Showing posts with label Mike Shepherd. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mike Shepherd. Show all posts

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Vicky Peterwald Target by Mike Shepherd aka Mike Moscoe

Rating: WARTY!

My commitment this year was to read and review all of the eleven Kris Longknife books I had on my shelf, and that has been met. I also had one Vicky Peterwald book, which spun off from the Longknife series after "Daring". I have read half of this and gave up on it. It was was awful! Yes, it was blessedly free of the tedious Longknife crew and their inane smart-mouthing, and it was free of the stuck-in-a-rut plotting of that series, but it was boring as hell! Nothing was happening except a deadeningly tedious and repetitious cascade of assassination attempts on her life - even more than Kris Longknife typically gets.

The most pathetic aspect to all this is that Peterwald knows who is behind this and all she has to do is kill the vicious stepmother who is doing this, yet she does literally nothing. In short, this is not the Vicky Peterwald I started liking from the Longknife books. This is a paradoxically shy and retiring nymphomaniac, but the sex scenes were evidently managed by a prude, and ruthlessly cut short or not featured at all, so even they go nowhere. On top of that, Peterwald makes me dislike her from the start by throwing Kris Longknife under the bus after the battle with the aliens in Daring. This is after the two of them had begun bonding in previous books. It made no sense. Yes, she has to protect herself and explain the loss of her mini-navy in that battle, but the reasons for it were obvious and for her to simply betray someone with whom she was becoming friends made zero sense and made her look like a complete jerk. I no longer like her.

I have to ask then, what is the point of this novel? It offered no adventure as the Lognknife books did. It offered none of the sex it might have been deemed to have promised given Vicky's rather, shall we say, relaxed approach to morality (and as the Longknife books didn't), and it had nothing of any real interest going on. I'm sorry, but what's the point in reading this series? At least, on occasion, the Longknife books had some things of interest here and there even if they were predictable and she had the dullest clique surrounding her that it was possible to conceive. These Peterwald books offer nothing at all if they're all like the first one. I am done with this author. It's long past time for something new and stimulating in the sci-fi department.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Kris Longknife Defender by Mike Shepherd aka Mike Moscoe

Rating: WARTY!

This is the last volume of the Kris Longknife series I ever intend to read. It's been a long run and I enjoyed some of the earlier volumes, but as the series dragged on, the stories became more and more formulaic and less and less interesting, more trudging and more boring. I don't know who his editor is, but Mike Sbepherd is still using the wrong words here and there (like amend when he needed append, for example).

This one, volume eleven, was better than the previous volume, but nonetheless tedious. Nothing happened for most of it. The big battle took place in the last twenty pages of a 370 page book, and was by rote and uninventive, so in the end this volume was just like the last one: a prologue for the next one where, I presume (although there are never any guarantees in this series) there will be a final showdown with the belligerent alien race the humans have encountered, and on their home turf. That makes two successive prologues. I am not a fan of prologues and I skip them as a matter of habit. I'm glad I'm now done with these.

For the first time in this series that I really found myself skipping and skimming, especially during the pathetic and amateur "romance" scenes between the now-married "Jack" and Kris, who despite being this Mary Sue commander who never loses, still needs "Jack"'s protective arms around her to feel safe.

Most of this tedious book was about logistics, with the occasional light fight with roaming belligerent alien ships to leaven it not much. There was their rescue mission to locate the other ship which had escaped the previous battle, and the search and rescue was performed like an afterthought despite all the pompous posturing about "leaving no one behind". Seriously? One of the things which turns me off this series is the jingoism and bullshit infallible military pomp.

The worst part about this book though, was that the humans had no problem whatsoever raping and pillaging the alien planet for resources. Yes, they were short of food, and they needed materials for the fight (this is the first book in the series in a while - perhaps since the first one - where the title actually described the overall story!), but this doesn't excuse the takeover of the benign alien planet with little regard for the locals. It made Kris & crew look far more similar to the belligerent aliens than to decent human beings. And they're still stripping gas giants for "reaction mass" to power their ships. Apparently they have learned nothing from disasters on Earth from poor management of resources, from reliance on unsustainable resources, and from pollution and contingent climate change!

I didn't get the issue with the food. The author is evidently telling us that in several hundred years of expansion into space, the only technological advances humans have made are all tied to militarism, and none to human comfort. Space-farers in the future will still have to haul food supplies with them evidently, since they have no means whatsoever of manufacturing food on-board their spacecraft. They still have to wholesale slaughter living things on random planets they pass to get 'fresh meat'. Shepherd seems not to grasp that a planet's ecology is tightly interwoven. Things do not evolve randomly, but in step with the environment and with other living things. The chances of humans being able to actually digest things which have grown on alien planets is highly questionable at best due to a crucially differing biology and genetic roots.

One thing the author did mention here, if only in passing was the pointlessness of considering trade to be an option over interstellar distances. I've raised this issue in several reviews of space-opera style stories, and finally the author agrees with me, but it's passed over too quickly evidently for him to realize that everything he's written previously about trade between planets is negated by the few words he typed out here. I rest my case.

