend to quickly decide we are not going to like something. I have to admit that often my initial thought was a correct one. But, just as often (statistically speaking a negative often and a positive often are equal just as often as not) I find myself on the other side, glad that I decided to pick up a book and move past the cover.

This time it’s kind of a mixed bag. I did finish the book, which certainly says a lot. I don’t finish books that I find are not capturing my interest. On the other hand I have to admit that my bias toward language kept kicking in. I have a harder time getting my brain wrapped around Victorian set novels than any others mostly due to language.

So, Native Star is the story (the continuing story) of local Witch Emily Edwards. Emily has plans for a better life but they go awry when an enchanted artifact falls into her hands during a zombie outbreak. More accurately the artifact falls into her hand, becoming part of her flesh. The artifact is part of the vein of mineral that generates magic in the world and it has selected, sort of, Emily, to put things aright.

Emily is joined by one Dreadnought Stanton, a Warlock from New York City who has a shady past and is more full of himself than any could imagine. Emily finds she must join this Warlock on a journey all over the country to try to figure out what is going on with her hand and to, hopefully, set things straight. Along the way they run across giant racoons, a native American holy woman, nefarious evildoers, double crossing scoundrels, and more different kinds of magic users than you could shake a magic hand at.  There’s also a bit of love going around.

By the end of the book most things are resolved although the getting there is a bit complex as Hobson has created a multi-layered world where magic operates under differing properties and there is no real agreement on what it is all about or how it should be controlled, if at all.

The story is actually a fairly straightforward quest tale and the book is a combination of romance, fantasy and historical drama. I think you would have to like at least two of those to really enjoy the book itself. In terms of craft, it is well done, consistent, well paced and different enough in setting and character to keep it interesting.

I find myself wavering in how best to recommend it and to whom. My best suggestion would be to read a few pages and see for yourself. There is already a sequel out.

If you’d like to pursue purchase, you can just click here:The Native Star–Buy Me Now!!