Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja

Mechanical FailureMechanical Failure

by Joe Zieja
Series: Epic Failure, #1

Hardcover, 343 pg.
Saga Press, 2016

Read: August 17 – 18, 2016

No duty was too great that R. Wilson Rogers couldn’t find a way to shirk it.

This is the essence of R. Wilson Rogers (don’t ask what the R. stands for) compressed into one sentence — an engineer for the Galactic Navy during the longest peacetime in Galactic Memory. As a result of all the peace, there’s not a whole lot for a Naval ship to do — nor for the men assigned to it. So, Rogers and his fellow crew members got up to a lot of nonsense — drinking, gambling and worse. Eventually, Rogers finds himself leaving under less than auspicious circumstances. Not long after that, under even less auspicious circumstances (which I’ll leave for you to read about and chuckle over) he finds himself back on the appropriately named Flagship which has transformed in his brief absence in to a serious-minded place, full of random inspections, wartime preparations (despite centuries of peace), and odd assignments.

Before long, Rogers finds himself getting promotions, leading a group of battle droids, and seriously considering suicide and desertion (favoring the the latter, I assure you) — and that’s when things really start to get interesting.

This is pretty decent Military SF with a twist of humor, a dollop of irony, a pinch of satire, and so on — I don’t want to compare it to Adams. But I’ll compare it to a mix of Scalzi, Harry Harrison, Jack Campbell, Grant Naylor and Peter David. There’s a sense of play, even when he’s not going for the comedy, which makes the whole thing fun to read.

Best ‘droid since Marvin, best malfunctioning human personality software since Marvin (or Lore — but not as creepy or murderous), funniest ‘droids since Kryten. I could keep those comparisons going — essentially, I really liked all of the Droids on Flagship (especially Deet). The CO reminded me of some sort of hybrid between the pointy-haired boss and Douglas Reynholm is great comic relief, but there’s more to him than that.

Honestly, I could go on and on, Zieja assembled a great cast of characters — real enough that you can like them, outlandish enough that you don’t take them terribly seriously. Not just the obviously comedic characters either, there are a few “straight (wo)men” characters scattered throughout, keeping the rest grounded. Rogers is the best of the bunch – there’s a little personal growth to him (no one’s more surprised and dismayed by that than him), I enjoyed seeing that come out. I liked how despite himself he learns to set aside prejudices, take things seriously, and even act a little heroically. I as amused by (and occasionally disturbed by) his attraction to/fascination with the Amazonian Marine Captain. Rogers’ way of looking at the world is pretty relatable (I’m not saying that he’s the kind of guy you spend time with, he’s the guy you want to spend time with), and he’ll win you to his side pretty quickly.

One thing that I really appreciated was the respect that Zieja showed to the military personnel throughout this — too often everyone (with a maximum of a couple of exceptions) in a book like this is depicted as a moron — think of Richard Hooker’s classic for a moment. It’s just one example, but it’s a good one. You’ve got Jones, the Painless Pole, Hawkeye, Trapper, Duke, and a couple of nurses here and there who are competent, if not great, doctors. Who else? Everyone else is a “regular Army” schmuck ho shouldn’t be allowed in an operating theater or near anything where life and death decisions come into play.

Zieja doesn’t play it this way — these Navy and Marine men and women (with one or two exceptions, because there are always exceptions) are treated as competent, equipped and dedicated people whose greatest problem is that they have nothing to do, so things get a little loopy from time to time. But you give then an enemy, you give them a goal, you give them some way to target their talents and energy — good things happen. Even the really incompetent turn out to be quite competent when put in the right spot, doing what they’re good at (even if that’s not what they want to be good at). Problems are solved, crises averted, and enemies thwarted. That’s just not seen often enough, and I appreciate Zieja doing that.

That doesn’t mean he can’t find ways to make fun of the dedicated, the competent, and equipped — but he doesn’t make them into buffoons to do so (mostly).

I knew that I was going to like this book by page 3, I was audibly chuckling by page 4. The rest was just gravy. I laughed, chortled, and grinned my way through this — practically from beginning to end. The story as pretty good, the story plus the comedy made this gold. If I could think of stronger words to use to endorse this, I’d probably slap them here. But I can’t — just get your hands on this one. Meanwhile, I’m already looking forward to the sequel.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from the Publisher in exchange for my honest comments on it — sorry for the delay, I greatly appreciate the book.

—–

4 Stars

Advertisements

Kitty Saves the World by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty Saves the WorldKitty Saves the World

by Carrie Vaughn
Series: Kitty Norville, #14

ARC, 325 pg.
Tor Books, 2015
Read: July 14 – 15, 2015
4 1/2 Stars
Easy title to live up to, no?

