Summer of Space Opera Sampler from Tor.Com

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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.

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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.

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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.

Warship by Joshua Dalzelle

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After finishing Marines I decided to jump into another of the books I received from Discover Sci-Fi. This one was entitled Warship (Black Fleet Trilogy, Book 1) by Joshua Dalzelle.

On the face of it I was unsure if I would like it because it sounded so familiar. A disgraced captain, a ship under a cloud, untrustworthy commanding officers, a possible alien foe. Sounds like numerous other space operas such as No Honor in Death.

It started out as I expected but quickly took several surprising turns, but first a bit of background. The time is several centuries in the future and groups of nations have colonized numerous planets and each group has a space fleet, however there has not been an armed conflict for over two centuries. The Seventh Fleet, part of the Terran Confederate Starfleet forces, nicknamed the Black Fleet, is an aging, expensive archaic symbol of the past. As is Earth as the planet Haven is now the center of this alliance, with Earth a backwater.

Enter Captain Jackson Wolfe, looked down on because he is actually from Earth, the commanding officer of the aging destroyer Blue Jacket. The ship has become the depository of a number of troublesome and incompetent sailors in the fleet, but who only make up a percentage of the crew. Sent on a long patrol without the benefit of a proper refit, things change rapidly.

Jackson and the crew of Blue Jacket find a world on their patrol, formerly inhabited now with no cities and no sign of the former habitats on the planet. After that things get much more intense as they run into a giant alien ship.

There was a great deal I liked about the book. While it starts out with some standard Sci-Fi tropes it does a good job developing them. Worn out ship without enough spare parts, untrustworthy crew members, new staff, and contradictory orders, kind of the basic drill for many space operas. But things change, slowly at first and then at an ever increasing pace.

The captain is smart and clever but has his flaws. The other characters ring true with one exception. You see people learning and in some cases expanding with additional responsibility and in one or two becoming craven. The one character that did not ring true to me was Jackson’s commanding officer Admiral Winter, who seemed to have an almost pathological hatred for him that seemed to completely warp her judgment. It might have been nice to know why. Also she documents her dislike in videos and other communications which she must know in a modern electronic age nothing is likely lost.

The pacing was ok, starting slowly as the players and the universe are explained, with a not too onerous data dump. Then as the cruise starts some interesting things come afoot almost as soon as they leave dock. Somewhat changed orders from an interesting source lead to the discovery of the alien ship and the story really picks up speed.

I really liked the portrayal of the alien entity. So often they seem like characters that are just funny looking humans with the same relative technology. This was very different and I will be very interested to see how it and the humans continue to evolve their battle tactics against each other.

I also enjoyed the descriptions of the workings of the Blue Jacket. So often it seems like a ship will just jump from point A to Point B with basically a snap of the fingers. Here components have to be primed and then used in a specific order and it takes a good deal of time. I also enjoyed the battles as the Blue Jacket used a variety of weapons, all of which had strengths and weaknesses in their destructive power, how they could be employed and the distances that they were effective.

As the challenges grow so does the captain, who becomes more creative in his responses and also starts to listen to advice from the staff, some of whom had earlier lost some of his trust. Combat and a determination to prevent the alien from its perceived goal, rather than outright victory drive him.

I did think the finale, which is after the last battle, was pretty predictable, but also very enjoyable. This is a solid space opera and I plan to read the rest of the series in the near future.

Marines: Crimson Worlds I by Jay Allan

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I saw an offer on Twitter for five free Sci-Fi books if I followed Discover Sci-Fi online. How could I pass up a deal like that? Of course one of these days I will sign up for something without reading the TOC and find I just purchased a time share that has a resident elephant.

One of the novels I received was Jay Allan’s Marines:Crimson Worlds I. It takes place a few hundred years in the future where the Earth, after a series of terrible wars the governments have united into seven superpowers that have expanded to the stars and have taken the strife with them.

The book chronicles the rise of Erik Cain, a street punk who becomes the fastest rising Marine of his generation, becoming a brevet general by the end of the book at age 35. While uneducated after 8 years old that is no problem, Marine boot camp is six years long and you receive the equivalent of a masters degree when you leave. Doing extremely well in his first combat assignments, in part by living, he moves up to the Marine equivalent of West Point and of course graduates top of his class. At West Point, AFAIK, everybody comes out a second lieutenant. But not Cain, he is jumped a grade. And so on.

