In Praise of Brevity

Warning:  What follows is profound.  Extinguish all smiles and assume an air of philosophical introspection.  It will probably help to slightly furrow your brow.

Polonius said that “brevity is the soul of wit.”  And since Polonius was a windbag I feel that I am in good company praising it.  Maybe it’s because of Amazon and the payouts on Kindle reads.  But for whatever the reason we live in the age of the mega-novel.  More than that, we live in the age of the endless book series.  Sometimes that’s a not a terrible thing.  I’ve been enjoying the Galaxy’s Edge series.  They’re a lot of fun.  But hand in hand with this emphasis on long novels, short stories have sort of disappeared.  I freely admit that statement is an exaggeration.  I’m currently reading a collection of short stories taking place in Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter universe.  There are short stories to be found.  But I can only imagine the meager income an author would earn if he limited his efforts to short stories.  I mean, what does Amazon pay an author if someone reads a ten-page short story?  Five cents?  You could see how that would limit grocery purchases.  So, I do not fault the authors who need to eat for gearing their output to the five hundred-page novel.  And the same goes for the series.  Characters that have proven popular are the obvious candidate for more success for an author.

But I want to throw my weight behind short stories.  A good short story is like a good poem.  It is concentrated creativity.  Without a doubt, Dickens or Tolstoy can create an epic creation of many hundreds of pages with a huge cast of characters that are lovingly depicted in amazing detail.  Reading this work is a feast of literary pleasures.  Without a doubt.  But if a master craftsman writes a short story barely two dozen pages long it can be a revelation.  Like some kind of minimalist sketch, he can use a few brush strokes to bring life to a story or a character.  And the effect can actually be more vivid than the grand epic.  Carefully done, the few words can resonate with the soul where the hundreds of thousands merely numb.

I love short stories.  Let me clarify.  I love really well written short stories.  Edgar Allen Poe, James Joyce, Jack London, Kipling.  And in science fiction, Sturgeon, Ellison, Dick, Aldiss.  These authors have produced short stories that stand out as original and memorable.  They leave an impression on the mind that can be indelible.  And of course, not every short story they did is in that category.  But that’s okay.  It’s the exception that proves the rule.  After all it was Sturgeon’s Law that says that “90% of everything is crud.”

 

I’ll list a few of my favorite short stories.  If you feel like playing leave a few of yours in the comments.

To Build a Fire by Jack London

Counterparts by James Joyce

The Dead by James Joyce

And Now the News by Theodore Sturgeon

Galaxy’s Edge (Volume 8) – Message for the Dead – A Science Fiction Book Review

Spoiler Alert!  I discuss some plot details.  If you don’t want to know, then long story, short, it’s another great addition to the Galaxy’s Edge series.  It’s full of daring heroics, brilliant battle scenes and fascinating characters trying to survive the downfall of the Galactic Republic.

Up until “Message for the Dead,” Jason Anspach and Nick Cole had made their series, Galaxy’s Edge about the conflict between the factions fighting for control of the Galactic Republic.  The Legion has attempted to maneuver in the military, moral and political space between the corrupt civilian government of the Republic (The House of Reason) and the active military enemies of the Republic represented by the zhee, the Mid Core Rebellion (MCR) and the Black Fleet Forces of Goth Sullus (now known as the Empire).  But by the conclusion of the previous volume (Turning Point) the Legion had used their constitutional authority to denounce the House of Reason, to force an investigation of their corruption and to call for new elections.  This looked like a step forward to resolving the crisis and allowing the Legion to concentrate on the external military threat.  Hah!

In Message for the Dead FUBAR is the order of the hour and all hell breaks loose.  The main battle scene in the space around the Republic’s capitol planet Utopion is a swirling cauldron of death for all the fighting forces, Republic Navy, Legion, Black Forces and the MCR.  But none of them are prepared for the arrival of the Cybar.  They are the biggest wild card in the battle and their allegiance is misunderstood by most of the combatants.

