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Book Recommendations, Plus My Review of Jason Cordova’s “A Christmas Surprise”

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Folks, I’ve wanted to write a blog for weeks now about several books I’ve enjoyed, either reading or editing. But as I read a book last night I truly wasn’t expecting whatsoever — Jason Cordova’s A CHRISTMAS SURPRISE, I want to lead with that review first. (I’ll cut and paste from my Amazon review, as I never know exactly when that will go up. Or even if.)

Here goes:

I didn’t know Jason Cordova had something like A CHRISTMAS SURPRISE in him. Lately he’s been writing dark, depressing, and despairing military SF, where most of the characters die and the few who remain never seem to remark on what’s gone missing.

Thank goodness he took a detour and wrote a smart, sweet, and timely Christmas story for a change instead.

Bluntly, I loved A CHRISTMAS SURPRISE. It was a fast read, and probably is intended for kids aged about eight and up; it’s also a clean read, with no profanity whatsoever. (Another surprise, as sometimes in Cordova’s work I can count how many people are going to die by the amount of f-bombs used in process.) It has a great message for Christmas, too: we have to work together with people who don’t look like us, and maybe people (or in this case, a baby kaiju, one of the most adorable kaiju I’ve ever seen in print — another thing that looks like a misnomer, but isn’t) will surprise you if you give them a chance.

I was also pleasantly surprised with the resonance here — how the story sounds, in addition to how well it reads — as it has a style that was reminiscent, at least to me, of C.S. Lewis’s work in the Narnia series. (While Cordova doesn’t bring in a brand new mythology, he does talk briefly of all the different ways Christmas is celebrated around the world, and a Hawai’ian moon goddess is a significant player.)

Overall, this is a can’t-miss Christmas SFnal tale of hope, faith, optimism, and the true meaning of Christmas (giving, rather than receiving, in addition to gifts not being what you may want, but instead what you need). And I loved the little baby kaiju, Georgie, something fierce.

Five stars-plus, with the highest recommendation possible.

And please, write more in this vein, Jason. You have a gift for it.

Barb Caffrey

OK, now that I’ve gotten your attention, here are a few more books I want you to check out.

First, take a look at Ken Lizzi’s KARL THORSON AND THE JADE DAGGER. I edited this book, and I know it’s wonderful. Karl is a military vet and a type of “muscle-for-hire” at the site of an important archaeological excavation, and many things happen to Karl that he never could’ve expected. There is true magic here, as well as the ever-present fight between good and evil; there is a good deal of character-based humor; there are many, many excellently rendered fight scenes; there’s a swift-moving story; there’s a wonderfully compelling and spare, yet still luxuriant, writing style.

And — best of all — it’s only ninety-nine cents as an e-book. (How sweet is that?)

Next, take a gander at Loren K. Jones’s latest, THE LEGEND OF MARY DEATH. I also edited this book, and I know it’s a terrific read. Loren’s main character, Marydyth “Mary Death” Zel’Karyn, is a renowned swordswoman. She’s also a trailblazer, a Captain of Cavalry, then a Knight of Justice…eventually also a wife, mother, and teacher. If you’ve read any of Loren’s previous work, most especially the books in the Stavin Kel’Aniston series, you may recognize Mary a bit. (But only a bit, because in those books, she was legend. They knew she’d lived, and existed, but what she found important in her life and what the legends found important may not have been one and the same.)

What I found the most fun about this book was how Mary, herself, hated her nickname of “Mary Death.” She never wanted to be “Mary Death,” and the only reason the nickname took off was because one of her officers burped in the middle of her name during a bit of drunken revelry after a decisive battle. (Hee hee!)

But there’s so much here for people to like, if they just pick up the book. It’s not selling as well as Loren’s previous books, perhaps because people are out Xmas shopping and it may not seem as timely as some books. But if you enjoy fun, fast adventure with a bit of romance along with the power of trailblazing women, you’ll enjoy THE LEGEND OF MARY DEATH.

Finally, there are two books of Chris Nuttall’s I want to point out. (No, he doesn’t need the help, but I enjoyed the books so I may as well mention them. Humph.) The first of these is his latest in the Schooled in Magic series, MIRROR IMAGE. His heroine, Emily, is trying to get a magical university off the ground in the Nameless World (the world she was transported to, way back in book 1, by a necromancer she later killed). And it’s not going well…plus she has to deal with tensions both mundane and magical, as well as an alternate-universe versions of several people…perhaps including Emily herself.

Mind, as this is book eighteen in the SIM series, it’s probably not the best place to start it. But I do think you would understand most of it if you haven’t read any…still, the first few books in the series are on sale for ninety-nine cents, so if you haven’t read any of this compelling magical series yet, you should.

And as I am one of two editors for this series (and yes, we both work on every single book in the series, one way or another), I know how wonderful they are. (So do get to getting, will you?)

And the second of Chris’s books — the last of my recommendations for this Saturday before Xmas — is the sixth book in his Learning Experience series, THEIR LAST FULL MEASURE. This is military SF at its most deadly, with an alien race in the Tokomak that wants to wipe all humans off the map as they feel threatened. Chris’s twist is that the Tokomak could’ve once been humanity’s ally, if only the Tokomak hadn’t looked inward and stagnated. (And then started to hate everyone who was able to continue to adapt, of course.)

