Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Lost Fleet: Dauntless

The Lost Fleet: Dauntless 

tLFD by Jack Campbell is a retired navy officer (bloody hell this is going to turn into a theme isn't it?) who turned his hand to writing Space Opera books. For those of you who don't know, Space Opera is a sub set of science fiction, focusing on dramatic adventures in space often on a grand scale.  Basically, think stuff like Star Wars (or for my truly nerdy brothers and sisters Farscape) and you're pretty much in the right ballpark. Space Opera tends towards the soft side of science fiction (soft vs hard is the scale to determine how much the story conforms to our modern understanding of physics vs how much magic pretending to be technology is in the story) but there are examples of Hard Sci-Fi Space Opera, they're just rare.

Lost Fleet isn't Hard Sci-Fi but it brings a bit of hardness to the table so to speak.  But I should actually get to the damn book right?

The Lost Fleet is about Captain John Geary, a man out of time.  See 100 years ago, the convoy he was escorting was ambushed.  Captain Geary turned and to buy the rest of the ships under his command time to escape, attacked his enemies (a rival human space power known as the Syndics) and went down fighting saving everyone else in the process.  Well, actually he survived, in a damaged escape pod that held him stasis for 100 years.  100 years where his own state The Alliance remained locked in a war to the death with the Syndicates.  Captain Geary is rescued by an Alliance fleet about to launch a crippling surprise attack on the enemy capital and end the war!  Huhhhh Expect not.  The fleet has walked into an ambush, the Admiral is dead and the last thing he did was give Captain Geary command of the fleet and ask him to get everyone home.   And that's when the story starts.

Geary soon learns that fighting the enemy is the (ridiculously) easy part.  The Alliance navy taken by surprise and starting the war on the back foot was desperate for ways to keep up morale.  They needed heroes, legends, tales to inspire and examples to follow.  So they took the missing Captain John Geary and turned him into "Black" Jack Geary, SuperCaptain!  Hero!  Demigod! Pinnacle of Virtue!  Conveniently not here to disagree with Command!  That legend would take on a life on it's own and become practically a religious belief.  A religious belief that Captain John Geary doesn't and in fact can't share.  A religious belief that haunts him and is at time his strongest asset and at others the heaviest mill stone around his neck.

Worse is the changes to his fleet in the century since his *cough* glorious charge.  The war has turned into a devouring maelstrom of combat on a scale not possible for people who only live on one planet to grasp.  As such both sides are short of everything.  Short of ships, short of training, short of experienced officers and NCOs who could fix that problem.  Basically the only things they seem to have a lot of are weapons and men and women willing to charge at the enemy no matter the odds for a slim chance of killing someone before being blown out of the void.  Geary has to convince these men and women that fighting as disciplined unit in a formation isn't some strange coward way of war but is in fact the key to victory.  He also has to do this while convincing a head of an allied state (who is also a Senator in his own state which honestly seems strange to me, this like having the Prime Minister of Holland be a US Senator) that he's not some kind of
demagogue out to win more glory on a quest for personal power.  Because his life was complicated enough simply being trapped behind enemy lines with a military unit that has turned into a professional soldiers nightmare of a how a military unit works.

Now, like I mentioned, I served 4 years in the United States Marine Corps but I'm hardly God's gift to warfare.  But even I can see the problem with the idea that the Captains of the fleet are all suppose to vote on their course of action and the majority rules (Why even have admirals anymore?).  Staff officers don't exist, the manpower needs of the war have sucked them all away to line officers positions.  No one really knows how to fight in a formation, which is harder then you might think because Campbell did decide to interject some realism here.  While FTL is a thing, all combat takes place at Slower then Light Speed because FLT combat is impossible.  Additionally there are no FTL sensors.  You have to depend on light speed sensors.  This might not sound like problem... Until you realize that in such an environment if an enemy fleet (oh for example) were to drop into orbit around Neptune... We wouldn't see the event until 4 hours later.  4 hours in which that enemy fleet is moving in an unknown direction and speed.  This makes space combat somewhat problematic. Fighting in formations that are light minutes across (Oh did I mention there are no FTL comms either?  So it might take 15 or 20 minutes for your orders to reach someone... In the middle of a shooting match.  This is hell for any officer who wants to retain direct control).  Now it's certainly possible, but it takes very specialized training to do (which makes sense) and the skill was lost given the heavy causalities of war.  In short, these people fight like Hollywood knights only they're using weapons that could vaporize entire cities.

Luckly Geary was trained before the war.

