Galaxy’s Edge – Galactic Outlaws – A Science Fiction Book Review

Back in January I reviewed Legionnaire, the first volume in the Galaxy’s Edge series by Jason Anspach & Nick Cole.  That story was a straight up mil-sf story set in a future where the human race has spread into the galaxy and formed a “Republic” of worlds.  At the point in this Universe’s history that Legionnaire takes place, the Republic is beginning to devolve into an empire, ruled over by an elite that controls the rich central systems, with an underclass occupying the rest of the galaxy and the edge of the galaxy as an outlaw haven where even the powerful Legion can do little but skirmish with the rebels and pirates that abound out there.  By the end of that story it’s apparent that all the skill and valor of the remnant of faithful soldiers is being frittered away for political points by the bureaucrats that call the shots and wield the Legion as a bludgeon against the innocent inhabitants of the poorer sectors of the Republic.  As I said back in January, it is an engaging military tale.

So, what have Anspach and Cole done for an encore?  It appears that Legionnaire merely set the stage for the main event.  This is going to be a space opera of epic proportions.  And it’s easy to see what they intend to do is follow the space opera play book but dial it up to eleven.  And in doing so they are following in a long tradition.  Most recently, George Lucas mined that vein for all it would pay with his Star Wars franchise.  His rebels revolting against a republic that has turned into an evil empire is the latest iteration of a story that goes back to the actual Roman Empire and the tales of Brutus and Spartacus and Masada.

And when I say they’ve dialed it up to eleven I’m not kidding.  The text is full of little blatant references to dialog and images reflecting some scene from Star Wars or Firefly.  It was kind of fun finding them.  And whole characters are parodied.  There is a princess with the rebels named Leenah.  There is a plucky scoundrel in a freighter who rescues the princess.  There is a bot that guards a young damsel in distress.  The bot speaks with some combination of the diction of C3P0 and the Operative from Serenity.  You can literally hear the toff British accent.  And then to make sure you don’t miss any ingredients they are sometimes doubled.  So, there are two scoundrels with freighters helping damsels in distress.  There are two damsels in distress.  There are two bounty hunters.

And there’s even a cantina.  There are mob warlords with bounties on the plucky scoundrels.  There is something like a dark lord whose name is Goth Sullus.  So far there are no Jedi Knights but some of the characters seem to live forever so something’s going on there.

Suffice it to say that a lot of stuff is going on.  And by the end of the book you can see that this is just the beginning of the story.

And now, what do I think of all this?  Well, I have a theory about space opera.  I believe that space opera has the potential to be very good or very bad.  It entirely depends on the imaginative powers and writing skills of the author.  Take an E. E. Doc Smith or an Edgar Rice Burroughs and you get the Lensman stories or Barsoom, fun and excitement.  Take the likes of George Lucas and you end up with Jar Jar Binks or the latest Disney feminist trope with a light saber.

The good news is this is fun space opera.  None of the damsels in distress rescue the hero.  No one mentions race or gender studies terminology and the good guys aren’t ashamed of being good.  I’m pretty sure the authors have included the homages to Star Wars imagery to sort of point out that the story doesn’t have to be bad just because of the space opera tropes.  It just requires the story and characters to be interesting, likable and fun.  And in this case they are.  So if you like your space opera right up front without too much artistic restraint then I’d recommend Galactic Outlaws.

Longmire – A TV Review – Part 1

Last year I watched Justified on Netflix discs. I thought it was great.  I liked it so much I bought the blue-rays and watched it again.  It was still great.    But I didn’t want to burn the show out.  So I asked around to see if there was anything else out there that was worth watching.  One of my relatives suggested Longmire.  He said it was a modern day western, a show about a sheriff in modern day Montana.  It sounded odd but I figured why not.

