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Book Review: Into the Black-Odyssey One by Evan Currie

Into the Black: Odyssey One is directly in the "Earthman Uber Alles" school of science fiction. Earth is still, after WWIII, caught between the western powers and the eastern "Block." The first starship is launched, and immediately finds itself in an interstellar war between some colonies of aliens who turn out to be human to 99.999% genetically and some implacable cyborg arachnoids. The Odyssey immediately inserts itself into the war, and essentially wins it single handedly, because the alien humans have embraced "peace" for millennia and don't know how to fight.

Ridiculous plot? Sure. But it works! After the first couple of chapters, when you settle into the readers' trance, everything makes sense, and works. This book (and the obviously forthcoming sequels) reminds me of the Eric Frank Russell stories, the Star Trek spinoff books, the reboot of Star Trek, and lots of other military science fiction where the good guys (us) fairly easily triumph over the really bad guys (them) with the help of good aliens (and it is a plus that we will probably be able to interbreed).

The Maguffin in this book is the question of where all these other humans came from, or, from their point of view where did the Earthlings come from. There's some mention of "Oathbreakers" or something...which will clearly be a continuing subplot in the series.

The description of how the star drive works is novel and amazing. The scene where the starship appears to disintegrate from the bow aft and the captain can see the tachyon wave moving toward him... What a scene!

Will I buy and read the obviously upcoming novels in the series? "Obviously upcoming" because the book ends at a clear continuation point... Heck yes! I enjoy a good Humans Win Big story as much as the next MilSF geek does.

Should you buy the first one? Heck yes, because if you don't there won't be a second, and a third and so forth, and I won't be able to find out how it ends.

Walt Boyes
Active Member, SFWA
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Some Bananaslug Thoughts on Politics and American Life

I've been carefully watching the political situation in the United States. There are several reasons for this. The first is that I live here, and am a citizen, so it is incumbent on me to know what the hell is going on. The second is that I travel internationally some, and when I am out of the country, I am often asked to explain the politics of the United States.

One question I got from a colleague in England recently was, "Are the Republicans as crazy as they seem to be in your news media?"

The answer I gave him was, "Yes, they are."

Now this is hard for me. I have been a registered Republican since the 1970s, and I requested a Republican ballot in the Illinois Primary Election this month. I will talk about the latter a bit further on here.

In the words (ironically enough) of Ronald Reagan, "I didn't leave the party, the party left me." He was talking about how he had become a Republican because the Democratic party had moved too far to the left for him. In reverse, the Republican party has become too reactionary and too corrupt for me to stomach any longer.

So I am a man without a party. I stand in the long line of people the Republicans don't want to acknowledge as having been Republicans, like Dwight Eisenhower, Barry Goldwater, Nelson Rockefeller, and many more. The Republican party I joined was fiscally conservative, but socially centrist or a little left of center. Even Ronald Reagan was socially centrist enough that he could not win a Republican primary today.

Why did I vote in the Republican Primary? I voted for Ron Paul because he could not win, and because he had robocalled me the least number of times. I'd like to robocall both Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney's private telephone numbers at least as many times as they called me. And what I would call them wouldn't be pretty.

So, if I am not a Republican (they won't have me) why don't I just go join the Democratic party?
Because I am not a Democrat, either. There are planks in the Democratic platforms over the years that either annoy me or make me queasy. There are enough crazies in the Democratic party to somewhat balance the right wing lunatic fringe that has taken over my Republican party.

So here I stand.

I am a fiscal conservative. I don't think money grows on trees, and I don't think that the Federal Government, or the State Governments, should continue to spend in the hope that somehow we can spend our way out of the economic mess we're in.

I am a devotee of justice. I am violently against protectionism and corporate welfare. I don't see why it would be wrong to eliminate the almost free ride that the oil companies have gotten, and why it would be so terrible to punish the investment bankers and the large financial giants for creating the mess we're in, and which caused the value of my house to nose-dive because of their phony mortgage scams to the point where I can't sell it and I won't walk away because I am too honest. And I believe in social justice...not just justice for those who can afford to pay for it, but real justice for everybody.