Geary is a wonderfully done character, he doubts and worries enough to seem human but resists those doubts and fears enough that you're rolling your eyes at Emo McAngst Broodypants.  He's confident and capable in his skills but victory is more a result of him being the only one with those skills.  Captain Geary is not presented as a tactical or strategic genius.  He's just a professional in an environment where no one else has had the training and education he has had.  I really like him.  Which is a good thing because the book is relentlessly in first person and the only view point we get is Geary's.  Which does help increase the uncertainly but I do wish I could have see inside some of the other character's heads.  I also like Co-President Rione, the allied head of state accompanying the fleet (which is a multi-national unit now) who is both ally and problem for Geary.  As she doesn't trust him and worries about him overthrowing the Republican government of the Alliance and installing himself as a dictator.   Rione comes off as clever and capable in her own right, a person who is against our main character but with good reason.  Which keeps this book from devolving into Geary is always right and everyone who doesn't like him is a moronic asshole (although we have plenty of those, there's always at least one in every group right?).

I do have problems with this book though.  First off, I have problems buying the idea of a industrial Total War that lasted 100 years with no long term truces or cease fires.  Even pre-industrial conflicts like the 30 years war or the famed 100 year war itself had long stretches of time (decades for the 100 year war) where both sides maintained truces and such.  That you can maintain a stalemate for a 100 years while pouring continents worth of metal and men into the fire with no break seems... Well impossible to me.  Additionally at some point you would think someone would break down and just start talking or that in a century of constant conflict to the point where there's not even enough time to fully train your officer corps, one side would seize the advantage by accident at least!  The story and the characters are good enough to carry me through that, but it still detracts from my enjoyment.

Another problem is the combat.  Which is to easy and well... Kinda slow and a bit boring.  It's very realistic given that Campbell has refused to use Star Trek style FTL comms and sensors  but it doesn't really make for pulse pounding combat.  It kinda makes me wish we could drag Myke Cole in here because the combat scenes were one part of his book that were fairly well done.  This means if you aren't interested in politics, character relationships or in John Geary... You won't like this book.  On one hand, I like Campbell's grasp of what the technology actually means on the other hand, I really wish for some actual excitement in the battle scences, which play out as Geary watching things that happened minutes to hours ago and waiting for other things to happen, while radioing in orders that most of us aren't going to really understand.  For example:

"Formation Fox Five Five, increase down angle at two zero at time three eight."

I have no clue what is being said here, other then Formation so and so, do something else in 38 minutes. Which isn't really pulse pounding is it?  All well.  Despite that I enjoyed the book very much and it is currently the best fiction book to show up in this review (I hope it doesn't hold the title long, I'd really like to see more awesome fiction show up here).

The Lost Fleet Dauntless gets a B-  A good book, but combat and the problems buying the setting are holding it down.  Still I enjoyed it enough to get the sequel Lost Fleet Fearless, which I will be reviewing next!  Breaking the fiction-non fiction pattern because you should learn to expect the unexpected.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Shadow Ops: Control Point
Shadow Ops: Control Point is the debut novel of Myke Cole. Myke Cole himself was an Army officer, a contractor and federal employee before writing this and draws deeply on his experiences... To write a book about a heroic Army officer defying the evil government. It's gonna be a thing guys.

Shadow Ops takes place in the year 20*coughmumblecough* and things have changed dramatically! Magic (or something sorta like magic but not really!) has returned to the world... In a kinda half ass way if you're a shadowrun fan (look I'm sorry, but I didn't see anyone turn into a Troll and I sure as hell didn't see any Dragons run for President in this book!) but it'll do for government work. See, a small percentage of people have started developing inborn abilities that are... Well... Magical. These inborn abilities are for the most part classified into categories called schools. There are the traditional Greek elementalists (fire, earth, air and water) and the healers with the ability to mend or rend flesh. They're the "legal" schools (I'll get back to this). Then there are the illegal or probe schools. Negramancy (aka rot magic), Whispering (animal control), Elemental summoning, Necromancy and Portals. Displaying any of these inborn abilities you have no choice (expect whispering) in having is breaking the law and you will be hunted down by military magic users for your crimes (of existing). The legal schools have it better! You have a choice. You can join the Army... Or be hunted down and killed. Wait what was that? Join the ARMY!?!

NO! No! no! Nope! Uh Huh! Not happening! FLAG ON THE PLAY! NO FIRST DOWN!

