Review: Into the Fire by Elizabeth Moon

Review: Into the Fire by Elizabeth MoonInto the Fire (Vatta's Peace, #2) by Elizabeth Moon
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: military science fiction, science fiction
Series: Vatta's Peace #2
Pages: 384
Published by Del Rey on February 6th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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In this new military sci-fi thriller from the author of Cold Welcome, space fleet commander Kylara Vatta uncovers deadly secrets on her latest mission--shedding light on her own family's past.

As Admiral Kylara Vatta learned after she and a shipfull of strangers were marooned on an inhospitable arctic island, the secrets she and her makeshift crew uncovered were ones someone was ready to kill to keep hidden. Now, the existence of the mysterious arctic base has been uncovered, but much of the organization behind it still lurks in the shadows. And it is up to the intrepid Ky to force the perpetrators into the light, and finally uncover decades worth of secrets--some of which lie at the very heart of her biggest family tragedy.

My Review:

There’s a saying about war being the continuation of diplomacy by other means. So, also, is politics, particularly the politics of Slotters Key in this second book in the Vatta’s Peace series. And in the case of this series, it’s that politics are the continuation of diplomacy by other means, diplomacy is the continuation of politics by other means, and even, finally, that war is the continuation of politics by other means, which was not what von Clausewitz originally meant.

But it all makes for compelling reading.

Into the Fire is the second volume in the series, after last year’s marvelous Cold Welcome. And it is a direct sequel to the first. All of the action in Into the Fire is a result of the mess that was uncovered in Cold Welcome, as well as the culmination of strikes against the Vatta family that have been going on since all the way back in the first book in the Vatta’s War series, Trading in Danger. And it turns out that some of that mess relates to events far, far back in the past of the Vatta family, particularly back into the past of Ky’s Great-Aunt Grace, currently the Rector for Defense (think Secretary of Defense in the US Cabinet). The skeletons in Graciela Vatta’s closet have burst out of hiding, and with a vengeance. Or certainly with vengeance in mind.

The first half of Into the Fire is almost completely political. There are forces moving against Grace, Ky, Ky’s fiance Rafe Dunbarger, and all of the soldiers that she found herself in command of in the snafu that occurred in Cold Welcome. In that first book, Ky and her shipmates crashed on what was supposed to be the barren continent of Miksland on Slotter Key, only to discover that Miksland was far from barren, rich in mineral wealth, and that someone had been conducting military exercises on its supposedly empty landscape. And that whatever may be happening on Miksland now, someone, or rather a whole succession of someones, has been successfully hiding the truth about Miksland not just for years, but for centuries.

There’s a lot rotten somewhere in the military, and its up to Ky to ferret it out. Particularly after whoever is rotten systematically whisks all of the soldiers who were part of Ky’s discovery into quarantine, where they can be abused, drugged and eventually murdered without ever being able to reveal what they saw.

At first, Ky is both kept hopping and stuck in her own version of purgatory. At the same time that she discovers that her crew is imprisoned, she finds herself under house arrest and Grace is poisoned. Someone very high up in the government is questioning Ky’s Slotter Key citizenship, with an eye to having her arrested by Customs and Immigration, and then whisked away to the same drugged confinement as her crewmates.

But Ky is wilier than that, and she has the vast resources of Vatta Enterprises behind her, even if she is no longer a shareholder in the company. She’s still a Vatta. And someone is clearly out to get the Vattas. Still. Again.

And someone has upped their timetable on whatever it was they were planning and plotting out in desolate Miksland. Whether those are the same someones, and what Ky can manage to do about them, take the story from politics straight into war.

But if there’s one thing that Admiral Kylara Vatta is good at, it’s war. She and her allies just have to hope that she is better at it than her well-entrenched enemies. And that the butcher’s bill won’t be too high.

Escape Rating A: This was a “just sit there and read” kind of book. It sucked me in from the very first page, and didn’t let go until the end. Actually, I’m not sure it’s let go even yet.

That being said, this is a book that will make no sense to someone who has not read Cold Welcome. I think that the background from the further past is explained enough that you don’t have to read all of Vatta’s War to get into Vatta’s Peace or at least you certainly don’t have to have read it recently. But if you like mercantile/military SF I highly recommend it.

I initially read Vatta’s War in roughly the same time period that I read the Honor Harrington series and Tanya Huff’s Valor (Confederation) series. All three series feature kick-ass military heroines who we meet roughly at the beginning of their careers and who face bigger enemies and greater dangers as they advance. They also pick up great friends, a cohort of companions, and soldiers that will do sacrifice anything for them, and sometimes pay the ultimate price. In the end I gave up on Honor as she seemed to become her very own deus ex machina, but I’ve stuck with both Ky Vatta and Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr of the Valor series, and still enjoy their adventures. All of this to say if you like one, you’ll probably like the other. And I’d love to be a fly on the wall if Ky and Torin ever go out for drinks together.

Into the Fire is a densely political book. The entire first half is primarily the set up, as Ky and company find themselves stuck in various places, trying to find ways around the corrupt and/or clueless branches of officialdom that are trying to keep the truth about Miksland under wraps for as long as possible.

This part of the story reads very much like a spy thriller, with the villains trying to flush out the heroes and the heroes trying to get information without tipping off the villains. Meanwhile the disinformation campaign fomented by the villains just confuses the civilians and makes the job of the heroes that much harder. A lot goes wrong in the first half of the book, leaving Ky, Grace and the reader all frustrated at just how difficult it is to fix this mess.

