Categories
Science Fiction

A Talent for War by Jack McDevitt (Book Thoughts)

Ok let me say one thing first so that no one else makes the same mistake I did: This is not a typical military sci-fi 😅 if you are expecting a war with wall to wall action, you will be disappointed.  Once I realized A Talent for War is a historical mystery in space, and adjusted my expectations, my enjoyment grew tenfold.

Basically picture Sherlock but on other planets and in space.  There is an ethical debate on war, tough and exciting situations, futuristic technology, aliens, and many war stories, but we are learning about a 200 year old war through Alex Benedict’s eyes as he tracks down clues to try to explain why a large passenger transport carrying his uncle disappeared.

You want Sherlock in space, 100% keep reading. I originally picked up books 2-4 in this series at a yard sale, then bought this one so I could start at the beginning.  Reading in chronological order is not necessary though to enjoy the series


Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: A Talent for War
  • Series: Alex Benedict, #1
  • Author: Jack McDevitt
  • Publisher & Release: Ace, 1989 (mmpb)
  • Length: 310 pages 
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ once it gets going, this really turns into an absorbing mystery 

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

Christopher Sim changed mankind’s history forever when he forged a rag-tag group of misfits into the weapon that broke the alien Ashiyyur. But now, one man believes Sim was a fraud, and Alex must follow the legend into the heart of the alien galaxy to confront a truth far stranger than any fiction.


Here also is the back cover because the synopsis doesn’t quite match:

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Speaking of the cover, I can’t believe Stephen King blurbed the front cover back in the 80s! I always wondered what sci-fi he reads.. 


Ok so finally, here are my thoughts!

If you come into this one expecting a slow burning mystery you will be on the right track.  I loved discovering the true history along with the main character as he read through archives, talked to descendants of fighters and resistance advocates, saw it through interactive video, and eventually went out to discover the “artifact” in question.

Plus there’s the present day mysteries of ‘What the heck happened to the transport carrier with all those people on it, why did it just disappear?’ Was it an accident or foul play? Then you trace back in history to which stories are true, false, embellished, which leaders are frauds? The clues leading back from Alex’s uncle’s library through time present a rather tragic puzzle of the history humans manufacture and the legends we create.

I think those are the main themes too.  Who writes history and what shape does it take? How concrete is the truth that evolves 200 years down the line? What does humanity need to hear to move forward? Who even creates the heroes? This book reminded me a lot of the Civil War in American history, in the way that the South created a totally glorified mythos and down the timeline erected many monuments, the motivations for which the general public are just now broadly being educated about.

There’s a lot of good sci-fi here too. Some of my favorite aspects included his exploration of old time battle ships and deficiencies in early space travel. There are also the terraforming marvels on various worlds like Fishbowl and plenty of ‘ooh-ahh’ moments in the stars. The holo-sim reenactments would be cool too if they actually existed. 

Alex Benedict is a likeable enough character on his own, but McDevitt isn’t the best at character building.  His female sidekick showed up fairly randomly and for some reason latched onto Benedict. None of his females have a lot of personality although for me it’s a not a big deal. The characters aren’t the focus at all even though I was definitely rooting for them.

I docked a star because there were way too many names and places to keep track of.  Some were dead ends and it’s ok to forget them but I feel like I didn’t entirely grasp everything.

All in all, I really liked this book. I had to google what the prologue and epilogue referred to and had a huge AHA moment.  Once A Talent for War got going, I really got lost in the mystery and surprises and tension building in both the present day, and past times.  I love reading history and considering how it is written too.  If you also like history’s mysteries and science fiction, I would totally recommend this one


Thanks for checking out my book review of A Talent for War by Jack McDevitt! As always, all opinions are my own ♥️

Categories
Fantasy General Posts, Non Reviews Science Fiction

Happy Veterans Day ~ Let’s Chat About Some Favorite Military SFF

Happy Veterans Day to those who have served! I wish I had taken the time to compile a list of SFF authors who are also veterans, but for sure if anyone wants to throw some names out there I will make a post at a later date to feature them! Those also a link at the end which leads to a great article on how various authors took to writing military sci-fi after their service!

