Review: The Terrans by Jean Johnson

terrans by jean johnsonFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: science fiction
Series: First Salik War #1
Length: 464 pages
Publisher: Ace
Date Released: July 28, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Jean Johnson’s first novel in an explosive new science fiction trilogy set in the world of the national bestselling Theirs Not to Reason Why series—set two-hundred years earlier, at the dawn of the First Salik War…

Born into a political family and gifted with psychic abilities, Jacaranda MacKenzie has served as a border-watcher and even spent time as a representative on the United Planets Council. Now she just wants to spend her days in peace and quiet as a translator—but the universe has other plans…

Humans have long known that they would encounter more alien species, and while those with precognitive abilities agree a terrible war is coming, they do not agree on who will save humanity—a psychic soldier or a politician.

But Jackie is both.

After she is pressured into rejoining the Space Force to forestall the impending calamity, Jackie makes an unsettling discovery. Their new enemy, the Salik, seem to be rather familiar with fighting Humans—as if their war against humanity had already begun…

My Review:

I picked Terrans up at lunch Thursday, and became so absorbed that I felt compelled to finish it. Compelled as in read until 4 am, get up and finish immediately. That kind of compelled. I couldn’t put it down, and almost didn’t go to sleep.

soldiers duty mediumFor anyone who has read Johnson’s Those Not to Reason Why series (start with A Soldier’s Duty (reviewed here) and start NOW!) this book is a prequel series. In her Those Not series the Terran United Planets are in the middle of a devastating and centuries long war. In The Terrans, we see the beginning of that conflict, and it will keep space opera and military SF fans on the edge of their seats.

I’m including military SF fans, even though The Terrans is not strictly a war story. This is a first contact story. It’s a different version of first contact, where the humans discover that they are on both sides of the contact, and that their various branches have more to offer each other, and more mess to get involved in, than anyone expected.

The ship Aloha 9 meets the V’Dan for the first time. And to paraphrase Walt Kelly in Pogo, “we have met the aliens, and they are us”. Because the V’Dan are definitely an unexpected offshoot of the human race. 10,000 of their, and our, years ago, a religious figure scooped their ancestors from Earth and deposited them on V’Dan.

It is just possible that the ancestor in question was actually Ia from Theirs Not playing with time and space, but we don’t know and it doesn’t actually matter at this point. But it is interesting speculation.

We meet the V’Dan because the last remaining members of a V’Dan warship are imprisoned by the Salik, who intended to eat them for dinner. I do mean eat for dinner and not have them over for dinner. The Salik, as established in Those Not, are cannibals who prefer that their food be live, sentient and struggling.

The rescue goes off without too many hitches, because the Terrans’ Ambassador for anyone they might meet is aboard the Aloha 9. Jackie MacKenzie is psi, and is telepathic, xenopathic and capable of telekinesis. She can not only read enough of the Salik thoughts to be positive about their dietary practices, but she can communicate with the surviving V’Dan captain well enough to enlist his aid in freeing his crew.

And that’s where the fun begins.

Captain Le’ith of the V’Dan is also psi, but very untrained. His rapport with Jackie from the instant they meet helps his crew adjust, and gives Jackie a far greater insight into the V’Dan than anyone might have expected.

It is not all smooth sailing. There is a psi-hating bigot among the Terran crew, and an equally xenophobic and obstinate civilian power-grabber on the V’Dan side. Neither of these idjits can see past the nose on their unreasonably prejudiced faces.

There is also a cultural roadblock. The V’Dan show that they are mature adults by developing a pattern of colors and spots during late puberty. It’s a virus that has become part of their DNA. They consider any V’Dan without those marks to be children. We Terran humans are the progenitors of the V’Dan people, but we don’t have those marks. The cultural misunderstandings abound, and have the potential to derail any possible alliance.

That’s if the surprising relationship between the captain and the ambassador doesn’t send everything to hell out an airlock first.

Escape Rating A+: The Terrans is both a very political story and a very personal one. Jackie Mackenzie, as an ambassador, former councilor (think senator), and re-instated military officer, provides the reader a way into the way that Earth works in the 23rd century. She’s been a politician, a civil servant, and a middle-ranking warrior. She’s seen a lot and done a lot. She is also a high-ranked, in the capability sense, psi, so she is able to show the reader how psi powers are used, regulated and received in a world that knows that some people are weapons.

What they don’t know is why psi powers suddenly started manifesting in the previous two centuries. The have the capability of measuring them, but they don’t know how they were created in the first place.

While I have my suspicions because I read the first series, I don’t know. And the capacity to guess or not has no bearing on enjoying this book without having read Those Not. But again, why would you?

A lot of this story revolves around the politics and procedures surrounding first contact. There is a lot of security and medical procedures. We have to be exposed to each others’ bugs and find ways to prevent epidemics on both sides. There is clear evidence that we’ve learned from our history.

But the big issues are political. And even though politics and process can be tedious, in this book they simply are not. The future world that the author has envisioned is one that mostly works, while at the same time it provides commentary on what has been learned from our history and ways that things could be done better. People have mostly gotten better, if only because they have learned from our deadly mistakes.

By introducing the V’Dan to our world, it gives the author a plausible and excellently used reason to explain 23rd century Earth to them, and therefore to us as well.

But as the story progresses, it also becomes a story about individuals. Not just Jackie and Le’ith, but also both crews and a few of the civil servants (politician is a pejorative term) who get close to the center of their storm.

One of the things I enjoyed very much is that, in spite of the way that Terran humans appear to the V’Dan, both Jackie and Le’ith are well into adulthood. They are both in their mid-30s, and have significant life-experience under their belts. So while they will lead a universe altering change for their peoples, this is NOT a coming of age story. And I’m glad of it. I found Jackie to be a woman I could both identify with and aspire to.

