The Other McCain

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

Off the Shelf

Posted on | August 6, 2019 | No Comments

— by Wombat-socho

Cash being a bit low of late, everything that follows is from the Clark County Library (and hopefully in your local library as well) or the Kindle Owners Lending Library, which is another reason to shell out for Amazon Prime if you haven’t already.

Probably the pick of the litter is Brad Torgersen’s second novel, A Star-Wheeled Sky, which is set far in the future after mankind has escaped Earth in STL colony transports, many of which have settled the various planets of the Waywork, an alien relic that permits FTL travel between the various systems it connects. From the colonies, Starstates grow, and two of them – an oligarchy with some freedom and a brutal totalitarian regime – are locked in a war that is slowly grinding the oligarchy down. Suddenly, a new Waypoint appears, and both sides scramble to claim what turns out to be a beautiful new Earthlike world, with an enigmatic alien pyramid, the wreck of a colony transport, and an apparently immortal woman with an ominous message. It’s a fascinating tale well told, with adventure, desperate improvisations, and interesting characters on both sides. Recommended.

It used to be common that most anthologies had a handful of good stories, a lot of filler, and at least a couple of clunkers. I don’t know whether the slow death of SF magazines is the cause, but for some reason, the anthologies I’ve been seeing lately don’t seem to have any clunkers, and for that matter, there’s not as much filler as there used to be. Case in point: The Change, edited by S. M. Stirling and set in the Emberverse series that begins with Dies The Fire. So if you didn’t like those, you won’t like this, and as the late Steven den Beste used to say, DWL.* On the other hand, if you did like the Emberverse stories…well, you probably read this already. Me, I didn’t happen across it until I’d already finished The Sky-Blue Wolves, so The Change gave me a serious feeling of deja vu since I’d already met a lot of the characters in these stories back while I was reading the novels. At any rate, there’s some good stories in here by John Birmingham, John Barnes, and some other folks, and no clunkers.

The other example is Michael Williamson’s Forged In Blood, the tale of a sword forged in ancient Japan and the people who bear it. It’s listed as a book in the Freehold series, which isn’t entirely accurate since the first two-thirds of the stories take place on Earth, not Grainne, but that’s a minor quibble. There are some excellent, excellent stories in here by Larry Correia, Mike Massa (do NOT miss this one, set in the Russo-Japanese War), Tom Kratman, Kacey Ezell, and other outstanding writers from the combat SF subgenre. Good stuff.

I’ve been following the Ring of Fire/Grantsville series by Eric Flint and a cast of thousands** since they came out, skipping a few that didn’t seem interesting and trying my best to stay current. This last month I read two books set in 1636, The Kremlin Games and The Viennese Waltz. The former is about Bernie Zeppi, one of the Grantsville kids who’s at loose ends after 1632’s Battle of the Crapper – he doesn’t really have any useful skills, and he has a mild case of what they used to call “battle fatigue”. Luckily for him, the Tsar of All The Russias wants Grantsville’s tech, and he wants it bad, and that’s how Bernie winds up in Moscow trying to drag Russia into the 19th century when a lot of it isn’t sure it wants to leave the 16th. Hijinkery, war with the Poles, and a revolt by the boyars makes life excessively interesting, but Bernie and the Tsar manage to survive and even light the lamp of freedom in a country mired in serfdom. The latter, on the other hand…well, it makes me wish I hadn’t skipped The Barbie Consortium, because a lot of the main characters in The Viennese Waltz are members of said consortium, and while I like economics porn along with the subplot of trying to force early Renaissance Austria into the Steam Age before the Turks come back, I would have liked to know those characters better. The main problem is that the current Emperor of Austria-Hungary’s dad sold off a lot of patents on uptime tech to nobles, nobody has any faith in Austrian marks despite their being backed by real silver, King Albrecht (Wallenstein) of Bohemia is right next door with his Protestant army, and did I mention the schism in the Catholic Church between the former Cardinal Borja (now an antipope) and Pope Urban VIII? Lots of skulduggery, economic/financial porn, and scandalous uptime fashions having unexpected effects. Fun read.

The war pitting the Four Horsemen mercenary companies (and their handful of alien allies) against the Mercenary Guild led by the Veetanho General Peepo comes to a head in A Pale Dawn and concludes in Alabaster Noon. It’s almost impossible to do a decent plot summery for both of them without spoilers, but I will say that A Pale Dawn, which covers the Four Horsemen invasion (and liberation) of Earth doesn’t quite go as planned, and sets up the final novel in the series in such a way that I skipped the three intervening novels in the series and went right for Alabaster Noon, which made a few things that happened in the final look a bit like dei ex machina. I guess I’ll spend the next three months going back and filling in the gaps.

Finally, I am taking a stab at Tolstoy’s classic War And Peace, which is… yuge. And dense. I expect to be working on this one for a while, but if nothing else the first few chapters have convinced me that Russian culture hasn’t changed a whole lot since the 18th century, except they didn’t speak so much French and German in the 20th century. For those of you who haven’t heard of the book before, it’s a sprawling novel about Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, told from the Russian side, and there’s a LOT of detail about how Russian high society was in those days. So far it’s been pretty interesting.

Thanks to everyone who bought stuff through my Amazon links last month and/or hit the tip jar. If there’s a book you want me to review, you can loan it to me on Kindle, buy me a copy, or hit the tip jar with a request that I buy and review it. I endeavour to give satisfaction, as Jeeves used to say.

*Don’t Write Letters.
**I know, I know, it’s actually just a dozen or so folks.

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