Notice...

The purpose of this blog is to have a little fun. It is NOT to start arguments. I don't profess to be an expert on Sci-fi, nor do I aspire to become an expert. You are welcome to comment on any and all content you find here. If my opinion differs from yours, as far as I am concerned, it's all okay. I will never say that you are wrong because you disagree with me, and I expect the same from those that comment here. Also, my audience on the blog will include some young people. Please govern your language when posting comments.

Posts will hopefully be regular based on the movies I see, the television shows I watch, and the books I read as well as what ever strikes me as noteworthy.


***SPOILER ALERT***
Spoilers will appear here and are welcome.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Grunt Traitor: A Task Force OMBRA Novel By Weston Ochse - The Sequel To Grunt Life - More Intense, Deeper, And Epic - A Must Read!

Grunt Traitor: A Task Force OMBRA Novel by Weston Ochse

It wasn’t too long ago that I read and reviewed Weston Ochse’s Grunt Life in which we were introduced to Benjamin Mason, a soldier and veteran of the war in Afghanistan who suffers from PTSD and was plucked off of a bridge in Los Angeles by a representative of OMBRA, a company that is putting together a highly trained army of former soldiers to fight the Cray, an alien race that not very much was known about, except that they were very deadly.

Grunt Traitor picks up not long after the events of the previous novel and, according to the author, many have told him it is better than the first.

After returning from Africa and being dubbed the “Hero of the Mound,” there are some radical changes taking place, chiefly in the climate of the planet and in the expansion of the Cray; the average temperature has risen along with sea levels, and it seems that the Cray have unleashed a new weapon to go along with their flying, and ground based insectoids, as well as their constant electromagnetic pulses rendering all but the most hardened devices working in the vicinity of mounds the Cray dwell in.

Benjamin Mason, a newly minted lieutenant in OMBRA’s army is sent into L.A. along with Dupree, a scientist, to investigate a new threat from the Cray in the form of a black vine that releases spores into the air. When animal life comes into contact with these spores, they attack anyone and anything that has not been similarly infected, thus spreading the disease. While trying to protect Dupree during a battle, Mason himself is infected and thinks he might die soon, but manages to take samples back to his OMBRA base for study and analysis.

The scientists and doctors actually find a cure, but the spores leave Mason changed. It is the changes that makes him the ideal man to lead a team back into L.A. to destroy one of the mounds with only a slim margin of time to escape. But even though there is a chance for more victories against the Cray, there are many who merely try to survive, some who are overly ambitious, and others who sincerely believe that there is little hope for the survival of humankind on this planet. Perhaps a victory by Mason may inspire hope around the world and change the course of the future, but Mason must be willing to pay the price for a successful mission and will have to take the risk of being labeled a traitor instead of hero.

Like the first novel in the series, Grunt Life, the story mostly follows Mason as he faces many difficulties in trying to complete his assigned missions. Mason is a very compelling character that one can very much care about. He is a complicated man who is a good leader and a good soldier, but he has a strong sense of right and wrong and is not afraid to stand up to his superiors and fellow soldiers to do what is right. Mason also has to make many difficult choices in this story which leads to the death of friends and foes that he would rather not kill, but the circumstances force him to make those hard decisions. While he doesn’t hesitate to do what is necessary, he does pay a price for very life he is forced to take, and is often deeply affected by what he has to do, even to the point of being in danger of losing his own life. Mason is a character that one can really care about.

Oh but there are also characters in this story that a reader will come to loathe and despise as they follow their own sinister agendas. One such character is “Mr. Pink,” the commander of the OMBRA army that Mason serves with. In Grunt Life, Mason falls deeply in love with a fellow grunt, Michelle, who is changed into a kind of human communications device because she is able to tap into the communications of the enemy. After Mason is cured from the spores, he finds that he is able to communicate with Michelle and he makes it his personal mission to save her from being used by Pink and other scientists. When Mason locates her, he unfortunately finds that the only way he can rescue her is to end her life as Pink and the scientists treat her more as a machine than a human being.

One of my favorite parts of this story is when we learn more about the Cray. It would appear that the beings that have invaded the Earth are not actually the master species, however they are more like drones sent by a more advanced race to secure the resources of the planet to be used in a much larger conflict taking place in another part of the galaxy; humans are merely in the way and the Cray’s mission is to get people out of the way so the resources can be mined and taken back for the larger war effort.