So me and Camera Girl have watched the first two discs. She thinks it’s great.  My reaction is slightly different.  I like the main character.  My problem is with the female characters.  Sheriff Longmire has a daughter who is some kind of lawyer.  She always seems to be whining about something.  Either her father isn’t doing something he should be or he is doing something he shouldn’t be.  It’s very annoying.  Then there’s the female deputy from New Jersey.  I thought we were done with the female cop who complains about being treated different than the guys.  Apparently she hasn’t gotten the memo.  In one scene she starts gyrating on the stripper poll at a club to get the patrons to give her information and in the next scene she’s threatening some cowboy for checking out her butt while she’s walking in front of him.  I mean, come on.  Do we have to have this nonsense in a cop show?  And there some other things.  There’s a believability thing sometimes.  In one episode Longmire threatens to release a grizzly bear on a suspect unless he confesses to using a grizzly bear to murder his enemy.  I’m not 100%  sure about this but I’m guessing that might be considered a coerced confession.

 

So there are some fantasy aspects to the plot lines in the show and the personal stories of the characters are a little shaky. The daughter I find especially annoying.  I’m hoping he gets that grizzly bear back and lets it eat her for real.  But I actually do kinda like it so far.  Camera Girl has adopted the show and I do like to keep her happy because she feeds me so I’m going to keep watching it.  If it goes completely off the deep end I will have to invoke male television primacy and call an end to it.  But I confess it’ll have to be really bad for that to happen.  It’s like Mueller.  Trump can only pull the plug on him if the damage he is doing is worse than the fallout from the firing.  Definitely a delicate judgement call.

 

So, so far, one thumb up. To be continued.  The jury is still out.

11APR2018 – Quote of the Day

“It’s a Gift” and “The Man on the Flying Trapeze” are two of my favorite movies.  I often tell Camera Girl that she reminds me of the wife in those movies.  And she often throws things at me afterwards.  Fields was a sort of genius in my opinion.

 

“No doubt exists that all women are crazy; it’s only a question of degree.”

W. C. Fields

 

 

10APR2018 – Quote of the Day

Sometime soon I’ll have to write a book review of Zorba the Greek.  I have a love/hate relationship with the book but every few years I have to reread it.  I think I read it not because the book is flawless (far from it) but because Zorba represents the essential component of the male soul, force of will.

Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis

Chapter 19

…    ‘Let’s get back to our subject! What about Zeus?’

‘Ah! the poor chap!’ sighed Zorba. ‘I’m the only one to know what he suffered. He

loved women, of course, but not the way you think, you pen-pushers! Not at all! He

was sorry for them! He understood what they all suffered and he sacrificed himself for

their sakes! When, in some god-forsaken country hole, he saw an old maid wasting

away with desire and regret, or a pretty young wife – or even if she wasn’t at all pretty,

even if she was a monster – and her husband away and she couldn’t get to sleep, he

used to cross himself, this good fellow, changed his clothes, take on whatever shape

the woman had in mind and go to her room.

‘He never bothered about women who just wanted petting. No! Often enough even he

was dead-beat: you can understand that. How could anybody satisfy all those she-

goats? Ah! Zeus! the poor old goat, More than once he couldn’t be bothered, he didn’t

feel too good. Have you never seen a billy after he’s covered several she-goats? He

slobbers at the mouth, his eyes are all misty and rheumy, he coughs a bit and can

hardly stand on his feet. Well, poor old Zeus must have been in that sad state quite

often.

‘At dawn he’d come home, saying: “Ah! my God! whenever shall I be able to have a

good night’s rest? I’m dropping!” And he’d keep wiping the saliva from his mouth.

‘But suddenly he’d hear a sigh: down there on earth some woman had thrown off her

bedclothes, gone out onto the balcony, almost stark naked, and was sighing enough

to turn the sails of a mill! And my old Zeus would be quite over-come.

“Oh, hell! I’ll have to go down again!” he’d groan.

“There’s a woman bemoaning  her lot! I’ll have to go and console her!”

‘And it went on like that to such an extent that the women emptied him completely. He

couldn’t move his back, he started vomiting, became paralysed and died. That’s when

his heir, Christ, arrived. He saw the wretched state the old man was in: “Beware of

women!” he cried.’

 

 

09APR2018 – Quote of the Day

When I was grade school kid every English teacher made you read Jack London’s “To Build a Fire.”  But unlike most of the stuff given to us that story spoke to me.  And after a lifetime of doing stupid things it’s all the more resonant.