The second half of the book is all action. Once Ky and company find enough trustworthy people to work with on both the military and the civilian sides, the official logjam gets broken and Ky and her friends are on the move – rooting out the corruption, investigating the conspiracy and most importantly, rescuing Ky’s people before they can be wiped out. It’s a wild and compelling rollercoaster ride from that point on. The reader just can’t turn the pages fast enough. Or at least this reader certainly couldn’t.

This isn’t a story that delves a lot into personalities. It’s all about the action. And that’s non-stop from the moment Ky gets out of house arrest until the book’s breath-stealing conclusion.

The comment at the end of the book is absolutely marvelous, and so completely true. “Vatta’s peace may not be perfect, but it could have been worse.” The book, on the other hand, could not have been better.

Into the Fire does end in a proper closure, as Cold Welcome did not. However, there are enough small loose ends that the series could continue if the author wished. This reader certain wishes very, very hard.

Guest Review: Outsystem by M. D. Cooper

Guest Review: Outsystem by M. D. CooperOutsystem (The Intrepid Saga #1) by M.D. Cooper
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: military science fiction, science fiction
Series: Intrepid Saga #1
Pages: 350
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on July 9th 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Major Richards needs to get out of the Sol System

Demoted by the military and hung out to dry, the media labels her the Butcher of Toro. Despite her soiled record, Tanis still one of the best military counter-insurgency officers in the Terran Space Force.

And they need her to find the terrorists responsible for trying to destroy the GSS Intrepid, a massive interstellar colony ship in the final phases of construction at the Mars Outer Shipyards.

It’ll be her ticket out of the Sol system, but Tanis discovers she is up against more than mercenaries and assassins. Major corporations and governments have a vested interest in ensuring the Intrepid never leaves Sol, ultimately pitting Tanis against factions inside her own military.

With few friends left, Tanis will need to fight for her life to get outsystem.

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. Amazon showed me this book at some point, trying to entice me into a Kindle Unlimited subscription; I didn’t buy the subscription, but at 99 cents, the book was a cheap read anyway. When I got to it, I opened it with no expectations at all, other than some geeky sci-fi.

Guest Review by Amy:

It’s the 42nd Century, and Major Tanis Richards is part of a crack counter-insurgency and intel unit, but she’s gotten into trouble; she’s infamous, you see, for some awfulness she did a while back. We’re never told quite what she did, but her fame precedes her. Tanis is ready to leave the Sol system for good, on the greatest colony ship ever built. It’s a new age of colonization, and the Intrepid is the first of its kind: a ship that will carry huge colony ships to another star, then drop them off and return to Earth.  The colonists–and indeed much of the crew–will ride in stasis the whole trip.

Major Richards has gotten a spot on the colony roster; not, we may hope, that her skills as an intel officer will be needed. She’s ready to give up her long career in the military, and just be a colonist, but until Intrepid leaves, she’s in charge of security. And there are villains out there who do not want the mighty ship to ever launch! They quite-rightly see Tanis as the fly in the ointment that will keep them from destroying the giant interstellar vessel.

Escape Rating A+: This is my first foray into author M. D. Cooper’s Aeon 14 universe, and I’m seriously impressed. It’s a rich, solid milleu for the characters’ adventures. While mankind has progressed dramatically in 21 centuries from where we are now, even to having a ring around Mars, we still see the same human problems of greed and hatred, and the same diversity of thought and creativity that we do in our own world. The heroine of our tale, Tanis Richards, is a very, very competent, strong woman, dedicated to her job almost to a fault. She takes her lumps from the villains, but will not be silenced. Her life in the military rings true for anyone who’s been around the military for any length of time (Marines are still Marines, OOOH-RAH!), even down to bureaucratic nonsense getting in the way of the mission. This tale even has a little bit of a love interest, which Tanis must put off for a little bit while all the action happens.

I get it. Hard sci-fi isn’t for everyone, and neither is military fiction. Cooper manages to tell us a hard sci-fi story without swamping us in the details, and tells us a military story without burying us in jargon. Action, good leadership, intrigue, a slight touch of romance–it’s all in here, in a nice pleasant mix. There was one sour note for me: remember how Major Richards is in counter-insurgency and intel? She has to take measures to get some information out of someone–many, many lives are on the line, and she must break them, and quickly. Her methods are…unpleasant. But the scene is mercifully brief, and Richards clearly struggles with the necessity of doing what she does. It’s the only rough patch in what was, for me, a wholeheartedly great read. I’m looking forward to picking up more of M. D. Cooper’s work!