I can't recommend this, and I can't recommend the series overall unless you want to turn off your brain and just have some dumb-ass and very light reading. That might work, but even then you have to face the formulaic nature of the stories which are, until the last few volumes, simply the same story told over again with slightly varied situations and actors. Even for the last few volumes, they were largely the same when you get right down to it. It's tedious to keep reading of the same situations, and hearing the same conversations, the same pat assessments, the same stock phrases all of which appear to be tied to American ancient history (as it would be in these novels), and seeing the same characters in different guises, and hearing the "homespun wisdom" of the old timers spouted endlessly over again.

The one character conspicuous by her absence over the last few volumes was Vicki Peterwald, because she was being spun off into her own series. This doesn't account for the fact that she was bonding with Kris after being mortal enemies, yet now seems to have reversed her course, so I am curious about that, and I have one volume of her series which I shall also review, but I have to confess right here that I'm not holding out much hope for it. We'll see!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Kris Longknife: Furious by Mike Shepherd aka Mike Moscoe

Rating: WARTY!

Finally I arrive at one in this series that I haven't read before, and I discover this one is the worst novel yet - completely boring. Quite literally nothing happens in the entirety of this novel except that Kris - finally it would appear, and after nine-and-a-half novels - loses her virginity. At least I assume that's what's going on here since there's been nothing but high-school quality pining up to this point for her entire life, and especially between her and Jack the jock. otherwise this is nothing but a book-length prologue for the next novel in the series, which is the last one I intend to read. I will post that review later this month.

The plot, that Kris is now a wanted person for crimes against humanity (not one of which can evidently be enumerated), makes zero sense, especially since she was appointed to a specific post in a specific location. Anyone who wanted to find her knew exactly where she was, so the warrant out for her arrest was a joke. On a whim, she then busts out of there and goes AWOL, returning to the very place where she's most wanted - by her family to keep her out of trouble. There's no truly valid reason whatsoever for her to go there. She spends the first half of the novel on the run, and quite literally doing nothing but hiding. It is so BORING. If I hadn't committed at the start of this year to post a review of every one of the first eleven in this series that I have on my shelf, I would have quit this one half way through and read no more of a series which, notwithstanding that I positively reviewed several of these books already, including the last volume, has been going steadily downhill for some time.

Longknife is not only a special snowflake, she's also a Mary Sue. The amount of fawning over her "royalness" is excessive in your average volume, but here it was worse than ever. It was sickening to read it. No matter what she does, it's right, and good and true. She never makes a mistake, and everyone is either doting on her or trying to kill her (and those latter people are in the minority). She surrenders herself to one of the planets which has an arrest warrant for her and becomes a heroic figure to the entire planet's population, all of which are Japanese. This author cannot come up with an original society to save his life's work. An earlier novel had them on an Hawaiian planet. Now we go to a 100% Japanese planet which actually has a royal family which embraces her as one of their own. The Japanese, like the Hawaiians. are patronized and stereotyped. It was truly pathetic to read.

Where did the Japanese royalty come from? Were they elected like Kris's own King (which is how she became a "princess")? Why would the Japanese elect a monarchy which is evidently spoiled rotten? How does a whole planet get to be taken over by one small nation and one tiny culture (and one which at present doesn't even have a space program that involves sending humans into space)? You could take the entire series and set it in the future and confine it to Earth and have exactly the same stories. Space isn't needed because there's nothing out there in these stories which isn't rooted in Earth culture and Earth history.

And what's with the subtitle? Furious? There is no fury here at all. Kris kicks a wall at one time but otherwise there's plodding and endless fantasizing about jack which never goes anywhere despite Kris and he having endless hours together. She's always whining about having no time to pursue the romance, yet we read frequently of time spent traveling between jump points in the spacecraft, and idle time awaiting on other things happening. What. they didn't want to get jiggie together then? I think the author is in love with his character and wants to keep her for himself, which is why she never gets laid - to speak of! LOL! In short, this story truly sucked and I am so glad I have only one more to read before I'm done with this ride.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Kris Longknife: Daring by Mike Shepherd aka Mike Moscoe

Rating: WORTHY!

My plan to review all eleven of the Kris Longknife series I have - ten of which I read some time ago, continues. This was volume nine and finally we get an entry in the series which truly has a different plot from the previous eight cookie-cutter versions. After a couple of real duds, the author gets back on track and they go after these aliens which the Itechee have encountered to their sorrow. Nothing is known about them, but the expedition discovers they're humanoid, uncommunicative, and ruthless.

So, after dilly-dallying around for the first half of the novel, Kris & crew find themselves not "halfway around the Galaxy" (as the book itself and far too many reviewers assert), but a small fraction of the way around the rim. Given that the galaxy is a hundred thousand light years across, it's 314,000 or so light years around, making Kris & crew's paltry trip of ~2,500 light years less than ten percent of the circumference assuming they actually have been arcing around the rim and not zig-zagging back and forth in the same region.

I was glad that in this volume we get back to the topic raised two or three volumes earlier, wherein the Itechee, an alien race with whom humanity went to war eighty years previously, came to humanity to ask for help in resolving a problem of disappearing Itechee space craft. This move was highly improbable given the comnplete lack of contact between the two species for the intervening near-century, but so are all the stories in this series! Here, the Itechee representatives rejoin Kris & crew and they all set off jumping through one wormhole after another in pursuit of these predictably humanoid aliens. When they encounter evidence of their presence, it's in the form of a thoroughly devastated planet.