Aside from my snark I did like the book but did not love it. The main character was kind of vanilla and until almost the end there is no other point of view. What I did like was Cain’s thoughts and feelings in combat, and having read a great deal on the topic when I was younger I felt that it really rang true. It was an easy read and at the end there is a section talking about the remaining superpowers. I liked that better than the usual info dump that books often use at some random point to catch you up on the back story. The Marines in part reminded me of the French Foreign Legion who swear fidelity to the legion not to France. The Marines are loyal to the Corp but drawn from and serving the Western Alliance. They have a strong esprit de corps.

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There were a number of issues that annoyed me. The AI and overall computer and communications systems seemed weak. No androids, cyborgs and very little automatic weapons on the ground? A single man is handling tactics of a vast space fleet engaged in combat with another vast space fleet, with minimal computer input? Current jet fighters seem to have better combat computer systems. The evil government is almost clownishly evil.

The book has a cliff hanger almost at the end and then reveals the plotting of the evil government and what it will mean for the troops and colonies in space. There are a few hints dropped in the book about future events, which seems to me that the author thought out the entire series prior to writing. Seeing as it is a nine volume affair that is probably a very good thing. I suspect that I will at least read one more book in the series and then decide if I want to invest the time for the full series

Space Team by Barry J. Hutchison

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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.

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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.

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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.

The Edmund Hamilton Megapack: 16 Classic Science Fiction Tales

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I loved pulp science fiction when I was younger. I read Before the Golden Age: A Science Fiction Anthology of the 1930’s, edited by Isaac Asimov, as well as several other anthologies from that and subsequent eras in High School.  They had everything a young kid could want, space ships, atomic guns, little green men, monsters with one eye and fifty arms, brave men and women who needed saving.

Nowadays, for the most part, it has changed a lot. The technology is much more advanced, and it seems more reality based. Alien cultures are much more varied and nuanced and in many cases much more frightening than early authors ever imagined. Women are increasingly being portrayed as the star, saving the day for everyone, and for that matter women have become noted authors as well. Reading modern space novels often makes older books seem childish by comparison.

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However a few days ago I was looking at a list of eagerly awaited science fiction books for April on The Verge  and came across an interesting entry. It was about a book entitled Avengers of the Moon by Allen Steele. It said it was based on a series of pulp Sci-Fi novels focused on a character named Captain Future primarily authored by Edmond Hamilton, and written with the permission of the Hamilton estate. I had no idea who Edmond Hamilton was, even after reading his bio and with the strong possibility that I could have very well have read him years ago. I went and made my favorite Amazon purchases, a 99 cent MegaPack, this time of his writing.

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Naturally the stories had a very dated feel to them, but some worked and some did not.

In a couple of his stories such as  Door into Infinity and The Legion of Lazarus he uses odd phrasing, as the stories went along his writing seemed to get stronger but he still had the odd turn of phrase. A person that is knocked unconscious is in ‘stygian obscurity” and another person’s hands are “lax in their lap”, another’s eyes were like “burnished crumbs.”

Some of them read like 1950’s sci-fi movie scripts. The City at World’s End about the town sent millions of years into the future due to a super atomic blast certainly did. Afraid of the people from the future (the present really) the simple townspeople are willing to take up weapons in order to protect their way of life, one that is over and the only reason they are alive is because of advanced technology. This is one that did not age well.

Some did, when taken in context. Blasters firing, odd alien parasites, space pirates and ulterior motives in The Stars, My Brothers was good fun although the thought that an heiress would fall for the man that just put her life in deadly peril seems a bit farfetched. But the hero always seems to get the woman in these stories.

I am not sure if the stories in the MegaPack are in the same order in which they were written, but they felt like it. I found the early ones to be far inferior to the later.  The early space stories particularly seemed dated even for the time in which they were written.

The later stories including The Man who Evolved, and Devolution, about where mankind came from, all were very good and I could really seeing them as being forward thinking in their day. He seemed to find his stride in later stories and they were much more readable and interesting, and cover more than just Sci-Fi, such as his The Monster-God of Mamurth that takes place in Africa and The Man who saw the Future that takes place in France and are more fantasy than Sci-Fi.

One thing that stand out, and not in a positive way, is how women are portrayed. Just like in movies where they fall when fleeing a slow moving mummy, woman are frail sorts, with the possible exception of the one in Corridors of the Stars. While she is capable of knocking a man out with a single blow, she is also referred to as a ‘piece’ and other derogatory descriptions. That is the one real standout example, but in the rest of the stories the woman always fall for the man, who is always right.