I highly recommend this book, as well as the first book in the series as some outstanding examples of military sci-fi that will appeal to fans of this particular branch of the genre in numerous ways. Being a veteran of the military himself, Ochse does an amazing job of describing weapons, devices, and people, but he does it in terms that anyone can understand. I think that fellow vets will be able to relate very well to the characters and situations presented.

I would also warn those that are not so inclined to reading intense descriptions of military operations and those that may not be well able to handle graphic descriptions of death, injury, and destruction on a large scale, this story is laced with many such instances and may not be a good fit for the casual reader.

Well, there it is…

QaplaH!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Captain America: Civil War - Great Film Including A Philosophy 101 Lesson!

Captain America: Civil War

Once again, Marvel Studios delves into the lives of The Avengers, only this time, it would seem that the writers and director decided to take a little bit of a new approach to the storytelling for Civil War. For me at least, this was most unexpected and also very welcome, at least for me. But more on that later.

The film opens with a scene in which Bucky Barnes intercepts a car to recover more of the super soldier serum that made him into the Winter Soldier and made Steve Rogers into Captain America.

About a year after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, several of the Avengers manage to stop an attempt to steal a biological weapon from a lab in Lagos. The antagonist, Rumlow, decides that he cannot get away so he detonates a bomb in which he will kill himself as well as others on the streets. Wanda, the Scarlet Witch attempts to direct the blast away from her fellow Avenger, but several bystanders in a building are killed. The bystanders Wakandan humanitarian workers.

Owing to the death and destruction left in the wake of previous battles, particularly those in New York, London, and Sokovia, the United Nations prepare to pass the Sokovia Accords to establish an international group that will oversee the Avengers in hopes of limiting further devastation resulting from their activities. When U.S. Secretary of State Ross informs the team (minus Thor and Bruce Banner), there is a definite split in opinions between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers on whether the accords are needed or not. Stark believes that since it was his activities that led to the rise of Ultron, the U.N. Is justified in their concerns while Rogers maintains that the Avengers are well able to govern themselves.

During the conference that would ratify the accords in Vienna, a bomb kills many including King T’Chaka of the Wakanda. When the security footage is reviewed, the bomber appears to be a very fuzzy view of Bucky Barnes. T’Chaka’s son, T’Challa vows that he will find and kill Bucky. Rogers is tipped off by Sharon Carter (Peggy Carter’s niece) as to the whereabouts of Bucky. Rogers sets off to bring Bucky in alone. He and Sam Wilson find Bucky in a hideout in Bucharest and attempt to protect him from being captured by authorities, but all, including T’Challa (as the Black Panther) are apprehended.

Helmut Zemo steals a book that contains code words that activate Bucky to become the Winter Soldier. Zemo then manages to gain entrance to the facility where Bucky is being held in very tight security and activates him sending Bucky into a rampage to cover his own escape. Rogers intercedes and manages to take Bucky away and allow him to regain his senses. Bucky explains that Zemo is on his way to a facility where there are other super soldiers are awaiting activation from stasis.

Realizing that they will never catch Zemo in time if they wait for permission, Rogers and Wilson decide to go rogue. They also bring in Wanda, Clint Barton (Hawkeye) and Scott Lang (Ant-Man) for assistance. Meanwhile, Stark assemblies a team consisting of himself, Natasha, T’Challa, James Rhodes (War Machine), Vision, and a very young Peter Parker (Spider-Man). Rogers team is intercepted by Stark's team at a German airport where a battle ensues. Rogers and Bucky manage to escape with the help of Natasha, but the rest of Rogers’ team is captured and imprisoned, but Rhodes is wounded and partially paralyzed after accidentally shot out of the sky by Vision. Natasha is forced into hiding.

When Stark learns that Bucky was framed by Zemo, he talks with Wilson who tells him where to find Rogers. Stark (who is secretly followed by T’Challa) arrives at the Siberian HYDRA Facility and makes a truce with Rogers and Bucky. They discover that the super soldiers have been killed by Zemo who is from Sokovia and has taken on the mission of punishing the Avengers for the death of his family. Zemo shows Stark a film that allows him to see that the car that Bucky intercepted was being driven by Howard Stark and his wife, Stark becomes enraged and turns on Bucky and blasts off Bucky’s mechanical arm. Rogers, in turn, disables Stark’s armor. Leaving his shield behind, Rogers departs with Bucky. Thinking that he has accomplished what he set out to do, Zemo attempts suicide but is stopped and apprehended by T’Challa.