In a plot straight out of the original Independence Day movie, a people who seem intent upon destroying every sign of civilization in their immediate vicinity in space turn out to be their quarry. This one planet Kris & crew encounter has been razed to the height of complete destruction. It looks like the major political centers were nuked, other major cities destroyed by impact from meteors, individuals on the ground massacred, and the planet strip-mined for resources.

The poor innocent victims were insectoid, which makes little sense except in that sci-fi writers can't seem to come up with original ideas for aliens without rooting them on one of the major classes of animal life on earth and of these, typically vertebrate ones, such as mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, or fish, or at a real stretch, insects. The TV show, (Star Trek) Enterprise outdid itself in this regard by having a season arc tied to the Xindi, a civilization consisting of all of these classes!

Of course the retort to that is that it's hard to write a story of alien interaction if we don't anthropomorphize the aliens, so you pays your money and you takes your choice I guess, but there is a large number of classes of life on Earth, many of which are quite literally alien to us, so I'd urge writers to dig a little deeper next time. The problem with Shepherd's aliens is that they're amazingly like insects on Earth, but he claims that some of the sea-going versions they observe have "calcified skeletons" which makes zero sense, since insects have chitin (a derivative of glucose) exoskeletons, not calcium endoskeletons.

Worse than this, he writes that the people on land - the insect people - have been killed by Sarin gas. On Earth, Sarin acts on acetylcholine in the nervous system and even though it breaks down rapidly, it doesn't break down rapidly enough for you to survive even a tiny dose, especially if the dose enters your skin. Vertebrates did not evolve in quite the same way as invertebrates, so the effect of modern versions of these chemicals is debatable, even though the original form of it (Tabun, or GA) was actually developed to control insects.

The problem with Shepherd's depiction of it, though, is that Sarin is a chiral molecule - that is, it has handedness, like humans might be left-handed or right handed, so unless it can fit like a key into the molecular lock in these alien species, it's simply not going to work. Sci-fi author Larry Niven understands this and exploits it in his novel Destiny's Road (from what I understand - I've not yet read that novel), where the planet humans wish to exploit has proteins of the wrong chirality for human digestive systems to make use of.

The chirality of molecules is actually a fascinating facet of chemical science. Note that I am not a chemist and know only what little I've read on this topic, but one interesting example is that right-handed or D-glucose is a sugar than can be processed in the human body, whereas L-glucose cannot. These two "mirror' versions apparently taste the same, and at one time it was thought that L-glucose would make a great sugar substitute. Even diabetics could use it, but it doesn't occur naturally, and it proved far too expensive to manufacture. Another popular example is limonene. D-limonene has a citrus smell, but L-limonene smells like turpentine even though the two molecules are exactly the same other than their chirality! You definitely don't want the manufacturer of your favorite brand of orange yogurt to mix up those two!

But I digress. The story didn't really pick up until about halfway through and then it took a while to really get going to the point where Kris & crew actually encounter the aliens, launch a surprise attach using questionable neutron bombs, and then high-tail it while the aliens chase them and beat up on them. Of course her escape is no more in question than is the destruction of her fleet, so there's no tension. That return journey is rather drawn-out and then inexplicably, they try to arrest Kris on her return to Wardhaven space, which is insane. How they even knew what had happened at that point is a mystery, but I was skimming and skipping boring bits here and there, so maybe I missed it.

The neutron star bombs are questionable not because they were used to literally destroy half the aliens' massive ship and kill what we're told is billions of these savage ruthless aliens, but questionable as to whether such a bomb (each contained a small piece of a neutron star) is even feasible, and even if it is, why is it any more powerful than a nuclear bomb? It made little sense.

Overall though, despite the usual ridiculous and utterly tedious behavior of Kris's crew which was, I'm glad to report minimized here, and despite the utterly irresponsible act of transporting Abby's teen niece into battle - again - this was a definite improvement on the two previous volumes. I am done with this series though, once I've finished the next two because it's so predictable and so lacking in inspiration and inventiveness. This one though, was okay - a worthy read.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Kris Longknife: Redoutable by Mike Shepherd aka Mike Moscoe

Rating: WARTY!

Redoubtable! What an amazing word this is! Doubt means to lack trust something or to have little faith in its credibility, so you'd think, if language made sense, that redoubt would mean you have no more faith the second time than you had on the first consideration, but redoubt is precisely the opposite of that! It means strong and resourceful - something in which you could have faith and trust. How bizarre! I love the English language. The problem is that re-doubt (about the author's abilities) is exactly what I had, having read this novel and found the quality of it doubtful at best.

This is the eighth in a series which has thirteen volumes out so far, and I'm going to review only the first eleven of these since they've felt like they’ve been going downhill over the last two or three, and this one didn’t halt the slide at all. Of course, some may argue they've always been downhill and I can’t completely disagree with that. I read them once before (except for volume 11), and I thought they were okay for a mindless read, but this second read-through, looking at them with a reviewer's more seasoned (and cynical, I have to add!) eye, makes me see them in a rather different light. They've come to exemplify the reasons why I'm not a fan of series unless they're exceptionally well-done, and evidently I've learned a heck of a lot about quality writing from my reviewing.