Of course, that’s not stated full-out, but it’s there. (I know this, again, ’cause I edited it.)

Not to mention, there are space battles galore, some expeditions behind enemy lines, some new and dangerous tech, a bit of romance between long-term couples…you name it, THEIR LAST FULL MEASURE probably has it.

So, there you have it! Some book recommendations you probably weren’t expecting, and one I definitely, myself, wasn’t expecting…but that’s the fun of the Christmas season, isn’t it?

Enjoy!

——

P.S. You may have noticed I didn’t have any cover photos. I’m sorry about that. But if the authors in question will get them to me, I will be happy to incorporate them into this post at a later date. (You have been warned.)

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 21, 2019 at 9:20 am

Monday Reading — Time for a New Book (or Four)

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Folks, I have been remiss about letting you know about a few books that are out that I’ve either had something to do with, or that I have reviewed. I even managed to find cover photos this time. (Yay, me!)

So, without further ado:

citadels front cover blog size THE CITADELS OF DARKOVER is out in e-book and trade paperback. I have a short story in this called “Citadel of Fear,” and I hope you’ll enjoy it. I also was interviewed by the editor, Deborah J. Ross, at her blog; I did the interview in February (I think), and it went up in April. But I missed it at the time and only saw a link to it on Twitter a few days ago.

 

Cursed_med_smallI was one of two editors on Chris Nuttall’s newest novel, CURSED, which is out in e-book form now. CURSED is the seventeenth book in Chris’s long-running Schooled in Magic series, and I’ve been fortunate enough to edit all but two of those books. His heroine, Emily, is a young woman originally from Kansas who’s been transported to another world entirely (Chris calls it the Nameless World). But during a recent battle against a crazed monarch, Emily nearly died…and woke up without access to her hard-won magical powers. Now she must get them back, and has to cope with a host of unexpected challenges. (Further editor sayeth not.)

 

Bro coverKayelle Allen has a new entry in her long-running Sempervians saga called BRO. It’s a fun story about two brothers who meet at an odd time; one (Senth) had no idea he had a brother, while the other (Khyff) has had the wrong idea about his long-missing brother for quite a few years. Neither is in an ideal situation, though both are making the best of things…will they manage to find common ground before it’s too late?

I was fortunate to edit Kayelle’s story, and know it’s excellent. It is also available via Kindle Unlimited, so if you have that, you should give it a try forthwith.

 

sons-of-the-lionFinally, I reviewed Jason Cordova’s newest novel, SONS OF THE LION, and as usual Amazon is playing silly buggers with the review. In case Amazon kicks it out (or just eats it), here it is:

SONS OF THE LION is a very well-written book filled with characters I adored and cheered for. The action works. The military ethos and care is profound. The distaste for child slavery and the uplifting of one exceptional child saved from the slavers into the merc company was perhaps my favorite thing overall.

So, you may be asking me, why didn’t I give it five stars if I liked it so much?

It’s the ending. I didn’t like that at all. And as I don’t want to spoil things, I will just say this: as an editor myself, I would’ve chosen a different route. I am unsure if the writer was boxed in by other issues in the Four Horseman Universe (I’ve read all the books to date, but the writer may be aware of things coming that I am not; surely the publisher, Chris Kennedy is). But I was very pleased with everything up to three chapters from the end.

Even with that — something that threw me out of the reader’s trance with great force — I thought this an exceptionally well-written book that did everything and then some that it was supposed to do. Military SF fans will love it. Four Horseman Universe fans will, too — that should go without saying — but anyone who loves military adventure (even if they don’t usually read SF) should appreciate it as well.

Four very solid stars. Recommended (despite its jarring and frustrating ending).

Barb Caffrey

I was happy to review SONS OF THE LION, though I had to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about how I felt about that ending without revealing spoilers. That proved to be difficult.

But do I think you should read it anyway if you enjoy military adventure, military SF, or have read any of the other novels or anthologies in Chris Kennedy’s wildly popular Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse universe? Yes, I do.

Why? The writing is stellar. The characterization is great. And while I hated the ending — let’s get real here — everything until three chapters from the end was exactly what I wanted. (Am I going to make up alternate endings like some of the folks signing petitions asking for a different ending to Game of Thrones on TV? No. But would I like to if I had enough energy? Hmmm…have to ponder.)

So, there you have it. Some books to whet your interest that you may not have known about, and I hope at least one of them will be to your liking. Have at!

Timing, and Jason Cordova’s DARKLING

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I read Jason Cordova’s hotly awaited new novel, DARKLING, over the course of three weeks. (Normally I would’ve devoured it in one sitting, but the fact that I had a crisis going on with a family member’s health made me put it to the side for a time.) It is absorbing, intelligent, fast-paced, dark, depressing, menacing, and in its way a damned good read — but the timing of my life and reading this book were not fully aligned.

