Communication Failure by Joe Zieja

Communication FailureCommunication Failure

by Joe Zieja
Series: Epic Failure, #2

ARC, 325 pg.
Saga Press, 2017

Read: October 31 – November 2, 2017


So, Captain Rogers has escaped with his life after saving the 331st Meridian Fleet from a takeover from almost all the droids on board, now he’s been made acting admiral and is faced with a potentially bigger threat: the Thelicosan fleet — the very fleet that Rogers’ ships are to keep on their side of the border — has informed him that they are about to invade. Given the size of the fleets facing off, this is an invasion that will not go well for the 331st.

So how is this would-be con-man, former engineer, and current CO going to survive this? He hasn’t the foggiest idea.

Clearly, for those who read Mechanical Failure (and those who haven’t have made a mistake that they need to rectify soon), whatever solution he comes up with is going to rely heavily on Deet and the Space Marines (the Viking/Captain Alsinbury and Sergeant Malin in particular) will be heavily involved. Malin has taken it upon herself to help Rogers learn some self-defense (even if that’s primarily various ways to duck), the Viking is questioning every decision her new CO is making, and Deet is continuing his exploration into human behavior/consciousness (he’s exploring philosophy and spirituality at the moment — which is pretty distracting). Basically, if Rogers is looking for a lot of support from them, he’s going to be disappointed.

It turns out that the Thelicosans didn’t intend to send that message at all, what they were supposed to communicate was very different, actually. But before Rogers and his counterpart can find a way to de-escalate the situation, shots are fired, milk is spilled, and events start to spiral out of control. Which isn’t to say that everyone is doomed and that war is inevitable, it’s just going to take some work to keep it from happening. There are forces, groups, entities — whatever you want to call them — hawkish individuals who are working behind the scenes to keep these cultures at odds with each other, hopefully spilling over into something catastrophic. Which is something too many of us are familiar with, I fear — and something that someone with Zieja’s military background is likely more familiar with. The Thelicosans and Meridians discover who these people are — and how they are attempting to manipulate the fleets — and the big question is how successful they’ll be.

We focus on three Thelicosans, but spend almost as much time on their flagship (The Limiter) as we do the Meridian flagship (Flagship). Grand Marshall Alandra Keffoule is the commander of the border fleet — at one time, she was a star in the special forces, and now she’s been assigned to the border fleet as a last chance. She fully intends on taking full advantage of this opportunity to make history and restore herself to her position of prominence in the military. Her deputy, Commodore Zergan, has fought alongside her since the special forces days and is now trying to help her rebuild her reputation. Secretary Vilia Quinn is the liaison between the Thelicosan government and the fleet. Quinn’s development through the book is a lot of fun to watch — and is probably a bigger surprise to her than it is to the reader, which just makes it better. Thelicosan culture is saturated in science and math, and is full of rituals that are incredibly binding and incredibly difficult for outsiders to understand. In many ways, the culture is hard to swallow — how a society develops along those lines seems impossible. But if you just accept that this is the way their society functions, it ends up working and stays consistent (and entertaining).

Lieutenant Lieutenant Nolan “Flash” “Chillster” “Snake” “Blade” Fisk, the best pilot the 331st has is a great addition to the cast — yeah, he’s probably the most cartoonish, least grounded, character in Rogers’ fleet — but man, he’s a lot of fun (and I think it’s pretty clear that Zieja enjoys writing him). think Ace Rimmer (what a guy!), but dumber. Mechanical Failure‘s most cartoonish character, Tunger, is back — the would-be spy/should-be zookeeper finds himself in the thick of things and is well-used (as a character) and is well-suited to his activities. Basically, I put up with him in the last book, and enjoyed him here. I’d like to talk more about Deet and the other characters here — I’ve barely said anything about Rogers (he develops in some ways no one would’ve expected) — but I can’t without ruining anything, so let’s just say that everyone you enjoyed in the previous installment you’ll continue to enjoy for the same reasons.

Mechanical Failure didn’t feature a lot of world-building outside life on the ship. Zieja takes care of that this time — we get a look at the political situation between the various governments, and the history behind the four powers. Which isn’t to say that we’re drowning in details like George R. R. Martin would give us, it’s still breezy and fast-paced. Still, there’s a handle you can grab on to, some context for the kind of madness that Rogers finds himself in the middle of.

One of my personal criteria for judging books that are heavy on the humor in the midst of the SF or mystery or fantasy story is judging what the book would be like without the jokes. The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy, for example, would fall apart in seconds (and few rival me for their devotion to that series). Magic 2.0 would hold up pretty well, on the other hand. The Epic Failure series would be another one that would hold up without the jokes. I’m not saying it’d be a masterpiece of SF, but the story would flow, there’d be enough intrigue and action to keep readers turning pages. However, you leave the humor, the jokes and the general whackiness in the books and they’re elevated to must-reads.

