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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The Best Novels I Read in 2016

Yeah, I should’ve done this earlier, but I just needed a break from 2016 for a couple of days. Most people do this in mid-December or so, but a few years ago (before this blog), the best novel I read that year was also the last. Ever since then, I just can’t pull the trigger until January 1.

I truly enjoyed all but a couple of books this year (at least a little bit), but narrowing the list down to those in this post was a little easier than I expected (‘tho there’s a couple of books I do feel bad about ignoring). I stand by my initial ratings, there are some in the 5-Star group that aren’t as good as some of the 4 and 4½ books, although for whatever reason, I ranked them higher (entertainment value, sentimental value…liked the ending better…etc.). Anyway, I came up with a list I think I can live with.

(in alphabetical order by author)

Morning StarMorning Star

by Pierce Brown
My original post
I was a little surprised (but not really) today to see that every book in the trilogy made my year-end Best-Of list — so it makes sense that this one occupies a space. But it’s more than that, this book was an exciting emotional wringer that ended the trilogy in a perfect way. I can’t recommend this one enough (but only for those who’ve read the first two). When I was informed a month ago that there was going to be a follow-up series? I let out a whoop, thankfully none of my family noticed, so I don’t have to feel too silly.
5 Stars

A Star-Reckoner's LotA Star-Reckoner’s Lot

by Darrell Drake
My original post
I’m afraid if I start talking about this one that I’ll spill a few hundred words. Let me just slightly modify something I already wrote and spare us all the effort (that could be better spent actually reading these books). I’m afraid I’ll overuse the word imaginative if I tried to describe what Drake has done here in the depth I want to in this book about pre-Islamic Iran. You haven’t read a fantasy novel like this one before — almost certainly, anyway — but you should.
4 1/2 Stars

Blood of the EarthBlood of the Earth

by Faith Hunter
My original post
This probably should be a dual entry with Blood of the Earth and Curse on the Land, but that felt like cheating. Between the two, I thought that this was a slightly better work, so it got the spot. While remaining true to the Jane Yellowrock world that this springs from, Hunter has created a fantastic character, new type of magic, and basis of a series. I love these characters already (well, except for those I wasn’t crazy about previously) and can’t wait for a return trip.
4 1/2 Stars

BurnedBurned

by Benedict Jacka
My original post
I’m just going to quote myself here: I’ve seen people call this the Changes of the Alex Verus series — and it absolutely is. I’d also call it the Staked in terms with the protagonists coming to grips with the effects that his being in the lives of his nearest and dearest has on their life, and what that means for his future involvement with them. Which is not to say that Jacka’s latest feels anything like Butcher’s or Hearne’s books — it feels like Verus just turned up half a notch. It’s just such a great read — it grabs you on page 2 and drags you along wherever it wants to take you right up until the “He is not actually doing this” moment — which are followed by a couple more of them.
5 Stars

Fate BallFate Ball

by Adam W. Jones
My original post
Since the Spring when I read this, I periodically reminded myself to keep this in mind for my Top 10, I was that afraid I’d forget this quiet book. It’s not a perfect novel, there are real problems with it — but it was really effective. I fell for Ava, just the way Able did — not as hard (and only in a way that my wife wouldn’t mind) — but just as truly. This one worked about as well as any author could hope one would.
4 1/2 Stars

All Our Wrong TodaysAll Our Wrong Todays

by Elan Mastai
My original post
My all-time favorite time-travel novel, just a fun read, too. I will over-hype this one if I’m not careful. So, so good.
5 Stars

The Summer that Melted EverythingThe Summer that Melted Everything

by Tiffany McDaniel
My original post
I’m not sure what I can say about this book that others haven’t — this trip into a magical realism version of the 1980’s Mid-West will get you on every level — it’s entertaining, it’s thought-provoking, the language is gorgeous, the characters are flawed in all the right ways. I wish this was getting the attention (and sales!) that it deserves — I really hope its audience finds it.
5 Stars

Every Heart a DoorwayEvery Heart a Doorway

by Seanan McGuire
My original post
Here’s a book that doesn’t have to worry about attention or audience, it has one — and it’s probably growing. It deserves it. Short, sweet (and not-sweet) and to the point. I may have to buy a two copies of the sequel so I don’t have to fight my daughter for it when it’s released.
5 Stars

Lady Cop Makes TroubleLady Cop Makes Trouble

by Amy Stewart
My original post
Stewart took the really good historical crime novel she wrote last year and built on that foundation one that’s far more entertaining without sacrificing anything that had come before. We’ll be reading about the Kopp sisters for a while, I think.
4 Stars

Genrenauts: The Complete Season One CollectionGenrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection

by Michael R. Underwood
My original post
Yeah, here I am again, flogging Underwood’s Genrenaut stories — whether in individual novellas, audiobooks, or in this collection — you need to get your hands on this series about story specialists who travel to alternate dimensions where stories are real and what happens in them impacts our world — Underwood has a special alchemy of Leverage + The Librarians + Quantum Leap + Thursday Next going on here, and I love it.
5 Stars

There were a few that almost made the list — almost all of them did make the Top 10 for at least a minute, actually. I toyed with a Top 17 in 2016 but that seemed stupid — and I’ve always done 10, I’m going to stick with it. But man — these were all close, and arguably better than some of those on my list. Anyway here they are: What You Break by Reed Farrel Coleman (my original post), Children of the Different by SC Flynn (my original post), Thursday 1:17 p.m. by Michael Landweber (my original post), We’re All Damaged by Matthew Norman (my original post), A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl (my original post), and Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja (my original post).

I hope your 2016 reads were as good as these.

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.

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4 Stars

Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja is Not [EXPLETIVE] Reviewed Here Today

Mechanical FailureMechanical Failure

by Joe Zieja
Series: Epic Failure, #1

Hardcover, 343 pg.
Saga Press, 2016

Read: August 17 – 18, 2016

I tried, I really, really tried to get this up today, but I didn’t. So I’ll just say: read it. Probably best if you buy it so 1. the publisher/Zieja get money and want to do more and 2. you’ll have it to loan to people when you’re done. It’s good, it’s funny, you’ll enjoy it.

If you want more details, come back in a day (I hope) or seven (ugh, I hope not) and they’ll be here.

Update: Yeah, come back next week — I’m out of town, and want my copy at hand while I write it up. Rats.