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PostPosted: Sat Dec 08, 2018 5:37 am 
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Let me just add that frigid is right on the money about Monstress and Kings of the Wyld.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 18, 2019 9:31 pm 
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Rat Queens Vol 5: The Colossal Magic Nothing
Written by Kurtis Wiebe, art by Owen Gieni


Welcome back folks and welcome to the first review of 2019! Let me just say I hope your holidays were fun and relaxing and get lets right into it. We're opening the year with Volume 5 of Rat Queens. Created and written by Kurtis Wiebe, a Canadian comic book writer who has written for Grim Leaper, Debris, and also created the World War II comic Peter Panzerfaust. This volume's art was brought to us by Owen Gieni, a veteran artist who has worked on comics and webcomics since at least 2001. Mr. Wiebe has had some trouble keeping an artist, the first artist was dismissed when he was brought in on charges of domestic violence and since then artists have either had to quit due to ill health or conflicts between them and Wiebe. I cover this in greater detail in past reviews of Rat Queens. Speaking of, it's been a bit since we discussed Rat Queens so let me touch on the core concept of the series.

The Rat Queens are a group of lady adventurers out to slaughter monsters and make money; living in an anachronistic world of fantasy that would most likely remind you strongly of an old Dungeons and Dragons campaign. I call it anachronistic because the Rat Queens and other characters of the series don't feel like medieval characters but modern westerners living in a world where the technology just hasn't caught up to them. That said this is a fantasy so magic often steps in making up for the lack of technology. The Rat Queens are a group of friends who you sometimes wonder how they can stand each other but despite that, they're all willing to go to the wall for each other. Our characters are the wildly dysfunctional elf sorceress Hannah, the ever-sunny Halfling rogue Betty, the introverted human cleric Dee, the shockingly sensible Orc barbarian Bragi (seriously this woman is a responsible homeowner who invests her profits with an eye to retire while traveling a career path of murderous rage) and the dwarf warrior Violet who is the adult in the room whether she likes it or not. The worldbuilding in the story is honestly uneven in my opinion, there are parts that are great and interesting and there are parts that don't hold up so well. Which lends itself to the feeling that this world was born on a tabletop somewhere. The strength of the Rat Queens series, however, lies in these characters and their relationship to each other. This is not a smooth harmonious group, there's friction, conflict, resentments but there's also friendship and serious desire to do right by each other and that can carry you fair distance. The group is also buoyed by a revolving but strong support cast of characters like Dave the Orc Druid, or Sawyer the repentant assassin turned Captain of the Guard and Hannah's on and off boyfriend/sex toy among others. That said these girls aren't the heroines of epic fantasy; they're mercenaries willing to do a good deed, but they wanna be paid for the trouble and they intend to spend their pay partying hard enough to do a fair amount of damage to any town they save in their own right.

The series has had some rocky parts in its brief history including having to go on hiatus until returning after volume III in a soft reboot of sorts. This volume sets out to explain the reboot in-universe and bridge the gap between volume III and volume IV. To make the story short, volume III ended with Hannah tossed into an interdimensional jail (for attempting to rescue her father from a death sentence) and about to cut a deal with a demon to escape. Volume IV has everyone back in town as if nothing happened. I'll admit this drove me a bit nuts as the events of Volume III clearly happened in some form but there was no explanation. Well, this novel sets out to explain what happened and why there was such a change between the two volumes. It does so by tying in a mystery that only Betty our drug loving sneaky halfling can answer. People are disappearing and worse no one remembers the people who disappear into thin air. Except for Betty, so she has to figure out why the people around her are vanishing and what if anything she can do about it... Before she's gone too. Betty takes center stage here and we get a full look into her past which has been hinted at before and we also get a bit of a peek into Betty's mindset and how she views the world. Which is interesting all on its own.

