System Failure by Joe Zieja: The Epic Failure Trilogy Concludes with a Big Success

System Failure

System Failure

by Joe Zieja
Series: Epic Failure, #3

Paperback, 417 pg.
Saga Press, 2019

Read: October 1-2, 2019

“You are literally placing the fate of the galaxy in my hands.” [Rogers] thought for a moment. “Again. You need to stop doing this.”

Every author closing out a series—a trilogy or something longer running—has a daunting task (not that stand-alones or duology’s aren’t daunting themselves, but it seems easier to me). They have to tell a self-contained story; weaving in the character and story arcs that have been percolating since the first book; resolve the new and old arcs; leave the characters in a place that readers will find satisfying; and provide some sort of ending to all of that to leave everyone in a place where you can move onto the next thing. For writers like Joe Zieja there’s an additional challenge—you have to make the whole thing funny.

Thankfully, Zieja does all of that very, very well.

Rogers’ fleet (including the Thelicosans) arrive at the home base for the Free Systems to meet with their High Command. Fully aware that the only military commander that’s had any kind of success with this new enemy is Captain Rogers, he’s named the head of the Joint Force tasked with preventing Snaggardirs from destroying the galaxy.

They also realize that the only way Rogers has had any kind of success is by throwing out all the rule books—including The Art of War II: Now In Space by Sun Tzu Jr. So they tell him to do just that. They don’t care how ridiculous or uneducated his plans are, as long as they get the job done. Snaggardirs has given the Free Systems a very limited time to acquiesce or face the destruction of the galaxy. And they seem to be able to pull that off.

So with help from a very unexpected source, Rogers reaches out to the same space pirates we haven’t seen since the disastrous opening to Mechanical Failure and also is forced to accept help from a Thelicosan practitioner of something that’s a combination of horoscopes and astrophysics (you’ll have to read the book to understand it). These, um, unconventional tools are added to the rag-tag bunch that has come to help Rogers in a last-ditch effort to save reality as we know it.

As usual, Rogers is the focus. He’s been on a journey of personal growth since we first met him—despite his best intentions, it should be stressed. He really comes a long way just in these pages and it’s pretty cool to see.

Of course, I can’t go without talking about Deet—the droid that Rogers assembled from junk. He’s also on a journey of personal growth—just a different kind. In addition to trying to understand how to justify and explain his existence, he’s trying to learn to empathize, as well as lie convincingly (or at all), and he continues to improve his [EXPLETIVE] swearing. He does get better at it and made me laugh out loud several times (both in his successes and failures). There was one misstep that he made, and I re-read that sentence a few times to figure out what he may be trying to say. Naturally, after I gave up and moved on, I learned that no one understood what he was going for.

I should add a little something about Tunger. I found him amusing in Mechanical Failure, but I thought he was overused (and became a little annoying). In Communication Failure, I stopped finding him all that entertaining, mostly trying. Which is how he started in System Failure. But he soon became a very cool character and one of the real strengths of the book. He really might be the best thing that Zieja did throughout the series.

It seems like a bonus to me—not at all the kind of thing one expects from a book like this—we’re given an antagonist that the reader can almost sympathize with. Yes, their methods and strategies are wrong and harmful to innocents. But you can’t help but understand why a people would set off in this direction. I can’t imagine anyone reading about their plight will start hoping for a failure for Rogers and the rest, don’t get me wrong. But you just might see where the Jupiterians are coming from.

There’s a key acronym in the book that a. is fitting, b. is funny, c. took me far too long to get. Once I stopped feeling stupid, I realized it was a great example of this being one of those books where even if you don’t get the jokes, the book holds up as a story well enough that you won’t even notice there are jokes you don’t get until later.

There’s one figure with access to the top of Snaggardirs who isn’t on board with their destroying the galaxy plan. So they set out to sabotage it by helping Rogers. Their scheme was pretty clever, but with one giant flaw. Which made their sacrifice sad—and their attempts at success very funny. It’s a good mix for the reader (a pathetic one for the character).

I’m not sure it’s entirely fair (and I don’t mean to disparage any of the books I’m about to mention in any way), but while reading this, I couldn’t help but compare this to two other humorous series and their conclusions. I hate to compare any comedic SF to The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy, but how do you not? This series never got as funny as the best of Hitchhiker’s (maybe a couple of times it got pretty close, though), but it was a cohesive and believable story, populated with better characters and a solid ending — unlike Adams repeated attempts at a conclusion that never really felt satisfying. Similarly, Epic Failure trilogy went out strong, with its strongest material still working, unlike The Tales of Pell which went a little off-course in the final volume and didn’t stick the landing the way that System Failure managed to do.