I’ve never made a secret of having loved the entire first series from beginning to end, as well as Johnson’s fantasy series and even her fanfiction. If you have any interest in space opera and/or epic science fiction, Theirs Not to Reason Why and The Salik War are well worth losing yourself in.

Vdan by jean johnsonThe second book of the Salik War, The V’Dan, is scheduled for release in January 2016. I will be haunting NetGalley until it appears.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Stacking the Shelves (131)

Stacking the Shelves

This probably tells anyone anything they might want to know about what I think about the current chaotic state of this year’s Hugo Awards. Marko Kloos withdrew his nomination because his eligible book, Lines of Departure, was on the Puppy ballots. His full statement is on his blog, The Munchkin Wrangler, but the very short paraphrase is that he felt that his book only made it because it was on a Puppy slate, and he couldn’t accept an award nomination that wasn’t earned by the quality of the work. He also disassociated himself from the Puppies.

I’m probably not the only person who had this response, but when I read his withdrawal, I bought his first two books, Terms of Enlistment and Lines of Departure, and grabbed a review copy of the third, Angles of Attack, from NetGalley. I enjoy military SF and the reviews of the first two books are pretty stellar. so I’m looking forward to these.

For Review:
Angles of Attack (Frontlines #3) by Marko Kloos
The Brass Giant (Chroniker City #1) by Brooke Johnson
Katrina: After the Flood by Gary Rivlin
Knight’s Shadow (Greatcoats #2) by Sebastien de Castell
Murder and Mayhem (Murder and Mayhem #1) by Rhys Ford
A Pattern of Lies (Bess Crawford #7) by Charles Todd
Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran
The Story by Judith Miller
The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
Waterloo: the True Story of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles by Bernard Cornwell
Zer0es (Zer0es #1) by Chuck Wendig

Purchased from Amazon:
Lines of Departure (Frontlines #2) by Marko Kloos
Lowcountry Boil (Liz Talbot #1) by Susan M. Boyer
Lowcountry Bombshell (Liz Talbot #2) by Susan M. Boyer
Terms of Enlistment (Frontlines #1) by Marko Kloos


Review: Unbreakable by W.C. Bauers

unbreakable by wc bauersFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: military science fiction
Series: Chronicles of Promise Paen #1
Length: 368 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Date Released: January 13, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

The colonists of the planet Montana are accustomed to being ignored. Situated in the buffer zone between two rival human empires, their world is a backwater: remote, provincial, independently minded. Even as a provisional member of the Republic of Aligned Worlds, Montana merits little consideration—until it becomes the flashpoint in an impending interstellar war.

When pirate raids threaten to destabilize the region, the RAW deploys its mechanized armored infantry to deal with the situation. Leading the assault is Marine Corps Lieutenant and Montanan expatriate Promise Paen of Victor Company. Years earlier, Promise was driven to join the Marines after her father was killed by such a raid. Payback is sweet, but it comes at a tremendous and devastating cost. And Promise is in no way happy to be back on her birthworld, not even when she is hailed as a hero by the planet’s populace, including its colorful president. Making matters even worse: Promise is persistently haunted by the voice of her dead mother.

Meanwhile, the RAW’s most bitter rival, the Lusitanian Empire, has been watching events unfold in the Montana system with interest. Their forces have been awaiting the right moment to gain a beachhead in Republic territory, and with Promise’s Marines decimated, they believe the time to strike is now.

My Review:

If you like military science fiction, especially military SF of the space opera school, you will like Unbreakable. And if you enjoy the Honorverse, particularly the first several books before Honor became a walking deux ex machina, you are going to absolutely love Promise Paen.

Which also invites some inevitable comparisons, because Promise and Honor are at least cousins under the skin, if not sisters.

The world setup will seem rather familiar to those who enjoy military space opera (let’s call it that). Promise grows up on a boundary world colony caught between two star empires that have been making cold war on each other for decades if not centuries.

Her planet, named Montana, is a member of the Republic of Aligned Worlds, as opposed to their, well, opposition, the Lusitanian Empire. Unfortunately for Montana, she is in the borderlands, and both empires want to use her and the space she controls as a buffer zone from the other. Even worse for Montana, although they are still developing their world’s resources and economy, they are rich in minerals and other natural resources. So the place is strategic from any number of standpoints.

This is a cold war, so the great powers are using proxies to either defend or destabilize the region. The Republic of Aligned Worlds (RAW for short) isn’t sending nearly enough defenders to fight off the surprisingly organized and well-equipped pirates that the Lusitanians (usually shorted to the offensive “Lusies”) are using as proxies. The Lusies want to create enough disruption that they can pretend to come in to keep the peace. They’ve done it before.

Promise and her father live on a rather remote farmstead. One day while 18-year-old Promise is out for a run, her home is destroyed by pirates. She watches from a distance as her dad tries to talk to the pirates, and they gun him down in cold blood.

After the bloody dust settles, Promise is certain that whatever she wants to do, she wants to leave Montana above all. Her father was a pacifist, her mother was a soldier. Promise joins the RAW Marine Corps and goes off to see the galaxy. She doesn’t so much recover as bury her grief under a pile of duty.

She doesn’t want to ever return to Montana. But years later, after Promise has some experience under her belt and has risen to the rank of Sergeant (and platoon leader) she is ordered back to her former homeworld.

That cold war is heating up, and it has become obvious to the powers that be in RAW that Montana is going to be the first frontline. And they have finally responded to the clue-by-four that they don’t have nearly enough of a garrison on Montana, and that the Montanans are pissed that RAW hasn’t kept their promises.

