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

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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?

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.

Pub-Day Repost: The Princess Beard by Kevin Hearne, Delilah S. Dawson: An Adventure on the High (and Joke-Filled) Seas of Pell

The Princess Beard

The Princess Beard

by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne
Series: The Tales of Pell, #3

eARC, 384 pg.
Dell Rey Books, 2019

Read: September 16-21, 2019

Readers of Kill the Farm Boy (the first installment in the Tales of Pell trilogy) may have been wondering about what happened to Princess Aurora/Snow White-esque figure, Princess Harkovitra*. Well, she wakes up, and finds herself in the position she’s always wanted—a chance to start over. She leaves her name and home behind, hitching a ride with our old acquaintance Morvin on his way to start a new life himself.

*Then again, maybe you’re like me, and figured she was like Worstely and that her only purpose was to kick-start the novel and hadn’t thought of her since.

They’re not the only ones looking for a new start. We also meet a swole centaur prone to over-compensation, seeks to reach a mystic temple that will heal him of (what he considers) his emasculating magical abilities. A pariah elf is looking for the opportunity to do something more meaningful than swindle tourists. And we also pick up with one of the newly liberated dryads from No Country for Old Gnomes, who needs a way to get to her chosen law school, Bogtorts.

All of these new starts require the characters to travel somewhere inaccessible to foot/horse/carriage traffic. Enter the Clean Pirate Luc (a.k.a. Filthy Lucre), who happens to be a one-eyed talking parrot. He needs new crew members and is willing to let these travel to their intended destinations in exchange for labor. Even if the result is something incongruous, like a centaur swabbing the decks (thankfully, that’s a funny image—a great thing for a comedic fantasy). Except for Morvin, who has other plans that involve less of the high seas.

The pirate ship ends up being just the thing to take our characters from quick adventure to quick adventure, creating opportunities for bonding and character growth. It’s different enough from the land-based pilgrimages of the past two novels to keep things feeling fresh, while allowing the same kind of vibe to permeate the book. I’m not the biggest fan of pirate/ship-based adventures, but when they’re done well, they are a lot of fun. And who doesn’t like a good Melville-based joke (or several)?

Not just Melville-based jokes, but there’s more than a couple of The Princess Bride riffs (in case the title didn’t tip you off). Which seems timely, given the resurgence in interest in William Goldman’s classic thanks to some nonsense about remaking the movie. I could be wrong, but this seems to be the jokiest of the three (I’m pretty sure my notes/list of great lines is longer than normal). Not that the others were joke-light, but this seems more focused on them and less focused on the story. Which makes it less successful as a novel in my opinion. But that’s in comparison to two really strong and effective novels, so I’m not saying it’s not a good read—it’s just a not-as-good-as-I-wanted read. If this was the first Pell book I’d read, I’d rush out to get the others (particularly, if a charming and insightful blogger had said the others were better than this one). I started chuckling within a page and didn’t finish until the end. Sometimes I did more than chuckle.

I’m not complaining a bit about the number of jokes, the character names alone are hilarious and make the book worth reading. It just takes away some of the impact of the story and the characters—or it distracted the authors from making them as compelling as they could have been. It’s kind of a chicken vs. egg thing.

Each of these characters gets an opportunity to find themselves, find their inner-strength, true desires, real self—whatever you want to call it. It turns out that some of them were right all along, and others just needed the fresh perspective that extreme circumstances can bring.

I didn’t connect with this one as much as I did the ones before, ditto for any of the characters. But I expect that my experience isn’t typical—The Princess Beard will resonate with some more than the others did. Either way, the reader will enjoy the ride. It’s exciting, it’s affirming, it’s a hoot.

I’m going to miss Pell, and hope the authors decide to dip their collective toes back into the land from time to time in the future. If not, at least we get the beginnings for these beautiful friendships.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine via NetGalley in exchange for this post—thanks to both for this entertaining romp.


3.5 Stars

Opening Lines—System Failure by Joe Zieja

Head & Shoulders used to tell us that, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That’s true for wearing dark shirts, and it’s especially true for books. Sometimes the characters will hook the reader, sometimes the premise, sometimes it’s just knowing the author—but nothing beats a great opening for getting a reader to commit. This is one of the better openings I’ve read recently. I’m sure we can all relate to it.

Lucinda Hiri was pretty sure taking over the galaxy hadn’t been in the job description when she was offered this intern position six months ago. Then again, it wasn’t impossible. The Snaggardir corporation’s paperwork was notoriously long and detailed, vetted by droves of lawyers at every level of approval to make sure that the language had all the right loopholes in all the right places. Lucinda supposed that somewhere on page 356 there could have been a small asterisk that said “in the event a nascent people rise up after two hundred years of secret collusion, you will be required to take detailed notes at their strategy meetings.”