There is a theme of loss and regret running through the volume and how we deal with it as well. Of how we deal with lost loves one, missed opportunities, or how we deal with the hole in our lives and relationships when someone we care about is gone and the effects on our remaining relationships. Even if we can't really remember who is gone, that hole is still there and has an effect. How we deal with that is shown in the contrast between Betty and our villain who I won't name because of spoilers. I will say it's an interesting way of having the Queens create their own nemesis and I'm really eager to see where it goes from here. This volume of Rat Queens worked a lot better for me than the last one, but I feel we're not quite at the glories of the opening volumes just yet but I can see the path back from here. Rat Queens Vol 5: The Colossal Magic Nothing gets a B from me.

So quick note, February we'll be looking at Philip K Dick, the writer of so books that you have actually watched as a movie. Movies like Bladerunner, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report and more. We're gonna jump right to Bladerunner or as the book is titled “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” this February and look at the movie and the sequel as well as discuss its impacts. Which I've touched on before but we could stand to take a longer look at.

Before we do that though, we got one more January review. Let's look at what happens when an empire collapses. Keep Reading.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 25, 2019 9:35 pm 
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The Collapsing Empire
by John Scalzi

John Scalzi was born in Fairfield California on May 10th, 1969. He was a 3rd generation Italian American, with his grandfather coming to the United States when he was a young child. He was also one of three children to a single mother, which meant that often his family struggled. He covers this in his essay entitled Being Poor. He was, however, able to get a scholarship and attend the Webb school; a private boarding school in California, and later the University of Chicago where he graduated in 1991 with a bachelor's in philosophy. He began writing professionally in 1990 freelancing for the Chicago Sun-Times. After graduating he wrote opinion columns and movie reviews for the Fresno Bee. He would get married in 1995 and the next year moved to Washington DC to take a job as an in house editor and writer for AOL. He was laid off in 1998 and since then has been a full-time writer. His writing career has been a memorable one, his first published novel Old Man's War (I highly recommend it) was published by Tor in 2006. It was nominated for a Hugo and Mr. Scalzi would publish additional works in that universe. He is also well known for the novel RedShirts in 2012 (The audiobook is read by Will Wheaton and it is an absolute treat). Mr. Scalzi has received enough rewards that going into them wouldn't leave us with enough space to review the novel. Let me just say that John Scalzi is a very respected author and he has earned that by writing good stories.

The Collapsing Empire takes place thousands of years in the future. Humanity lives scattered in the 48 star systems of the Interdependency, all of them connected by the Flow. The Flow is a poorly understood natural phenomenon that allows for faster than light travel along fixed streams from system to system. The economic and political systems of the Interdependency are centered and built around encouraging stable trade among the systems. This is done by traveling one-way paths within the Flow called streams. They sort of function as FTL rivers or currents pushing ships from system to system. When I say built around encouraging trade, I may be understating it a bit. With the exception of a single system, there are no habitable planets in the 48 systems of the Interdependency. The vast overwhelming majority of humanity lives in orbital habitats and none of the systems are completely self-sufficient. The systems are controlled by entrenched noble houses with trade being handled by Merchant Houses who have been granted total monopolies over certain products. This structure is undergirded by the Interdependency Church, a religion founded by the first Emperox (it's a gender-neutral title) that holds up the current social system as divinely ordered. The result is what we would call a hydraulic empire. A classic hydraulic empire is an empire that maintains control of its territory by controlling who has access to water, whether that be through flood control or irrigation. In fantasy and science fiction other resources often take the place of water (He who controls the spice controls the universe). In this case each of the Merchant Houses control resources or skills that you need to maintain human life in artificial habitats isolated in the void light years from any natural environment that humans could live on and each Merchant House lives under the gun of at least one Noble House with the Imperial House controlling both the center of the trade nets (so it can cut anyone who gets too troublesome off) and in theory enough military force to squash any single House (The Interdependency exists on a political tripod, the most unstable of structures. I can go on with the Dune references…). It's an incredibly stable and unmoving system as long as there are no problems with resource access.