 

Following at the man’s heels was a big native dog. It was a wolf dog, gray-coated and not noticeably different from its brother, the wild wolf. The animal was worried by the great cold. It knew that this was no time for traveling. Its own feeling was closer to the truth than the man’s judgment. In reality, it was not merely colder than 50 below zero; it was colder than 60 below, than 70 below. It was 75 below zero. Because the freezing point is 32 above zero, it meant that there were 107 degrees of frost.The dog did not know anything about temperatures. Possibly in its brain there was no understanding of a condition of very cold, such as was in the man’s brain. But the animal sensed the danger. Its fear made it question eagerly every movement of the man as if expecting him to go into camp or to seek shelter somewhere and build a fire. The dog had learned about fire, and it wanted fire. Otherwise, it would dig itself into the snow and find shelter from the cold air.

 

Lord Valentine’s Castle by Robert Silverberg – A Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Review

A while back TomD gave me an SF&F book recommendation. He said that Silverberg’s Majipoor series was a combination of science fiction and fantasy.  At the time I couldn’t think of anything I’d read that fell into that category.  Well, my brain is old so I’ll plead that because after thinking about it awhile I remembered that Zelazny’s Lord of Light had aspects that fit both mythology and science fiction.  So I sent away to Bezos’s megamonopoly and received the three volumes in the series.  And of course it was interesting to see that on the cover of the first book (Lord Valentine’s Castle) that Zelazny had provided a positive blurb.  He said it was a picaresque tale.  And as it turned out, he was exactly right.  I’ll cut to the chase with the verdict.  I liked the story.  Now you’ll get the ponderous literary review.

So how can it be both a fantasy and science fiction? The story takes place on a planet called Majipoor.  It was a world colonized by humans via space travel more than ten thousand years before the story unfolds.  So there’s the science fiction.  And the humans seemed to have also brought along a number of sentient species to live on Majipoor from other planets.  These various species and the humans interact as good neighbors, for the most part, in a civilization of twenty to thirty billion souls that comfortably fits on the giant world of Majipoor.  Now here comes the fantasy.  This world is ruled by four beings designated, the Coronal, the Pontifex, The Lady of the Isle of Sleep and the King of Dreams.  The first two of these individuals performed much as the Augustus and Caesar of the later Roman Empire did, being a senior and junior king appointed to rule a gigantic state.  But the second two, the Lady and the King intervened in Majipoor by sending dreams to the inhabitants.  It is this dream life that lends a fantasy element to the story.  And just to lend a fantasy aspect to the surroundings most of the technology is more or less of a pre-industrial vintage.  But there are exceptions.  Beasts of burden pull the carts and wagons of the inhabitants but the wagons are actually placed on anti-gravity modules.  So, whatever power provides anti-gravity doesn’t also produce forward locomotion.  Very odd.

So this is the background. The narrative follows a very engaging fellow named Valentine who ends up on a journey to discover his past and his destiny.  He meets many interesting and amusing characters and even learns an interesting skill, juggling.  It sounds odd and doesn’t seem to have anything to do with either science fiction or fantasy but it makes for an interesting and entertaining read.  And that is the definition of a picaresque story.

Silverberg has invested a substantial amount of effort building up the background and scenery of Majipoor. He has given us the canvas.  There are several other volumes in the series and I like it enough to continue on to the next volume.  But I want to clarify a couple of things.  This isn’t the Lord of the Rings.  There is no solemn morality play underlying Majipoor.  It is a sunny world where the good guy gets the girl and the crown and juggling and wine are their own reward.  Read it for the inventiveness and the story.  No profundity impinged on my reading but it was fun.  Recommended for folks who like their fiction fun.

Darkest Hour – A Movie Review

I remember as a kid seeing Winston Churchill’s funeral televised.  I knew who he was from the old early morning presentation of Mike Wallace’s “Biography” series.  I knew he was our ally during WW II and that he had rallied his country when the rest of Europe surrendered to the German military juggernaut.  Later I read some of his speeches and read about his earlier history during WW I.  But I didn’t imagine at this point that a good movie about his time as Prime Minister would come my way.  I am happily surprised to have been mistaken.