It had seemed like a dream come true at the time. Sal Snaggardir and his family’s company were arguably the most powerful economic force in the galaxy. The possibilities for her career as a businesswoman were endless. Not liking interning at some space technology company on Urp, where she would likely move laterally for the entirety of her disappointing, coffee-supported life. Snaggardir’s was the place to make it big.

In retrospect, though Lucinda should have noticed that Mr. Snaggardir was trying to conceal just how big his company had gotten. Subsidiary corporations literally thousands of banks all across the galaxy holding funds under different names, and that nondisclosure agreement she signed threatening to eradicate her family line if she ever told anyone anything about the company. The legal department said that was boilerplate, and, really, what did she know? She was just a thirty-year-old unpaid intern with three advanced degrees in business arts.

from System Failure by Joe Zieja

Pub Day Repost: Dachshund Through the Snow by David Rosenfelt: Andy Carpenter gets a Cold Case for Christmas

Dachshund Through the Snow

Dachshund Through the Snow

by David Rosenfelt
Series: Andy Carpenter, #20

eARC, 352 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2019

Read: September 3, 2019


It felt a little weird for the second book I read in September to be a Christmas-centered novel. Sure, it’s an Advanced Reader Copy, but still, it feels ridiculous. However, one thing we learn right off the bat is that Andy’s wife, Laurie, wants to extend the Christmas season into February (I’m sure there’s a touch of hyperbole there)—so I can totally see her not blinking at a Christmas book right after Labor Day.

There’s another case that kicks the book off—Andy sues the Paterson Police Department on behalf of a canine officer whose handler is retiring and wants to bring the dog with him into early retirement due to hip problems. It’s a pleasant way to kick off the book, and Rosenfelt makes it pay off for events later in the book and into the future, too.

But the main event is tied into Laurie’s Christmas spirit. She goes to various local places (like a pet store) and takes the wish lists/letters to Santa left there and fulfills them. This year she gets a letter from a little boy who wants a coat for his mom and a sweater for his dachshund, but before you can say “Awww, how cute,” he also asks for Santa to find his dad and bring him home. A job for Laurie, the P.I., not Santa.

Before Laurie can find him, however, the Paterson police do—he’s arrested for a fourteen-year-old murder. Noah Traynor’s sister had done one of those 23andMe/Ancestry-type things and the police tied her DNA to blood left underneath the fingernails of an unsolved murder (this is such a good idea, and I hope other writers use a similar idea just to prompt discussion about these things). Now we’re talking a job that’s not for Santa or Laurie, it’s Andy’s turn.

By this point, we all know what comes next: Sam hacks into things he should and finds out a lot; Marcus mumbles, intimidates some criminals and does something violent; Laurie cajoles and supports Andy; Hike predicts calamity; Andy watches some sports and thinks while walking Tara and Sebastian; (and works a little). The trial arrives and Andy annoys the judge and prosecutor, amuses the reader and finally gets somewhere with his investigation. Just because we all know it’s coming, that doesn’t mean it’s any less entertaining—in fact, there’s the fun in finding out how Rosenfelt will juggle the standard options; e.g. “what superhuman thing will Marcus do this time?”, “will Sam get to go into the field?”, “how many potential witnesses will Andy alienate before the trial? There’s also a lot that happens this time that the reader isn’t used to seeing during trial prep or the trial itself.

During the trial, something so shocking happened that Andy swore when he learned about it—which didn’t scandalize me, I just don’t remember him doing it that often. I was just as shocked as he was and almost followed suit. I know Rosenfelt has tricked me and caught me off guard before, but I don’t remember anything like this one. At twenty books in, for him to leave me nigh-flabbergasted is an accomplishment. Early on, I’d come up with a theory for both the identity of the killer and the motive—and Rosenfelt had convinced me I was on the wrong track. But it turns out that the events that left me as gobsmacked as our favorite indolent defense lawyer paved the way for me to be proven right. I’m not bringing this up to talk about how clever I was but to say that Rosenfelt was so convincing that he talked me out of being right on both fronts. Few mystery writers succeed there, and that never fails to make me happy to read it.

The book also works as a launching point for the spin-off series expected next year, focusing on Laurie’s new Detective Agency. I’ve been looking forward to it since I saw it announced, but now I’m a bit more interested having a bit more information. But more on that in a few months.