Review: A Peace Divided by Tanya Huff + Giveaway

Review: A Peace Divided by Tanya Huff + GiveawayA Peace Divided (Peacekeeper, #2) by Tanya Huff
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: military science fiction
Series: Peacekeeper #2, Confederation #7
Pages: 384
Published by DAW Books on June 6th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The second book in the action-packed Peacekeeper series, a continuation of Tanya Huff's military sci-fi Confederation series following Torin Kerr
Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr had been the very model of a Confederation Marine. No one who'd ever served with her could imagine any circumstance that would see her walking away from the Corps.
But that was before Torin learned the truth about the war the Confederation was fighting...before she'd been declared dead and had spent time in a prison that shouldn't exist...before she'd learned about the "plastic" beings who were really behind the war between the Confederation and the Others. That was when Torin left the military for good.
Yet she couldn't walk away from preserving and protecting everything the Confederation represented. Instead, ex-Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr drew together an elite corps of friends and allies--some ex-Marines, some civilians with unique skills--and together they prepared to take on covert missions that the Justice Department and the Corps could not--or would not--officially touch. But after their first major mission, it became obvious that covert operations were not going to be enough.
Although the war is over, the fight goes on and the Justice Department finds its regular Wardens unable to deal with violence and the people trained to use it. Ex-Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr has a solution: Strike Teams made up of ex-military personnel, small enough to maneuver quickly, able to work together if necessary. Justice has no choice but to implement her idea and Torin puts her team of independent contractors back into uniform. It isn't war, it is policing, but it often looks much the same.
When the scientists doing a preliminary archaeological dig on a Class Two planet are taken hostage, Torin's team is sent to free them. The problem of innocents in the line of fire is further complicated by the fact that the mercenaries holding them are a mix of Confederation and Primacy forces, and are looking for a weapon able to destroy the plastic aliens who'd started and maintained the war.
If Torin weren't already torn by wanting that weapon in play, she also has to contend with the politics of peace that have added members of the Primacy--former enemies--to her team. Before they confront the mercenaries, Torin will have to sift through shifting loyalties as she discovers that the line between"us" and "them" is anything but straight.

My Review:

There’s an absolutely kick-ass military SF story in A Peace Divided. And that story is a marvelous continuance of pretty much everything that has happened to Gunnery Sergeant, now Warden, Torin Kerr from her first introduction in Valor’s Choice to her re-emergence after the end of her war in An Ancient Peace.

So if you enjoy military SF featuring smart, kick-ass, hard-fighting female soldiers (in this case Kerr is an NCO in the Marines), start at the very beginning with Valor’s Choice. And take good notes, because it seems as if everyone she has ever crossed paths with, or even just run into, makes an appearance in A Peace Divided.

Along with her permanent enemies, and the original instigators of the Confederation’s war with the Primacy.

The future, as was once opined to a very young Dustin Hoffman as Ben Braddock in The Graduate, is in plastics. And that future is nowhere near as benign or profitable as his would-be mentor believed.

Unless, as it turns out, you’re running guns.

Like all of the books in this series so far, A Peace Divided is a part of the branch of SF that makes some interesting and peculiar uses of the concept that what you think is happening is not what is really happening. While that seems to have played a major part of the war between the Confederation and the Primacy, and everything that resulted from that war (as well as the uneasy peace that Kerr now finds herself in) it also applies to the action in this particular story, not just on the part of the plastic aliens, but here primarily on the part of the humans and other sentients who drive this story.

It seems that sentient behavior has a limited number of patterns to follow, whether the beings that follow those patterns are humans, Krai, or di’Tayken, or even whether those sentients are two-legged or four-legged, skinned or furred or carapaced, and every other variant that the writer managed to think of.

As one of the sub-themes of this story is about human (and admittedly other sentient) bigotry, it is ironic that part of the story rides on the concept that people are people, no matter what species those people are from.

There’s a lot going on in A Peace Divided. The story that we follow is that of a band of basically space pirates who have taken an entire archaeological team hostage in the possibly mistaken but certainly partly insane belief that the archaeologists have discovered a weapon that can kill the plastic aliens.

And the other part of the story we follow is, of course, that of Warden Torin Kerr and her, if not merry then certainly snarky band of mostly ex-military peace-keeping wardens, as they set out to rescue the archaeologists and take down the space pirates, hopefully with a minimum of bloodshed.

One of the ongoing issues of this series is that “minimum of bloodshed” is defined much, much differently in the police-like Wardens than it ever was in the Confederation Marines. Being a Marine was a whole lot easier. There were rules and there were orders, there was a strict hierarchy, and there was a lot of security in that, both for the Marines and for the ones giving the orders.

Kerr is now out on her own, in a hierarchy whose rules are occasionally very arcane, and where security is minimal. It’s all on her, not because she wants it to be, but because she can’t seem to find any other way to be.

But it is really, really hard to keep the peace when the other side is doing its level best, and its absolute worst, to start a war.

Escape Rating B+: I loved traveling with Torin Kerr and Company again, and I liked the story, but it really needs the dramatis personae listing in the front and with a lot more detail. Or a summary of the action up till now. I’ve read the whole series, absolutely loved the whole thing, but occasionally I got lost among all the names, races and faces.

Once things get down to the brass-tacks, it klicks along like a ship in warp drive, but it takes a while to get there. I expect that people who are binge-reading the whole series and have everything fresh in their minds are going to eat this one up with a spoon, because it feels like everybody who has ever touched Torin’s life gets at least a mention.

Underneath the story, there are at least three sub-themes going on, one more overt than the other two. And they all add depth to the action, as well as making the reader think about the book well after the last page.

The first, biggest and most obvious is the issue of the returning veterans. Like our own society, the Confederation has done an all too excellent job of training young people, for any and all definitions of people, to set aside their fears and their instincts and become effective and efficient killing machines. The problem they have, just like the one we have, is what to do with those killing machines after their war is over. And just like our own society, the Confederations equivalent of the VA is overworked and understaffed and some people slip through the cracks. Admittedly some also make a hole and dive out, but there are a lot of folks who need help and don’t get the help they need. And a lot of the people that Kerr finds herself dealing with are her former comrades who fell through those cracks and can’t find a way to adjust to being civilians. Kerr and her troupe have plenty of problems with re-adjustment themselves, and they all have each other.

The Marines have a code that they leave no soldier behind. As an NCO, Kerr carried the remains of too many of her soldiers out on her vest, and she’s still carrying them. That there are soldiers that the entire military seems to have left behind feels like failure. Only because it is.

And of course, those folks who are desperate and haven’t adjusted get used by others for their own nefarious ends.

