I actually had to listen to this audiobook twice since I couldn’t remember if I had listened to it or not. Turns out I had but the refresher was necessary since I had seemingly forgotten quite a bit since I last checked in with Currie’s Oddysey series. While enjoyed the first novel there is a sort of generic feel to this series that is difficult to same. This is a bit of a shame since Currie sets forth some fascinating mysteries in The Heart of Matter. In the first novel Currie introduces a ship taking its maiden voyaging using an untested, instantaneous FTL drive. Of course, on this maiden voyage the Odyssey encounters a seemingly human alien species that is facing a terribly world-destroying enemy. The Heart of Matter picks up where the previous novel ended as Captain Weston and his new allies are back on Earth recovering from their ordeal against the Drasin. Fleet brass isn’t necessarily pleased that Captain Westin has embroiled Earth in yet another conflict but is at least understanding the necessity to intervene in what would have amounted to genocide. The novel sees the Odyssey retasked on a diplomatic mission to establish a more formal relationship between Earth and the Priminae people; a task that involves getting the Priminae ground forced trained and ready to face the Drasin.
The Mote in God’s Eye is a classic of the genre and one of the most well regarded tales of first contact. The plot is fairly straight forward: in the future humanity has developed the ability for instantaneous transportation across the vast distances of space thus allowing the colonization of many worlds across countless systems. After a mission putting down a rebellion the vessel MacArthur is undergoing repairs and refueling when a probe from a distant system suddenly arrives. Dispatched to investigate the crew of the MacArthur find within a dead alien creature. This discovery sends the crew of the MacArthur on a mission to the distant Mote to discover the origin of the alien probe vessel.
Imagine, if you will, the perfect town; immaculately groomed lawns, quiet streets, perfect houses, smiling faces, and no crime to speak of. Wink, New Mexico is just such a town though as Mona Bright learns upon her arrival such perfection comes at a price. There are places in Wink that you just don’t go, things you just don’t do, and thoughts you aren’t aloud to think. There are secrets hidden behind the immaculate walls and picturesque homes and the Mesa it sits beneath, home to an abandoned research facility, casts a long and deep shadow on the denizens of Wink.
Robert Jackson Bennett’s American Elsewhere has one of the most perfect premises to get me interested. The novel’s opening chapter provides a tantalizing glimpse that things aren’t quite what they seem offering a nice taste of things to come before slowing things down a bit. American Elsewhere is a delicately paced novel focusing on atmosphere over action. Mona Bright, an ex-cop, discovers during the reading of her father’s will that her mother once owned a house in a town called Wink. With the inheritance set to expire soon Mona sets off to find Wink which is a town that has become rather difficult to find in recent years. Arriving in Wink, Mona is met with a strange vision of a town seemingly right out of the 1950s where everybody knows everybody and nobody ever leaves.
Peter Clines Ex-Heroes has quickly become one my favorite series in recent years. In fact, it is just about the only zombie-related series I’m currently reading or listening to. The Ex-Heroes series takes place in a world ravaged by a tide of undead (referred to in the series as ex-humans) where the last vestiges of humanity in the Los Angeles area are defended by a group of superheroes. Throughout the series Clines has done an excellent job of creating heroes who feel similar to more familiar comic book heroes while maintaining enough originality to let them stand on their own. Together with the people they defend the heroes of Peter Clines’ series have survived numerous ordeals from battles with former L. A. gangs, the obligitory hordes of zombies, to the remnants of s secret military project. Ex-Purgatory shakes things up a bit with a bit of a cold open. Readers are introduced to a young girl in the midst of a therapy session as she discusses with her doctor the fact that every night she dreams of a world full of zombies and heroes; a world that she insists is real. Immediately after readers are thrust into the life of George Bailey, who series regulars will immediately recognize as St. George/The Mighty Dragon, however this is a George whose life is fairly normal and who lives and works in a L. A. seemingly untouched by neither zombie or apocalypse. It is a clever play, clever enough to make even me wonder if what we had read before in the previous novels was reality or dream.
The sequel to Honsinger’s To Honor You Call Us continues the story immediately following the events of that novel. You can read my review of it here and much of the same commentary there applies here. Honsinger turns out another exciting and action packed story in For Honor We Stand, continuing the adventures of the Cumberland and her crew. Honsinger, walks a rather deft line between space opera and military sci-fi offering fast-paced action and interesting characters in universe grounded with a distinct sense of history. While the action of novel is intense and near constant the most vivid impressions left are from Honsinger’s deft characterization of Dr. Sahin and Commander Robicheaux. One particular moment, as Commander Robicheaux speaks to a bunch of middies about his time as a midshipman marked a major turning point for the Commander in his struggle PTSD. I think it well worth pointing out that in a novel packed with exciting naval combat and massive revelations about the human war effort that one of the novel’s standout moments came in a rather sedate scene of conversation. Similarly speaking, a quiet scene between Dr. Sahin and Commander Robicheaux about the fate of the war showed a strong sense of character and deftly illustrated how these two characters from wildly different cultural backgrounds have bonded over the profound loss caused by war. It is moments like these make this novel stand tall alongside more established authors in the field.