The movie closes with Rhodes working on learning to use exoskeletal leg braces that Stark has made for him, while Rogers breaks his comrades out of custody.

In two “Easter-egg” scenes, Rogers and Bucky are granted asylum in Wakanda by T’Challa. Bucky has chosen to have himself placed back into cryogenic sleep until his brainwashing can be broken. At the end of the credits, Peter Parker plays with a device that Stark has given him.

I managed to avoid spoilers leading up to my viewing of the film and was very much pleased with some of the character development in this film. While many of the established characters were pretty much the same as always, I was again very pleased with the performance turned in by Robert Downy Jr. as Tony Stark. In the past, I have been rather snarky on the subject of Stark’s appearances because he has come off as a constant deliverer of snappy one-liners showing very little depth of character. I just plain didn’t like him, but in Age of Ultron as well as this film, he has become more thoughtful and is looking at what he does and seeing that there are consequences. In one scene where he announces that he has funded all of the projects that students of M.I.T. are working on, there is almost no evidence of his usual past super ego that was portrayed in the Iron-Man films and is becoming a character that I am starting to like a lot. Wanda has become a very important part of the Avengers and has come to terms with working well with others. It was nice to see Bucky return as someone who was more than just a mindless automaton bent on destruction at the hands of his HYDRA handlers. We see a hint of a budding relationship taking place between Vision and Wanda that I well remember from the days many years ago when I read comics regularly. Also from those halcyon days of reading Avengers comics was the addition of T’Challa, the Black Panther brilliantly played by Chadwick Boseman! It is my sincere hope that T’Challa returns in future films and perhaps will get a feature of his own. Boseman is a classy actor playing a classy character that was one of my favorites when I was much younger. Another addition to the Marvel Film Universe under the auspices of Disney was young Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Now I have to admit that I have never really been a huge fan of Spider-Man and have avoided the feature films made over the past several years, but this portrayal of the Web-slinger was refreshing and fun. I was, at first, apprehensive when I learned that he was to be included, but the writers did a great job using this portrayal to inject some fresh and youthful perspective into the film. I especially loved when he was wrapping up Ant-Man’s legs with webbing all the while describing scenes from The Empire Strikes Back! Hilarious! Another addition was Emily VanCamp as Sharon Carter, the niece of Peggy Carter. While she did appear in a previous film, she received some small amount of character development as an ally of Rogers, as well as a potential love interest. But this brings me to the only disturbing moment in the film as she grabs Rogers and plants a kill on him that, in light of the relationship with Peggy in the first Captain America film, made me cringe just a little bit.

One of the things that one can depend upon in the Marvel films these past few years is that there is usually a clear-cut line in the good versus evil. The villains are usually pretty easy to spot and the Avengers know what their target is.  In this film though, the lines are not so clear cut. In the case of Civil War for the most part, we have the good guys fighting the good guys, and even the one bad guy, Zemo, was not a super villain, but rather became more of a terrorist as a means of taking revenge for the death of his family.

For me, the first hour of the film was a little slow, not too slow, but from my point of view, the writers of this film have taken things to a new height in Marvel films; they seemed to delve into the realm of philosophy and gave me food for thought as I reflect on what I saw. What I detected was a struggle not between good and evil, but rather a struggle between idealism and pragmatism.

Captain America would seem to be the ultimate idealist. He is willing to go against the established command structure and go a bit outside the law to do what he sees as right. The first instance of this is when he tells Stark that there is no need to sign the Sokovia Accords; as far as Cap is concerned, the Avengers are more than capable of seeing what the objective is and can determine how to take care of it. This is not to say that he is willing to just take lives and leave destruction is the wake of the battle without feeling remorse as a consequence. Cap has fought in a war where there was a lot of collateral damage and believes that it is something that has to be accepted if the battle is to be won. On the other hand, as a pragmatist, Tony Stark realizes that he can make mistakes as he along with Banner created Ultron. Stark is willing to accept that the Avengers should operate within a structure that might limit how they operate and is willing to accept limitations even when morals may be telling him that action is needed. This is one way in which the Stark character has grown in the franchise.