Darkling

I submitted a review to Amazon, as per usual, but because I am much more scattered/distracted than usual, I didn’t make a copy of it before I left their page. (Edited to add: After waiting for nearly a full day, I gave up and reviewed the book at Goodreads.) Because of that, I can’t quote the review I’ve already written; all I can do is tell you to go read DARKLING, as it’s very good dark military SF with some absorbing political machinations. (Yes, you should read WRAITHKIN, the first book of Jason’s “Kin Wars” series, first. But you’ll easily understand DARKLING whether you do or not, providing you’ve read any military SF or dark SF at all.)

The rest of this blog is going to talk about aspects of the book that were tough for me to handle, due to the timing. If you don’t want your reading spoiled (though I will try to avoid the worst of spoilers), go do something else and return for the next blog, will you? (I won’t be offended. Promise.)

We have three brothers in DARKLING: Gabriel Espinoza, a Darkling soldier and second-class citizen dealing with dehumanizing treatment due to all soldiers of this type being recruited from the Imperfect class (meaning they could develop cancer, or have some other “genetic defect” that’s been rooted out by the galactic civilization they live in); Andrew Espinoza, a spy (a damned good one) who’s acted in many regards as a chameleon mole; Kevin Espinoza, a politician and born diplomat. Gabriel is a brooding hot mess from an emotional standpoint (it’s understandable, though; the love of his life is dead, he had to give up his daughter due to his line of work and because he didn’t want her tainted by the knowledge of his “imperfect” father, and he’s cut off from his family due to various considerations, even though his family wanted nothing of the sort. I can’t explain this fully because of spoilers, and also because much of it is explained at the very end of WRAITHKIN as I have written before, so I hope you can take this as read.) Andrew, as a chameleon mole, has other issues with trying to maintain his inner self, and also has been cut off from his family due to completely other concerns (again, his family certainly doesn’t want this, but with his job, there’s no other way). And finally, Kevin is a good guy, the only brother attuned to his emotions and fighting hard for the Imperfects as he views his society as closed-minded and hypocritical (and rightfully so). But he’s mostly there as a foil, to explain what the other two brothers should’ve been if not for the circumstances that led them to fight a war in their disparate ways…and that’s a conscious author’s decision that I can’t fault Jason for, as he needed that foil desperately due to the darkness of everything else.

Now, as to the circumstances of my life, and how it applies to how I saw DARKLING.

First, I was reading along, and enjoying the book immensely despite its darkness. (I knew what I was getting in for, as I read and enjoyed WRAITHKIN, and I really wanted to see what would happen next to the Espinoza clan.) Then, my family member’s health crisis arose, and suddenly the world stopped meaning much. I had to put DARKLING down, and deal with immediate realities; my blogs dried up for a bit (which I’ve already explained); I went to “work, sleep, go to hospital/rehab center” mode, rinse and repeat.

Finally, I was able to get back to DARKLING and realized two things; one, I hadn’t forgotten anything in the intervening time since I’d last been able to read and concentrate on anything. (This is the sign of a good writing and an absorbing read, that you don’t forget anything even in the midst of a crisis like this.) And two, the fact that these brothers are put through the emotional and physical wringer was all of a sudden more visceral, more immediate, than before, due to the circumstances of what was going on all around me.

See, writers are observers by nature. We have to be, or we can’t explain or show any of the stories we tell with any verisimilitude at all.

So, I was observing everything that happened around me, as per usual, whether I was picking up on that observation consciously or not. And all of that — all — hit me as I restarted my read of DARKLING. The injuries these men suffered were almost overpowering in their intensity, in this context, and it was difficult for me to keep reading despite the quality of the writing. (Jason keeps getting better and better, and tells a damned absorbing story, as I have said before.)

To my mind, DEVASTATOR is more my cup of tea (as I wrote here). I like Tori so much as a character, and her relationship with Dylan (the shy, almost innocent love she has for him) helps to enliven even the darkest of moments.

But DARKLING is quite good. Quite, quite good, in fact.

I just had a hard time reading it due to what’s been going on. So I tried to say that, without getting into personal details, in the review at Amazon (that still isn’t up as I type this, though if it does go up anytime soon I’ll add a link to the review so you can read it directly).

I do think Jason’s created a new genre, or at least fused a few, in DARKLING. I call this “grim-dark military SF.” (If you read it, you’ll understand why.) There is a palpable sense of menace in even its quieter moments; everyone is on edge, everyone is waiting for the next shoe to drop (or axe to fall, depending), and Gabriel in particular seems like a bomb waiting for a place to go off.

The writing is stellar, though, and if you know going in — as you should, providing you’ve read WRAITHKIN — that it’s going to be grim, you should be able to handle DARKLING just fine.

Just don’t read it before going to sleep if you have a weak stomach or are prone to nightmares. As this book will give you more than a few, else.

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 13, 2018 at 9:59 am

Language, Editing, and THUNDER AND LIGHTNING

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Folks, my most recently edited book is Chris Nuttall and Leo Champion’s THUNDER AND LIGHTNING, about first contact with aliens gone spectacularly wrong. I was very happy with this book, because I thought it showcased Chris’s gift for political machinations of the interplanetary sort plus Leo’s gift for the nuts and bolts of warfare. Putting them together in one book was a worthwhile challenge for me as an editor, and one I welcomed.