The military wants to send a native Montanan to head the garrison that they are leaving on planet. It’s a very, very understrength garrison – one company of 40 Marines, plus a ship in orbit. Unfortunately for the Montanans, that really is all that RAW can spare.

Fortunately for Montana, they send Promise. She’s going to have to be everything that they need. Unfortunately for Promise and for Montana, they are all going to pay a cost in flesh and blood and lives to keep Montana safe. Or at least free.

Escape Rating A-: I loved this book, and pretty much poured through it as fast as possible. The more the situation goes out of whack, the higher Promise rises to the occasion. Pretty much of a 24-hour occasion by the end, as the hits just keep on coming.

The book is described as “Book 1 in The Chronicles of Promise Paen” and thank goodness for that! I want to read more of Promise’s career, because she is definitely a rising star.

Other reviewers have compared Unbreakable to Heinlein’s classic Starship Troopers (minus the bugs), which I confess I haven’t read. For this reader, the comparisons were more towards David Weber’s Honor Harrington, with a bit of Torin Kerr from Tanya Huff’s Valor series.

But mostly the Honorverse.

When the story started out, the world felt surprisingly familiar. I say surprisingly because this is the author’s first novel. I can’t have read it before. But it felt familiar because the setup is similar to the Honorverse. They even use the same acronyms for their military departments.

In both stories, a young woman rises higher and faster due to planetary or empire-wide disasters that are not of her making. They are both fast rising stars in empires that need someone to step up and be a standout hero.

Promise’s rise seems more sudden than it actually is, because we don’t see her go through the Academy or watch her in her first assignments as a Marine. We don’t see her in the academy because she doesn’t go – Promise is a non-com like Torin Kerr. Also a Marine like Kerr – Honor is in the Navy.

We catch up with Promise’s career as she really starts living up to her promise – the military operation begins when she is promoted to sergeant. It’s what happens after that makes the book so interesting.

We also get to see a lot of how she feels about it. And sometimes tries NOT to feel about it.

As a military officer, Promise is an expensive miracle who pulls solutions out of her ass with amazing and sometimes frightening regularity. She is also astonishingly lucky – but if she weren’t, she’d be dead.

It’s not that her “luck” isn’t very expensive, her company and the native Montanans pay a huge price for their freedom – but that Promise is always in the right place at the right time with the right tools, even if some of those tools don’t survive. War is still hell.

The situation that Promise faces may be a SNAFU, but it is a SNAFU that is deliberately caused by the Lusies. It’s not just that the Lusie fleet sent for “training maneuvers” in Montana space is there to take advantage of any opportunity, or even that they create those opportunities through the use of their pirate proxies, but that they are deliberately starting a war with extremely underhanded means and a total lack of human compassion. Or human conscience.

They know that Montana and her people will be totally exploited and infinitely worse off under Lusitanian rule than they currently are under RAW’s benign neglect. RAW wants her worlds to be successful, where all Lusitania wants is to suck her colonies dry.

I found the Lusies to mostly be cardboard cutout villains. Not just because they were painted as the bad guys, but because their actions were always the stupidest and/or the most venal and depraved. They always cheat, they never play fair, and they operate under the assumption (possibly correct) that as long as they win they can manufacture enough spin to make their actions seem plausibly justified in universe opinion.

No one seems to care that their actions violate every tenet of the equivalent of the Geneva Convention. I didn’t hear much if any internal dialogue on the part of the Lusies to justify their actions, at least not in the same way that Victor Cachat in the Honorverse often does very bad things for reasons that he feels are good. I missed that sense of decent people doing bad things for good reasons.

The people on Montana, on the other hand, are the classic brave and plucky colonists. At the same time, there are some definite individuals who stand out. President Annie is a fantastic leader who knows just how far she can push her people, and is personally brave into the bargain.

The leader of her all-volunteer almost-militia is an interesting man who we don’t see nearly enough of, and Promise doesn’t either. She is very conflicted about her feelings for Jean-Wesley Partaine, but knows that her life doesn’t include the time or the space for a long-distance relationship.

On a side note, every time I see the name “Jean-Wesley Partaine” I want to shoot the author. In my mind, that name is a combination of “Jean-Luc Picard” and “Wesley Crusher” from Star Trek Next Gen, and just no. It makes me groan and laugh and the character doesn’t deserve that. But that name – OMG.

The star empire cold war reminds me very much of the starting lineup in the Honorverse, with some name reversals. RAW feels very much like the Manticore Empire in its sensibilities, and the Lusitanian Empire is the stand in for the Republic of Haven. Montana is even a good approximation of Grayson if you squint. If the author is planning to revisit the Napoleonic Wars through star empire proxies as the Honorverse does, I would not be totally surprised.

But I would love to see a new interpretation. The Napoleonic Wars are a source for terrific fiction that just keeps on giving.

I loved Promise’s adventures. The action is pulse-pounding, the people are all fascinating (some in a good way, some definitely not) and the world building, while familiar, definitely works for this reader. I can’t wait for the second adventure of Promise Paen – I sincerely hope that it will be just as terrific as this first installment.

Reviewer’s note: I met the author at Worldcon in 2014. We got onto the topic of the Honorverse, and I mentioned that while I enjoyed the books, especially the early ones, Honor’s internal voice just didn’t feel like a woman’s to me. The author said he hoped to do better in his own book. Achievement unlocked.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

14 for 14: My Best Books of the Year


2014 digital numbers

I do three different “best of the year” lists in different contexts. This is my personal list, but…I also do a Best Ebook Romances of the year for Library Journal, and I’m one of the judges for the SFR Galaxy Awards, which is effectively a best SFR of the year list.