In this particular story, Kris is helping her one-time arch enemy, Vicky Peterwald (who now has her own series consisting of three volumes so far) to resolve some of her issues. The Peterwald empire is rather like the Soviet Union, and on the planet of interest in this story, the cities are even named after Russian cities. How that worked out is unexplained, but what's even more unexplained is that everyone on this planet apparently speaks Spanish! I have no idea what was going through the author's head when he cooked that up. Not world-building, that's for sure.

The weird thing is that in the previous volume in the series, the big deal was linking-up with representatives of the alien empire - the one they had been at war with eighty years before. The aliens, known as the Itechee, had been losing spacecraft while investigating a new star system and came to the humans for help, but then all that was forgotten! Instead of taking this opportunity to break new ground in his novels, the author ditched that story and retreated safely into tried-and-tested territory: villains subjugating a planet and Kris rides to the rescue. It would have been more realistic if she'd been in charge of air (or space) cavalry instead of marines given how monotonously she rides to the rescue. Not that it makes sense that a lieutenant in the navy is in charge of marines anyway.

This new novel is still ignoring that interesting alien topic and focusing on the fried-and-molested recipe: like how the honorable, upright, democratic and capitalist empire which Kris represents is going to help out the evil, corrupt authoritarian empire which Vicky represents by beating-up on evil villains who are keeping the poor folks downtrodden. LOL! Like I've said in some of my reviews, you kind of have to turn off parts of your brain to cope with these novels. Every one of them pretty much boils down to the same overall plot with a variation here and there - such as the name of the planet and the name of the villain. They're a bit like Bond movies but nowhere near as inventive or exciting.

The stories make little sense if you think about them too deeply. Some make no sense with minimal thought being required: such as why a princess is doing this to begin with. How she's even a princess, and her brother isn't a prince. How a king gets elected. Why Shepherd's entire universe is based solely on the USA (with the villains being based on the old USSR). Why, given that it's based on the USA writ large (and the empire is named the United Sentients, so every ship gets to be the US something-or-other), yet despite this addiction to the US, it's still a monarchy.

The questions abound: Why is Kris Longknife still not a captain after ten volumes of unrelenting and overwhelming success, much less an admiral, yet is in now charge of a small fleet of vessels in space? Even Kris herself doesn't have it clear when she's supposed to be a princess and when she's a Lieutenant-Commander. Why is there no clear chain-of-command in her little operation? Why is she the only Wardhaven military detachment which is doing this job? The questions abound. LACs can't land on land?! Their designers are too stupid to filter reaction mass, so when they use water the ducts immediately get clogged with pond weed? They can't use air for reaction mass?! Why are they in Greenfield territory in the first place? And the real humdinger: why is the midnight to 0400 shift quiet IN SPACE?! Seriously?

Given that she runs up against violent, merciless evil on every trip why is she addicted to using "sleepy-darts' instead of simply gunning down the bad guys? Why is she so well-equipped with super-smart nano-probes, but doesn't have a single drone to do her dirty work, which instead requires her to send in the marines every time, over which she frets endlessly about risk to life? Why is there a sentient personal computer which she travels with everywhere, but not one single robot anywhere in this universe

How does anyone manage to make any money out of interstellar haulage given the massive costs of space travel and the piss-poor return on the shipping simple everyday products to planets which can make or grow them themselves? Why is every single planet on the outer rim - without even one exception - under the thumb of villains who are without variation through-and-through evil, and which she has to take down usually - although not this time - against impossible - or at least extremely adverse - odds? Why does every planet's population consist of good-old-boys who adore her, and cardboard villains who hate her? Why is she always able to carry out these operations with almost no pain or cost?

I guess Shepherd found a formula that works and sticks to it because he can't think of anything else. No doubt his publisher is proud of him, but this repetitiveness and complete lack of inventiveness and imagination is why I really don't like series. It doesn't help when Kris herself comes out with bizarre phrases like, "I want that store torn apart with a fine tooth comb." Seriously? Where is the editor here? Or is the publisher so mesmerized with the sales figures that Shepherd does whatever he wants and no-one dare tell him he's wrong?

If the lieutenant had been painted as a dumb-ass from book one, who typically mangled such phrases, then that would be one thing, but she never has been rendered in that light until she spouted this ridiculous phrase in this volume. That right there was what got this a negative rating regardless of whatever else was in this book, and believe me I 'tore it apart with a fine tooth comb'.

Once again this story dumps her into a ridiculous situation, and she wins out. There is an added (but not new) twist to this one in the form of a kidnapping. This niece of her maid, Abby (who is also army intelligence and says quaint phrases like "Baby Ducks"), is so stupid that she sneaks off the space craft and goes wandering around alone on a hostile space port. Why this twelve-year old is even on Kris's spacecraft is a mystery. Kris routinely runs into danger. She's repeatedly talked about getting the child off the ship, yet despite there being several opportunities to leave her at Wardhaven where she'd be safe, and could get a good life and a good education, she's toted around like a mascot and taken repeatedly into danger.