Another example of this dichotomy is when one looks at how the two are divided on the subject of Bucky Barnes. Cap knows that Bucky has done wrong in the past, and is willing to have him face justice, but it has to be on Cap’s idealistic terms; he is not going to let anyone just summarily kill Bucky, even if Bucky is guilty (and even Bucky himself admits that he did kill Stark’s parents, which alluded to me that Bucky believes he was wrong and at least understands why Stark is behaving the way he is). One defense Rogers uses against Stark was that Bucky was under the influence of HYDRA when he committed the crime, he can therefore not be held responsible. At the same time, Stark takes the pragmatic view that it doesn’t matter who was in control, Bucky committed a criminal act and should pay for it.

So who is right and who is wrong? Or is there some gray area here and there is no clear cut right or wrong? As far as I am concerned, it is up to each of us as individuals to decide the answers to those questions that best fits our personal philosophies. As for myself, I find it difficult to adopt a strictly idealistic or pragmatic point of view; each situation calls for careful study and the solution will come from the side that best fits. Perhaps what is commonly perceived as a dichotomy is actually false in many cases.

At any rate, Captain America: Civil War is an excellent film. It is entertaining, humorous, serious, and has some great battle scenes that all comes together into one hell of a roller coaster ride that should be seen by on the big screen. But at the same time, be careful, it might also make you think.

Well, there it is…

QaplaH’!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Starhunt: A Star Wolf Novel by David Gerrold - Space Opera At Its Best

[Starhunt: A Star Wolf Novel by David Gerrold

A few posts ago, I reviewed David Gerrold’s Voyage of the Star Wolf novel. After kind of running out of things to read, I decided to see if there were any other space opera books written by Mr. Gerrold that I might also enjoy as much as I did the first I read, and my search turned up three more books in this series.

Starhunt is actually a prequel to the Star Wolf trilogy that focuses on the first officer of the United Systems Starship Roger Burlingame under the command of Captain Georj Brandt. The First Officer of the Burlingame is Jonathan Korie, a young officer who wants his own command, and is also qualified according to some flag officers above him, but it seems that Captain Brandt is standing in his way of being promoted. Brandt sends requests for transfer to a shore job which are denied while Korie sends requests for advancement to command, and until Brandt gets what he wants, he is going to be sure that he keeps Korie on board the Burlingame, knowing that Korie is a good officer and he has also managed to take a rag-tag crew on a rag-tag ship and keep it running with a good efficiency rating.

The story opens as the Burlingame is chasing an enemy ship with the intention of attacking once contact is made. Korie is convinced that he is chasing a real bogie while there are others aboard who think that because of some incomparable upgrades Korie ordered to the ship, they might be chasing a “wobbly,” or a false sensor reading. On board the ship, there is some discord among the crew as a young crewman who has been inadequately trained is put in a position that puts him at odds with other members of the crew and there begins to be a split.  WHen Korie’s plan of attack so overruled by Captain Brandt, the bogie is lost and the crew becomes further at odds and they begin to doubt Korie’s ability to command.

Korie uses this situation of the crew seeing him as incompetent to once again unite the crew, even though it is against him, but he never doubts that his bogie is out there somewhere. Brandt orders the ship to return home when the wobbly reappears on the scopes, but Korie knows that it is his bogie. There is a battle and the bogie is destroyed; Korie is vindicated and all is well on board, but there was a price to pay that bothers Korie.

I really enjoyed this story; it is one of those that one hates to put down once one begins to read it. The writing style is very much the flavor of some of the classic Sci-Fi writers that I have enjoyed in the past. Nothing is completely certain as one reads and it is quite unpredictable as the reader follows Korie being very confident all the time that his bogie is out there somewhere, but there are times where I doubted it, and I found myself confounded when I believed that Korie was not only wrong about chasing what seemed like an obsession that was slowly driving him farther and farther toward being irrational as a result of having to make a kill at any cost.

Korie trusted his instincts while no one else did and at one point, he had the entire crew against him and looking forward to testifying at his court martial. Even Captain Brandt felt that he needed to reassert his authority, but it seemed that he had forgotten how and appeared as a coward with no will to fight. As far as Brandt was concerned, even if there was actually a bogie out there, they wouldn’t have a chance to win in a fair fight. However, Korie seems to have a good feeling for how to handle people, even those that are stubborn as he managed to unite the crew to a single cause, which at first was against Korie himself; at one point, Korie had even lost the ability to give orders on board and became very sheepish, at least until the bogie manifested itself to be real, and had designs on killing the Burlingame.