For now, let me randomly pick a few military science fiction & fantasy books that I have enjoyed, have been recommended, or want to read! Definitely comment if you want to add any favorites or make recs!

The Fantasy books are pretty well known but I would love to know what y’all think of my sci-fi picks, mostly written by veterans!


Let’s start with fantasy, because I only have three to mention that I’ve read in the past few years:

1) Green Rider: doesn’t present itself initially as a military fantasy.  The riders are a much underrepresented and fascinating branch of the Sacoridian army that function as the King’s messenger service, but are also fully trained and equipped to fight.  They serve many roles. The riders become more prominently featured as a military branch throughout the series and gain respect and military involvement due to the actions of the main character, Karigan, and their leader,  captain-turned-major Laren.  Might be a good choice for those transitioning into harder military fantasy

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2) The Black Company: I don’t think Glen Cook needs any introduction.  My favorite thing about these books initially is that the narrator is the chronicler/medic, and he doesn’t quite understand magic nor care for warfare so much, so you get a chronicle of events from a more human perspective.  It’s pretty military though if not so tactically heavy.  It’s wild throughout the first few books and I’d like to keep reading at some point for sure.

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3) I’ve only read the first two, but I’m amiss if I leave Malazan off my list of military fantasy books.  All I’m going to say is epic battles, huge sorcery, devastating consequences, it’s all there.   I’m not an elitist but I’ve had a blast reading so far and Deadhouse Gates was phenomenal.

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Sci-fi:

I’ve read less military sci-fi than other genres over the years but have found a few favorites, and many more that I’d like to get to.  Kindle Unlimited has an absolute wealth of space Marines and military sci-fi to surf and I always wish I had time to randomly try and find more gems.

1) I’ll start with Starship Troopers because it helped spawn the entire genre.  I read and reviewed it last month and definitely think it’s worth checking out just for how influential it was.  Plus, Heinlein was a veteran of the U.S. Navy! 

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2) Speaking of veterans, while surfing Kindle Unlimited I stumbled across another veteran who writes Military SF.  I’m pleasantly surprised at how many people I know that have read and enjoyed Frontlines by Marko Kloos.  My reviews for the first three or four books are up on the blog here.  MK – thank you for your service!

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3) Another Veteran, one that I haven’t read yet but need to check out, is Michael Mammay and his Planetside series. He is a retired Army officer! These books come highly recommended and Mammay is pretty chatty with book recommendations on social media which makes me appreciate him.  Thank you for your service as well!

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4) Another Veteran & author that I would like to continue reading, is John G. Hemry aka Jack Campbell. He is a retired Naval officer and has written a ton of military sci-fi books, including The Lost Fleet series as well as some spin offs. Thanks for your service as well Mr. Hemry!

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5)  Not long ago a friend also recommended Evan Currie’s series On Silver Wings.  He said “sometimes you just want explosions!” These books seem pretty short after the first one and are fairly highly rated, so I may check them out some day. I don’t believe Currie is a veteran but if he is, I apologize!

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I also found this article that talks about some famous and not so famous veteran authors! It’s a great read for sci-fi fans https://www.stripes.com/former-troops-building-second-careers-in-military-science-fiction-1.417224


Please let me know what you think, add to my list!

Categories
Science Fiction

Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein (and how certain books enhance their own reading experience)

It’s time for sci-fi on Saturday, isn’t that fun? I’m supposed to be reading and featuring GrimDark reads here this month but in truth it’s going to be one of the most genre diverse months I’ve had in a long time.

The plan was to share my thoughts on Starship Troopers today. What I’m really feeling is a post about the times when the book itself, as in the physical item, means something and therefore enhances the reading experience. We will see where I start and end on this post.

I know I’m adding nothing to the Heinlein review canon so I’m just going to leave you guys with a few brief thoughts on the book, and then start talking about something else that will continue in a post I’m writing for next Saturday.

