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.



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:



“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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The Dream Writer

The Dream Writer

The day I was hired to be a dream writer was the happiest of my life.  I never imagined that it might kill me, and imagination was the entire reason I was hired.

I became a bartender at the Freudian Cigar to hobnob with dream writers, who worked in the building across the street.  There, at five o’clock in the evening, they would gather to smoke, drink, and blow off steam from the day’s chaos, prior to stumbling to their cars or rideshare services, to go home and hopefully dream of absolutely nothing.  I had hoped, rightfully as it turned out, that I could use that proximity to wrangle my resume into the hands of somebody that mattered.

That the Dinas needed dreams was a relatively well-guarded secret, perpetuated by a tacit agreement between the government and media outlets.  There was far too much money invested in the success of the Dina program for any weakness to be revealed, at least on a widespread basis.  It was pure rumor that brought me to the F-Cig, and I wasn’t disappointed.  As a writer, it was by far the most interesting thing I could be doing with my life.  And I still felt that way even after hearing about how the job really was.

The dream writers, while snugly tucked into my bar with a few belts in them, described a work day with a hellish pace, split between altruistic brainstorming sessions with coworkers and feverishly hammering out mostly outlandish scenarios, with a few moments of genuine literature that would only ever be known to the Dinas receiving them.  The pay was mediocre, though far more than an unpublished genre author could expect to earn, but one only needed to do a quick Google search for Dinas in the news to understand why the dream writers had such high job satisfaction.

Without dreams, the Dinas had a high likelihood of psychosis.  It was something having do to with their genetic coding; they couldn’t achieve REM sleep without a Wave Augmentation Device, and even then, their subconscious minds couldn’t come up with anything, a fact that confounded their creators as Dinas are anything but lacking in creativity when awake.  Research was ongoing, but as a stop-gap measure, it was discovered that giving them a dream script to follow, administered subliminally via the WADs, prevented any mental breakdown.  Once this was discovered, the dream writer career was born, and the government began recruiting.  New York City was the location of the first center, which was uninspiringly called the Nexus (I guess they couldn’t get the rights to the Matrix), and it was across the street, at the F-Cig, where I managed to convince a middle manager with a fondness for whisky sours to consider my qualifications.

So, I got what I wanted after all those years.  I soon discovered that all those bar patrons weren’t exaggerating.  Dream writing was an enormous task.  Our branch handled over 500 Dinas, and each of them needed at least a three hundred word dream outline daily.  We ran three shifts, just like out in the world, but thankfully only a quarter each of the Dinas worked second and third shift, respectively.  I was on second shift, so my workload wasn’t quite as bad as the first shifters.  I only had 27 Dinas assigned to me, and most of them were stationed at Fort Ellis Island, which made writing their dreams pretty easy.  Soldiers were probably the easiest career field to write for; one could get away with fairly mundane stuff and keep ‘em from eating the business end of their sidearms.  Still, I tried to add as much science fiction to the dreams of military personnel as possible, after all, if an alien invasion really did occur, they’d be better equipped to deal with it.  Right?

It wasn’t until I had a .45-caliber pistol pointed at my testicles that I realized that might have been a mistake.

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

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

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

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

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

4.5 out of 5 stars

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


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Novella Review: The Demon Cross by Nathan Shumate

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

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

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

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

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


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