Zieja successfully called back to elements of the first book (some I’d forgotten about, some I thought had fully served their purpose) and built on the developments of the second to give this volume a bit more heft and greater stakes. Then he added a great story new to this novel and wrapped up everything in a satisfying and definitive way. All while making me chortle, chuckle, grin and occasionally laugh. Who can ask for [EXPLETIVE] more? I don’t know what Zieja has planned next, but sign me up for whatever it is.


4 Stars
Humor Reading Challenge 2019

Advertisements

Quick Takes: Grace Defined & Defended by Kevin DeYoung, Josiah’s Reformation by Richard Sibbes, The Future of Everything by William Boekestein

One or two of these didn’t end up being as “quick” as I’d intended, but I still don’t think of them as full-fledged posts, I think I’d need another 3-6 paragraphs each before I’d think of them as done. Oh well, what’s important (to me) is that they’re done and I can move on to the next books under consideration.

Grace Defined and Defended

Grace Defined and Defended: What a 400-Year-Old Confession Teaches Us about Sin, Salvation, and the Sovereignty of God

by Kevin DeYoung

Hardcover, 95 pg.
Crossway, 2019

Read: May 5, 2019

Read the Official Synopsis here.

At their very heart, the Canons of Dort are about the nature of grace—supernatural, unilateral, sovereign, effecting, redeeming, resurrecting grace, with all of its angularity all of its offense to human pride, and all of its comfort for the weary soul. That’s what Dort wanted to settle. That’s what they were jealous to protect. Some words are worth the most careful definitions, just as some truths are too precious not to defend.

This is the second book about the Canons of Dort I’ve read in this 400th Anniversary year, and it’s (not surprisingly) a handy little book.

DeYoung starts off with an introduction sketching the theological and historical context for the Canons of Dort, and explains why we should care about them today. It’s called “In Praise of Precision” and sets the tone for the whole book (the above paragraph is from it).

Then he moves into an examination of each Main Point of Doctrine (what most translations call “Heads of Doctrine”), one chapter for every Point. DeYoung covers them concisely, but thoroughly (well, as thoroughly as you can while being concise). It’s polemical as it has to be, but no further. Honestly, DeYoung saves his most pointed words for those who (on paper, anyway) agree with the Canons, but don’t share the spirit of them.

I’d prefer something deeper, but that’s never what you’re going to get from a DeYoung book, I know it. So that’s not something I hold against it. Really, my only complaint is that there’s no conclusion. The book screams for one, if nothing else, just a couple of pages tying the Points back to the introduction. But other than that, I don’t think I have a bad thing to say about it.

It’s succinct, accessible, full of DeYoung’s typical charm and focused on the precision those assembled at Dort. It’s an entry point to the Canons of Dort, but there are more in-depth studies that readers should pursue (e.g., this)—but this will get you started in the right direction. I should add that it’d be a decent enough examination of them if you’re not curious enough to read more (but you totally should).
3 Stars

Josiah's Reformation

Josiah’s Reformation

by Richard Sibbes

Kindle Edition, 176 pg.
Banner of Truth Trust, 2011

Read: May 19-26, 2019

Read the Official Synopsis here.

For the longest time, Richard Sibbes has been my go-to Puritan. His writing taps right into my heart. The doctrine is strong, the application wise, but throughout it all he’s convicting and assuring (in the best way). This collection, sadly, just missed for me.

This is a collection of four sermons from 2 Chronicles describing the work of Josiah. It’s a call to sincerity in the faith, of killing hypocrisy within, of the change that the preaching of free grace can make in the heart which spills into our lives. First and foremost, the goal isn’t the benefits of Christ and desiring them, but to desire Him, to love Him—which will protect from hypocrisy and surface holiness by driving us to something deeper and truer. He then preaches about the art of self-humbling and mourning for our sin. The final sermon focuses on the true desire of the renewed heart—being gathered to Christ. Who doesn’t need to hear/read this message?

It was probably me coming to it when I did, and nothing off in Sibbes’ work. I can’t point to a problem with the book, I just never connected with it. I can see the encouragement, the comfort, the urging to pursue holiness—it’s all on-target, Biblical and well-written. But it left me feeling disappointed. Again, it’s probably really good, and in a couple of years when I try it again, I won’t understand my reaction.
3 Stars
2019 Cloud of Witnesses Reading Challenge

The Future of Everything

The Future of Everything: Essential Truths about the End Times

by William Boekestein

Paperback, 135 pg.
Reformation Heritage Books, 2019

Read: April 7, 2019

Read the Official Synopsis here.

