Book Review: A Canticle of Two Souls by Steven Raaymakers

In a world where magic is just a whispered rumor of an ancient past, any hint of this lost power is met with derision, fear, and anger. For a boy on the edge of manhood, and a girl near the same age, magic will soon come to define their lives, though in two very different ways.

Raziel, his past clouded by rage and a thirst for revenge, and Alicia, her own origins equally uncertain, are thrown together by circumstances seemingly beyond their control. Though not allies, they soon come to realize that traveling together may be the only way they can survive, at least until they find a way to pierce the veil of emotion that shrouds where they came from, and where they are going.

In a kingdom united under a steady ruler, any magic allowed to roam free threatens to upend that peace, though the eradication of such forces soon becomes overshadowed by the power that same magic offers. Sought not only by the emperor but also his underlings, the magic these children possess may maintain that peace; or bring it to a terrible end, despite any best intentions originally espoused.

So, Raziel, and the mysterious sword that grants him the strength and skill of twenty men, and Alicia, whose powers of the mind can be used for good or ill in an instant of indecision, find themselves pursued across the land, their own journey toward truth and peace met with lies and horrific violence at every turn. If they are to survive, remember and accept their tumultuous histories, and even become victorious against foes both from inside and without, they must learn to understand each other, and the power that burns inside them.

Lavishly detailed, A Canticle of Two Souls is nonetheless a tightly-woven tale. The reader is dragged along quite the same as our two stalwart protagonists, to a dramatic and satisfying end. The author is an easy hand with the English language, describing everything from raindrops on steel to a nightmarish dreamscape with equal aplomb. The only quibble this reader could mention, and a minor one at that, is that certain subjects and themes are covered repeatedly, to the point where one might begin to wonder if the plot is stuck in a roundabout. Other than that, this is an enjoyable and promising first novel in what is rapidly becoming a series.

4/5 Stars

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First Draft Complete: Reckless Faith 5

The first draft of the fifth book in the Reckless Faith series, The Heart of the Swan, is complete, and is now in the hands of several beta readers. Once their edits and suggestions have been compiled, and cover art procured, it will be ready for publication. I hope for it to be available by December.

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Book Review: The Blackshade Machine by William Latoria

In the not-so-distant future, the global political landscape has changed dramatically. Canada and the United States have merged, and with the advent of high technology, especially in the areas of governance and social monitoring, each country is left to either let their citizenry prosper or harshly control them. There is peace, but the age-old doctrine of mutually assured destruction looms greater than ever.

When a mysterious alien race appears at the edge of the solar system, humanity’s harmonic balance is quickly thrown into chaos, magnified by rampant speculation on social media. When first contact occurs, many humans feel that their entire existence is threatened. While the new visitors appear to be friendly, at first, early revelations of their nature, and that of humanity as a whole, threaten to shake the whole world from their technology-driven symbiosis into anarchy. At the center of this, unwittingly, is Colonel Blackshade, a high-ranking officer in Canderica’s military force. It is he who must facilitate some kind of communication with the aliens, and finds himself holding the fate of the entire planet in his hands. Though these strange creatures may come in peace, many are leery of their potentially ominous long-term plans, as well as what other horrors the galaxy may hold.

Expansive and pensive, The Blackshade Machine may be the most well thought out tale of first contact ever to grace the page. The author’s world building and character development are central throughout the book, and don’t disappoint. No aspect of Canderica’s society or technology is overlooked, especially how these things are affected by the arrival of the aliens, and the narrative rewards the patient reader.

Ultimately, what keeps this book from rating a full five stars, in my humble opinion, is that these details sometimes slow the pace of the story, turning what should be an up-all-night adventure into something a bit more technical in nature. Still, as the promised first book in a series, these slow points shouldn’t deter the reader from finishing up quite ready for the next chapter… which I hope is coming soon!

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New Cover Art for Reckless Faith

Work on the fifth book in the Reckless Faith series slowly continues, but I recently hit the 50% point for its projected length.  In the meantime, I was so happy with my cover art for Dun Ringill by Alejandro Quinones, that I commissioned him to redo the cover for Reckless Faith.

This scene depicts the first time the main characters find Seth, the repository of technological data sent to Earth from Umber.

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Inspiration and the Creative Process

My fifth novel, Dun Ringill, is complete.   Though it took me over a year to write, I only recently stumbled upon a bit of information that I wanted to share.

Some of you already know that Dun Ringill is a real place, an approximately 2,000 year old fort on the Island of Skye off of Scotland.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dun_Ringill

I was inspired to name my book after it because of its reference in a song by Jethro Tull, the progressive rock group introduced to me by my mother at a young age.  Most of Tull’s lyrics were written by its frontman, Ian Anderson, who lived near Dun Ringill during some of his youth.  Anderson’s recurring themes are rife with references to the ancient peoples of England, their culture, and rituals.  They are all explored in depth on the outstanding fan website Cup of Wonder,

Edit: 27 OCT 2019:  It has come to my attention that the website Cup of Wonder is no longer up.  I’m disappointed as no other website seems to have the level of in-depth analysis of Tull lyrics.  Below are some alternatives.

Including, of course, Dun Ringill itself, from the album Stormwatch.

Stormwatch

Though often inscrutable, Anderson’s lyrics are not always difficult to decipher, and Dun Ringill’s meaning is fairly easy to discern if you know the history behind the ancient structure.  Though in reality the fort probably has no special meaning other than a defensive position that long ago became obsolete, it inspired me to research other ancient English structures that almost certainly did, including the most famous, Stonehenge.  In fact, many ancient structures in England feature astronomical alignments at significant times of the year (solstices and equinoxes, most notably).  Whether built merely for utility or for a ritualistic purpose, people who visit these places often remark on there being a peculiar feel to them, probably the same sense of mystery that Anderson himself experienced at Dun Ringill.

It was while researching these places that I learned about cursus lines, man-made ditches, barrows, or earthenworks put in place thousands of years ago for unknown purposes:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cursus

I thought these were interesting enough to apply them in a practical way to the science fiction of my novel.  However, I also decided to use them because I suspected that one of Anderson’s lines from Dun Ringill, lines joint in faint dischord, referred to cursus lines and their possible importance in ancient rituals.  As courses constructed by people who may have believed that some kind of mystical power flowed through them, they are related to the pseudoscience of ley lines:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ley_line

But are things like this what Anderson was really referring to in the song Dun Ringill?  I wasn’t sure until I started studying the lyrics of Jethro Tull songs that weren’t my favorites, either growing up or today.  So, it was just last week that I came across an explicit reference to ley lines in the song Cup of Wonder itself.

Songs From The Wood

For the May Day is the great day, sung along the Old Straight Track.  And those who ancient lines did lay will heed the song that calls them back.

If you looked at the Wikipedia article I linked above, you may have noticed that The Old Straight Track was the first published book on ley lines.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Old_Straight_Track

D’oh!

Still, despite that I could have answered my own question a long time ago by being more familiar with Jethro Tull’s discography, I was elated to learn of this relationship.  Maybe this makes me a verifiable Turbo Nerd but this revelation sent chills down my spine.

In all of my writing, I’ve been inspired by astronomy, ancient legends, and music.  Whether any of this translates into good science fiction is certainly up to the reader, but the fact that it keeps me going back to the page is good enough for me.  However, now that my characters have solved the mystery of Dun Ringill, it seems that I have, too.

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Book Review: Outer Demon by Gabriel Landowski

Outer Demon is a fun, fast-paced fantasy novel that combines a cohesive storyline with a well-timed twist near the end.

The main character is a young man filled with a mysterious power passed down through a familial legacy, though he begins this classic hero’s journey quite unaware of his potential. He is forced onto his path by a strange illness that almost kills him, an affliction that is only quelled by the appearance of a beautiful woman. Her interest in the boy, along with her own origins, are closely kept secrets, though he quickly begins to suspect that their destinies are intertwined.

Filled with action, deft storytelling, and a well-defined arc, Outer Demon is an easy choice for a reader looking for a new and accessible tale. Some may notice a few grammatical errors of the type often overlooked by all but the most tenacious editors, but it’s not enough to detract from the story. Overall it should appeal to fantasy fans of all types.  4/5 stars.

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Book Review: A Happy Bureaucracy by M.P. Fitzgerald

I’m not usually a fan of post-apocalyptic sci-fi. This book caught my interest because of its unusual but thoroughly plausible premise – that in a United States ravaged by a nuclear apocalypse, the Internal Revenue Service would be the only governmental entity to survive.