I believe in freedom. That means freedom for everybody. It means that we should extend the hand of freedom to everyone who wants to come here and let them in. Dick Morley, the inventor of the floppy disk, the PLC, building automation, the people mover and anti-lock braking, once said to me that we should situate a desk at each border crossing and put somebody there to ask the following questions: Do you speak at least basic English? Do you have a sponsor or enough money to keep you alive until you find work? Are you willing to work? Are you healthy? If the answers to all of those questions is "yes" you let them in, and point them in the direction of the hiring desks that companies can set up behind the gate.

I believe in defense, and I don't believe that we are, or should be, the policeman of the world. This is not a Pax Americana, or if it is, we are going about it horribly wrong and not only wrong but stupidly. The Romans and the British, both of whom had effective world domination in their eras, did so by brutally suppressing dissent and revolt. We aren't willing to do that, so we spend lives to no real purpose and spend money that could better be spent at home, or better yet, not spent at all. Spend less on military, and spend more on educating the children of our nation. Let's make sure we all have enough to eat, shall we?

I believe in the right of self-defense, and I believe that the Founders intended that the Second Amendment to the Constitution would preserve the right to defend ourselves against tyrannical and reactionary governments. They had a lot of history with those governments, as EVERY government in Europe was one. So I own guns (shooting is a fun sport) and I support the right of the individual to own as many guns as they want to-- even Mad Mike Williamson, who is proud of the arms race he is conducting with the nation of Barbados. Right now, I think, Barbados is winning, but that could easily change. I also support REASONABLE licensing and training for gun owners. Yes, we all have the right to keep and bear arms, but I want my fellow gun owners trained how to use them properly, and I would like to see them kept out of the hands of felons.

I believe in support of quality education and quality public support for the arts. The National Endowment for the Arts is not a demonic intervention. Without quality education we will not have the workers we need to revitalize American manufacturing, and without the arts we will not have a sophisticated community (not literati, not the chattering classes) of people who can exercise their franchise soberly and with great thought and deliberation. Arts give people new ways of looking at the world. We need those new ways.

I believe in the right of privacy. I don't care what you do in the privacy of your own home, whether you are celibate, gay, bisexual, have a line marriage, clan marriage, polygamy, polyandry, whatever. I don't care as long as you don't do it in public. Well, if you must do it in public, at least be entertaining and don't frighten the children.

I believe in the separation of church and state. I don't expect anyone to tell me that by doing or not doing something I will go to whatever nasty afterworld they want me to. My personal beliefs are private. Robert Heinlein said it best, so I am probably best considered a member of the Church of Heinlein: "I don't know who is cranking. I am pleased he, she, it or they don't stop, and I tell them so at any opportunity. For all I know, Mumbo Jumbo the God of the Congo Boomalay, boomalay, boomalay boom! is the big boss after all." Apologies to Heinlein and Vachel Lindsay if I misquoted slightly, but the idea is there. I don't propose to tell anybody else how to live their lives, and I don't want anybody else to tell me how either.

I believe in politeness. One of the things I hate the most about American politics is the demonization of the opponent and all of the opponent's policies. I don't mean we should have a single party. My late friend Derek Benner put that idea well: "In America we only have one political party," he said,"and it is the Boot on Your Neck Party. It has a Left Boot and it has a Right Boot." If we don't want this, then men and women of reasonableness need to step up and take charge and kick the crazies out. Gresham's Law appears to work in politics as well as economics.

I believe in as much local control of government functions as can reasonably be achieved because local people understand local issues. But I also realize that one of the drivers to move from the Articles of Confederation to the current Constitution was to set up a control and referee. We have seen this Federal intervention needed several times, including in the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, and why we still need those oversight powers.

I believe in equality of rights and opportunity. We have so few brains that are regularly used to think with that it really doesn't matter what color or gender the case they come in has. As the old American Negro College Fund tagline went,"A mind is a terrible thing to waste."

There are other things I believe, but I think you get the point.

Show me a political party that agrees with even many of those things, and I will join it.

Until then, I am a man without a party.
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Holy Greep, Batman! A whole year without a post!

All I can say is I been busy.

Since I posted the review of Haint, by Joy Ward , I've been all over the world, from England to Germany to Taiwan and Japan and back, and I've written a lot on my other blog,
Soundoff!.