The other two sub-theme layers are about gun control and bigotry. They are more subtle, and it is easy to let them go in the heat of the story, but they are definitely there. And they add color and texture to a story that could have just been gung-ho military SF, but ends up being so much more.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Thanks to DAW Books, I am giving away one copy each of An Ancient Peace and A Peace Divided.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis

Review: The Guns Above by Robyn BennisThe Guns Above by Robyn Bennis
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: military science fiction, science fiction, steampunk
Series: Signal Airship #1
Pages: 336
Published by Tor Books on May 2nd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The nation of Garnia has been at war for as long as Auxiliary Lieutenant Josette Dupris can remember – this time against neighboring Vinzhalia. Garnia’s Air Signal Corp stands out as the favored martial child of the King. But though it’s co-ed, women on-board are only allowed “auxiliary” crew positions and are banned from combat. In extenuating circumstances, Josette saves her airship in the heat of battle. She is rewarded with the Mistral, becoming Garnia’s first female captain.
She wants the job – just not the political flak attached. On top of patrolling the front lines, she must also contend with a crew who doubts her expertise, a new airship that is an untested deathtrap, and the foppish aristocrat Lord Bernat – a gambler and shameless flirt with the military know-how of a thimble. He’s also been assigned to her ship to catalog her every moment of weakness and indecision. When the Vins make an unprecedented military move that could turn the tide of the war, can Josette deal with Bernat, rally her crew, and survive long enough to prove herself to the top brass?

My Review:

The Guns Above is an absolutely fantastic steampunk/Military SF action adventure story. This is one of those stories where it’s science fiction mostly because it isn’t anything else. The only SFnal element is the “not our world” setting and, of course, the airships. Those marvelous airships.

But in its protagonist of Lieutenant Josette Dupre, we have an avatar for every woman who has had it drummed into her head that “in order to be thought half as good as a man she’ll have to be twice as good. And that lucky for her, that’s not difficult.” And we’ve all heard it.

And on my rather confused other hand, it feels like Josette Dupre is Jack Aubrey, which makes Bernat Hinkal into Stephen Maturin. I’m having a really difficult time getting my head around that thought, but at the same time, I can’t dislodge that thought either.

Yes, I promise to explain. As well as I can, anyway.

Lieutenant Dupre technically begins the story as an Auxiliary Lieutenant, because women aren’t permitted to be “real” officers. Or give orders to men. Or participate in battles. Or a whole lot of other completely ridiculous and totally unrealistic rules and regulations that seem to be the first thing thrown over the side when an airship lifts.

Dupre is being feted as the winner of the Garnians’ recent battle in their perpetual war with the Vinzhalians. A war which to this reader sounds an awful lot like the perpetual 18th and even 19th century wars between England and France. (Also the 14th and 15th centuries, better known as the Hundred Years’ War, because it was)

Who the war is with, and which side anyone is one, don’t feel particularly relevant, although I expect they will in the later books in this series that I am crossing my fingers for. What matters to the reader is that we are on Dupre’s side from beginning to end, against the Vinz, against the bureaucracy, against her commanding officer, against the entire world that is just so damn certain that she is incapable of doing the job she is manifestly so damn good at.

And we begin the book pretty much against Lord Bernat Hinkal, because his entire purpose on board Dupre’s ship Mistral is to write a damning report to his uncle the General, giving said General grounds for dismissing the first female captain in the Signal Corps. It doesn’t matter how much utter fabrication Bernat includes in his report, because whatever terrible things he makes up will be believed. There are plenty of reactionary idiots in the Army and the government who believe that women are incapable of commanding, therefore Dupre must be a fluke or a freak of nature or both.

The General is looking for ammunition to shoot down, not just Dupre, but the notion that the Garnians are losing their perpetual war, or at least running out of manpower to fight it, and that womanpower might possibly be at least part of the answer. But the General, like so much of the military hierarchy, is content to rest their laurels and their asses on the so-called fact that Garnia hasn’t lost a war in over three centuries, therefore they can’t be losing this one now.

The past is not always a good predictor of the future, especially when combined with the old truism that generals are always fighting the last war.

But what happens to Bernat, and to the reader, is that we follow in Dupre’s wake, observing her behavior, her doubts, her actions and her sheer ability to command not just her crew’s obedience but also its fear, its respect and even its awe. Dupre, whether in spite of or because of her so-called handicap of being female, is a commander that troops will follow into the toughest firefight – because she is their very best chance at getting to the other side alive – no matter how desperate the odds.

Dupre, her airship Mistral, and The Guns Above are all winners. The Garnian military hierarchy be damned.

Escape Rating A+: It’s obvious that I loved The Guns Above. I got completely absorbed in it from the very first page, and was reluctant to put it down at the end and leave this world behind. Dupre is a marvelous hero who has clear doubts and fears and yet keeps on going from one great thing to another. Part of what makes her fantastic is that she hears that still small voice inside all of us that says we’re faking it, but forces herself to keep going anyway. She exhibits that best kind of courage – she knows she’s terrified, but she goes ahead anyway. Because it’s her duty. Because she knows that, in spite of everything, she is the best person available for the job. Not that she’s the best person in the universe for it, she has way too much self-doubt for that, but that in that place and in that time she’s the best person available. And to quote one of my favorite characters from a much different universe, “Someone else might get it wrong.”