Fitzgerald excels at juxtaposing a ludicrous scenario with fast-paced storytelling and humor. Unlike anything I’ve seen before, this book was refreshing for its originality and accessibility. In a world where violence is the rule of law, we can always rely on one constant – the IRS, and its stalwart agents.

The protagonist undergoes a predictable character arc, and his weathered, hard-boiled companion is a trope by herself. These foibles are easily forgiven due to the enjoyable story and clever narrative. The author also makes a few grammatical errors, undetectable with spell check but pernicious nonetheless. Still, these problems hardly detract from the story and will probably go unnoticed to all but the most IRS auditor-inclined readers.

4/5 Stars

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New Fiction in the Reckless Faith Universe

The last three months have been a boon for my books.  The Fox and the Eagle has been doing particularly well, and my other titles are doing better than average as well.  With so many new readers, I’ve decided to revisit past ideas for a fifth book in the series.  As usual, I’ll be posting the content as I create it.  The first draft of the prologue and first chapter are below; if the prologue seems familiar it’s because I’ve posted it here before.  However, it concludes differently now.

Prologue

 

“Hey, Agent Smith!”

 

Val was on his way from the front desk to the elevators when he heard someone call his name. He turned to his right and looked into the lounge area. His contact, Special Agent Ben Jones, was sitting at a small table near the bar. Val approached him.

Continue reading

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Infinity Publishing has gone dark. Consider my books with them as out of print.

Due to a messy merger with a new company called FastPencil, Infinity Publishing is no longer responding to communications, nor are they fulfilling orders.  As such, I’ve re-published The Fox and the Eagle directly on Amazon.  Please be sure you are ordering the correct version, especially the paperback.  The easiest way to distinguish these versions are that the new versions are significantly less expensive.

I’m taking action to have Infinity’s versions of my books officially listed as out of print, which could take a few months.  For now, all five of my novels are available directly through Amazon, both in Kindle and paperback.

Here is the link to The Fox and the Eagle, new Kindle Edition.  The link to the paperback is in the sidebar.

 

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Dun Ringill is Live on Amazon

I’m pleased to announce that Dun Ringill is now available for the Kindle on Amazon.  Thank you to everyone who helped me edit and refine the final version.

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Dun Ringill: First Draft Complete

The first draft of Dun Ringill is complete.  Next begins the process of editing, and finding a source for cover art.  Until the book is ready to be published on Amazon, I’m making the first four chapters available to a wider audience.  If you would like an advance copy of the whole thing, please let me know, and thank you to all who provided feedback so far.  Below are links to the first four chapters.

Prologue and Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

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Dun Ringill, Chapter Four

When Carthage returned with the rest of his gear, Siobhan was still in her bedroom, trying to decide what to bring with her on the trip. She bid him to come in, so he stood at the doorway. She did a double-take when she saw his rifle, then went back to staging items on her bed.

“No problems out there?” she asked.

Carthage shook his head. “If Ludain went for help, there’s no indication yet. You’re not planning on trying to take all that stuff, are you?”

“No, I can only reasonably carry twenty-five pounds, so I’m choosing which things to take. Your rifle is a SCAR, right?”

“Yup. FN SCAR-H, seven-six-two. My pistol is a Beretta PX4, in forty-five, and I grabbed a spare from the ship. Have you worked on them before?”

“I’ve only seen them in my manuals. There are a wide variety of guns in Romanby, but neither of those ever made it here. How much water should I bring?”

“Whatever you can comfortably carry. I have iodine tablets with me if we need to get some in the field. I take it the original colonists were allowed to take whatever they wanted?”

Siobhan nodded. “Self-defense was enshrined within our constitution before we ever set foot on Skye. I don’t think we ever intended to use them for war, though.”

“Let me guess. After the Wave hit, splinter political factions saw the opportunity to take power.”

“The loftiest of goals are always subject to the machinations of human nature, Carthage. But Skye was never meant to be a Utopia, just a free planet for each of us to make their own way.”

“You’ll have to tell me all about on our stroll through the countryside. Anyway, you’re welcome to carry my spare Beretta if you like.”

“I may do just that. I only have thirty-seven rounds left for my CZ, and I doubt anyone else on Skye brought a weapon in that caliber. I’m also bringing my Vintorez, since I assume you don’t have another SCAR crammed into your backpack.”

Carthage raised his eyebrows. “You have a VSS Vintorez? Those are rare, even on Earth. How much ammo do you have for it?”

Siobhan began shoving items into her rucksack. “I have a hundred rounds, all loaded into five mags. My mom was from Belarus, and my dad met her while there on business. He had an affinity for Eastern Bloc weapons. He brought her and two guns back to Scotland.”

“Wasn’t the rifle turbo-illegal in Scotland?”

Siobhan chuckled. “Of course. I don’t think it ever saw the light of Earth’s sun once my dad got it. On Skye, anything goes, which was part of the reason they came out here.”

“Well, I suggest you choose your shots carefully from either weapon. Though, if you survive after firing all your rounds, chances are you’ll be able to pick up a replacement. Whether or not we’ll be firing at anyone at all is something I want you to tell me once we hit the road.”

Nodding in agreement, Siobhan tightened the straps on her rucksack. She reached under her bed and pulled out a locked plastic case. Opening it revealed her rifle, and she checked the chamber before holding it out toward Carthage.

“Trade you for a minute.”

Carthage smiled, cleared his rifle, and the two swapped weapons. “Nice. It’s lighter than I would have thought. We did Soviet weapons familiarization during training but I’ve never had my hands on one of these.”

Siobhan grinned at the SCAR. “You sure you want this back?”

Carthage looked out of the window through the scope on the Vintorez. “Yes please. You know, this scope looks like it’s meant for the old thirty caliber round. Can you hit anything with it?”

The pair traded rifles again. “My dad told me you basically have to double the holdover for the heavier bullet. The furthest I’ve ever fired was one hundred meters, but I found that if you aim for the head at that distance, you’ll strike center mass. Unfortunately, we didn’t have that much ammo to spare on target practice. My dad kept the cases but we never had the ability to cast new rounds, and our supply of smokeless powder and primers is long gone anyway.”

She loaded her rifle, and clipped a belt of magazine pouches around her waist. She picked up her rucksack, and she and Carthage returned to the workshop. He handed her a PDA, and she began to glue the front sight from Ludain’s Glock onto it.

“Do you think this will actually work?” she asked, blowing softly on the glue.

“No clue. I hope, for our sake, that the anomaly Ludain marked on the map is still there. Otherwise we may be flying blind. When you’re done with that, I’ll go over the basic operation of the PDA.”

“Okay, go for it.”

“I apologize in advance if I insult your intelligence. I mean well.”

Carthage spent several minutes showing Siobhan how to use the device. It quickly became obvious to him that she wouldn’t have any problem with the technology. Once that was done, he pulled up the mapping program and synchronized the PDAs.

“All right,” he began. “Here’s Abernathy, and here’s the supposed location of the anomaly. It’s right at the halfway point, five miles north. We have about five hours of daylight left, so we shouldn’t have any problem getting there before dark, even if we take it slow. Now, if we skirt around the east side of town, what are the chances we’ll hit the north road before anyone spots us?”

Siobhan pondered that. “It depends on whether or not Farnham is out tending to his corn. If he is, and he freaks out, we’ll be out of town before he can raise an alarm. The odds of running into anyone else randomly on our way out is minimal.”

“In that case, I’m ready to go. You?”

She gestured toward the door. “Lead the way, soldier.”

 

 

__________

 

It was a beautiful afternoon, the weather sunny and mild, and Carthage and Siobhan couldn’t have asked for better conditions for a hike. The north road out of Romanby went steadily downhill toward the coast, moving them out of deciduous forest and into rolling plains. They passed by a few abandoned homes and some fallow farmland, but so far hadn’t encountered anything other than birds and a few disinterested rodents. For Siobhan, the experience was a mixture of elation and terror; she had never ventured this far out of town, but the possibility of encountering something horrible was impossible to ignore.

She was having a hard time keeping one eye on her PDA, although Carthage seemed to be picking up her slack. They had detected elevated radiation levels compared to inside the safety of the town, but it wasn’t yet any concern. They had filled the time with a mostly one-sided conversation about splinter factions on Skye, the most prominent of which was an oligarchical regime that called themselves the Knights of Aberdeen. A social organization with plutocratic ideals prior to the Wave, they had seized power in many areas around the planet, in an attempt to supplant the constitutional republic originally founded. As Siobhan understood it, their movement gained in popularity because of the power vacuum created by the decentralization of Skye’s government, and the perception that city-states would be necessary to sustain life in the new environment.