I am open for and do absolutely encourage discussion on Starship Troopers, I just find no reason to “review” it

So here are my thoughts, then I’ll digress if this post isn’t way too long already.


Bookish Quick Facts: 

  • Title: Starship Troopers
  • Author: Robert A. Heinlein
  • Publisher & Rease: originally GP Putnam’s Sons, 1959
  • Length: 263 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: I do firmly believe this is a sci-fi canon must read, and enjoyed it

Here’s a synopsis:

In Robert A. Heinlein’s controversial Hugo Award-winning bestseller, a recruit of the future goes through the toughest boot camp in the Universe—and into battle against mankind’s most alarming enemy…

Johnnie Rico never really intended to join up—and definitely not the infantry. But now that he’s in the thick of it, trying to get through combat training harder than anything he could have imagined, he knows everyone in his unit is one bad move away from buying the farm in the interstellar war the Terran Federation is waging against the Arachnids.

Because everyone in the Mobile Infantry fights. And if the training doesn’t kill you, the Bugs are more than ready to finish the job…

I originally read Starship Troopers back in high school when I was about 15 and did not remember it at all.  I saw the 1997 movie a few years later and recall it as something that was way too long and slightly terrifying. It hardly felt like the same story.  Now after reading the book again, I feel my brain shifting back to a fonder stance on the story in general.

I like that Heinlein did in 263 pages what it can take some series 8+ books to do.  I like that it’s military sci-fi that is about war, but not about THE war so much as a main theme.  Heinlein is the crazy uncle of sci-fi that kind of tells a story but mostly throws a lot of ideas at the reader, and I appreciate him for that. There’s a story there, you just have to see it as a reeeaaalllyyy general framework for his ideas, not vice versa.

As someone that spent years living with military persons, I can say that all the hemming and hawing about the book being military propaganda feels more than a little ridiculous to me in 2022.  It probably could have seemed that way but any military person (that I’ve talked to anyway) will tell you that voluntarily putting their lives between harm and home becomes part of who they are.  It’s not propaganda, the pride and military family and routine become a way of life, like the survival mechanisms they adapt, and I think Heinlein just encapsulated this feeling from his own military service experience and put it on page when he was discontent with the state of the military, nuclear testing, etc during the Cold War era.

That said though, he had some hilarious views on certain military things. He clearly just *loved* bureaucracy and, to pick one rant I laughed at,  the American Military Structure that has officers for absolutely everything.  Sergeants also take a verifiable ton of shit in real life (as in the book) and I think Heinlein did a decent job, as a Navy man, setting up the social structure of the Mobile Infantry.  My favorite thing to focus on when reading these books is how things like the command and social structure are portrayed.

Idea wise, like anywhere else, some of Heinlein’s ideas are good and some seem sketchy. Either way, some of his foresight was dead on, like for example, the absolute lack of corporal punishment for kids these days? I’m not getting into a debate about spanking and such but the point is that a lot of these questions, ideas, and arguments, are still quite valid today.  Our military has been in active conflicts for most of my waking memory (Desert Storm, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc…) so the peace time debate seems moot, but maybe not, say, the part about where members fit into society after active service. The size of the organization. Finding holes for everyone wanting to participate in this giant machine.  As a literal reader in this case, I did think a lot of his tangents (yes, I’m calling them tangents) were fairly dead on.

That all said though, I liked the book before and I liked it again some nearly 20 years later.  The action is good when it’s present, the ideas are still relevant, and besides that, it so clearly influenced enough media and literature that followed that I feel it’s one of those sci-fi books that everyone just has to read.

I’m running out of page space but I do want to quickly touch on my point above about nostalgia and certain books.  I was at a friend’s house not too long ago and besides the fact that I have a 900+ book library in my house, I saw Starship Troopers on his bookshelf (that distinct green color stands out) and was thumbing through it.  We sometimes pass books back & forth and I always feel like reading someone else’s book is a special experience.  Maybe it smells like the person’s house or has notations in it or something else like a leftover scrap of bookmark, but I found myself generally enjoying the experience of reading, more than I have recently. I think it’s because I have some odd reverence for other people’s books. Anyway, I’m about to return it in one piece and am always honored when fellow bookies trust me with their property😅

Next week on Sci-fi on Saturday: The October Country (or the experience of reading something that is a multi generational treasure, or, stories that keep stories alive?)