The way that this world is set up, and the way that the setting up proceeds, reminds me tremendously of the Aubrey/Maturin series by the late Patrick O’Brian. That series features a British naval officer during the Napoleonic Wars, along with the friend that he brings aboard his first (and subsequent) command. Like Dupre, Jack Aubrey is also a lieutenant in his first outing, called “Captain” by courtesy when aboard his rather small ship. As is Dupre. Also like the Aubrey series, there is a tremendous amount of detail about the ship and the way it is rigged and the way that the crew behaves. The reader is virtually dumped into a sea of lines and jargon, and it makes the setting feel real. In the O’Brian series it was real, and here it isn’t, but the feeling is the same, that this is a working ship and that this is the way it works.

Also the focus here, like in the O’Brian series, is on this battle and this action and this fight, not on the greater politics as a whole, most of the time. It feels like the Granians are England in this scenario, and the Vinzhalians, France. This is not dissimilar to the Honor Harrington series, where Honor is Jack, Manticore is England, and Haven is France. “This has all happened before, and it will all happen again.”

Dupre is only a resident of the halls of power when she is about to receive a dressing down, as is Jack Aubrey in the early days.

But the comparison of Aubrey to Dupre makes Bernat into Maturin, and it actually does work a bit. But where Maturin was a doctor and discovered a function aboard the ship early on, Bernat is rather different. He’s a spy for his uncle, and Dupre knows it. He also begins the journey as a completely useless supernumerary whose only task seems to be to foment small rebellions. Also he’s a complete fop and as out of place on a ship of war as fox in a henhouse. Until he gets every bit as caught up in the action as the reader.

The fascinating thing about Bernat is that he neither changes nor reforms. And yet he does. At the beginning of the story he’s a complete fop, more concerned about his dress, his drink and the quality of his food than he is about anything else, including the progress of the war. He believes what he has been taught. At the end of the story, he is still a fop. But his eyes and his mind have been opened. Partially by Dupre, and partially by the rest of the crew. And, it seems, partially by finding something that he is good at. Aboard the Mistral, he has a positive purpose. On land, only a negative one. And it changes his perspective while not changing his essential nature.

At least not yet. Finding out where he goes from here, along with what plan to be the wild gyrations of Dupre’s career, looks like it’s going to be fascinating. And I can’t wait.

The Guns Above has received my first A+ Review for 2017, and will definitely be on my “Best of 2017” list, along with my Hugo nominations next year. This book is absolutely awesomesauce.

Review: The Blockade by Jean Johnson + Giveaway

Review: The Blockade by Jean Johnson + GiveawayThe Blockade (First Salik War, #3) by Jean Johnson
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: military science fiction, science fiction
Series: First Salik War #3
Pages: 416
Published by Ace on November 29th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The national bestselling author of The V’Dan returns to her gripping military sci-fi series set in the same world as Theirs Not to Reason Why. The First Salik War is underway, and the Alliance is losing—their newest allies must find a way to win, or everyone will be slaughtered.  Though committed to helping their V’Dan cousins, the Terrans resent how their allies treat them. The V’Dan in turn feel the Terrans are too unseasoned to act independently. And the other nations fear that ending the Salik War means starting a Human Civil War.   Even as Imperial Prince Li’eth and Ambassador Jackie MacKenzie struggle to get their peoples to cooperate, they still face an ethical dilemma: How do you stop a ruthless, advanced nation from attacking again and again without slaughtering them in turn?

My Review:

terrans by jean johnsonI started reading The Blockade almost as soon as I received the eARC. I absolutely adored the first book in the series, The Terrans, and mostly liked the second book, The V’Dan. The V’Dan ended on a terrible cliffhanger, and I just couldn’t wait to find out how the story ended. Especially as this entire series is a prequel to one of my all -time favorite series, Theirs Not to Reason Why.

So I had a lot invested coming into this book. And I inhaled it in about a day. Weekends are wonderful for spending LOTS of time curled up with a good book.

However, while I got very, very caught up in my visit to the First Salik War, I found the book just a bit anti-climactic. And I’m feeling a bit sad about that.

The story begins with that horrid cliffie from the end of The V’Dan. Li’eth and Jackie have been separated through an act of supreme skullduggery (not to mention overwhelming idiocy) on the part of his sister, the Crown Princess Vi’alla. This separation isn’t just a romantic problem, it’s a separation that is going to kill them both if it goes on too long. The elasticity of that “too long” hasn’t been researched much, because the problems are just too great.

If any of the above makes you think that you should read this series in order, you are correct. This universe is a marvelous creation, but there are only two starting points. Either start with The Terrans, or start with A Soldier’s Duty, the first book in Theirs Not to Reason Why. There are valid arguments for starting in either place. The First Salik War takes place a century or so before the events in A Soldier’s Duty, but Duty was written first.

vdan by jean johnsonAs established in The Terrans and The V’Dan, our heroes are a gestalt pair – they are bonded at the psychic level. While this was not intentional, more like an act of whatever gods one cares to blame, it is a fact in this universe. Gestalt pairs who are separated die.

So Li’eth’s sister has sentenced both her brother and the Terran ambassador to death at the end of The V’Dan. Fortunately for all concerned, her mother the Empress turns out to be not as wounded as Vi’alla wanted to believe at the end of that book, and takes control back over in relatively short order at the beginning of this story, which does not begin to undo the damage that Vi’alla has done to Terran-V’Dan relations or to her own family.

The resolution of that particular thread of the story is explosive – but it felt like it occurred much too early in the book to maintain needed dramatic tension. To this reader, it felt like everything after that point was mop-up. Very important mop-up, but mop-up nevertheless.