Siobhan had few opinions on whether or not this system was better than the old one, and if Carthage did, he hadn’t yet shared them. Since her latest information was five years old, anything could have happened, though it seemed likely to her that the Knights were still very much in power. Romanby was too isolated to have ever fallen under their influence, and Abernathy was at the extreme edge of their sphere. Siobhan warned Carthage that the closer he got to Edinburgh, the more careful he would have to be about revealing his true allegiances.

About a mile away from the location Ludain had marked for them, they slowed their pace considerably and kept their eyes mostly fixed on their PDAs. The bright sunshine had rendered the tritium pistol sights useless, but they still had their active scans. A sudden change in their readings caused the pair to stop dead in their tracks, and Siobhan’s adrenaline spiked.

“You see it, too?” asked Carthage.

“Yes,” she replied, almost whispering.

He had told her what to expect, and it was happening right before her eyes. Ambient radiation levels had spiked to 0.5 mSv, an increase of a factor of a thousand. Her PDA was also showing a drop in elevation of 20 meters, which obviously hadn’t happened. It was also noticeably colder than a moment ago. She cupped her hand over the top of the PDA and the tritium sight seemed to be brighter.

Carthage motioned for her to move to her right, and he moved to the left, toward the curbs of the road. As Siobhan moved, the readings dropped.

“It’s right in front of us,” began Carthage. “Grab your balls.”

Siobhan had brought a tube of three tennis balls, so she unlimbered her rucksack to retrieve them. She tossed one down the road, and it came to a rest about ten meters ahead. The pair nodded to each other, and moved forward slowly. When they got to the ball, she threw it again. They repeated this process a few times until something odd happened.

About halfway through the arc of Siobhan’s leisurely throw, the ball seemed to triple in speed and shot to the ground. It landed where they expected, but in a fraction of the time. She threw another ball and the same thing happened.

“Time is moving faster there,” said Carthage. “Check your readings.”

Siobhan replied, “Zero point six milliSeiverts. Elevation two hundred forty meters above sea level. Ambient temperature ten Celsius. My tritium is glowing like brand new.”

“Okay, let’s back off, nice and slow. Those readings will be our point of no return. Let’s see if we can navigate around it.”

Carefully, the pair flanked the anomaly on both sides until they met again in the road. The anomaly was about ten meters in diameter. They walked down the road several steps, and readings returned to normal.

Siobhan sighed in relief. “That wasn’t so bad. We should try to mark it so nobody wanders in.”

“I don’t have anything to mark it with, do you?”

“Not really.”

Carthage shrugged. “We could grab some smallish boulders and create a ring around it. Then I can put some duct tape on either side and write a warning with my marker. I think that’s the best we can do for now. But if we encounter more anomalies that shit is going to get old, fast. We can’t waste too much time playing combat engineers out here.”

“We should at least mark this one, it’s in the middle of the road.”

“Fine, but we should really get to Abernathy before dark.”

It took the pair about twenty minutes to arrange a circle of twelve boulders around the anomaly. Carthage chose a couple of larger rocks for each side, and put a couple of strips of duct tape on each. With a permanent marker, he wrote, WARNING: TEMPORAL ANOMALY – DO NOT ENTER CIRCLE.

“There,” he said, wiping his hands on his trousers. “If they can’t read, then they deserve whatever happens to them.”

Siobhan drank from her canteen, then said, “Thank you for doing this, Carthage. I know this is just another mission to you, but Skye is my home. If we can eventually catalog anomalies on popular routes of travel, then maybe life can start to improve. If we can’t repair the damage done by the Wave, then we can at least resume safe travel and trade.”

“Perhaps, but you’re gonna need a lot more functional PDAs and willing scouts. Grab your rucksack, we should get moving. If you think it’s eerie out here now, wait until the sun goes down.”

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Dun Ringill, Chapter Three

Siobhan had directed Carthage to fill two tumblers with scotch, and the man sipped slowly from his glass as she began her story.

“I was five when the Wave hit, so most of what I’m going to tell you is second-hand.  There are persistent rumors of the true reason for colonizing Skye, other than the pedestrian explanation of manifest destiny.  The most popular one involves wormholes and the concept of a galactic Lagrange Point.  Do you know what those are?”

Carthage nodded.  “Of course.  Lagrange Points are spots of gravitational stability in a solar system.”

Siobhan quaffed some scotch.  “The idea is that some eggheads speculated that Skye is a Lagrange Point for the entire galaxy.  This could, theoretically, allow a stable place for an artificial wormhole that could be used to travel to other Lagrange Points in the galaxy.  If true, it could open up exploration and trade routes thousands of light years away.  What is known for certain is that a research facility was built about a hundred miles from Edinburgh, and dubbed Dun Ringill.  What happened there is shrouded in secrecy.  Twenty years ago, there was some kind of disaster at the facility.  A wave of radiation circled the entire planet, rendering vast areas uninhabitable, and creating temporal anomalies like the one you encountered.  Small towns like Romanby became difficult to reach, and previously safe routes were prone to shifts in stability.  This made travel and trade virtually impossible, and in our case, we haven’t had any visitors in five years.  More than likely, everyone gave up trying to reach us.  As I mentioned, our own scouts often never returned.  Fortunately our town is self-sustaining, though life will gradually get more difficult as our mechanical devices wear out or break.  Our power station is probably going to have to shut down within a year.  We’ve resigned ourselves to scratching out a basic existence, barring some miracle.  Anyway, any theories amongst us are pure speculation.  No one in Romanby knows what really happened.”

Sipping his drink, Carthage let all of this sink in.  “Sounds like you’re right proper fucked.  Listen, Siobhan, I have a mission to complete, that’s my motivation.  I may be able to help you find a safe route to the next town, but that’s only because I need to find more answers.  Unless someone in town has been holding out on you, I can’t get them here.  So, I need your help.”

“I thought you said you were going to fix your ship, and go to Edinburgh.”

Carthage grimly swirled his scotch.  “The ship crashed.  I’m the sole survivor.  I lied to you before because I needed you to think I had backup, in case you or your people were hostile to me.  I think I can trust you now, but I don’t really have a choice anyway.”

“What went wrong?”

“It’s complicated.  Suffice it to say that the ship is unsalvageable.  I’m going to have to reach Edinburgh the old fashioned way.”

Siobhan laughed.  “You can’t be serious.  I hope you’re a good swimmer, Carthage.  You’re on the wrong continent.  The Wave fried the circuitry of anything electronic that wasn’t indoors, and that included the only Atmo ship in Romanby.  Some of our cars survived because they were garaged at the time.  I haven’t seen anything fly overhead in twenty years that didn’t have feathers.  We assume most ships were disabled, and if any are still flying, they haven’t had a reason to come here.  Not to mention the fact that nobody knows how localized the temporal anomalies are.  Flying could be just as hazardous as surface travel.  Maybe you could find a sailboat to traverse an ocean, but as far as I know, nobody ever needed to build a sailboat capable of such.  Even if you could make it to Edinburgh, what do you hope to accomplish?”

“My mission is to find out what caused the Wave, and report back to Earth.  I won’t stop until I do.”

“And if you could, would the Planetary Union try to save Skye?”

Carthage shrugged.  “I don’t know, that’s beyond my pay grade.  I imagine they would at least offer to evacuate anyone who wanted to leave.”

Siobhan finished her scotch.  “Gathering the intel you want may be several orders of magnitude easier than getting off this planet, soldier.”

“One step at a time then, I suppose.”

“What’s your next step?”

“I want to talk to any scientists you may have in town.  I had a couple of ideas for modifying my PDAs to detect anomalies before I wander into one, but I have no idea if it will work.  I’d like to talk to someone more knowledgeable before I resume traveling.”

“You have more than one PDA?” asked Siobhan, her face perking up.

“Yes.”

“Then it sounds like you would benefit from taking someone with you on your journey.  Two scanners are better than one.  As far as a scientist, the only person here who remotely matches that description is Gordon Ludain, the chief engineer of the power plant.  As of five years ago there was a fixed anomaly to the north, and he had attempted to study it.  I have no idea what the results of his research were, but since then keeping the plant running has occupied all of his time.”

Carthage nodded.  “Will you take me to him?  How will he and the townsfolk react to seeing me?”

“They’ll want to take you to see the mayor and explain yourself to him.  If you have any weapons on you then the constable will take them until they can verify your story.”