I finally got a chance to watch “Darkest Hour” tonight.  It has the look of a period piece and the feel of a film made from a stage play.  There are set pieces and dialogs and very little filmed outside of buildings.  I didn’t think Oldman was given a close resemblance to Churchill and the difficulty of understanding him when he is mumbling during certain scenes is considerable and I think purposeful.  And there is a particular scene in a subway car that is completely fictional and that includes a Jamaican man in the scene who seems to have been added for the sake of diversity or inclusion that seems anachronistic.

Put all that aside.  I thought it was a great evocation of the desperation of the time and the fateful choice of Churchill stepping into this darkest hour of British history.  His flawed and idiosyncratic personality rubbed almost everyone the wrong way and his pugnacious courage was at odds with the war-weary British government in the post-WWI era.  His relationship with Neville Chamberlain and King George VI are highlighted to show how he contrasted with those in government but the evolution of the war and the need for someone with the will to persevere in the face of Nazi blitzkrieg success becomes his inevitable platform from which to energize the Parliament and the people of England to take up the frightening struggle of all-out war.

Many of the scenes take place in underground bunkers where military and government teams are meeting and analyzing incoming war reports.  There is a definite claustrophobic feel in much of this.  And the frailty of Churchill’s age is highlighted when he seems overwhelmed by the infighting within his own war cabinet.  But all of this only magnifies the achievement when he resolves on what will be his path forward and what must be done.  The final speech in Parliament is stirring.

Highly recommended.

Inside Man – A Movie Review

For the most part, the Millennial Generation is composed of hopeless nincompoops whose taste in movies, television and books is so vapid and cretinous that being boiled in oil would be preferable to watching one of their picks.  But there are exceptions.  I work with a young fellow who has demonstrably received an education that includes many of the elements of the Old School.  He has a good grounding in history and science and is acquainted with the western canon of literature.  Without a doubt he leans far more to the left than I do but paraphrasing Churchill a man in his twenties who isn’t a liberal has no heart.  Well about a week ago we were talking about crime dramas and he asked me whether I like the “caper” movie genre.  I assumed he was going to mention Ocean’s Eleven or a Guy Ritchie film.  But he said it was a movie with Denzel Washington as a New York City Police Detective negotiating a hostage crisis during an abortive bank robbery.  It sounded interesting.  I like many of Washington’s movies.  As an expat New Yorker, I’m sort of a pushover for New York City stories so I was interested.  But then he said it was a Spike Lee film.

I had never, up to that point, watched a Spike Lee “joint.”  I consider him a race hustler who has built his reputation by fanning the flames of black animosity toward white people.  All in all, I consider him a jerk.

In my reaction to my young friend’s suggestion I mentioned these feelings.  He did his best to assure me that this was a pure crime drama without any hint of racial justice propagandizing.  Based on his past track record of good sense, I begrudgingly decided to give it a shot.

So last night I watched it.  It was good.  It was very good.  Full disclosure, there were a few minor race hectoring flourishes that added nothing to the story.  But they did little to harm the story either.  I looked at them as involuntary reflexes that Spike Lee probably didn’t even know he’d added.  But they were minor and didn’t spoil the story.

The movie is a very good caper.  I won’t spoil any of the plot but will just say that there are lots of balls in the air and several interesting major characters and lots of minor characters doing interesting things.  Denzel is the star of the movie outside of the bank and Clive Owen is the star inside the bank.  Other relatively big-name actors are Christopher Plummer, Jody Foster and Willem Dafoe.  Washington’s cop partner is played by Chiwetel Ejiofor whom I know from his role as “The Operative” in “Serenity.”  And lots other unknowns do good work as the hostages, cops and criminals.

So, knowing that Spike Lee made this picture does detract from my enjoyment of the film.  I begrudge the African music he adds at the beginning and end.  I take points off for those flourishes of racial sniping I mentioned above.  But after all that I am forced to admit it’s a very good caper film.  I recommend it to anyone who likes this genre.  It’s highly enjoyable and skillfully constructed.  Well done Spike Lee?