Categories
audiobooks Science Fiction

Angles of Attack by Marko Kloos (Book Thoughts)

I’ve been flying through the Frontlines series on a mix of page and audio this summer.  I think each book is getting better as the characters mature and humanity’s situation gets more dire.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Angles of Attack
  • Series: Frontlines #3
  • Author: Marko Kloos
  • Publisher & Release: 47 North, April 2015
  • Length: 338 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐✨ Yes if you’ve liked the series so far keep going!
  • Audio: ~10 hours, Luke Daniels knocks out another one via Brilliance Audio

Here’s the synopsis:

The alien forces known as the Lankies are gathering on the solar system’s edge, consolidating their conquest of Mars and setting their sights on Earth. The far-off colony of New Svalbard, cut off from the rest of the galaxy by the Lanky blockade, teeters on the verge of starvation and collapse. The forces of the two Earth alliances have won minor skirmishes but are in danger of losing the war. For battle-weary staff sergeant Andrew Grayson and the ragged forces of the North American Commonwealth, the fight for survival is entering a catastrophic new phase.

Forging an uneasy alliance with their Sino-Russian enemies, the NAC launches a hybrid task force on a long shot: a stealth mission to breach the Lanky blockade and reestablish supply lines with Earth. Plunging into combat against a merciless alien species that outguns, outmaneuvers, and outfights them at every turn, Andrew and his fellow troopers could end up cornered on their home turf, with no way out and no hope for reinforcement. And this time, the struggle for humanity’s future can only end in either victory or annihilation.

One quick thing I noticed on the audio is that a lot of the spoken words don’t quite match the text – I think the narrator got a version that was one round off from final edits.  Kind of cool to see what changed thought.

Anyway, what I like most about these books is how any given side character could get their own little spotlight of bad assery. Dmitry went from a side note to bad ass real quick, as did Philbrick and Renner! I was surprised to see Philbrick, a character that previously was just a guy guarding a door, leading the prison break mission with no hesitation. I can’t get over how many characters end up having small but integral roles!

Colonel Campbell’s backbone is only getting stronger (😭), and I respected him a lot for being very Picard-ian and able to determine navigation heading, propulsion, etc, so we’ll. Also Fallon got to lead again at the end, and we finally get to see Halley in battle!

The plot and action has no slouch either.  First they have to get home, deal with a bureaucratic  welcome fitting a bunch of mutineers, dodge all the Lankies, and go to war in the last quarter.

Like what the aaaaactual f*ck is going on at the civilian station anyway? Who is evacuating where? Is Dmitry convinced he’s going to be gunned down for giving away military secrets so he gave Grayson his drop badge wings?

There’s just so much going on, and the story is streamlined so that the action just races without ever feeling sidetracked.

We are still in first person (yuck but I don’t hate it) and entirely from Grayson’s point of view. I’ve come to fully respect him as an officer, soldier, and person. It’s interesting to follow his military career and after this ending, I’m curious where he will go next

Speaking of the ending – now we know who/what happened in book 1 at Detroit😳

Whether you want planetary destroyer ships, intergalactic war, internal politics, explosions, action, great characters, or all of the above – I can’t recommend this series enough.


Instead of a few favorite quotes, here is a short excerpt that I hope will convince you all to pick this series up:

“What we have done—what we are doing right now—is flat-out mutiny. We have resisted arrest, fought military police officers, engaged in a gun battle with civilian police, and we have stolen this ship out of the dock against orders. We have engaged another fleet unit in self-defense and damaged them, probably killed a few of their crew. If another fleet ship catches us here in the solar system, we will probably end up directly in the high-risk ward at Leavenworth if they don’t blow us out of space instantly. This is not a legal gray area like our refusal to follow orders above New Svalbard. They ordered this ship’s command staff relieved, and Indy to join the defense of Earth. We not only disobeyed those orders; we resisted with force of arms. “But I chose this course of action because we have a task force and thirty thousand people waiting for our return


The series so far:

The series so far:

  1. Terms of Enlistment
  2. Lines of Departure
  3. Angles of Attack
Categories
audiobooks Science Fiction

Lines of Departure by Marko Kloos (Book & Audio Thoughts)

The Frontlines series continues on with more military sci-fi goodness. I liked Terms of Enlistment quite a bit and enjoyed Lines of Departure even more. The book started out full speed and once again just never let up. I’m such a sucker for these action packed books!

