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Review: A Galaxy Unknown by Thomas DePrima

August 22, 2011 4 comments

I had an opportunity via the Lendle service to borrow A Galaxy Unknown by Thomas DePrima.  I had seen the book on my Amazon recommendations several times, probably due to the Space Opera novels that I’ve rated there.

The book has many elements that I have enjoyed in many other series — for example,  the Honor Harrington novels by David Weber, the Seaforth Saga by David Feintuch, the Horatio Hornblower age of sail novels by C.S. Forester, and the Lost Fleet series (my review) by Jack Campbell —

  • An individual suddenly catapulted into command.
  • Having to lead by his/her wits, intelligence, motivation, daring, more so than by brawn.
  • Loneliness of command.

The difference between the above novels and A Galaxy Unknown is the former books’ strength of writing style and plotting.  This book seems still unpolished and too linear.

The first issue is the extreme “Mary Sue” nature of the main character, Jenetta Carver.  The skills she gains are more than convenient and unreal:  extreme beauty, a reshaped perfect body, enhanced longevity, quick healing, and pain becomes a non-issue (virtually a pleasurable experience.)

Another oddity:  the character is disqualified from command during her time in the Academy.  Her instructors find that she is indecisive and is unable to make the quick decisions required of an officer.  The author describes a single incident in one of her courses where she fails a critical engineering test and feels somewhat scarred.  However, once revived from a 10-year sleep in ship escape pod, she immediately becomes both creative and decisively competent.  Without much explanation.

In the Academy, Jenetta excels in the sciences.  I do think that it would have been more natural for some of her later command decisions to include her strengths in astrophysics or computer sciences to resolve the issue.  Perhaps the crew wouldn’t understand how exactly she was intending to get them out of the mess, but she’d come through anyway.

Other Oddities:

Weird stilted language.  I appreciate that the author suggests that books shouldn’t be dumbed down to the lowest level, but I suggest that many of the 50 cent words were contrived.

I think there were several jarring editing flaws:

  • insure vs. ensure
  • it’s vs its
  • innumerous vs innumerable

Virtually every character is described by height as if this were some magical characteristic that defines them.  It became a bit distracting.

Despite its flaws, I did enjoy the adventure and have picked up the second book in the series to see how the character grows and whether the plotting becomes tighter.

3 1/2  out of 5 stars (finished August 14, 2011)

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Currently reading:  The Skies of Pern by Anne McCaffrey & Valor at Vauzlee by Thomas DePrima.

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Review: Citadel by John Ringo


Ringo continues his Troy Rising trilogy in this direct sequel to Live Free or Die.

In Citadel, the reader is introduced to two new POV characters:  Dana “Comet” Parker , an engineer turned shuttle pilot, and “Butch” Allen, a space-vacuum welder. While some readers may be put off by two seemingly irrelevant protagonists, I found it rather refreshing. In many space opera series, the authors often concentrate too heavily on the high profile strategists and charismatic action figures (like Vernon Tyler in the first book) with all of the many talented officers, engineers, construction workers, military grunts, etc. as mere bit players…if mentioned at all. But here, Ringo can answer the reader’s questions about null-G training, construction complications, and hazards of “the dark of space” without resorting to info dumps.  And while Vernon is definitely the moving hand and mind behind the defense of Earth, he couldn’t do it without these people. It’s similar to my enjoyment of the Star Wars X-Wing and Wraith Squadron novels rather than Jedi story after Jedi story.

For those who miss the Tyler character, he makes a strong presence in the second half of the book.

After finally forcing Earth’s erstwhile benefactors, the Glatun, to support Earth against the Horvath who were menacing the planet and demanding tribute in exchange for not dropping devastating missiles on major cities, a new alien race turns its eyes on Earth. It’s a race against time whether Earth can rebuild it’s defenses, complete several battlestations, and develop a new source for energy after an embargo. The Glatun had clandestinely released much of their technological plans to Earth (having determined that the Sol system might ultimately be their salvation since the Rangora/Horvath alliance would target them first), but it is all up to Earth including Vernon Tyler’s companies, the US led defense department, and the civil government.

Some other thoughts:

  • This book is a lot less hard science than the previous one, which was a relief to me, and much more character driven. I did find the military and corporate acronyms to be a bit annoying. I swear there were whole sentences of nothing but random letters.
  • I did enjoy a peek of the Rangora strategy, both militarily and bureaucratically. Although perhaps not alien per se, these kind of machinations are always fun to me.
  • I liked the discussion about Rangora confusion about Earth wars.  Why are certain battles (the last stand at Thermopylae and the Alamo) celebrated when the battles themselves were lost?  Why don’t Terran “tribes” utterly destroy their enemies (World Wars) and even rebuild them (US and Japan)?