Both of these men did what they did best, and did it superbly. And I was not disappointed.

thunder and lightning cover

But, you must be sitting there asking yourselves, “Barb, what is this about language? Why are you talking about that with regards to editing and THUNDER AND LIGHTNING?”

Some of what I’m going to say is blindingly obvious, but here goes: When you’re writing about soldiers, you cannot take the high road all the time. And you certainly can’t use what I derisively call “sparkly language,” in that you dumb-down what soldiers say during a war.

Chris and Leo’s soldiers start off in a nasty fight in Africa against terrorists they call “the Wreckers.” These Wreckers are abysmal human beings who, like others in the past, have corrupted a holy book — in this case, the Koran — for their own purposes. The soldiers call them “radical Islamicists,” which is not that dissimilar to what is said overseas now in the Middle East or in other war zones.

And there’s a reason they do this. The reason is very simple. They are fighting a war. They cannot afford to see these people as worthy of redemption, for the most part, and they have many reasons not to see them that way either as the behavior of the Wreckers is truly abhorrent. (Hell, they even take female slaves.)

So, when I saw that, as an editor, I left it alone. I’ve heard from my own cousin, who’s served overseas any number of times in the Middle East as a member of the Armed Services, that what’s said about those we’re fighting (ISIS now, Al Qaeda earlier) is far worse than that.

But will some people be offended by this term? Probably.**

My job, though, as an editor, is not to dumb down what anyone says or feels even if I think it’s something someone out there will dislike. My job is to make that soldier sound and feel real. So you can get caught up in the story. And keep going.

If that soldier says some things you don’t like, well…I urge you to read James Clavell’s KING RAT. There’s lots of stuff that’s not said in “sparkly language,” but if it were, you’d never buy into it.

And you shouldn’t.

Anyway, THUNDER AND LIGHTNING isn’t just about soldiers. It’s about an idealistic woman scientist, Samra, who first finds evidence of aliens we later come to know as Oghaldzon (kind of like three-legged deer), and believes that any aliens coming must be peaceful. (She’s wrong, but you can see why she’d believe otherwise.) And what happens when she finds out the Oghaldzon are almost completely incomprehensible to humans, and humans to the Oghaldzon in terms, is scary, difficult to read, and sometimes incredibly sad, in turns.

We see her in lighter days, when she’s just a scientist at work. We see her finding the aliens’ signal (a fleet) in space, the scientific high point of her career.

And then, we see her disastrous fall, and with her fall, the attempted subjugation of Earth.

We also see a cyborg commando soldier, who saves Samra and stays by her side as they try, somehow, to stay alive and hope for better days. (Perhaps the commando is hedging his bets. Or waiting for a better opportunity. But it’s important to know that without him being there, Samra likely wouldn’t have a reason to fight so hard.)

Along the way, we meet numerous others. Some are politicians. Some are just average Joes. Some are Rockrats — that is, asteroid miners, extremely isolationist in outlook and incredibly hard-headed, to boot.

We need every last one of them to come together, in whatever ways they can, or we cannot save our own solar system from the Oghaldzon.

And along the way, the Oghaldzon are found to be, oddly enough, a different type of idealist entirely. But their idealism doesn’t match ours by any standard, and that is part of why we end up in a protracted war.

I don’t want to spoil the outcome of the book. So I will stop there.

Just know that as an editor, I maximized everything I could for the sake of realism, verisimilitude, and dammit all, for the sake of a damned good read. That is my job.

And if you read the book, and you like the book, do tell Leo and Chris that you enjoyed it. (You can come tell me, too. I’d enjoy that, also.) Reviews matter.

(I know that from personal experience. But I digress.)

In other words, when I edit, I try to find the authors’ voices. And I believe I did exactly what I should, to make THUNDER AND LIGHTNING the best it could be, in the hopes that people would feel, think, and enjoy the book and tell others.

Or in shorter form: Sparkly language, get lost.

—–

**Note that I, myself, have a Koran and have read it many times. My late husband admired the Sufi Muslims, and often called himself a “Zen Sufi Pagan.” And Chris Nuttall himself was exposed to all sorts of different religions when he lived in Malaysia, certainly including Islam, and knows, as I do, that people come in all flavors in all religions: that is, followers of the prophet Mohammad are mainly very good people.

Those who’d chain and enslave women, though, are hardly that. And if they’re using Islam as a way to make that palatable to their (mostly male) believers, that is disgusting.

There are bad apples in any bunch. These Wreckers definitely fit the bill for the type of people who’d try to turn religion to their own ends, rather than live in loving kindness and generosity, as I believe Mohammad truly wanted.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 19, 2018 at 6:45 am

Book Recommendations, Just ‘Cause…

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Folks, it’s Friday. I’m preparing to go to my friend and mentor Tim Bell’s funeral. So I need diversion.

Fortunately, I have a number of books I’ve been meaning to recommend anyway…and today seems to be the day.

So, I’m going to divide my suggestions into fantasy, science fiction, and romance. (Yes, I have a romance to suggest, this time around.)

