The Rods and the Axe: two reviews

DB is the first to review Tom Kratman’s THE RODS AND THE AXE.

This is the latest book in the ‘Carrera’ series by Tom Kratman. The story covers the activities leading up to and the beginning salvos of the second stage of the war between the Tauran Union (the EU) and Balboa (Panama). Now for those of you who wonder how the hell Panama could be in a war with the EU much less how it could manage to be kicking the EU’s sclerotic, bureaucratic ass you really have to read the ‘What has gone before’ section. Trust me when I say it is necessary there’s a lot that has happened to get the action to this point and a whole mess of characters that are important to the plot. When reading Tom Kratman you never know who is going to be an important character and who is going to wind up killed so you better pay attention.

So to the story itself. It is a good military adventure yarn. That should be no surprise by now, Kratman writes military adventure and whatever he does he does well. It is just barely science fiction. Yes it is set on a different planet, yes there is marginally advanced technology, but this series is really just an alternate history of what could have been done following September 11th. It could just as easily been set on Earth beginning Sept 11, 2001.

The story is well written and for me the easiest of the series to read and follow. I was never left wondering ‘who is this and what are they doing’. The action is realistic and of course plenty gritty. The characters were as usual interesting and drawn just as finely as they needed to be for the part they played in the story. Most of the book is taken up with behind the scenes type of political wrangling and espionage but there still are big meaty chunks of combat and conflict.

The Good: “The Rods and the Axe” is well written, the prose is clear and clean without anything extraneous getting into the way. The people, places, and activities on ‘Terra Nova’ are presented in well crafted brush strokes. Even the characters that are seen once and will never be seen again were easy to envision. Some would say Kratman makes good use of stereotype but I prefer to think of his bright-line characterization of minor characters as solid use of easily understood motifs.

The characters are easy to connect to and visualize. Motivations fit the characters and the actions they take except for one really jarring scene (more about that later), are never forced. The actions feel like they are the real actions of the characters and not something that Kratman has decreed for the characters to do everything feels very organic. One thing that Kratman is very good at is people and he easily acknowledges that every side can have heroes. The enemies can be just as well intentioned, heroic as Carrera and his Legion and are certainly as well written.

The organizations of Terra Nova are realistic and Kratman does a good job of describing them. Of course, that is not a huge stretch because Terra Nova is really just ‘Earth’. Every nation and organization has its counterpart on Terra Nova.

Not much to say about Kratman’s gift for writing military action that has not already been said. The action whether it is a bar fight with broken bottles or a naval gunnery barrage with 150mm guns is all well written. The pacing of the action is particularly good and will keep you reading (I read the book in one sitting). Kratman is a master of his craft and belongs with Drake or Pournelle when discussing good military science fiction.

One thing and perhaps this is just a matter of personal taste but I like that while Kratman’s characters are fully adult and human and have sex the sex is all ‘off screen’ and fade to black type of activities. I find that refreshing.

The Bad: Here’s the good news; nothing ‘bad’ about this novel. The story is first rate, the characters are well written and interesting and the action is realistic and visceral. But there is that one scene I mentioned earlier and that’s ugly.

The Ugly: First let me say that I know Kratman is one sneaky bastard (I mean that as a compliment) and that he knows where his stories are going a long way a head, however, Carrera makes a really jarring bonehead move that stood out like a green stick fracture. At one point he has Carrera going into a major conflict zone for (at this point in the story) no damn good reason. It is such a bad decision that I had a hard time getting past that. It was like Ike landing with the grunts at Utah Beach. I know Kratman is probably just setting us up for something that requires Carrera to be where he is but the action itself was double-stupid and his aides should have sat on him until he regained his senses. I won’t say anything more about that because that would give away too much of the plot.

All in all I cannot recommend this book enough. If you at all like military fiction you’ll like this book and if you do like military fiction and haven’t found this series yet you are in for a treat. Kratman has stepped up his game with this book and is now firmly in the top tier of military fiction not just military science fiction.

And JW has already read it and finished his review as well. The speed with which these gentlemen blew through the book should also tell you something about whether Tom Kratman’s latest is worthwhile for fans of military science fiction.

Tom Kratman has out his sixth novel in the Carrera series, and it’s a worthy addition indeed. The Legion del Cid, with Patricio Carrera in command, has kicked the Tauran Union forces occupying the Balboa transitway out, in bloody fighting. In Book 6 they are concerned with the final preparation for the invasion of the Taurans and their Zhong allies, and, then the beginning of an epic battle for the tiny country of Balboa.  The Taurans are providing air cover and a blocking force in the neighboring country of Santa Josefina and  the Zhong providing the landing force attempting to take the Isla Real, the immense and heavily fortified island commanding the transitway. There are time references both backward looking and forward, starting with the Amazon Legion, continuing in the fifth novel Come and Take Them. I would highly recommend reading the whole series. It’s more than worth it.

Many of the characters from the previous novels are here with some added fleshing out particularly concerning the High Admiral Wallenstein and her latest relationship and some truly funny plot elements revolving around Carrera’s son Hamilcar and his domestic difficulties. Lesson there: you don’t really need twelve wives, lad.

There are new characters, of course, notably among the Zhong Imperial Marines and their bloody sacrifices on the beaches of Isla Real. The battle action starts about 45 percent into the book with an interesting taste of things to come in the Prologue, and continues until the book ends with a not-so-subtle cliff hanger pointing to Book 7. Personally, I can’t wait until the Legion takes on the UEPF, the United Earth Peace Fleet, in orbit around the planet and providing from orbit intelligence gathering for the Tauran forces.

I can’t give you metrics of prose competence, plot flow, etc. All I can do is tell you this a real page turner and a long awaited addition to the series. I loved it. Enjoy!

If you enjoy keeping up on the latest in SF/F, I would encourage you to begin following the Castalia House blog on a daily basis, where our SEVEN bloggers are now posting regular reviews of both conventional and independently published SF/F books. Mascaro has posted a review of AS I WALK THESE BROKEN ROADS by DMJ Aurini and Jeff’s review of SHADOW OF THE STORM by Martin J. Dougherty is a must-read for any TRAVELLER aficionado, as it sounds like Marc Miller has found himself a good writer who is respectful of the game canon.

