The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Brain Candy, Coyote, a Dragon and Zombies

Posted on | August 7, 2014 | 24 Comments

— by Wombat-socho

This week I want to talk about books that don’t necessarily have a Deep Message or Big Idea – or if they do, are well-written enough that the author and his characters aren’t beating you over the head with it every few paragraphs. One series of these books is Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series, which begins with The Lost Fleet: Dauntless and has since split into two spinoff series, Beyond The Frontier and The Lost Stars. I spent a few days this week with Beyond the Frontier: Invincible and Beyond the Frontier: Guardian, in which the legendary Admiral “Black Jack” Geary leads his weary fleet home through systems full of hostile aliens and Syndics seemingly determined to carry on the war with plausible deniability, only to find Alliance politics may prove at least as deadly as the genocidal aliens. I don’t want to give the impression that these are simple space operas; there are a mess of subplots and complications that in the hands of a lesser author (or lazier editor) could have bloated these books into doorstop size. As it is, they’re tightly written tales that will keep you engaged, yet at the same time qualify as fairly light reading.

Allen Steele’s Coyote Rising, on the other hand…not so much. This is a novel that wears its libertarian colors on its sleeve, which was pretty much guaranteed from the get-go since the struggle between the socialist rulers of Coyote’s biggest colony and the refugees from the Alabama who fled into the forests to escape them takes up most of the book. Steele does a good job allowing his characters to tell the story from their own, individual perspectives, and does a better job of it than in the original Coyote, for what my opinion is worth.

Long before Frank Herbert gained fame and fortune (and set upon us a seemingly endless parade of sequels, thanks to his son) with Dune, he wrote a chilling little Cold War psychological thriller, The Dragon in the Sea. In a different future from ours, the Cold War has turned hot, and to keep the war machine running, the US Navy has taken to stealing oil from the Eastern Bloc with submarine tugs – but the last twenty subtugs have all been lost. Ensign John Ramsey of BuPsych is put aboard the Fenian Ram as the electronics officer to find out if there’s an East Bloc sleeper agent in the crew, or something else betraying the subtugs. Herbert does an outstanding job conveying the claustrophobic nature of submarine operations, played out in an environment where not only the enemy, but the sea itself is trying to kill you. Most of Herbert’s novels I can take or leave, but I think The Dragon in the Sea is every bit as good as Dune – and a damn sight shorter. 🙂

As much as I liked its predecessor, John Ringo’s Islands of Rage and Hope is EVEN BETTER, and I say this as someone who, as you know, has a complete distaste for the whole zombie apocalypse genre. Perhaps this is because Islands of Rage and Hope, like its predecessors Under a Graveyard Sky and To Sail a Darkling Sea aren’t so much about the zombies as they are about how a ragged band of survivors, stiffened by a handful of military personnel, adapt, react and overcome despite the problems presented by the ad hoc nature of the “Navy” and “Marine” forces, and the arguably deranged teenage women leading those forces. Contains extremely graphic descriptions of zombie (and human) deaths, royalty, horrible ethical dilemmas, porn stars (well, the next best thing), spec ops legends in deep cover, royalty, massive maternity issues, ballistic missile submarines, Gurkhas, and Dutch Marines. Does not contain: dull moments, frothing about GLBTWTFBBQ issues, or anything else likely to get this book a Nebula nomination. Highly recommended if you like zombie stories, carnage a la John Ringo, or just plain good action. – Read eBooks using the FREE Kindle Reading App on Most Devices


  • richard mcenroe

    Islands of Rage and Hope is worth it for its killing off of Justin Bieber and Jeremy Clarkson alone…

  • Wombat_socho

    I thought Clarkson survived, but I may have been mistaken.

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  • Nan

    I don’t read science fiction but always read your posts on books; today’s gem is GLBTWTFBBQ which evoked a full belly laugh as it expresses my feelings exactly.

  • Gahrie

    One of the things I love about Baen is they will publish anyone who writes good stories. They publish Flynt, who is slightly to the Left of Marx, and Heinlein. They publish the ever politically correct Weber and Gorean stories written by Ringo. They publish feminists like McCaffrey and Lackey.
    Baen is the Fox News of Sci Fi publishing.

  • Wombat_socho

    If you enjoy that sort of thing, you should be reading the blogs of Sarah Hoyt, Larry Correia, Vox Day, and John C. Wright (collectively known as the Evil League of Evil) because they take great pleasure in flaying John Scalzi and other members of the SFWA’s Glittery Hoo-Ha brigade – not just on the GBLT thing, because none of them really care about that sort of thing except to mock people who get carried away with it.

  • Wombat_socho

    I think that’s a perfectly cromulent comparison. 🙂

  • roy_batty

    The Frank Herbert work is a great read. I read it under the old title “Under Pressure”. Nice to see it mentioned, the man could write.

  • William_Teach

    The Coyote series was originally pretty awesome. Getting to a new world, exploring it, things happening. Then it started taking this strange pseudo-religious turn, looking towards some utopian socialist paradise. Haven’t bothered with any of the follow ups after the first three or four.

    If you want a great zombie series, try the Dead series by TW Brown, the Zombie Fallout series by Mark Tuffo, or the Terra Necro series by Michael Crockett.

  • Wombat_socho

    Indeed. Part of what I want to do with these review posts is remind people of the good old stuff.

  • richard mcenroe

    Sadly, he dies off camera. I was holding out for him being dragged screaming out of an overturned Aveo…

  • richard mcenroe

    Flint, not Flynt. They haven’t published any books about extraterrestial cyborg chicken fu — *scribbles note* Never mind.

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  • nofixedaddress

    I think Jack Campbell’s depiction of Admiral “Black Jack” Geary’s appointment and coming to terms with his command is a pretty good description of military politics.

    Great series and spin offs.

  • Mike G.

    I read Hebert’s The Green Brain way back when and thought it was pretty good, until I read Dune.

    Will have to look for The Dragon In The Sea.

  • Dianna Deeley

    I just like John Ringo!

  • Dianna Deeley

    You’re not.

  • Wombat_socho

    I’m liking it.

  • Wombat_socho

    Well worth your time.

  • Wombat_socho

    So do I, though I haven’t read three of his series – “Ghost”, “Princess of Wands” and whatever that series he’s doing with Travis Taylor is called.

  • richard mcenroe

    The Dreen series, “Into the Looking Glass”. I’m still holding on for the next “Troy Rising” novel…

  • Quartermaster

    Why drag him out? Just set fire to it.

  • Quartermaster

    SFWA has, indeed, fallen far.

  • richard mcenroe

    All the male celebs were marched off to a different warehous and Ana the Strangler said they all died.