Escape Rating B+: I did swallow The Blockade pretty much whole, which is what gets me to that B+ rating. I like these people, especially Ambassador Jackie MacKenzie, and was rooting for them every step of the way.

In my review of The V’Dan over at The Book Pushers, I said that I would finish this series just to read more of Jackie’s adventures, and that is pretty much what happened. I had to see how things turned out for her, and I definitely wanted her to find a way to her own happy ever after. She earned it.

This story has a moral dilemma at its center. The Salik have to be stopped. They don’t just want to conquer the V’Dan and the Terrans, they want to eat them. For dinner. Or any other meal. The truly nasty thing about the Salik is that they prefer intelligent prey, and want that prey to be alive, kicking and watching as long as possible as their parts are eaten. There’s no way not to reflexively shiver at the very thought.

But there has to be an answer. They can’t be left to roam the galaxy searching for lunch – because their lunch has the same right to exist as they do. At the same time, the Salik are an intelligent race themselves. They might evolve past their current predatory pattern if they have enough time to learn the error of their ways. Genocide is not the right answer, although it often feels like it might be the expedient answer. The core dilemma that drives the end of the book is how to contain the Salik without destroying them.

soldiers duty mediumNot just because genocide is wrong, but because we have already seen the future, and the damned frogtopi are going to be needed. And if that statement intrigues you, and you haven’t yet read A Soldier’s Duty, start now!

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

The publisher is letting me give away a copy of The Blockade to one lucky US/CAN commenter.

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Review: Indomitable by W.C. Bauers

Review: Indomitable by W.C. BauersIndomitable (Chronicles of Promise Paen, #2) by W.C. Bauers
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: military science fiction, science fiction, space opera
Series: Chronicles of Promise Paen #2
Pages: 368
Published by Tor Books on July 26th 2016
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Promise Paen, commander of Victor Company's mechanized armored infantry, is back for another adventure protecting the Republic of Aligned Worlds.
Lieutenant Paen barely survived her last encounter with the Lusitanian Empire. She's returned home to heal. But the nightmares won't stop. And she's got a newly reconstituted unit of green marines to whip into shape before they deploy. If the enemies of the RAW don't kill them first, she just might do the job herself.
Light-years away, on the edge of the Verge, a massive vein of rare ore is discovered on the mining planet of Sheol, which ignites an arms race and a proxy war between the Republic and the Lusitanians. Paen and Victor Company are ordered to Sheol, to reinforce the planet and hold it at all costs.
On the eve of their deployment, a friendly fire incident occurs, putting Paen's career in jeopardy and stripping her of her command. When the Lusitanians send mercenaries to raid Sheol and destabilize its mining operations, matters reach crisis levels. Disgraced and angry, Promise is offered one shot to get back into her mechsuit. But she'll have to jump across the galaxy and possibly storm the gates of hell itself.

My Review:

Her name may be an absolutely terrible pun, but Promise T. Paen’s story is absolutely terrific. And her strength of will is exactly as the title states, indomitable.

The cold war between the Lusitanian Empire and the Republic of Aligned Worlds is definitely heating up in this second book in the Chronicles of Promise Paen. And Promise, and her Marines are in the thick of the action.

Even when Promise isn’t supposed to be.

The story begins with Promise as a still raw but very promising (puns all intended) Lieutenant in the RAW-MC. That’s the Republic of Aligned Worlds Marine Corps to the rest of us.

Promise is who and what Torin Kerr in Tanya Huff’s Confederation series would have been if the Gunny had ever accepted any of the many, many invitations she received to go to Officer Candidate School.

unbreakable by wc bauersWhen Promise’s time came, she didn’t feel she had much of a choice. In her first story, Unbreakable, Promise accepts a field commission when her Captain and Lieutenant are taken out of the fight, and she is left as the highest-ranking noncommissioned officer in her company. But now that they’ve been through hell together, the janes and jacks of Victor Company are Promise’s Marines.

Even after they take them away from her.

The story in Indomitable is all about Promise’s fall and rise, in that order. And how she copes (and often doesn’t) with the survivor’s guilt that haunts her sleep and dogs her at every step. Because war is coming, and Promise is one of the few officers who is willing to look at the oncoming storm, see it for what it is, and still run forwards to meet it.

Escape Rating A-: I loved this book, but I don’t want to give too much of the plot away. If you love military SF or military space opera, get this series, and start with Unbreakable. You won’t be sorry.

For this reader, the Chronicles of Promise Paen read like a combination of Tanya Huff’s Confederation series and David Weber’s Honor Harrington. While Promise as a character is much, much closer to Torin Kerr, the setting owes a lot to the Honorverse, at least so far. The conflict that is spinning up between the Lusies and RAW reads too much like the war between Haven and Manticore in the Honorverse to feel like coincidence. At the same time, it is entirely possible that both stories are drawing from the same source material – the Napoleonic Wars. We’ll just have to wait and see on that.

So far, we haven’t seen a lot about the motives of the Lusies. They are fighting a proxy war, and they are gobbling up territory, while winning the public relations war. There are also some pointed callbacks to our history, as the peace movement in RAW directly reflects some of the “peace in our time” rhetoric before our World War II.

There’s a lot going on in this book. On the surface, the action is all about guerrilla warfare on a fringe world. The Lusies are again using proxies, just as in Unbreakable. RAW is forced to send in its own overstretched and under-strength troops, and the effects are predictably devastating. To call the situation a FUBAR is understating the scope of the clusterf**k by several degrees of magnitude.