As you might have guessed, there is going to be a problem. It turns out that those fixed streams in the Flow? They’re not actually that fixed after all. In fact, the entire Flow is shifting and moving, on a timescale measured in centuries or perhaps millennia but unfortunately for us, it's moving day. To be fair, it's not like humanity didn't have a warning here, the Flow cut off contact with Earth over a thousand years ago in the story and more recently another system was cut off, so it's clearly possible. However, no one wants to consider that the very bedrock of the system that has lasted for a 1000 years could simply decide to up and move away, except for a couple of scientists and their patrons. One of those scientists is Count Claremont, who was sent to End. End is the one system in the whole empire that has a planet that people can live on without much in the way of technology. However, it's poorly placed in regards to Flow streams, having only a single stream connecting it to Hub, the center of the Empire. As a result, End is a dumping ground for rebels, lunatics, and troublemakers who are allowed to fight it out amongst themselves as much as they like as long as they keep it confined to the planet surface and don't trouble the rest of the Empire. Count Claremont was sent here by the Emperox of the Interdependency so he could work without anyone bothering him and his work could be kept utterly secret. Because the Emperox was utterly sure that if the work became public that the vast majority of humanity would refuse to believe it and would waste time and resources fighting him instead of preparing for the disaster to come. Because if Count Claremont is right, each system is about to be cut off from one another for a very long time. Perhaps even forever and that means the only place where humanity is more or less guaranteed to survive is End. The place where they parked all their maniacs.

If that wasn't enough there are a couple more problems thrown into the mix. First of all the Emperox is dying and his only son and heir was killed in a freak racing accident, shortly before he started his own slide into mortality. This leaves everything in the hands of his daughter, who was born as the result of a short term relationship while he had in college. Cardenia is a nice girl, well educated, honest and strongly motivated to do good by her fellow citizens and prevent suffering whenever and wherever she can. She's also utterly untrained and unprepared to be the sovereign ruler of the human race and not really emotionally or mentally suited for the kind of cutthroat intrigue that comes with a throne in the best of times (You know, if I were an emperor and only had one heir, I would groom a number of backup heirs…{the law limits his options, not to mention politics}). Never mind the kind of intrigue that gets kick-started when you realize the entire system that your civilization and the survival of your species is based on is about to change beyond all recognition and there ain't a damn thing you can do about it. Because where you and I gentle reader would be throwing everything we got at ensuring our survival and the survival of the people we care about, there's a certain type of person who sees this situation and thinks to themselves, how do I use this to make sure I'm at the top of the heap when it's all over. Because some folks are perfectly fine burning everything to ash as long as they get to be king rat of the ash pile when the flames die down. Unfortunately the kind of steady state with very powerful ruling classes tend to encourage that type of personality in the ranks, which mean Cardenia not only has to try and prevent a mass extinction across several dozen star systems, she also has to figure out how to avoid being murdered in her sleep by people more interested in using it as a chance to take power for themselves.

She doesn't have a lot of time either, because the streams are gonna start shutting down, sooner rather than later. In fact, the stream that lets people leave End is shutting down and when Count Claremont realizes that, he sends his son Marce Claremont to Hub to report to the new Emperox and advise her on what to do. Marce soon finds himself in a good deal of trouble as it seems a number of forces on End are willing to do all sorts of terrible things to keep him on End at all costs. Which brings in Kiva Lagos of the House Lagos, who agrees to get him off End on her ship and ends up getting pulled into the intrigues. To be honest, Marce and Kiva end up being my favorite characters in this novel. Marce is a scientist and a rather decent one who is completely out of his depth in dealing with people trying to kill him. Which is fair because if you develop a society where your physicists have to constantly fend off assassination attempts, you're likely doing something wrong and not leaving them a lot of time to do actual science. That said Marce isn't a coward or a bumbler and shows himself to be a fast learner. Kiva, on the other hand, is a foul-mouthed, oversexed, clever lunatic who isn't afraid to resort to whatever measures she needs to in order to solve the problems in front of her. If that means using an assassin as bait to blow up pirates so she can escape a system with a cargo of wealthy refugees fleeing a revolution to make up unexpected losses in trade then so be it. I'm not sure I would want to be locked in a room with her but I can respect that level of bloody-mindedness and lateral problem solving and honestly, she's fun to read. Kiva is gonna need every ounce of bloody-minded cleverness she can summon, as she is getting pulled by Marce's company into the highest level of power games where people are gambling over becoming the ruler of the human race. Whatever's left of it anyways. That said I will say Marce and Kiva kind of overshadow Cardenia because if nothing else they get to do more.