And in this book, we finally learn the depths of X’s duplicity.  He’s been using the Legion, the House of Reason and the Black Fleet as chess pieces in his own merciless campaign to reshape the Galaxy’s government through violent crisis.  We finally get to hear his specific plan and his self-justification from his own lips.

And in the foreground of the story is the Legion’s best soldiers, Victory Squad.  In various situations, they and their friends fight to save civilization from the predators and the tyrants.  But by the end of the story they are fighting just to stay alive.  At the beginning of the book Captain Keel recruits friends and even enemies to help him rescue his shipmates from the Cybar mother ship.  By the end of the book Keel is called on to repay the favor by rescuing Major Chun and all that is left of Victory Squad from the midst of a planetary extermination operation being perpetrated by the Cybar.

Well, now that Anspach and Cole have destroyed everything in sight I guess they’ll have to write about ten more books to try and put humpty-dumpty back together again.  These boys are really getting it done.  I read these books as fast as I get my hands on them.  They balance the story between the military action, science fiction elements and the human interest in the characters.  The sheer number of characters they create is impressive but the detail is there and that helps keep the reader’s interest from flagging.

Interestingly, the story is now introducing an aspect that seems to be an echo of older mythology.  It’s too early to tell but I think there is an almost Tolkienian plot element being introduced.  Of course, this is a guess on my part.  What has occurred is so far only a suggestion of a plot direction.  We’ll see.

Hail Galaxy’s Edge.  Long may you torture your legionnaires and my bank account.

My Annual Halloween Celebration

Lichen on Monument
The Raven is a Wicked Bird

 

Halloween was always one of my favorite holidays as a kid and in my heart of hearts I haven’t really progressed far from that.  I guess I’m not a progressive.  So here is the advantage to being in business for more than a year.  The calendar allows you to recycle stuff you did last year.  I did movie reviews of the Universal Classic Monster Movies and a few other related films last year and I’ll recycle them around for the Halloween season.  And I’ll add some additional films to avoid the label of laziness.  I’ll also try to find some other Halloween content.  I guess Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes” is sort of the quintessential American story for this time of year.  But there are all kinds of other stuff out there from Poe to (yikes) Lovecraft to even that lefty doofus Stephen King.  So stay tuned and I’ll start cycling those in.

 

 

04OCT2018 – OCF Update

Looking ahead, I will be reviewing a few science fiction and fantasy books.  I’m currently reading the pre-release copy of Hans G. Schantz’s third volume in his “Hidden Truth” series.  It’s called “The Brave and the Bold.” It’s a combination of a techno-thriller and a parallel history story.  I’m only about halfway through but there are all kinds of nice touches.  And the technical stuff is 100% legit.  And there are a couple of other books in the hopper.  Larry Correia edited a collection of short stories by famous (and not so famous) fantasy writers writing in his Monster Hunter universe called “The Monster Hunter Files.”  Then there’s the next volume in the Galaxy’s Edge series called “Message for the Dead.”  So, it’s a busy reading month ahead.  I have some movie reviews coming up and I want to go through some of my older photo collections for fresh content for the photo of the day.  And I’ve got to keep up with my Trump vs … series.  President Trump is sure to get involved in political mayhem sometime soon and he’s sure to bring along his long-suffering buddy Mike Pence and fixer Mad Dog Mattis for clean up.  And of course the daily drum beat of SCOTUS confirmation lunacy and mid-term skullduggery along with the baleful shadow of Mueller will provide me with plenty of fresh fodder for my political blather.

So stay tuned.

