Monthly Archives: October 2013

Review: “Plugged” by Eoin Colfer

Title: Plugged
Author: Eoin Colfer
Series: Daniel McEvoy #1
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Overlook, 2011

I’ve been a fan of Eoin Colfer’s books for years. Artemis Fowl was the bomb, and I’ve read most of his other books too along the way. All of Colfer’s books I had read to this point all had one thing in common–they were aimed squarely at older kids/younger teens. Young Adults. The YA crowd. I knew Plugged was going to be different, mind you: the tagline alone told me that much. “If you loved Artemis Fowl, it’s time to grow up.” What I did not expect was this level of profanity and general sexual innuendo. Honestly, I might have been very turned off by the disconnect, had I been reading it as a paper or even digital copy. But there was a redeeming factor here that saved the experience for me–I was listening to it as an audiobook. Why does that make a difference? Because the book is told in first-person format, and the reader (John Keating) has an Irish accent to match the character’s. Why does hearing the aforementioned profanity in an Irish accent soften its blow, at least so far as my tolerance is concerned? Not really sure, but it does.

Daniel McEvoy is not having a good week. Life has been a bit rough in general, honestly, between his stints in the Middle East as a UN Peacekeeper, his abusive childhood, and the general lack of funds that finds him working the door of a sleazy nightclub in Jersey, but this last couple days have gone completely to hell. First, he goes to visit his friend, a sleazy unlicensed doctor operating a “pain clinic” and giving under-the-table Botox injections or hair plug operations. It is follow-up on this latter procedure that brings Daniel to the clinic this particular morning, except the doctor is out. Instead, he finds a knife-toting enforcer for the local wannabe-mob boss. This encounter does not end well for either–the enforcer has a key stuck in his jugular, and McEvoy has a target on his back. After cleaning up the evidence, McEvoy heads to work to find that his not-quite-girlfriend is dead in the parking lot with a hole in her forehead. Who killed her? And are the two events connected? McEvoy has no idea, but he’s determined to find out. Cops crooked and straight, a sleazy lawyer with a side business dealing drugs, a mob boss named “Irish Mike Madden” who’s never been to Ireland, and Daniel’s crazy-but-attractive upstairs neighbor….all these and more come into play as obstacles or distractions as McEvoy attempts to discover who killed his girl.

The good news? This is a lot of fun. Not really a surprise, given the fact that Colfer has been crafting crazy adventures for us to read for years. Which brings us to the bad news….you assume that the two disparate threads of things going to hell are connected–not because of anything that is said, necessarily, although McEvoy assumes the same thing, but because that is how we’ve been conditioned to think about these murder mysteries. Castle, Bones, any detective book ever written, they all start with a murder and something that doesn’t make sense until you figure it all out. That’s what draws you in. So naturally, you assume the missing doctor and the dead girlfriend are connected. Minor spoiler: they aren’t. I dislike spoilers, but in this case I think that knowing that upfront will improve your appreciation of the book by lowering your expectations that everything will somehow tie together. Let me say once again, this book is incredibly entertaining. Don’t let this one structural flaw prevent you from reading it.

Content: R-rated language throughout. A good deal of violence, occasionally gory. Sexual innuendo, mild to moderately explicit and nearly always humorous.

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Review: “Artemis’ Nightrise” by Doug Langille (Short Story)

I usually review books, and as a function of there being a lot more to a book those reviews can get quite long at times. This is a review for a short story, Artemis’ Nightrise (****), written by Doug Langille and posted at Dark Futures. In this story we are given a very brief glimpse into the dawn of a new world as a clan of starfaring vampires finally find a suitable home, one with a surprise beyond their wildest hopes….For all that this is a very short story that will probably take you less than ten minutes to read, if that, you gain a surprising amount of insight into the world of the characters. Not so much that you are satisfied, mind, but enough that the story makes sense without any prior knowledge of the world involved. I have no idea if there is more to this world Mr. Langille has created, but if there is I plan to explore it….

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Review: “Gideon’s Angel” by Clifford Beal

Title: Gideon’s Angel
Author: Clifford Beal
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Solaris, 2013

I received my copy of Gideon’s Angel through the Goodreads FirstReads program. This in no way influences my review, except to ensure that I was able to get ahold of this book and thus review it. I have to say, I really enjoyed this one. I want to describe it as “steampunk,” but my understanding is that steampunk is usually set in the 1800s (or at least that level of tech and society) whereas this work is firmly set in 1653. If there’s already a term for pseudo-historical fiction with a fantasy touch set in that timeframe, I apologize for not knowing what it is and using it accordingly.

