To Honor You Call Us— review and commentary

Space operas are one of my favorite reads. Throw in a nifty hero or heroine and some bad guys to whip and my interest goes up a level. H. Paul Honsinger does a really good job with this debut novel, which is the first installment in his Man of War series. Based on the rather awkward title and the not so original name of the series, I wasn’t expecting too much, but this novel has most of what I want in a novel in this genre.

Our hero, Max Robichaux, has the “right stuff” to be successful. While Honsinger is no David Weber, nor is Robichaux a match for Honor Harrington, this novel reminds me of the best of Weber, and is vastly better than Weber when he is at his verbose worst. The trivia of this universe is explained in such a manner than most science fiction readers will understand, and those who don’t have some grasp of sci-fi probably won’t be interested anyway.

The best space operas have nasty villains, and the rodent evolved Krags are really nasty. Robichaux is killing them as the story opens, and there are no Star Trek Roddenberryesque moments wherein the audience sees the villains as worthy of sympathy. Nope. These rats stay rats.

Supporting and minor characters enjoy far more development than in some space operas, and I especially liked the doctor, who begins as a bit of comic relief, but grows into his role as a major player on board the star destroyer Cumberland. The episodic story works well, as Honsinger gives his cast of characters plenty to do as they journey through space, and there is sufficient suspense to keep the reader swiping the pages. Fans of military fiction and space yarns should really enjoy this novel.

I didn’t actually pay for this novel, as it is part of the “free” reading available to Amazon Prime, but it is fairly priced at $4.99 as of this post.

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Lost in Space— good at last?

LostPerhaps I am one of the few of my generation who have actually read that classic novel, The Swiss Family Robinson. For its time, it was a good book, with lots of details about how the intrepid family managed to survive on a deserted island after their ship broke apart. That story was a straight up man vs. nature conflict, and man won, big-time. Not only did they survive, but they thrived in their new home.

During the 1960s, with the United States government locked in a “space race” against their rivals, The Soviet Union, mankind began to look toward the rest of the universe as a new frontier. Network television carried each space launch, and before long, their entertainment divisions looked to capitalize on the trend. In 1966, NBC had a space based science fiction drama, Star Trek, which was not especially successful at the time, but during syndication and through successful spin off series and movies, it became a cultural icon. CBS chose Lost in Space, very loosely based on the classic novel. This set of Robinsons were also in a battle to survive, and this story which might have had a better premise than Trek, (as well as legitimate television star power in June Lockhart and Angela Cartwright) but its execution left a lot to be desired. For whatever reasons, Star Trek‘s writers and producers took their journey through space seriously, while Lost in Space became more and more comic.

During the 1990s, there was a big budget film version of Lost in Space, which, again, had the right story to be successful, but was, for the most part, not. When I heard that Netflix had decided to give the story a third outing, I was skeptical. The first version of this series was almost a joke, while the second just never held my interest.

My family is currently halfway through the first season of the Netflix version, and by and large, we are impressed. The special effects rival mid-level movie efforts. The cast is good, featuring Molly Parker (who has had recent work in House of Cards and Deadwood) as a much more empowered version of Maureen Robinson. Each iteration of Lost in Space has used a dual conflict, where the family must struggle to survive (man vs. nature) and deal with a deceptive fellow traveler  (Dr. Smith) thus adding man vs. man conflicts. Wow, Parker Posey’s female Dr. Smith is perhaps the most villainous villain yet.

For anyone who remembers the tacky Robby the Robot screeching, “Danger, Will Robinson,” and being totally unimpressed, I think the third try might be a charm. The robot is certainly not a joke, and the rest of the cast and writers are putting forth a rip roaring series. Give it a try.

Longmire— a satisfying drama with a Western setting

Longmire
Longmire on Netflix

One of my friends who recently “cut the cord” stated that her first binge-watch was the A&E turned Netflix original, Longmire. This show is a blend of modern western with the traditional detective yarn. While most episodes do stand alone, there are some story arcs that make more sense when the viewer starts at the beginning. The titular character, Walt Longmire is brought to life by Robert Taylor. His sidekick, Henry Standing Bear is portrayed by the multitalented Lou Diamond Phillips, and his chief deputy is ably played by Battlestar Galactica veteran Katee Sackoff. The rest of the cast is also quite good, but I especially enjoyed the villain, Jacob Nighthorse, played by former soap heartthrob, A Martinez.

As the series opens, Sheriff Longmire is struggling with the loss of his wife. His small group of deputies, including new hire Vic Morelli, need him to answer his phone and show up, which he has apparently only done sporadically for a while. A murder, combined with the competition from another candidate for sheriff gets Walt back on the job. Viewers are treated to the unfolding of Walt as a complex person as well as a talented lawman. The scenery and camera work are just as entertaining as the acting, and I agree with my friend. As long as Netflix offers entertainment of this quality, there is no real reason to sign up for cable tv.

Longmire the television series is based on the books Craig Johnson, and I’m going to have to check out one of those.

Daughters of the Night Sky— review

Historical fiction is a favorite genre, in part because it often gives new insight into a known era, but when it brings new knowledge, even better. As I like military fiction (sci fi or otherwise) and being a student of history, Daughters of the Night Sky appealed to me on several levels.