And don’t miss Daniel’s intriguing take on the Tesla-Edison divide among science fiction writers.


Lions Den X: Tom Kratman

The Taurans had dedicated three hundred sorties to a pre-landing preparation of the island.  That was not small change, those roughly two thousand tons.  But, it was generally agreed, the Taurans had to do their business and leave before the Zhong reached within two kilometers of the beaches.  Otherwise, the world, fate, God, Murphy (who, it was well known, had emigrated to Terra Nova in the first wave), or the Emperor Mong, whom the Zhong and Anglians both disowned, would fuck somebody.
 

With the ovals and circles at sea straightening now into deadly arrows, pointed not-quite-straight at the beaches, the Taurans half darkened the sky.  They lashed down not only at the landing beaches, but at half a dozen others as heavily, and eleven more a bit more lightly, for the deception value.  Known, or believed to be known, artillery positions got a special pasting. 

Generally speaking, Wallenstein was surprised at the fury of the Tauran assault.

My cousins have apparently got a few grudges from the five minute bomber raids.

The Zhong and Taurans had, if anything, been overly cautious about the use of the latters’ airpower in proximity to the formers’ unarmored Marines.  While the first wave of landing craft were eight hundred meters offshore, the last of the Tauran strikers was flying east toward their bases in Santa Josefina.

To smoke was now added a considerable cloud of dust raised by the bombs.  Most of the island could not be seen with the naked eye or unaided camera.

“Switching to thermal imaging,” Khan announced.  The screen went blank, then red, then to a mix of stark black and red.  It took a bit of time for both mind and eyes to adjust. 

“Narrow focus on the island and the leading wave,” Wallenstein commanded.  “Order Harmony to bring the skimmer in lower, and have them prep another in case we lose this one.”

“Aye, aye, High Admiral,” said one of the communications boffins.  Communication was nearly instantaneous, while the skimmer was close in any case.  The focus of the crew and their commander narrowed considerably as the first waves of the Zhong Marines splashed ashore

 “What’s that?” Wallenstein asked, as the skimmer approached a tilted triple turret.

“We’ve got lasing!” a petty officer announced.  “Lasing from the whole northern coast.  Lasing from the balloons.  Lasing from Hill 287.  Lasing…”

The room shook with an inarticulate cry of despair from the Zhong Empress.  She saw what Khan saw, and had divined the meaning just as quickly

“It’s a gun; I’d guess an eighteen centimeter gun,” Khan said, his voice heavy with defeat.  “On a railway carriage.  It came from one of the ammunition bunkers we didn’t attack.  I think…I think there are going to be a lot of them.  And they’re not lasing for its own sake.”

Tonelessly, hopelessly, he added, “Empress, you should tell the Zhong Fleet to retreat… High Admiral, tell her.”  Khan’s chin sank onto his chest.  “But, of course, it’s too late for that, isn’t it?”

By now, I expect you know the drill. I have three review copies of Tom Kratman’s The Rods and the Axe to send out to the first three readers willing to read it, then write a review and send it to me before June 25th. If you’re interested, send me an email with AXE in the subject. We have the necessary reviewers now, thank you.


Lion’s Den: Witchfinder 2

RW provides a second review of WITCHFINDER, by Sarah Hoyt:

3 parts Fantasy
2 parts Fairy Tale
1 splash of Science Fiction
1 dash of Mythology

Mix ingredients thoroughly with magic. Garnish with a slice of Romance.

Sarah A. Hoyt has ambitiously attempted to tie together fantasy, fairy tale, and a bit of romance; and for the most part she pulls it off brilliantly.  It is a difficult work to review without being a spoiler since part of the enjoyment of reading this book is watching how she develops the worlds in the multi-verse and how she incorporates many elements from well-known stories from fairy tales and mythology, with an occasional nod to religion, into a coherent whole.

CHARACTERS: Hoyt does an exceptional job bringing her characters to life.  She uses a formulaic approach to how most of them are developed throughout the story, where she describes them in three stages of growth.  The first stage is she portrays them as they seem to be to others or how they believe that they have to act.  The second stage occurs as they interact with each other and start to learn each other’s secrets and true selves.  For the final stage Hoyt shows the characters starting to understand what they really need to be in order to fulfill their destiny.  In lesser hands this template approach would seem two-dimensional, but Hoyt uses this approach to good effect aligning the character development within the scope of the overall story. (8/10)

PROSE: Hoyt’s prose is hard to describe; in some places it is fluid and conversational, but in other places it borders on being poetic.  Her ability to create word pictures aids in her development of new worlds as she masterfully describes exotic places, Fairyland in particular.  She mentioned in her write-up that the story was written as blog postings over many months, and there is a slow evolution in the use of punctuation and grammar as the story progresses.  Similarly, there were quite a few typos, but she has already claimed these too. (7/10)

PLOT: [Warning: this section contains a few spoilers, so if you plan on reading the book I suggest skipping down to the IDEAS paragraph.] The general structure holds nicely as she develops a modern-day fairy tale of a young lady coming to terms with the fact that she is a princess in another world.  Simultaneously Hoyt creates a concurrent plot about a family of world-jumping witches, closer to the fantasy genre.  The stories intertwine early, with heavy doses of mystery and suspense as the Duke of Darkwater realizes that he is being targeted; and all of the characters begin to question the motives of each other, even their closest family members.