So there are repeats. After all, if it was one of the best in one context, there’s an awfully good chance it will be one of the best in another if applicable. Even so, when I looked at my A+, A and A- reviews for the year, I had too many choices.

That being said, I have wondered whether I could (or should) keep going with the theme of “besting” the same number of books as the year. So far, it is working all too well.

bollywood affair by sonali devIn the romance category, I have three that stood out from the other terrific books I read this year. A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev was an absolute standout. (It’s also on my LJ list). Dev’s book is a slow burning romance and an introduction or exploration into Indian-American and Indian culture. Her heroine is a good girl with a little bit of defiance, and her hero is a bad boy who discovers how much fun it can be to be good.

Jeffe Kennedy’s Mark of the Tala is a great fantasy romance and the first book in her Twelve Kingdoms series. In this one, what I loved was the number of different ways that the road to hell gets paved. Her hero and heroine want to do the right thing for both their peoples, and are lucky enough to fall in love in the process. But this is a story about the fight for the soul of two kingdoms, and a lot of men do evil in the name of either good or power. This one goes surprisingly well, if sadly, with Maleficent.

Robin York, better known as Ruthie Knox, told one of the best New Adult stories I have read so far in the genre in Deeper and Harder, the story of Caroline and West. These are real people facing real problems, including a “wrong side of the tracks” type of love story. They overcome a lot of obstacles, with a lot of love, but also quite a bit of heart-rending pain.

No Place to Hide by Glenn GreenwaldI read a bit more nonfiction than usual this year, and two titles have stuck in my head long after I finished. Partially for the topics they cover, and also significantly for the marvelous writing style. No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald reads like a spy thriller, but it is a cautionary tale about the case of Edward Snowden, the NSA papers he released, and the subsequent persecution of the reporter who covered the story. It will make you look at everything you read that purports to be true with a much more critical eye.

Forcing the Spring by Jo Becker reads like a legal thriller, but it tells the story of the fight for marriage equality using the lens of the case against Prop 8 in California. Becker was embedded with the legal team during the five years that this case wound its way to the Supreme Court, and her “you are there” style of reporting will keep you on the edge of your seat.

ryder by nick pengelleyTwo books don’t fit into categories at all well. Ryder by Nick Pengelley is action/adventure, with a heroine who is a combination of Indiana Jones, Lara Croft and Robert Langdon from The DaVinci Code. Ayesha Ryder kicks ass, takes names and discovers secrets that weren’t meant to be revealed in a delightful thriller.

The Bees by Laline Paull feels like a bit of an allegory – it is social commentary about human behavior disguised as bee behavior. But it is also a story about listening to your own inner voice and absolutely NOT blooming where you are planted. You will find yourself rooting for the bee, and laughing at some of her observations that hit close to home about both bees and us.

The urban fantasy series Mindspace Investigations by Alex Hughes continues to wrap me in its web. This year’s entries in the series are Marked and Vacant, and the one word titles represent something in the life of the series protagonist, Adam Ward. Adam is a recovering drug addict, a police consultant, and a telepath. He’s also in love with his equally damaged but otherwise normal police partner. The layers created in this post-apocalyptic but still mostly functioning version of suburban Atlanta are fascinating. It is just close enough to now to recognize what is still going right, and what went wrong.

queen of the tearling by erika johansenIn epic fantasy, my favorite this year was The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen. This is in the classic mold of the hero who is raised in obscurity to become the ruler, but the hero is a heroine. This one has the feeling of the King Arthur story, but with a Queen instead. So Queen Kelsea is a fish very much out of water who has to learn fast to save her kingdom. Unlike so many retellings of the Arthur story, Kelsea operates in shades of grey; good choices can have every bit as costly an outcome as bad choices, sometimes more costly. She is learning by the seat of her pants while attempting to preserve her kingdom and fighting with everyone on all sides. A marvelous coming-of-age epic fantasy on a grand scale.

But this year, so many of my memorable reads were in my first love, science fiction.

Two books that I am not going to say a lot about because it’s all been said. These were bestsellers and were covered everywhere.

ancillary sword by ann leckieJohn Scalzi’s Lock In is a murder mystery wrapped in a near-future science fiction setting that, as is usual for Scalzi, has as much to say about our current society as it does about the future in which the book is set. This one works on multiple levels, and has a surprising twist that will tell you a bit about yourself as well. Great fun and an awesome read.

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie is a worthy sequel to the “sweeping all the awards winner” Ancillary Justice. This series is fantastic space opera with a unique point-of-view character from a galaxy-spanning empire with a fascinating culture and a very different way of managing its far-flung holdings. Whatever you might have heard about how good this series is – it’s even better than that.

damnation by jean johnsonJean Johnson’s Theirs Not to Reason Why series concluded this year with two books, Hardship and Damnation. Johnson’s series, like Leckie’s, is epic space opera, but Johnson is firmly in the military SF camp with this series. Her heroine rises through the ranks of the Space Force as the story is told, while she fights an interstellar war, first as a grunt, but eventually as Commander of the Armies. The thing that makes this series unique is that her heroine, Ia, is a precognitive who knows what has to happen, but still has to move heaven, earth, the central command, and everyone she ever meets into the right place at the right time to save the universe in a future that she will never live to see. Awesome from beginning to end.