If you are a fan of military science fiction with a strong naval tradition H. Paul Honisnger’s Men of War series is definitely one you should be reading. My personal favorite duo of military science fiction authors: David Weber and Jack Campbell are now tentatively joined by H. Paul Honsinger (he has a rather large quantity of work to catch up with). To Honor You Call Us was an amazingly accomplished debut novel and For Honor We Stand builds upon a strong foundation of characterization, world-building, and action by raising the stakes in each regard. I am definitely awaiting the third Men of War novel Brothers in Battle with no small amount of excitement.
Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos is another new book in the military sci-fi genre from an up and coming author given a boost by solid reviews and the advent of Amazon’s new ventures into print publishing. Terms of Enlistment is a novel that falls directly in line with the likes of Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War and Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. On the Earth of 2108 life is hard. Humanity has wrecked the environment and the majority of the population is limited to living in massive crime-ridden welfare tenements. One of the only ways out of the tenements is through enlistment (the other being the colony lottery). Andrew Grayson, lacking the pull to get the most out of the colony lottery, opts for enlistment. The novel is fairly straight forward following Andrew as he makes his way through basic training and is later assigned to active duty in one of the military’s three major branches.
While my first love is fantasy I have also grown to love military science fiction. I constantly look forward to the latest Honor Harrington novel from David Weber or Lost Fleet novel from Jack Campbell. When it comes to my military science fiction I tend to enjoy those that most strongly resemble naval warfare novels though instead of sailing the sea the ships sail between the stars. It’s a bit odd since I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have the patience to read say a C. S. Forester novel, but set that thing in space and suddenly I’m all in. With the advent of self-publishing there has been something of a resurgence in military science fiction with authors like Ryk Brown, Evan Currie, B. V. Larson, Thomas DePrima, Ian Douglas, not to mention countless others leading a new charge of self-published military science fiction. The relatively low cost of entry in the self-publishing world has many of those authors already having released upwards of 10 novel each over the last six years or so. With Amazon’s introduction of its 47North imprint some of these authors are getting mainstream paperback releases, and some even getting high-production audiobooks from major audiobook publishers like Tantor and Brilliance.
H. Paul Honsinger, while not as prolific in terms of output as some the aforementioned authors, has created a taught and exciting series called Man of War. The first title, To Honor You Call Us was originally released for Kindle (and via CreateSpace) in 2012 and was recently re-released via 47North (paperback) and Brilliance (audio) in 2014. To Honor You Call Us, sees brash young Captain Max Robichaux, taking command of the Terran Union destroyer USS Cumberland, a problem ship with a poor record. The Terran Union is at war with the Krag, who see the extermination of humanity as a religious necessity. Honsinger, paints the Krag as an uncompromising foe willing to go to extreme lengths to exterminate humanity from the universe. Readers, are told that early on in the war the Krag released a virulent gynophage on the human populace which ravaged the female population. This is important to note as there are almost no women in the entirety of the series since, as a result of the plague, women are no longer allowed to serve in the Navy; they are too precious to risk in combat. There is definitely some discomfort with this aspect of the novel since we don’t really know how women are treated or how they live their lives. In fact you could probably write a who novel just on the social, political, and emotional impact of a bioweapon designed to take out the female population. However, Honsinger really relegates this to the background and while it’s important to Robichaux’s history (he watched his mother and sister die, then his father slip away into depression) it doesn’t legitimately impact the events of the novel directly.
Spell Robbers is a fast paced action novel aimed at kids around 8-12 (or grades 3-7). In the novel the young Ben Warner gets invited to join an after school “science club” where he learns how to manipulate reality on a quantum level. While grounded in science, the title gives a nob to the tried (and some might say tired) adage from Arthur C. Clarke that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Overall, Kirby has penned an entertaining novel that sure to fire the imagination of children. However, Spell Robbers never really rises above the level of cool and exciting, despite the many chances it has to do so. Children’s literature, when it’s at its best, has a sort of universal appeal. As an adult I am delighted by the worlds of characters like Percy Jackson and Harry Potter. There is a level of detail there that helps the fiction really stand out. It is a level detail that Spell Robbers never quite seems to rise to; though I think it could.As an action/adventure novel Spell Robbers is absolutely top-notch, but I think it definitely could have been more.
It has taken Scott Sigler quite a bit of time to finish out his Infected series. The first two novel in the series, Infected and Contagious, were released in 2008 and I reviewed the audiobook version of both around the same time (here and here). The final volume in Sigler’s series, Pandemic, was released almost 5 years since I reviewed Contagious. I didn’t go back and take a look at the previous two volumes before jumping into Pandemic; a fact which made someone leery going into this novel. Thankfully, Pandemic is an extraordinarily approachable novel; not so approachable that it could be easily enjoyed in you missed Infected and Contagious but enough that the distance between the novels isn’t quite that noticeable. Needless to say spoilers for the first novel are ahead so consider yourselves warned.
Before reading this review you should all understand that one of my favorite movies is Event Horizon. For those who aren’t familiar, Event Horizon, is essentially a haunted house story set in space wherein an intrepid group of spacers investigate the titular ship, the Event Horizon, which years ago mysteriously disappeared during the test of the first FTL drive. Event Horizon isn’t a great movie but much like Alien it combines science fiction and horror in a fun and entertaining manner (see also: Pandorum, Eden Log, and Europa Report). As such the blending of science fiction and horror has always been one of my favorite areas of genre fiction (I do less well with video games, I’m looking at you Dead Space). I say all this to warn you that my look at Adam Christopher’s The Burning Dark is not going to be through a completely objective lens.