However, there are a few items that weaken the story in my opinion.  The first is relatively minor: the character of the matriarch, the dowager duchess Ainsling, is very interesting and plays a large role in the early part of the story, but then she disappears for most of the second half, making a brief cameo at the end.   The second is that the novel’s climatic showdowns don’t quite live up to the promise of the escalation of the conflicts.  The third issue might be related to Hoyt’s stated goal that she was writing more of a romantic work to lure female fantasy readers. The issue I had is that there are discussions of cross-species relationships, necrophilia, child prostitution, and a heavy dose of homosexuality.  The cross-species relationships is understandable given that the book is somewhere between fantasy and fairytale, but the other items seemed somewhat forced.  My reason for bringing this up is that with the exception of these items, along with maybe two or three unnecessary expletives, I would have liked to pass the book along to my young adolescent daughter to read, as I’m sure she would enjoy the story.  If the author feels that the homosexual relationship is integral to the story, then I’d suggest that she continue to use vague references and hints, as she used earlier in the book where she was modeling it after Regency romances. (6/10)

IDEAS: I thought that the most creative aspect of Hoyt’s universe is that all of the worlds have their own versions of legends and fairytales based on actual happenings, mainly in either Avalon or Fairyland.  As with any fairytale, there are a couple of morals to conclude the story: lead when called upon, and be a servant-leader, not a tyrant. (5/10)

TOTAL: (6.5/10)  In truth I liked Witchfinder better than that score indicates, mainly because it equally weighs all four of the elements above.  This book is the first of Hoyt’s works that I have read, and I found it enjoyable enough that I expect that I’ll soon be reading other books from her.  Men concerned about the “romance” label need not be scared away since the love story is in the background through most of the book.  If Hoyt were to address the issues mentioned above, then I would give this book a high recommendation to young readers as well.


Lions Den: Witchfinder

The Bandit reviews Sarah Hoyt’s WITCHFINDER for the Lion’s Den. And speaking of book reviews, Toni Mascaro has activated the Castalia House blog with a review of The Lost Fleet series by Jack Campbell.

Like the title character, I didn’t quite realize what I had first stumbled into when I offered to review WITCHFINDER, written by Sarah A. Hoyt. The blurb gave me the impression of multiverse derring-do — sort of a magical fantasy version of Star Gate. Although I’ve enjoyed a rant or seven on her blog, I had yet to read any of Sarah Hoyt’s published writing, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to introduce myself to her work. It was only afterward that I learned two additional facts:  (1) it had been written to appeal to romance readers, and (2) the book originated as a semi-serious chapter-a-week project on the author’s blog.

Now, being a horridly privileged cismale, I am not sure I am qualified to judge a romance’s quality. The elements that I’ve come to associate with fantasy romance are definitely all there:  ongoing “tension” in the form of repeatedly noting attraction but ignoring it for the nonce, sexually aberrant secondary characters, wereseals (in effect), inter-species love, and a proliferation of the subsequent half-breed spawn. I cannot tell you how effectively these might have been wielded in order to turn on the intended audience, but I can say that, surprisingly, I wasn’t turned off. I suppose I should clarify that there’s no steamy sex scenes, nor is any of this treated in a way I’d be uncomfortable to allowing my own young adult to read it. (Caveat: there’s a lot of buggery afoot.)

Prose (4/10): Here the novel suffers because of its origin. Written as a weekly blog post, the standard of writing is about as one would expect for a blog post. Presumably written with a quick once-over before hitting “submit,” some sentences end up convoluted and confusing not for any imitation of the stilted regency style (the style itself is very modern in its simplicity) but for the need of some additional drafting. The effect of its origin also goes beyond the occasional typos and broken sentences that have slipped through to jar the reader:  the overall pacing and structure also stutters a bit. This means some chapters feel just a bit too rushed, and one or two were clearly a week in which the author didn’t have much time but had to get something up. A stronger edit could have really tightened this novel and make it run at a good clip, in my opinion. For all this, it is not all so bad to be very bothersome, and I might have given the prose a higher score if it were not for all the darn telling (as opposed to showing) that occurs, particularly when it came to the operation of magic and the abilities of the title character.

Plot (7/10): The plot is amazingly coherent for a story put together piecemeal over a couple of years. It has depth and goes in completely unforeseen directions without feeling disjointed. The predictable reveals set the reader up for the true twists and unexpected reveals further down the line. The reader clearly recognizes that the kingdom is at stake long before the characters catch up, but then the author surprises the reader with the actual purpose of the conspiracy. All loose ends then tie up rather nicely.

Characters (8/10): Unsurprisingly, according to its genre (as per our host’s explanation), the novel’s strongest element is its characters. One of the book’s reviewers on Amazon notes that the characters start as stereotypes of regency fiction and then flesh out into new directions, and I agree with that assessment. Hoyt’s talent really shines in the way that she allows the reader to get to know the characters slowly, presenting false impressions and misconceptions, and then turning them on their head to show the human underneath. In fact, it is the humanity of the characters that really impresses — they all have believable flaws and struggles — particularly since not all of them are completely human. I enjoyed watching Hoyt lift the veil on this or that character’s actions to reveal the understandable motivations beneath.

Ideas (6/10): Three ideas are at work here:  the multiverse, fairy tale magic, and duty. Hoyt ably uses the multiverse concept to suit her purposes, and she also takes the opportunity to make some historical reference jokes. The take on magic is a bit foggy; I personally prefer to understand the rules of magic within a given universe, but these are never clearly explained. A recurring motif in describing the working of magic is the manipulation of the threads that make the tapestry of reality. The ultimate result is that, instead of taking the fantastic and making it seem believable, Hoyt takes the believable (characters) and then dumps it into a tableau of the fantastic. I assume, given the fairy tale theme, that this was intentional; it ends up feeling very much like the magic in fairy tales. Finally, the theme of duty resonates throughout, and the way the author uses the theme to mold the character’s decisions struck me enough to bump up this category’s score. Instead of denigrating duty as just oppressive and foolish, the burden and sometimes-tragedy of duty is acknowledged while still emphasizing and respecting its importance. This treatment of duty has become rare enough that it’s slightly jarring in the same way that the novel’s reasonable and respectful treatment of the sexes and regency customs (in a romance!) also feels slightly odd, but refreshing.

Overall (6/10): I enjoyed reading WITCHFINDER, and might give it
to a female friend who likes regency or fantasy romance, but probably
would not buy it for myself.