There are too many puns (technically, more than 1 qualifies for that), there’s a series of jokes about the space version of The Art of War that you’d think would get old very quickly, but doesn’t — at all; and Rogers has a couple of bridge officers that make the pilot Flash seem subtle. Somehow, Zieja makes all this excess work — I thought the humor worked wonderfully here, and I think it’ll hold up under repeated readings.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and can’t wait to see where Zieja takes us next.

Disclaimer: I received this book ARC from the author, and I can’t thank him enough for it, but my opinion is my own and wasn’t really influenced by that act (other than giving me something to have an opinion about).

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4 Stars

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Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis, Jared Goldsmith

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were MadeTimmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

by Stephan Pastis, Jared Goldsmith
Series: Timmy Failure, #1
Unabridged Audiobook, 2 hrs. and 44 min.
Recorded Books, 2013
Read: June 14, 2017


A couple of my kids have been reading this series since #1, and since one of my favorite comic strip writers wrote it, I always intended to read it. Then I stumbled upon Steve Usery’s podcast interview with him, and I really wanted to. But haven’t gotten around to it yet. I stumbled on to the audiobook last week and figured it’d be worth a shot — especially with his appearance in town this last weekend. If I can make it amusing enough to bother reading, I’ll tell you the story tonight of how my son and I didn’t make it. But on to the book.

Timmy fancies himself a fantastic detective with a polar bear sidekick (named Total), he believes he’s on the verge of becoming a multimillionaire with offices throughout the world. In reality, he’s a lousy detective who can’t solve even the easiest of cases, like “Who stole my Halloween candy?” when the victim’s brother is literally surrounded by the evidence. You almost get the feeling you’re headed for an Inspector Gadget-style conclusion to the mysteries, where things are solved accidentally, in spite of the detective. Nope — Timmy cannot solve anything. He considers cases closed, but he’s so far from the truth (and so near personal vendettas) that it’s laughable. Which is the point, thankfully.

There’s a level to all of this that’s really sad — Timmy’s the child of a single mom (we don’t know why, at least in this book), struggling to make ends meet, and Timmy’s created this world in which he’s thiiiiiis close to providing financial security for her. She’s at the end of her rope with him, but finds ways to indulge and support his delusions and dreams (and get some actual completed homework from him). She dates a creep for a while, but thankfully, the fact that he and Timmy don’t mesh too well dooms that.

Obviously, the big drawback to the audiobook format is that I don’t get to see the drawings that accompany the text — and that probably detracted a lot. Thankfully, Goldsmith did a great job — the voice was a little annoying, but I’m sure that was intentional. I don’t think I could listen to more than one of these at a time, but that’s probably just me.

A cute story, best suited for younger readers, with enough grin-inducing lines to keep adults reading (and/or listening). I’ll be back for more.

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3 Stars

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? and Why Not Me? (Audiobooks) by Mindy Kaling

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

by Mindy Kaling (with B. J. Novak, Michael Schur & Brenda Withers)
Unabridged Audiobook, 4 hrs. and 37 mins.
Random House Audio, 2011

Read: April 15, 2017

Why Not Me?Why Not Me?

by Mindy Kaling (with Mindy Kaling , Greg Daniels , B. J. Novak)
Unabridged Audiobook, 4 hrs. and 57 mins.
Random House Audio, 2015

Read: April 21 – 22, 2017

These are technically two books — and you can identify different themes in each, but really, they could be one book, so let’s talk about them at the same time. These are collections of humorous essays — some autobiographical, some not — from the pen of writer/actress Mindy Kaling. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? covers her childhood and early career, while Why Not Me? focuses on more adult concerns, and her post-The Office career.

I thought the stories about her personal life and career entertaining, and well-told. But the other essays tended to be more creative and more amusing. But I found myself grinning or chuckling throughout. I’ve liked her before, but these books made me a fan.

My gut tells me that this is too brief, and I should say more — but I’m not sure what to get into. If you’re a fan of her TV work, or like intelligent and funny women (who can write), these are good reads.

Kaling is, naturally, the best narrator possible for these books — and probably many others (really, think Stephanie Plum as read by Kaling!). I think I liked the performance she gave for Is Everyone a little more, it felt less practiced? More energetic? I’m really not sure, but I wondered several times while listening to Why Not Me? why I didn’t like her narration as much. I could ‘t put my finger on it — but, it doesn’t matter, she was great with both. Just slightly less great.

Funny, heart-felt, maybe a little inspiring — these essays hit the spot.