“I can’t take the chance that they’ll detain me, Siobhan.  You’ll excuse me if I’m skeptical that everyone else will be as friendly as you.  Is there any way that you can get Ludain to come here instead?”

“As it happens, he dropped off one of his pistols last night right before I closed.  He wanted the burned-out tritium sights replaced with standard sights.  I was going to do it first thing today.  The job will only take fifteen minutes, why don’t I do that now and then I’ll call him to come pick it up?”

“If he’s busy running the plant, how long will it take him to show up?”

“He asked me to do it as soon as possible.  He’s not a patient man.  I’m surprised my phone isn’t already ringing.  I bet as soon as I call him he’ll come by to get it.”

Carthage smiled.  “Sounds like a plan, then.  While I’m waiting, can you spare some food?  My own supply is somewhat limited.”

Siobhan stood up, and put her pistol in her front pocket.  “Help yourself to anything in the fridge.  Changing out the sights on a Glock is easy, if you have the right tools.  This won’t take long.”

 

 

__________

Gordon Ludain had a wide, expressive face, and a narrow nose on which balanced a pair of heavy gold-rimmed glasses.  Meeting Carthage, and listening to his story, had given him the opportunity to show surprise, shock, and finally, elation.  He shifted back and forth on the edge of his chair and excitedly poked through the mission files on Carthage’s PDA, muttering nearly incomprehensibly as the visitor spoke.  Carthage was glad he wasn’t stuck with a guy like this on the journey to Skye, it would have been a much longer trip.  He suspected the isolation of Romanby was starting to effect Ludain’s mind.  Carthage had just told the older man about the modifications he’d made to his PDA, and had waited a little too long for a reply.

“So,” Carthage prodded, “do you think we can detect an anomaly with these settings?”

“Mmm, yes,” Ludain began, his Scottish brogue as thick as his glasses.  “It’s more than what I had to work with, lad.  Miss NicKennon, get me the old sights from my pistol.  And do you have any CA adhesive?”

“Sure,” said Siobhan, shooting a brief look of impatience at Carthage, and retrieved the requested items from her bench.  “Your Glock is ready to…”

“Thank you,” Ludain blurted.

The engineer put a dab of glue on the bottom of the rear sight, and before Carthage could object, stuck it to the top edge of his PDA.

“Okay, then,” said Carthage.  “And this is going to accomplish what?”

“The Caimbeul boy has done well as my apprentice, so much so that I’m almost ready to have him assume some of my duties at the plant.  As such, I was planning on resuming my research into the anomalies.  It occurred to me that phosphorus should luminesce in the presence of one, so I thought these old tritium sights could be used as an early warning measure.  It wouldn’t do to wander around with my pistol drawn all the time, so I asked Miss NicKennon to remove them.  This, along with your modifications, Mister Carthage, and we might actually stand a chance out there.”  Ludain held up the PDA and admired his work.  “Shame we don’t have one more, though.”

“It’s just Carthage, thanks.  I’ve got another PDA.”

“Perfect!  We’ll put the front sight on that one, and we’ll be in business.  When should we leave?”

“Respectfully, sir, this mission is going to be extremely arduous.  And even if this Campbell guy is ready to help out, Romanby can’t afford to lose you right now.”

Ludain gazed at Carthage over his glasses.  “An old sod like me would just slow you down, eh?  I think that’s up to the mayor to decide, don’t you agree, Miss NicKennon?”

Siobhan pursed her lips.  “He wouldn’t let you go either, Gordon.  Best leave the risk-taking to those too young to know better.  Are you sure you don’t have any other insights?”

“Aye.  Take some golf balls with you.  If your sensors are gyrating like burlesque dancers, toss a ball in front of you.  The anomaly I found will announce itself with obvious results.”

Carthage stood up, and folded his arms across his chest.  “Talk to the mayor if you must.  It won’t matter.  I’ll be gone by then, and my PDAs with me.  Your contributions are appreciated, sir.”

Ludain was flustered.  “You’re putting me in a tough spot, stranger.  Without you, Romanby is likely to think I’ve gone completely mad.  Even if they believe me, what’s the point in putting so much hope on a fool’s errand?”

“You must think I’ve got more of a chance than that, if you wanted to come with me.”

“My hope is mine to give.  I can’t trap the townsfolk in the same folly.  Better they know nothing, unless you actually return alive.”

Siobhan picked up Ludain’s pistol.  “I know it won’t be easy, but it will be the right thing.  Keep that plant running as long as you can, Gordon.  Let Carthage confront Dun Ringill.”

Ludain nodded, and took the Glock.  He fought back tears, and left without another word.  Carthage and Siobhan stood in silence for a moment.  Carthage sighed.

“I should get going,” he said, “in case he changes his mind.”

Siobhan flipped the sign around on the door.  “You seem to be forgetting the advantage of two scanners instead of one.  I’m coming with you, unless you think I’ll just slow you down, too.”

Carthage smiled.  “You seem sharp enough, and you know your way around firearms.  How do you feel about taking orders?”

“I hate it,” she said, and locked the front door.

“Then get your gear.  We leave in fifteen minutes.”

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Dun Ringill, Chapter Two

As soon as the woman looked at the hillside, Carthage knew he had screwed up.  He swore to himself as he flipped the lens cover down over his rifle scope.  It was a rookie mistake, but he might be able to forgive himself.  The last day and a half had been a bizarre challenge.

It had started with Carthage dozing off around 3 am.  In his ten years of military service, he had never fallen asleep when he wasn’t authorized.  He would have sworn he was only asleep for five minutes, but the sun was rising when he awoke.  He wasn’t even remotely tired when it happened.  Such a lapse in the past could have gotten himself or his squad killed.  Shaking off this previously unforgiveable offense, he returned to the ship to collect a few more things.

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Dun Ringill: Prologue and Chapter One

PROLOGUE

 

When Carthage stumbled onto the bridge, his heart was racing, but not because he was scared. He had to pry open the doors to get there, as they had apparently malfunctioned, and this effort was great in comparison to his quick sprint to the command center. The doors might have been trying to spare him the horror of that day, the stark reality of which was all too plain as he entered.

Carthage’s crewmates lay dead, their blood almost luminescent in the bluish glow of the well-lit bridge. The compact space left no room for imagination, though there was no doubt as to the manner of their demise. Holland stood at the helm station, his back turned toward him, and his right hand grasping a bloody bayonet. The weapon belonged to Carthage, obviously stolen from his quarters at some point in the recent past. His four friends must not have suspected any ill intent from Holland. And though Carthage was surprised as they must have been, he was at least fortunate enough to see it coming.

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Hard Stripes: Episode Two (Chapter 7 Part Two)

Here’s the second half of chapter 7.  You can find the first half, as well as a link to the first six chapters, at the link below.

https://devonai.wordpress.com/2016/01/08/hard-stripes-episode-two-chapter-7-part-one/

 

Martin Schultz puffed gently on the top of his favorite mug, and sipped carefully at the blackberry tea within. He set it down on his desk, picked up his ledger, and settled back into his high-backed leather chair. The office in the back of his jewelry store was cramped, but it was usually just himself using it. He had been there for several hours, and was unaware of the coolness of the evening air, so his ancient air conditioner dutifully spat out a stream of mostly cold air and condensation. If his wife was still alive, she might complain about him balancing the books so late into the night. The clock rolled over to 2am as he resumed his arithmetic, occasionally checking his math with a blue Texas Instruments calculator.

He became aware of a presence in his doorway. A man was standing there, pointing a Walther P88 pistol at him from the hip. He wore a black jacket and had a cropped, military style haircut. Martin barely acknowledged the man, though he was careful to keep his hands above the desk.

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Hard Stripes: Episode Two (Chapter 7 Part One)

Here is the first half of Chapter 7 of Hard Stripes, the novel intended as a prequel to my existing science fiction series.  As with The Fox and the Eagle, I’m dividing the story into episodes of about six chapters each.  This post is the first half of the first chapter of Episode Two: The Stripening (placeholder title).

The first six chapters were previously posted here:

https://devonai.wordpress.com/2013/12/09/hard-stripes-episode-one-guardian-angels/

7.

“I think we can do without these.”