It's as inexplicable as it is inexcusable, but these novels never have exhibited a whole heck of a lot of common sense despite the author touting quaint down-home catch-phrases as though they're all-powerful amulets against evil, which is another issue. Kris is always righteous, and has a whole passel o' quaint but extremely tired-old-phrases to express it, and woe betide any negative word be expressed about her super heroic and saintly space marines who are inevitably successful in every adventure. Where's the tension? Where's the unpredictability? Not here, Baby Ducks!

So no, not this one, and the way things are going, probably not the next three either! How my tastes and standards have changed in such a short time!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Kris Longknife: Audacious by Mike Shepherd aka Mike Moscoe

Rating: WORTHY!

Another close-run thing, but hopefully this now will all change from here on out. Princess Lieutenant Kris Longknife continues on her usual trajectory, inexplicably and unexpectedly (believe it or not) getting shot at, fawning over the navy and the marines, and venerating certain old people as though each is some sort of a magical sensei, but it's entertaining and perversely addictive. I guess that's how most series suck people in.

In this episode, for the fourth time, she's sent to the middle of nowhere with no instructions and has an almost impossible conundrum to solve while running for her life. she's dispatched to planet Eden, which has strict gun control laws - purportedly - where she's promptly shot at, and almost blown up by a bomb which wasn't even meant for her. The news outlets are so controlled that they don't even report these things. It's like they never happened. It's 1984 meets the Soviet Union, with Kris Longknife emulating James Bond charging in there to inevitably and successfully sort them all out.

She was told this would be an easy job, in a quiet backwater, which would keep her out of trouble and out of the headlines. Given that this is the fourth time she's been dispatched to a backwater like this, you'd think by now she would not be so naïve. Indeed, you'd think that she would be angry as hell at this point, but inexplicably, she isn't! Not until the entire novel is over. This is more of the same and it was becoming rather tiresome even for me. There were enough differences, however, and I did check my brain at the door as I advise you to do, and this will make it a simple and easy summer read. Not that it's summer yet but it sure feels like it here. Hopefully with the changes Kris demands at the end of this one (she's not too quick on the uptake at times) things will improve in the next volume, which I've read before, but can scarcely remember a thing about. That should tell me something, huh?!

Kris Longknife: Resolute by Mike Shepherd aka Mike Moscoe

Rating: WORTHY!

This one just made it under the wire into worthy, but check your brain at the door - it's mindless entertainment. Yet again Kris is shipped off to the butt-end of nowhere where she's dumped into a complete mess, gets no support, is threatened and shot at and/or starts a space battle with interloping rivals, wins it on a shoestring and heads home. I don't know why this series is so addictive, because I find plot holes and problems galore with it, but I still keep reading it. Normally I would never do this, but I guess we all have to have a guilty pleasure hidden away somewhere, and I suppose this particular one, sad as it is, is mine.

Despite having proven herself a capable commander, Kris is still stuck as a lieutenant, yet even so, she's put in command of a space station orbiting an unaligned planet which would just as rather not have the station there as have it. The problem is that the station is shut down, and Kris has to reboot it. The totally odd thing is that she makes no effort whatsoever to report this status to base, and no effort to request personnel to run the station. She simply tries to make do with volunteers from the planet below. No idea why. I guess she's a really poor administrator.

This struck me as utterly absurd, but nowhere near as absurd as a space station which makes no sense. It costs a fortune to run, supply, and to maintain, yet here they are up-keeping it when it serves absolutely no practical purpose at all. There's literally nothing it does that cannot be done by shuttles or robots. In four hundred years, the entire human race seems to have forgotten about drones and robots despite having AIs with human-level intelligence and far faster processing speed. I think the Longknifes have far more to worry about than evil humans. They just don't know it yet! The previous commander got pissed off with the navy and abandoned the station without telling anyone and without waiting for Kris to arrive to hand it over to her. Yet he goes unpunished for this. No wonder Kris loves the Navy - you can get away with anything as she herself has proved on several occasions!

The planet is named Hicksville - not really, but that's how it comes across - and the mayor of course has the hots for Kris. She spreads her money around and makes all kinds of friends, so that when Hank Smythe-Peterwald, sometime beau and now arch-enema, arrives with six cruisers in tow, obviously intent upon taking over yet another planet for his father. Instead of calling immediately for help, Kris takes him on with brown paper and glue, and lollipop sticks, and in a repeat performance of her destruction of the Peterwald Stealth navy attack on War(d)haven, her home planet, kicks Hanks ass predictably.

Hank was becoming boring and the romance with Kris was going nowhere, so the author disposes of him by having him become insane and having some anonymous person sabotage his escape pod, where he suffocates. This is so he can introduced the non-existent Vicki Peterwald (yes, she's female but she's still a Peterwald, not a Petrawald, a Pipkinwald). At least she was non-existent until he realized Hank was going nowhere, so she materializes out of nowhere in the next volume and changes the dynamic. And also provides for the start a side series featuring her rampant exploits.

All in all a blustery light-weight beach read, but not bad if, as I advise, you check your brain at the door. On that basis and that basis alone, I recommend it as a worthy sci-fi read.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Kris Longknife: Defiant by Mike Shepherd aka Mike Moscoe

Rating: WORTHY!

It's at this point - volume three - where you fully realize how formulaic this series is, and you have to decide decide whether to keep going. I obviously kept going, but please be warned that there are several stock elements in this series which, if you don't like them, or worse, start to hate them, will drive you nuts, and they're all overdone here, having only been half-baked in volume one.