Bringing into the sequel more ethical conflicts and increasing the level of bad-assery, so far I would definitely recommend this series for anyone interested.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Lines of Departure
  • Series: Frontlines #2
  • Author: Marko Kloos
  • Publisher & Release: 47North, January 2014
  • Length: 329 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ yes for anyone interested in the series!

Here’s the synopsis from Am*zon:

Vicious interstellar conflict with an indestructible alien species. Bloody civil war over the last habitable zones of the cosmos. Political unrest, militaristic police forces, dire threats to the Solar System…

Humanity is on the ropes, and after years of fighting a two-front war with losing odds, so is North American Defense Corps officer Andrew Grayson. He dreams of dropping out of the service one day, alongside his pilot girlfriend, but as warfare consumes entire planets and conditions on Earth deteriorate, he wonders if there will be anywhere left for them to go.

After surviving a disastrous space-borne assault, Grayson is reassigned to a ship bound for a distant colony—and packed with malcontents and troublemakers. His most dangerous battle has just begun.

In this sequel to the bestselling Terms of Enlistment, a weary soldier must fight to prevent the downfall of his species…or bear witness to humanity’s last, fleeting breaths.

Five years have passed since Andrew and Halley survived the wreck of the Versailles and humanity met the Lankies. Both are now at least staff sergeants and Andrew has become a combat controller! I like seeing his career develop. Things are heating up in the Lanky war while also going to hell on Earth.  With tension off the charts and humanity incapable of pointing it’s guns in the same direction…

I watch the red icons on the plot. They’re steadily advancing toward the town. Each of those icons represents thirty or more troops, people I’ve shared a mess hall with, men and women who wear the same flag we do. The universe is falling apart around us, and we still have nothing smarter to do than to try and kill each other.

Yeah, wow, if the North American Commonwealth wasn’t so busy fighting itself they could do some great things.  This is a huge theme in Lines of Departure as a dissenting chunk of the military is shipped off to a moon of ice and left there with the transportation nodes closed.

When ordered to attack and seize civilian assets, Grayson and Fallon say “f*ck you kindly” and stage a mutiny.  I love everything about this storyline SO MUCH

I am also SO glad that Fallon wasn’t a one and done character. I just love her. Same with colonel Campbell, I’m glad he came back and was developed into a character with the only personality in the fleet on par with Fallon’s craziness! His speech about the nukes was impressive. I kind of hope he hooks up with Fallon at one point because they would be unstoppable 😍

With the aliens attacking as far as Mars in our own solar system and the military too busy fighting itself, unlikely alliances form with SRA refugees. The mutinous (read heroic) soldiers are going to find one way or another to get home.

(I loved the lead scientist on the planet too because science and physics should save the day in sci-fi)

The main characters grew some more depth here too. I loved the chapter where Grayson went home and took his mom to Vermont.  She deserved every second of that trip. Halley is going to have a big book three I hope since she didn’t see much fighting action in this one 😉 overall I just have a ton of respect for the main characters at this point

My only gripe was that I don’t think the passage of time was well represented on the Fomalhaut moon.  It seemed like only weeks had gone by when there was enough time for the solar system to be overcome as far as Mars, it seemed like it had to have been months gone by.

Overall, this was an action-packed and exciting second installment with hecking awesome characters too. I feel like I just want to binge read this series. It’s addictive!