Soulminder by Timothy Zahn was a complete surprise. Zahn is probably best known for his Star Wars fiction, but this is something completely different. As with Scalzi’s Lock In, Soulminder is SF of the laboratory type, where it is a scientific discovery that fuels the story arc. Also as with Lock In, there is a definitely plot thread about the way that humans will take something potentially good and pave the road to hell with it. (Soulminder was published before Lock In, so any resemblance is unintentional). For hard science SF, Soulminder has a surprising amount of story concerned with keeping one’s soul. It is a tale that embodies the principle “for evil to flourish, it is only necessary that good men do nothing.” It’s also about what happens when those good men stop doing nothing.

forever watch by david ramirezLast but not least, The Forever Watch by David Ramirez. If you threw Gorky Park, Blade Runner, one of Robin Cook’s medical thrillers and Anne McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang into a blender, along with spice from The Matrix and Madeline Ashby’s Suited, you might come up with a story that has some resemblance to The Forever Watch, but it wouldn’t be nearly as good. The Forever Watch is epic SF of the generation ship type, and it was one of those books that I shoved at people because I was so captivated. And it has one of those ending plot-twists that makes you re-think the entire story.

And that’s my top 14 for the year. 2014 was a wild ride, and I can’t wait to see what 2015 has in store! What were your favorites of 2014? Do share! We all need more awesome books to read!

Review: Damnation by Jean Johnson

damnation by jean johnsonFormat read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook,
Genre: military science fiction
Series: Theirs Not to Reason Why #5
Length: 385 pages
Publisher: Ace
Date Released: November 25, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

It began with a terrible vision of the future. Compelled by her precognitive abilities, Ia must somehow save her home galaxy long after she’s gone. Now Jean Johnson presents the long-awaited epic conclusion to her national bestselling military science fiction series…

With their new ship claimed and new crewmembers being collected, Ia’s Damned are ready and willing to re-enter the fight against the vicious, hungry forces of their Salik foes. But shortly after they board the Damnation to return to battle, a new threat emerges. After several centuries of silence, the Greys are back, and the Alliance must now combat both a rapacious, sadistic enemy, and a terrifying, technologically superior foe.

Ia has asked nothing of her crew that she herself has not been willing to give. But with two wars to bring to an end—and time running out—Ia must make and execute the most terrible choice of all…

My Review:

There are two themes that have resonated, at least for me, in SF in the last couple of decades. They have both been said before with slightly different words and in different circumstances, but the SF versions are the ones that stick in the mind. Both play out in the interwoven themes of Jean Johnson’s Theirs Not to Reason Why series, and especially in the final book in the series, Damnation.

One is the admonishment that Ben Parker recites to his young nephew Peter, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Just as Peter Parker is grounded by the reminder that his superpowers come at a great price, so Ia in Damnation, and all the previous books in the series, is confronted with cost that will be exacted by her use of both the power invested in her high military rank and the superpower of her near-perfect precognitive abilities. She never loses sight of that ultimate cost, even as she struggles to ensure the tiny-percentage future of sentient survival that she sees in the timestreams.

The other theme is Spock’s quote from Vulcan philosophy in The Wrath of Khan. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or of the one.” Spock gives his own life, so that the crew of the Enterprise will survive. Their many outweighs the cost to himself, even though it is the ultimate cost. Ia has spent the last twelve years of her life weighing that same dilemma, writ large. She must sacrifice some so that the greater majority can be saved from extinction. Because Ia is working on a galactic scale, even the few she knows must be lost are relatively large numbers. She feels the weight of her decisions, and of all the deaths that will be laid at her door. But for her, the only right choice is always Spock’s.

soldiers duty mediumIa has spent this series working toward a very long future that she knows she will not live to see. If she can navigate the sentient races of the galaxy through the next two wars, in 300 years they have a slim chance of surviving the third war that is coming. When she begins her work in A Soldier’s Duty (reviewed here) at the age of 15, the chance is very slim. She devotes her life to making that slim chance become a reality.

In spite of, or perhaps because of, Ia’s ability to see all possible futures in the timestreams, she herself suffers from a constant lack of time throughout Damnation. She is still only human, and it takes her finite amounts of real time to nudge history. Also, her nudges often rely on her ship and crew being in a specific place at a specific time to fight a particular battle. Even with FTL and OTL (faster-than-light and other-than-light) speed capability, the ship still needs time to get from system to system, time that Ia is forever running out of.

The decisions Ia makes are always hard ones. She operates in the shades of grey that allow her to sacrifice an entire race to save all the other sentient races. It is never easy, and her own thoughts show how much of her humanity she loses sight of along the way. Also how much she keeps, with the help of her friends and crew.

Ia is brilliant, in the way that the brightest stars flare just before they go out. Her story, from beginning to end, is utterly captivating. I never wanted this series to end, but the way it ended was absolutely stunning.

Escape Rating A+: This entire series, but especially Damnation, gave me incredible book hangovers every step of the way. I am still having a difficult time pulling back from my immersion in the world that Johnson has created with this series.

If you enjoy military SF, I can’t recommend this series highly enough. Ia is a fascinating heroine who commands every scene and every page. It shouldn’t work, having a heroine who knows all the possible futures. You would think that she would be all-powerful and that there would be no dramatic tension. But the tension increases throughout the series, as Ia has more and more to accomplish and less and less time to finish her own tasks and lay the groundwork for what she knows will come.

Her humanity is sometimes sacrificed by the duty she has taken onto herself, but it shines in scenes where the necessary hits close to home. She cuts off her own home planet and her family in order to save the future, and it cuts deep, for both Ia and the reader.

I am not revealing the ending. It is something that needs to be experienced after the fullness of reading the series.

Above, I said the ending was absolutely stunning. I am still stunned.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Stacking the Shelves (96)

Stacking the Shelves

We’re on our way to yet another occasion where books will be provided. Not just provided, but complete with authors available to sign them, always dangerous for me.