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The odd thing is that one of the reasons that I read the book was to get an idea about the Captain Future books. I guess I should have looked at the synopsis better because there were no short stories in which that character stared. I am always a sucker for serial books such as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom and Pellucidar series, or even Doc Savage by Lester Dent et al, I always like them as late night comfort reading when I really do not want to think. After the first few stories I enjoyed the stories and will look for a Captain Future book to see what that is like.

Extracurricular Activities by Yoon Ha Lee

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I was looking to see when Yoon Ha Lee’s follow-up to Ninefox Gambit was due and found a short story that she wrote called “Extracurricular Activity” that features one of the main characters in Ninefox Gambit, Shuos Jedao.

The events in Extracurricular Activity take places hundreds of years before Ninefox Gambit. For those that have not read the book he was frozen after a long and very successful career as an assassin and then as an innovative general, then he turned psycho.  Here Jedao is a young officer still making a name for himself and he is assigned to capture a lost ship, and rescue the commander, an old friend, and the crew.  He already has a growing reputation as being able to escape sure death and with a mission accomplished in his file. It really humanizes him. In Ninefox Gambit there are some flashbacks to his youth, but they are cut up because of the way that they are discovered. In them he is for the most part cold and distant. In Extracurricular Activities he has a great deal of self confidence, more humor and there is a strong sexual nature to the story as well.

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Two things instantly stood out on reading the story. The bizarre weapons and tactics that are an important part of Ninefox Gambit are almost entirely absent. No turning people into pillars of salt of sheets of glass. No altering formations to become invulnerable to foes weapons. It reads as a good short adventure story. There are still oddities such as a nation that fights duels with custom pathogens.

The second issue is how much smoother the writing seemed to me. Without the odd features, which in truth are what made Ninefox Gambit unique, the story really flowed much better. It is also so much less complex, and I do not think I would enjoy an entire book written like this, but as a short story I think it works just fine. However I expect to the next book tohave a oddly complex plot with even more strange tactics.

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The next installment is entitled “Raven Stratagem” and according to Amazon it is due to be available June 13, 2017 and it looks very interesting.  However Extracurricular Activities is an easy entrance into the world of Ninefox.

The Reality Dysfunction by Peter F. Hamilton

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I am a huge fan of Peter F. Hamilton. I was introduced to him from another blog Walkerofworlds. I devour his Commonwealth Saga and The Void Trilogy series and have read The Abyss Beyond Dreams the first entry of the Chronicle of the Fallers series with the follow up A Night Without Stars floating around the house somewhere waiting its turn. Of course rather than read in order when I found a copy of one of his earliest books The Reality Dysfunction Part 1: Emergence at a garage sale I bought the book and started right in.

The story starts out a bit slow as Hamilton introduces the array of people and places that will be important later. Ione Saldana who rules a city state that is doing important scientific research, Joshua Calvert a owner of a space ship and a man who hits it big, indentured workers on a newly colonized planet called Lalonde and many more.

Initially it is hard to get a grip on where the story is going as it skips between new, developing worlds, space smuggling and views of different societies.  If you are unfamiliar with Hamilton’s work the science and its detailed descriptions can be a bit of a burden to work through. However if you are familiar you will see a great deal of technology, and society for that matter, will emerge more fully in some of his other books.

A few interesting items that I have not seen in other of his books is self aware habitats which grow, require nutrients and can communicate with the people that live in them. The same for space ships which are born with human embryos in them and the two are a bonded pair for life. The child then grows up in a human environment while the ship is left to mature I space. I thought that this was very clever.

One of Hamilton’s strengths is also his portrayal of the bad guys. Here there are various players that are showed to be evil and some that you question their morality. A man seeking to create a universe of clones of himself, Satan worshipers, smugglers bringing illegal weapons to fringe political groups and a lot more. The bad guys and the changing face of evil were very interesting and look to be horrifying in the follow up books.

I have to say upfront it is not my favorite of his books. While all of the elements that I enjoyed from previous books are present such as a large cast of realistic characters and plenty of different points of view (POV), lots of science and descriptions of it and very good world building. It just did not click with me. I did not find the heroes that interesting, and a bit one dimensional.  The story kind of dragged a bit. I was really not interested in any of the major players.

I noticed that this was the first major Space Opera from Hamilton and I think it shows. His character building in subsequent books is much better IMHO, the plots seem to flow more smoothly and while there is a lot of science I think that he presents it much better in the future. I doubt that I will read the follow up books in this series as he has plenty of more recent books that I have not yet started.

No Honor in Death by Eric Thompson

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I am always interested in how an author starts out a book. Sometimes it starts with a flashback, or a long introduction of the main players. No Honor in Death starts you out in a middle of a space battle aboard a dying battleship with its shields failing, its weapons controls damaged, the captain dead and the first officer with major injuries. Nothing like jumping into the deep end.