 

Galaxy’s Edge (Volume 7) – Turning Point – A Science Fiction Book Review

Legionnaire (Galaxy’s Edge) (Volume 1) by Jason Anspach & Nick Cole – A Science Fiction Book Review

(Above is the review of the first book of the series)

Followers of my reviews of Jason Anspach’s and Nick Cole’s Galaxy’s Edge series know I am an avid fan.  Each volume has expanded the scope and depth of the imaginary universe that Galaxy’s Edge inhabits.  But “Turning Point” represents a sea change in the story.  It literally represents the turning point of the war.  For whereas each volume has included heroic resistance by the Legion to the enemies of the Republic, the corrupt regime of the House of Reason has always had free rein to sabotage every effort to save the Galaxy from its many enemies.  But in this episode, the mask is off and the Legion is unleashed to fight war as war should be fought, on equal terms.  To fight a treacherous foe without quarter and pay back sadistic evil with a merciless reckoning.  How sweet it is.

The story revolves around the decision by the House of Reason to arm the barbaric zhee with cutting edge weaponry and ships.  These fictional zhee are modelled after Islamic jihadis and they have a propensity for suicide bombings and decapitations that immediately reminds the reader of the Al Qaeda maniacs hiding out in the slums of Baghdad waiting for a chance to ambush any unlucky American soldiers guarding the Green Zone or manning a Forward Operating Base (FOB).  The other bizarre touch is that the zhee have donkey heads.  Now maybe this is the authors’ idea of political humor but it is truly a weird image for me.

The House of Reason is playing some kind of three-dimensional chess where they use the Black Fleet or the zhee to weaken the Legion so that the House can maintain control of the Galaxy even if it risks one of these enemies threatening to destroy the Republic itself.

In several of the earlier volumes there have been memorable battles portrayed, especially in Attack of Shadows and Legionnaire.  But Turning Point brings it to a new level.  Several new characters are very memorable but it’s the action that stays with you.  The set up is dire and just to make sure things don’t get easier there is treachery at the highest levels.  And the zhee are so despicable it’s hard to not enjoy every single gore-flinging kill.  The struggles, reversals, heroic sacrifices and exhausted victories keep your attention right to the end of the book.

And finally, the end of the book is a catharsis that the readers have been waiting for since book one of the series.  I won’t spoil it by giving details but I will say that the writers have given the readers what they needed and deserved, revenge.

Anspach and Cole have justified my loyalty through the whole series and now I’ll continue on to (!) Book Eight?  Sure, why not?  How many modern science fiction series not only provide fantastic mil-sci-fi action but also make fun of Progressives, the Deep State, Democrats and Al Qaeda all at the same time?  Not many that I know of.  So, in the words of the Legion, KTF and Ooah!

Congratulations to Kevin J. Anderson and Sarah A. Hoyt for their Dragon Awards Win

Dragon Award for Best Alternate History Novel went to “Uncharted” by Kevin J. Anderson, KJA and Sarah A. Hoyt.

As one of the Sad Puppies, Sarah sacrificed a great deal of her status and probably a good chunk of her friends in science fiction circles along with some significant measure of her peace of mind by bucking the CHORFs of the science fiction SJWs.  Thanks to the Sad Puppies a goodly number of people were reintroduced to readable science fiction long after they believed it had all been reduced to boring unreadable marxist, intersectionalist, message fiction, drivel.  Thanks to the Puppies and especially Larry Correia the Dragon Awards were founded and have provided a sane alternative to the self-parody that the Hugo Awards have devolved into.  Requiescat in pace.

So good for them and if you are looking for good stuff to read check to see who was nominated for the Dragons   http://awards.dragoncon.org/2018-ballot/  .  But for pity’s sake don’t even glance at the list of Hugo nominees.  No man can hope to look into the gorgon’s face and survive!