Detcon_1_logoWhere is the magical place this time? We’re going to the North American Science Fiction Convention, known as NASFiC, which is being held in Detroit next weekend. We decided to go to Detcon1 because we couldn’t quite swing the time off for the WorldCon in London next month. While Detroit is no London, the author/guest lineup is equally fantastic. There seem to be a lot of SF/Fantasy authors who couldn’t quite manage the time off for London either.

Is it a good thing, or a bad thing, if we need to buy another suitcase on site?

For Review:
Falling for Max (Kowalskis #9) by Shannon Stacey
Free Agent (Grimm Agency #1) by J.C. Nelson
The Future for Curious People by Gregory Sherl
Hardship (Theirs Not to Reason Why #4) by Jean Johnson
In Your Dreams (Blue Heron #4) by Kristan Higgins
Loving the Prince (Jorda #1) by Nicole Murphy
Ménage with the Muse (Demon Rock #3) by Nico Rosso
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
Stone Cold Lover (Gargoyles #2) by Christine Warren
The Suffragette Scandal (Brothers Sinister #4) by Courtney Milan
To Love a King (Court of Annwn #3) by Shona Husk

Fanning the Flames (Jackson: Girls’ Night Out #0.5) by Victoria Dahl
The Duke of Midnight (Maiden Lane #6) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Sweet Home Carolina (Magnolia Bay #2) by Kim Boykin

Borrowed from the Library:
Waiting for Wednesday (Frieda Klein #3) by Nicci French

A Look Forward: My Most Anticipated Reads for 2014

2014 numbersWhat a difference a year makes!

It was surprisingly easy to pick the books for this list. I know exactly which books I’m dying for this year. Well, the first ten, anyway. I wasn’t planning on fourteen, but Cass jumped in and rounded out the list. (Thanks, Cass!)

Then I took a look back at last year’s list, and my eyes crossed a bit. There are two repeaters. I don’t mean series where the next book in the series is on the list, although that happens too, but two books that were delayed in publication. So I’ve waited a whole year longer than originally planned. (Not that I didn’t find plenty to read instead)

And a couple of things I thought I would read as soon as they came out, I didn’t. (Best laid plans, etc., etc.)

So here’s this year’s set of newly laid plans. Let’s see how it goes. Why do I hear a “bwahahaha”, coming from somewhere in the shadows?

skin game by jim butcherSkin Game by Jim Butcher is the 15th Harry Dresden book. I can’t believe the series has been going on that long. I fell in love with Harry because he started out as a hapless and frequently luckless wizard in my favorite former hometown, Chicago. But I still love his trademark snark, even as Harry has gone from being a two-bit wizard-for-hire to the Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness.

Damnation by Jean Johnson is the fourth book in her Theirs Not to Reason Why military science fiction series. I heard her read from Damnation at WorldCon in San Antonio, and I can’t believe I have to wait until August to finally get the next chapter in Ia’s story. There have been moments in this series that have sent chills down my spine. This entire series has been awesome.

guild by jean johnsonThe Guild, also by Jean Johnson, is the third book in her Guardians of Destiny fantasy romance series. Her military sf is kick ass, but I found her through her fantasy romance, and she’s utterly marvelous. The second book in this series, The Grove, was on my 2013 best list. She does fantasy romance where the fantasy worldbuilding is top notch and her heroines are always the absolute equals of her heroes. Her women have friends who talk to each other, and the plot of the fantasy is as important as the romantic happy ending. Her stories are always a treat!

Cast in Flame by Michelle Sagara is the tenth of the Chronicles of Elantra, and I can’t wait for Kaylin to get back to the city. She belongs there. Removing her from the city and the Courts for two books was interesting and told a lot about her friends among the Barrani, but took away from Kaylin as the center point. I want Kaylin back where she belongs!

silver mirrors by aa aguirreSilver Mirrors by A.A. Aguirre is the second book in their (A.A. Aguirre is the joint pseudonym of Ann and Andres Aguirre) Apparatus Infernum series. The first book, Bronze Gods, was one of my best of 2013. The world is just such an awesome mixture of steampunk and “magic goes away”, with an urban fantasy/detective duo that is something special.

Death Defying by Nina Croft has been the biggest tease for the end of December. It’s also the third book in her Blood Hunter series. I loved the first two books (Break Out and Deadly Pursuit) in that science fiction romance series so damn much that I gave Break Out an SFR Galaxy Award. I’ve been waiting since then. Death Defying almost made it into 2013, but not quite. What is so cool about the Blood Hunter series is that Croft figured out a plausible way for vampires and werewolves to make it into space. So along with a science that has granted immortality to a privileged few, there are vampires, who are also immortal. And it makes sense.

shield of winter by nalini singhShield of Winter by Nalini Singh is lucky 13 in her Psy-Changeling series. I still love this series, but it’s pretty obvious that the overall arc of the worldbuilding is drawing to a conclusion. The Silence Protocol will fall, the questions revolve around what is going to take its place; order or anarchy. I think I’ve become as or more fascinated with the big story than the individual romances. And I simply can’t express how grateful I am that the cover design has improved with Heart of Obsidian and Shield. The previous US covers were simply abominable.

Lock In by John Scalzi. Honestly, I wouldn’t care what the summary said on Goodreads. It’s by Scalzi, and I’m going to get the eARC from Edelweiss as soon as it pops up. But seriously, it sounds cool, but not one of his funny ones. This looks like one of his big idea books mixing virtual-reality, epidemiology and the misuse of power. Wow!