The first is Kris's non-existent relationship with Jack, her bodyguard. He continues to snipe at Kris's disregard for safety and she continues to ignore him. This goes on in every volume. It's boring. Largely absent and not really missed in this volume is Abby, Kris's ridiculously home-spun and sassy 'body maid' who showed up in volume two. There's nothing for her to do besides be a repository for weapons and armor, and she's not needed at all in this volume which - be warned - is almost entirely concerned with the overly long preparation for - and then the speedy execution of - a one-sided space battle. In that regard, it's different from most of the other volumes in the series.

Penny and Tom get married, and then it's all up to space to defend Wardhaven against six anonymous battleships which have entered Wardhaven space, are headed directly for the planet, and are refusing to identify themselves. Despite them being identified early on as representatives of the Peterwald business enemies of the Longknifes, the Longknifes - supposedly the essence of bravado - are too chickenshit to call out Peterwald on it, and worse than this, they fail to take any precautions, thereby putting Kris into deep jeopardy again in the succeeding volume. The Longknifes are morons, let's face it!

One final problem: any modern planet with the apparently endless resources available to the Longknifes, would have an array of space drones which would take out any line-of-battle ship on short order. That's why we no longer have battleships in the real navy. The last one was built over seventy years ago. Evidently authors like Mike Shepherd and David Weber simply don't get it. Neither do film makers like George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry!

So after a condescending sojourn on a planet modeled after Hawaii (seriously? 200-some nations on Earth, six hundred planets in space in this novel, and yet every single one of them is influenced and informed solely by by the US culture?), Kris returns to Wardhaven just in time to be the only one who can save the day! As per usual. She takes command - not as a naval officer, but as a princess! - and cobbles together an assortment of space yachts and LACs, and repels the battleships miraculously and pretty much effortlessly. Yet despite this tour de farce no one ever learns from it, ditches the navy, and starts building thousands of cheap, human-free drones for defense. Go figure!

That said, this was an entertaining romp if you check you brain at the cover and don't put it back on until the last page is done. On that basis and that one alone, I recommend this as part of a complete series that's light, fun, mostly fast-moving, and a worthy read. Think of it as a TV series like Charlie's Angels rather than a series of novels, and you'll be able to better judge whether you can stand to read it or not.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Kris Longknife: Deserter by Mike Shepherd aka Mike Moscoe

Rating: WORTHY!

This author has a series of (as of this writing) fourteen novels with titles just like these - the main character's name, along with a single dramatic word which usually doesn't apply until late in the novel, and is never as bad as it seems. it's a series which, to read and enjoy, you need to turn off certain analytical parts of your brain, and take a very large grain of salt, and if you're willing to do that, you can enjoy some pretty good mindless entertainment from these.

In volume one Kris didn't become a mutineer until the last three dozen or so pages, and even then it was to prevent an illegal war being fomented by her captain. In this volume, she's on a week's leave, but is trapped on a planet by a quarantine and a communications blackout, so she isn't really deserting. She also gets an entourage and becomes a princess. How that works is a bit of a mystery. I guess the author didn't think an heroic naval lieutenant was quite special enough to write about.

Kristine Anne Longknife is the descendant of aged war heroes who are still alive because about four hundred years from now there will be longevity treatments (which probably explains why humanity has been forced to farm itself out to some six hundred planets, which are, of course, at odds with each other and forming shifting alliances). One of her 'grampas', named Ray, is promoted to king. I have no idea how that's supposed to work or why anyone in this society in this universe would do that, except of course to make Kris a princess and give her even more powers and privileges than she already has, being the trust-funded daughter of massive wealth.

It was in order to get out from under this yoke, so we're told, that she joined the navy, but nowhere did she ever eschew her money or family privilege, so her motives are rather suspect if not downright hypocritical. That said, however, the stories do make for a fast, fun read. I think the author set out to write movies in book form, evidently hoping that Hollywood would take notice, because that's how this series reads, and in this volume he even goes so far as to parody himself by having his characters remark, on more than one occasion, as to what would be happening if this were a movie. Chances are that you're either going to like this or hate it. I tend to pass over the annoying bits (such as the overly smart movie style wise-cracking in which the team indulges itself) without paying much attention, and slide right on by to the more entertaining pieces, which are common enough for me to be able to enjoy these volumes despite issues.

In this particular one, Kris gets a 'body servant' (named Abby) added to her entourage inexplicably by her mother! Please note that none of this seems intended to make any real sense. Prior to this, her only regular companion was her bodyguard, named predictably (and irritatingly) Jack, who is all but perfect. Fortunately, he does very little except pose and talk tough. He's not really there to guard her body, but for Kris to have someone to lust after secretly, and flirt with openly. While I flatly refuse to read any more novels which have name the lead character 'Jack', I do make occasional exceptions when there's a Jack who isn't the main character.