Let me explain it like this. You got people who can now fly, control the weather, summon fire, instant create massive earthworks or heal massive injuries with no scars and you think the other armed services are just gonna meekly let the Army have a monopoly over them? What you don't think the guy who can weather wouldn't be useful for carrier ops? Or water control wouldn't be handy for submarine ops? Do I even have to touch on the healers? The Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force would rather see the Pentagon burn to ashes before they let the fucking Army be the only ones with this resource. And don't tell me that SOC (Supernatural Operations Command) is a joint service venture. They use Army ranks, Army terminology, refer themselves as Army and answer to Army officers! This is a crack in the old Suspension of Disbelief but honestly I doubt anyone with any military experience would catch it. So we'll let Cole unrealistically and blatantly favor his old service. And no Cole, giving us Marines the bone of the Suppression Lances isn't good enough.

Anyways... Moving on.

The book opens onto school shooting. A magic school shooting! Which honestly is well done. It shows us what's it like to confront magic users, even unskilled ones flailing about in a panic. Two kids with no training in their magic powers manage to destroy US Army Kiowa helicopter (the use of Kiowas, Blackhawks and Apaches tells me this isn't that far in the future) and nearly fatally wound at least 1 Soldier despite being confronted by a full team of armed men and an Army trained Sorcerer. The scene conveys the sheer chaoticness of combat and the danger of magic users effectively, efficiently and avoids the usual sin of starting a book with massive info dumping. I liked it!

The problem is the opener also introduces us to our main character Lt. Oscar Britton. Before I tear into him, let me mention what I like about Oscar... I like that he isn't a generic white cookie cutter protagonist. He's instead a black man who is struggling with situation while trying to keep from being an emo crybaby. Sadly he quickly becomes the living example of why butterbars are usually not beloved by us lowly enlisted men. No. That's not fair. Lt. Britton is worse then any butterbar, 1st Lt Platoon leader I've ever had to deal with (keep in mind as a Cpl I didn't have much contact with even Lt.s and frankly I liked it that way!). You see your average USMC Lt can at least MAKE UP HIS FUCKING MIND! Lt. Britton waffles and flips more often then waffle being juggled by a Vegas showmen! HE! JUST! CAN'T! MAKE! UP! HIS! FUCKING! MIND! Half way through the book I didn't even care what he did anymore just as long as he fucking picked something! ANYTHING ASSHOLE, JUST SOMETHING! ARRRRGGGGHHHH!

*Deep breaths*

After the battle while in the hospital keeping an eye on his injured man, Britton manifests an illegal ability. He's thinking with Portal. And Glados ain't having it! Oscar finds himself teleporting in between our world and someplace else. A very dangerous someplace else that ends up killing two people (one his asshole abusive father, the other a poor bastard of a cop just trying to do his job. In 30 pages he'll change his mind between flight and surrender about 3 or so times. Which means he flip flops every 10 pages... He doesn't quite keep to this average but damn it feels like it. Well Oscar is caught and instead of being killed like everyone assumes happens to illegals, he secreted away to a top secret base in the very someplace else he's been gating to! Where an International Base has been set up to study the secrets of this alternate world full of strange creature (Rocs! Goblins! Talking Demon Horses of Doom! We're talking the good weird shit man!) called the Source. As it's believed to be the source of magic (clearly the name was created in committee). The base feels like it was lifted right out of Afghanistan or Iraq, complete with using natives (in this case goblins) as civilian workers who aren't liked or trusted by most of the military personnel. Due to other goblin tribes constantly attacking the base. It's very well done.

Here we find out that one of the kids from the school shooting was given the same deal as Oscar. Only she's more gung ho about it. Oscar has doubts (then he won't, then he will, then he won't). What follows is a training montage which is actually pretty good, course the trainer is a pure grade asshole! A hard drinking Warrant Officer who has just enough magical ability to suppress other's abilities (if you have magic you can suppress someone else's magic, but then you can't do anything else, this is a neat addition to the magic system and I have to applaud Cole for it). See Oscar is a now an unpaid contractor (well, he's being paid but his wages are being garnished at 100%) who can quit at any time but then they'll trigger the bomb they've planted in his chest. And you thought the exit clauses in your job contract were bad right?