With the crew united, and the threat of being destroyed, Korie was able to step in and win the fight.

Starhunt, as far as I am concerned is space opera of the highest order that uses war as a backdrop for not only introducing the reader to a clever character that will carry forward into the following three novels of the series, but shows how careful planning on a writer’s part can make a fun story to read. As mentioned before, this is not a difficult story to digest as there is not a lot of technobabble, however there is just enough explanation of the workings of the ship to create an understanding of the universe that Mr. Gerrold has created. I think even the most demanding reader would enjoy this story.

The remaining novels in the series are, as mentioned, Voyage of the Star Wolf, followed by The Middle of Nowhere, and the series concludes with Blood and Fire.

Well, there it is…

Qaplah!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice - Good, But Not Great

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice

The first thing that I heard about this film was quite a while back when it was announced that Ben Affleck was to be cast as Batman in the upcoming production. Immediately my social media feeds exploded with scathing comments about how bad this film was going to be and how since Mr. Affleck had already ruined on beloved superhero franchise, it would probably also do the same to Batman. As usual, I just sat back and took a wait-and-see stance because I refuse to judge such things until I actually see them. When all the negativity died down, and I saw previews, I did get excited to see this film.

This afternoon, we piled into the car and headed for the theater. My first knee jerk reaction when it was over was to ask myself, “what did I just see?” Both Chrissy and Diane asked me if I liked it and I had to admit that I wasn’t sure at that moment and that I would have to give it some thought. Now I find myself sitting at the kitchen table trying to figure out how to review this film.

The film starts out with the same thing I have seen in every single Batman movie I have ever watched; a rehashing of the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents as the leave the theater (now I have to also point out that I have not watched every Batman movie, so I cannot say if this takes place in every movie, just the ones I have seen).

Following that grim opening, we join Bruce as he witnesses some of the battle from Man of Steel and the destruction that is being wrought as the Kryptonian ship begins to reform the Earth into one that is more suitable to General Zod’s ideals, as well as the problems that are being  caused as Superman and Zod settle their differences. Many buildings are being destroyed and I would imagine that hundreds of people are being killed. As Bruce arrives at his office building, he witnesses its destruction and the deaths of many of his employees. He looks up to see Superman fly near the area and is clearly not one of his admirers.

Eighteen months after the events of Man of Steel, we follow Lois Lane and a photographer preparing to interview a presumed terrorist somewhere in Africa. The terrorists discover that the photographer is actually a CIA agent who is carrying a device that allows cruise missiles to be targeted on the location of the camp which leads to a gun battle between the terrorists and what must be other CIA agents. Many are killed before Superman arrives on the scene to save Lois. Despite Lois’ protests, Superman is blamed for all of the deaths casting even more of a shadow over his image, which is already being scrutinized because of his power and due to fear of the unknown.

As time goes on, we witness a smear campaign being engineered by Lex Luthor that is casting a bad light on both Superman and Batman, not only to their public images, but also stirring bad feelings against each other. They prepare to confront one another at some point when Lex raises the stakes by kidnapping Martha Kent just before Superman figures out what is actually going on. Lex tells Superman that he will have Martha killed unless Superman kills Batman within a certain amount of time. Batman prepared to face superman by creating an armored suit, a tear gas gun that fires kryptonite gas shells, and a spear with a kryptonite head. Also unknown to everyone, Lex had created a monster that uses the his DNA mixed with that of General Zod that he will unleash to destroy whomever survives.

The battle unfolds with the two heroes gaining very little in the way of winning until Batman manages to subdue Superman with the kryptonite gas, but just as Batman is about to run Superman through, he mentions the name of his adoptive mother, Martha, which causes Batman to pause, because his mother was also named Martha. Batman finally figures out what has been happening and vows to save Superman’s mother while he goes to confront Lex who unleashes the monster.

Having saved Martha Kent, Superman and Batman now joined by Wonder Woman fight the creature. Superman retrieves the spear that was intended for him and he finally manages to impale the monster with it, but the monster also manages to kill Superman at the same time.

In the final scenes, Lex is arrested and imprisoned, and there are funerals for Superman/Clark Kent. Bruce Wayne confides to Diana (Wonder Woman) that it is his intention to put together a team of metahumans to protect the planet in place of Superman. But, at the very end, we get a hint that we may not have seen the last of Superman as we hear a faint heartbeat coming from Clark’s coffin, and a handful of dirt that Lois dropped on it begins to levitate.