This is a great primer on Eschatology—it covers all the major points, develops them pretty well and shows how one can continue in the study of them as well as how they connect to the other points of the study of the End without losing sight of the rest of life and doctrine.

After setting the stage with a discussion of what Eschatology entails and how we can best understand prophecy, Boekestein moves on to Personal Eschatology—the death that waits everyone (barring Christ’s return) and then what happens between that death and The End.

Then he moves on to General Eschatology (the End for everyone as a whole), with chapters on Christ’s Return, the meaning of the millennium, the general Resurrection, final Judgement, Hell and the New Heavens and Earth.

The last two chapters involve applying Eschatology to the New Covenant and Missions. How are we to act, think, and live in light of the coming End? These are things that are too often ignored when it comes to the study of Eschatology and it’s wonderful when they’re focused on.

One thing I really appreciated about this was that with the majority (possibly all, but I didn’t take notes on it) of the references to the Psalms that he made, Boekestein quoted/footnoted the Trinity Psalter Hymnal that the URCNA and OPC published last year. It’s a great way to get those metrical versions of the Psalms into your head, and hopefully into your heart (and vice versa).

One other thought I had while reading this is that there’s no need for my pastor to write a book on Eschatology. From his frequently cited sources, his perspectives, and even some of his phrasing, this could easily have had my pastor’s name on it. This doesn’t help any of you, but it is something I couldn’t stop thinking about.

I do wish his coverage of Postmillennialism was a bit more nuanced (and positive). I’m not a card-carrying post-mill anymore, but I still know the position isn’t quite as deficient and problematic as he makes it out to be.

This would a great introduction to Reformed eschatology—I want to stress the Reformed part, because the tradition is rich in its eschatological vision. Not in a focus on the end of the world, the timing of it, and how that’ll look, etc., etc. But how everything since the Ascension has been moving toward this point under the Kingship of Jesus Christ. It’s an assuring book, a helpful book, a great starting point (or refresher) for anyone studying Eschatology. Particularly for those who have no interest in starting such a confusing and volatile subject.
4 Stars

A Couple of Thoughts on the 40th Anniversary of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The first Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy book was published 40 years ago on October 12, 1979.

Just a couple of thoughts in response to this…I don’t want to blather on. (if you want to see me blather on about the series, click here).

bullet 40 Years? Wow. Sure, a lot of it is dated, but most of it feels so fresh that he could’ve written it within the last year or two.
bullet Yeah, that’s the original cover—that’s a long way from the smiling planet logo I’m used to seeing (and have tattooed on my arm).
bullet On a related note, someone—multiple someones, actually—thought that cover was a good idea.
bullet 40 years later, it’s still the benchmark. How many works from that era are still that important? (maybe some cinema)
bullet Okay, that’s actually all I’ve got—it’s just cool to note big anniversaries like this. So, now we have.

Have you read this series? Got any thoughts/memories to share?

Saturday Miscellany—10/12/19

Yeah, I’ve been quiet this week, I’ve been running on fumes for most of it, I’m not sure why. Given the number of Book Tour Stops I’ve got scheduled for next week, I’ll be a little noisier (or, I’ll have a few tour organizers and authors not speaking to me).

But that’s for another day (at least Tuesday). For now, here are the odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

    A Book-ish Related Podcast Episode you might want to give a listen to:

  • Once & Future Podcast, Ep. 200: Felicia Day—Anton Strout celebrates his 200th episode with this great chat with Felicia Day (I’ve got to make time for this book)

    This Week’s New Releases include one book I’ve already read and three that sound like they’d be up my alley, but I don’t know if I’ll manage to get to (make sure you click the links to get the full blurbs on these):

  • The Princess Beard by Kevin Hearne, Delilah S. Dawson—high seas adventure, hijinks, many jokes, many elf butts and personal growth are featured in this concluding Tale of Pell. My original post is here.
  • Look Both Ways:
    A Tale Told in Ten Blocks
    by Jayson Reynolds—a novel told in ten stories about what happens after the school bell rings and people walk home. There’s also a bus falling from the sky that no one notices.
  • How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse by K. Eason—a mix of Fairy-Tale and Space Opera
  • Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Kate Racculia—a dying billionaire sends one woman and a cast of dreamers and rivals on a treasure hunt.

Lastly, yesterday I posted a couple of things with a new bullet style (in case you’re one of the 2% that noticed), today, I’m back to ol’ reliable. What do you think—are those others too much for a post like this? Would it just make things too noisy?