The Collapsing Empire is a book of political intrigue as society unknowingly rushes to the very brink of collapse and I imagine for a number of readers that will feel very topical on some levels. The intrigue and plotting are well done and the characters are fairly interesting, although Cardenia is a tiny bit on the bland side. I like the effort and work that Mr. Scalzi put into the book. That said I do think the Interdependency kinda opened itself up to this by working to prevent any single system from becoming too self-sufficient. Even without a habitable planet, you can create self-sufficient living spaces using the resources of a star system. Most star systems are vast territories with enough resources (yes even water and carbon) and space to keep a technological civilization going indefinitely. Our biggest issue today is accessing the resources of the Solar System as living at the bottom of a gravity well (by which I mean our planet) makes getting anywhere else very expensive and difficult. Once you're out of the gravity well it's a lot easier. Not as easy as walking, but easier. That said Mr. Scalzi does address this in the book by walking us through the thought process behind creating such a system. I won't spoil the surprise though. It's a pretty good book, but I felt the ending was a bit rushed and as I said, Cardenia comes off as a bit bland. That's all I can say about it negatively. So I'm giving The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi an A-.

Next week, we start our celebrate Valentine's day by examining the career and writings of Dick. Philip K Dick, the writer of Total Recall, The Adjustment Bureau, Minority Report, Man in the High Castle and of course, the work we'll be examining this month, Blade Runner. Next week will be our first ever biographical post as I go over Mr. Dick's life and times and then we'll be reviewing Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (the novel the film is based on), the final cut version of Bladerunner on the 3rd week of February and ending it with Bladerunner 2049 to see just how far Mr. Dick's influence reaches. Keep reading!

Red Text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen
Black text is your reviewer Garvin Anders.

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 01, 2019 10:10 pm 
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So, before I start, it's not the intent of this overview of Philip K Dick's life and career to cast any moral judgment on the man, or to make you view him one way or another. That said Mr. Dick led a deeply troubled life and was a mentally and emotionally tormented person and I would ask everyone reading this to keep this in mind. Additionally, I wouldn't dare to consider this an exhaustive or in-depth treatment of Philip K Dick's life. In my defense, you try going in depth on a life of 52 years in just a couple of pages but I do want to give everyone a sense of the life behind the stories and the struggles that Mr. Dick was fighting while writing. As such, there is no grade attached to this, for honestly how do you grade a person's life?

Philip Kindred Dick and his twin sister Jane Charlotte were born 6 weeks prematurely in an apartment in Chicago in the month December 16, 1928. Their father Edgar was worked for the Department of Agriculture and served in the Marines in the first world war. Both Edgar and his wife Dorothy were from Colorado and born to farming families. Both Philip and Jane were very underweight and to make matters worse, Dorothy was not producing enough milk for both infants. However, no one would realize this until it was too late. Philip's life was saved when a nurse conducted a home visit in January of 1929 and realized what was going on. It was too late for Jane however and she would die on route to the hospital, not even 2 months old. She was brought to Colorado and buried in a small grave. This tragedy would be in many ways the foundation of Philip's life. He would remain obsessed with his twin until his death. He would invent imaginary friends who took her name and his imagined likeness of her. He would claim as an adult that he could hear her voice and would at times have visions of her as a full grown woman. Keep this in mind because I'll come back to this.

“I heard about Jane a lot and it wasn't good for me. I felt guilty. Somehow I got all the milk” Philip K Dick on his sister.