Things are not going well for Richard Treadwell. The English Civil War is over, the King’s Cavaliers lost to the forces of Parliament and Oliver Cromwell, and Charles I has been executed. Treadwell has managed to escape the destruction of his cause, and has spent the past eight years in exile in France, performing a delicate balancing act between loyalty to his exiled king* and his employer, Cardinal Mazarin. When Mazarin informs him that someone is using the forces of Hell to tip the balance in their favor and asks him to spy on the exile court to find out if it is one of the king’s supporters, Treadwell decides that it’s time to get out of Paris. He accepts a mission for one of the king’s more militant supporters that will take him back to his beloved England–to lead a Royalist uprising, one last try to oust Cromwell and his Puritan cronies. Treadwell has other business to tend to as well, including a wife who by now probably considers herself a widow. Unfortunately for Treadwell’s simple worldview, it soon becomes clear that Cromwell’s power is the only thing preventing the more radical Puritan elements from running roughshod over the whole country. Worse still, a demon from the pits of Hell has appeared to a radical Puritan sect masquerading as an angel of light and ordering the death of Cromwell so that the Kingdom of God may be fulfilled. Now instead of assassinating Cromwell Treadwell will be forced to save him–if he can find a way to fight the forces of Hell, gain some allies in his quest, and avoid d’Artagnan, a young Musketeer dispatched by the Cardinal to bear him back to Paris….

I really enjoyed this book. It’s not exactly “high literature,” but I think I’ve very well established that I care far more about a work’s entertainment value than whatever it is critics look for. The world Beal creates here feels very real, slipping in background historical information without making you feel like you’ve been lectured. Some readers will probably wish for more background on the English Civil War, and that’s fine. If they care that much, there are numerous good books on the subject. If they don’t, there’s a Wikipedia article that should give you a good rundown on what happened. Beal manages to evoke seventeenth-century London in all its grimy glory, much as it would have actually been aside from the fact that all the magic we dismiss as superstition is actually going on behind the scenes. Moreover, this magic very much resembles what you would find depicted in the folklore of the era without obvious modern embellishment. I’m not really all that well versed in the history of the Freemasons, so I can’t accurately speak to how they were portrayed here except to say that I very much doubt their claim to date back to the builders of the pyramids. Then again, I doubt they have the tools to summon demons too, so maybe I shouldn’t be too critical. Secondary characters generally proved to be interestingly complex, especially Billy Chard, but I am seeing criticism of how the female characters in the book act. They aren’t weak characters by any means, but they are constrained by their roles in society. Treadwell’s wife has pragmatically joined her fate to that of the officer who took over Treadwell’s land when he was banished and is pregnant with his child. Is she weak for this? Or is she a strong female doing what she has to in order to protect what is left of her family? Treadwell’s Parisian mistress follows him to England rather than stay in Paris and face the scandal of their liasion alone. Weak, for needing Treadwell by her side? Or strong, for following him into whatever dangers he may be facing? Finally, Isabelle decides to follow her father and the rest of Treadwell’s band into battle against the forces of Darkness, deciding that it would be better to fall by his side than live on without him. Possibly a sign of weakness, but look at her situation realistically. She and her father were driven from Spain for their Jewish heritage, her mother dying along the way. Jews do not fare well in the Christian world of the seventeenth century, not even in England. The lot of a young woman alone in the world is already hard enough in this time without adding the burden of religious and ethnic persecution. She would have no respectable means of supporting herself, and could conceivably find herself forced into prostitution–on her own if she was lucky, as no more than a slave if she was not. Is preferring death in battle to such a fate a sign of weakness or of strength? She certainly has no trouble speaking her mind, and in fact berates Treadwell severely for endangering her father when they first meet. I suppose I can understand where some people would find these characters and their portrayal to be weak and sexist, but I respectfully disagree. I submit that instead they are strong characters reacting realistically to a world where women are not treated equally–in fact, I would have more of a problem with them if they demonstrated anachronistic modern sensibilities.** The ending was a little deus ex machina, but on the whole I didn’t mind. I would say that I want to read a sequel, but I don’t think the author could come up with anything to top this in terms of personal impact on the characters–Treadwell’s internal conflict between hating Cromwell and having to save him is very well done, and I fear Beal would prove unable to find something equally interesting as a follow up. We never really got to find out what happened to Treadwell back during the Thirty Years War that introduced him to the world of angels and demons, so I could see maybe writing that up….I’d buy it, anyway.

