That is no dragon, it is a turtle on the map!

A'tuin
A’Tuin

It is always fun when what you assume is just a piece of whimsy has an actual basis in reality. That happened for me last week when I opened my daily e-mail from Atlas Obscura, a site I have always enjoyed due to the unique and interesting people, places and things that it discusses.  The site had an article entitled “Why is the World Always on the back of a Turtle?” that instantly rang a bell with me.

Of course many readers will instantly think of Terry Pratchett and his Discworld novels. For the few that are unfamiliar with the stories, they are based on a flat circular planet that travels through space held up by elephants that are standing on the back of a giant space turtle, named A’Tuin. I had always thought that this was a bit odd, but in a series that has walking, and dangerous, furniture, I never really gave it much thought.

According to the article it turns out that the idea of a planet floating through space on a giant member of the Chelonioidea family comes from ancient sources, appearing first in Hindu mythology. According to anthropologist Sir Edward Burnett Tylor’s Researches Into the Early History of Mankind and the Development of Civilization, we have it all to blame (or credit) on the god Vishnu’s second avatar for starting the whole idea. Then the same motif developed independently in Native American mythology.

small gods

I had always assumed that Pratchett had just created a funny vision of the world, and he may have come upon the idea independently, but I suspect that he just snuck in another cultural reference that so many of us would miss. Good for him. I was also surprised that when I mentioned this to several people at the local dog park they were apparently all aware of the Hindu tie in but not the Native American one.

Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja

mech

 

I love looking at overstock and discount racks at the local bookstores. The problem is that I buy more than I will ever read- I guess that just gives me a goal to live forever. At Powell’s Books in Portland I noticed a book entitled Mechanical Failure (Epic Failure Trilogy Book 1) by Joe Zieja. I liked the cover art (amazing how much that can influence a decision to look closer) but what got me was the small tag line –Please Restart Your Warship. Humor, when done well is always appreciated

Mechanical Failure follows the trials and travails of one R. Wilson Rogers, an ex-space fleet sergeant mechanic that is forced back into the service due to some very unusual circumstances. Life in the service had been an interesting bore for Rogers, basically one long party, a time in which he sold watered down beer, ran fixed poker games and races and generally idled away his with the fleet as it in turned idled away its time due to the  200 Years’ (and counting) Peace.

Back in the service after a strange battle between pirate fleets in which he is the only survivor, he finds the fleet completely changed. It is now on a war footing as it prepares for an expected incursion by the long time rival Thelicosans. As he returns to a fleet that he barely recognizes, with all of the men and woman serving devoutly believing in the preaching of the inspirational, yet strangely incompetent Admiral Klein, Rogers tries to just serve his time and once again depart. As he says all he wants to do is drink beer and play cards.  But fate has other plans for him- but maybe he can answer the age old question: Do the times make the man of the man make the times?

That is a rough outline of Mechanical failure, an amusing first book by the author who spent a decade in the U.S. Air Force , and his experience obviously peppers the book with  what feels like real life experiences from a career military man. The motivational posters, the transfer of qualified trained personnel into positions that they are unfit for, and so much more has a real world feel. I had the feeling that the scene where Rogers, just seconds after he arrived in his new quarters is subject to an inspection and he is found to fail a number of details has a basis in real life.

The book is a tongue and cheek poke at the military, but I did not get the feeling that it was anti-military, as many are portrayed as dedicated, intelligent and hardworking. Instead Mechanical Failure pokes a finger in the eye of mindless bureaucracy and how connivers can always find the gaps in a system, something our hero excelled at.

bilko

Rogers is basically Sergeant Bilko in space, for those old enough to remember the old Phil Silvers show or the newer Steve Martin movie Sergeant Bilko. After departing the military he sets his eye on bigger scams, seeking to swindle pirates, something that goes strangely and disastrously wrong for everybody involved but himself. Forced to return to the service he manages to advance up the ranks while constantly wondering about the strange going-ons in the ship around him.