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3 Stars

Dave Barry’s History of the Millennium (So Far) (Audiobook) by Dave Barry, Patrick Frederic

Dave Barry's History of the Millennium (So Far)Dave Barry’s History of the Millennium (So Far)

by Dave Barry, Patrick Frederic
Unabridged Audiobook, 4 hrs., 29 mins.
Penguin Audio, 2007

Read: April 10, 2017


Back in high school, I worked at a public library (shock, right?), and I kept shelving this book — Dave Barry Slept Here, and eventually succumbed and took it home — several times. I fell in love with Barry’s humor, and read him a lot over the next decade — every book, as many columns as I could find, etc., etc. But I eventually stopped, for no good reason that I can think of (it’s probably not Harry Anderson‘s fault) — and have really only read his novels since then.

Still, when I saw this audiobook on the library’s site, it was an automatic click — without even reading the description. This is essentially a reprinting of his “Year in Review” columns for the first few years of this millennium and a review of the previous 1,000 years of human history.

It was hilarious. Just that simple. There’s nothing more to say, really.

In the beginning Frederic played it straight — which surprised me a bit, but I liked the effect. A serious reading of Barry’s goofiness worked remarkably well. Later on, Frederic seemed to loosen up — he even did a couple of decent impressions. I really enjoyed his work on this.

Yeah, the humor’s a bit dated, but funny is funny. This is a great look back at the early part of the 21st Century (and before). I laughed a lot, remembered a few things, and generally had a good time with this.

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3.5 Stars

Coffee in Christian Ethics by Danielle Pollock & Joshua Torrey

Coffee in Christian EthicsCoffee in Christian Ethics: A Guide to Not Being a Drip

by Danielle Pollock & Joshua Torrey

Kindle Edition, 74 pg.
Torrey Gazette Publishing, 2017

Read: April 2, 2016


I know almost nothing about these authors, or their Twitter account of the same name — I bought this because a couple of people I follow on Twitter recommended the book during a pre-order blitz and because it sounded interesting. Score 1 for Social Media Marketing.

Here’s the official blurb:

The need for clear communication of God’s grace in the realm of coffee is great. Because we have been forgiven, we are to forgive. Because we have been given this foretaste, we must pass on this foretaste. It is the job of Christian ethics to pass on this small foretaste. If not in coffee quality, then at least through loving our neighbor with our coffee ethics. We must think of others and their coffee consumption before ourselves. We must consider their need for coffee as greater than our own. This requires us to have a thorough understanding of coffee and how to prepare it. We must rethink the importance of coffee in everyday activities as we focus on others.

Written by Danielle Pollock and Joshua Torrey, Coffee in Christian Ethics is a short introduction to the world of coffee. Filled with bad theology jokes, some snark, and real life stories, the goal of Coffee in Christian Ethics is to encourage Christians to use coffee in the various spheres of life as a way to love our neighbor.

At least of the introductions or prefaces or other filler at the beginning of the book used the word “satirical” — I think I missed that. Probably too subtle for my bourgeois brain and taste. This is a frequently condescending (although it goes to great pains to say it’s not) guide to coffee — beans, roasting, drinks, accessories, etc. — with a thin layer of Christianish language and application on top. Honestly, given the satirical nature of the work, I wasn’t sure how seriously I was to take that.

I found the use of “adult language” (to borrow a term from TV/Movie ratings) and casual attitude towards those things “whereby [God] makes himself known” (Third Commandment issues) enough to make me uncomfortable — if not more — to be found in a book on applied Christian Ethics.

Maybe I just didn’t get it — maybe I’m too dense for the humor, too uptight, too old-fashioned, too whatever. This could be the cleverest thing to come off the press since Fran Lebowitz’ Social Studies, but I just don’t think so. I’m going to give this 2 Stars out of charity and because it made me grin twice (also, some of the information about coffee was helpful) — but I wouldn’t recommend spending time on this one to anyone.

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2 Stars

The Sense Of Humor by Max Elliot Anderson

The Sense Of HumorThe Sense Of Humor: Let Humor Fast Track You to Healthier, Happier Living

by Max Elliot Anderson

Paperback, 330 pg.
Elk Lake Publishing, 2016

Read: February 15 – 22, 2017


E. B. White famously said, “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.” And I’ve found no exceptions to this in the couple of decades I’ve looked. Nevertheless, when Anderson asked if I’d read the book, I said yes. Sadly, White’s quip contains more meat than Anderson’s 330 pages.

The central thesis of the book is that humor and laughter are good mentally, physically, socially and spiritually. I’m pretty sure most people know that (at least with most of these things) without Anderson’s help. That doesn’t stop him from saying it over and over again — almost every time, it’s like he hasn’t said it before. As it’s such a benefit, he argues, we need to increase our use of it in our family, relationships, professional life, etc. A time or two, he adds a vaguely Christian-ish gloss to this to add some weight to his argument, but those attempts are pretty weak and best ignored for the author’s sake.