CONTENT
R-rated language, occasionally harsh but I would argue not gratuitous. Moderately explicit sexual content, as you would expect from a work in this vein.*** A fair amount of violence, from both man and demon. Not usually too gory in its description. There is also a good deal of occult content, as the villains are summoning a demon they believe to be an angel. This demon’s lesser minions dog Treadwell and his friends, and there are multiple encounters with them. One is implied to be a golem, others appear as strange amalgamations of beast(s) and man. For me, this is adequately balanced by the recognition that, as powerful as the forces of Darkness are, God is far more powerful than they. Bottom line: if you’re mature enough to handle the other content, I don’t believe the occult elements should prove to be an issue.

*Charles I was executed, while his son Charles II went into exile. Just in case you were concerned with the historical accuracy of the book. So far as I can tell, this is pretty accurate. You know, aside from the demons and fictional characters roaming London…..

**Please understand, I’m neither defending nor endorsing the inequality of the seventeenth century. Neither is Clifford Beal, for that matter. I’m simply pointing out that it was how it was, and this was the world the characters would have come from. I’m all for equality, but to whitewash history and pretend it was different from it was….that way lies dangerous waters.

***This evokes more than anything a supernatural-tinged Alexandre Dumas novel for me….and you know how bawdry his musketeers could be when they wanted to be.

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Review: “Odd Interlude” by Dean Koontz

Odd Thomas is back! After an absence of many years from the publishing scene following the release of Odd Hours, we have more Odd Thomas books! (Yes, I know I’m late. I was broke. Shut up.) Odd Interlude (*****) was first published as a three-part ebook novella, only later collected and published in a hard copy form. Honestly, nothing here is going to change your understanding of the other Odd Thomas books. That’s no reason not to read this, however. It’s a wonderful ride, as is nearly every other installment in the series. (I’m not really a fan of Forever Odd, which is a matter of record.)

This particular installment in Odd’s adventures is set immediately after the close of Odd Hours as Odd and Annamaria leave Magic Beach behind them in the car they borrowed from Hutch at the end of that volume. As they travel towards whatever end Odd’s eventual destiny is drawing him towards, they stop for the night in Harmony Corner, a quaint little roadside outpost. To anyone else, Harmony Corner would seem an inviting place–a diner, a gas station and garage, cabins for rent…all presided over by the extensive Harmony clan. Should be a great place, right? Then why does the whole place make Odd’s flesh crawl?

Longtime Koontz fans will recognize the setting of certain parts of this story. We got a brief hint in Odd Hours that Odd and Christopher Snow, protagonist of Koontz’s novels Fear Nothing and Seize The Night, share the same world. In Odd Hours Odd has a shirt he bought at a thrift shop with the words “Mystery Train” emblazoned across the front. With Odd Interlude, the connection is made explicit. Harmony Corner is only a couple miles from a fun little place called Fort Wyvern, a military base supposedly abandoned after the Cold War. Readers of Christopher Snow’s books will know Wyvern isn’t nearly as abandoned as is supposed, and is not a place you want to go poking around. Not a longtime Koontz reader? You won’t get too lost. You’ll just miss that chill that runs down your spine when you realize that Wyvern has birthed yet one more evil to unleash on Koontz’s protagonists.

Oh, and if you’ve been a Koontz fan from the beginning, one of the Snow books made a reference to being in the same world as Watchers, so there’s that.

Content advisories
Language: PG-13. Brief, but occasionally strong. Koontz has been making a notable effort to reduce this in his more recent books, but it doesn’t feel forced.
Violence: PG-13. People die, but usually not in grotesque detail. There is tragedy, but it is balanced with hope. Still, occasionally disturbing. Another factor: the lingering dead. These can be a little grotesque at times, depending on the manner of their demise.
Sex: PG-13. The subjects of rape and child molestation occasionally come up in the course of Odd’s adventures, given that he sometimes runs into the lingering spirits of victims of such crimes. Not explicit, not gratuitous, but not for kids either.