Through the course of his training Oscar meets magic users who are for the system, neutral or deeply against. Some just refuse to cooperate (the No No Crew) others intend to escape and kill their way to the top (you'll know her when you meet her). Others are just trying to muddle through. This part... Really kinda of drags. It's not awful and only really becomes noticeable on a 2nd read through but it does kinda drag and get info-dumpy. The other characters aren't really fleshed out very well either.  We're told things about them, things are suggested about them but they're not fleshed out or developed.  Saying character X suffered Y lost isn't development guys, you need to go farther.  We simply don't get to spend time with them, instead it's all about Oscars rather tedious waffling and doubts. Which makes me grit my teeth. It's also here we get some scraps of world info. India, Russia and Japan all have their own Magic-Corps who are on the base. China has it's own system and doesn't appear on base at all.

The European Caliphate (this was another thing that broke my SOD, I mean really? Euro Caliphate? In under 20 years? Seriously?) outlaws all magic... Which leads to the problem of how a very small minority in Europe who have thrown the best weapon possible under the bus is somehow dominating an entire continent? Plus even if Muslims became the economic/politically dominate class in Europe... I don't see them all uniting. The Turks in Germany don't share anything besides a religion with the North Africans in France. Not a language, common hertiage, nothing. A Turkish dominated Germany isn't going to pursue union with a North African dominated France, or a South Asian dominated British or Somali dominated Finland... And I'm thinking to hard about this aren't I?

But the important thing was that all Muslim powers it seems ban all magic or at least all the Muslim extremists. Because Muslim. Which we are still fighting. Where was I?

Oh yes!

More fun is the section of the book where Oscar and company go on missions! This is the section where Oscar waffles over to being pro part of the system in the idea that he can help people and protect them from dangerous things. Cole does a good job showing us those things and is rather inventive in how people could use these powers but frankly injects tensions between asshole mcdrunk trainer and Oscar that doesn't really need to be there but hey we got to get Oscar to change his mind (AGAIN!) somehow. This leads to daring escape or cascade of major fuck ups that will get many many innocent people killed but hey Oscar and his small band of magic users and goblin buddies now get to be free!

Hooray?

This book isn't bad... But the main character is deeply unlikeable! He's self righteous despite never being able to make up his mind on anything! Any sin of his is suppose to be forgiven while the mistakes and sins of others are deep character flaws! And worse? He gets smug. Lt Britton What The Fuck Do You Have to be Smug about? The end of the book is also somewhat sudden and choppy with a plot twist that's not very well foreshadowed. Plus I hated Oscar's speech at the end. I really did. I mean really did. The magic system is good, but is somewhat brought down for me because it feels like a simplified version of Larry Correia's Hard Magic system, which is an incredibly complex and interesting system but I won't discuss it here.  It's very much a first book and as such I kinda feel Cole hasn't really hit his stride.  The combat scenes are really well done, but the characters are either very undeveloped or deeply unlikeable.  The Pacing isn't perfect, dragging in the middle and rushing a bit in the end but it isn't bad.  The Worldbuilding is servable but there are bits that stick out and crack my SOD.

Shadow Ops: Control Point gets a C-

It's an interesting story but the cracks in the SOD and the fact that I have to spend so long with a character I would love to set on fire with my mind drags it down. Still this is Myke Cole's first book and I have every hope that he will improve. That said... I'm never reading this book again.

You know what that's three rather under performing fiction books in a row...  This was not what I had in mind.  I need something as a pick me up.  I'm gonna go read Lost Fleet!

Persian Fire by Tom Holland

Persian Fire by Tom Holland

This is a another history book. This time about the Persian Empire, the Greek cities states and the reoccurring conflicts between them. You may remember the Persian Empire as the bad guys from 300. Well Mr. Holland would like to introduce to them properly. In this book you'll read about the foundation of the Empire, the coming of Cyrus the Great who conquered not just 1, not just 2 but 3 empires to build the first great world empire of human history. A colossus that covered almost all the known world at the time, it crushed resistance and rebellion and it's ruling class believed they had a divine mission to bring all the world under rule.  A rule that would bring religious tolerance, local autonomy and really a rather light tax system... Huh We're not really dealing with the armies of Mordor here.

You also meet Darius the man who if he doesn't have the biggest pair of brass balls in history, should at least be in the conversation. This is the guy who kills Cyrus' son and with the blood still on his hands turns around and yells,

"I have saved the Empire! This isn't the son of Cyrus at all but an evil wizard who killed him and took his form to rule over us all as an evil tyrant!"

And makes it stick. You have to admire the sheer gall of the man here. There are other examples to, but I start listing them all this is going to go from being a book review to a essay on how awesome Darius is. We also get to look at how the Persian Empire is set up and run, the tribute system, the roads (actually a fairly good road systems that even the Romans would approve of) and the messenger service that is right up there with the Pony Express. Since I didn't know much about the Persian Empire this was a welcome thing.  You end up learning a bit about the Persians, their empire and their worldview.