Abby has some sort of a secret agent background which is revealed later in the series, although it's obvious something oddball is going on pretty much as soon as she shows up. Jack doesn't follow Kris on her navy duties, but when she's off duty and at home. In this volume, her best friend Tommy, a weird amalgam of Chinese and Irish, who is actually neither in practice and who seems to be there solely in the role of maiden in distress, disappears and it's evident he's been kidnapped. It's also evident that this is a trap set up to get Kris, so naturally she goes anyway, and gets trapped when the planet is quarantined for Ebola(!) and the entire off-planet communications network breaks down so the planet is also isolated in that regard. The weird thing is that not a single spacecraft shows up to try and find out why this planet suddenly went dead! Despite how important Kris is, not a single person comes after her from her home planet, which is nonsensical.

Kris and her team rescue Tommy and hook up with Tommy's blossoming love interest, Penny. Kris gets to expose her bodily acreage (as she does in every volume) and blow things up, while fighting back against the bad guy and condescending the poor folks who live there. It's not great story-telling by any means, but it is entertaining if you don't take it seriously.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Kris Longknife: Mutineer by Mike Shepherd aka Mike Moscoe

Rating: WORTHY!

I've read many of this series, which is a follow-on to an earlier series about a different generation of the Longknife family, and one which I haven't read. I fell in love with the Kris Longknife novels, and read them avidly, but this was before I blogged reviews. My plan this year is to read the entire series, including two or three volumes I've acquired more recently, but not yet read. I'll be doing at least one per month, and posting a review for each one. I'll probably blow through this series rather quickly if the time it took me to get through the first novel is any gauge! For me they're very readable, despite an issue or two I had with them. I think it helps to go into this thinking of it more as a movie than a novel, because it reads like a movie script that's been fleshed out into a novel more than it reads like a novel that's written in the hope it might make a movie someday.

The first volume introduces a new member of the Longknife family: Kristine, who has recently joined the navy, which of course in this case is the space navy. I have to say this makes little sense to me, although it is a trope which pervades virtually all space operas that have a significant military component. I was surprised to discover that there's rather more of the David Weber touch in the Longknife novels than I remember from the first time I read them - and I don't mean that in a complimentary way, although I was a fan of Weber for a while.

Like in Weber's novels, the space fleet is very much a branch of the navy, a tired cliché in which far too many sci-fi writers indulge. They have fleets of ships which seem constrained by the maneuvering capabilities of sail ships from Georgian times, cavorting on a two dimensional ocean, rather than powerful craft traversing a three dimensional vacuum. I know a lot of sci-fi readers love it when authors gaze into their naval, but I don't. To me this approach is short-sighted, uninventive, and rather a lazy way of writing. It's also very Americanized. It's the US (although in this case named United Sentients, which is really clunky!) navy, not any other navy, despite the supposed homogenization of assorted planets, including Earth. In this case it's not even Earth, but an entirely different planet, yet these are American writers who can't seem to avoid Americanisms, American bureaucracy, and American historical references. There's even a reference to radio Shack! That's like a contemporary novel referencing a store form medieval times. It's rather blinkered and too often smacks of jingoism.

In the sixties, and after a rocky start, the US became without question the leader in space travel and technology, but that impressive lead bled dry over the next four decades. Now it's the Russians and the Chinese who are, if not exactly blazing trails, at least riding them, while the US sits without any means to put people into space. Even private industry is taking over, and after filling the astronaut ranks with white male military personnel, the diversity amongst astronauts is increasing significantly. Satellites aside, there is no military presence in space, so whence this impetus to have space navies in the future? Whence the sad bureaucracy which accompanies it?

Out of curiosity, I looked up the original seven Mercury astronauts, thinking they were largely air force personnel. As it happens only three were air force per se. Another three were navy, and the final one was a marine, but with one exception, all of them were primarily aviators. Even the exception, while beginning his career as a regular Navy officer, moved into aviation, so none of them were traditional navy personnel in the old fashioned sense. This was primarily a flying exercise not a naval exercise, yet now we're awash with navy references in sci-fi space operas. How weird is that?

I know that David Weber deliberately set out to replicate the Horatio Hornblower novels, which provides a root cause at least, if not exactly an explanation for his tedious by-rote naval parallels, but why anyone else would choose to go that route is a mystery and a disappointment to me. I honestly wonder why spacecraft are referred to as ships rather than as some sort of flying machine? Naturally they're not airplanes, since there's no air in space, but there's no water either, so why ships? Is it for no other reason than that they're simply larger than any airplane? Ships were what we had before airplanes, so even the pilot is a captain, but he's still a pilot! I guess old habits are really hard to break, and people don't like to think of large aircraft as anything other than ships.

Even if we let that go, there's still the bureaucracy. Shepherd employs the same US bureaucratic and stagnated institutions which Weber uses: Bureau of Personnel, which he refers to as BuPer(s), just as David Weber does. There are other such bureaus. too, such as BuShips, and so on. It's tedious and unrealistic. I think Elizabeth Moon does a far more realistic job in her Vatta's War pentalogy, which I recommend, and will also get around to reviewing at some point. I have mixed feelings about the Star Trek universe, but I think they got it right - or at least closer to right than too many sci-fi authors manage. Yes, they still start with the captain and descend through all the other such naval ranks, but the ships are not primarily 'war ships' - not the ones featured in the series. They're spacecraft of exploration so we don't get the same bureaucratic tedium and military saber-rattling in which other stories wallow.

