Graphic Novel Review: Chosin: Hold the Line by Richard Meyer, et al.

Chosin: Hold the Line is a vibrantly illustrated story about a company of Marines sent to the Chosin Reservoir during the winter of 1950. Forced to face waves of North Korean soldiers and Chinese “volunteers,” Fox Company struggles against overwhelming odds even as promised reinforcements are nowhere to be found. In this frozen hell, the cold is just as fatal as enemy rounds, but the Marines remain stalwart.

When Battalion realizes their efforts are hopeless, they are ordered to withdraw to the coastline. The fight continues as the enemy is relentless, and the Marines are given no respite during their journey.

With a compelling plot and an excellent pace, Chosin: Hold the Line will satisfy all but the most jaded reader. While the character development is slight, the format of the graphic novel in general does not lend itself to too much detail in that regard. At the forefront here are the illustrations, which realistically depict the horrors of war. The characters themselves are presented with exaggerated facial features, which while lacking in overall verisimilitude, is actually quite useful for keeping track of who’s who. Additionally, the weapons and equipment are faithfully rendered and instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with that era of warfare.

The story also takes the time to look at the perspective of some of the enemy forces, adding a human element to what would otherwise be limited to faceless hordes swarming the Marines. There is also an additional short story, To the Sea, which follows two young Korean refugees caught in the middle of the conflict, a summary of the Chosin campaign, and a number of maps and photographs included, which I found unexpected but very much welcome. I am looking forward to more work from Meyer and his colleagues.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Though my Kindle reader was very slow to load each page (Samsung Galaxy Tab 2) due to the large file size, this is not a reflection of the work nor have I included this minor inconvenience in my rating. It is also worth noting that the Kindle version is not available on Windows readers on OS 7 or earlier, which is disclosed on the “available only on these devices” tab on the Amazon page. If you are limited to a computer running Windows 7 or earlier, you will have to order a hard copy. Still it looks great on my Galaxy Tab, and I am sorely tempted to order a hard copy, too.

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Novella Review: The Demon Cross by Nathan Shumate

Have you ever wondered what would happen if a small-town private investigator tangled with a passel of occult-obsessed neo-Nazis?  This is the premise of The Demon Cross, a taut novella by Nathan Shumate.

Rennie Avalon is that PI, atypical of the breed as a single mother, but well qualified for her work nonetheless.  She is approached by Mister Enrst Vielstich, an academic from the Old Country and a collector of rare books.  A particular specimen from his library has been stolen, and he needs Rennie to recover it.  He can’t go through proper law enforcement channels, for reasons that quickly become apparent.  Rennie takes to the case with aplomb, but a bit of recklessness, and soon discovers that the case is more complicated and dangerous than she could have ever guessed.

The Demon Cross is an enjoyable tale, successfully combining the feel of Dashiell Hammett and H.P. Lovecraft.  The pace is excellent, and most readers will finish it within one or two sessions.  The author has a knack for description, giving adroit attention to details that are necessary without languishing on unimportant minutiae.  Shumate is an expert on “B movies,” as evidenced by his prior non-fiction work, The Golden Age of Crap, and his love of the genre is well channeled in this story.  It is also strongly reminiscent of the television series Supernatural, and fans of the show will see obvious similarities with it.  Whether intentional or not, it is a positive aspect.

One weakness of the novella is the slight character development, though this can be excused due to the short length of the story, as well as the fact that more adventures of Avalon and Company are expected.  Of particular criticism is the character of Rennie herself; her background needs to be expanded to explain her steely resolve and courage in the face of an increasingly bizarre case.  Hopefully the reader will be offered this information in future volumes.  The last issue is the sudden drop in editing quality in the latter fifth of the story, which up until that point had been flawless. However, these errors are not overly distracting.

In all this is a fun, exciting story that is well worth the reader’s time.  3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Book Review: The Quiet Place by Scott Ferguson

In this quick read for the Kindle, a ragtag platoon of soldiers is sent to a small planet on a recon mission.  Reports have filtered in that Earth’s mysterious enemy, the Tarturans, have set up a weapons research facility on the planetoid, known as Elysium.  Corporal Adams is put in charge, and the platoon heads out.

Upon arrival, disaster strikes, as the undisciplined pilot of the dropship comes in too hot and the vessel crashes.  Adams and a handful of survivors find themselves in a harsh wilderness of rivers, swamps, and mangrove-like trees.  They scrounge for weapons and supplies and set up camp, determined to complete the recon mission despite the hardship.

The Quiet Place is a very difficult novel to assess.  The placement of valuable military resources in the hands of an obviously troubled platoon stretches belief, and the explanation of why soldiers with so many discipline problems were sent on the mission is slight.  One would have to assume that dropships, weapons, and equipment are in surplus in the military of the future.  It is also strongly implied from the outset that the mission was never really intended to succeed, again forcing the reader to wonder why the brass even bothered.