We also talk about those unruly Greeks. We get a front side seat to the transformation of Athens (where the last tyrant is stabbed to death by a pair of angry young men because he tried to break up their romance... So he could sleep with one of them. And you thought Republican Gay Sex Scandals were interesting). The creation of the Spartan military state and a look what was necessary for the Spartans to go so far into batshit crazy land to do it.  Before anyone gets started, let me remind you Sparta was a state where the ruling body declared war on it's slaves every year so it could say it had a moral reason to send out teenage death squads to roam the hills killing anyone who was uppy.  We're talking about a system here that even the Confederates would say has maybe gone to far to keep people in bondage here.  We also get a sense of just how hard it was for all these Greeks to work together... Even has a giant Persian Army is storming Greece itself and burning down Athens.  We learn that the Greeks are debating, arguing and quarreling about what to do and that some of the leaders of this alliance had to go to really shady means to keep everyone together. The cast of characters is vast and interesting with plenty of blood, lies, honor, sex, war, terrorism and more to go around. This is one of those books for people who keep saying history is boring (that's a statement that honestly tells me the person doesn't actually know much history).

The only real problem here is some issues with moving from topic to topic, it gets a touch huh... jerky really. Also Holland tends to focus almost entirely on the elites of some of the societies, which I shouldn't blame him for as no one kept records of what your average peasant was doing.  Still it would be nice to get more of a sense of what the "99%" to use a modern term was up to at this time. 

Persian Fire gets a A- has it is not quite yet a masterpiece but still a really great book that everyone should be able to enjoy.  I hope to be able to review Tom Holland's other book the Rubicon sooner or later.

Next up is Shadow Ops: Control Point... Oh Boy.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Heartwood, by Freya Robertson.



Heartwood, by Freya Robertson.


1st off, bad news no images with this review. Maybe later.

I have a group of friends who I speak to fairly often on Skype. These poor souls had to endure me ranting and raving about this book and might be fairly relieved that it's all over. For now.

Heartwood is a book of epic fantasy, taking place in a religiously unified world where everyone worships the Arbor, a giant oak tree that is connected to the creation spirit of the world. Guarded by the Militas an order of celibate (but not chaste) male and female knights, who also take up the duties of trying to maintain peaceful borders between several nations who are at the best next thing to actual war. At 519 pages you would think the book hefty enough, but you would sadly be wrong. Stuffed in this book are dozens of characters, many battles, 5 grand quests, 3 romances, 2 massive invasions, and one epic Revelation about the nature of tree which lies at the center of this world religion and that's what I can tell you without massive spoilers! Additionally there are characters who will come to grapple with their own self worth and true natures, the hidden events of their past coming to haunt them and the idea that they may have devoted their lives to a mistake. None of these events, characters or stories are given enough space to really unfold or the grounding to deliver the kind of impact that this story deserves. In shot, Freya Robertson is a good writer, but she is in to much of a damn hurry to develop her interesting stories (plural because Ms. Robertson, you were telling several stories here).

Robertson keeps jumping form quest to quest often with awkward breaking points. We don't get to know anyone expect the leaders of the quests (and even then we aren't given enough time with them expect for maybe 2 characters,). This is a shame because even the supporting characters are hinted at having interesting stories and features and profound relationships with their leaders. However when they suffer and die, the impact is much less because I can't even keep all them straight much less have any connection to them. In fact we have one supporting character, a female knight who goes on a quest with her fellows to help save the world. See's strange and interesting lands, is captured by savages (who frankly are elf stands in with their pointy ears filed off, see more below), horribly abused but shows bravery and determination. This woman escapes from under the eyes of her captors and from the middle of hostile lands alone and unarmed finds her way home! This is an amazing story... Which is mentioned in 2 lines of dialogue.

You see my problem.

The world itself is steched in some what thinly as well (because Robertson is trying to tell me so much). In it you will be introduced to at least 4 cultures (5 if I count the Militas) 2 of them Laxony and Hanaire bluntly blurred together for me. But that might be because I didn't get much time with them. Oh characters spend alot of time there, but I, the reader? Didn't. Although Chonrad the noble from Laxony does a good job representing his culture all by himself (he's the closest thing the book has to a main character though). That might be a good thing because frankly Robertson shows me, she doesn't really understand how societies work (I'm not trying to be insulting here but...) when she does try to detail her societies they don't work! This is a common problem with fantasy and science fiction writers and it's a serious one when the average fantasy/sci-fi writer is actually churning out societies en masse.