Edgar blamed his wife for the death of his daughter, and when Philip was about 4 years old divorced Dorothy. Dorothy kept custody of Philip however and went to work to support herself and her child. Like his father, Philip blamed his mother for Jane's death and their relationship was a deeply troubled one. While Philip admired his mother, calling her strong and intelligent, he also accused her of being a terrible Mother who was always trying to keep him down. Part of this was the insistence of many learned men (who due to the prejudices time would never bother actually caring for an infant) who insisted that it was best not to coddle infants and toddlers but to treat their physical needs without to much affectionate physical contact (which frankly explains a lot about that generation and certain things in our society I think). Dorothy being an intelligent, well-read woman whose confidence as a Mother had taken a near fatal hit, followed their proscriptions to the letter in an attempt to prevent her only remaining child from growing up into a damaged person. This not only backfired terribly but also in my view led to a lot of the issues that would prevent them from having a good relationship. Dorothy would be incredibly supportive of Philip the writer and he would constantly turn to her for advice and constructive criticism on his work but he would repeatably state his belief that Dorothy just didn't love him and was incapable of loving her children. Edgar on the other was an infrequent presence in his son's life and while Philip believed in his father's love, he also believed that his father was a weak man and not very bright. He would always maintain that Dorothy was the smarter and more driven of the two. Not that Philip was completely starved for affection, as after the divorce Dorothy's mother came to live with them, along with his aunt Marion. Philip's Grandmother treated him with the affection that was missing from his relationship with his Mother but there was a cost. Philip's Grandfather. A rather shiftless man who drifted into and out of his family's life as he saw fit, Philip's Grandfather would intrude on this life and become a figure of terror to Philip and was often abusive. While never proven, there is some evidence that his Grandfather may have sexually molested Philip as well. By the time Philip was seven however Dorothy packed up her son and moved to California, Berkeley California.

Philip would grow to adulthood there, his school attendance was a bit erratic but his grades were fairly good but by his own admission, they were never outstanding. Philip also developed a number of mental problems, he would first display the acrophobia that would haunt him on and off for the entirety of his life as well as issues swallowing food and a complete dread of eating in public (he would be able to combat this in his adult life but have relapses). Dorothy treated him in a fairly adult manner at this time, which did seem to keep him stable. It was here at the age of 12 in the year 1940 that Philip had his first experience with Science Fiction, buying an issue of a magazine titled Stirring Science Stories. He started devouring the pulps, reading any he could get a hold of. When World War II kicked off, Philip rooted for the allies but was always suspicious of FDR and the American government, wondering just how much he was told was actually true. He would start hearing voices, for example during a physics test he had a panic attack when he couldn't remember the theory the test was based on. He would then report hearing a voice that explained the theory and guided him step by step in problem-solving. He would pass the test. After high school, he moved out as soon as he could believing he needed to escape his mother's influence. He moved in with a bunch of artist friends and through them begun an exploration of classical music and literature that would continue until his death. He also started working in a record store at the age 15, where his boss Herb Hollis would become the model for a number of protagonist and antagonist. Herb lived a life of craftsmanship (the store would repair and rebuild radios as well as sell them), small business over large corporations and valuing personal loyalty, these values would really resonate for Philip and he would champion them often. That said Herb wasn't perfect, he fired Philip for consorting with another worker who was fired. I'll admit that rankles me on Philip's behalf since my view is that my employer pays me for my labor and has a right to it (the labor I mean) but doesn't have the right to dictate anything about my life outside of the time I'm being paid but let's move on. Philip would also be in and out of therapy throughout this time, seeking treatment for his phobias. Unfortunately, the understanding of the mind of the time wasn't up to the task and the therapists would often make things worse.