The series concludes with recently released The Hot Gate.

4 out of 5 stars (finished June 19, 2011)

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Currently reading: Dragonsdawn by Anne McCaffrey & Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

Review: Starship: Rebel by Mike Resnick

Mike Resnick’s penultimate book in his Starship series is Rebel.  In the previous books, Cole and the crewmembers of the Teddy R are somewhat fooling around, trying out different roles in the Inner Frontier.  In this book, he has to take a serious stance after his best friend and alien first officer, Forrice, is captured and then tortured by a captain of the Republic Navy.  This brutal treatment and the dawning realization that his Navy is preying on colony worlds, merchant ships, and business “men”, leads Captain Cole to begin building a larger fleet (from one ship to forty to over a thousand!).  Its mission: keep the Navy out of the Frontier worlds — let these worlds live in peace.

Rebel is a more grim book in tone than its predecessors.  Now there is a larger goal.  Now Cole must use his notoriety and charisma to enlist the aid of quasi-military, quasi-shady ships and crew to deny the Navy any foothold in the Frontier.

One quibble with the writing — and I suppose it might be more obvious with having listened to the audiobooks in quick succession — is the frequent recapping of prior events and re-using many of the same lines and gags.  For example, Resnick overuses the word “sardonic”, repeats Cole’s mantra that wars are not about being willing to die for a cause but making sure that the enemy dies for his, and re-uses some banter lines between Cole and his security chief a few too many times.

All-in-all, the pace remains furious and there are enough ship battles and moments of strategic insight to satisfy any fan of space opera.

The series:

  1. Mutiny
  2. Pirate
  3. Mercenary
  4. Rebel
  5. Flagship

4 out of 5 stars (finished March 6, 2011)

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Currently reading:  Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom, Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris,  Darkspell by Katherine Kerr, & Starship:  Flagship by Mike Resnick

 

Review: Starship: Mercenary by Mike Resnick

After precipitating a Mutiny and then trying out the life of a Pirate, Wilson Cole and the crew of the Theodore Roosevelt take up the mantle of Mercenary in this third adventure of Mike Resnick’s Starship series.

One of my peeves from the second book was that Captain Cole exposed himself to danger too often rather than using his officers and crew to take the lead on various missions.  This lessens a bit in this book as several of the officer-level crew point this out.  While Cole is still obviously in control, he doesn’t have to be the center of attention for every incident.

Another miscellaneous item:  I really like Cole’s nonchalance during crises.  When a battle or a deadline is soon, but not imminent, the author has Captain Cole head to the mess hall for a quick bite or coffee, or to the rest room (after the coffee!).  This suggests a man who has fought in many battles before, but who (1) wants to put his crew at ease and (2) realizes that one can plan and plan but in the hours before a battle, one must recharge his batteries.

Another interesting incident is that one of the Republic’s enemy fleet captains, disenchanted with his government, military, and the war in general, joins up with the Teddy R.  It was refreshing for the author to comment that the enemy can be noble and true — sometimes it is difficult to tell who is really in the right (if anyone) — but moral, ethical behavior can transcend nations at war.

In this book, the Teddy R must face its biggest challenge to date.  After taking on a number of mercenary contracts (each of which is vetted to ensure that they don’t violate Cole’s sense of ethics), he must defend a giant space station / floating city using only five ships.  In revenge for being permanently barred from the station due to a drunken rage where he destroys property, a warlord decides that no being will ever use the station again.  In addition, Cole’s protégé Val (for Valkyrie) joins up with the warlord.  Can Cole find a way to save thousands of lives and redeem Val?

This series continues to be a fast read, with interesting characters and situations, some humor, fast action, and a nice bit of brain power over brawn.

The series:

  1. Mutiny
  2. Pirate
  3. Mercenary
  4. Rebel
  5. Flagship

4 1/2 out of 5 stars (finished March 1, 2011)

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Currently reading:  Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom, Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris,  Darkspell by Katherine Kerr, & Starship:  Rebel by Mike Resnick

Review: Starship: Pirate by Mike Resnick

February 26, 2011 1 comment

After having been sprung from a detention center awaiting wrongful judgment in Mutiny, Wilson Cole takes the renegade crew of the Theodore Roosevelt into the outer frontier of the galaxy to avoid recapture by the Republic.  Out in the fringes, he must decide how the ship is to operate and decides that piracy might just be the ticket.

But first, they must decide what kind of pirates they should be.   Should they prey on small colony worlds?  On medical vessels shipping vaccines to needy worlds?  On rich cruiser lines guarded by other ships?  Cole must design a pirate’s code for the Teddy R so that they still remain somewhat ethical in this illegal trade.