First, the science fiction. I’ve read two anthologies lately that I have enjoyed; one is A FISTFUL OF CREDITS, edited by Chris Kennedy and Mark Wandrey. It’s a tie-in to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse universe, but I had no problems reading these stories without having any prior knowledge at all.

So, if you like lots of adventure, along with intrigue, drama, wordplay, and don’t mind some violence with your military SF, this is the anthology for you. (Note that two of my friends, Chris Nuttall and Jason Cordova, have stories in this anthology. If you haven’t read either of ’em yet, you should.)

The next one is FORGED IN BLOOD, edited by Michael Z. Williamson. This is set in Williamson’s Freehold universe, and all of the stories revolve around one rather bloody-minded sword. You don’t need to have read any of Williamson’s stuff before to understand these stories; all you need is some time and a love for military adventure. (Again, I have two friends in this anthology. This time it’s Chris Smith and Jason Cordova. Jason’s been busy with his short-story writing lately, and that’s a particular strength of his. But Chris Smith’s story was a revelation…you should enjoy those two stories, guaranteed. And the rest are quite intriguing, too.)

As far as novels go, I like Becky Chambers’ A LONG WAY FROM A SMALL, ANGRY PLANET. This was a joy to read, and there’s some great stuff about how people change, make choices, and endure difficult and sometimes extremely painful events in their lives. The prose is effervescent, and the characterizations all worked well. (No, I don’t know Becky Chambers at all. More’s the pity.)

The fantasy? Well, you can’t go wrong with Patricia C. Wrede. I’ve been re-reading her Enchanted Forest Chronicles, along with Katharine Kimbriel’s Night Falls series…these are uplifting books with heart and humor. (More humor in the Wrede, granted.) They may seem like lighter reads, but you’ll go away from them with more purpose and a heart that seems positively buoyant. (In other words, it’s great stuff.)

And the romance? I’ve been reading Adele Clee, Jillian Eaton, and Alina K. Field in Regency romance. I like all of these authors, but I have to say the best romance I’ve read lately is Anna D. Allen’s MISS PRITCHARD’S HAPPY, WANTON CHRISTMAS (and the consequences thereof).

Anyway, if you like uplifting fantasy, military SF, “regular” galaxy-spanning SF, or romance, check some or all of these books out. You will enjoy them. And they will give you a few hours away from your problems…guaranteed.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 27, 2017 at 3:53 pm

Jason Cordova’s “Wraithkin” — and Music?

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Folks, it seems to be my week for stories, so let me tell you another one.

Years ago — I’m not sure how many, now — my late husband Michael told me, “Barb, I swear, you think in music, not words.” It was Michael’s contention that every time I wrote something, I was automatically translating it from the music I heard in my head.

I don’t know if that’s true or not, mind. But it was a poetic conceit he enjoyed, and as such, I appreciated it.

For some reason, that came to mind when I recently read an advance reader copy of Jason Cordova’s WRAITHKIN. Something about this book reminds me of a musical suite, and as I’m both a musician and a writer, I thought I’d use that to my advantage to try to explain why I like this book so much.

As I’m having no luck today uploading the cover, here’s the blurb instead:

How far would a man go to protect those he loved? For Gabriel Espinoza, the answer was simple: to the ends of the universe.

When a failed genetic test ruins his life, Gabriel and his fiancée prepare to run to a world where the laws aren’t as strict. There they could remain, in peace, for the remainder of their days, their love unspoiled by the strict regime which controls the Dominion of Man.

But Fate is a cruel, fickle mistress.

Torn from the only woman he had ever loved, Gabriel is prepared to burn the galaxy to get her back.

How far would a man go to protect the empire he was sworn to uphold? For Andrew Espinoza, the answer was a bit more complicated.

Torn between family loyalty and his duty to his country, Andrew must infiltrate a rich and powerful clan to determine if they are plotting against the Dominion of Man, but while undercover he discovers something far darker and more dangerous is lurking in the shadows, and he is the only man who can stop it.

But Fate is a cruel, fickle mistress.

How far will Andrew go to ensure the success of his mission?

One brother must save himself; the other must save the universe. But can either survive long enough to achieve their goal?

Now, here are my musically-related thoughts:

To my mind, WRAITHKIN is like a symphony in four parts. First, we have a slower, quieter, more intense first movement, where all the major themes are laid out. We meet Gabe and Sophie, see their love for one another, see it dashed after Gabe fails a genetic test (technically, he’s supposed to be sterilized right away, but his family is wealthy and powerful and keeps that from happening), and then they attempt to run away.

But Sophie has to pretend to be angry, and leaves her world in feigned grief and despair, meaning she goes out to a lightly defended colony world all but undefended. And when Gabe finds out that world has been attacked, and Sophie is missing, he vows revenge.

Then we have the second movement, which is more about Gabe’s brother, Andrew. Andrew is a spy, pure and simple, or if you’d rather, he’s a chameleon/mole. He has been trained to do what he does, but because of that, he submerges himself in other people’s roles — or, as this is my blog, the music of other people’s thoughts. So while the second movement moves faster, and hints at much, it uses similar themes as the first, but reversed and in retrograde…as befits a symphony, where many things must come together to make a greater whole.