His use of sources is laughable — there are no footnotes/endnotes, many of his citations come in the form of “one entertainer said, . . . “, his history is easily demonstrably wrong. In short, the writing is shoddy and in dire need of a capable editing — which would make the whole thing a lot shorter.

The humor used to tell his point? Well, it’s mildly amusing at best. His chapter “Humor that is No Laughing Matter” is basically a narrow-minded nag-fest about sticking to types of humor that Anderson has arbitrarily decided is appropriate and avoiding humor that he doesn’t like. Everything else is just dull. Overall, the tone and content of the book don’t match up to the subject matter.

This would have made a fairly benign and marginally interesting magazine article, or TL;DR blog post — but as a book? Nope, it just doesn’t work — it ends up spreading what material there is too thin to be any good. It’s too filled with what everyone already knows (and repeats it) and shoddy writing to waste your time with.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest thoughts, I think it’s pretty clear that it didn’t bias me toward the book.

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2 Stars

Off to be the Wizard (Audiobook) by Scott Meyer, Luke Daniels

Off to be the Wizard Off to be the Wizard

by Scott Meyer, Luke Daniels (Narrator)
Series: Magic 2.0, #1

Unabridged Audiobook, 10 hrs, 15 min.
Brilliance Audio, 2014
Read: August 8 – 16, 2016


I’m just going to steal most of what I said about the book before and add a little bit at the end about the audiobook — and Daniels in particular.

The first thing Martin always did when he found some new data file was to search for his own name. It may seem egocentric, but Martin wasn’t worried about that. He had spent a lot of time thinking about himself, and had come to the conclusion that he was definitely not self-absorbed.

There’s a great temptation — and frequently a rush — when discussing an amusing/funny book in SF or Fantasy to compare it with, well — the name rhymes with Schmouglas Schmadams — this can be damning, because almost nothing can live up to it. So I’m going to resist even saying the name. If anything, I think you could say this was reminiscent of Schmon Schmalzi — only funnier.

Martin Banks is the rather unimpressive hero here — a college dropout, living in a poorly-furnished apartment, working in “a cubicle farm, . . . a fluorescent-lighted, beige-walled abattoir for the human spirit where he had to spend most of his time,” and doing some minor hacking on the weekends, just to amuse himself. He stumbles upon a way to manipulate reality, to change things just a little bit here and there around him. Being human, it takes very little time before he begins using that ability in a way to draw the attention of the Federal Authorities. Which is not all that comfortable, so he heads off to England in the Middle Ages where he figures he can do okay for himself, living as a wizard using these abilities.

That’s when things start to get really entertaining (and I had no complaints up to this point). Anything more I say on this front is a horrible spoiler, so we’ll just leave it with really entertaining.

This is a coming of age tale — and, as it’s about a Millennial, it’s a delayed-coming-of-age story. But Martin’s not one of those protagonists that you have to see mature before you like him — you connect with him right away (or you’re probably wasting your time reading on). He definitely doesn’t mature in your typical way, which is part of the fun. I can’t help comparing Martin to Wesley Chu’s Roen Tan. But without the stakes that Roen had to deal with (and a nicer mentor).

Most of the characters we get to know are met after Martin’s time jump — so don’t worry if you find everyone in 2012 a little shallow and undeveloped. They are, but other people won’t be.

There are several things in the book that won’t hold up to much scrutiny — like his ability to get a smartphone signal in Dover, England in 1150. Adapt the advice Joel and the ‘bots used to give us, “just repeat to yourself . . . you should really just relax.” It’s worth it.

The book is just littered with wit — from the extended jokes, the funny visuals, or little asides like: “The fact that wristwatches weren’t invented yet made it difficult to look impatient, but he managed.” On nearly every page, there’s something to make you chuckle or laugh — or at least grin. I laughed enough that it was annoying to my family — not that I cared, mind you. But it’s not just a yuk-fest, there’s a well-written story here, in a great world with some characters you want to spend time with.

Daniels scores again here — his performance didn’t really remind me of his work on the Iron Druid Chronciles, which, I have to admit I was a little worried about. I got a kick out of his voice choices for Martin and Jimmy in particular — Martin’s voice when he got excited was perfect. I’m not sure I liked his choice of voice for Philip — it reminded me too much of Douglas Reynholm from The IT Crowd (I’m probably the only person on Earth who hears that, so take it with a grain of salt), and I never got used to it. But I loved everything else he did, so who cares, right? If anything, Daniels’ narration helped the material (not that it needed it).

Meyer’s writing holds up to a second-read, even jokes/situations I knew were coming worked pretty well — more than well, actually, judging by my laughter. I enjoyed it as much the second time through as the first, so that’s a pretty good sign.

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4 Stars