About the same time that I posted my review of the previous book, Low Midnight, where I talked about “future Kitty novels,” Carrie Vaughn announced that this one would be the end. So much for my predictive ability. Now, at the end, I see that Low Midnight was well-placed in the series, and I have a better understanding of the role it played in setting up this book. Which is not to say that I wouldn’t have preferred a few more books in this series, but if Vaughn had to end it now, I’m glad she did it like this.

This couldn’t be less obvious a last novel. Kitty name checks and/or visits everybody we’ve met along the way, it’s like the last few minutes of “The End of Time” before The Doctor regenerates into Matt Smith. But Vaughn does it so smoothly, it’s only when you stop and think about who’s shown up that you even notice what she’s done.

I don’t really have much to say about this — it’s the 14th and final novel in a series. Don’t let this be the first one you read — do let this be the last. Start with one of the first few (if not the first, Kitty and the Midnight Hour).

This is different than the rest of the series, not just because it’s the end. There’s plenty of action to be found — not a lot of time for character development, growth, relationships, new characters (well, maybe a couple) — it’s all about Regina Luporum and her allies versus Dux Bellorum, anything else is a distraction (however pleasant a distraction). Which isn’t to say that the characters are unimportant — it’s Carrie Vaughn, characters are the core. But they’re very busy here, and don’t have a lot of time to chat, reflect, or anything like that — they have a world to save.

The final showdown with Roman didn’t go as expected, but better. The scenes following that were great, and the ending was everything a fan could hope for.

One criticism — and, now that I think about it, this applies to the series as a whole — Kitty tells us time after time that her pack is what’s important, it drives her restaurant/bar New Moon, it keeps her in Denver, it’s what motivates her, blah, blah, blah. But really, outside of the occasional chat while picking up an order with Shaun and references to the group hunting on the Full Moon, we don’t see them. The pack that Kitty cares about is the other one — Ben, Cormac, Amelia, Alette, Odysseus Grant, Tina, Rick, Matt, and the others that fill her life and align themselves with her against the Long Game. I’d be fine with it if Kitty were just a little bit more honest with herself/us about it.

I’m going to miss Kitty, Ben, Cormac and the rest, and the next year is going to feel a little strange not getting any new adventures from them. But this was a great way to say goodbye.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Dusted Off: Kitty’s Big Trouble by Carrie Vaughn

While starting the post for Kitty Saves the World, I noticed I’d reviewed only two other books in this series here. Unthinkable. It was one of the first UF series I ever tried and it’s one of my favorites to this day. Turns out, that somehow I’ve only written one other post on the series. I’m still having trouble coming to grips with that. So, I figured I’d better throw this up before I forgot.

Kitty's Big TroubleKitty’s Big Trouble

by Carrie Vaughn
Series: Kitty Norville, #9

Mass Market Paperback, 307 pg.

Tor Books, 2011

Read: July 3 – 4, 2011
It’s been far too long since we’ve had a new Kitty Norville adventure, and Carrie Vaughn didn’t disappoint with this one.

We begin with Kitty’s most recent hobby–trying to out historical figures as weres or vampires or whatever. Which is a lot of fun, and is a well Vaughn hopefully returns to.

But the main action focuses on the Long Game between various vampire factions that we’ve seen a few peaks into lately. Kitty’s ally Anastasia is racing against Roman for possession of a magical artifact that could turn the tide in this competition forever.

Honestly, I don’t think this was the strongest entry in the series plotwise–this seems more about setting the stage for bigger things down the road. But while setting the stage, we get to spend some good quality time with some great characters, learn more about Cormac’s situation, and meet a few new characters (a couple of which I hope to see again, soon).

Should add that it took me far too long to get the title, and when I finally did I wondered where my head had been for a couple hundred pages.

Can’t wait to see what trouble Kitty gets into next.

—–

4 Stars

Low Midnight by Carrie Vaughn

Low MidnightLow Midnight

by Carrie Vaughn
Carrie Vaughn
Series: Kitty Norville, #13

Mass Market Paperback, 309 pg.
Tor Books, 2015
Read: January 7 – 8, 2015
Ahh, the fans (some of them, anyway) get what they’ve been wanting — a novel featuring everyone’s favorite retired monster hunter (and the deceased Victorian witch who’s living inside his brain). The thing Vaughn did that makes this stand out is that unlike most authors, rather than give Cormac some side story, she gives his solo adventure a central place in the overall storyline — what happens here will play a big part in what happens in future Kitty novels.