I felt that the cast, for the most part, did a pretty good job portraying their characters, but I have a few reservations in this area. While I was very enthusiastic about Henry Cavill in Man of Steel, I found that I was less so with this film. Superman came across as brooding and somewhat unsure of himself and needed some unkind up by his mother and a vision of John Kent (excellently portrayed once again by Kevin Costner). I found that I didn’t like this Superman as well as I did and would have liked to learn a little more about why he was so pensive this time around. Ben Affleck did a pretty good job as Batman and I was not disappointed in his performance; he was most certainly the brooding character that one would expect Batman to be, and his portrayal as Bruce Wayne was also quite good as a self confident multi-billionaire playboy, although beginning to show his age as well as the lifestyle that would go with being a crime fighter and corporate magnate. Gal Gadot was amazing as Wonder Woman and I look forward to seeing her in future installments of the newly forming Justice League, but at the same time would have liked to have seen a little less story exposition and a little more character development for her. I found Gadot’s performance, such as it was, great and a welcome addition to the franchise. I liked Amy Adams’ portrayal as Lois Lane but thought that she was once again treated as window dressing and someone for Superman to save and be in the right place at the right (or wrong) time. They could certainly do a better job with Lois in the future. One bright spot in the cast was Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Lex Luthor, the evil genius arch enemy of Superman. His performance was just enough over the top to be believable as a real person but not too much so as was Gene Hackman’s was in the Superman films featuring Christopher Reeves (don’t get me wrong, I loved Hackman’s Lex character which was appropriate for the type of films that those were).

One problem I have with Batman vs. Superman is the length of the film itself. It was just too long, yes I felt that it was longer than necessary with far too much exposition all material. I felt that we could have gotten to the meat of the story far sooner than it did. There were a few times that I found my mind wandering and I even nodded off a couple of times to be awakened by a loud noise.

I went into the theater expecting to see a Marvel style comic book film with a lot of action, a few wisecracks, and some really good story, and this is where I guess I found myself so befuddled as I left the building. This is far closer to a Sci-Fi Action Drama than it is to a comic book film that is severely lacking in character development and way overdone in the area of story development. It didn’t take long to figure out that Lex was playing both sides against the middle and an awful lot of this film was dedicated to that aspect. There were a few moments of levity, but most of this film was very dark and contemplative to the point of distraction. But once the action finally started (I didn’t time it, but I would say that last 40 minutes of the film) it was pretty good. I normally hesitate to rate things on a whatever out-of whatever basis, but in this case, I would have to give this one a three out of five, calling it an interesting and not bad, but not great film. I don’t think that comic fans would like it very much, and those that may not be very familiar with the characters might find themselves lost; foreknowledge of this universe is going to be something the viewer will find they need.

Well, there it is…

Qaplah’!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

No Way Home Curated By Lucas Bale - Seven Stories Of People Who Are Stranded Away From Where They Want To Be

No Way Home: Stories From Which There Is No Escape Curated By Lucas Bale With A Foreword by Jennifer Foehner Welles

I am not sure how I stumbled on this book, all I can say is that it sat on my Kindle for quite a while before I was finally Able to get to reading it.

No Way Home is a collection of short stories that are well founded in hard science fiction all involving characters that find themselves in situations that leave them stranded far from their homes for one reason or another. The collection contains seven stories that are quite diverse in their settings. Here is a rundown of what the reader will encounter in this collection…
  • To Sing of Chaos and Eternal Night by Lucas Bale: A nameless soldier has had his consciousness uploaded into a heavily armored and well armed machine fights in an endless war. He dies over and over again with no hope of ending a conflict that if lost would see the end of human civilization.
  • XE, or People Are Crazy by S. Elliot Brandis: A volunteer astronaut is sent to a distant planet to explore and determine that it is suitable for human habitation and colonization. All he has to do is send a signal that is either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ back to Earth and then he will be free to live out the rest of his life in peace and quiet. However, there is nothing peaceful or quiet when he discovers that he is not alone.
  • Grist by J.S. Collyer: After a series of war, a once green and living place becomes a place that the protagonist is eager to escape from.
  • Revolver by Michael Patrick Hicks: A young woman who has nothing left to live for goes on a bizarre crowdfunding show to raise money for her family. The audience is out for blood in this dystopian story and the young woman delivers, in spades.
  • The Happy Place by Harry Manners: A man and his family are relocated to Mars from his home in Nebraska. When the commander of his small colony goes off his rocker, their existence is threatened. In order to keep himself from going insane, he has to make regular visits to The Happy Place where he is grounded in reality.
  • Renata by Nadine Matheson: In the year 2049, an assassin is given an assignment to kill someone who has been dead some twenty years. Thanks to a rediscovered time travel project, he is able to travel back to 2014, but if he fails, he will be stranded creating a paradox that might result in his death.
  • Cold Witness by A.S. SInclair: A radio engineer working at an abandoned military base finds that as he explores more and more of the facility, be begins suffering from time shifts, and hallucinations to the point that he cannot tell reality from his dreams. What is his actual reality?