The third movement is about how Gabe meets up with a bunch of guys in his position — they all have failed genetic tests, so are considered expendables, the lowest of the low. But they all want to serve…something. Or at least blow up stuff. So there’s training involved, and a bunch of gadgetry to use, and all the military SF trappings that are required are there for the use…almost as if there’s a template for the third movement.

Still, there are touches of humor. Pathos. Genuine characterization. Friendship, all unlooked for, and camaraderie, too…proving, as if there was any doubt whatsoever, that new music can be reminiscent of older music, but still pack a walloping punch.

Then comes the fourth movement. Andrew and Gabe must somehow complete their joint missions. Will they manage to do this, or won’t they? And what will be the consequences either way?

This fourth movement ties up all the themes of the book nicely, and lays hints for books to come…kind of like how if you’ve heard one symphony by Haydn or Brahms or Mozart, you want to go hear another one if you’re smart. They all have things in common, sure, but they’re all a little different and they all have much to teach you, much for you to appreciate, and much to savor, time after time…

Anyway, I liked Jason’s book quite a bit, in case you couldn’t tell. I think it has a little bit of everything. Slam-bang action. Romance. Family. Friendship. A big canvas, with a dystopian government to be alternately fought and defended…Jason’s writing keeps getting better and better, and this is a story to immerse yourself in fully.

That’s why I compared it to music, and I hope you’ll understand why, once you read it.

(And do go read it, will you? If you like milSF, you will love this book. And even if you don’t, but like big novels full of life and vigor, you will still love this book…)

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 16, 2016 at 1:55 pm

#MilitarySFSunday: A Guest Post by Martin D. Hall

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Folks, a while back I wrote a guest post for Chris the Story-Reading Ape’s busy blog that I re-blogged here called “What is Military Science Fiction, Anyway?” I enjoyed writing that, and thought it might spark a conversation…and, fortunately, it has.

Writer Martin D. Hall (who often writes as M.D. Hall) wrote me a lovely essay, and sent it to me…so, for your Sunday delectation, here it is. Enjoy!

I read an interesting guest post here, entitled: “What is Military Science Fiction, Anyway?” As I explored its message, I thought about the nature of military science fiction. It occurred to me that most sci fi falls into “military”, regardless of whether the writer intends it. This can happen even when, at first sight, it isn’t a prime element, for example: “The Time Machine”, where our traveller ultimately encounters a military force of sorts. “2001” is set against a cold war backdrop. Our intrepid explorers are sent out, ostensibly, to seek contact with a sentient race, but isn’t it likely that those funding the expedition were seeking a military advantage? Once David Bowman metamorphoses into the ‘Star Child’, he returns to Earth, detonates an orbiting warhead, thereby de-escalating a global conflict; we’ll visit “3001” shortly.

In pondering the invasiveness of military elements throughout science fiction, I was like an archaeologist who unearths a first century Roman pot, I brushed away more loose soil, and there it was: the remains of a bronze age dagger. No, it wasn’t a real dagger, but my imagery might be apposite … I uncovered another question: what place does violence occupy in science fiction?

While I’m sure you will find examples of non-military science fiction, it’s hard to find non-violent science fiction … Not impossible, but rare. Invariably, the use of violence, or force, if you will, underpins most the genre, with some modern day readers demanding a quick hit, before their attention wanders. In the case of “2001” they get it when a sure sign of our hairy ancestor’s accelerated evolution – courtesy of the monolith – is to crush another hominid’s head with a club.

How is the violence most easily exploited? In a military scenario, of course. Naturally, for balance, there needs to be political intrigue, and character development within the military arc: the hardening of some characters and the softening of others; the blurring of lines demarcating good and evil; above all humour, but weaving through it all is the use, threat, or fear of violence.

Why is this? Perhaps it’s because, from the comfort of our computer chair/armchair/wheelchair/deckchair, we crave excitement from a safe distance. Like watching contact sports, we can enjoy them without personal risk. Unlike contact sports we can witness the destruction of starships, planetary systems, galaxies and even universes, before taking a break for a cup of coffee (or something a little stronger).

Is this a bad thing? Of course it isn’t and, unlike other genres, it’s highly unlikely that truth will mirror fiction – I know, Captain Kirk used a flip-top mobile phone, and yes, inconsiderate use of said phones leads to anger and, occasionally, violence, but give me a break!

I promised I would return to “3001”. Arthur C. Clarke had charted David Bowman’s rapid evolution into the ‘Star Child’ in “2001”. Yet, at the very end of this book, it’s the human remnant of this not-quite omnipotent being, together with the closer-to-human Hal who will form the bulwark against …? Surprise, surprise: the genocidal, albeit coldly reasoned, aggression of the deity-like beings who started the chain of events on an African plain three million years before. Even these farmers-of-the-Universe, portrayed as benign in “2001”, will ultimately resort to violence at some point beyond the end of this book.