Philip's first and second marriages kinda come from that radio store along with a good amount of characters and stories. His first marriage occurred before he was 21 and was over in a matter of months, the breaking point being when his wife informed him that she was going to keep seeing other men. Philip then went back to college and... Dropped out of college. He began to dream of mainstream success as a writer, this was something that always eluded him. He wrote a number of books that would be considered mainstream but... No publisher would touch them. Between marriages, he engaged in a number of romances, including with the woman he would bemoan as his great lost love Betty Jo Rivers. That relationship ended when she won a grant to study for her master's thesis in France and Philip asked her to choose between marriage to him and France. Betty chose France. He would then met his second wife and the editor that would help start his career. Kleo Apostolides would meet Philip in 1949 and marry him in 1950. They would remain married for 8 years and quite frankly they were likely the most peaceful years of Philip's life. Additionally, through a writing class his mother Dorothy was taking he met Anthony Boucher (who was teaching the class) the editor of the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Mr. Boucher convinced Philip to give science fiction a shot and damn if those stories didn't sell. Philip sold his first story for 75$ (for comparison his monthly house payment was 27.50, we will now pause while all the millennials pull themselves together after having a fit of envy over that). Philip began churning out science fiction short stories at a rate that I only envy and fear. In 1952 he produced and sold 4 stories, in 1953, he sold 30 (7 of which he produced in the month of June alone). In 1954 he took it easy and only produced 28. These stories can best be viewed as dry runs for the works he would produce later but they're still mostly solid tales if products of their time. Philip would quarrel with the pulp edits at times because most of them had no problems simply altering his stories, he would often demand they stop doing so or he would sell to someone else. This tactic met with mixed success.

By 1954 Philip decided to turn his hand to novels. This was a good choice since this was the year that the pulp magazines would meet their deaths. Not for a lack of sales but because the main distributor of all the magazines, American News Company was dismembered by corporate raiders who were more interested in the company's warehouse spaces than anything else. The pulps who despite a wide readership didn't have much in the way of liquid capital were then destroyed as no other distributor was interested in picking them up without a large up-front payment. The publishing company Ace books would buy the novels but at frankly rock bottom prices. This left Philip combating poverty and he felt a deep sense of shame about it, something that his wife Kleo didn't share but it inflamed a number of his mental disabilities, leading to him experiencing out of body episodes. Part of the problem was the status of science fiction at the time. Ace Books was the only company for a time that published science fiction on a regular basis and the genre was disdained to depths that would seem silly today but keep in mind this is before Star Trek, Star Wars and other shows and movies would really carve out a space for science fiction in the American mind. In the 1950s, science fiction was often widely derided as a childish concern at best (I would note some people still hold that view) or the sign of a disturbed mind. Additionally, he had his only confirmed brush with the FBI, due to a number of his friends being activists. The FBI even offered him a job at the University of Mexico if they would spy on communist students according to him and Kleo. They turned it down. Philip would spend the rest of his life convinced that the FBI was tracking and spying on him looking for an excuse to kill him That Philip K Dick could only sell science fiction stories while his more mainstream works went ignored and unpublished would also eat at his self-esteem. So, of course, he began to engage in self-destructive practices. He cheated on his wife Kleo twice, the first time the marriage survived but then they moved out of the Bay area and Philip met Anne, his 3rd wife. It was 1958 and Philip was about to plunge into the best and worst of the 1960s.

Anne Rubenstein was a young widow with 3 daughters and Philip fell head over heels in love with her. They began an affair and after Philip divorced Kleo, married. Their relationship was turbulent at best, much of that driven by Philip schizophrenia but it was here that he wrote such works as The Man in a High Castle, The Martian Time-Slip and others that would build in the New Wave movement of science fiction (I discussed that a bit here in my writing on Cyberpunk so I won't repeat myself). It's here that Philip really began to develop his themes and ideas that would run throughout his notable works. The question of what is and what isn't real? How flexible is identity? A preoccupation with trying to figure out what makes human's... Human and a struggle over religious experiences and ideas. Along with his life long experiments with the I Ching, which he would at times use to plot out novels. There are also some unpleasant strains that show up, Philip was capable of writing women characters of depth and agency but often during this time period they would be single dimensional characters and increasingly any woman who was a wife existed in these stories to cause problems and trails for their long-suffering husbands. In real life, he would accuse Anne of being overly controlling and a spendthrift, despite the fact that she was running a successful jewelry business. He would also accuse Anne of killing her first husband and plotting to kill him. Some of this likely comes from his increasing abuse of amphetamines and speed, which lead to nervous breakdowns of ever-increasing intensity. Philip would also start throwing LDS on the fire. Interesting enough, it's through Anne that Mr. Dick began his relationship with the Episcopalian Church. He and Anne started attending for both reasons of wanting to experience spirituality and to network with the local community. Religious thoughts and themes would often show up in Mr. Dick's work, you can see a prime example in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