And personally, I've been busy too. My friendship with Joy turned into a very strong relationship, and then to love, and to engagement. Joy and I are going to be married in the spring of next year.

In December, I wondered what I could get a woman who I thought was stunning and very cool as a Christmas/Solstice/Festivus/etceterus present (she's pagan, and so pretty much am I) so it didn't matter really what I called it. I cudgeled my head (owww!) and came up with an idiotic idea. I'd write her a story.

If you follow me at all, you know that I mostly write science fiction of the alternate history type, and usually in the 1632verse. So I decided to write a story in the 1632verse for Joy as a present. I researched Weimaraners (if you'd go buy Haint, by Joy Ward you'd know why)and found out that they were a late addition to the breed book, probably bred sometime in the early 1800s. (image of lightbulb!) I wrote a story called "It's Just a Dog" about Albrecht of Saxe-Weimar getting his dog handlers to breed him some Weimaraners in the 1630s instead. They do it from a calendar of William Wegman photographs Duke Albrecht bought in Grantville...

Joy loved it. She thought it was very romantic. (grin)

And if you subscribe to the Grantville Gazette, you can read it in GG41 out this month. You can also download GG41 from Baen Books in a variety of ebook formats for Kindle, Nook, your computer, etc. Visit Baen Ebooks for details.

I expect I will be posting here MUCH more regularly.
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The look in the eyes of a dog is love-- Book Review of Haint by Joy Ward

Haint: A Tale of Extraterrestrial Intervention and Love Across Time and Space (Paperback)

Joy Ward's experience with dogs, especially Weimaraners, permeates this novel. She clearly loves the breed, as the Foreword by the photographer, William Wegman, who's made photographing Weimaraners an art form all by itself, illustrates.

But this book isn't about dogs. It isn't even about the age-old conundrum common to all dog owners when they consider just who owns who. And if you don't get that, you haven't been owned by a dog.

This book is about the end of the world, and what happens after.

Haint and the other Weimaraners, and all the other Breeds as well, all know what is happening as a result of the Warming and the end of human civilization. Humans huddled with their Breed dogs and tried to ignore what the dogs knew. This novel is the story of the dogs and the humans coming to terms with the end of the world.

There could have been lots of things wrong with this novel. There could have been polemics about climate, about greed and pollution, but Ward manages to walk the tightrope between the didactic novel and a real story with real characters. Every time I dissect the writing and plotting of this novel, I see how tightly written it is, and how spare. It owes a lot to Hemingway's "less is more" writing style, as it describes the journey Amanda takes to discover why the water level is dropping at home. It is a journey of discovery in the finest traditions of the quest story. Not only does Amanda discover the answers at the end of her quest, so does Haint, and so does his Border Collie friend, Master.

The Breeds have been companions, guides and friends of humans for all of human history. Consider the possibility that they are, and have been, more.
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Review: "The Bards of Bone Plain" by Patricia McKillip

I've been reading Patricia A. McKillip since her very first novel came out, and I think she is one of the most creative imaginers and certainly one of the most sophisticated writers of fantasy of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. From that vantage I think The Bards of Bone Plain is the best she's done in many years.

Not, of course, that any of her books are less than elegant and wonderful. Not so. But The Bards of Bone Plain is incredibly tightly written, and its fusion with a lightly glossed steampunk quasi-Victorian kingdom and the centuries-long quest of an immortal bard for his lost music just plain works seamlessly. You believe that you can simply step sideways from the mundane to the magical and back, easily and painlessly.

Her characters are well-drawn and are clear and clever enough to spawn one of those BBC miniseries where sparkling dialog is the chief hallmark of civilization. The bemused king watching his youngest daughter be more interested in archaeology than "princessing," while his queen fumes is worth a couple of guffaws and a hiccup. The sad quest of Jonah Cle for his lost magic centers the book and provides a sobering thread throughout.

This, here, is the real deal, folks. If this isn't one of the finalists for the World Fantasy Award in 2011, there ain't no justice.