For example the Wulfengars. This is a feudal society where ownership of title and land is passed from father to son. Women have no property rights and are the servants of men. They are short, hairy, close mouthed and prone to hitting things (I almost think that they were dwarves in a 1st draft that got rewritten, this is not a problem, changing dwarves and elves to humans would actually make a number of fantasy series easier to read). Often embroiled in feuds with their neighbors and they love raiding the Laxons and Hainires. Wulfengars tend to not believe in marriage and just grab whatever woman strikes their passing fancy.

NO! FLAG ON THE FIELD!

Look, I got to point out the basic flaw of this arrangement. If you don't have some form of informal/formal relationship where you're the only person sleeping with the girl, how do you know it's your son you're passing the title to? There's a reason most hunter gathers don't have formal marriage ceremonies and most societies where you own land to. Part of it is to ensure inheritance is passed on to the right people (which isn't an issue in most hunter gather societies, there's no property to pass on!). In the real world the solution most Patrilineal societies adopted was to make women the wards of their male relatives in some manner or another. Or to put it bluntly, in a society like this women are the property of their fathers, brothers or husbands. To be clear I'm not saying this is a good thing! But it is historically how just about every society faced with this problem decided to solve it! There are levels here of course. In Medieval Europe women could and did hold property, run business and have noble office and titles. But there are also other times and places where their sex disqualified them.

Look I know most of you won't give a damn about stuff like this but I did frankly spend alot of time studying how societies worked and how they formed. So this stuff is like biting into a steak and finding a core of sand instead of good red meat. I could and have kept going on stuff like this for a damn long while, but I'll stop here because this is a book review not a Frigid shows off his education review.

Speaking of groups that were likely made human in later drafts there are the Komis. A group of people who tend to have golden eyes, be fairly pretty and live deep in the forests in cities built in the treetops... Oh they also have special green magic powers that let them grow plants and heal people. They're also not very nice people, which is an interesting change... But again the book doesn't have the space to really get into this. In the final battle I find myself asking why are they there? Their presence is almost a throwaway to the real battle (I'm not going to spoil who the real bad guys are, because that's the best part of the book!) and they're hand waved away. Honestly? I tend to feel anytime you have to hand wave away an invading army you've made a mistake. You could have cut out the Komis invasion and not lost a damn thing in this story.

Honestly Heartwood feels like it should have been 2 or even 3 books. I'm going to point out David Eddings spent 3 books on a single quest and 2 books on the aftermath for the Belgariad. Which worked because I remember those characters and that story years later. I have a feeling that besides Chonrad and Beata, I'll have trouble remembering the characters of Heartwood next week, forget next year. Although the ones Robertson does spend time on are done really well. Beata and Chonrad and their conflicts both internal and external are very well done! I was very sympathetic to Beata and felt that Chonrad was a great leader and an all around good guy. It's just a shame that there wasn't time or space for the others...

Heartwood gets a C, the premise and the characters that actually get to grow and move in this story keep it from being a C-. However the damnable rush, poor grasp of how societies function and the missing details means that average is the best this book can ever hope to be. Freya Robertson in the unlikely event you ever read this, I think you're a good writer and you have some interesting stories but you should slow down and tell me these stories.


Man, I did not enjoy being that rough... I'm going back to nonfiction.

The Pope Who quit, first nonfiction review







The Pope Who Quit by Jon Sweeney

This is a history book about the first Pope to resign his post. 

What?  No, no, no!  Not him!
















Right! This guy! Who the hell is he, you ask?

Pope Celestine V, born Peter Morrone, a hermit, founder of a religious order of hermits. Managed to get himself elected Pope by accident in 1294! The old Pope had died and the the Cardinals (all 7 of them back then) were taking their sweet time picking a new Pope. This made people nervous about the fate and the direction of the Catholic Church and Christianity itself. Peter decided that his faith demand he take action. So he wrote a letter to the Cardinals to get the lead out and pick a new Pope already...

Be careful what you ask for.

The Cardinals decided he was the perfect guy for the job. He would serve as Pope for 6 months before resigning . Never once did he step foot in Rome, serving as Pope from Naples the whole time. His resignation was an act that rocked the Catholic Church to it's very bedrock and would pave the way for Benedict's own resignation. He has at times been remembered as a saint, a fool, a naive puppet and an ill fated reformer.