As a quick note on the audio: once again I think Luke Daniels was phenomenal.  I love his pilot voices but he makes everyone sound so real and bad ass. About 9 hours from Brilliance Audio, I would definitely recommend either reading or listening


The series so far:

  1. Terms of Enlistment
  2. Lines of Departure
Categories
audiobooks Science Fiction

Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos (Book Thoughts)

I have been on a pretty heavy sci-fi kick this summer and needed an audiobook!  Cue a Kindle Unlimited with free audio search and I got lucky with Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos!  A soldier himself, Kloos delivers a fast paced and action packed military sci-fi adventure.

I was also pleasantly surprised at how many on discord read and enjoyed this series! I had never heard of this author but George RR Martin plugged the series soooo

Let’s get into it

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Terms of Enlistment
  • Series: Frontlines #1
  • Author: Marko Kloos
  • Publisher & Release: 47 North, May 2013
  • Length: 334 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ for a solid, addictive read that was enjoyable but didn’t do anything new

Here’s the synopsis from Am*zon:

“There is nobody who does [military SF] better than Marko Kloos. His Frontlines series is a worthy successor to such classics as Starship TroopersThe Forever War, and We All Died at Breakaway Station.” ―George R. R. Martin

The year is 2108, and the North American Commonwealth is bursting at the seams. For welfare rats like Andrew Grayson, there are only two ways out of the crime-ridden and filthy welfare tenements: You can hope to win the lottery and draw a ticket on a colony ship settling off-world . . . or you can join the service.

With the colony lottery a pipe dream, Andrew chooses to enlist in the armed forces for a shot at real food, a retirement bonus, and maybe a ticket off Earth. But as he starts a career of supposed privilege, he soon learns that the good food and decent health care come at a steep price . . . and that the settled galaxy holds far greater dangers than military bureaucrats or the gangs that rule the slums.

The debut novel from Marko Kloos, Terms of Enlistment is an addition to the great military sci-fi tradition of Robert Heinlein, Joe Haldeman, and John Scalzi.


Mostly taking place on a futuristic and overpopulated Earth, we meet Andrew Grayson and follow his enlistment into the army, eventual transfer into the Navy in space, encounter a lot of danger and explosions and army shenanigans, then finally end on first contact with a hostile alien race.

The pace never lets up in between those events either; it was hard to stop reading!

While Kloos doesn’t do anything new or particularly special, this is a fast paced, utterly action packed book with all the military humor and happenings. I like reading military sci-fi and fantasy when it is written by soldiers. Kloos delivered something that felt like realistic enlistment complete with bureaucratic nightmares, while embracing all sorts of futuristic technology and interstellar travel.

The action was good too.  There plenty of danger and destruction, rocket launchers, warzone action, death and more.

I hate to admit I miss the stupid ass stories my exes used to tell, so I am drawn to the military stories (especially sci-fi) since I’m just so used to that language. Maybe that mixed with growing up on Star Trek and classic scifi draws me to these books but I will read them all day.

Character wise, I like what I saw of Grayson and Halley and the others.  No one comes to military sci-fi for the characters but there are a whole cast of side characters and people we meet along the way that add a lot of personality and banter to the book. Sgt Fallon was amazing 🤣

I usually hate first person point of view but here, it’s ok.  It’s one of the reasons I couldn’t get to five stars but still, I didn’t hate it.

“At ease,” Sergeant Fallon says. “Jesus, don’t those instructors over at the depot remove the corn cobs before they send you off into real life?”

“I don’t remember having been issued any sort of vegetables, Staff Sergeant,” I reply, and Sergeant Fallon chuckles.

“A smart-ass. As if we didn’t have enough of those already. I think you’ll fit in just fine.”

From boot camp to destruction of a colonized world, Terms of Enlistment never let up on the action. I can’t wait to follow more of Grayson and Halley’s adventures. I listened to the second half on audio and liked it too, either format comes recommended!

**Narrated by Luke Daniels, from Brilliance Audio, the audiobook is about 9.5 hours long.  I liked his clear enunciations and many different voices.  Daniels added a lot to the banter, personality of the characters, and book in general**

Overall, I recommend for fans of the genre!