Sample text: “Now, Duke,” Gabriel Penn said, very mildly, but in a tone of worried distraction. He made as though to take a step sideways to pull his companion [Marlon] out of the dirt, or perhaps to succor him, but Seraphim [the Duke] held him fast.

“No, don’t you go trying to cajole me. You know what coils this creature embroiled you in, and you know he can only bring you dishonor and grief. Even if he captured you by dishonorable means, you should know–”

Gabriel Penn’s eyes flashed with a look not unlike Seraphim’s own when animated with near-uncontrollable fury, and for a moment he showed his teeth, pressed close together. Nell thought he was about to slug the Duke, and for just a second, without thinking, moved to step between them. Then she checked herself. Even on Earth, stepping between two men about to engage in a slugging match was perfectly stupid. But, stepping between two men from Britannia about to engage in a slugging match might be crazier. Not only would they slug it out around or over her, but they would also hold each other responsible for causing her to step in. Their rules of chivalry were complicated, but that one was obvious.

As she paused, Gabriel reached out and got hold of both of the duke’s arms above the elbow, “Your Grace, you bonehead, listen to me: Marlon Elfborn did not capture me. I went to him to ask for help when I had nowhere else to go.”

“Well,” Seraphim said, struggling to pull his arms away from his brother’s gripping fingers. “that only proves you’re not competent to run your own affairs. Furthermore–”

“Yes, I know, furthermore, he interrupted my education, raised the dead and deflowered the family goat. Give over Seraphim, you fool, do. Stop your vendetta and listen to me.”

“He deflowered what?” Seraphim said, stopping mid-shout and frowning.

A dark-red blush climbed Gabriel’s cheeks. His eyes darted at Nell, and he actually attempted to bow, which went to show that the training of Britannia men was quite past rationality or sanity even. “I beg your pardon Miss Felix…”


Lion’s Den IX: Sarah Hoyt

Sarah Hoyt is dipping her toe into the cold, but liberating waters of independent publishing with her book WITCHFINDER. She describes it thusly:

In Avalon, where the world runs on magic, the king of Britannia appoints a witchfinder to rescue unfortunates with magical power from lands where magic is a capital crime. Or he did. But after the royal princess was kidnapped from her cradle twenty years ago, all travel to other universes has been forbidden, and the position of witchfinder abolished. Seraphim Ainsling, Duke of Darkwater, son of the last witchfinder, breaks the edict. He can’t simply let people die for lack of rescue. His stubborn compassion will bring him trouble and disgrace, turmoil and danger — and maybe, just maybe, the greatest reward of all.

Sarah adds: This book was very strange. First, it started as an almost joke.  A friend
suggested we collaborate on it because, hey, people liked regency fantasies,
and we wrote a proposal (which was nothing like this.  For one, it was for a
much shorter book) and we sent it to my agent.  My agent first balked at
sending it out because “you have a woman from present-day Earth and someone
in the regency.  No one will know what to do with it.”  (Apparently she
never read things like Diana Wynne Jones Chrestomanci series or the ton of
time travel romance books that were so popular in the eighties.  Okay, truth
be told, I never read those either, but I DID hear of them.  Impossible not
to.)  Then she sent it out under pressure (or at least she said she had) and
the rejections agreed with her opinion. So, this book went in the drawer with about fifteen others that never sold
in proposal.

Two and a half years ago when I started blogging every day (and wasn’t out
politically yet) my biggest issue was what to blog about.  (It still is,
because there isn’t something that fascinating to me every day.)  So I
decided to make Fridays easier by posting a chapter of a novel every Friday. 
Why Witchfinder?  No idea.  I think it more or less was the first one to
come up.  Also, it was definitely not a Baen novel, so no problems with
upsetting my publisher.

I wrote to my friend, asked her if she’d send me a quit-claim on the novel.
She did.  I started posting it.  I thought it would be a shortish novel and
never come out officially, but I gave people the option of donating $6 and
when it was done, I’d edit it and send them an ebook.  I made $5k.  While
it’s not the advance I normally get for science fiction and fantasy, it was
the advance I got from Prime Crime for mystery.  (SF/F pay me better.)
Also, when I sent it out to be edited, my three editors who are two trusted
friends and my husband (yes, I know typos escaped.  Part of it was the way
it was written.  You should have seen it before) all thought I should
publish it.  Which led to my publishing it.

But structure/plot/possibly typo-ing it all feels very odd to me.  If you’d
asked me if I could write a novel a chapter a week over two years, I’d have
said you were nuts.  And yet, when I read it (other than continuity typos,
like people changing name, which I was still fixing at the last minute) it
read as well (or as badly, depending on your opinion!) as any other of my
works. Except perhaps the world building got WAY more convoluted than it
normally does, because I world build in sudden fits of brilliance and a year
and a half is a lot of time for such fits.
So, in a way this novel is a first two ways: it’s my first slow-written
novel, and my first indie novel.

VD: If you’re interested in reading WITCHFINDER, writing a review, and sending it to me for posting here, please send me an email with WITCHFINDER in the subject. And if you have any questions for Sarah about her book, please post them in the comments here.

I’m also looking for 10 launch reviewers for both a)  AWAKE IN THE NIGHT LANDS and b) TRANSHUMAN OR SUBHUMAN. For the former, you’ll need to be able to read it and post a review on Amazon over the coming weekend. Email me with either AWAKE or TRANSHUMAN in the subject, but not both, please.


