Tag Archives: war

Review: “The Rewind Files” by Claire Willett

Title: The Rewind Files
Author: Claire Willett
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Retrofit Publishing, 2015

Time travel stories are the bomb, especially when they’re done well. On that note, you should read this one.

Sometime in the twenty-second century, humanity discovered time travel. Predictably, we set out to undo a lot of history’s more appalling moments. Also predictably, this was a horrible idea. History unraveled, and thus was born the Agency responsible for fixing the timeline. Regina Bellows is perfectly happy being a desk jockey, staying safely in the twenty-second century and watching operations in the late twentieth through her instruments as field agents patch various decaying points in the timeline…until she discovers evidence of a conspiracy deliberately manipulating the timeline for their own ends. Soon she’s on her own, back in the twentieth century, trying to figure out just what’s so important about Richard Nixon, arguably the most boring President our country’s ever had….

This was fun. If you’re at all a history buff, you really ought to read this. Obviously a basic working knowledge of mid-20th century American history would benefit you in understanding what’s going on and where the timelines are differing, but at a pinch anything you need to know can be gleaned from a quick trip to Wikipedia. The book was painstakingly researched, and that degree of care is obvious in all elements of the story. The plot keeps you moving at all times, and there were only a couple points where I saw the next twist coming. Even then, it was a matter of outsmarting the characters, seeing a consequence to their actions that didn’t occur to them at the time. The time travel mechanic is consistently applied all the way through, with only one minor potential plot hole that occurred to me later—something that could probably be explained away fairly easily, but wasn’t actually addressed. My only real complaint is that as a fan of Reagan I was slightly offended by the characterization of his alternate-history self as a warmonger and corporate stooge. For a debut novel, that’s impressive. I would heartily recommend giving this one a read.

CONTENT: Brief R-rated profanity, most of the book falls in the PG-13 range. Mild violence. Mild sexual innuendo.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Novels, Reviews

Review: “A Storm Of Swords” by George R.R. Martin

Title: A Storm Of Swords
Author: George R.R. Martin
Series: A Song Of Ice And Fire, Volume III
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Bantam, 2003

Three down, two to go! Then I’ll join the horde of poor souls clamoring for the next book’s release…. Obviously, I loved this one. This is no real surprise, though, since everyone says this is the high point of the series so far. Given the awkward structure of the next two books, I can certainly understand that. Obviously, this will contain MAJOR spoilers for the first two books. You’ve been warned!

The chaos that has engulfed Westeros is abating slightly, in that the War of the Five Kings seems to be winding down a bit, but that in no way means that normalcy is anywhere on the horizon. In fact, for most of our favorite characters, things just keep on going from bad to worse. Stannis Baratheon’s bid to capture King’s Landing was foiled spectacularly by the cunning of Tyrion Lannister, but our favorite dwarf was nearly killed in the fighting. When he awakens from his wine-and-poppy coma, he finds himself without a nose….or his position as the King’s Hand. Instead of being hailed as the savior of King’s Landing, all Tyrion has earned is the hatred of the smallfolk. Now under the distrustful eyes of his father and sister, Tyrion is left little power to wield as he navigates the corridors of power. In the Riverlands, Robb Stark’s cause is dealt a deathblow by the loss of the North to Ironborn raiders. On the battlefield, Robb remains undefeated. In every other arena, things are looking dire. People are whispering about this young king who has won every battle, yet managed to lose the war. Heartbroken by the news of the supposed deaths of her two youngest sons, Catelyn Stark has committed treason, releasing Jaime Lannister from his captivity in exchange for the freedom of her daughters held captive in King’s Landing. Unfortunately for her, events have moved beyond such an exchange. While Tyrion would have honored that deal, Tywin has no such intention. Arya was never captured, escaping the city in the guise of a young boy headed to the Wall and now roaming the Riverlands trying to find her way to her mother at Riverrun. Sansa, on the other hand, has had a harsh time of things in King’s Landing. Now it looks as though she’s to be freed from her engagement to the young monster Joffrey, but such a stroke of good fortune can only last so long….Meanwhile, Bran and Rickon are far from dead. The treacherous Theon Greyjoy was unable to catch them, and so resorted to killing and mutilating a couple of peasant boys in the hopes that everyone would believe them dead. Now Rickon is being protected by the Wildling Osha while Bran travels north towards the wall with Jojen and Meera Reed in search of the three-eyed crow that haunts his dreams. North of the wall, Jon Snow walks a fine line as he pretends to be a deserter from the watch, all while watching for an opening to escape and report back to his brothers all he’s learned….if they don’t execute him for desertion when he gets there. Across the sea, Daenerys strikes a desperate gamble for the forces she will need in order to return to Westeros and reclaim her father’s throne….