Universal Monster Book Tag


Witty and Sarcastic Book Club tagged me in her little creation—a tag based on Universal’s Classic Movie Monsters. There’s a lot of recency bias in my pics, but oh well—I liked the list. I really need to do more things like this, it was fun.

While trying to come up with the last couple of entries for this, I took a Facebook break and read a couple of posts on a Nero Wolfe fan group, and realized I could fill my blanks from that Corpus. Then it occurred to me that I could do one of these with entries only from the Nero Wolfe series. Or, the Spenser series. Huh. (I’d have trouble with some other series depending how you define “sequel” below). Watch me control the impulse.

bullet Dracula: a book with a charismatic villain
The Silence of the Lambs
My Pick: Gotta go with Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, every other charismatic villain I can think of pales in comparison.
Bonus Nero Wolfe Pick: (yeah, so much for restraint—this was a fun additional challenge) Paul Chapin in The League of Frightened Men (my post about the book)
Bonus Spenser Pick: The Gray Man in Small Vices

bullet The Invisible Man: A book that has more going on than meets the eye
The Last Adventure of Constance Verity
My Pick: The Last Adventure of Constance Verity by A. Lee Martinez (my post about the book)
Bonus Nero Wolfe Pick: Even in the Best Families
Bonus Spenser Pick: Early Autumn

bullet Wolf-Man: A complicated character
Needle Song
My Pick: Doc Slidesmith in Needle Song (my post about the book)
Bonus Nero Wolfe Pick: Can I just use Nero Wolfe? Eh, Orrie Cather in A Family Affair
Bonus Spenser Pick: Patricia Utley in Mortal Stakes

bullet Frankenstein: A book with a misunderstood character
The Unkindest Tide
My Pick: The Luidaeg in The Unkindest Tide by Seanan McGuire (my post about the book)
Bonus Nero Wolfe Pick: Over My Dead Body (my post about the book)
Bonus Spenser Pick: Hawk, A Promised Land

bullet The Bride of Frankenstein: A sequel you enjoyed more than the first book
Stoned Love
My Pick: Stoned Love by Ian Patrick (my post about the book)
Bonus Nero Wolfe Pick: The League of Frightened Men (yeah, that’s the second time this shows up, but it’s the sequel…) (my post about the book)
Bonus Spenser Pick: God Bless the Child

bullet Creature from the Black Lagoon: An incredibly unique book
A Star-Reckoner's Lot

(there’s a better cover now, but this is the first)

My Pick: A Star-Reckoner’s Lot by Darrell Drake (my post about the book)
Bonus Nero Wolfe Pick: Some Buried Ceasar (my post about the book)
Bonus Spenser Pick: A Savage Place

bullet The Mummy: A book that wraps up nicely (see what I did there?)
Every Heart a Doorway
My Pick: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (my post about the book)
Bonus Nero Wolfe Pick: This applies to almost every one of them, I’m going to go with The Doorbell Rang
Bonus Spenser Pick: The Judas Goat

I’m not going to tag anyone, but I’d encourage any reader to give it a shot. I’d like to see your lists.

Also, I’ve been thinking for awhile I needed to do a re-read of the Spenser series. This post has convinced me I really need to get on that.

Have You Eaten Grandma? by Gyles Brandreth: A Funny and Accessible Guide to English Usage

Have You Eaten Grandma?

Have You Eaten Grandma?: Or, the Life-Saving Importance of Correct Punctuation, Grammar, and Good English

by Gyles Brandreth

Hardcover, 285 pg.
Atria Books, 2018

Read: September 12, 2019

…you don’t need to understand all the intricacies of English grammar to be able to communicate well. I use a computer, but I have no idea how it works. I have a wife, but I have no idea why she stays. I take statins, and while the doctor did explain that they inhibit the HMG-CoA reductase—that rate-limiting enzyme of the mevalonate pathway—all I need to know is that they should help lower my bad cholesterol and reduce the risk of a heart attack.

This book can change your life. For the better. Enjoy.

I’ve tried a few times to post about this, and it’s always come out as a mess. So, as I usually do in these circumstances, I’m just going to start with the official blurb:

For anyone who wants to make fewer (not less) grammar mistakes, a lively, effective, and witty guide to all the ins and outs of the English language, reminiscent of the New York Times bestseller Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

Our language is changing, literary levels are declining, and our grasp of grammar is at a crisis point. From commas to colons, apostrophes to adverbs, there are countless ways we can make mistakes when writing or speaking. But do not despair! Great Britain’s most popular grammar guru has created the ultimate modern manual for English speakers on both sides of the Atlantic.