Walt Boyes
Active Member SFWA
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Larry Correia's HARD MAGIC #alternatehistory #magic @baen @larrycorreia @monsterhunter

I've just finished reading the electronic Advanced Reader Copy (e-ARC) of Larry Correia's newest novel, Hard Magic: Book I of the Grimnoir Chronicles. Correia burst onto the urban fantasy scene just a couple of years ago with his first novel, Monster Hunter International and its sequel, Monster Hunter Vendetta.

His is a really fresh voice in urban fantasy, with a hero (on reflection, that looks a lot like Correia himself--making him the largest MarySue in fantasy) who is an accountant, a bar bouncer, a gun nut, and who survived an attack by a werewolf by throwing him out of a multistory building's window to smash on a car parked below. Correia has new and hysterically funny takes on Orcs (they love Heavy Metal and are working for good), Elves (redneck trailer trash elves, whose queen weighs about 500 lbs and wears enormous muu-muus), Gnomes (gangsta rapping Gnomes at that).

So it wasn't a big surprise to see his new series, the Grimnoir Chronicles, is built out of a whole new take on magic and magic users. I can't decide whether it is an alternate history with magic or an urban fantasy in an alternate universe. Who cares? It's a great read.

It seems that an entity fleeing an enemy in another galaxy or universe has given to many humans the ability to do magic with the Power. But each is only a one trick pony, firestarters, movers, travelers, healers, etc., except Okubo Tokogawa, the Shogun of the Japanese Imperium. He is called the Chairman, and his talents are multiple and he has surrounded himself with specially trained and magically reinforced Iron and Shadow Guards. These are, respectively, super samurai and super ninjas.

The Grimnoir (a corruption of Grimoire and Noir) Society is dedicated to the death of the Chairman and the end of the evil Imperium of Japan.

In this book, we meet Jake Sullivan, who has been freed from Rockville Penetentiary by J. Edgar Hoover so he can be used to kill "magically active" people or Actives. One of the people he is sent after is his former lover, Delilah-- who is a Brute. Sullivan is in prison because he killed a Louisiana sherriff who was about to kill a young black Active. Sullivan is an autodidact, but he's widely read and has studied magic heavily.

Correia only occasionally slips into gun porn, which is one of the biggest flaws in the Monster Hunter series...and his mastery of the vernacular of the pulp novel is as good as that of one of the minor characters in the book, an accountant named Chandler.

The action is non-stop, the character development is excellent, with one exception, and the book will sell well to hard-boiled detective readers as well as urban fantasy readers. People who like their vampires with sparkles, however, should probably not read this book, although they are encouraged to buy a copy to make up for what they've done to vampire fantasy. Correia's Monster Hunter series is a terrific antidote to cute zombies, sparkly vampires, and such rot. The one exception to the fine, measured character development is the character of Sally Faye Vierra. She becomes too powerful too fast, and without a lot of rationale except that the storyline requires her to do that. Perhaps she will be further developed in the next volume.

As soon as the book is available for general sale (it is scheduled for May 1st 2011), you should all go out and buy a copy. It is a great read and Correia is a large enough man that he will need to have all the income he can get to keep his body going so he can write more of these great urban fantasies.

Nice job, Larry. And if you are a HUGO voter, Larry is eligible for the John W. Campbell Award for new writers, and he should have a really good shot at it.
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In Praise of Caroline Stevermer-- who you may never have heard of!

I hope that's wrong. I hope that you've been enjoying the fantasies of Caroline Stevermer for the past twenty or so years. But if most of you are like I am, you may not have found her until recently, or maybe you haven't found her yet.

Her fantasy ranges from light to very serious in tone.
is lighter than for example. Both books are terrific and well written tours de force.

With Patricia C. Wrede she has written a series of devastatingly funny and very droll Regency romances with magic, including Sorcery & Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot: Being the Correspondence of Two Young Ladies of Quality Regarding Various Magical Scandals in London and the Country, followed up by The Grand Tour: Being a Revelation of Matters of High Confidentiality and Greatest Importance, Including Extracts from the Intimate Diary of a Noblewoman and the Sworn Testimony of a Lady of Quality."

She is pigeonholed mostly as a YA fantasy writer, but she deals with thoroughly adult themes, and being far from a young adult, I found them excellent reading and quite good writing.