THE ODD THOMAS SERIES, BY DEAN KOONTZ
Prequel: You Are Destined To Be Together Forever
Book I: Odd Thomas
Book II: Forever Odd
Book III: Brother Odd
Book IV: Odd Hours
Interlude: Odd Interlude
Book V: Odd Apocalypse
Book VI: Deeply Odd
Book VII: Saint Odd
Manga Prequel Series
Odd Passenger (Non-Canon Webseries)

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Review: “Star Wars: Crucible” by Troy Denning

Title: Crucible
Author: Troy Denning
Series: Star Wars (Legends Canon)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Del Rey, 2013

I’ve recently fallen a bit behind the Star Wars publishing schedule for, ah, budgetary reasons. But with an influx of birthday cash, that problem is solved! So now I’m catching up, and can share my thoughts on these newfound treasures with my helpless adoring readers. Lucky you! Next up, Crucible by Troy Denning.

Crucible is a standalone title in the ongoing Star Wars Expanded Universe, occurring about a year after the close of the Fate Of The Jedi series and X-Wing: Mercy Kill, or about 45 ABY.* We open on Han and Leia in a bar waiting for Lando. Lando owns a refinery in the Chiloon Rift, and has been having trouble with some pirates who coincidentally showed up right about the same time as the Qreph brothers, owners of an outside outfit who wants to buy Lando out. Oh, and they’ve got Mandos and bioengineered cyborgs running their security system. Throw in a couple other “coincidences” and one or two unsubtle power grabs, and you’ve got a crooked game even Leia can see without resorting to her Jedi powers. But when an “industrial accident” comes close to taking out his friends, Luke decides its time to join the investigation himself. What he finds is chilling–the stakes of this hostile takeover bid are far higher than Tendrando Arms’ small operation. The Qrephs want nothing short of controlling the entire Galactic economy. Sounds far-fetched? They might pull it off, between their Columi mental abilities and their cloning efforts. And into the bargain they have a shot at taking out Han Solo, with whom they have unfinished business. He doesn’t know them, but they know him–and they are not happy about it. Throw Vestara Khai into the mix, several missing Jedi and the ongoing hunt for Mortis, and you come up with Crucible.

Crucible is a standalone, and it does manage to stand fairly well on its own. The events of last decade and a half of publishing have shaken the Galaxy Far Far Away to its core, and everyone has to deal with that, but on the whole this book is divorced from the politics of the wider Galaxy. This is Han, Leia, Luke and Lando, joined later by Ben and Tahiri, fighting in a barren corner of the galaxy–to save it from an insidious threat, sure, but more viscerally to save their loved ones. So yes, you’ll need a basic overview of recent galactic history, but more importantly you’ll need to be aware of the character beats that have gone before. Most of them get explained in the book, but it’s good to know going in.

Galactic History for the newbies! Recently, Han and Leia’s oldest son Jacen fell to the Dark Side and plunged the Galaxy Far Far Away into civil war once again. Jaina, his twin sister, was forced to take him out to stop him and save innocent lives. In a surprise move, the war ended with Natasi Dalaa ruling the Galactic Alliance from Coruscant. After settling into power, Dalaa blamed the Jedi for the war and exiled Luke for the crime of failing to foresee Jacen’s fate. Luke and his son Ben set off on a quest into the Unknown Regions to determine why Jacen fell. Meanwhile, the descendents of the crew from a wrecked Sith warship set out to return to a galaxy much changed in the millenia they’ve been stuck on their lone world. Luke and Ben are forced to join forces with a small group of them to fight a powerful Dark Side creature, Abeloth, who may have been partially responsible for Jacen’s fall and has strange ties to The Ones seen in the Clone Wars TV series trilogy Secrets Of Mortis. Ben and Vestara Khai, a young Sith girl, even fall in love. This ends about as well as you would expect when the Sith attempt to seize control of the galaxy and even occupy Coruscant before the Jedi can stop them. In the wake of this invasion, the Jedi are once again pariahs. There are those in the Alliance who don’t blame them for what happened with the Sith, but these voices are few in number and the Jedi have relocated to Hapan space….**