Book Review: Escape from Tekmar II

Jill reviewed Kiti Lappi’s Escape from Tekmar:

I’m technically a bi-lingual person.
However, I would never have the confidence to pull off a book-length
manuscript in my second language. For that reason, I applaud Kiti
Lappi, the author of Escape From Tekmar, whose native language is
Finnish. She rose to a challenge and actually met that challenge.
Undoubtedly, she improved her skills in English by doing so. That
being said, while her book is readable in English, the level of
readability is extraordinarily low. The sentences are wordy and
awkward, and she often uses words improperly. For example, she
repeatedly confuses “commend” and “recommend”. While these
words are similar, they have subtle distinctions in usage. In
addition, there are many unclear run-on sentences, and I’m not sure
if this is owing to her limited knowledge of English, or simple bad
editing. Completing a cohesive thought in sentence-form is a matter
of logic, as far as I’m concerned.
Despite all that, the manuscript is
not
irredeemable. I would highly recommend (that is, advocate) that
she
pull this book off the market and choose one of two options: hire
a
native English speaker to help her with language edits; or write
the
book in Finnish and hire an English translator. Left as is, the
author risks giving herself an unnecessarily bad reputation as a
self-publisher of junk, which is a shame.
And to be fair, the story isn’t junk.
The elements of a well-told story are there, albeit lost in the
awkward language. The plot, itself, is a simple sci-fi adventure
story about the space travelers, Rahan and Ryn, who find
themselves
unwittingly involved in another world’s revolution. The author
uses
many sci-fi tropes to give the basic plot color: genetic
modification, space travel, invasive spy technology that is too
expansive for upkeep, etc. Some of it is quite interesting and
imaginative, such as the “silver” that repairs the
genetically-engineered Shemasharras and gives them their
distinctive
silver eye color.
The characterization is decent,
especially when the author depicts the relationship between Rahan
and
Ryn. Their relationship shines through enough that I’m not left
reeling when the author reveals their true relationship near the
end
of the book. Although the female protagonist, Lida, isn’t as
fleshed
out, I find it believable that she, as an idealist, has become
embroiled in a revolution that isn’t about the good of the people.
On
the other hand, I never get much sense of Ryn’s character, except
that he feels duty bound to always protect Rahan. Ryn is a
genetically-engineered human, yet he fills the ubiquitous sci-fi
role
of the almost-human robot. Sadly, there are many sci-fi robots out
there with more personality than the genetically-engineered Ryn.
Ryn
is too good, too intelligent, too strong to be entirely relatable.
Along the same lines, the main
character, Rahan, has a strong character arc, from childish
dependency on Ryn’s saving him from disaster (as shown in the
first
scene), to fighting his own battles and becoming the rescuer of
Ryn.
Likewise, the main female character, Lida, also transforms
throughout
the story, beginning with reluctant compliance and ending with
defiance. Ryn, as befitting his flat character, doesn’t change
much;
however, the author allows him to be possessing of weaknesses, as
he
is able to be captured at a crucial moment.
The scene-setting is also quite well
done for an author who has a limited vocabulary in English. I’ve
read
that there are literally no cognates between Finnish and English,
which further gives me admiration for the author’s skills. That’s
obviously beside the point, as I get a general sense of a planet
that
had one time been decked-out with better technology, but has
devolved
into an economic and social decline. The scene-setting works, even
if
it’s not extensive. For the record, I prefer books with extensive
scene descriptions, almost to the point of travelogue, but I
certainly don’t expect that from modern authors.
If I have any banal writer-workshop
type recommendations for the authors, they are these: she needs to
learn how to write without giving info dumps. Info must be told in
order to ground the reader, but it needs to be accomplished a
little
at a time through the scene itself (showing vs telling), or
through
natural dialogue, or through SHORT pieces of exposition. I don’t
really give a shit about the absurd convention of excessive
showing
in fiction—the pretense that fiction should be written as though
it
were a film—but the author needs to work on her art of subtlety.
Storytelling is an art, in which scene and exposition are woven
smoothly together, and the author needs to work on this.
As an
extension of show-vs-tell, the facts the author presents in the
story
often don’t sound planned. I found myself wondering if the author
made things up as she went along. For example, Rahan will suddenly
be
possessing of useful items in his backpack, when he had a moment
before been deficient in useful items, which left me thinking,
“How
convenient for him!” This credulity could easily have been avoided
if the character had been shown finding whatever-useful-item in
real
scene time.
As a last word, the beginning scene is
necessary, and a great way to demonstrate the relationship of
Rahan
and Ryn, but it’s too long. The author spends an inordinate amount
of
time describing a world that the characters are just passing
through
before landing on the planet where they will spend the next 250 or
so
pages.
To reiterate, Escape From Tekmar has
merit. It’s a story that would be worth more of the author’s time
and
attention, as well as the money it would cost for an
English-speaking
editor to clean it up. As it is, though, I can’t rate it well. In
fact, I would probably give it 1 or 2 stars out of 5 due to the
sheer
difficulty in reading the language.

Lions Den VIII: Jonathan Moeller

The Pulp Writer throws Frostborn: The First Quest into the Den and takes a decidedly different approach in introducing it to everyone here. If you’re interested in being one of the book’s three reviewers, shoot me an email. You may also be interested in noting that both his Demonsouled and Child of the Ghosts are free downloads today.

Today I am going to tell you a story about the dangers of opening doors.

Long ago, before humans ever came to my world,
before humans even existed, the high elves ruled this world. We
believed that God had put us here to care and maintain this world, for
God had indeed created it for a purpose. A great darkness had been
imprisoned within the skin of the world, inside a place the humans would
one day call the Black Mountain. Our responsibility was to guard the
prison and serve as the world’s caretakers.

And so we did.

For spans of
time so vast that no human tongue has the vocabulary to describe them,
the high elves kept watch over this world, dwelling in great bliss and
splendor as they went about their task.

But for some of us, that was not enough.

Those
of us with wisdom and courage, those of us with the strength to cast
aside old ideas and grow beyond our purpose, used our spells to examine
the Black Mountain, to consider the darkness sealed within as a bored
child might pick at a scab. In time the darkness spoke to us. At first
we spurned it, but we came to see that it spoke wisdom, words of
strength and power.

And the darkness reached out and possessed one of
us, and we fell to our knees and worshipped him as our new god, the
bearer of shadow, the teacher of new ways.

The
high elves turned against us, the shortsighted fools. They called us the
dark elves, but we were the true elves, the stronger elves, for we
alone had been brave enough to cast off our shackles and make ourselves
more.