Galaxy’s Edge (Volume 6) – Prisoners of Darkness – A Science Fiction Book Review

Galaxy’s Edge (Volume 5) – Sword of the Legion – A Science Fiction Book Review

 

For the readers who are unfamiliar with the Galaxy’s Edge series let me say up front that I am a big fan of the story and if you want to hear about the beginning of the series then go back to my review of Book 1 – Legionnaire.  For the rest of you who have been following my reviews then let me start off by saying that “Prisoners of Darkness” is good stuff.  Several of the story threads are advanced and the plots and characters are interesting and fun.  Several new reveals occur that show additional complexity to one of the newer threads.  And the newer aspects of the plot seem to be leading in a totally unexpected direction.  All really good stuff.  But here we are at Book Six and I’m getting the idea that maybe there will never be an end (at least not within my lifetime).  Of course, I’m being slightly facetious but what I’m getting at is I think authors are building up a fictional universe that they can continue to spin into different story arcs.  And that’s alright.  Jason Anspach and Nick Cole have built a very entertaining universe.  I would say if we were comparing the Star Wars universe to Galaxy’s Edge that the latter is orders of magnitude better in every way.  The characters, plots and atmosphere are far superior.

But back to the story.  Prisoners of Darkness has as one of its threads, the rescue operation of one of the Legion’s officers from a prison planet.  The action is a result of the aftermath of the Battle of Tarrago where the Legion ignored the orders of the House of Reason and destroyed the critical assets of the Tarrago shipyards to deny them to the Empire.  The imprisoned officer learns some important aspects of the Republic’s relation to some criminal enterprises.  These will seemingly have a bearing on how the Legion will interact with the civilian government of the Republic, namely the House of Reason.  And that’s to the good.  For some time, it has seemed unreasonable that the Legion would defer to the corrupt and incompetent leadership of the Republic.  But come to think of it, that seems to be the case in our own conflicted and afflicted republic.

Another aspect of the story is the conflicted allegiance of Captain Ford.  His time as an independent agent has loosened his loyalty to the Legion and the danger to his kidnapped crew members tears him away from the Legion responsibilities that command Chun and his team to risk a desperate rescue mission for the sake of a Legion brother.  This ambivalence will probably rear its head again when the Legion and the Empire come to terms with the common threat they will both face farther down the road.

Okay, so the story is great and I’m loving the series and I can’t wait to see where this goes.  Just be aware this isn’t even close to finished.  So, make sure you’re in it for the long haul.  You have been warned.

Galaxy’s Edge (Volume 7) – Turning Point – A Science Fiction Book Review

Southern Dust – by Caspar Vega – A Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Review

Caspar Vega must be an interesting character.  His books are a bizarre mixture of fantasy/horror and crime drama.  Many of his characters are not the kind of people you’d want to live next door to or even meet.  They range from anti-social to sociopath to worse.  And his books are never linear.  They track back and forth in time and place and skip from voice to voice in unexpected directions.

I’ve read and reviewed two other books by Caspar Vega, “The Pink Beetle” and the “The Eclectic Prince.”  And after each one I confirm both to myself and to my readers that Mr. Vega’s stories are way outside my wheelhouse.  Not that I only read or enjoy light-hearted fare.  I enjoy horror and even crime drama.  But there is something nihilistic about the atmosphere in these stories that is off-putting for me.  I must be getting old.

But here I am again.  I decided to try out Southern Dust.  The premise of the story is that in the near future the Democrats assassinate a Republican president and install one of their own through chicanery.  In response, a revolt in Alabama breaks the state away from the Union.  And in short order a good number of other states also declare their independence.  This story follows the fates of three individuals that collide in this strange new world.

Along with the other suppositions of this world are super soldiers, vampires and black magic.  But the mainstay of the story are the characters.  And they live up to the type that I remember from Mr. Vega’s earlier books.  Even the good guys are very troubled individuals.  The criminals on the other hand can be at least somewhat sympathetic but brutality is their stock in trade.  Murder for hire, framing up ex-girlfriends and bounty hunting all occur but brain-washed undead is probably the weirdest plot device you run into.  And even when one of the characters tries to do a good deed it boomerangs back on him in the classic no good deed  goes unpunished catergory.

I’ll finish my review of this book much as I’ve done with its predecessors, with a mixed message.  This is an interesting book.  But it’s not for everyone. It’s for those who like gritty crime dramas with a staccato, post-modern, minimalist writing style.  Your call.