If one can take these problems in stride, the rest of the story is at least interesting.  The soldiers encounter local flora and fauna that proves to be deadly, and the survivors of the dropship crash begin to dwindle in number.  The incompetence of the marginalized soldiers only adds to the chaos, creating a frustrating situation where the reader is doubtlessly rooting for them to succeed, but is forced to watch them make several recklessly idiotic decisions.  Corporal Adams appears to be the lone voice of reason, and he does not have the weight of character to hold the group together.

All of that being said, the narrative and description are good.  Ferguson creates a vibrant, terrifying world.  The pace is also excellent and pulls the reader through the story relentlessly.  There is also a complication about two-thirds of the way through that comes at a perfect time and breathes new life into the story.  The last third of the book is arguably the most interesting and the story ends on a high note.

3 out of 5 stars.  Readers who are looking for a more generalized sci-fi adventure may be disappointed.  If you like stories about surviving disaster and exploring harsh alien worlds, this book is for you.

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The Adventures of Space Cop Rylie: Space Cop!

Okay, so I don’t have a title yet.  This latest entry is the result of six months of brainstorming and debate.  It is the first chapter of my fifth novel.  It follows the adventures of Fernwyn Rylie, a Solar Police Officer who returning readers will recognize from The Tarantula Nebula and the first part of Bitter Arrow.

Though Fernwyn’s previous adventures are well documented in canon, this new work will only reference them as exposition.  The story itself will be original.

Chapter One

It was a gorgeous day for a wedding, and in less than an hour, almost everyone would be dead.

Ferwyn Rylie sat on one of the many verandas of Castle Tarsus, the ancestral home of the Umberian royal family.  She was watching the sun creep toward the horizon in the starkly idyllic mountain valley where the impressive stone structure had been placed.  It was a warm mid-summer day in the southern hemisphere, though far more agreeable here than in lower elevations.  She was nursing a cocktail of some sort and all but ignoring the other guests, most of whom were strangers to her anyway.  Her fiancée, Marek, was more familiar with the crowd, and was milling about somewhere else at the moment.  The whole thing wasn’t really her scene, but it was tolerable, and the drinks were free.

Fernwyn was also trying to avoid running into the bride’s parents and cousins.  Driven off of Umber during the Zendreen invasion eleven years ago, they had settled in the tropical region of Misrere Prime.  There, like so many other humanoid settlers, they had chosen to pick up Mektite symbiots.  The spider-like creatures averaged two hands-breadth in size and attached themselves to the back of the neck of the host.  They could only communicate with humanoids while attached to a host, and it was considered normal by the locals to swap symbiots so that they could introduce themselves.  It was also recognized that many people would find this act disturbing, so it wasn’t considered rude to decline.  Fernwyn was in the latter category and just wanted to avoid the situation altogether.

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Book Review: Swords of Exodus by Larry Correia and Mike Kupari

In a lawless region of the world, nestled in an inhospitable mountain pass in central Asia, a warlord dominates.  Sala Jihan is his name, and the area is known as The Crossroads.

While various factions are allowed to operate in the area under his purview, Sala Jihan remains the undisputed king, overseeing his mining operation with a large number of enslaved workers.  An army of enthralled soldiers are at his disposal, including the mysterious and seemingly invincible Brothers, elite men who fight like demons.  Exodus, a global network of fanatical warriors, has set their sights on Jihan, and intend to wipe his scourge from the face of the Earth.

It is into this struggle that Lorenzo, an accomplished mercenary, is recruited.  Brought out of pseudo-retirement, he and his tried-and-true tech buddy Reaper and his girlfriend Jill (herself a competent fighter) are contacted by Exodus and asked to participate in the strike against Jihan.  Normally rue to get back into that world, Lorenzo is compelled to join when he learns that his brother Bob, a federal agent, has gone missing in The Crossroads.  Lorenzo gathers his team and equipment, but first they must rescue an old acquaintance: Valentine.

Michael Valentine is also a former mercenary, held in captivity by a shadowy arm of the US government.  He is of value to both them and Exodus for what he may know about Project Blue, a program many wish to know about but few actually do.  Whether or not Valentine will be of any help elucidating the facts behind Project Blue remains to be seen, though his value as a fighter make him worth the trouble.  Lorenzo has no particular love for the man, so it is an uneasy arrangement in all aspects.  Once Valentine joins the action, the story really takes off.

Swords of Exodus is a sequel to Dead Six, an excellent action-adventure novel in its own right.  Both books follow the same formula, trading perspectives between their two protagonists as they weave their way through the story.  It is not an easy technique to pull off, and as the series goes, Swords sometimes falls short of the standard set by its predecessor.  It remains a very good adventure, and is well worth the attention of fans of Dead Six; however, the balance between Lorenzo and Valentine isn’t as exact this time around.  Lorenzo seems to receive more attention in this story, with Valentine more of a hapless participant by proxy than a motivated adherent.  While it makes sense contextually, returning readers may be slightly disappointed by it.