They made war upon us for millennia, and we laid the
world waste. Spells beyond the capacity of the human mind to understand
shattered the land, and mountains crumbled and deserts froze and
forests burned. Yet for all our power, the high elves had the mastery,
and drove us back mile by mile.

But the bearer of shadow walked among us, whispering
his secrets into our ears. He taught us spells of necromancy, of
shaping flesh and bone into weapons of death. And he taught us the
secret of opening doors between the worlds. For there are as many worlds
as there are stars in the night skies, and as many kindreds that live
upon them. Our wizards opened the doors between the worlds, and brought
forth new kindreds to serve us as slaves and soldiers.

The orcs were the first. They made superb slave
soldiers for our armies, and we brought hundreds of thousands of them
through the gates. Then came the beastmen and the manetaurs. They were
harder to control, but served well as shock troops. Halflings were too
weak for battle, but made useful slaves. The dwarves proved impossible
to control, and soon rebelled and sided against us, but they were a rare
error

And one day, we found the urdmordar.

We
had never seen anything like them. They wore the form of spiders, yet
wielded great dark magic. They disdained the use of tools and weapons,
yet had intellects of genius, and dominated lesser creatures with ease.
They feasted upon living flesh like any rude predator, but were so
cunning and so clever that they remained hidden and their victims rarely
knew their true foes.

What slaves they would make! With their power, we could at last crush the high elves.

And so we opened the door to their world and brought the urdmordar to ours.

Fools, fools, fools.

For the urdmordar were too powerful to control.

They
swarmed the gate, and devoured the wizards that sought to bind them. We
were the rightful masters of this world, mighty in sorcery and wisdom
without peer, but the urdmordar saw us as only one thing.

Food.

Within five years
the dark elven kingdoms had been enslaved and forced to serve the
urdmordar. Our armies of slaves transferred their allegiance readily
enough. The high elves briefly rejoiced, thinking they had found an
ally, but the hunger of the urdmordar was insatiable.

One by one the high elven kingdoms fell, until only Cathair Solas remained.

And then the urdmordar met a new kindred coming up from the south.

The
humans, the exiles of Old Earth, the heirs of Arthur Pendragon, fleeing
through a magical gate from the fall of their realm. Heedless of the
ancient conflicts of their new world, they blundered into the path of
the urdmordar.

There is danger in opening doors…but there is also opportunity.

For in the humans, after long millennia, I see the key to my freedom.

The Warden of Urd Morlemoch


Book Review: Escape from Tekmar I

HC provides the first review of Kiti Lappi’s Escape from Tekmar, the seventh book to be presented in the Lions Den series.

Rahan and Ryn are partners on assignment for an interstellar agency that monitors the health of ecosystems on terraformed planets. In any other circumstance, one might consider Rahan a badass. Unfortunately, his superior officer, Ryn, is one of the genetically engineered Shemasharra. He’s stronger, faster, smarter, and better looking. He’s also a near mind-reading Boy Scout: honest, fair, ready to help old ladies and inferior men alike to cross dangerous intersections, neither asking nor accepting any reward. Little wonder Rahan finds him so irritating.

The two men are forced to make an unscheduled stop for repairs on Tekmar, a financially and technologically poor world with a paranoid police state and a xenophobic populace. To minimize the potential for conflict, Ryn remains on board the ship, while Rahan deals with the locals. While absorbing a little local culture, he meets a girl named Lida, and they spend several days together sight-seeing. Of course, Lida has an ulterior motive: she’s a member of a revolutionary group that wants to destroy Tekmar’s rigid feudalism. The organization is in desperate need of cash, and there are people who will pay a high price for a live Shemasharra. Rahan and Ryn are kidnapped by a faction of the revolutionaries led by a man named Kerrin who intends to sell them to a mysterious group of off-worlders. Fisticuffs, cyborgs, shootouts, dogfights, and races against time follow.

The Good: Escape from Tekmar is a good adventure story with a suspenseful plot and several secondaries involving the relationships of Rahan with Ryn, Rahan with Lida, and Lida with Kerrin. Lappi portrayed some aspects of those relationships well. For example, Rahan resents Ryn for being superior and for being patient and patronizing. Rahan comes across like a spoiled teenager acting out in passive aggressive rebellion, and I think that’s precisely what Lappi intended the reader to see.

There are several exciting and suspenseful sequences. One of the best scenes is a fight between Rahan and Kerrin, whose cybernetically enhanced skeleton and musculature can’t quite make up for his lack of imagination. Later, Rahan pilots an aged sports flyer and has to outwit surveillance drones and police cruisers.

On the more cerebral side, the author indulges in some interesting speculation on space travel and colonization, genetic engineering, terraforming, politics, and more. Most of that is interesting and worth discussing over a few beers.

The Bad: Tekmar is a good concept piece and rough first draft, but it’s a long way from publication readiness. Almost all of the flaws can be traced to two insufficiencies with which I’m reasonably sure the author will agree:

Lack of depth in the English language

Before I say anything else, Lappi’s native language is Finnish, and I have nothing but respect for someone who attempts to write fiction in a foreign language. Especially in English, the linguistic Borg. I once possessed a familiarity with conversational Russian, but I couldn’t keep up with her alcohol consumption. She left me for a more attentive linguist. I’ve also picked up bits and pieces of half a dozen other languages over the years. Here’s what I finally learned: Effective communication in a foreign tongue is very difficult. Ms. Lappi has that down. Artistic communication, on the other hand, is virtually impossible for most people as they can’t even hope to accomplish it in their own language.

Ms. Lappi’s vocabulary is very simple, but that is only a problem if her target audience is adults. It’s spot on for a mid-grade audience. If she wants to write for adults, I recommend she starts reading Ursula LeGuin, Walter Miller Jr., or Dan Simmons with a dictionary at her side, looking up every interesting or unfamiliar word. (A related word of advice for all writers: Ignore readability tests. Any test that tells you Ray Bradbury wrote at a fifth grade level is worthless.)