At the same time, we see the impacts of events back home, as powerful individuals attempt to block defense spending, oust anyone in favor of building up the fleet, and paint a big, fat target on Promise’s back. She’s playing in the big leagues, whether she planned to or not.

And because we see inside of Promise’s head, we see her doubts and her fears. She knows she’s been much more lucky than she has been good, and we feel her wondering if she has done enough. If she has been enough. We feel for her pain, and we see her grow, change and marginally cope.

In the end, the story is about Promise dealing with the hand she is dealt, and finally deciding to play it for all she’s worth. No matter the cost. Indomitable is filled with nearly non-stop action, but it ends on a pause, as Promise waits to take up her latest challenge.

I can hardly wait to see what she tackles (and what tackles her) next.

Review: Admiral by Sean Danker + Giveaway

Review: Admiral by Sean Danker + GiveawayAdmiral (Evagardian, #1) by Sean Danker
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: military science fiction, science fiction
Series: Evagardian #1
Pages: 320
Published by Roc on May 3rd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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FIRST IN A NEW MILITARY SCIENCE FICTION SERIES
“I was on a dead ship on an unknown planet with three trainees freshly graduated into the Imperial Service. I tried to look on the bright side.”   He is the last to wake. The label on his sleeper pad identifies him as an admiral of the Evagardian Empire—a surprise as much to him as to the three recent recruits now under his command. He wears no uniform, and he is ignorant of military protocol, but the ship’s records confirm he is their superior officer.   Whether he is an Evagardian admiral or a spy will be of little consequence if the crew members all end up dead. They are marooned on a strange world, their ship’s systems are failing one by one—and they are not alone.

My Review:

This is a story where the reader gets dropped into the middle of a situation – but so do all the characters. So it very definitely works.

It’s not a good situation, either. One person’s sleeper cell malfunctions, and three others open normally, but for very relative definitions of normal. The dysfunctional sleeper cell belongs to an unnamed admiral, and the other three belong to recent graduates of the military academy, destined for service on the flagship of the Evagardian fleet.

A war has just ended. The Evagardian Empire won, not by force of arms, but because the flagship of the Ganraen star empire crashed into their capitol building, decapitating and decimating their government in a single stroke. This isn’t peace, it’s a surprise cease fire.

But the ship that they have awoken on isn’t military. It isn’t even Evagardian. And it is echoingly empty. The ship has no power, and the four stranded travelers are sitting ducks for whatever knocked out the ship and its admittedly small crew.

If they are to have even the remotest chance of surviving this mess, they have to band together. Even though none of them believe that their nameless “Admiral” could possibly really be an actual admiral, or that he is even on their side.

But he’s the only one of them with the remotest idea of a plan. So it’s follow him or die. Or for all they know, follow him and die. There’s only the slimmest chance at all that every outcome doesn’t end in “die”, but they have to take it. Together. Or certainly die.

Escape Rating A-: For a science fiction story, this one has a very large mystery element. Where are they? How did they get there? What happened to the crew of the ship? And who the hell is this “Admiral” anyway?

The question about the admiral lingers until the very end, with relatively few hints for a long stretch of the story. This is both fascinating and frustrating, because the story is told entirely from the first person perspective of that admiral. And like most of us, he does not tell himself his own name or circumstances within the privacy of his own head. This frustrates the reader no end, but also makes sense – in real life, we don’t think about our own names all that much. We respond to them, but since no one knows his, there’s nothing for him to respond to.

The only hints readers get at his identity are his flashbacks. He has PTSD, not a surprise in the aftermath of an interstellar war, and in those PTSD episodes we start to get a glimmer of who he might be – a glimmer that only makes sense as we learn more about the war and its sudden ending.

The immediate story is a survival journey. This intrepid band of unwilling explorers has a very narrow window to possible survival. Each time they make two steps forward in their journey, they are forced to take at least one step back, as every attempt at a solution also (and sometimes only) brings on more and more challenges.

They are in a place where everything is literally out to get them, and may very well succeed.

As a group, they remind this reader of parties in a video game. (This story would probably make a good video game) There are four and only four people, and they have exactly the skills necessary to make it through, if that is possible at all. Nils is the engineer, he can fix or hack pretty much everything. The entire journey is mostly a series of hacks. Salmagard is their negotiator, in the sense that negotiating usually involves a big knife and a lot of heavy firepower. She’s their tank. Deilani is the doctor and scientist, she analyzes things. She’s also the resident skeptic, never believing that the Admiral is anything at all he says he is.

It also reminded me of a video game in the way that the story compelled me to read “just one more page, just one more chapter” to see what happened next. And next. And after that. I got completely absorbed and just couldn’t stop.

The Admiral himself serves as both leader and trickster. He’s the man with the plan. And even though he is much too young to actually be an admiral, he is clearly a decade or so older than the newbies. And he’s also clearly used to thinking and planning on his feet. What we don’t know is why or how he got that way.

The story in Admiral follows the pattern set in Winston Churchill’s famous quote (about Russia!), “ It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, but perhaps there is a key.” The parts about how did they get to be where the story finds them, what happened to the ship and its crew, and how they get themselves out of this mess supply the riddle and the mystery. The Admiral is an enigma until the very end. And even after.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

The publisher is giving away one copy of  Admiral to a lucky U.S. commenter:

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Review: An Ancient Peace by Tanya Huff

Review: An Ancient Peace by Tanya HuffAn Ancient Peace (Peacekeeper, #1) by Tanya Huff
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: military science fiction, science fiction
Series: Confederation #6, Peacekeeper #1
Pages: 336
Published by DAW on October 6th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr had been the very model of a Confederation Marine. But when she learned the truth about the war the Confederation was fighting, she left the military for good.