I found this to be a very entertaining book, and an excellent first effort. Humorous from end to end, with some jokes starting in the early chapters only to get punch lines much later. Some of the jokes seem to be overly obvious, a few could have been omitted and a couple would make better sight gags than appearing in written form. Also one seems to strongly remind me of a Mel Brooks bit, but I could be wrong.  Overall they did work quite well. If you tend towards serious military space novels this might not be for you, even though it has a semi-serious undertone. However it is a very good lighthearted read and I will certainly get the second book. It takes a bit to get going, at least for me. I was unsure where the plot was heading and initially was not interested in it but about midway you can certainly see a firm direction

Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl

boy

I have had a copy of Roald Dahl’s autobiography, Going Solo, for years but just have not gotten around to reading it, a common problem at my house. Then a friend mentioned that he had one about his childhood, giving me another reason to delay reading Going Solo. Then last week at a garage sale I found a very battered copy of Boy: Tales of Childhood available for a whole quarter.

Dahl clearly states that the book is not an autobiography, it is rather the top memories that he has from his childhood. For instance he does not reconstruct his family life, for the most part, or go into lengthy descriptions of many aspects of his life and family. There is no listing of all of the siblings and their traits, and just a brief description of his parents. Instead it is a collect as advertised, tales from assorted years that have remained at the top of his memory.

Instead it is really just an enjoyable collection of tales, few of them really interconnected, aside from Dahl being the omnipresent character in all of the tales. Almost all are humorous, none are really side splitting funny, and all are interesting. I have never read any of his other books but I suspect that his wry sense of humor pervades them.

going solo

In some it makes you wish you were alive in that bygone age. When else could you ride your tricycle to school, unaccompanied by an adult, down the middle of the main street due to lack of cars on the street. Or taking a steam ship to Norway every year for a long summer holiday. Then you might have second thoughts on wanting to live then when you read about Dahl having his adenoids removed, sans pain killers, or his father having to have his arm amputated due to being treated by a drunk doctor.

The first family drive in a car results in his nose being almost completely severed, after the kids push his “ancient sister” to speed up to the unheard of speed of 35. His stories of public boarding schools make me very glad that I was not forced to attend them. You find out that he was a star athlete without any bragging, and a superb photographer, and did not like Latin. He wrote his mother every week of his life starting with school, and that has no doubt helped with his recollection of events as his mother saved all of the letters.

An interesting note is that at one school the candy maker Cadbury used to send the boys an occasional box of new types of chocolate to get feedback. He daydreamed of discovering the greatest chocolate yet devised. That was the kernel for the story Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, written over 30 years later.

Charliechocolate

One thing about the physical book that I purchased which amused me is that one of the previous owners was named Amanda. Written in six different color pens on the top of the book, and in bold black letters on the bottom. I wondered if the book was owned by an Amanda, or if it was owned by someone who had a crush on an Amanda? Some questions we will never know.

I greatly enjoyed the book; it was a pleasant journey through some of the memories of a person who lived in what is increasingly long ago bygone era. It was a pleasant, short afternoon read I can now with a clear conscious go on to Going Solo!

Summer of Space Opera Sampler from Tor.Com

tor

I am a big fan of the Space Opera genre, although what actually constitutes a space opera as opposed to a run of the mill sci-fi book is a bit unclear to me. I think it needs more than one volume, a large cast of characters and conflict. I looked at Wikipedia’s definition and I was close:

Space opera is a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes space warfare, melodramatic adventure, interplanetary battles, as well as chivalric romance, and often risk-taking. Set mainly or entirely in outer space, it usually involves conflict between opponents possessing advanced abilities, futuristic weapons, and other sophisticated technology.

So earlier this year Tor.Com offered a Summer of Space Opera Sampler I snapped it up. It has five excerpts from pending or just released longer stories. All Systems Red:The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, Killing Gravity:The Voidwitch Saga by Corey J. White, The Ghost Line: The Titanic of the Stars by Andrew Neil Gray and J.S. Herbison, Starfire:A Red Peace by Spencer Ellsworth and Acadie by Dave Hutchinson.

 

Two of the excerpts have a very old school feel to them.  Starfire combines swords with blasters, a combination that I have always felt only works if you are a Warhammer 40K fan. I just find it hard to believe that a futuristic society would have space ships, space weapons but also armies fighting with swords. Aside from that I liked the dual plot lines that were introduced in the story. In one a cross breed human has defeated the pure human empire and is now pondering pogrom on the remainder of pure humanity. Also there is a mixed breed pilot who is being kidnapped to carry some pure breeds off planet.