There are many other aspects that help make up for this.  For one, Lorenzo continues to be a fascinating and entertaining anti-hero, and one of the best action-adventure characters ever conceived.  Like Correia’s other notable protagonists, he is a lot of fun to follow and does not disappoint.  Valentine’s sections are well-written and add a critical perspective to the narrative, and his introspection helps to provide contrast to Lorenzo’s gonzo (though often cynical) attitude.  Both authors do an excellent job of illustrating the world of the story, and The Crossroads in particular comes alive vividly.

Another positive aspect is character development.  Lorenzo and Valentine are fleshed out in more depth, with more details from their past revealed including interesting tidbits from the events in Dead Six.  While adding a lot to the story, neither author dwells on it to the point of slowing down the narrative.  Each man becomes more human in the eyes of the reader, even as they’re surrounded by inhuman chaos.

Also carrying over from the first novel are the action sequences.  Correia and Kupari outdo themselves again.  They are taut at the same time they’re relentless, described with just the right amount of detail to be exciting and rewarding.  As usual, some scenes are depicted with a sanguine, cringe-worthy edge, which might dissuade the casual reader if they happened upon this novel randomly but are right at home regardless.  Valentine’s handiwork with his S&W 629 .44 Magnum revolver is the most obvious example of this.

Overall, Swords of Exodus has a different tone than Dead Six.  It is more of a slow burn, more contemplative, with a slightly more meandering pace.  For returning fans, it should be well-received, but in a microcosm, it might not be as popular as its predecessor.  One common aspect for a sequel is to raise the stakes, and in this case, while the mission is extremely important to Exodus, the involvement of the protagonists does not feel as critical as before.  Also, as previously mentioned, Valentine’s participation leaves something to be desired, an aspect that one hopes will be addressed in Project Blue, the upcoming third addition to the series.  Also in that regard, Swords is very much a middle story, leaving a great deal unresolved.  However, it serves only to make the third book more compelling, and hopefully we won’t have too long to wait for it.

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Hard Stripes: Episode One: Guardian Angels

Posted to my blog for the first time, Hard Stripes is a novella that explains how Kyrie Devonai, Chance Richter, and Evangeline Adeler first started working for the CIA.  It is set in May of 2003, five months prior to the events in Reckless Faith.  My plan is to expand this story into two episodes, and after putting it through the typical feedback/editing process, publish it for the Kindle.  This current version has been significantly modified and cleaned up.  I hope you like it!

Episode one is six chapters, approx. 17,000 words.

Hard Stripes: Episode One: Guardian Angels

 

It was a beautiful, mild late spring night in San Diego, and a man with a machine gun in a helicopter was trying to murder Devonai’s friends.

Over a wind-swept hotel rooftop, the gunner in the iconic Huey was shooting at a man named Richter with a FN M240B, a thirty caliber belt-fed weapon, from a flexible mount.  Devonai watched in horror as rounds streamed toward Richter, the latter man firing his pistol in return even while trying to take cover behind a large conduit.  His other friend, a young girl named Evangeline, cowered in fear underneath an air conditioning unit nearby.

Devonai took a knee and aimed at the gunner with his recently acquired Colt carbine, and tried to concentrate on hitting him.  If his rounds missed his mark, his friends would almost certainly die.  He considered using the AT-4 rocket launcher strapped to his back instead, but it would take too long to get into action, and he couldn’t risk sending a flaming wreck crashing down on the police officers gathered on the street below.  Even as the enormity of the situation threatened to send him into a panic, Devonai couldn’t help but resent his sudden involvement in it.

“This is not what I imagined myself doing tonight,” he thought, and opened fire.

May 25, 2003 – 20 Hours Earlier

In his mind was an incomprehensible jumble of images, too indistinct to be identified but compelling enough to manipulate his emotions.  Kyrie Devonai was pleased when he awoke, taking a deep breath and stretching his arms.  The low hum of the airplane was relaxing, but his subconscious seemed reluctant to let him rest peacefully.  He glanced out of the window, securing yet another view of the featureless night.  In the background he could hear the voice of a flight attendant doing her job.  He realized the drink cart was going by again, and he considered ordering another drink.  The martini from a couple hours earlier had created a fantastic haze around his worries, even if it was too heavy on the vermouth.  A quick mental checklist of alcoholic beverages allowed Kyrie to make a choice, betting on the fact that they couldn’t possibly get it wrong.  However, one couldn’t be too careful.  Kyrie raised his hand when the attendant approached.

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The Reckless Faith Trilogy: Week One

One week after publishing the Reckless Faith trilogy for the Kindle, it has become clear that it was well worth my effort.  Sales have been excellent compared to my existing books, with the trilogy looking to soon surpass sales of The Fox and the Eagle in the same format.  If you purchased a copy, thank you, and as always, reviews are much appreciated.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Reckless-Faith-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00G3NV0HK/

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