Tekmar also has a significant number of punctuation errors, run-on sentences, double words, and awkward constructions, probably cultural and linguistic artifacts. (Let me know if you want specific examples.) Another odd thing: every instance of the character string “aining”, such as in “training” and “raining,” seems to have been replaced by “Amarng,” which looks oddly like a problem with optical character recognition software. On the plus side, there are very few spelling errors compared to most self-published work.


Lack of discipline in storytelling.

The greatest flaw in Tekmar is excessive exposition. The opening scene is fatally interrupted by pages of rambling history, disrupting the flow and dramatic tension. Many readers won’t get past the third or fourth page. Throughout the story, Ms. Lappi commits the cardinal literary sin of “telling, not showing” with abandon.

The characters are shallow. It seemed to me that Rahan and Ryn behave more like women in the secretarial pool than masculine adventurers. The Shemasharra are too perfect. That helped me sympathize with Rahan at the start, but before long I found myself hoping Ms. Lappi would kill Ryn off early. On the other hand, Kerrin was too despicable. Every bad guy needs to be admirable in some way, but he was just a low-IQ strong man with a jealous, vindictive streak. His only positive quality was surgically implanted and admittedly third rate technology. I kept looking for the mysterious slave traders to take over his role.

Finally, I was mildly annoyed with some of the technological anachronisms. For example, how can an organization that possesses artificial intelligence capable of infiltrating an entire planet’s police and military networks not have the data processing capacity to handle the incoming data from its scattered survey missions? They can build FTL starships, but they can’t make a hideable security camera? I can believe this is possible, but I’d like some kind of explanation. (But show me. Don’t tell me.) This is a very common problem in science fiction, and only the best writers are able to overcome it in a way that satisfies me.

Kiti Lappi has written a fun, middle-grade adventure story, but it needs to be tightened up. If she chooses to rework it, the next draft will likely take much more time and effort than she has spent to date. The challenges aren’t insurmountable, but they are significant.


Lions Den VII: Kiti Lappi

In addition to providing attention to standout authors who are already established writers, it has always been my objective for Lions Den to give a modicum of exposure to independent authors, particularly those who read this blog and are willing to avail themselves of the chance to have their books criticized by impartial reviewers.  So, I’d encourage you to get involved in reviewing the new authors as well, and to be very blunt and forthright with your criticism so they can learn how to improve their writing. Don’t be cruel or seek to provide amusement at their expense, nor handle them with kid gloves to spare their feelings. And whether you are praising them or slamming them, also show them an amount of respect for being willing to take the heat in a public manner.

Thanks, we now have the requisite three reviewers for Escape From Tekmar.

First, I want to thank Vox for giving me this opportunity. Maybe it’s an
opportunity to hang myself, who knows, but I’m grateful anyway.

Maybe

I ought to tell a bit about myself first. I’m, in some ways, pretty
much like one of the caricatures for a liberal woman – fat middle aged
nerdy spinster who keeps cats and never found a man to have children
with, and people usually seem to automatically put me in that box,
somebody who donates to Greenpeace and marches for gay rights (okay,
that I might do if it was in support of, say, Iranian gays). But I’d
prefer being free even if I’m not quite sure whether I would be able to
handle it, I haven’t done exactly well with my life as things are (I
have lived my whole life in Finland. This country tilts pretty far left,
and I have to admit I don’t know what actual freedom might be like. We
are either somewhat coddled or somewhat smothered here, take your pick.
Or maybe take both.).

I enjoy creating stories, it’s something I
have been doing my whole life, so whether I can turn writing into a
source of income or not doesn’t really matter that much
on one level, I will keep on writing anyway. But when I finally caught
on about the ebook revolution it made sense to see if they might even
sell. On the other hand, if I am good enough that I might get where I
could live on it, especially if it might turn into something I could
make a good enough a living with that I’d be able to move somewhere with
more sun, well, time (seasonal affective disorder, I belong to the
small percentage who does get it bad so I could definitely use more sun,
problem with moving: SAD also derailed all my attempts to study when I
was younger, and while young manual laborers can get work aging ones are
not in great demand anywhere).

I am somewhat past 50 already,
and it would really suck if I actually happened to be good enough to
become popular only for that to happen around the time when I need a
wheelchair to go around. So in spite of being a coward I figured it
might be time to start taking some chances in hopes I
might speed things up a bit. Including this one.

I know this
may have been an idiotic thing to do since I don’t know, not really, how
well I write, and the end result could be getting this novel
eviscerated. The eviscerations I have read on Vox’s blog have been
enjoyable but I guess I would not like having one of my stories being
the subject of one. But the one thing I’m sure of is that I will not
have any success with anything which would require a sustained effort
throughout the year. Not this far north. Believe me, I have tried. And I
hate the idea of spending my entire life as a total loser. So what the
hell, might as well try. I don’t have that much to lose. Some pride,
maybe, but not much else.

The novel is a pretty simple story, an
adventure in which a young man finds himself solely responsible for
something important for the first time in his life. There is a girl who
is perhaps not telling him everything, and a world which is not
very nice.

I have had these characters for a long time, and
have some half planned stories of when the main character in this is a
full adult, but I felt I wanted to start with a few of how he became
that man. As said, no real idea of the quality, during the last weeks I
have gone from ‘ohmygod it’s awful’ to ‘hey, it’s pretty good’ and back
already. Can be damn hard to judge your own work.

It’s science
fiction, but more of the space opera kind, meaning what ‘science’ there
may be is at best rather fluffy. But we do have starships, colony worlds
which have been created by terraforming, and genetically engineered
humans, so I guess the genre is science fiction.

This is the
first time I have dared to try a male main protagonist. I have written
two novels with female main characters before (they can be found on
Amazon if you look for Kiti Lappi in Kindle books, along with a few
short stories). Frankly, I’m not sure how well I get
men, while I have worked in a mostly male work environments and have
had a couple of friends I have never had any really close ones in my
life.

