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.