That said, let's set it aside and get on with a look at the story itself, because the nicest thing about this series is that it isn't a space-naval-opera. I understand in the early editions of this book there were misspellings and grammar issues galore. In the paperback I read there were very, very few. Kris is a navy ensign, and she's depicted in some scenes aboard the navy craft, but most of this first story finds her on the surface of one of three planets. We meet her as she's leading a mission to rescue a kidnapped girl, and the mission almost falls apart. It is Kris's expert flying skills which save the mission.

This brief introduction in the first few chapters puts her head above the radar when it comes to another mission - to go to a water-logged planet and distribute food. This occupies the bulk of the novel but by no means all of it, and some of it makes no sense. We're told that a huge volcanic eruption had clouded the sky, and continual torrential downpours are washing out crops and roads. We never do learn how it manages to be raining the entire time she's there. With that much rain, the ash and soot would be gone from the sky in short order and the rain would stop!

A better question is where is this rain coming from? If the rainfall is planet wide, then where is the water being evaporated to feed the continual rain? If there's a clear sky somewhere else, then why not move the people there? If they're moving equipment off planet because the acid rain damaging it, then it's going to be damaging the soil. People need to be evacuated off planet too!

I read a lot of negative reviews on this to see if I needed to take into account anything my positive outlook had not covered, and I failed to find any. A lot of the reviews mentioned inconsistencies and logic problems but not a single one of them detailed any! That's not a review it's just a complaint! Maybe these reviewers had a case, but if they did, they failed to make it. This is why I got into reviewing in the first place - to write more useful reviews and to discuss author technique and general writing style. Yes, there are problems with every book - plot inconsistencies and issues, which I highlight, but the issue isn't whether there are any (it's fiction, so there always are), but whether those problems and issues spoil the. For me they did not. This doesn't mean a book is perfect. None are, but the bottom line is whether the novel overall is worth reading. For me, it was. I enjoyed the story and the characters.

The book blurb is completely wrong in one regard. It says, "...she enlists in the marines" and she does not. She's in the navy. This is one excellent reason to ditch Big Publishing™ they're utterly clueless. The people who illustrate the cover and write the blurbs are usually in shameful ignorance of the actual content of the book since they've never read it. They're "just doing what they're told" which is pathetic and no excuse whatsoever.

I noted that some reviewers have chided this because it doesn't take place in space (at least not as much as they think it should), but it's not set in space per se. It's just a futuristic action-adventure story. I think those reviewers went into it after reading David Weber's Honor Harrington series. There is no rule that says this has to be a space opera, although in parts it read like one. I've also seen Mike Shepherd accused of trying to emulate David Weber, and while he does appear to mimic Weber for some of the space scenes and background military story, so does every author, as does Weber. To me, that stuff is boring, which is why I quit reading the Weber series. it started out well but went into the toilet.

Shepherd emulates him with regard to the space conflicts, but any story about a navy, on the ocean or in space, is going to be the same in many regards since most writers really aren't that original, but just because there are parallels doesn't mean the story is a copy. With regard to Weber v. Shepherd, Shepherd's background is the Navy, whereas Weber's is in games and sci-fi literature, so I'd give Shepherd precedence for knowing the navy! At least Shepherd isn't rooted in the nineteenth century as Weber is, which is patently absurd! That said, he could have done a lot better, because his "naval battles" are far too rooted in the same problems that Weber's are - battle ships in 2D on an ocean, not spacecraft in a 3D vacuum. he makes the same mistake that Weber does with regard to a complete lack of robots and drones. Any navy which sought to conduct itself as Weber's and Shepherd's navies do would get it's ass kicked royally by a realistic navy four hundred years into the future!

Kris is possibly an alcoholic. It's a mess and it's hard to decide if she really was one, or just a teen who drank too much. I suspect it was the latter, which excuses Shepherd in the way he addresses Kris's sobriety and her behavior around alcohol. On this same issue of Kris's personal problems, the stress on her tragically kidnapped brother is rather overdone. I can see it at the beginning, where she's in process of freeing a kidnapped child, but her feelings seem to be far too raw to be left from a decade or more ago. Military training doesn't seem to have helped. Novel might have done better had it skipped the large central section on Flooded planet, and instead follow Kris through basic training where she could have worked through her issues. That said, her Eddy fixation is really only dwelt on this rescue mission, so naturally her thoughts are with her brother then. Later, she's far less preoccupied by his, and this to me seemed realistic.

So none of this made sense, and the phrase "one of those Longknifes" is way-the-hell overused in this series, but the story wasn't so ridiculous that I could simply not stand to read it. I liked the story and went with the flow - literally in this section! I liked the way Kris was depicted here. She slowly grew into her shoes. She was no Mary Sue and she made mistakes, but she was smart and figured things out in her own way. She had a good attitude and a can-do sense of mission, and she sorted the place out in her own way. You'd think this part was the big story, but it was what happened after this which shows us why the novel is titled Kris Longknife: Mutineer, and again it's down to her smarts and quick thinking.

Despite some issues, the story was eminently readable because it was a good story. It held my interest, made me willing to overlook some issues, and it rather subtly laid some groundwork for a sequel, without hitting the reader over the head or leaving them in the slimy grip of a cliffhanger. Despite issues and personal preferences, I recommend this novel as a worthy read.