Author Aime K. Runyan does a fabulous job of bringing the exploits of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment to life. These women: pilots, navigators, mechanics, and armorers were collectively known as the “Night Witches” because they harried German troops under the cover of darkness. Their exploits would be remarkable due to the sexism rampant at the time, but that they were relegated to flying Polikarpov Po-2 planes, with wood and canvas bodies and open cockpits, made their jobs even more difficult. One of the characters refers to the planes as crop dusters, and indeed, these small aircraft seem a lot closer to than than true “bombers.” Their method of succeeding is astonishing, as they would cut the engine in their already low and slow aircraft, so there was little warning of their impending attacks. Once they had deployed their meagre payload (a maximum of six bombs) they re-ignited the engine and flew back to base to reload and attack once more. Some of the two women crews made as many as eighteen runs (sorties) in a single night.

Although highly fictionalized, with characters who might or might not be based on historical figures, the author makes every effort to get the details right, from the male uniforms, the hacked off military haircuts, and even the various stations where the regiment was based during its 1942-1945 deployment.

Daughters of the Night Sky is informative, suspenseful, and emotionally engaging. I read it in a single day, which is rare these days. Anyone who enjoys historical, military, or women’s fiction should really enjoy this novel.

For those who want to know more about the real 588th, here’s a good article published in Vanity Fair.

The Orville— first impressions

Orville 2When it debuted, there was a good bit of publicity about the science fiction comedy, The Orville, starring (and produced by) Seth McFarlane. And there are not a lot of shows to compare it to, so I understand why writers had some problems describing it.

Visually, this television show looks much like a feature film, such as the rebooted Star Trek, although it relies on CGI a bit more than an upscale effort like The Force Awakens, and the special effects don’t take center stage in as many scenesThe score, in particular, reminds Trek savvy viewers of the first Star Trek feature film, and certain scenes in the pilot also pay homage to that film. Other Trek elements include the use of shuttle craft to get back and forth from ship to ship (no transporters, however) and FTL travel is accomplished via a “quantum” drive rather than Trek’s warp drive. The uniforms are almost cartoon versions of military uniforms, but the color codes for different divisions again looks a bit like Trek.

The first half of the pilot strives very hard to set the comedic tone of the series, and that almost kept me from finishing it. Such lines as “Can I have a soda on the bridge?” or “Can I wear shorts to work?” from bridge officers are supposed to be funny, but these arbitrary requests seem out of place. Once the crew encounters some baddies and come together to accomplice some goals, the drama and the comedy mesh a bit better. My favorite space faring comedy is still Galaxy Quest, but it never took itself seriously, which The Orville seems to want to do, at least occasionally.

I’ve not seen all of the available episodes, but I will probably take another look, as hubby and I have only one episode left of Dark Matter, which is the best television space opera we’ve seen in quite a while. As for quality, my initial impression is that The Orville has a bigger budget, but the recently cancelled Dark Matter has a far better premise and better acting. A quick check over at Rotten Tomatoes gives DM a 79% fresh rating, but TO only gets 19%. Ouch! There are more episodes of The Orville to come, so we’ll have to wait and see if it gets any better.

Shameless self-promotion

From Goodreads.comDirtball Cover: “extremely unique”

From Amazon.com: “Well written”

Trina Cole McQueen, the middle child of a wealthy shipping family, had been doing her duty as a pilot in the Confederation Fleet, knowing that when her service was done, she would rejoin her family. One evening, while on liberty from her ship, Trina is abducted by agents of the Confederation’s arch enemy, and soon Trina is on a one-way trip to the most primitive planet she has ever seen.

Instead of being a fighter pilot, Trina is sold as a slave, on a world where a horse is the fastest means of transportation, and weapons have blades. Culture shock ensues, but Trina is a strong woman who has every intention of surviving her experience on “Planet Dirtball,” regardless of what she must do.

Kindle Unlimited readers can journey with Trina for free, but others will only have to pay $2.99 for the trip. Check Pilar Savage’s novel via Amazon:

Link to Once Upon a Dirtball on Amazon:

Steel World by B.V. Larson— quick review and commentary

Steel World cover(Okay, y’all, I am going to be straight with you; even my quick review contains a spoiler or two.)

When I began the Kindle version of Steel World, I was all set to hate it. The main character and action seemed to be lifted right out of one of the first-person shooter war games that my son loves and I don’t. Then, the main character, who was actually playing such a game, is rousted into reality by his mother. His sweet little life of being a bored student has just been interrupted by some economic woes. Then I got interested.

In some ways, this story is a re-tread of many combo “coming of age” stories, melded with some “gung-ho” military action. But, I rather liked this take on the soldier who never dies. Larson’s imagination is really clever, and he writes in such a way to bring the reader into his vision. The cast of characters is a bit flat, but often military yarns suffer from that malady. It’s hard, practically and emotionally, to get attached to people who will either be transferred or killed off, so relationships are a bit more shallow. Very real, but shallow, none-the-less.

The basic premise of this novel is that future mercenaries will be Planet Earth’s contribution to the Galactic economy, as humans are very good at making war. The Galactic Empire’s contribution is the machine that makes clones of the soldiers’ bodies. So, the “undying” part is that when the soldier bites the dust, under the proper circumstances, he can be transferred into a new body and sent back into the fray. This saves lots of training, of course, as experienced personnel are not lost nearly as often as if they stayed dead.

Steel World is the first in a series of novels, and I will probably pick up part two, as I really did enjoy B.V. Larson’s take on future warfare.