Longtime readers of A Song Of Ice And Fire hail A Storm Of Swords as the high point in the series, at least as its been published so far. While I have yet to read A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons, I am inclined to agree. This was spectacular. Martin’s prose improves here, if anything. While some might describe the plot as rambling (a fair assessment, I suppose), I never got bored with it. The plot moved quickly despite various side roads, and the characters involved more than hold your interest through every up and down. And speaking of characters, Martin continues to shine here. The characters you already love get more complex, and new favorites are added to the mix…including one or two that you thought you hated. Believe it or not, all it takes to turn Jaime Lannister into an interesting character is the ability to get into his head. We got maybe a hint of his intriguing nature at the end of A Clash Of Kings, while he was being interrogated by Catelyn, but being inside his head takes the edge off his offensive tongue. Turns out he’s far more complex and conflicted than we’d been previously led to believe, and this reveal has been in the works since the first book. To say more would be to court spoilers, so I’ll shut up now. We also get a bit more insight into Tywin Lannister, though increased understanding does not necessarily bring with it increased affection. Tyrion is once again placed on the defensive, removed from his previous position of power and trying desperately to survive the machinations of his sister and father. As a result, he is somewhat less entertaining if no less interesting this time around. Without spoiling things, the major blows he takes towards the end of the book leave me holding my breath to see what happens to him next…and frustrated that I have to wait until book five to find out. In short, I cannot recommend this series highly enough. So go read it already!

CONTENT: R-rated profanity, not gratuitous, but not rare either. Rampant, disturbing violence, from hangings and decapitations to occasionally more grotesque fates–flaying comes up occasionally, though we don’t actually “see” that happen. There’s not-infrequent reference to torture though. Again, a fair amount of sexual content, including topics such as incest, rape, underage sex, and prostitution. Not really rendered in gratuitous detail, but often frankly and/or crudely discussed. There are also some elements that could be considered occultic, beyond the usual fantasy-based magic of dragons and monsters. The Others command an army of reanimated corpses, while the followers of R’hllor wield some very real power, including resurrecting the dead and reading the future (though not always reliably).

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Novels

Review: “East Of West, Volume I: The Promise” by Jonathon Hickman & Nick Dragotta

Title: The Promise
Writer: Jonathon Hickman
Artist: Nick Dragotta
Series: East Of West (Volume I, issues #1-5)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Image, 2013

Apparently this was one of the hottest creator-owned books to come out last year, and I totally missed it. No longer! I was recently scanning the graphic novel/comics section at the local library for that eye-catching sticker designating new acquisitions for my greedy perusal, when I ran across this particular gem. Science-fiction-slash-Western, you say? Well, I doubt it can top Firefly, but I’ll give it a go. Alternate history? I like alternate history. I find alternate versions of any familiar world interesting, especially ours. The apocalypse? I love a good impending apocalypse. Probably why I watch both Sleepy Hollow and Constantine these days, among a slate of others. All of these factors together? That’s gotta be interesting….

The Four Horsemen walk the Earth, heralding the end of days. Surprisingly, however, they do not stand united….Following a staggering betrayal, Death stands opposed to his former comrades, and may just prove to be the only hope humanity has left. The forces against him are legion, including a cabal that would hasten the apocalypse, and he has few friends left standing. But one simple fact remains: eventually, Death comes to every man….