What does all this say about us? It isn’t that we are bored by non-violence, merely that in certain genres, and science fiction is one, we expect violence. Going back to “Star Trek”, Roddenberry didn’t send his creations out to wreak havoc, but even when Kirk, et al, managed to avoid shooting or hitting anyone, a guest protagonist usually did – you can’t even exclude Tribbles because of the threat they posed if unrestrained.

Let me close with another imagining: an alternative reality version of Star Wars, Episode VI. In our reality, we have the ultimate villain – Palpatine – who comes to a violent end. Perhaps we needed to temper this by witnessing the redemption of throat-crusher Darth Vader, but only after we have observed him in the act of crushing throats, or Obi squishing.

The scene is set: over the course of the two earlier films, no one has died, no planets have been destroyed, and Vader hasn’t remodelled anyone’s windpipe. We are on the not-really Death Star for the final confrontation between Luke and Palpatine (with a non-violent Vader looking on):

Vader yawns and tries to scratch his head, but is non-aggressively frustrated by the helmet needed to: a) help him breathe, and b) provide that gloriously rich baritone … The helmet lends no visual aspect of dread, because it is coloured in a non-threatening pastel shade – I leave it to you to decide which shade.

Palpatine: “What do you suggest, young Jedi?”

Luke: “Perhaps we can chat about it over a cup of tea?”

Palpatine: “Earl Grey?”

Luke: “Of course, I’ll even throw in a slice of lemon.”

Palpatine: In an impeccable English accent touched with a soft Scottish burr, following a not-so-sinister chuckle: “No one, who is anyone, drinks Earl Grey with lemon.”

The two laugh, good-humouredly, while Vader pours the tea, and the credits roll to John Williams’ stirring theme.

Did that do it for you? 

I didn’t think so.

Nope, that definitely wouldn’t have worked for me. And I can’t imagine audiences watching the two other movies, either, no matter how good the acting or how good the storytelling, if there was no action-adventure, considering the venue. Great post, Martin! Hope to have you back here, soon.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 16, 2016 at 12:14 pm

Why I Wrote “Bringer of Chaos: The Origin of Pietas” — a Guest Blog by Kayelle Allen

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Folks, do I have a treat for you today!

A few months ago, I edited Kayelle Allen’s BRINGER OF CHAOS: The Origin of Pietas, and couldn’t wait to tell you all about it. Pietas is a strong character, someone who starts out dark, forbidding, and almost impossible to like…but somehow, with Kayelle’s insight, Pietas becomes much more than that. BRINGER OF CHAOS is a science fiction novel of cultural clashes, personal growth, friendship, sacrifice, and much, much more. It’s beautifully written, in some spots deeply moving, and a book I hope everyone will check out right away.

Now, on to Kayelle’s excellent guest blog, already in progress…

3d-boc1When I wrote Bringer of Chaos: the Origin of Pietas, I was creating the background and origin story for the most notorious villain in my scifi universe. In a series of books based in the Tarthian Empire, I had gone to great lengths to instill a sense of awe and fear in readers regarding the immortal king. Honestly, Pietas scared me, and I created him! I knew the depth of his cruelty because I’d created him to be the baddie all the other baddies feared. In the universe of those stories, he was known by many names: Impaler, Hammer of God, Marauder, Soul Ripper, Destroyer of Worlds, Slayer of Innocents, Hound of Hell, and more famously, the Bringer of Chaos. To reveal the reason he became such a terrifying person, I needed to delve into his head and get to know him better. *Gulp.*

I mentioned to my friend, author Houston Havens, that I didn’t know how to write an emotionless sociopath. First she laughed, then she took me to passages in my own books and showed me the emotions Pietas had displayed. Houston was right. Pietas was far from emotionless. Sociopath was as far from his reality as moonlight is from sunlight. One is cool and pale; the other hot and vibrant. I was trying to write him as a moon. Pietas was a sun.

Houston suggested that we “interview” him. She and I talk almost every day on Skype, so that was easy. I would “be” Pietas and answer on Skype as him. It would be an exercise in free association, and we would record it so I would have reference. Once we got started, it was surprisingly easy to get into his head. She asked him questions that were simple at first. Then she asked about his father, which made me delve into my own past as a child and parent. Mine was innocent and filled with love. My villainous hero, however, had a different bent.

When I was a child, the parent-child bond set my life on a certain path, and I believe no matter how old I get, I will always be the way I was molded to be from childhood. Pietas is immortal, and apparently, so is his love/hate-mostly-hate relationship with his father. Delving into that in detail will take more than one book. In fact, I’ve gone from wondering how I could possibly write a whole book about Pietas to planning another four.

Pietas now fascinates me. Getting to know this character helped me break past an episode of writer’s block that had lasted seven years. I had written, but was producing only non-fiction (Tarthian Empire Companion) and books about the characters (An Immortal’s Guide to Tarth). With Bringer of Chaos out of the way, I’m back where I belong — in the world of the Tarthian Empire. The galaxy of stories beyond that is, as Pietas would say, “ripe for the plucking.”