Breaking expectations is one thing I like as a reader, so I
have attempted to do that a bit with the universe of this story, if not
so much with the plot or the characters. No idea if I have succeeded,
especially since this is just a first small slice of something bigger. I
have every intention of exploring this universe more.

Well, if
you read the story and think I’m the next coming of Bulwer-Lytton just
go ahead and say so, if I am I need to know (should perhaps adjust my
strategy of how to try selling my stories). But if so I would of course
appreciate if you say it politely, after all I’m not claiming to be
anything I’m not. But it won’t make me stop writing, telling stories is a
compulsion I have never been able to get rid of (I have tried). And
besides, you’ll never know. After all, good old
Bulwer-Lytton was a bestseller once. 


Book Review: Come and Take Them II

CK is the second to review Come and Take Them, by Tom Kratman.

Tom Kratman’s Come and Take Them is an exciting continuation of his
Carreraverse series, and lays some interesting foundations for future
series developments. While it is possible to enjoy CATT on it’s own
merits, I recommend that readers read the rest of the series first, as I
will explain further into the review.

Prose: 7/10  Competently done,
describes the action clearly concisely and with verisimilitude. There are
no particular passages that stand out as literary masterpieces. I
believe that this is a deliberate stylistic choice as the main concern
of the novel is to tell the story, and especially with this series,
convey the ideas therein. Since this novel is as much a polemic as a
story, and the author personally hates too clever by half literary
pretension, the prose is deliberately stripped down. Of particular value
is the description of combat, and it’s vagaries. Our society has fewer
and fewer people familiar with just how dangerous modern combat can be,
and far too many x box warriors who think a SEAL team can kill anything.
In it’s own way, the stripped down, economical use of language portrays
the difficulties combat more effectively by focusing on the
essentials. 
Plot: 6/10  Above average, especially for
military technothriller/ military scifi. Things go wrong, the Good Guys
are not infallible, and the Bad Guys aren’t totally incompetent.
Mistakes are made on both sides, for understandable reasons. The
Balboans fail to anticipate an obvious antagonists’ attempt to seize
power, starting the war they wished to avoid. While things go generally
the way they want, serious errors are made that could have disastrous
repercussions. The Taurans, despite being arrogant, vain, and encumbered
by a sclerotic bureaucracy, are brave, tough and competent. and are
able to inflict serious damage on their adversaries. The twists and
somewhat telegraphed, and there are no major surprises, but it doesn’t
bog down anywhere, and enjoyable throughout.
Characters 8/10  Perhaps the author’s
strongest suit as a writer is the ability to create believable,
fallible characters. Every major character is complex, with
understandable motivations, emotions, and actions that flow logically
from those motivations. Each character also has strengths as well as
flaws. For instance, Raul Parilla the President of Balboa, is personally
brave, honest, and loyal, yet can be indecisive and overly cautious.
Admiral Wallenstein is sexually perverse, vain, and yet determined,
capable and politically savvy. No one side has a lock on virtue, or on
vice, and the conflict is heightened by the wholly believable goals and
motivations of the characters.
Ideas 7/10  Perhaps the least ideological
book the author has published, the Ideas developed earlier in the series
are worked out here in a more straight forward action oriented manner.
For instance the heavily ideological Amazon Legion was nearly all
polemic, and the action covered there in brief is treated with more
detail in this book. This however is still a Kratman book, and ideas are
always behind the scenes somewhere. Readers of VP do not need to be
told that our elites are perverse, vain, totalitarian, and humorless,
but others might yet have faith in them. Come and Take Them demolishes
that Faith rather effectively. The individual soldiers of Taurus are
portrayed in an almost wholly favorable light, brave, resourceful, and
tough. The leadership of Taurus, The Federated States, the Old Earth
Peace Fleet, and Balboas neighbors have none of the virtues associated
with maintaining civilization. This I think is the key to understanding
the whole series, and why I believe that this book and the associated
series are must reads for anyone interested in preserving civilization.
I rated the novel as 28/40, very good, but not a
Great Book. Why do I believe this series is a must read for all
civilized people? Simple, Tom Kratman is not primarily a novelist, he is
a pro civilizational polemicist whose chosen medium is novels. After
all Heinlein and Rand did more for libertarianism than any economics
text by Rothbard, despite Rothbard’s superior intellectual rigor.
Stories are the best way to reach the average person, and are far more
enjoyable than political tracts to read, so Tom tells stories.
Tom predicted US losses in the Middle East years ago, because we
refused to recognize the nature of our enemy and act accordingly. In A
Desert Called Peace
and Carnifex, Tom show what an actual winning
strategy would look like, and shows further why our present elite are
unable to execute such a strategy for purely ideological reasons. In
addition, the decadence, sexual perversion, disloyalty, and arrogance of
our bankster-political elite are on display throughout the series. Tom
shows some familiarity with taboo topics such as HBD and the SMP which
is refreshing.  
I don’t know if Tom is familiar with the Anon Conservative, but
these books are a textbook of how to perform an amygdala hijack of
leftist rabbits. Read negative Amazon reviews of Amazon Legion or Watch on the Rhine. Leftists
literally can’t comprehend the book, engage with the ideas, or even
begin to refute them. For instance through the whole series, some
opposition soldiers are portrayed as brave, loyal and deserving of
respect, even if their leaders aren’t. The Iraqi and Jihadis analogues
are treated with more respect than the liberal progressive in the
analogous US and EU, and they deserve it. 
This of course terrifies rabbits because they themselves are
neither brave or loyal, and if the wolves they depend upon to protect
them, feed them, keep them warm and make thier stuff ever have enough,
they are going to die, and they know it. Note that competence while
desired, is not necessarily required to be worthy of in group loyalty.
For instance, the legion takes care of the totally disabled and their
families, at considerable expense, because they are members of the
legion. The purely transactional relationships of the elite are shown to
be ultimately hollow and worthless, as are our current rabbits promises
and relationships. If you value civilization and want to preserve it,
you can do yourself a favor and read the Carrera Series, or anything
else by Tom Kratman.