I really enjoyed this book. It’s been a while since there’s been a standalone novel focusing on the original characters has been published in this part of the timeline–quite a few of them filling in explored episodes between films, but the later part of the timeline has been largely dominated by sprawling epic series that tend to have a darker tone, such as The New Jedi Order, Legacy Of The Force, or the most recent Fate Of The Jedi. I’m not saying this is lighthearted, by any means, as Del Rey is perfectly capable of killing off major characters in a standalone, but the focus on the original characters lends an air of the adventure of the classic films that has been slightly overshadowed by the darkness of recent events. That said, this is a VERY violent book. Our cast of characters gets shot, tortured, blown up and burned so badly that for a while I had a sneaking suspicion that one purpose of the book was to get the characters looking as rough as their actors currently do–with the possible exception of Harrison Ford, the cast has not aged nearly as well as the book covers would suggest their characters have. If you’re an old hand at the Star Wars EU, you’ll enjoy this. If you’re a newcomer unwilling to backtrack and marathon everything since The New Jedi Order, this is a decent jumping-on point. You may want to consult Wookieepedia occasionally to get a reference or two, but you shouldn’t be too confused.

CONTENT: PG language. PG humor and flirting, mostly between Han and Leia (what else is new?) Quite a bit of brutal violence, more than usual for a Star Wars book. Not too gory, generally, but Luke and company get banged up pretty good.

*Star Wars dates are typically given the designators Before the Battle of Yavin (BBY) or After the Battle of Yavin (ABY), functioning similarly to our BC/AD, with the Battle Of Yavin (Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) as the turning point.

**Incidentally, the Columi come from a 1990 Choose Your Own Adventure book also by Troy Denning, Scoundrel’s Luck. Its not required reading, I had never even heard of it until I went digging.

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Review: “The 9 Lives Of Alexander Baddenfield,” written by John Bemelmans Marciano & Illustrated by Sophie Blackall

I received an Advance Reading Copy of The 9 Lives Of Alexander Baddenfield (****) via the ARCycling program, donated by the people at Reviewing Wonderland. Many thanks to everyone involved! This in no way influences my review except to ensure that it exists, as I likely would not otherwise have acquired a copy of the book.

This is a YA novel, and I know some people see that as a stigma, but just because something is aimed at younger readers doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of the attention of older ones–just look at The Chronicles Of Narnia, The Hobbit, Artemis Fowl, Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, D.J. MacHale’s Pendragon series, or The Hunger Games. Of course, the opposite is also true. Just because something is aimed at younger readers doesn’t mean it is worthy of anyone’s attention–just look at Twilight or its many clones.

The Baddenfield family (and all of it’s branches across the world) has earned a reputation for villainy. From buying Manhattan from the Indians for a handful of trinkets to chopping down the Washingtons’ cherry tree and blackmailing young George to take the fall, at the root of every evil deed or disaster the world has known has been a Baddenfield. The one redeeming factor in the history of this ill-fated clan is their tendency to die young, with their deaths reeking of poetic justice. Alexander Baddenfield is the last remaining Baddenfield the world over, orphaned at a young age on a hunting expedition/family reunion that wiped out the entire rest of the clan in a series of poetically just accidents. Alexander is raised by his caretaker, Winterbottom, himself the last in line of a long family who have through the ages tried (and failed) to prevent their Baddenfield masters from meeting their untimely demises. Winterbottom is determined to finally beat the family curse, and so has spent years keeping Alexander away from anything remotely dangerous. Until, that is, Alexander one day has a “Great Idea” and sets out to find a doctor who can transplant the eight extra lives from his cat into Alexander himself. It is no spoiler to reveal that this endeavor is successful, given the title of the book, and Alexander is soon free to indulge himself with the most delightfully death-defying activities he can imagine….