Richter removed Kyrie’s handcuffs. The group had just arrived at a nearby safe house, a nondescript two-bedroom apartment on a quiet street in Mission Valley. They were waiting for the FBI to assign extra agents, as the CIA in the region couldn’t supply anyone as quickly. Lauren had taken Eva upstairs to get cleaned up, leaving the two men alone in the apparently bare kitchen. The room had light sage wallpaper and a linoleum tile floor, and smelled like it hadn’t been used in a long time. Wearily, they sat down at a table, lapsing into silence for moments. Kyrie willed himself to stand back up.

“Thank you for extending me your trust again,” he said, heading for the sink.

Richter set aside the duffel bag he was carrying. “Just do me a favor and don’t disappear on me tonight. I still want a career in the CIA after tomorrow.”

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A Message To Visitors From Ten Thousand Places

I want to greet all the new folks who found my blog through my sister’s site, Ten Thousand Places.  I’m glad you enjoyed her blog, and thanks for clicking through to mine.  However, I suspect that my blog’s title, Reckless Faith, may be misleading without any context.

This blog is my personal site for posting book reviews and my own science fiction.  It is named after the titular spaceship in my original sci-fi trilogy.  The premise is that the Reckless Faith was built by amateurs who took the ship on a do-or-die mission with very little idea of what to expect.  The name of the ship speaks to a theme that runs throughout the series; however, there are no overtly Christian themes or messages.

In fact, while a far cry from soulless atheistic prose, there is little in my fiction to compare to the message and theme of my sister’s blog. If you are a fan of science fiction in general, I would be pleased if you were to check out my stuff, as well as the works I’ve reviewed here. I fully support Jessica’s blog and message and I’m appreciative that she links to my site, as well as for her continued support for my writing.

Thanks again for stopping by, and I hope you find something of interest to you here.

David Kantrowitz

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Book Review: Hard Magic by Larry Correia

I normally write reviews in the passive voice, but in this case I’ll make an exception because my feelings are a bit more personal and the book has been out for several years now.

Hard Magic was published in 2012.  I was very slow to get into it because it’s outside of my preferred genre and I don’t generally like alternative history novels.  Once I was able to get over my own foibles, I was glad to once again immerse myself in Larry’s enjoyable prose.  Hard Magic is Larry’s second series, continuing the fun mix of action and epic adventure that he began with his wildly successful Monster Hunter series, but this time with a noir, steampunky fantasy set in the 1930’s.

The description on Amazon, astonishingly, calls it a cross between The Maltese Falcon and Twilight, and while the former comparison is in the right zip code, the latter is the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen on Amazon since the last review-for-hire attached to a self-published albatross.  The story bears about as much resemblance to the Twilight series as a Twinkie to Foie Gras, insofar as they are both edible (allegedly).  A more apt comparison would simply be to X-Men, though as the reader soon learns, the power behind the enhanced humans is far a far more complicated matter than simply “genetics.”

Comparisons to the Monster Hunter series are inevitable, though I found that Jake Sullivan is the only protagonist that seems like a cookie-cutter version of Larry’s previous characters.  This can hardly be considered a weakness, as his predecessor, Owen Z. Pitt, is a good character and easily carries his own series.  I will say that Jake seems a little more introspective, probably due to his war record.  The rest of the characters are reasonably unique, and Faye stands out in particular.  She was my favorite character in Hard Magic by far.

Each of the “actives” has some innate ability, and it is enjoyable to see the way that Larry pits them against each other.  Jake is a “heavy,” who can manipulate gravitational fields, and Faye is a “traveler,” who can transport herself instantly from one place to another.  There are other actives who can create (and extinguish) fire, those that can heal, manipulate electricity, and augment mechanical devices, to mention a few.  Both sides of the story employ actives for their forces.

The plot is a typical “good guys versus bad guys intent on world domination” affair, but Larry does a good job with his unique alterative history and it remains engaging throughout.  There are extensive reviews with summaries, so I’ll refrain from my own here. The climax of the novel is cinematic, to say the least, and leaves ample room for a sequel without clubbing the reader over the head with it (cough).  One advantage I have with waiting this long to read Hard Magic is that the sequels have already been released, so I don’t have to wait to dig in to the next book.

My rating: 4/5 Stars

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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.

http://www.amazon.com/Demon-Cross-Avalon-Company-ebook/dp/B004RIGZYQ/

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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.

http://www.amazon.com/Quiet-Place-Scott-Ferguson-ebook/dp/B007GRTB32/

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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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Coming Soon: The Reckless Faith Trilogy for the Kindle

I am currently converting the Reckless Faith trilogy master document into HTML, for submission to Amazon as a Kindle title.  I hope to have this conversion complete by the end of this month, with the book being published in November.

This will be the first time these three titles will be available to the public in e-book format.  I have decided not to use Infinity Publishing again, as 99% of e-book sales of The Fox and the Eagle so far were for the Kindle, and Infinity’s services and distribution are unlikely to generate any additional sales for the new title.

The drawback will be that the Reckless Faith trilogy will not be available as a single volume in printed form.  However, publishing on the Kindle costs me nothing, and will allow readers to spend only $3.99 for an e-book that would currently cost them almost $50 in printed form.

The new title includes a heavily edited version of Reckless Faith, which retains the core of the story while removing content that was considered unnecessary by many readers.  You can look at a summary of those changes here (warning, spoilers):

https://devonai.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/revisions-of-reckless-faith-spoiler-alert/

Aside from some minor corrections, The Tarantula Nebula and Bitter Arrow remain essentially the same.  Taken as a whole, my hope is that my execution of the classic three-part story arc will be more obvious to new readers, as well as provide a more satisfying experience for those that wish to revisit these adventures.

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More Draft-Phase Fiction from the Reckless Faith Universe

Though through fits and starts I’ve cobbled together a few vignettes, this is my first attempt to normalize a plot.  Please refer to my previous entry,

https://devonai.wordpress.com/2013/03/03/new-story-possibility-for-my-next-book/

for the prologue into these new sections.

 

It was a monumental day for the People of the Swan, and Acolyte Dann was beside himself with anticipation.  He stood in the small personal chamber that was adjacent to his offices, painstakingly scrutinizing his ceremonial vestments in the mirror.  It had been 117 years since the last Visitor had arrived, so there was no one left alive who remembered the last occasion.  However, the procedures for the ceremony were meticulously described, and his role as Acolyte was clear.

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Short Story Review: Homecoming: A Near Future Western by GW Quadpentic

In the aftermath of a second civil war, one man begins the long journey home after years of brutal combat.  The country may recover in time, but first it must shrug off the weight of local tyrants all too eager to take advantage of a power vacuum.  For John Paul Ribens, his personal journey cannot end without first confronting this persistent, lingering wound.

Homecoming is a classic story that hearkens back to such films as Walking Tall, and more recently, Open Range.  It is a familiar tale, told here with a science fiction angle that enhances the typical western theme with something more elaborate.  Indeed, it is the author’s use of interesting and plausible technology (perhaps only a decade or two down the road) that sets this story apart.

It is difficult to encapsulate an entire world in a short story, but that task is accomplished here.  The narrative itself is merely competent.  The author relies on too many cliches to let it really shine, though if one is hoping for a classic western feel then it may not detract from the story.  There are also a few inconsistencies in the narrative but they are so minor as to be almost unnoticeable.  Taken as a whole, this story will most likely appeal to die hard fans of this specific sub-genre.  However, there were enough positive aspects that new readers would do well to remember this author for future works. Hopefully they will appeal to a wider audience, and I look forward to checking them out.

Concept: 4/5

Plot: 3/5

Narrative: 2.5/5

http://www.amazon.com/Homecoming-Near-Future-Western-ebook/dp/B00EXX4SD0/

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Book Review: The Soldier and Squad in Night Combat

While the technology of warfare marches on, there are some tactics that will always be important, regardless of the gizmos and gadgets that are available to modern warriors. Squad level infantry strategy and maneuvers at night are basic, if challenging, skills.

Presented for us by Boris Karpa is a faithful translation of a 1942 Soviet Army manual on that subject.  Originally written by K. I. Ogloblin (an Army supernumerary for whom a Google search reveals nothing), it is a fairly dry book, with little more than basic information presented without much fanfare.  This is in contrast to Karpa’s previous translation of the Soviet Army manual Destroy the Enemy in Hand-to-Hand Combat, which was far richer in patriotic tone and had a certain historical humor and charm to it.

Still, the entertainment value of these manuals is obviously not the main reason to read them.  They are a fascinating look into classic military tactics, and as a member of the infantry for several years, I feel they offer a critical perspective into the development of fighting skills over the decades.  Indeed, most if not all of the information in The Soldier and Squad in Night Combat will still be of use to the modern infantryman, night vision goggles and GPS devices notwithstanding.  I have spent more than my fair share of time trying to move as a squad or platoon in complete darkness, with only hand signals and whispers to communicate, so I can relate to the difficulties of such maneuvers.