 

Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman – A Science Fiction Movie Review

(Reviewer’s Note:  I watched this movie almost three weeks ago and put it aside without finishing it because much better things were going on.  Now that I’ve decided to finish it, I find that I’ve forgotten some of the details.  Please forgive any vagueness or inaccuracies.  Merciful forgetfulness has shielded me from a vivid memory of this dreck.  But believe me when I say that this movie is as bad or worse than I represent it.  Enjoy.)

As a worthy successor to a recent review (One Million B.C.) I have another TCM .  Here is a movie that cries out for mockery.  It has a plot so weak that I believe the writer must have been either a heroin addict, a congenital idiot or a democrat.  This was a year after sputnik launched so the UFO is a big silver ball.  The alien is a giant and he more or less fills up the whole ball.  He’s a big bald-headed guy wearing a short dress that looks like it was stolen from the costume closet of the movie Spartacus.  For some reason that probably didn’t even make sense to the writer, the giant is searching for diamonds.  Alright, so much for the science fiction, such as it is.  Now for the human interest.  Harry and Nancy are a married couple with problems.  Nancy is rich and has problems involving drinking and mental instability and Harry has a wandering eye for the ladies.  When first we see him he’s at what looks like a diner with a blonde vixen named Honey wrapped around him complaining about how his rich wife won’t give him more money to spend on booze and trashy women.  Honey is sympathetic.  He has a plan to get Nancy’s money by having her committed to a mental institution.  Honey is sympathetic again.

Switch scenes to Nancy driving along the roads of some southwestern landscape, cactus, sage brush and sand in all directions.  She seems sad and drunk.  And as she sadly, drunkenly drives along she sees giant sputnik flying around in the sky in a completely unconvincing imitation of anything moving through the air.  Eventually it lands on the road in front of her.  Nancy brakes into the shoulder and witnesses a truly unconvincing special effects portrayal of a fifty-foot alien coming out of a forty-foot sputnik.  Most of the scene centers on Nancy screeching uncontrollably and trying to avoid the giant as he tries to paw her with his six-foot-long giant hand.  Later on, we’ll learn that he somehow knew she was wearing a big diamond on a necklace.  So, after a short encounter Nancy runs off leaving her car and stumbles into town.  Telling the sheriff about the giant increases her reputation for being nuts.  The sheriff tells his deputy to find Harry and tell him to bring Nancy home for a rest and a visit to the head shrinker.

Meanwhile Harry is now ensconced with Honey and bribes the deputy to say he couldn’t find him.  Hearing Nancy’s story from the deputy gets Harry and Honey thinking that their big chance to have Nancy permanently locked up in a rubber room is at hand.  They celebrate by going to Honey’s hotel room.

Eventually Harry goes to claim Nancy at the sheriff’s office.  She nags at him until he agrees to go back for her car and see if her story is true.  They find her car but the alien comes back.  Harry fires a few rounds at the alien then bolts in fear.  The alien catches Nancy and Harry drives off without her.  Harry returns home and discovers that the alien has returned Nancy.  She is lying unconscious on the roof of the pool house.  She has scratches around her neck and her diamond is gone.  Later on a doctor tells us that there are obvious signs of radioactivity.  Science!

Now the sheriff decides he must act.  He and the deputy agree to go out to where her car was and prove that there was nothing strange going on.  Unfortunately, when they find her car they also find the space ship.  The sheriff and the deputy go inside the space ship.  Here they walk through a few rooms that seem to be sized for normal humans.  And so, we have to ask ourselves how exactly does this giant fit in this space craft?  In rough dimensions it appears that he would have to be curled into a fetal position just to fit into the diameter of the ship.  And that is supposing that it was completely hollow.  How would that allow these walls and floors to exist?  And thus, my theory that the writer was a congenital idiot.

In one room they find a bunch of diamonds.  Nancy’s diamond is there.  They theorize on the scientific reasons why the giant wants diamonds.  Science!  When the giant returns they battle him with a pistol and a shot gun.  I think I remember they blow either him or his space ship up with the shot gun.  But I’m not sure.  I think I was starting to lose interest at this point.