This is honestly not at all what I expected from a Cormac novel. I expected more violence — not necessarily a blood bath, but more guns, more offensive magic — and less discussion of meadows. But he’s grown — moreover, he’s doing what he can to live as a law-abiding ex-con (especially one with Ben looking over his shoulder all the time). So no guns. Brains over brawn, which seems to be stranger for Cormac than it is for readers.

The plot was meager, honestly. The story was mostly just an excuse to see Cormac in his element — get to know him better, get a fuller picture of his past and to watch the way that he and Amelia work together. And as such, the novel succeeded. As a story about Cormac and Amelia investigating a century-old death by magic, it was tolerable.

The strongest part of the book was their relationship, the way they’ve learned to work — and exist — together. There’s genuine affection between the two — a little mistrust (which makes sense, given their unusual situation), but genuine affection. Given how we’re introduced to Cormac, that’s pretty serious growth.

At the end of the day, this was a nice diversion — a good way to get a different look at things, to see the people who aren’t Kitty engaged in her crusade, and to get to know these characters better. I’d probably enjoy another book focused on Cormac and Amelia, but I’m looking forward to getting back to Kitty’s POV.

—–

3.5 Stars

The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey

The Infinite Sea (The 5th Wave, #2)The Infinite Sea

by Rick Yancey
Series: The 5th Wave, #2

Hardcover, 300 pg.
Putnam Juvenile, 2014
Read: October 4 – 5, 2014
Man, talk about trepidation. Did I want to pick up this book? Was there any chance it could live up to The 5th Wave? Slim to none. But man, I wanted to find out what happens to the Earth. I wanted to know if we ever figure out what the aliens want with the Earth, why they’re eliminating humanity in the way they are. So, prepared to be disappointed, I cracked the cover.

And Yancey doesn’t try to match — or even try to top — The 5th Wave. He writes a very different book. Not one that grabbed me as thoroughly, but one that works in its own way. Where The 5th Wave was a bullet train that you just tried to hang on to — The Infinite Sea was roller coaster you’re riding while blindfolded — the ride lopping, diving, screaming around a corner with no warning, leaving your stomach behind you.

Yancey can’t even give us a Prologue to reorient ourselves to this world, to get our feet under us so we can say, “Oh yeah, this is what’s going on…” before resuming the action. Sure, it starts to seem like that, but nope. He’s right there to pull the rug out from under us at the first possible moment, in a way that catches the reader just as off-guard as the bits of remaining humanity will be.

I read some criticism lately about The 5th Wave that complained about the lack of motivation given for the aliens to do what they’re doing — it makes no sense, and therefore the reviewer couldn’t buy into the book with a motive-less enemy. But to me, that’s why the book worked. Humanity doesn’t understand what’s going on, so there’s no reason we human readers should either. Try as they might, there’s just no figuring out what’s going on other then their great need to survive.

On the whole, we spend time with the characters we met in the first book, those that survived — and, in flashbacks, some that didn’t, Cassie, Sam, Ben/Zombie, and a few others I won’t name because I can’t be sure I won’t spoil something by doing so. We say good-by to some of them, too. We meet a few other characters, too. Some of which we’ll see again. It’s that kind of series. But we get to know almost all of them better, the last book was all about getting to know a couple of these characters really well. This time, we get backstories on everyone, even if it’s pages/paragraphs before they die. This is important, I feel more grounded in this world the more I get to know characters who aren’t Cassie, Evan or Ringer.

And we get some more mature, experienced — and in some cases, informed — hints at what’s really been going on. Still, not enough to placate that other reviewer, I bet — or, really anyone. At one point, Cassie’s complaining about her interactions since Day 1 with Evan.

Every time I edge too close to something, he deflected by telling me how much he loved me or how I saved him or some other swoony, pseudo-profound observation about the nature of my magnificence.

I chuckled as I read it, because this is pretty much Yancey’s modus operandi — just when you get close to learning something, being told something, a character figuring something out, etc. — something explodes or someone starts shooting. Or both. Not a way to tell a narrative that satisfies everyone or to show off brilliant world-building. But a it’s great way to keep pages turning.

I found this to be a very satisfying read. As I said, I didn’t expect to be as taken with this book as I was its predecessor, and I wasn’t — but in a way, I’m sucked into this series more than before. I really don’t know the last time I said “son of a — “* out loud at a book as much as I did with this one. It’s probably not since Butcher’s Changes that I’ve called a writer so many names as I’ve read. Yancey just keeps throwing me for loops. Not the best book I’ve ever read, not high literature, but edge-of-your-seat thrills, convincing characters, and honestly come by surprises. Really entertaining stuff. That’s all I ask for.