As a companion to such other manuals as US Army FM 7-8, it is well worth checking out and I recommend it to any soldier or student of military history.

http://www.amazon.com/Soldier-Combat-Authentic-Manuals-ebook/dp/B00EN948NO/

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Novella Review: Outbound by Brad Torgersen

When war devastates all but the furthest reaches of our solar system, a young boy is cast out to face the seemingly endless depths of space.  While nothing remains but destruction, there may be a glimmer of hope ahead, if the legends are true.

Initially one of many desperate survivors, Mirek is soon rescued by the inhabitants of a mobile astronomical observatory.  They are seeking the Outbound, colony ships that left long ago to explore the possibility of forging a new civilization in the distant Kuiper Belt on the edge of the solar system.  Cut off from the rest of humanity, striking out into the unknown is their only option, especially considering that the enemy still controls the system.

What follows is a story that crosses millions of miles and several decades.  Introspective in scope, it is essentially a coming of age story for the boy Mirek, who must grow up in an isolated environment with very few other humans to guide him.  His relationship with the former astronomer Tabitha and her uniquely transformed husband Howard is complicated, to say the least, as neither is adequately prepared to meet his changing needs.  Eventually, Mirek is forced to adapt in many ways, pushing to the very edge what it means to be human.

Outbound is an ambitious story in that it covers so much ground.  As a novella, it is effective, but it seems reasonable that this story could be expanded into a full length book. It is the laconic nature of the narrative that creates the greatest obstacle to the reader; one may be left wanting for more detail more often than not.  Though perhaps not intended for young adults, it would be appropriate, and in fact it reminded me of Robert A. Heinlein’s young adult stories.  Still, it should be accessible to all readers, and all but the most stalwart adherents to hard science fiction will find it enjoyable and evocative.

My rating: 4 out of 5.

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Book Review: The Church of the Wood by E.J. Weber

The relationship between faeries and humans has always been a complicated one.  Whether joined by a mutual past, or wholly divergent in their origin, they are regardless fated to share the same space.  And while time and distance may have set them apart from each  other, their eventual alliance may rest with the actions of a few… or even just two individuals.

The Church of the Wood explores this complicated relationship between peoples, and touches on tragic missteps that prior generations have engaged in.  Though that history has impacted everyone, few remain who remember the gravity of such things, and even fewer care to make it their business.  Myth, legend, and rumor all serve to put up barriers between faeries and humans, often replacing reality with fear and insurmountable preconceptions.

Ultimately, this book is about individual relationships.  Unwitting friendships, leaps of faith, and eventually romance, follow several characters through journeys both personal and collective.  The story deftly addresses both the mysteries of ages past as well as the complicated future of Calundra, the starkly idyllic but troubled country in which the stories are set.  While intensely personal, the narrative and its well-defined characters cannot exist in a microcosm.  An undercurrent of connectivity is maintained throughout the tale.

It would be easy to define The Church of the Wood as a romantic fantasy, and indeed such a description is apt.  However, rarely has such a simple concept been so lavishly described, or with such careful detail.  The greatest strength of this book is Weber’s ease of narration; confident, expansive, and extremely endearing.  Each of the main characters will rapidly gain the support of the reader, and anyone who is even a casual fan of the genre will find them to be captivating.  Beyond just the actors involved, the story maintains enough of an air of mystery and magic to keep the reader’s attention throughout.

The only criticism I can levy against it is the pace of the plot.  This is a slow story by anyone’s estimation, and it rewards the patient reader.  The plot is meandering at times, and as a fan of more action-oriented stories I often found myself waiting for the next significant revelation rather than simply enjoying the journey itself.  Though this may not detract from the overall impact, it may be a deterrent to some people who are easily distracted.  Additionally, some minor characters are introduced that are given some attention, but not enough to really carry the scene or enhance the central themes.

Despite these minor problems, the book remains a positive experience and I would recommend it to any fan of fantasy, romance, or a combination thereof.  It is unarguably a very impressive first novel from Weber and is every bit as good as any commercial offering.  I am looking forward to future works from her!

http://www.amazon.com/Church-Wood-ebook/dp/B00CCJB4L6

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Flash Fiction: The Five Years of Eternity

Last night I was nearly delirious with a fever, and as I drifted in and out of sleep, I thought of this short story.

 

My name is Anderson, and I have lived for almost one thousand years.  I wish I could claim to have seen ancient Babylon, Rome, Jerusalem in the time of Christ, the dark ages, the renaissance, and the industrial revolution.  Instead, what I got was 2003-2008, one hundred and ninety four times in a row.  I am here to plead for your help.

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Project Redwood

This is the beginning of an attempt to create a new story not connected to the Reckless Faith universe.

 

“Major, what the hell are you doing?”

The interior of the C-5 Galaxy had just become very quiet.  Major Furlong stood next to the hulking prototype reactor, pointing an M9 pistol at his fellow scientists.  The other men, both Department of Defense civilian physicists, glanced at each other in shock.  They also peered past him toward the ladder that led to the flight deck, but the rest of the crew was topside, and unaware of the drama that was about to unfold.

Suddenly too warm, Major Furlong unzipped the front of his flight suit with one hand while keeping his weapon trained unwaveringly on the other men.  The long, cylindrical reactor hummed calmly, though this reassuring noise was almost completely drowned out by the drone of the aircraft’s engines.  He saw the uncertainty in their eyes as he accessed the main control panel on the reactor.

“I wouldn’t try it,” he warned.

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Revisions of Reckless Faith (Spoiler Alert)

In anticipation of publishing the Reckless Faith trilogy in Kindle format, I’ve hacked up the first book based on the pretty much universal criticisms I’ve received over the years.  It only took me two hours to cut almost 10% of the novel, addressing perhaps the most common complaint that the story was longer than it needed to be.  Other revisions include:

1. The scene introducing Devonai and Richter investigating the destruction of the USS Portland has been moved to the prologue as a flash-forward.  Chapter One begins with “Eleven days earlier.”

2. Added a scene where John breaks up with his girlfriend in the first chapter.  It is also made clear that he was an avionics technician in the Air Guard.

3. Deleted the scene where Ari buys her pistol.

4. The bank robbery, shootout, and death of Ray’s partner have been deleted.  These events are revealed later by Ray at his cabin, prior to the arrival of the orb.

5. Most of Dana and Levi running around New England, including their car accident, has been deleted.

6. John’s confession to Ray that he could have prevented Ari’s capture by the CIA has been deleted.

7. Changed the location of the theft of the GAU 8/A weapons systems from Barnes to Bradley, and added a more realistic response by base personnel.  Also mentioned the theft of B-29 turrets from the New England Air Museum.

8. Added a brief dream sequence with Dana and the Kira’To, which is mentioned again in Bitter Arrow.

9. Deleted other minor parts here and there that neither served to further the plot nor developed characters.

The book is now 91,000 words, and hopefully a more tightly plotted story.

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New Story Possibility For My Next Book

When I eventually write a fifth book in the Reckless Faith universe, it might start off something like this.  This story would replace my last attempt, Fitz and the Flat, which I posted earlier.

 

“Hey, Agent Smith!”

Val was on his way from the front desk to the elevators when he heard someone call his name.  He turned to his right and looked into the lounge area.  His contact, Special Agent Ben Jones, was sitting at a small table near the bar.  Val approached him.

“Agent Jones, nice to meet you,” he began, “I wasn’t expecting to see you until tomorrow morning.”

“Please, have a seat.  Unless you’re absolutely bushed.”

Val moved his luggage to the side and sat down.  Jones was a man in his forties, with glasses and a small moustache.  He was wearing a polo shirt and khaki pants, and had his windbreaker draped over the back of his chair.  The jacket was the type with concealable lettering, which was handy for traveling.  He grasped a glass of brown liquor, and looked like he’d just arrived from the airport himself.

“No, that’s fine.  What are you drinking?”

“Oban.  Want one?”

Jones signaled the bartender and pointed to his glass.  The tired-looking woman smiled briefly and brought over another.  Smith took a small sip and let the smoky liquid roll over his tongue.  The lounge area was much nicer than the lobby, with wood paneling and well thought out lighting, and seemed to speak of a heyday for this location at some time in the past.  Val considered the other man for a moment before speaking.