I’ve seen a number of other reviewers compare this to the writing of Roald Dahl, and while I think that this is a bit unfair I must admit that it is the easiest way to convey the feel of the book. Unfair, because this is a comparison that will never reflect favorably on its subject. It would be like comparing any other piece of humorous sci-fi to the work of Douglas Adams, or a work of horror to a good Stephen King novel. Compared to the inimitable Roald Dahl, nobody will be able to measure up. However, if we must compare this book to another author’s work, Dahl is probably the closest we can find. Dahl’s habit of using a whimsical tone to describe even the worst of situations is very much in evidence here, and while you almost certainly will not like young Alexander, you will find yourself interested in his adventures. A case could also be made for comparing this book to the works of the great Neil Gaiman, not in quality or prose style or anything definable, but just that this is the kind of idea he would have. I quite enjoyed the book, even laughing out loud a couple times–especially during the first couple chapters recounting the history of the Baddenfields through the ages. I would recommend it for anyone with a sense of humor, especially if that sense of humor tends to an appreciation for the funny side of darkness and tragedy.

Content: Violence. Spoiler alert: Alexander dies. A lot. And occasionally his deaths can be a little gruesome. I wouldn’t recommend this for little kids, but for kids who are mature enough to handle the repeated death of the protagonist I would say that this would be a good read. No profanity, no sexual content.

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Review: “The Tarizon Trilogy (The Liberator/Civil War/Conquest Earth)” by William Manchee

I received my copy of Tarizon Volume I: The Liberator (**) through the Goodreads FirstReads program. I found the other two in the clearance section of Half Price Books and picked them up cheap. This in no way influences my review, aside from the fact that I probably never would have read these books otherwise.

This is going to be a review of the trilogy as a whole; if you want to read my reviews of each individual book you can find those on Goodreads. They will have a lot in common with this review, but be a bit more focused. Reviews for Civil War and Conquest Earth may contain spoilers for the preceding books. Links follow:
Volume I: The Liberator (**)
Volume II: Civil War (**)
Volume III: Conquest Earth (***)

Short version: this isn’t a terrible trilogy. It has numerous flaws, but it at least usually manages to be entertaining. On the other hand, there may have been a day when you had few better offerings in the field of YA literature, especially science fiction, but that is no longer the case. Now we have Ender’s Game, D.J. MacHale’s Pendragon series, or even The Hunger Games. If you aren’t limiting yourself to YA sci-fi, the field opens up even further. Ten-year-old me would have enjoyed this, new to the wonders of science fiction and all that could be. Then I read the masters, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Orson Scott Card, Timothy Zahn and the like, and my eyes were opened. This is not to say that I can no longer read mediocre books–on the contrary, I often have a strange weakness for them–but my tolerance for things that strain even for mediocrity is short. I’m not going to tell you not to pick this up, but just know what you are getting into. This is B or even C-grade stuff.

While billed as its own standalone work, The Tarizon Trilogy is actually a spinoff from Manchee’s Stan Turner mysteries. Stan Turner is a lawyer who, through some turn of events that is somewhat unclear since I haven’t tracked down his series, gets roped into working on a secret CIA endeavor–the Tarizon Repopulation Project. Tarizon is a planet in a far-off star system suffering the aftereffects of a series of crippling volcanic eruptions. This natural disaster has done enormous damage to their environment, and the resulting health problems for the population have been severe–including mutation and infertility. Although there are a few other humanoid species on Tarizon that have adapted to different environments, the main population is identical to Terran* humans. Facing a population crisis, the Tarizonian government contacted the U.S. government for aid. Fearing mass panic (and wanting sole access to Tarizonian tech), the CIA stipulated that everything be conducted in secrecy. Tarizonians come to the US and get married, have kids here where Mother Nature isn’t out to kill them, and then disappear back to Tarizon when the kids are old enough. The Terran spouse left behind? That’s just too bad. Not exactly what the Tarizonians had in mind, but the CIA won’t have it any other way….

Which is where our protagonist, Peter Turner, comes in. His father, Stan Turner, has just finished a court case tangentially related to the Tarizon project and is headed out to revisit the site where he and Peter had previously seen the Tarizonian ship. (This whole sequence, so far as I can tell, parallels a sequence in one of the Stan Turner mysteries.) Peter swipes the family car and heads out there himself, hoping to find his father and make sure he’s safe. Through a sequence of events not elaborated here, Stan has had a narrow escape with death and the villains of that story got their comeuppance, I can only assume, but all that is over and Stan is gone again by the time Peter arrives. Driving home and pondering just how much trouble he’s in, Peter comes across the Tarizonian ship leaving and is taken aboard to prevent him telling anyone what he has seen. He is informed that he is headed for Tarizon and will never see Earth again, orders of the CIA. On arriving on Tarizon, he is further informed that many believe him to be the young leader referred to in prophecy as The Liberator, who will save them all from an evil dictator and restore equality to Tarizon. This dictator has yet to actually take power, but everyone seems to know that he is going to try and it is just a matter of time. When he does, he has made no secret of his views–Humans on top, everyone else oppressed and enslaved. If they serve no purpose, wipe them out. Peter isn’t sure they’ve got the right guy, but he won’t have much time to worry about it as events force them to move quickly to prepare for the worst. Of course, things go the way everyone expects them to (no surprise, so I’ll argue that that doesn’t count as a spoiler) and young Peter is soon forced to test himself–and the prophecy–on the field of battle. The stakes couldn’t be higher, as not only the fate of Tarizon is threatened but Earth too hangs in the balance….