That synopsis really doesn’t do the book justice, of course. Half the fun here is slowly figuring out exactly what’s going on. That can be a little difficult at times, admittedly–the book does you no favors in terms of presenting backstory in a timely manner–but is well worth it nonetheless. It’s less alternate history than it is a future based on an alternate history, but that difference is somewhat academic. Now, what else can I say about this without spoiling it for you? It’s delightfully over-the-top, the product of numerous impulses that blend together to give a flavor that is sometimes Tarantino, sometimes Eastwood, often manga/anime/whatever-you-call-it, and always amazing. I can’t wait to read the next collection….

CONTENT: Profanity on a PG-13 level. Some brief sexual innuendo and non-sexual nudity (it’s a childbirth scene, in case you were wondering). Over-the-top, bloody violence. I’m not sure occult is the right word, but we’re dealing with the Four Horsemen here. I’m not sure what other word to use. Oh, and there are a couple Native American witches. I suppose that qualifies as well.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Comics/Graphic Novels, Reviews

Review: “Orders Is Orders” by L. Ron Hubbard

Title: Orders Is Orders
Author: L. Ron Hubbard
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Galaxy Press, 2009

Once more I find myself reviewing one of L. Ron Hubbard’s pulp stories from the Golden Age! Thanks to Galaxy Press and the Goodreads FirstReads program for getting me the book in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on the substance of this review except to ensure its existence. Well, okay, it also moved up my queue when one of Galaxy’s marketing people sent me an email asking when they could expect to see it, but that’s the extent of the meddling I promise! It’s always nice to see the publisher taking an interest in readers’ opinions.

I’ve ranted before about the disrespect pulp fiction often gets, and I’m not going to do it again here. Short version: there’s nothing wrong with stories that exist solely for the entertainment of the reader. This isn’t high literature or the next Great American Novel, and you know that when you pick it up. This is adventure and danger and good triumphing over evil in the end. The prose will be a bit on the lurid, overly-dramatic side, and there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s par for the course. Don’t like it? Go read something else. I find it refreshing on occasion.

The time is 1937. Imperial Japan has launched a full-scale invasion of China, intent on exploiting their resources for the glory of the Emperor. (Curious? Here’s the Wikipedia article on the war.) The Chinese are being beaten back with heavy casualties, and the United States is unwilling to get involved, but there’s a problem: the American embassy in Shunkien is under siege. More accurately, Shunkien is under siege, and without food and antibiotics to combat the cholera outbreak cropping up in the city all of the Americans hiding inside will die. Two hundred miles and multiple armies stand between the USS Miami and Shunkien. The United States is unwilling to go to war. Nevertheless, orders are to get the supplies and medicine to the beleaguered embassy. And so we join Sergeant James Mitchell and PFC “Toughey” Spivits as they attempt to make the treacherous overland supply run through innumerable obstacles. Can Mitchell and Toughey make it two hundred miles with the supplies before the besieged city falls to the Japanese? Pick up the book and see for yourself! It’s a tale of courage, temptation, unexpected meetings and unflinching determination. It’s also darn good fun.

Like I said, this was fun. It’s kind of odd, sitting here in 2014, to see history through the eyes of those to whom it was current events. This story was published in December 1937, a full four years before Pearl Harbor woke the sleeping giant of the United States and pitted its wrath against the might of Imperial Japan. You get no sense of that impending conflict here, but the underlying tensions between the powers do exist. This is a time and place not often explored in fiction, at least so far as I’ve seen. I’m not saying this is a scholarly piece, by any means, but as a history major it is interesting to see the world through this lens for a little while. The characters are stock, but no less interesting for all that. You know as soon as they describe Mitchell as having a drinking problem that this character flaw will play a role in the story. You know as soon as the mission and deadline are given that our heroes will arrive at the eleventh hour through great feats of derring-do and/or cunning evasion of the enemy. You know as soon as you meet her that the abandoned American girl they encounter will end up warming to Mitchell. That predictability doesn’t negate the fun to be had in the journey. It’s what you sign up for when you pick up pulp fiction. It comes with the territory. I was minorly annoyed at the negative portrayal of the missionary character, but I know Hubbard is no fan of Christians and so it came as no surprise. The cover art has nothing to really do with the story, but that’s okay. They couldn’t use the original art since Orders Is Orders wasn’t the headline tale when it was first published. It looks like that honor went to a dueling tale. Oh well, no matter.