This book discusses the times that produces Pope Celestine V and his early life, the issues the Church was going through and the political times and people who were players in this drama. We learn about his large family, his intense spiritual and religious impluses and his constant quest to be alone with God. We get a look at the intense religious feelings and desires that were boiling away during this age, the corruption and failings of the Church and the conflicting desires of the Church's Princes. The conflict within spiritual orders between those who want great rigor in their lives and those who sought liberalization and how this all feeds into this Papacy and it's failure. This book was really interesting and enlighting not just about the very brief Popacy but the events that led up to it. Although there's weak coverage of the aftermath in my opinion. I won't say to much more because I don't want to end up rewriting the book.

If you're interested in the Middle Ages, odd stories of history, the Catholic Church or any combination of the last 3, then you're interested in this book.

The Pope Who Quit gets a B+

Well that was much better. I think I'm ready to dive back into fiction now!

Touched by an Alien



Touched by an Alien, by Gini Koch.


A man suffers for his mistakes. This is a universal constant that I do not dispute, nor do I really even dislike. That said, attempting to be just and fair shouldn't be a mistake guys! This book was recommended to me by a Barnes and Noble employee, who I found out later, recommended it to me because she remembered seeing me attempt to read Twilight (some of the girls I was working with at the time excitedly recommended it, this was before the movies so I didn't know... Oh God I didn't know.). I say attempt to read because I only got 10 chapters into the book and decided to try something else, anything else to pass the time.

TbA is a sci-fi romance that gets by on massive amounts of pandering to it's reader. We're talking oil tanker amounts here. In this case the main character, one Katherine Katt is a witness to an alien attack and through aggressive action manages to foil it. By killing the poor bastard being controlled by an alien parasite with her pen. She is then scooped up by a flying squad of pretty young men in pretty sharp suits and whisked away to fantasy world. There are two sets of aliens here, one a band of parasites who feed on negative emotions and latch onto people experience them. They tend change the body of their host into some sort of raving monster (expect for a single class of super parasite of course) and go on rampages. They can hook up to any mammal, survive the void of space and atmospheric reentry. They can however be killed with enough firepower or when they first inhabit a host (then you can kill them with a pen, or a butter knife I suppose if you have no writing tools handy).

Opposing them are a bunch of superhuman aliens from Alpha Centauri who all look like supermodels, are super fast (like flash fast) and have two hearts (because of course they couldn't go fast without two hearts, don't you know anything about SCIENCE!!!). Of course two of them fall for Katherine, who must now face the agony of choosing between two really good looking men with superpowers who think she is the most awesome thing since buttered toast was invented.

To be fair, Gini is an equal opportunity panderer! The girl aliens are all super hot, super smart (we're talking NASA brains here guys), super nice and really want to meet nice human boys who are into science stuff. Yep, that's right, happy cheerleaders who want to bone nerds and then talk about your science project. They might even want to play in your Dungeons and Dragons game. So... Something for everyone I guess?

Oh there's also this side issue of saving all life on Earth from extinction. Don't worry though Katherine has all the brains we need! Her job in this story is to figure out everything! I mean everything! There is no important problem that she doesn't solve usually within an hour of hearing about it. All while telling us how dull, dumb and average looking she is. This isn't aggravating at all. Additionally some of her solutions make me want to rip out other people's hair. For example, one parasite looks like a slug, so we kill it with salt! EXPECT YOU TOLD ME THE PARASITE HOSTS WERE MAMMALS! MAMMALS DO NOT DIE FROM SALT LIKE SLUGS! Oh this parasite looks like a snake, we'll hypnotize it with rock music! Expect snakes aren't actually hypnotized by music guys, they're following the motion of the music player. Even then, it's not actually a snake because you told me the parasites only inhabit MAMMALS! A SNAKE IS NOT A MAMMAL! Look this is an issue of something we call internal consistency, when you are writing science fiction or fantasy. Internal consistency is setting up the rules of your setting (for example, elves are immortal, hobbits are short, orcs are bad and there are magic rings that make you invisible) and sticking to those rules. Using this you can break from reality. You can have super fast, super hot aliens with magic powers (look it's magic okay? Let's not pretend otherwise) you can have parasites that fly through the void of space are attracted by sadness, hate and anger and turn you into a giant mutant rage machine. But you can't break your own rules. That kills what we call suspension of disbelief, or my willing to put aside what I know to be possible or impossible and go along with your story. For example... Telling me that a parasite inhabits mammals and expect for a short time frame turns them into bullet proof rage monsters that are still mammals, but now much harder to kill and declaring that simply because the rage monster looks like a slug, it can be killed by salt. What the hell?