It's here that we see the pattern that would emerge in his two future marriages to Nancy and Tessa. The beginning of the relationship starts with Philip being heads over heels, insanely charming if slightly smothering and moving heaven and earth to make his love happy. Then as time goes on he becomes increasingly demanding, expecting his wife to function as a caretaker and being jealous of her time. Both Nancy and Tessa were also decades his junior at the time of their marriages to him and that added another level of strain. As time goes on he becomes increasingly critical of his wife until the relationship cannot bear the strain and breaks apart. That's not to say that his wives were saints. Anne by her own admission would throw things and pick fights, another wife would cheat on him but between Philip's visions, drug use, and erratic behavior, he was the single strain on any relationship. Another cycle we see is that Philip would always loathe whatever state he was in. When a bachelor he would be on a frantic quest for a wife and would wallow in the gutter, he would open his home to young people mostly fellow drug addicts and throw himself into unhealthy relationships where he would attempt to rescue young women. It's from these periods we see novels such A Scanner Darkly and Flow My Tears the Policemen Said. Which deal heavily with the self-destruction of drug use mixed in along themes of government heavy-handedness and fears of a police state. I should note that one strain in his 4th marriage especially was the fact that the IRS was after him for back taxes, which he compounded by joining a movement pledging to not pay taxes until the Vietnam war ended. When he was married, however, he would decry living in what he considered a plastic stale existence and often state that he found marriage suffocating despite his rush to be married. Despite this, his 3 stepdaughters with Anne, two daughters (Laura with Anne, Isa with Nancy) and his son Chris all describe him as a good father if somewhat inconsistent. What I got out of this was that Philip was hunting for happiness but had no idea what would make him happy. I’m not going to criticize him for this because frankly, I think it’s an issue for at least 3/4ths of America and who knows how much of the rest of the planet. It’s more pronounced in Mr. Dick’s life than the rest of us.

However, he would attempt to at least learn what would make him happy. He would also wean himself off of drugs and after the collapse of his 5th marriage try to learn with live with himself without the distraction of crowds of junkies and squatters in his home. He settled into an apartment and started trying at least to break his more self-destructive patterns of behavior. A chance encounter with a young lady wearing an ornate necklace with a Jesus Fish on it would cause him to have visions that he considered divine encounters. Now Mr. Dick had experienced visions and heard voices before but in this case, he was convinced that it was an outside force speaking to him. It is possible that a prior friendship with Episcopalian Bishop named Pike influenced this. Bishop Pike was on a quest to find and understand the historical Christ and often discussed his thoughts with Philip K Dick during Mr. Dicks marriage to Tessa. Throughout his later life Philip would struggle to explain and understand just what it was he was hearing and seeing. He would claim it was his long passed sister Jane, a divine force, an alien, visions from his past life as Simon Magnus, a Christian Saint Thomas. None of these explanations seemed to stick for long. Even his last unfinished novel is a struggle to understand just what he is experiencing. You can see this in the novels he did complete before his death such as Valis, Radio Free Albemuth, The Divine Invasion and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. Philip would die from a stroke that led to complications in 1982.

Before his death, he would publish 44 novels and 120 short stories in 30 years of labor. Many of those would go on to have profound influences on the world of science fiction. In addition, he would leave behind 2 daughters and a son. There are worse legacies to leave the world. We'll start by looking at Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Next week and after that examining the Blade Runner movies that were inspired by the novel.

For a more detailed look at Philip K Dick's life, I would encourage readers to try Divine Invasions A life of Philip K Dick. Which I read before typing this essay. As always keep reading!