I went without sleep—2 days before seeing my sleep specialist, who saw the data, I should add—to stay up and finish this. It was totally worth the scathing look she gave me because I just had to know how it ended. After a book or two that made me wonder if Rosenfelt was running out of steam, the last few of these books have restored all my faith in him—Dachshund Through the Snow is one of the best in the series. A couple of authentic laughs, a lot of smiles, some warm fuzzies. a very clever mystery, and some good quality time with old friends—it’s a genuinely good time.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in exchange for this post and my honest opinion—thanks to both for this early Christmas gift (so to speak), but the opinions expressed were not influenced by that, only by the fun read.


4 1/2 Stars

Land of Wolves by Craig Johnson: Longmire’s back home and hunting for killers (human and animal alike)

Land of Wolves

Land of Wolves

by Craig Johnson
Series: Walt Longmire, #15

Hardcover, 336 pg.
Viking, 2019

Read: September 24-25, 2019

It’s hard to think of a place in Wyoming where the wind doesn’t reign supreme; where the sovereignty of sound doesn’t break through the parks of the Bighorns with a hoarse-throated howl. I sometimes wonder if the trees miss the wind in the infrequent moments when it dies down, when the air is still and the skies are a threadbare blue, thin and stretching above the mountains. Needled courtesans—the lodgepole pines, Douglas firs, and Engelmann spruce—stand at the edge of the great park like wallflowers awaiting the beseeching hand of the wind to invite them to the dance floor. And I can’t help but wonder that when the sway passes and the trees are still, do they pine for that wind; do they grieve?

Ahhh…it’s good to be back in Absaroka County.

Walt starts off investigating the death of a sheep—probably at the hands, er, teeth of a wolf. This wolf is likely from Yellowstone and kicked out of his pack. Now that he’s probably/possibly killed a sheep, it certainly appears to be open season for him soon. Oddly, there’s no sign of a shepherd for this dead sheep, which gets Walt and Vic to go looking.

Sadly, they find the shepherd hanging from a tree—possibly the loneliness of the Wyoming wilderness got to him, or maybe he was killed. Neither case looks easy to wrap up, which means that it’s time for Walt to get back to focus more on the job and less on recovery from the horrible injuries (physical and mental) sustained in Mexico.

Walt is largely ready for this kind of thing, he needs something to focus on. He has to first deal with a labor and wildlife advocate who knew both the wolf and shepherd, and she doesn’t trust Walt’s approach to either. There’s also the shepherd’s employer—a member of the same family that left then-Sheriff Lucian Connally without a leg. There’s a populace worried about the presence of wolves in the area (ignoring the fact that there’s only one that’s been seen). Also, Henry adds the possibility that this wolf is actually a messenger from the spirits with a vision for Walt. Lastly, the entire Sheriff’s department wonders how long it’ll be until Walt does something to endanger his life—and just how bad that’ll be.

Most dramatically, a computer is installed on Walt’s desk, “the slippery slope to a cell phone.” Despite this intrusion of the 1990’s into his life, Walt perseveres.

This brings Walt back to Absaroka, he hasn’t spent a novel here since 2015’s Dry Bones (it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long), and the citizens are aware he’s spending a lot of time away. We see the old regulars, which should make long-time fans happy. But best of all, the story is classic Longmire—an exploration of Wyoming’s past and future just as much as it is the past and future of the characters (regulars and new to the series).

Early on, Walt’s on an unexpected hike and it’s taking it’s toll:

I pushed off the tree and started back at a slow pace, wondering if I ’d ever pick up the step I’d lost in Mexico. Maybe that was the way of things; sometimes you paid a price and never get to make another deposit into your account and eventually you are overdrawn. Lately, I’d been feeling like I was standing at the counter, the cashier always closing the window in my face.

That neatly summed up my fears about the series in general, particularly how it’d work after Mexico. If the series was going to continue in the vein of Depth of Winter, I’d have a hard time sticking around. But I’m happy to say that while the effects of Mexico linger, and will continue to be felt for some time, I’m not going anywhere. There were repeated signals throughout this novel that the status quo shouldn’t be taken for granted when it comes to any of these characters (except maybe Henry, he’ll only change when he wants to), but the same things that have been drawing readers to Walt Longmire for 15 books are still at the character’s and series’ core.

Leaving the state of the series aside, this was one of my favorite installments in the series (sure, I might be extra generous given my fears after Depth of Winter). The characters shone—it’s one of Sancho’s best outings, and Vic was just great. The story was compelling, a great mix of a drama and comedic moments, and the mystery was satisfying (maybe a little easy to suss out for the reader, but Johnson hit every beat correctly). I’m already counting the days until #16.


4 1/2 Stars

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