Galaxy’s Edge (Volume 5) – Sword of the Legion – A Science Fiction Book Review

Galaxy’s Edge (Volume 4) – Attack of Shadows – A Science Fiction Book Review

 

Jason Anspach and Nick Cole have now consistently produced a series of military science fiction adventure stories that compares favorably to the better products in the genre from whatever era one might choose.  And I am being specific.  This is science fiction not Tolstoy.  The criterion is enjoyment not enlightenment or prose purity.  They write a story that has interesting characters caught up in a cataclysmic moment in the history of their science fictional civilization.  With respect to the question I asked in the review of the first installment, that is whether the authors could build on a well written military science fiction story about a small battle and produce a series that holds the reader’s interest, the answer is an emphatic yes!  Here we are at book five and I’m completely sold.  The story keeps expanding and becoming more complex and interesting.  The range of characters keeps growing and they are varied and entertaining.  Once again, this is not deathless prose.  It is a very well written science fiction series that can hold its head up among any of the favorites in its genre.

Getting back to the review of the book, the action begins before the end of the previous volume, “Attack of Shadows.”  In that book, the Black Fleet was attacking Tarrago in order to capture its shipyards.  The Republic and the Black Fleet needed those shipyards for the coming war.  The majority of the present book chronicles a kill team working to destroy those shipyards.  And like the battle scenes from the earlier books the action is non-stop and well written.  We renew our acquaintance with Dark Ops Team Victory.  And then the story collides with Wraith and his shipload of oddballs.  Here two threads of the larger story touch and the last quarter of the book lurches off in a completely unexpected direction and we meet an even more sinister force than Goth Sullus.  In fact, I’m starting to like old Goth.  He seems conflicted about having to kill old friends.  I’m really looking forward to a more thorough understanding of his back story.  I won’t go into details but suffice it to say that the new threat to the Galaxy is much more existential than the Black Fleet and its leader.

“Sword of the Legion” is lots of fun and is one more stepping stone in the journey that is Galaxy’s Edge.  If you’ve come this far you either like the series or you have an OCD thing going on.  This book is highly recommended.

 

Galaxy’s Edge (Volume 6) – Prisoners of Darkness – A Science Fiction Book Review

Chuck Dixon’s Avalon #1 – The Street Rules – A Science Fiction & Fantasy Review

I’ve never been a comic book guy.  My thing was always science fiction books.  My closest approach to comics was the Marvel and DC tv shows I saw as a kid.  So, I never really had a reason to buy any.  But my policy on right wing artistic and commercial endeavors is to always give them the benefit of the doubt when they compete on the Left’s turf.  I decided to pick up Avalon #1 to see if I could understand what it was all about.  A comic book is like a book chapter with pictures.  You tell a piece of a story and try to hook the reader in for the next installment.  The story and the art work are of equal importance.  Well, to me they are.  I guess if you’re really more of an art lover then the pictures might be the main attraction.  But I don’t think that would work for me.  There’s got to be a story I want to hear.

I’ll make this short because I don’t have the background to talk any nuance about comic books.  The story is introducing a world where people with superpowers are a fact of life and not all of them are good and not all of them are heroes.  We meet a small cross section as we are primarily introduced to King Ace and Fazer.  They are close to the classic vigilante super hero like Batman or Superman.  They fight crime outside of the prescribed legal framework that superheroes adhere to in this world.  They do it according to their code.  Well, for the most part.  Some hints of a less selfless motive do show up in the book.  The story is good.  It’s set up as Fazer telling his story to a reporter but the action bounces back and forth between narrated action and other events that give additional information on other characters and other plot lines.  I like the art work but I will not claim I know much or even anything about the state of the art in comic book aesthetics.

Long story, short I think it’s good.  I look forward to the next installment.  I won’t say I’m hooked but I’m interested enough to want to see where this all goes.  Bravo Chuck Dixon and good for Vox Day for venturing into enemy territory.