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The Sweet Sound

“That’s one of our Advanced Infantrymen?”

Doctor Sato’s first impression of Staff Sergeant Damascus was a surprise to her.  She was expecting a man somewhat different from the one who sat in her office.  She gazed at him on a monitor in the adjoining room for a few seconds.  Her supervisor stood beside her, an older and gruff man by the name of Doctor Mariella, silent for the moment.  He had insisted on the monitoring equipment, which would normally be a clear violation of the client’s rights, but both of them were begrudgingly convinced of its necessity by the higher-ups in the military.  After all, Staff Sergeant Damascus didn’t have any rights, yet.

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Of Errors and Evangeline (minor spoilers)

When I wrote the timeline for The Fox and the Eagle, I was only thinking about Reckless Faith, which is fine, but I made a mistake in another regard, and that error made it into the book.  

Some years ago I took a stab at rewriting my first two full-length novels, Marionette and Indemnity, which were contemporary action/adventure stories with only a slight sci-fi aspect.  They weren’t very good, rife with ponderously detailed action sequences and action movie tropes.  However, the characters were pretty decent, so I decided to give them new life in Reckless Faith.  The rewrite came soon thereafter, and was an origination story for Kyrie Devonai, Chance Richter, and Evangeline Adeler.

The result was Hard Stripes, a novella that I previously posted on Live Journal and Facebook.  I was happy with it, but I couldn’t figure out how to expand it into a full-length novel.  I’d always considered diving back into it, so I was reviewing it yesterday and I noticed a big problem.  It is set in the year 2000, three years prior to the events in Reckless Faith.  Eva is supposed to be 19 years old.  In The Fox and the Eagle, set in 2019, Eva is 31.  Oops.  The easiest fix, had I noticed, would be to change the date to 2002 and make Eva 36 years old in 2019.  But there’s another problem, too.

In The Fox and the Eagle, Evangeline mentions that she had a romantic relationship with Chance Richter, a relationship that would have had to occur prior to his departure on the Reckless Faith in 2003.  Even if I’d corrected the above error, and made her 36, she and Richter would’ve been in a relationship with him at 26 and her at 17.  As it stands right now, if you’d read both books you would have noticed that Eva couldn’t possibly have been any older than 15 when the relationship occurred.  D’oh.

As such, I’m left with Hard Stripes either being apocryphal, or a tale of a budding romance between an adult male and a minor female.  Even without the novella, the age difference already evident in my books would give one pause.  I’m only inspired by Heinlein, I’m not trying to take his place!  The easiest way to fix this would be to change Eva’s age to 36 in the next book and hope that nobody notices the discrepancy.  And to salvage Hard Stripes, I’d still have to settle for the 26 and 17 age difference.

The last possibility is to have the relationship be nothing more than a crush on Eva’s part.  While it’s sort of creepy that she would refer to Richter as the “love of her life” for an unrequited crush from sixteen years ago, I think it would be a lot better than Richter returning her affection.

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New Story Prologue: Fitz and the Flat

“Uh oh.”

Though he didn’t hear anything unusual, Fitz instantly knew he was in trouble.  The back end of his Silverado began to wander, and he carefully eased off the gas pedal and aimed for the side of the road.  It wasn’t too difficult to bring the truck to a stop.  He hopped out, pulled a small flashlight out of his left pocket, and quickly found the culprit.  His left rear tire was shredded.

Fitz sighed.  It was one o’clock in the morning on a lonely stretch of Route 301 south of Petersburg.  At this time of day, he was unlikely to get any help, nor did he expect anyone to bother him.  Not that he needed any help to change a flat, but it was going to be a pain to keep the light on his work.  He wished he still had the LED headlamp the Army had issued him, but he had to give it back when he retired.  Resolute, Fitz clamped the flashlight between his lips and opened the tailgate.  If he was lucky, he’d get the tire changed and be back in D.C. before the sun came up.

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The Fox and the Eagle has shipped to Amazon

I spoke with my publisher today, and my author representative reported that all copies of The Fox and the Eagle ordered through Amazon, as of 11/18, have been shipped.  This means that almost four dozen copies are sitting in Amazon’s Arizona warehouse, waiting to be delivered.  My author rep also confirmed that several publishers have been experiencing problems with Amazon this month, so it’s not just us.  If you ordered with Amazon, the books are there, and hopefully you will receive your copy soon!

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Book Review: Monster Hunter Alpha

In a world where lycanthropy is a horrific and permanent curse, only one man has ever tamed the tvar, or beast within.  Throughout the ages, sympathetic humans have sought to  help those unwillingly stricken with this curse, to reach some sort of equilibrium between the man and the monster.  Only one, with the sacrifice of a dedicated few, has achieved it.  His name is Earl Harbinger.

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Entry for a Writing Competition

Writer’s Digest is running a science fiction writing competition that I’m considering entering.  As such, I’ve expanded and modified one of my short stories, Future Imperfect.  I’ve posted the old version here before, but I would also like to get some feedback on the new version, which is hopefully superior.  I am not a fan of the short story format, but placing in the competition would have obvious advantages.  The deadline is the 14th of this month, so here it is again:

Future Imperfect

Major Taylor knew full well he was under the influence of the military equivalent of beer goggles, but the lab technician with whom he was making small talk was, at the moment, the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. He was on his way to a meeting with his boss, Colonel Darius, when he abruptly made a left turn into a laboratory, following the sweet scent of perfume and chlorofluorocarbons. There, he met Veronika Sharpikova (or something like that), who was responsible for maintaining the equipment that could achieve within a few K of absolute zero. The technician, and the equipment of her specialty, were all part of a larger machine, one that Taylor and his superiors were very interested in keeping safe. Still, there were many civilians involved in the project, and none of them were as comely as Veronika. In fact, in the two days he’d been staying there, he’d only seen a few other women.

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New Story Idea: Quick Treatment

I’m still entertaining the idea of an entirely new story for my fifth novel.  Here is the summary of a screenplay I wrote in 2001, which could be adapted into a novel.

Timecrash

The protagonist, Hugo Wells, is a quantum physicist working at a small research company in Burlington, MA.  He has a radical idea for a new piece of technology, and while his company has not agreed to work on it, they have allowed him to pursue the project using their equipment on his own time.  Wells hopes to invent a time capsule device, a machine that would remove anything inside its sphere of influence from the current timeline for a specified period.

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New Introduction to Reckless Faith

So, it turns out that Amazon has their own sci-fi publishing venture, 47North, supported by none other than mega-auther Neil Stephenson.  They accept unsolicited manuscripts, so I’ve decided to revisit Reckless Faith and The Tarantula Nebula.  I may submit both books as a single volume this time, as I believe the story has a better chance of being accepted in this format.  My first effort at a new edit is a rework of the opening scene for Reckless Faith.  It’s a flash-forward, snipped from later in the story, meant to bring an element of mystery into the story immediately.

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Publication Anniversaries

Today marks the eighth anniversary of the publication of Reckless Faith, and coincidentally, the second for Bitter Arrow.  If you’ve read either one, and haven’t already, please post a review on Amazon.  I’ll buy you a beer!

As always, signed copies are available directly from me, so let me know if you want one.

Editing continues on The Fox and the Eagle, and I hope to send it to Infinity by the end of April.  I’m already considering ideas for my next story, though a short story might be in order first.

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Classic Book Review: DEAD SIX by Larry Correia and Mike Kupari

“Is it still considered a miracle if it comes from the devil?” – Lorenzo

In a war where governments and corporations are vaguely defined entities, each with their own agenda and means, the foot soldiers are left to fight and die for those ends.  Sometimes, though, that same separation from the true masterminds can lead to a certain level of autonomy – a freedom that allows those on the lowest level of the conflict to follow their own convictions, grudges, and even vengeance.

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Future Imperfect

This is a short story I wrote a few years ago, with the intention of submitting it to a publication.  I can’t remember if I posted it on LiveJournal or MySpace, but I haven’t posted it here.  I tweaked it a little bit today.

 

Future Imperfect

The day the Quantum Entanglement Receiver was activated, the theory of multiple universes came one step closer to be proven as fact.

The device was the result of several years of research into the theory of quantum entanglement. Every three hundred milliseconds, a subatomic particle was sent through a supercollider, dividing it into two smaller particles. Each division was sent along a path, one short, one long. At the midway point of the long path, the particle was nudged into a slightly higher energy state. Due to the property of quantum entanglement, the particle sent down the short path also jumped into this energy state. The result was that the change in energy state could be detected before the modified particle returned to the starting point.

