Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja

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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.

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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

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.