Sorry. Sorry. But yeah, Katherine and her rather simplistic solutions that magically solve everything is a big problem. But don't worry guys, she's not perfect, she can't cook and drinks to much Coke (how is she in such great shape then? Never mind!) to the point that every character makes jokes about her Coke fetish. That horse is reduced to paste. Now there is smut in this. Smut in and of itself isn't a problem, although it's not what I really want in a book. In this case? The smut is boring. You hear that smut, you're boring. I'm bored. BORED! I ended up skipping ahead. The romance is incredibly unrealistic and frankly rather heavy handed, not to mentioned rushed. I can believe in rushed romances but Gini fails to sell it. The aliens such blatant wish fulfillment I can't even begin to describe it all. That said, the characters are consistent and... Still a better romance then Twilight.

I think the big problem here is a demographic mix up. I'm clearly not the person this was written for. I think I'm the wrong gender, or wrong age or wrong everything. That said honestly? Ladies? Or anyone else interested in this? I think you can do better for sci-fi romance. I pray to God that you can do better for sci-fi romance.

Touched by an Alein gets D+. Avoid this book.

That said, I feel that Gini is owed money by the Coke Cola Corporation. Because after this book? I really wanted a Coke. Clearly she missed her calling as a marketer... Wait, that's Katherine's day job... SON OF A BITCH!

This is not the greatest start to this is it? I need something more... Faith driven maybe. Next up The Pope Who Quit.

First post: The grading system and me.

I suppose I should start out with who am I and what the grading system will be.

As you might guess I'll be going by frigid here, I imagine at this point most of the people reading this already know my real name but if you don't... Well you don't really need to know do you?

Anyways, I've been reading since before I can really remember.  Even during the invasion of Iraq, where I served as a Corporal of Marines I was reading (to any old platoon mates who dropped by, welcome and thanks for reading!).  Mostly fantasy and sci-fi, although due to my Father's influence I also read a lot of historical and other nonfiction works.  My grandfather also gave me an introduction to the Westerns, so those will likely show up here from time to time.

 While I've tried my hand at writing, I can't claim any real success in it, partly due to the struggle of getting the scene in my head onto paper.  I'll keep at it however and might even post some stuff here. I mean if I'm going to throw criticism at other writers, it seems fair to throw my work out and let others take potshots at it.  Lately due to life, the universe and what not, I've found I have a stack of books I needed to get through... Not all of them were good.  Some were outright awful and on some web forums I go to, I started writing about them.

I mentioned this to my sister and she suggested I gather them all on a blog.  I chewed on this for a bit and decided it was a good idea.  So here we are.  Little sister (if I'm not naming me, I'm not naming her) if you're reading this.  Thank you and remember that everything you read here is partly your fault.

Anywho!  Let's move on to the grading system.  I decided that unlike most critics I've seen, I would not use a number system. I would use letters.  Why?  Because why not?  Let me show you the grading system.

A+ = There is nothing wrong with this book. It is perfectly paced, all the characters are note perfect, the plot is amazing. This is the book that Jesus, Buddha and the Monkey King would write if they got together to write books for us lowly unworthy mortals. Someday I will find this book and then I can rest.


A = Great book, the best of the best that mere mortals can hope to do. This is a book you will remember reading for the rest of life because of how awesome it was. Finding these books is a good day.


A- = Great but flawed. Books being the products of human beings are going to fall short, this is a book that while amazing, didn't have it to become one of those rare masterpieces.


B+ = Really entertaining and good, but with issues. Not quiet great but really good!


B = Really good book, I wish this was the standard. Oh God, I wish this was the standard.


B- = Better then average, but something held you back, maybe the pacing was screwed or something fell flat, regardless you're still head and shoulder above everyone else


C+ = Above average. This is a book that has nothing to be ashamed of but failed to really burst out ahead of the pack.


C = Average. Run of the mill, not bad but nothing to write home about.


C- = A good effort but a number of fuck ups hold it back. I should note I'm going to get more vulgar from here.


D+ = Please attend a writing class. No don't keep practicing, get to a writing class, you need help. Still you could be worse!


D = Substandard. Weep for the trees that sacrificed their pulp in the vain hopes of being part of a good book and were instead made into this. I will drink to forget this book.


D- = I NEED AN ADULT! I NEED AN ADULT!


F = NEVER WRITE AGAIN! This book has no redeeming value and the writer has done everything wrong. There is no F+ or F-. Once you get past D- you're just an awful human being.