I ended up giving The Liberator two stars. I had been planning to give it one after that lackluster beginning, but as I went I found myself actually being drawn in and entertained. If not for the complete hash that was made of the beginning, it might have got three. No telling, as my perceptions of the whole were tainted by that beginning. As I mentioned above, I had the other two books in the trilogy already waiting on me. I was glad, because I wanted to know what happens but I don’t think I would have bought them after reading the first one. Borrowed them from the library? Yes, so long as it didn’t involve too much work to find them, but not spent money on them. Civil War was a little better, in that it at least didn’t have the incredibly flawed opening that the first one was saddled with, but that was about it. It was actually pretty dull. Conquest Earth managed both to avoid the problems of its precursors and actually be fairly interesting. It jumps around all over the place time-wise in the interest of sticking with one character for an entire chapter, and was a bit anti-climactic, but it was otherwise decent.

As entertaining as I found the books, there were a number of significant flaws I found it hard to get past sometimes. The connection to Manchee’s previous works was overblown and (during the first book) handled pretty clumsily, in my opinion. Information is thrown at you in the beginning as if you should already know who Stan and his family are. The sequence where Peter is abducted is clearly meant to run at the same time as the climax of one of the Stan Turner mysteries, but little information on that is given. Again, the author assumes you have already read it. Well, I haven’t, and I honestly have no plans to. The sequence while Peter is remembering/dreaming while in hibernation on his way to Tarizon was a little better, aside from the fact that dreams just don’t work that way. Dreams don’t show us memories unaltered, especially not just ones that conveniently fill in backstory. When memories and dreams collide there is always distortion and exaggeration. Like I said, better than just awkwardly throwing the information at us though.

In my considered opinion, the above issues could have been made moot and the story strengthened by loosening the ties to Stan Turner. Not cutting them altogether–the worldbuilding was decent, and would support most of the story just fine–but we’ve established that there are a bunch of human kids being taken to Tarizon against their will. Did the protagonist have to be Stan Turner’s son? By making that tie, we’re not only locked into summarizing/retconning** the relevant information from the other series (which, as I stated above, was done poorly) but the protagonist is now the son of a man who knows what’s going on and could probably do something about it if he chose. Not to mention making readers who haven’t read the previous series confused. A far simpler way to go would be to have a random son of a Tarizonian father or mother taken from Earth without being told what’s going on. How this is explained and why he is seventeen instead of seven as is usual when being taken can go anywhere–his father was a fugitive, they were waiting for younger siblings to mature, whatever works. Somehow kill off his family (there’s already attempts on his life, providing a convenient crossfire) and voila, almost the same situation with none of the awkward explanations. Or even the exact same scenario–a normal, non-Tarizonian boy gets abducted after seeing the spaceship–without the Stan Turner connection. Even that would have been better than forcing connections where they don’t need to appear. This would of course also force some changes in Conquest Earth, but wouldn’t necessarily preclude Stan and his family appearing as characters. They would simply need to be introduced properly.

The Tarizon Trilogy is a mix of original and cliched material, and it is very difficult to extricate the two. That isn’t always a bad thing–a lot of things become cliche for a reason–but there are times you yearn for a little more effort on the author’s part. Much of the worldbuilding is fairly original. A few of the different races are maybe a bit cliche–humans on top, oppressing the mutants and seafolk?–but others are fairly original (the Nanomites, even the rhutz are something mostly new). The idea of a world on the brink of collapse after disaster, requiring our aid? That’s new. The government hiding it from us? That’s not. That’s basically the entire premise of The X-Files. But so far as that goes, there are worse things to imitate….