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Flash Fiction: Jim’s Retreat

Here is a piece of flash fiction I wrote tonight.  Thanks to Dave E for the writing prompt!

 

Hank was nervous. The cabin was becoming stale and the smell set him on edge. From his right pocket, his cell phone rang. He jumped. He had forgotten that it was there.  He removed the phone and looked at the screen.  The man he was expecting in person was calling.

“What’s up, Jim?” Hank said after pressing the talk key.  “I didn’t think we’d get phone service way out here.”

There was a long pause on the other end of the line.  Hank looked at his phone again to confirm the connection.  The call timer hit ten seconds before Jim spoke.

“Did you have any trouble finding the cabin?”

Hank chuckled.   “You gave me an azimuth to follow across five kilometers of Alaskan wilderness.  Define ‘trouble’.”

“Well, I’m glad you made it.  I’m surprised you haven’t built a fire yet.  Aren’t you getting a little chilly?”

Hank instinctively looked out the nearest window.  “Are you almost here?”

“I’ve been here since last night, but I haven’t touched the cabin.  How is the place holding up?”

“There’s a recently deceased rat in here.  It must have come down the chimney.  If you’ve been here since last night, how come you didn’t open the place up?”

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Book Review: Sons of Dragons by Gabriel Landowski

Sons of Dragons is a military science fiction novel that follows Private Kyle Evans on his first combat mission. Loaded into dropships with the rest of Echo Company, Evans and his fellow soldiers are expecting to leap through hyperspace aboard the carrier Rosalie to help keep the peace on an urbanized planet. Instead, they find themselves in orbit around an unknown planet in an unrecognizable part of the galaxy.

The mistake is realized only after the dropships are away, and the Rosalie comes under attack from an unknown ship. The Commander recalls the dropships, but is forced to jump away before the final three can return.

Stranded, the troopers have little choice but to land on the planet and scout around, and hope the Rosalie brings back reinforcements. The soldiers establish an outpost, and eventually run into the native population. After some initial unpleasantness an alliance is formed, with the soldiers benefiting from the specific knowledge of the locals, and they from the advanced technology of their visitors.

The new alliance is soon tested by a hostile force known as the Horde, along with the chilling possibility that the fearsome raiders are being controlled by a malevolent alien force.

Sons of Dragons is a fast-paced novel with plenty of action to drive the story. Author Landowski puts his military experience to good use and tactical details are represented with the highest authenticity. Readers who appreciate such detail will be pleased, and those less familiar with military tactics shouldn’t be overwhelmed as the narrative remains straightforward throughout.

The story is told almost entirely from the perspective of Kyle Evans. He is a believable and likable protagonist and Landowski is at ease in his mind. However, he is the only main character, and occasionally I found myself wishing for a broader perspective. For a narrative in the third person, limiting the perspective to just one person was conspicuous to me, and perhaps a first-person perspective would have been a better choice. Still, the author offers snippets of thought directly from Kyle’s mind, which overcomes the issue for the most part.

I also found it conspicuous that there are no female characters other than the brief mention of native women. This makes sense for the infantry company, of course, but I would have enjoyed a female dropship crewmember or a female local who was actually integral to the plot.

Overall, Sons of Dragons is an enjoyable story and very engrossing. I read it in five hours and did not want to put it down. The story ends on a cliffhanger, and I definitely plan on buying the sequel when it comes out. 4/5 stars.

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Book Review: Darkship Thieves by Sarah A. Hoyt

One part Y.T from Neil Stephenson’s Snowcrash and one part the titular Friday born of Robert A. Heinlein’s imagination, the main character of Sarah Hoyt’s novel Darkship Thieves may well take her place among the most memorable female protagonists of science fiction.

Patrician Athena Sinistra is the daughter of a weathly politican, and is used to posh social gatherings and the trappings of a relative rich lifestyle.  She’s also a rebel at heart, and spends much of her free time engaging in “brooming,” an illegal, fly by the seat of your pants airborne race.  Her mostly carefree life is interrupted by an attempted kidnapping from her father’s ship, and we soon find out that her father may have been complicit in the attempt.  Thena, as she likes to call herself, makes a daring escape, but is hardly better off as her tiny escape vessel careens into the solar system’s power pods.

The pods are part of an ancient network of bramble-like branches that ring Earth, engineered in the distant past by super-intelligent, genetically modified humans.  While such modifications have long since become illegal, all of human society continues to benefit from their creation, as the power pods are the best source of power available.  The pods are also the target of the mysterious Darkship Thieves, beings who use their stealthy vessels to interlope through the pods and make off with them.

Thena’s outlook is grim until she runs into a Darkship, and she finds herself rescued… for the moment.

Darkship Thieves is a solid science fiction novel, with a very likeable main character and an interesting supporting cast.  The plot is coherent and the main arc runs smoothly throughout the story.  Fans of Heinlein will be in familiar territory here.  I thought the novel suffered slightly from pacing issues, especially in the middle, and the main character’s stream-of-consciousness narrative is sometimes hard to follow.  Still, it is a fun book and well worth your time.  4/5 stars.

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Miscellanea: MPHI M24C Mass Driver Cannon

Matesia Planetary Heavy Industries M24C Mass Driver Cannon

(translated into English, numerical values have been approximated from the original)

Physical Properties

Weight: 2000 kg

Height: 15 m, including magazine

Width: 5 m

Length: 50 m (receiver 5 m, barrel 45 m)

Projectile Weight: 60 kg (typical)

Muzzle Velocity: 9,000 mps (ideal)

Overview

The MPHI Model 24C Mass Driver Cannon is a direct fire, unguided, kinetic energy impact weapon commonly mounted on space vehicles.  While it is compact enough to be used on ground-based vehicles or atmosphere-only aircraft, proper stabilization of the projectile can only occur in a vacuum.

Implementation

The M24C uses a 60 kg elemental Osmium ellipsoid slug.  The magnetic rails are typically mounted parallel to the forward axis of a spacecraft, making it into a direct-fire weapon, although optional guidance systems can take advantage of gravity “whipping” to fire at targets not in the direct line of fire.

Method of Action

The M24C will damage or destroy the target using nothing more than a transfer of kinetic energy from the projectile into the target.  A 60 kg slug moving at 9,000 meters per second will yield 2.43 billion Joules, or 1.79 billion foot-pounds of energy.  Ultimately, the exact yield will depend on relative velocities and any intervening environmental factors (such as considerable gravitational forces).

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Miscellanea: Cooper Mk IV 92-6M-9 Reactor Stardrive

The Cooper Heavy Industries Mark IV Uranium Hexafluoride Reactor Stardrive has been a mainstay in medium-range space vehicle construction for twenty years.  While the exact details of its energy-producing process are still a corporate secret, physicists have been able to deduce the following:

Primary Catalysts: Oxygen, Nitrogen, Radon, Uranium Hexafluoride

The energy production process usually begins with readily-available oxygen or nitrogen in liquid form.  The gas is allowed to vent into a cloud chamber, where high energy protons from a particular source (which varies with end-user design, including cosmic rays) create 10-beryllium as a fission product.  10-Be has a half-life of 1.36 million years, making it useful as a secondary power source (since electrons are its decay product), but is primarily combined with Alpha particles from Radon to form 12-Carbon and a slow neutron.

Neutrons liberated by this process are used to bombard gaseous Uranium Hexaflouride, which bypasses expensive refinement procedures to produce 235-Uranium, which is captured via micro-loop cyclotron and stored within Stage One of the reactor.  Slow thermal neutrons from the same Be/a process as before induce a highly-controllable fission reaction, allowing for a precise level of reactor energy output as well as an end-user selectable fission product menu.  This process also makes a runaway reaction impossible, since an undesired level of fission would simply require the operator (or an automated system) to cease primary neutron bombardment.  Some third-party companies offer neutron moderator customization (such as in the form of graphite rods), but there is no evidence that use of these moderators has ever been necessary.

Catastrophic Failure

This does not mean that the Cooper Mk IV cannot fail catastrophically by another method.  Uranium Hexaflouride is highly corrosive, and if containment systems fail, any number of critical systems could be damaged.  While aluminum alloys are the only storage and transfer conduit construction materials authorized, careless doping of those alloys can result in substandard material susceptible to failure.  Furthermore, the popular secondary energy modification of 197-198-Gold/neutron flux/gamma generation can be fatal to organic life if not properly shielded, but of course Cooper Heavy Industries warns against this sort of modification in their standard EULA.

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