Doctors are summoned and Nancy is sedated.  Harry plots putting poison in her IV drip but before he has a chance to she becomes a fifty-foot woman.  Of course, all we see is her giant hand inside a room in the house.  Eventually she goes berserk and breaks through the roof of the house and goes on a rampage looking for Harry.  Now she is dressed in an impromptu fifty-foot brassiere and mini-skirt supposedly fashioned out of bed sheets.  And all things considered she looks pretty good!  At this point I reflected on the comparison between pretty and gigantic Nancy and normal sized but skanky looking Honey.  Sure, the disparity in size might lead to marital difficulties but her huge size would guarantee that Harry would be pampered by his huge wife like some kind of rag doll, probably carried in her apron pocket and fed huge crumbs that collected on her clothes as she ate her huge meals.  Well, enough of this random speculation.

Nancy goes on a rampage through town looking for Harry.  Finally she pulls the roof off of the diner and finds Harry and Honey cowering in a corner.  Nancy crushes Honey and grabs Harry in one hand and walks away.  Finally the sheriff fires his shotgun at Nancy and hits an electric substation which explodes and kills Nancy.  And Harry is dead too, although it’s uncertain if he dies from the explosion, the fall or from being crushed by a death spasm in his wife’s hand.

I ask you, is there a more ridiculous movie?  Some will point to “Plan Nine From Outer Space” as a paragon of bad movie making and there is much justice in that.  But compare the budgets of these two movies.  “Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman” had a budget of $80,000.  Looking at Plan Nine it would surprise me if $500 was expended.  Unless you can claim that Plan Nine is one hundred and sixty times worse than Attack then you must admit that pound for pound, Plan Nine is a better movie.  So, let’s hail Attack of the Fifty-Foot Woman as the movie that provided least for the money expended.

 

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

I read one of Nick Cole’s earlier books (CTRL ALT Revolt!) last year and liked it.  So, when I heard he was involved in a mil-sf series I figured I’d check it out.  It turns out it’s a dual authorship arrangement with Jason Anspach.  I ordered it (I like to read books on paper) and read it last week.

I like well-written mil-sf.  This is well-written.  The story chronicles an elite military unit involved in a supposedly routine diplomatic mission that devolves into a catastrophe.  It melds the feel of modern American military in the middle east (ala Black Hawk Down) with lineage going back to Rudyard Kipling’s India stories and translates it into a futuristic landscape of alien creatures, energy weapons and space cruisers.  But the technology is definitely beside the point.  The story is the camaraderie of men attempting to complete their mission and keep each other alive in an environment where bureaucratic amateur officers are just as dangerous as the enemy.

The protagonist (first person narrative for the most part) is an NCO in the “Legion.”  Through his eyes we see his comrades display various strengths and weaknesses and we observe the “regular army” that are combined with the legionnaires on this mission attempting to adapt to a combat role they are unprepared for.  And we observe non-combatants and the alien inhabitants of this planet at the “galaxy’s edge.”

If you like military science fiction you’ll probably like this book.  If you even just like war stories you might like this book.  It is volume one of a series but this book is sort of a stand-alone story.  The series chronicles the saga of the Galactic Republic through the eyes of the Legion as an elite force cleaning up the messes being perpetrated by an increasingly autocratic state over its subject worlds at the periphery of the galaxy.  Basically, it sounds like the Roman Republic devolving into the Roman Empire.  Or is it the American Republic?

As you can probably guess from my comparison with Black Hawk Down, it’s not a happily ever after kind of tale.  It’s a down beat story but if you like mil-sf then that’s probably no surprise.  If not be warned.

So, here’s my opinion.  This is a good stand-alone story.  The story develops and the action and the sub-plots unfold in natural way.  The characters are interesting and have enough development to allow you to cheer and boo the appropriate actors.  I can definitely recommend it.  For me the question is do I go forward with a longer series?  From what I understand the individual books are separated in time.  They document the history of this galactic civilization.  Implicitly this means none of the characters will carry over to the next book.  Can the authors generate enough new people to populate the series?  I think I’ll try the next book in the series and see how that works out.  I’ll report back on the next installment when I do.