And now for those books that I hoped to see last year, but were delayed in publication…

written in my own hearts blood by diana gabaldonWritten in My Own Heart’s Blood is the eighth doorstop in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. The Outlander series has been described, and it sounds about right to me, as “historical fiction with a Moebius twist”. The past and the future intertwine in a way that has to be read to be believed. Her 18th century is like you are there, and in a way you are, because you are experiencing it through the eyes of a 20th century woman who found the love of her life in 18th century Scotland. Outlander is the standard by which all other time travel historical fiction and romances are judged. I can’t wait to lose three days in the next one.

One-Eyed Jack by Elizabeth Bear is the continuation of her completely splendiferous Promethean Age series. They are portal fantasies, where Faerie exists next door to our world in a way that means events can, and do, affect both us and them, usually to the detriment of one or the other. And whoever scored last has a nasty tendency to strike back. The original cover sucked, and it went back for a better one. At least, that’s what the author said at WorldCon. (The first cover really, really does suck, we’ll have to see about the second one when it gets here. I just want the damn story)

Two books I should be anticipating but aren’t exactly…

Wicked After Midnight by Delilah S. DawsonWicked After Midnight by Delilah S. Dawson and Rex Regis by L.E. Modesitt Jr. These two books have nothing to do with each other, except that they are both January books, and I would normally be chomping at the proverbial bit to get at them. However, I have ARCs. I’ve already read Rex Regis, and can’t recommend it, and the entire Imager Portfolio series, highly enough to anyone who loves epic fantasy.

I started Delilah S. Dawson’s Blud series after I met her at Dragon*Con in 2012. The series is steampunk with a slightly creepy twist to it, but they are darkly enchanting and I scoop up each book as soon as they are available. I know Wicked After Midnight is going to be a treat.

And now for a few words from the Alaskan delegate. Here’s Cass!

tropic of serpents by marie brennanThe Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan! Clearly. I invented a new rating system for Book #1 Then I preordered Serpents 6 months before it’s release. I’ve NEVER preordered something so far in advance. I have no idea what edition it is (hardcover? paperback?), what the cover art looks like…nada. Doesn’t matter. Don’t care. WANT BOOK NOW.

Symbiont by Mira Grant. Argh! I have to see what is happening with the Tapeworm Uprising! And then find some anti-parasitcs to ingest, thus purging my body of our future Tapeworm Overlords.


Wyrd-Sisters by Terry Pratchett new coverThe Discworld Collector’s Library. Holy shit these covers are gorgeous. ( I’ve read the covers off several of my favorite Terry Pratchett books, and I upgrades. Particularly the Death, Cultures of Discworld, and Witches Collections. I am only interested in certain Unseen University and City Watch books.

Untitled by Connie Willis. Connie read the first chapter from an untitled (and as yet unfinished) book at WorldCon and I have no idea when it is coming or what it will be called by I am waiting. Credit card in hand. Just give me a sign Connie…..

And there you have it. A few of the books we are looking most forward to in 2014. Of course, there will be more. Lots, lots more.

Which books are you looking forward to the most in 2014?

The Sunday Post AKA What’s On My (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 9-15-13

Sunday Post

Yesterday turned out to be pretty splendiferous, once the butterflies in my stomach settled down.

Gay Romance Northwest Meet-up LogoI was the Keynote Speaker at the Gay Romance Northwest Meetup yesterday. The conference, and it was very much a writers and readers conference, was held at the Seattle Public Library’s Central Library. The last I heard, the paid attendance was 120, but they were definitely taking at-the-door registration, so there were more people there.

My topic was getting what you want into your local library, or working with your local library to get what you wrote onto the physical or virtual shelves. The Q&A session ran over!!! There’s a very nice summary here, even if I feel funny about being the unnamed librarian.

I stayed for the whole thing. Besides the fact that I got questions and comments at every break and at the happy hour afterwards, this was an awesome event. Also, and one of the interesting things, as far as the writing and breaking into publishing, and questions about diversity and the lack thereof, many of the questions and answers were not dissimilar to things I’d heard at WorldCon a couple of weeks ago.

Becoming a writer and getting published is damn difficult. Period, exclamation point. Diversity is a journey and not a destination. Respectability is something that no genre fiction seems to have achieved, although mystery seems to be closer (for relative definitions of close) than anything else, and LGBTQ romance gets hit with a double-whammy of being both LGBTQ and romance.

One thing struck me, one of the authors (Daisy Harris) said that she wrote m/m romance because it allowed her to write couples who did not follow the alpha male/submissive female paradigm that she had been forced to follow when she wrote traditional m/f romance. Last night I was reading something that I wasn’t planning to review, but it was a couple where the dominant male/submissive female roles should not have occurred, and damn but they did anyway. I’m having a major re-think here.

I hope I get invited back next year.

But back to what else happened this week…

Current Giveaway:

Tourwide Giveaway: $15 Amazon Gift Card + 2 ebook copies of Medium Well by Meg Benjamin

Hellfire by Jean JohnsonBlog Recap:

B+ Review: The Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King
A- Review: Hellfire by Jean Johnson
B Review: Tempt Me, Cowboy by Megan Crane
B Review: Medium Rare by Meg Benjamin + Giveaway
B Review: The Arrangement by Mary Balogh
Stacking the Shelves (58)

Sunset on Summer Fun Blog HopComing Next Week:

A Question of Honor by Charles Todd (review)
The Bridge by Rebecca Rogers Maher (review)
Knight in Black Leather by Gail Dayton (review)
Dangerous Curves Ahead by Sugar Jamison (review)
Sunset on Summer Fun Blog Hop

Review: Hellfire by Jean Johnson

Hellfire by Jean JohnsonFormat read: ebook purchased from Amazon; paperback purchased at Worldcon
Formats available: ebook, paperback, mass market paperback
Genre: Military science fiction
Series: Theirs Not to Reason Why, #3
Length: 479 pages
Publisher: Ace
Date Released: July 30, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

As captain, Ia must now assemble a crew that can rise to the ultimate challenge of saving the galaxy. The hardest part will be getting them to believe her, to trust in her prophecies. If they don’t, her own crew will end up being the biggest obstacle in her race against time.