The second old school story, The Ghost Line has to do with a ghost ship and a crew hired to possibly salvage it. Their mysterious employer is not entirely clear about their goals. Taking place in the not too far future it could almost be a side story from the world of The Expanse. Slow ships from Earth to Mars, Belters mining asteroids etc… Had a very strong feel from the Golden Age of Science Fiction, and I enjoyed it a great deal.

acadie

The third story (chronologically) was my favorite. Called Acadie, it’s about how some brilliant genetic engineers fled earth and started moding their bodies. While the topic in the book, Earth’s continual search to capture and punish these people, called Makers, the scene where the council is meeting is very funny. The sample gives a very good history of what happened previously and the challenges facing the Makers and the others that live with them when it looks as if Earth has finally found them. I will probably purchase the entire story when it is available; I liked both the humor and the dilemma.

All Systems Red reads as a detective story in space. Who is out to sabotage a project on a lonely planet? Can the assassin android, with a newly but secretly disabled governor, help solve the issue? The premise is interesting and the android is an almost instantly interesting yet complex character, it leaves you at a cliff hanger and makes you wonder, always a good thing.

The last in the excerpts, Killing Gravity, was probably my second favorite. It throws you in the action without a data dump and then slowly feeds you a lot of information in a smooth measured manner. The concept of PSI and other powers being taught to humans and used in space has a lot f interest as a plot device and it is interesting to speculate where the story is going.

killing

It should be noted that these are just a few pages from short stories. None of the tales that the samples come from tallies much over 200 pages and most are in the 160 range.

All Systems Red is a Kindle single available for $3.99, or $10.39 in paperback, 160 pages. Starfire: A Red Peace is in pre-order mode at $4.99 on Kindle and $11.66 in paperback, 210 pages. The Ghost Line is also a Kindle single available in that format for $3.99 and paperback for $14.97 at 146 pages. Acadie, another Kindle single is available for preorder at $3.99 or $7.60 for the print version with no page count (that I could find.) Killing Gravity, also a single, is $3.99 for the Kindle version and $1039 in print, 176 pages.

Space Team by Barry J. Hutchison

spaceteam

Cal Carver is dashingly handsome, clever, witty, resourceful, brave and heroic. Well maybe one of these features at least. But he believes it darn it and he will do what a man needs to do. Cal is the hero, of sorts, in Space Team, a tongue in cheek Sci-Fi book by Barry J. Hutchinson that is the first in a five book series.

Cal is just a low level criminal who has been tossed in a cell with a hardened criminal nicknamed “The Butcher”, a cannibal that has eaten and killed 48 people-some eating starting prior to death apparently. However the book does not dwell on such morbid issues, much. Instead it is the adventures of Cal (originally masquerading as the Butcher) and a team of misfits that Zertex, giant corporation/government, hires to get some damaging footage from a planetary warlord before it starts an interstellar war

The team includes Mizette, a werewolf type who is very much a woman. Mech, a huge cyborg that can go from being a genius to a killing machine with the twist of a dial and who probably goes by the name Mech as his birth name is Cluk Disselpoof.  and Gunso Loren, a Zertex officer who has issues of her own rounds out the team. Oh and a green blob named Splurt that can assume the shape of anything, and its functionality.

willful

I have read a number of Sci-Fi and fantasy humor books in the past, but I think few have done it as well as Space Crew. The humor always seems fresh, and Hutchison constantly comes up with a line that makes me break out laughing. The closest book I have read that compares is probably Steven Erikson’s Willful Child.

However Ericson’s protagonist, Hadrian Sawbuck, is a supremely competent officer while Carver is only supremely confident, but believes that he is equally competent. However there is more to Cal than meets the eye. He is brave, and willing to instantly take steps. Has the ability to think things through, and gets to the obvious issues quickly rather than being distracted by side issues. It is that his mouth runs away from him and he is not as clever as he thinks he is. He likes to poke, poke, poke everybody around him.

Sternn
Captain Sternn

I try and avoid mashups when writing about books, you know a blurb that says something like “Gone With the Wind” meets “Aliens.” However Carver seems to be a mix between Captain Sternn from Heavy Metal and Peter MacNicol’s annoying camp councilor in Addams Family Values.

 

There are some reviews out there that compared this to either Terry Pratchett or to Douglas Adams and I don’t really see the comparisons, except that they are all comedies. I really believe that the Space Team stands on its own merits and highly recommend it. How can you not love a book that has an alien made out of stone who likes Dolly Parton, a zombie God, an evil soda company, and a quick guest appearance by Tobey Maguire. Also there are some clever plot twists.