The central character of the book, and the following two in the series, is Captain Siobhan Dunmoore, who after taking over for the dead captain of the Victoria Regina manages to save what remains of the crew after an ambush by the Shrehari Empire. The book follows Dunmoore as she gains a new command, a troubled missile frigate named the Stingray and tracks her battles with foes and supposed friends.

I found Dunmoore to be a great character. Strong, driven and intelligent, she is also battered, almost burned out and tired. The Stingray has a reputation as a jinxed ship and after having three previous ships more or less shot out from under her; she has a cloud of her own to deal with. Her portrayal is what I like in a main character, an interesting combination of strengths and weaknesses, and the ability to recognize both and work with them. Odd personal note the first time I met someone named Siobhan I managed to pronounce the name She-O-bane. That may have been the last time I blushed.

The surrounding cast of characters was also strong. They all develop, often in directions you do not expect. Some develop into more than you expect and some continue to get worse. This goes for the active enemy as well as the allies.

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The book, after starting off in flash bang moves swiftly along. There are a number of themes running through the book that is common to naval combat books such as the Horatio Hornblower and Bolitho books, among others, which in turn were loosely based on real events. I imagine that following similar themes it not due to lack of imagination but that these issues are real life problems for the services. Taking over a divided, unenthusiastic crew after a poor captain’s departure. Check. Unsupporting or actively sabotaging  superiors. Check. A guardian angle in the top brass who believes in you. Check. This is not a criticism, I though Thompson played this out very well.

I also enjoy the layers of the story. The conflict with aliens is just the icing on the cake. New issues arise constantly. Officers that the captain believed she could trust fail her. Others appear to have ulterior motives while helping. Many are enigmas that are slow to show their true colors. Then the enemy has a host of similar if not identical issues.

One thing that stood out for me is the way that the aliens are portrayed. Violent and warlike, but also having many of the same problems that Dunmoore is having. Insulated high command too distant from the reality of combat, lack of focus and prioritization of what is important. An ossified hierarchy that keeps quality officers down if they do not have the correct connections or family back ground. The Shrehari have a feel of Japanese samurai about them, or maybe Kligons.

The arch villain, at least from the acknowledged foe side, has a high level of personal honor and focus to succeed for his nation. He is fighting a command that believes that ships should only fight in one manner, and that his revolutionary tactics, which his foes fear, have to be put aside to follow protocol. This reminded me a great deal of Admiral Lord Nelson’s departure from traditional tactical orthodoxy and the fights he had with high command over his approach.

I have two extremely minor issues with the book. Dunmoore often looks at someone and instantly discerns what is going on in their head simply by looking at their eyes or their expression. It seemed a bit overdone. Also the enemy captain, Brakal, a member of a race that places honor as a very high calling, seems a bit too crude. He rants and insults people constantly. I would thing that someone higher up would simply have him knocked off or that he would be so busy fighting duels that he had no time to command a ship.

I found No Honor in Death a fun action space novel. It moved along very well, had a plausible pot, engaging characters. While similar to others in this genre it was still an enjoyable book on its own merits and I plan to purchase and read the other two books in the series.

Also I am curious about one thing. I read this on my tablet. Does anyone else become obsessed with the little info blurb that tells you how long it will take to finish the book. Wait you mean I just read two pages and it’s now going to take 4 hours 32 minutes when before I read the pages it said 4 hours 31 minutes. Maybe it’s just me.

Heris Serrano by Elizabeth Moon

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A few months ago a buddy dropped off a grocery bag full of Sci-Fi books that he had no further use for and I have been slowly working my way through them, initially just selecting the ones that I might consider reading at some point and then carefully placing them on a shelve to be forgotten for an indeterminate length of time. The remainder is resting peacefully in the bag along with a growing collection of dust and dog hair.

The bookshelf in question is semi hidden in my unfinished basement. In front is an electrical conduit that in the summer hangs a selection of heavy, warm shirts and this time of year a large sampling of my Hawaiian shirt collection. Searching for an empty hanger found me looking at the books and I picked one out to sample. The book was entitled Heris Serrano by Elizabeth Moon. It was at the top of the pile and said that it was a space opera, a genre that I enjoy.

I liked the book in some ways, and it had some strong Pros and Cons. The book is about the adventures of the title character Heris Serrano after she is forced to resign from the Regular Space Service i.e the Navy.  The book is actually a collection of three Heris Serrano books, and the one I read was entitled Hunting Party, the next is Sporting Chance followed by Winning Colors.