The Salik are breaking through the Blockade, plunging the known galaxy into war. Ia cannot stop it this time, nor does she want to. This is the terrible price she has seen all along—that some must pay with their lives so that others might live. Now only time itself can prove whether each member of her crew is merely a soldier or truly one of Ia’s Damned.

My Review:

Damn if this isn’t a middle book. It’s a damned good middle book, but it is definitely a middle book, suffering from all of the attendant problems of a member of that dreaded breed. You need to have read the previous books in the Theirs Not to Reason Why series (A Soldier’s Duty, reviewed here and An Officer’s Duty) and you need to wait impatiently for the next and hopefully finally book in the series, Damnation, to be published, probably next summer.

It’s going to be a hellishly long wait.

Ia is finally the Captain of her own ship, the Terran United Peacekeepers Space Force (TUPSF) Hellfire. Her crew will come to be infamously known as Ia’s Damned. She knows exactly when and in what circumstances they will acquire that nickname because Ia is a massive precognitive. Her coming has been foretold by one interplanetary religion as The Prophet of a Thousand Years. Ia has only one purpose in her life; to save the existence of all sentient races from an invasion that will wipe them from the galaxy, 300 years in the future.

She walks the timeplains, always seeking the one and only one choice that has a dim chance of success. For her people. For all “people”.

By the point where she takes over the Captaincy of the Hellfire, she has revealed herself to her superior officers in the TUPSF and to her crew. Forces have aligned themselves against her; not because they oppose her ultimate purpose, but because they are playing a game, and can’t believe that Ia is playing for such high stakes that their game will be rendered meaningless.

Hellfire is a book about the hurry up and wait involved in waging a long, slow war…because there is an enemy who comes before the ultimate enemy, and Ia has to defeat them first, so that the TUPSF still has something left when the dark days come.

It turns out that even a massive precog cannot account for all the possible chances.

Escape Rating A-: Notice that in the “format read” section above I have both an ebook copy that I purchased and I bought a paperback at WorldCon just so I could get the author to sign it. This probably gives a hint on my thoughts about the series as a whole.

Ia is a fascinating character. She knows everything, and yet, sometimes she still can’t control everything, which becomes the central tension in this story. She may see all events, but she can still be tripped up by her physical limitations. She can only be in one place at one time.

The story drags on in the middle by the need to describe the military logistics of the “hurry up and wait” wear and tear of a long campaign. It’s a necessary part of the story but it just wasn’t as interesting to this reader as focusing on the human (or Gatsugi, or any other sentient) aspects of the story.

The parts that sing for me were the times when the focus closes in on specific actions. The early scene where Ia returns to her homeworld of Sanctuary and gets to seriously tweak the nose of the religious zealot bureaucracy was much too much fun.

Near the end, there is a scene that should bring tears to any sentient. The aftermath of the scene explains much about the price that Ia pays for her knowledge and power. It’s about page 339 in either the paperback or ebook.

Ia’s story is definitely being sent into the light. Read it and you’ll be enthralled into understanding.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s On My (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 9-8-13

Sunday Post

And we’re back!

I know, it didn’t really look like we left, but that’s the joy of scheduling posts. Except that last Sunday’s Sunday Post almost posted full of XXX, because that’s the way I left it when we left town. I meant to fill it in, and almost forgot. WorldCon was a blast.

Loncon3 logoYes, we’re going to London next August, no matter how scraped the pennies have to be. This was so much fun I’m still bouncing up and down with glee, in spite of having been back for almost a week.

The Way the Future Was by Fred PohlThe Con experience ended on a mournful note. When we got home Monday night, word was percolating through that the great SF Grand Master Frederik Pohl had passed away in Illinois just as the Con was ending in San Antonio. One of the marvelous things about SF is just how accessible most of the pros are. Pohl used to attend all the Chicago cons every year, so I heard him read and speak two or three times a year for several years. He’ll be missed.

Before I move on to the regular recap and schedule of upcoming events, one last, but probably not final, comment about WorldCon. Galen posted a Worldcon wrap-up on his blog, Meta Interchange. I pretty much second everything he said, but it would have taken me five times as long to say it. 😉

Current Giveaway:

Suzanne Johnson tourwide giveaway: First prize (1) iPad 2; Second prize (5) $20 Gift Cards to Winners’ online retailer of choice; both prizes open internationally ENDS September 10, 2013

Winner Announcement:

The winners of the ebook copies of The Love of My (Other) Life by Traci L. Slatton are Shelley S. and BookLady.

Elysian Fields by Suzanne JohnsonBlog Recap:

Promo: Surprise Brazen Release: Wicked Heat by Nicola Marsh
Labor Day 2013
B+ Review: The Mystery Woman by Amanda Quick
B+ Review: Cast in Sorrow by Michelle Sagara
B+ Review: Finding Camlann by Sean Pidgeon
A- Review: Elysian Fields by Suzanne Johnson
Guest Post by Author Suzanne Johnson on Supernatural New Orleans + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (57)

Bones of Paris by Laurie R KingComing Next Week:

The Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King (review)
Hellfire by Jean Johnson (review)
Tempt Me, Cowboy by Megan Crane (blog tour review)
Medium Rare by Meg Benjamin (blog tour review)
The Arrangement by Mary Balogh (blog tour review)