The dialogue throughout the books is pretty stilted and unnatural-sounding. I’ve little room to talk, I’m pretty much rubbish at writing dialogue myself, but you expect a certain level of quality from a book that has been through the editing process and published.

Midway through book three, there is a space battle near Saturn. The ships involved are capable of travelling faster than the speed of light, and yet it is stated that they are still days away from arriving at Earth. Travelling at the speed of light, it would take about eighty minutes, ninety tops to travel from Saturn to the sun. Assuming Earth is on the far side and you have to maneuver, you could maybe get this up to three hours. Minor problem? Maybe for a YA reader, but anyone with any familiarity with the concepts involved will be able to spot the issue and call bullcrap. Either Manchee has an inflated view of the size of the solar system, or he doesn’t properly understand what FTL (Faster Than Light) means.

The characters….I would love to tell you that Manchee really shined in this area. It would make my enjoyment easier to understand. But he didn’t. Nearly all the players are two-dimensional stock characters such as would show up in a particularly action-driven Hollywood explosion-fest. We have our hero, a young man who is incredibly smart and charismatic but just never found the motivation to try very hard at anything until he is whisked away to another world and told he is to be their savior. Oh, and he discovers once he’s there that he’s telepathic. Sound familiar? Then we have our villain, the Vice Chancellor. He’s the second in command for the Tarizon government, and it is an open secret that he is planning to assassinate the Chancellor and take over. His first order of business? Enslave or exterminate anyone not purely human, and then take Earth by force. He’s not all that nuanced, and so not all that interesting as a villain. He wants to be Palpatine, but falls short even of Voldemort (Someday I will write more extensively on the flaws in that villain’s characterization….maybe in a few years when I reread those books.) His son is a little more interesting, but not a lot. There’s the love interest, with little opinion on anything political until Peter shows up. There’s the usual cast of sidekicks, but at least you can tell them apart, which is more than can be said for their counterparts in some series. The various wise leaders who will advise Peter on his journey to become the Liberator. The villain’s minions, with stereotypical fear of their boss. Like I said, I really wanted this to be something Manchee did well–it would have gone a long way towards redeeming the trilogy for me–but it fell flat.

The entire second volume, Civil War, was focused on the war between Videl and the defenders of the Supreme Mandate. All well and good, but the battles were very bland and boring. You got mostly just a big-picture view, without ever satisfying the need for interesting narrative from the battlefiend. There’s some covert ops stuff, but on the whole its pretty bland. Conquest Earth did better in this regard.

Minor quibble: there are a bunch of editing mistakes in my copy of The Liberator, and I have the trade paperback, so this is at least the second edition. Most of them are either homonyms or typos that got spellchecked into something unintended. You can always figure out what is supposed to go there by context clues, but it is indicative of the production values at work here. There is also a fair amount of bungled punctuation. There were far fewer in Civil War, but they still existed. Conquest Earth had a bunch of spots where the text size inexplicably changed for a half a page or so for no good reason.

Content: This is intended as a YA trilogy, but there is an awkward amount of sex in the first book that–for me–prevents it from fitting in that category very well. The violence and language would fit well into this category.
Sexual Content: There’s an awful lot of sexual content for a YA series. Yes, I realize the whole thing with needing to repopulate the planet does require some treatment of the subject, but to focus on it this much? This, to me, feels like one of those awkward mid-80s/90s films like Gremlins or Small Soldiers that can’t quite find its audience–a premise meant to appeal to younger viewers, but content that means only older ones can see it. Here, a series meant for kids or young teens, but too much sex to be appropriate for them to read.
Violence: This is war, so there is going to be a fair amount of violence. On the whole, it mostly wasn’t too graphic or disturbing.
Language: Mild. Nothing you won’t hear on primetime aside from one occasion of “taking the Lord’s name in vain,” as my father would have put it.

*Terran = Earthling. Terra is Greek for Earth, as Sol is for sun. This is a common sci-fi term, but it was unfamiliar to me when I first encountered it years ago (in a Star Trek novel, I believe), so I’m pointing it out here.
**Like I said, haven’t read Stan Turner. I have no idea how well the two match up or if this retconned some stuff from that series.

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