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I really enjoyed the Serrano character. A strong woman that is not perfect. I dislike using the term flawed. She is just a human that has strengths and weaknesses like everyone. She did well in the military, until her disgrace, an issue that is partially resolved in the book. She takes over command of Lady Cecelia’s space yacht, and heads off to a fox hunt on a privately owned planet. Along the way there are issues with spoiled young adults and smugglers.

On the planet a darker issue arises as an old foe of Serrano’s is involved in a deadly game and the young troublesome wards of the Lady Cecelia are endangered. The two head out, and with some help save the day, at least for the time being. One foe’s last words hint at more trouble ahead as does the presences of royalty in some of the climactic events.

One of the major drawbacks was that aside from a few of the main characters all of the rest of the characters were walking stereotypes. She is headed to a fox hunt on a planet that is solely owned by a very wealthy lord, who lives in an imitation English manor. For that matter the universe is ruled by a royal family. It appears as if the cast of characters from Thank You, Jeeves or any other Wooster and Jeeves book simply were frozen in time to be thawed a thousand years in the future. People have nicknames such as Bunny and Bubbles. All that was lacking was a Bertie. It was way too forced for me.

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The comparisons to Wodehouse are inevitable but I think that it fails as an updated version gone into space. The straight storyline would be pretty good without all of the fops, layabouts and idlers and creating a manners piece as a subplot. Aside from the main characters almost everybody else in the book was one dimensional. Even their growth seems a bit forced and unrealistic. That is a pity because I really enjoyed the two leads and most of the action but the remainder seemed way too forced, and really not that interesting.

I am undecided on reading the remaining two volumes of the series. It seems pointed in an interesting direction but with a lot of fluff. I wonder if there is a Cliff Notes version?

March Upcountry by David Weber &John Ringo

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After the trudge that was Juvenal’s Sixteen Satires I was looking for something in a much lighter vein, and came across March Upcountry by David Weber and John Ringo. I have to admit I bought it because of the very comic cover. It has a team of people, some riding what looks to be a dinosaur firing at what looks to be a different but goofy looking dinosaur (on the back cover) that seems to me to have a very silly look on his face. The team shooting has one person firing what appears to be a long rifle (it turns out to be a rifle) while the others have advanced weapons of various types. One character looks like she is dancing.  Just what I was looking for.

I have a special place in my heart for corny, tongue in cheek books such as this one appeared to be. I hoped it would be in the vein of favorites (many from my youth) like the late Brian Daley’s Alacrity FitzHugh & Hobart Floyd books such as Requiem for a Ruler of Worlds. Or Toby Frost’s Isambard Smith series starting with Space Captain Smith.

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At face value it certainly looked to belong to this family. Its boilerplate says “Prince Roger MacClintock is a spoiled young princeling hardly worth the space he takes up. Now he must become a man, or the entire galaxy will suffer arrested adolescence.” It seems that I have read a number of books like this. A youth born with a silver spoon, schooled in life by a group of hardened veterans. You know the type, ones that can make a quip while shooting over their shoulder and taking a gnats eye out at 1,000 yards. This type of story appears in Sci-Fi, fantasy and most likely in comics and graphic novels as well.

It did not pan out that way. It is really more a coming of age book. The immaturity of Prince Roger quickly dissipates as the journey goes on, and when the reasons for his immaturity are shown it is both surprising and very believable. He has depth of character that develops over time. So do all of the other supporting characters starting with the Marines, both officers and enlisted men but also including a number of aliens. While there was humor it is not ever present, and sometimes it is just a clever aside such as referring to an Admiral as “The Dark Lord of the Sixth.” Nice way to sneak a Star Wars reference in!

March Upcountry is the first in a series called The Empire of Man. This book relates the experience of the price and his bodyguards, an elite unit of Marines called the Bronze Battalion, as their ship is sabotaged, forcing them to land on a hostile planet and fight their way across, in this book an island and later an ocean to get a starship to head home. They have to deal with dangerous flora and fauna as well as both friendly and immiscible non-human native tribes. It is no cake walk and even with a huge advantage in firepower the group takes major losses.

The book was a very enjoyable and fast read. It is very straight forward, no space opera such as Peter F. Hamilton’s Pandora’s Star and others in his Commonwealth Saga series. That is just fine with me. I enjoyed Pandora’s Star and I enjoyed March Upcountry, both very good in their very different ways. It was defiantly a great change of pace from The Sixteen Satires.