CONTENT: Mild language, more than many publications of the era would have allowed. Not gratuitous by any means, but not as tame as the other stories from the same period I’ve reviewed. Some violence, given the setting. There’s talk of a character being a fan dancer, but no real sexual content.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Novels, Reviews

Review: “The Book Of Apex Volume IV,” Part 1

This post doubles as one of the “stops” on the Book Of Apex Blog Tour organized by the Little Red Reviewer, where we all read and discuss The Book Of Apex: Volume IV Of Apex Magazine (*****). This anthology collects all the stories published in Apex Magazine issues #30-44, the first fifteen issues since Lynne M. Thomas took over as editor for the magazine. In this post, I will be examining my personal favorite stories from the anthology. The great thing about Apex Magazine is that their stories are all available online, so if you are intrigued by a story you can just click the title and it will link you to that story on their website! I’d be interested to hear your opinions as well, so feel free to leave a comment telling what you thought of a particular story…..

    • The Bread We Eat In Dreams, by Catherynne M. Valente. (*****)
      The first story in the collection is a surprisingly haunting tale of a demon banished from Hell. Gemegishkirihallat, or Agnes, as she’s called these days, begins our story as an exile not only from Heaven but from the diabolical realms as well. In Hell she was the master baker, baking the bread for the nobles of the Underworld, bread that would be used to torment the famished souls of the damned with the sweet delicacies they would never be allowed to taste, the bread we eat in our dreams. In Hell she had camaraderie, friends, or as near to friends as a demon is capable, even lovers from time to time. In Hell, she wasn’t alone. Here on Earth, this is not the case. She is a demon alone, without the companionship she craves, and when people eventually come to this abandoned piece of land that will one day become New England she will be unable to resist their companionship. But when a demon lives among Puritans, the end result is nearly inevitable…. Agnes’ tale draws most of its impact from the way Ms. Valente spins her prose. She sucks you in from the first paragraph, painting an incredibly vivid and evocative picture that dares you to even try and look away. The conclusion is built slowly and gently, piece by piece from the beginning of the story, so gently that you don’t even consciously register until the end that this is the central question of the whole tale: what in the seven rings of Hell could a demon do to deserve banishment from that unholy place? This is certainly a different take on demons, and I’m not sure what to think of it theologically, but I am definitely intrigued. I urge you to give this story a try. CONTENT: Sexual content, non-explicit. Mild violence, not too disturbing. The main character is a demon, so there’s a bit of an occult flavor.
    • So Glad We Had This Time Together, by Cat Rambo. (*****)
      Another very strong story, this time told as the protagonist writes to tender her resignation from the TV network she works for. As she composes, we’re treated to her recollections of the past year or so. She has been one of the leads on a new show, Unreality Television, which is basically Big Brother with a vampire, a werewolf, a medium, a guy who’s demon possessed, and a couple normal humans to pull in audiences. Everyone knows they exist, somewhere in the shadows, but nobody has ever pulled them into the light….until Unreality Television, that is. The result? Ah, now that would be telling. I really liked this one–especially for the ending, true, but I was hooked long before that. I’m going to chalk it up to the writing, Ms. Rambo’s voice and the tiny hints she drops that everything is not as it seems. I’m not sure what else to attribute it to, since the story is most certainly a lot better than how I’ve described it…. CONTENT: References to violence and sexual content, but nothing explicit. Mild language.
    • The Second Card Of The Major Arcana, by Thoraiya Dyer. (*****)
      The Sphinx walks the streets of Beirut, searching for the one who awoke her from her millenia of slumber and asking riddles of all she interacts with. The penalty for failing to answer is a swift and sure death. To what purpose was she awoken? Read on and find out… Pointing out that this is a story about the Sphinx may be a minor spoiler, unless you either know your tarot deck and catch the reference in the title or you pick it up from the continued riddling, but I can’t really describe it otherwise and it’s a minor spoiler at worst. So why does this one make the list where others did not? I honestly can’t say, except that I really enjoyed it. CONTENT: Mild violence, in that people die when they fail to answer her riddles. No language or sexual content. Does the sphinx count as an occult figure?
    • Decomposition, by Rachel Swirsky. (*****)
      What can I say about this story without giving things away? It was incredibly disturbing, for one thing. The tale of a man driven by vengeance, and what form that vengeance takes…. Very well written, very disturbing. Be forewarned, there are even hints of necrophilia in this particular tale. Not for those with a weak stomach. CONTENT: Brief language. Mild violence. No overt sexual content, though there are some innuendos and a hint of necrophilia. Strong occult content.
    • The Silk Merchant, by Ken Liu. (*****)
      A young man sets out to redeem his father’s name and prove that the legendary Shimmersilk actually exists. Yet another disturbing tale that has made it into my favorites list…I must be a secretly twisted individual or something. I called the ending, but that doesn’t have to serve as a black mark. CONTENT: No language. No sexual content. Little overt violence, but several very disturbing ideas and revelations.
    • Ironheart, by Alec Austin. (*****)
      In a dark future, a dark past, or a dark parallel world humanity is at war with the Fae. This war has raged for years, fueling and fueled by dark magic and necromancy. With no more adults to feed to the war, children have been pressed into service. Fallen soldiers are revived with necromancy and sent back to the front to fight and die again. Usable parts are “Frankensteined” together and sent back out. The way the war was described, terms used and the dynamics of how the stalemate had cemented, I can’t imagine that the first World War was not an inspiration here. CONTENT: Strong violence, sometimes disturbing. Harsh language. Sexual innuendos, non-explicit.
    • Sexagesimal, by Katharine E.K. Duckett. (*****)
      In the afterlife, all you are is memory. It is your currency, your very existence, until you’ve used up all your memories and simply cease to exist. For Teskia and Julio, this is very dangerous because all of their memories are shared. And Julio has inexplicably fallen ill…. This story was…haunting, is I think the best word. I didn’t particularly like the ending, I prefer things to be more hopeful than that as a rule (don’t worry, no spoilers) but the story had grabbed me so tightly that it made my favorites list anyway. I’m not sure what the time stamps signify, I wasn’t able to puzzle them out. This could be the fact that I was reading a challenging story after a truly crazy day at work, but oh well. If you figured it out, please enlighten me! CONTENT: No profanity. Some sexual innuendo, but nothing explicit. No real violence, but one scene is fairly disturbing for reasons I’ll leave unexplained because spoilers.