As I read this collection, I found that I was really enjoying the stories because of their complexity in such a short time to flesh out a complete story. The above listed authors are very skillful at cramming so much into so few words that if one blinks, one might miss some important thread of the story. When I was forced to put a story aside, I found that I had to re-read a great deal because of the detail contained within. These stories are not a casual read and will require the full attention of the reader.

I think my favorite of the stories was Revolver because of its utter absurdity to what things should be like but actually are like. The young woman is someone who has made many mistakes in her life and is expected to simply kill herself on live television. While this is happening, people are pledging money to egg her on and there are some very horrible people sending comments over the internet that include some very nasty name calling. The absurd thing is that the reader might be horrified at what is contained in this story, but on the other hand, being involved in social media myself, I can completely see the story being far closer to reality today than the fiction that is intended by the author. It is disturbing in that Hicks, seems to be holding up a mirror to our society and it has a filter that shows the ugliest parts of modern social interaction full of bigotry, hatred, and indifference.

While that one may be my favorite of the collection, the rest are equally compelling. I would recommend that this book is worth a look for serious Sci-Fi readers that are looking for a real roller coaster of a read.

Well, there it is…

Qaplah’!

Grunt Life By Weston Ochse - Realistic, Compelling, And Disturbing Hard Sci-Fi Reading

Grunt Life by Weston Ochse

This is another one of those books that was recommended by David Gerrold, along with one I reviewed earlier on this blog, Saturn Run.

Grunt Life is the story of Benjamin Mason, a soldier in Los Angeles on leave from the war in Afghanistan. He is also suffering from PTSD and the story opens with Mason standing on a bridge contemplating jumping off. Before he can jump and end what has become a seemingly intolerable existence, he is approached by a mysterious someone who tells Mason that he is already dead; that he had died in a house fire, and that he is needed for another conflict. Mason calls the man recruiting him “Mr. Pink.”

Mr. Pink is offering Mason a chance to join another army, a far better equipped one than he is currently in, and the stakes may very well mean that he will be helping to save the human race from an alien species called the Cray. There isn’t a great deal known about the Cray other than they have the ability to control minds to the extent that they can manipulate people into doing violent acts, particularly school shootings. They also use humans as antennae to transmit signals to other Cray that are apparently enroute to earth to stage an invasion, although the purpose for the impending invasion is not known.

The entire army is being put together by a corporation, since Governments are not willing to acknowledge that there is a threat, and even if they did, all the government backed militaries are not equipped to fight the aliens. Mr. Pink is a representative of the corporation known as Ombra Andre his entire army is made up for soldiers that have contemplated or attempted suicide after fighting in wars.

Once their very unusual training is completed, the squad heads to Mt. Kilimanjaro to fight at one of the major locations that the Cray have set up bases. Several plans and attacks are made with limited results, but Mason and his squad fight on.

This is a well written story that is quite compelling on many levels. First and foremost, the author explores just how many returning vets suffer effects of fighting in war. Then there are the interactions between the people involved in the story. The characters are well developed with background enough to make the reader become invested in them. Mason himself has been through a lot, enough for him to attempt to take his own life because of what he has seen and what he sees as his future. When he is given a new direction by Ombra, he fights and becomes a hero, and example for the other soldiers that inspires them.

I should caution you though, if you are considering reading this story, there are many graphic scenes of violence against both humans and Cray. The descriptions are very detailed and could be disturbing to the unwary reader.

For me, the most appealing aspect of this book is that the characters were real to me. They were just regular people with extraordinary problems in an extraordinary situation.

Well, there it is…

Qaplah’!