Next, Cole must determine how to creatively operate as a pirate, since the crew quickly discovers that it’s nothing like the holos or books they’ve read.  For starters, a fence will only offer 3-5% of the value of stolen goods, which means that the crime really doesn’t pay very well.  His idea:  after “obtaining” some valuable items, act as treasure hunters and negotiate with the insurance companies for a much larger “finder’s fee”.  It works, sort of.

Soon, Cole meets a former pirate, who goes by multiple names depending on her mood and who offers to teach Cole the ropes if he helps her get her ship back.

I really enjoyed how Resnick shows how Captain Cole thinks through his options and develops a code of ethics for piracy.  His approaches to finding his marks, selling goods, and making his getaway are both creative and smart.

I was disappointed, however, in one thing.  Captain Wilson Cole is supposed to be an exemplary leader, but in this volume, he shows very little leadership.  Instead, he himself goes on all missions personally (à la Star Trek), which works to show how quickly he thinks on his feet and how he is able to size up a situation, but does little to show trust in his crew’s abilities.  This tendency began to irritate me more and more.

In addition to the amazonian pirate Val, who has an extremely strong personality in this book, I really enjoyed the alien fence who has adopted the name of David Copperfield.  David is obsessed with the works of Charles Dickens, even dressing as a Victorian dandy.  To get an audience with the fence, Cole (himself a bibliophile) introduces himself as James Steerforth, an old schoolboy chum of the literary character, and is immediately brought into David’s confidence.

It’s clear at the end of the book that piracy really isn’t going to work out for the crew of the Teddy R which sets up the next book in the series perfectly.

The series:

  1. Mutiny
  2. Pirate
  3. Mercenary
  4. Rebel
  5. Flagship

4 1/2 out of 5 stars (finished February 25th, 2011)

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Currently reading:  Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom, Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris,  Daggerspell by Katherine Kerr, & Starship:  Mercenary by Mike Resnick

Review: Starship: Mutiny by Mike Resnick

February 21, 2011 1 comment

The first novel in the Starship series, Mutiny, by Mike Resnick is a very enjoyable space opera romp.  In fact, I was unable to put it down and finished it in one day.

The Teddy Roosevelt is a ship to which the Republic Navy assigns officers and crewpersons it wants to forget about; it is essentially a career dead end patrolling the remote fringes of the galaxy.  Out of sight, out of mind.  That is, until Commander Wilson Cole arrives on the Teddy R….  Cole is one of those self-confident, innovative, insightful, and heavily decorated officers that constantly shows up his superiors, often through insubordination.  Although he says that trouble finds him, most believe he finds trouble.

On his very first watch, Cole discovers the enemy occupying a Republic world and ingeniously maneuvers the Navy to end the occupation.  …and is decorated again, although the decorating admiral does it with tightly gritted teeth.  Then, Cole begins to give the Teddy R‘s crew something to live for — he shows them discipline and respect, neither of which they expected again.

Several other episodes convince the crew that true leadership is creativity, recognizing good faith effort, and both the desire and will to take action as needed.  Cole’s physique is not imposing, so he must use his intellect to piece together tiny details to win the day.

Ultimately, however, no good deed goes unpunished, even after saving over 5 million lives.  And one cannot constantly show one’s superiors as incompetent and illogical, especially when it is done somewhat disrespectfully.

Resnick sets this novel in the earlier period of the Birthright universe (see my review here).  Mankind is still in its ascendancy, but alien races are members of the crew if still somewhat second class citizens.  Cole is notable for his unabashed non-bias against aliens; in fact, his best friend is a alien with an equal level of sardonic-ism.  He can quickly assess the strengths and weaknesses of each member of his crew regardless of his, her, or its origin.

It was pleasant not to have to follow complicated techno-babble or have to understand deep science concepts to follow the plot.  Instead, Resnick highlights leaps of logic and intuition.

The book is fast paced and witty — enjoyable but not overly deep.   It reminds me of Resnick’s own Birthright novel  in tone, as well as Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series (see my review here), and Keith Laumer’s Retief stories.  If you enjoyed the Honor Harrington novels by David Weber (book 1 is On Basilisk Station), you’ll likely enjoy this one too.

One note:  this book has never been published in paperback for some reason, but is available as a Kindle e-book and as an Audible audiobook.