  • Weaving Dreams, by Mary Robinette Kowal. (*****)
    Eva is a witch. A witch with a doctorate, in fact, and her current project is assisting a local historian in attempting to learn all he can about the area’s past from the local population of Hidden People. She’s being careful, following all the rules…or so she thinks. As it turns out, she and Giancarlo have inadvertently upset some major players in the faerie realm, and they’ll have to think fast unless they want to pay the price…. I enjoyed this one. I usually do enjoy stories featuring different takes on the fae, especially after the wonderful things the Dresden Files has done. I found out in searching out the link that this is actually a revised version of the story–the first version had some serious accidental racism and reinforcement of negative tropes, which was exactly what the author did not want to do. If you’re interested, check out the link. It’ll get you to the author’s blog where she talks about the revision and the reasons behind it. CONTENT: No profanity. Mild sexual innuendos and flirting, nothing too explicit. No overt violence, as such, but some discussion of it.
  • Sprig, by Alex Bledsoe. (*****)
    At a renaissance faire in Bristol, a young boy misplaces his parents and begins talking to one of the fairies. The ending is perhaps a bit predictable, but I loved the story anyway. It was very cute. CONTENT: Mild sexual innuendo–very mild. No profanity or violence.

This is the first post in a series of reviews of individual stories from this anthology. The other posts can be found as follows:
-Part One (My personal favorites….)
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Apocrypha (The reprinted stories from the relevant issues, not included in the anthology)

6 Comments

Filed under Books, Reviews, Short Stories