—–

* I seriously don’t finish the sentence, because I’m too busy shaking off whatever trauma is thrown my way and getting back into things to bother.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Kitty in the Underworld by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty in the Underworld
Kitty in the Underworld by Carrie Vaughn
Series: Kitty Norville, #12


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m a little surprised at my rating for this one — not that Vaughn’s not more than capable of writing a four or five-star book — but based on my reactions while reading which were definitely not favorable. But my reactions were strong enough — based on the claustrophobic note frequently struck here, and how much I cared about what Kitty was doing/going through — that I knew Vaughn had delivered. Hadn’t necessarily written the book I wanted/expected, but she got the job done very effectively.

N.B. I get vaguely spoilery beyond here — I don’t think it’s too terrible, nothing I’d really have minded reading before picking up this book.

So the idea behind Kitty Drinks the Kool-Aid in the Underground is that while some vampires, and Kitty herself think the whole Regina Luporum thing is a joke, there are some who take it very seriously. So seriously, that they kidnap Kitty to get her assistance in making a major attack on Roman/Dux Bellorum.

Now, this may strike you as a particularly stupid way to get someone to help you out — as it should, it definitely strikes Kitty that way. But for whatever reason/delusion, her kidnappers don’t see it that way.

Now, over the last 11 books, we’ve seen impetuous Kitty, rash Kitty, leaping-before-she-looks Kitty — and while Ben and Cormac grit their teeth and fret, the reader just smiles, content in our knowledge that this is just Kitty being Kitty. However, in Kitty gets Stockholm Syndrome in the Underground we see Kitty being just stupid.

She gives a magic user (that she doesn’t know) access to her blood. She lets a strange vampire feed off of her. She passes up chances to escape. She lets her guard down with her captors. Now, Kitty’s generally quick to trust — which is part of her charm — but she generally has some sort of basis for that. Not here. Well, at least no rational basis. Here’s she’s just so desperate to take down Dux Bellorum, that she throws reason and caution to the wind.

She spends large amount of time being rational, thinking things through, reacting as she should — and then she seems to shut that down to work with these people. I talked back to the book a lot (this is a behavior I don’t typically engage in at all). My favorite werewolf had taken leave of her senses and was risking it all.

This book should’ve been twice as long (at least). Kitty needed more time in the cave before she acted the way she acted. The reader needed to get a better idea of the rich and colorful characters that were introduced here. It would’ve been nice to see Kitty’s pack at work trying to find and rescue her. So much of what was going on in this book was new, terribly interesting, and worthy of exploration, it’s a shame we didn’t get the chance.

Although, a longer book would’ve likely given me a stroke. So I shouldn’t complain.

For all my gripes, it was a tense, taught adventure that will have interesting (to say the least) ramifications going on. Now I have to start counting down for the next one. Can’t come soon enough.

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave
The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
Series: The 5th Wave, #1

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There were two things that kept running through my mind: Noah Hawley‘s A Conspiracy of Tall Men and Suzanne CollinsThe Hunger Games (maybe you’ve heard of it). I’m not really suggesting that Yancey’s created some sort of Hawley-Collins hybrid, but this affected me the same way those two did.

I remember very little about Hawley’s book (it was 1999, in my defense) — I remember enjoying it and being really creeped out and feeling paranoid. A feeling that lasted a little longer than the book, as I recall.

I remember Collins better, obviously. And whatever issues and problems the first of Katniss’ adventures had, it grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let me go until well after the runaway freight train of a story had come to it’s adrenaline-fueled conclusion.

I really don’t know how to discuss the story of The 5th Wave without spoiling the heck out of it. But I can tell you that it hit me like those two books did. The various storylines are gripping, and fast-paced and make you wish you could turn the pages faster. And once you get your brain wrapped around the devastation being unleashed on earth, the creepiness and paranoia are the order of the day.

This isn’t one of the better books I’ve read lately — in terms of character, craft, literary value, etc. — but it’s just about the most effective and affecting. Hawley gets under your skin with the skill of a seasoned pro, makes your emotions and reactions dance like a marionette for him, and leaves you hungry for more.

I have to admit, I miss the Yancey of Alfred Knopf and The Highly Effective Detective books — they just felt different. They were fun — as enjoyable as this is, it wasn’t fun. And I liked the characters (most of them), wanted to spend time with them. Not so sure I like these characters as people. But, until Yancey gets around to it (if he does), I’ll gladly take pulse-pounding excitement and mind-bendy plots.