About Kayelle Allen

Kayelle Allen is a best selling American author. Her unstoppable heroes and heroines include contemporary every day folk, role-playing immortal gamers, futuristic covert agents, and warriors who purr.
Homeworld/Blog https://kayelleallen.com
Twitter https://twitter.com/kayelleallen
Facebook https://facebook.com/kayelleallen.author

About the Book

Bringer of Chaos: the Origin of Pietas
Author: Kayelle Allen
Publisher: Romance Lives Forever Books
Editor: Barb Caffrey
Heat level: PG13
Genre: YA (older young adult), action adventure, science fiction, space opera, military science fiction, space marine, genetic engineering
Wordcount: 52,492
Pages: 186

Two enemy warriors: one human, one immortal. Different in belief, alike in spirit, marooned together on an alien world.

Imprisoned and in isolation over a year without food or water, the immortal Pietas survives. Though broken in body, his intellect and will are intact, thanks to Six, the special ops warrior who captured him, but kept him sane. The warrior had no hand in his deprivation and, like Pietas, was betrayed by his own kind. When Pietas is abandoned on an alien world with nothing but his honor–and Six–he must find and rejoin other immortal exiles. After centuries of war, Pietas detests humans and kills them on sight, but he is too damaged to continue on his own. Though he despises needing help, he allows Six to nurture and restore him to full strength, and then accompany him. As they cross the planet together on foot, the immortal begins to wonder if he has found his first human friend, or if Six is loyal only because Pietas could keep the others from tearing him to shreds. This human will either be his closest living friend, or the one whose betrayal will trigger all-out vengeance by the most powerful immortal ever born.

Immortal. Warrior. Outcasts. Traitors took everything. Except their honor.

Read the first chapter https://kayelleallen.com/chaos-origin/
Amazon http://amzn.to/1R8DAbb
Amazon print http://amzn.to/1SSmueB
CreateSpace http://bit.ly/boc-origin-csp

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So, now that you’ve read all this, what are you waiting for? Go get Kayelle’s excellent novel right now. You will not regret it.

Two New Books from Friends to Share…

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Folks, it’s Saturday. Time turns to reading, at least for me…sometimes to book reviewing, too (though I’m way behind on that, I do intend to get back to it sooner or later).

Today, I have two great books to share with you, especially if you enjoy military science fiction/adventure stories.

ConfederatedStarSystems_medFirst, my friend Loren K. Jones’s second e-book from Twilight Times Books is out; it’s a short story collection called STORIES OF THE CONFEDERATED STAR SYSTEMS. I edited this book, and it’s a fun, fast read with a lot of great stories…right now, it’s only ninety-nine cents, too! (That won’t last long.) I grabbed my e-book copy right away, and hope you will, too.

Edited to add: If you want a copy from OmniLit, go here; if you want a copy from Barnes and Noble.com, go here. I now return you to your regularly scheduled blog post, already in progress…

“But Barb,” you protest. “I want to know what I’m getting into, before I buy this book, even for ninety-nine cents.”

Ah. Well, I have you covered…there is a free sample of Loren’s newest up right now at the Twilight Times Books website.

“So, who’s your other friend, Barb, that you’re ‘pimping’ today?”

Hmmm. I’d not use that word, quite…it’s more of an informative thing, really.

“Spit it out, Barb.”

OK, OK. My friends Jason Cordova and Chris Smith recently released KRAKEN MARE as an e-book. It’s about a disillusioned former Marine, who stumbles onto a mystery after taking a job on Titan’s moon. But it’s not a benign mystery; oh, no. (That would be too easy.) Instead, it’s a mystery that will “shock the foundations of the universe…something out of a nightmare,” as the book description says.

I don’t have a picture to add to this one…but I can tell you I’ve read several chapters already, and am enjoying it quite a bit. (No one does military SF/horror hybrids quite like Jason Cordova. And Chris Smith’s influence is felt in myriad ways…this book will not disappoint.)

Hope you enjoy them!

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 16, 2016 at 11:29 am

Now Available in E-Book: Loren K. Jones’s “Inadvertent Adventures”

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Folks, it’s been a while since I was able to announce something fun for one of my friends, but I’m happy to do so tonight.

As some of you might know, Loren K. Jones has been a friend of mine for many years now; he knew my husband Michael well, though by long-distance, and Michael edited for Loren. (I have also edited books and stories for Loren since Michael’s passing.)

Now, Loren’s first novel for Twilight Times Books, INADVERTENT ADVENTURES — a funny military SF adventure — is now available for purchase at Amazon. And for a week or so as an introductory deal, it’ll be available for only ninety-nine cents. (Yes, I grabbed a copy right away. I have no shame.) It will also be available via OmniLit and Barnes and Noble within a day or so.

Loren’s a fine writer, and I’m glad to let you all know his latest novel is available…especially as many of his other works are currently out of print. (Don’t worry; I asked him about this recently, and he told me he’s working on bringing them back. And if INADVERTENT ADVENTURES does as well as I’m hoping, maybe that’ll be sooner rather than later.)

This is a big deal for Loren, and I’m very happy to support him and his efforts.

So, please do take a gander at Loren’s novel — hey, it’s only ninety-nine cents right now, so how could you go wrong? — and then come back and let me know what you think.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 5, 2016 at 11:12 pm