In this brilliantly funny and accessible guide to proper punctuation and so much more, Gyles Brandreth explores the linguistic horrors of our times, tells us what we’ve been doing wrong and shows us how, in the future, we can get it right every time. Covering everything from dangling participles to transitive verbs, from age-old conundrums like “lay” vs. “lie,” to the confounding influences of social media on our everyday language, Have You Eaten Grandma? is an endlessly useful and entertaining resource for all.

That’s just what you get—a funny and accessible guide to grammar, punctuation, and the English language in general (at least in its present form). That’s a distinctively British English, it should be noted, but even those of us who’ve abandoned vestigial “u”s thanks to Noah Webster can profit from it.

A few highlights:
bullet The entire section on the semi-colon is pretty entertaining (and helpful); the entire section covering punctuation makes the entire book worth the purchase price (or library checkout) and the read.
bullet The joke opening his section on the colon is both painful, of questionable taste, and laugh-inducing.
bullet His summary history of the Exclamation Point does in one paragraph, what Shady Characters would do in a page (not saying one approach is better than the other, I enjoyed both books. That paragraph, in particular, made me think of Houston’s book).
bullet Brandreth gives a stirring defense for the correct use of the much-abused apostrophe, culminating with:

Give up on the apostrophe, and you’re giving in to chaos. Without the apostrophe, there’s linguistic anarchy. The apostrophe is the symbol of our cause—the mark we need emblazoned on our banners. If we go weak or wobbly in our defense of the apostrophe, we are on the slippery slope to incomprehensibility and confusion.

bullet Brandreth begins his section on the usage of brackets/parenthesis with:

What the British call “brackets,” the Americans call “parentheses”—when they are round brackets, that is. What the Americans call “brackets” are what the British call “square brackets.” It doesn’t cause as much confusion as the meaning of the word “fanny” on either side of the Atlantic, but it serves to underline the truth of the observation made by Oscar Wilde more than 130 years ago: “We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language.”

Which points to one of the great distinctives of this book—Brandreth spends a lot of time explaining/illustrating the differences in the English used on both sides of the Atlantic. He later devotes an entire chapter to British vs. American English (part of which found its way to a Saturday Miscellany post in August). It includes a wonderful table for finding equivalent words/phrases/spellings.

The Brandreth Rule is: when in Rome, do as the Romans do—speak English. And if you’re British, do so with a British accent and spell your English the British way. That isn’t always easy—particularly if you haven’t worked out how to opt out of American English autocorrect when using Microsoft Word.

(there are a handful of Brandreth Rules scattered throughout the book, but this is my favorite)
bullet I appreciated that more than once he got to the point where he had to say (paraphrasing), “I don’t know why this is why it works this way, but it does, just live with it.” Once he said to use the rule or you’ll “look an ignorant oik.” Which might be my favorite phrase of 2019, “oik” is likely my favorite new vocabulary word. I have to work it into more conversation/writing.
bullet The Scrabble help might be the most turned-to part of the book for most readers.
bullet The tips for increasing word power are fantastic.

I actually could keep going, but I’ve gone on longer than I thought I would when I started.

I had a blast while reading this—I honestly don’t expect everyone will, though. If you’re not a language-nerd, aspiring grammar Nazi, or an old-school English teacher, you probably won’t enjoy it as much as me. However, if you enjoy quality humor and could use some help with your writing—you will appreciate it. It’s handy, it’s helpful, it’s entertaining—and how many grammar guides can say that? It’s the kind of thing that my college-bound daughter could use on her dorm bookshelf (and will probably find), and I know more than a few people who find themselves writing reports and the like for work who could use something like that. If you need help, might as well have a good time while you’re at it—and Have You Eaten Grandma is just the thing.


3.5 Stars
2019 Library Love Challenge

WWW Wednesday, 10-October-2019

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! I haven’t been able to get as much finished as I’ve wanted to since Thursday, so why not try something simple?

This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived on Taking on a World of Words — and shown to me by Aurore-Anne-Chehoke at Diary-of-a-black-city-girl.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Easy enough, right?

What are you currently reading?

The current thing I’ve got going is listening to the audiobook of This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper, Ramon De Ocampo (narrator).

What did you recently finish reading?

I just finished Don’t Get Involved by F. J. Curlew and will be posting both my take on the book and a Q&A with the author next week.

What do you think you’ll read next?

My next book will probably be The Dead of Winter by A.B. Gibson, an Appalachian Trail Murder Mystery.

Hit me with your Three W’s in the comments!