In The Company Of Ogres by A. Lee Martinez

ogres

It is not often in fantasy that you have heroes with names such as Regina, Ward, Frank, Ace, Miriam, and Tate. It is even odder when the heroes are orcs, goblins, ogres, Amazons, sirens and so forth. But that is the way of the world in “In the Company of Ogres by A. Lee Martinez.

However the star of In a Company of Ogres is Never Dead Ned. Ned’s issue is not that he cannot die, he often does and usually in a grim manner, it is that he does not stay dead. He does not come back as a zombie, although zombies do exist in his world, but as a not too motivated human.

In a time of peace, providing troops for ‘emergencies’ and peace keeping is a very profitable business and Ned has found himself assigned to lead Ogre Company in Brute’s Legion. The reason for the promotion is his skill in coming back to life, since the unit, the last stop for misfit soldiers, has been loosing commanding officers.

Ned reluctantly takes over the command of the unit only to discover more death (not surprising), love, the most powerful force ever, conflict, leadership and a whole lot more. There are demons, evil wizards, combat and personal issues all needing to be overcome.

I have always enjoyed humorous books and this one has shot to become a leader of the pack in terms of how much I enjoyed it. The humor is constant and not forced. Not a lot of laugh out loud moments, it just keeps a grin on your face sentence after sentence.

alice

While other books of this style often give a sly wink to other novels in the same genre, but not this one. I had thought maybe a Lords of the Ring, or any of the similar type stories would be somewhere in the book but no, it seemingly blazes its own trail and the only reference, that I caught, was of all things, Arlo Gutherie’s Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.

Overall I really enjoyed the book, enough that I read it twice-the second time on a flight where a little girl in front of me was seemingly enamored or puzzled by the cover.

Just as a side note I recently watched what might be the worst Sword and Sorcery movie from the 1980’s. I was a fan of this type of movie, just for the corny fun, but Deathstalker II may have killed that enjoyment forever.

DSII

The dialog was horrible, the sets and props apparently stolen from a failed Renaissance Faire, and the action scenes some of the worst I have ever seen. The climactic battle between Deathstalker and the evil wizard/swordsman will not bring to mind Errol Flynn versus Basil Rathbone in The Adventures of Robin Hood, or for that matter even the original Deathstalker. The female lead, Monique Gabrielle is possible the worst female actress I have ever watched. They should have made a Krull II, I mean look at the original cast!

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

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.

Kings of the Wyld by Nicolas Eames

kings

Sometimes it is the oddest things that draw you to a new book, and in this case it was the tag line The Boys are Back in Town. It made me think of Thin Lizzy (intentionally) and so I took a closer look at Kings of the Wyld, and the play on words to imply a rock band was clearly intentional, as is the line “It’s time to get the band back together.”

The book is about a mercenary band called Saga, which broke up more than a decade earlier, when it was the greatest band in the land. One of the members, former lead man Golden Gabe shows up at another band member Clay Cooper’s front door needing his aid in saving Gabe’s daughter, in part by reuniting their band. Lots of danger is involved, band has not talked in years, long hopeless trek; everything you would expect, at least on the surface. They gather the other members, Magic Moog, Matty Skulldrummer and Ganelon. All have aged and no longer have quite the reflexes, stamina and waistline that they once had. Aside from Ganelon who had been turned to stone, that is.

Now the mercenary bands are not like those seen in most fantasy novels. First off they are small, usually five members or so, some larger. They also do not align with nations going to war. Rather they use ‘Bookers” to get gigs cleaning out monsters from location after location. They also have a bard that can chronicle their deeds and immortalize them in song. Oddly, Saga’s bards all die. Sound familiar?

Bands have changed in the years since Saga retired. No longer playing small jobs in the sticks they now play major arenas in the larger towns. Bands often use makeup and precede performances with flashy displays. They often fight caged monsters rather than venture into the forest to fight them.

The book has the most varied animal bestiary than any I can remember. The country that they live in has a huge forest called the Heartwyld bisecting it that is home to all of the monsters. Sometimes bands tour the forest gaining glory and looking for artifacts from an almost vanished civilization.  There are many that I recognize, with trolls, ogres, giants, imps, kobolds, ettins, and others but also many I had never heard of before.

drag

There is a strong rock theme that permeates the entire book. Lyrics and partial lyrics are used, band names sound a lot like modern bands and other names carefully placed to imply songs or bands. There is a ship called Dark Star, Cooper’s nickname is Slowhand, a Syd Barrett, Neil the Young and many more inhabit the pages. However Eames never overplays it. If you were completely unaware of Rock you would most likely not even notice. It is just an interesting and often funny undercurrent to the book. One of Saga’s members is named Ganelon, which I am sure is a tip of the hat to the character by that name in The Song of Roland.

There was so much that I enjoyed about this book. Good characters and a wide variety of them. Very clear cut personalities and different reasons for their activities. The monsters were not all mindless hordes. You find that an Ettin can be kind and thoughtful and that cannibals like sweets. The humor is omnipresence but done with a nice light touch, often exemplified in the magic. Magic does not always work, and sometimes in strange ways. Another item that I liked was a good map. So often it looks like they asked a third grader to make a map with very vague landmasses and city locations.

I often get the feeling when reading both Sci-fi and Fantasy that the authors take the subject a bit too seriously; The Kings of the Wyld is the opposite. It uses clichés but smiles and laughs at them rather than pretend that it is the first time some type of event has happened in that type of literature. This is obviously the first in a series, hence the Band #1 subtitle, and it looks like the subsequent books will focus on solo careers of the members, and most likely involve the children of the existing members. Well them and the possible rebirth of a demi-goddess who quite likely is insane and might not like the role the band has played in the destruction of her family.

I found this to be a great debut novel. It was not the greatest Fantasy novel I have ever read, or the funniest take on a genre but it was by far the greatest combination of the two that I can think of. I am really looking forward to seeing what direction Eames takes the future books.