But Torin couldn’t walk away from preserving and protecting everything the Confederation represented. Instead, she drew together an elite corps of friends and allies to take on covert missions that the Justice Department and the Corps could not—or would not—officially touch. Torin just hoped the one they were about to embark on wouldn’t be the death of them.

Ancient H’san grave goods are showing up on the black market—grave goods from just before the formation of the Confederation, when the H’san gave up war and buried their planet-destroying weapons...as grave goods for the death of war. Someone is searching for these weapons and they’re very close to finding them. As the Elder Races have turned away from war, those searchers can only be members of the Younger Races.

Fortunately, only the Corps Intelligence Service has this information. Unfortunately, they can do nothing about it—bound by laws of full disclosure, their every move is monitored.

Though Torin Kerr and her team are no longer a part of the military, the six of them tackling the H’san defenses and the lethally armed grave robbers are the only chance the Confederation has. The only chance to avoid millions more dead.

But the more Torin learns about the relationship between the Elder Races and the Younger, the more she begins to fear war might be an unavoidable result.

valors choice by tanya huffI love Tanya Huff’s Valor series. Yes, I know it’s really called the Confederation series, but in my head, it’s the Valor series. It’s all about the valor of Staff Sergeant (eventually Gunnery Sergeant) Torin Kerr of the Confederation Marines in her fight to bring her company back alive and discover who or what is really behind the interstellar war between the Confederation and the Primacy. In addition to being absolutely kick-ass military SF, the Valor Confederation series is also a standout in the long line of SF where what we think is going on has absolutely nothing to do with what is actually going on. If you have not yet had the pleasure, start with Valor’s Choice and settle in for a marvelous read starring a terrific character with a dry, laugh-out-loud, line of snark.

But Torin’s discovery that the long-running interstellar war is really a behavioral experiment on the part of some completely uninvolved alien bystanders excises some of Torin’s faith in her military, and pretty much all of her ability to follow orders without question. However, while you can take the woman out of the Marines, it turns out to be impossible to take the Marines out of the woman. Torin works better within a structure, even as she mostly goes her own way.

In An Ancient Peace, we see Torin still fighting the good fight, but this time on her own terms, especially because she is in the process of redefining what that”good fight” really is. And since she no longer has the structure of the Marines to operate in, she is looking for a way for her team to find a home and purpose in one of the structures that already exist.

Because it turns out that the Confederation is still being manipulated, the only question is whether that manipulation is coming from somewhere within, or from forces without. Or whether “Big Yellow” is still watching them.

Escape Rating A: The Valor Confederation series is one of my all-time favorite military SF series, along with Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta’s War, Jean Johnson’s Theirs Not to Reason Why, and John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. These are all thinking people’s military SF, because the protagonists all question what they are doing and why, even as they do their best to operate within the structure and safeguard as much as possible the lives within their care.

The Confederation was a classic of the “aliens are pulling strings from the shadows” school of SF. At the same time, Torin Kerr offers a terrific perspective of a senior NCO in the military, even the SF military. It’s not her job to determine or execute grand strategy, it’s her job to keep green lieutenants alive long enough for them to contribute to grand strategy. And most importantly, it is her job to keep her squad alive to come back home. One of the ongoing themes of the series and especially this book is that Torin isn’t able to let go of the dead she wasn’t able to save.

That she now knows that the war was an alien scam just adds to her feelings of guilt, along with an unhealthy dose of survivor’s remorse.

But this story is about Torin both finding a place for her and her team to fit into the new universe order, but also about Torin figuring out where she fits into a team that she leads by adoption rather than by assignment. Everyone is with her because they want to be, not because someone cut them orders. And Torin has to find a slightly different leadership strategy to make it all work.

At the same time, Torin and her band of merrymakers have a job to do. The High Command still uses Torin, but as a private contractor. And this time, they are sending her team in on a job where they want plausible deniability.

Someone is selling artifacts that were stolen from the cemetery planet of one of the Elder Races. It is clear to the military that someone is hunting for the weapons of mass destruction that the H’san buried with their long-ago dead. The military is certain that whoever that someone is, their plan is to start a new universal war. And as collateral damage, they will feed into the paranoia of the Elder Races who believe that Humans and all of the other Younger Races they brought into the Confederation to fight their war for them are really too barbaric and savage to remain in the Confederation now that there is no more need for warriors.

Of course, nothing is as it seems. Not the thefts, not the supposed plot, and not even the Elder Races. However, as Torin discovers there is a whole lot of war weariness among the general inner-ring populace, especially all the members of those Elder and Middle-Races planets who were not touched by the war because the Younger Races fought it for them. Those who were very far behind the lines really are thinking that the Younger Races are uncivilized savages who should be locked into their own planets until they learn better.

Any parallels between the way that the Elder Races populations treat Torin and her team as representatives both of their races and of the returning war veterans and the way that we treat returning soldiers who have difficulty fitting back into peacetime society is certainly intended.

The story in An Ancient Peace is certainly the adrenaline-fueled adventure that I have come to know, love and expect from this series. There is also an underlying thread that Torin’s eyes have been opened, and that she sees a lot more of both sides of any problem than her superiors expect or even like. Her solution to finding a place for her team that both keeps them from being used as a weapon and helps add to the peace that she almost single-handedly created is novel, and will provide ground for interesting stories in the future.

And just like in the earlier series, whoever or whatever started this particular mess is still out there, plotting more plots, until Torin and Company finally catch up to them.