The series:

  1. Mutiny
  2. Pirate
  3. Mercenary
  4. Rebel
  5. Flagship

5 out of 5 stars (finished February 20, 2011)

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Currently reading:  Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom, Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris,  Daggerspell by Katherine Kerr, & Starship:  Pirate by Mike Resnick

 

The Lost Fleet series by Jack Campbell

October 21, 2010 1 comment

I just finished Jack Campbell’s (pseudonym of John G. Hemry) The Lost Fleet series which is made up of six books:

It’s been a few few years since the first novel was published, so I decided to re-read the first few again before diving into the last two.  First off, I have to say that I love the names of these books since they invoke the names of ships in the age of sail and also reinforce the commitment and will of the fleet and its commander.

The storyline is about a fleet of Alliance ships which, due to a trap, are caught far behind enemy lines and must laboriously jump from system to system in order to (1) protect their own star systems since the fleet action leaves the Alliance woefully undermanned and (2) deliver a copy of their enemy’s hyperspace key.  After the trap is discovered and the admiralty staff is brutally executed, the command devolves upon one man, Captain John Geary due to the fact that his promotion to captain predates any other officer by at least 80 years.

Captain Geary had participated in one of the earliest battles of the war nearly 100 standard years earlier and in a daring last stand was forced to abandon ship in a life boat in hibernation.  Granted posthumous promotion to captain, he was found by the fleet just prior to the enemy engagement.  In the intervening years, the legend of “Black Jack” Geary’s heroic last stand grew, both in popular culture (his name is used as an oath and to describe certain aggressive, valiant behavior) but also cultivated by a war-weary government who needed to inspire its population and military.

Meanwhile, the Alliance has forgotten the ideals for which it stood and even military tactics to the point where crews and materiel are merely thrown at the enemy.  Fleet captains have become more political animals than tacticians and commanders, leading by consensus and charisma rather than merit and strength of will.

Geary is forced to literally wrest away command, re-inspire faith in the tenets of civility and morality (e.g. not attacking non-military targets unless defending oneself),  counteract the unattainable vision of “Black Jack” Geary, and bring his people home.

What I enjoyed most:

I love stories where an individual is thrust into authority precipitously and must rise to the occasion.  In particular, the author does a great job describing how Geary wrestles with the “Black Jack” name and all it means to the current generation.

I like what I call “nuts and bolts” scenes.  By this I mean when authors take some time to walk through specifics on how a job is done, what thinking goes into a decision, and not merely surprises the reader with an unexpected fully hatched plan almost out of nowhere.   The definitions of up, down, starboard, and port as it relates to three dimensional space was also very clever and believable.

I found the ancestor worship consultation (?) faith to be very interesting.

The concepts of time and distance that are part of the military positioning and tactics.

  • These books really made me think of the rather large spans of time it would take for two space flotillas to engage, even considering speeds of fractions of light speed — hours and days instead of minutes.  The two sides would be on edge for days, knowing that the confrontation was nearing, but unable to strike.
  • Also, the speed of light would greatly impact how soon the fleets would even see each other.  For example, if a fleet arrives (via hyperspace) into a planetary system, it would instantly be able to see the fixed emplacements such as planets, moons, and orbiting stations as well as the positions of ships in the system as of, say, 4 hours ago — the time it took the light to travel across the system.  But, conversely, a ship already in the system would not see the invading fleet at all until 4 hours had passed (or less if the fleet was moving toward it) because the light from the arrival would not have hit the observer on the ship.  This concept was fascinating to me.

There are enough different plot elements — initially taking command, freeing prisoners of war, counteracting rebellion and even treason within the fleet, suspicions that there is another enemy — that the books never become a trudge from point A to point B to point C.

I would have to say, however, that the last novel ends more abruptly than I expected; it does have a solid enough ending that I didn’t get the impression that a direct sequel is needed.  According to his website, two additional outrigger series are contracted:

One will be called The Lost Fleet – Beyond the Frontier.  These will continue to follow Black Jack and his companions as they deal with events following VICTORIOUS.  The other series (The Phoenix Stars) is set in a formerly Syndic star system as the poeple there cope with the ongoing collapse of the Syndicate Worlds.

As I think about the books, they remind me strongly of other series which I’ve enjoyed:

  • John G. Hemry’s JAG in Space series which starts with A Just Determination for the, to me, realistic portrayal of the military of the future in space.
  • The Military SF Honor Harrington novels by David Weber (starting with On Basilisk Station) for the portrayal of the “enemy”.  The corporate Syndics who are essentially oppressing their citizens who are largely ignorant of the big picture is very analogous to the “People’s Republic of Haven”.  There are also a lot of comparisons that could be made of the conflicted main characters, the strength of will, and the military creativity.
  • The Seafort Saga by David Feintuch (starting with Midshipman’s Hope) — one of my all-time favorite series, especially the first 4 or so — which similarly describes an individual who is thrust into command before his time.

4 out of 5 stars (series as a whole, read late September thru 10/13/2010)