If you haven't heard of her, you ought to try something she's written. If you have read her, and liked her, pass the word around.
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The 1632verse IS literature! Toni Says So!

Baen Books publisher ToniWeisskopf has issued a set of teachers' guides including one for the 1632verse: 1632 Teachers' Guide

It is a detailed look at the entire story arc, comprising all the novels, anthologies, and the issues of The Grantville Gazette that have been published to date. The guide is 30 pages long, and covers the first of the novels, 1632 extensively.

I am really quite delighted to see this, both as a reviewer, and truth be told, as an author in the series (I've sold four short stories and one non-fiction article to Eric that are set in the 1632verse) and as a member of the Editorial Board of The Grantville Gazette. This is an exciting way to teach high school students about history, and what is important beyond the lists of years, battles and leaders. The insistence of Eric Flint and the Editorial Board on concentrating on seeing what normal people will do when they are thrust into extraordinary situations is clearly exciting enough to have spawned well over 2 million words to this writing.

My fourth "Grantville" story will appear in the forthcoming Ring of Fire III anthology, and is titled "And the Devil Will Drag You Under." It explores the confluence of musical comedy, Damon Runyon, the Salvation Army, Alcoholics Anonymous and the 17th Century.

Currently, I am working on a couple of sequels to my two "Father von Spee" stories that appeared in Ring of Fire I and II. At the end of 1635 The Cannon Law, the Catholic church has split, with two popes and since the Jesuits swear fealty to the person of the Pope, the Jesuit Order is splitting as well. Father von Spee is right in the middle of it.

Kudos to Toni Weisskopf for seeing the potential of the 1632verse as a tool for instruction.
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The Affinity Bridge by George Mann

Debuting to mostly scathing reviews, The Affinity Bridge by George Mann is a pulp novel in the most basic and classic sense. It is a pastiche of steampunk and even some Michael Moorcock with a heavy dose of Sherlock Holmes and Indiana Jones. That's why I don't understand the reviews that have said things like, "Mann's stiff-upper-lipped Victorians chat at great length over cups of Earl Grey and occasionally whack zombies and robots in arduous action passages, and the unnecessary details and painfully stilted dialogue bring nothing fresh to the steampunk subgenre." (Publisher's Weekly review)

It's a freakin' pulp novel, folks. It isn't a Pulitzer Prize contender. And for that matter, it reads better than most of the Pulitzer winners I've read lately. It's about the story, and the speed of the plot, not the writing style.

Fact is, anybody's "stiff-upper-lipped Victorians" chatted at great length, wrote long letters many times a day (the City of London boasted five mail deliveries daily) and drank copious amounts of tea during the day, and whisky at night.

I liked the Holmes character, Newbery, but I really loved the "Watson"-- Miss Hobbes. And the epilogue wasn't terribly expected either.

It wasn't until I had finished the book and started to read the reviews (see, I hardly ever read the reviews until after I've read the book-- makes liking books easier sometimes) that I realized the flaws of the novel.

And there are, as has been multiply pointed out, flaws. Great big sloppy ones.

But I didn't notice until afterward.

And that makes a good pulp novel.

3 Stars-- Recommended
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Review: Corruptor by Jason Cordova

Let's face it, the writing in a first novel is usually pretty rough, and that's true of Corruptor. And the writing improves steadily through the book. But that's the only reason I haven't given it 4 stars.

Cordova's idea is great (although it is shades of TRON--just in time for the sequel) and his plotting is excellent, with twists I didn't expect turning up regularly. I knew who the bad guy was, but not the villainess.

Tori Adams may be the youngest great leader anybody has ever written about, but she moves back and forth between adulthood and teenager just like a real teenager does, and it makes her a believable character. She finds herself in the hot seat, and she does well with it. She beats the game everyone is trapped in, and does it without outside assistance--like from her father, who is one of the highest officials of the software company that created the game. This was a fun read, and will likely go on my "read more than once" shelf. Buy this book. It will encourage Cordova to write more. A sequel might be interesting...hint, hint...

This book is available in dead tree edition at Amazon and Barnes and Noble and on Kindle at Amazon.com.