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"it takes two sides to end a war but only one to start one. And those who do not have swords may still die upon them." Tolken


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 08, 2019 9:39 pm 
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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
By Philip K Dick


The idea that grew into Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was planted when Philip K Dick was researching his award-winning novel The Man in the High Castle. As that novel took place in a world where the Nazi's won World War II, Mr. Dick conducted research by reading the journals and diaries of Gestapo agents that had been seized after the war. The contents of which were so disturbing that they made Mr. Dick abandon any idea of a sequel, he simply couldn't bear to go back and look at them again. In one journal an official complains about the cries of starving children keeping him up at night, this official wasn't moved by the suffering of children; instead, he was annoyed that they had the gall to do so loudly. Mr. Dick was struck to the core by the profound callousness it took to reduce human beings - children - being starved to death to a nuisance and came to consider the man and his fellows as monsters in human skin lacking in empathy. It was the ideas of human-like creatures who have no empathy and the inner life of those who carry out violent oppression on those deemed unworthy that would slowly grow into Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. The novel would be released in 1968 and was well received being nominated for a Nebula and receiving a Locus award, however, it would be overshadowed by the movie it inspired named Bladerunner but we'll talk about the movie in due course, here we're going to focus entirely on the novel.

It's the year 2021, in the wake of World War Terminus, the warring nations of east and west have not only slain a vast number of the human population of the world but have critically injured and perhaps killed the very ecosystem of planet earth. Radioactive dust spreads across the world and in its wake entire species of plants and animals go extinct. There are only a few shrinking enclaves of wilderness inhabited by the huddled remnants of what were once the most common creatures of the world. The only animals and plants that survive are those under the direct care of humans and it is considered immoral not to have a pet of some kind. In fact, animals are now so scarce that it is utterly against the law to eat meat or use any animal products. Through social engineering and the emergence of a new religion (which I'll come back to) called Mercerism animal life has become incredibly sacred to the point that even the abuse of insects is greeted with horror and disgust. Humanity itself huddles in dying cities, slowing collapsing from lack of maintenance and resources. Much like the forests and oceans of the world, the cities of Earth are slowly dying inch by radioactive inch and humanity no longer has the will or ability to stave it off. Humanity, however, isn't just huddling and waiting for the fruits of their actions to do the whole species in. The UN which is one of the few surviving governments instead prioritizes flight, turning every resource to moving humans off world onto colonies, chiefly on Mars. Those who are not considered hopelessly damaged by the radiation are constantly tempted by commercials and inducements to simply leave everything behind for a new life. Most of humanity has done so and the percentage of the human race that lives on Earth shrinks every year as we abandon the planet we murdered in our own quarrels.

Colonization, however, is a lot of work and requires large amounts of labor. On Mars habitats must be built, soil carefully treated and enriched within artificial environments to grow food for the new Martians. Living space must be created and maintained for human life to thrive. If you're trying to tempt people over to a new world, one they know is barren and hostile to human life and they have to abandon just about all their stuff to go there... Throwing in a lifetime of back-breaking labor isn't really a cherry on top is it? Considering that housing is free on Earth, there's often plenty of places to loot and still a good amount of work both under the table and above board... You can maintain a comfortable life even on a dying planet for a lot less effort. That's where the Androids of the title come in. To be honest the androids in the novel are kinda misnamed if you ask me. Traditionally Android refers to a humanoid robot, that is one that looks like a person on the outside but is still mechanical, constructed out of steel and plastic and driven by a computer. Telling such a being apart from a biological person is as simple as a combination of x rays and metal detectors (granted I'm assuming it would have a good amount of steel in its construction instead of something like titanium or carbon fiber but if you're building a hard labor force while fleeing a dying planet, it's not really the time to get fancy is it?). These androids, however, are biological, created from specially treated zygotes and can only be told from humans by an expensive bone marrow test or the use of a test to test their empathic reactions. These tests are needed because androids are self-aware, thinking beings... Who also have no legal rights and are property. Every human who leaves Earth is awarded an android as a personal servant to aid them in their life on Mars. An Android to do every dirty, hard, dangerous job that will be necessary to make Mars fit for human life, so you don't have to. Like every other slave population in history, androids resent their lot and some of them manage to escape, often killing their owners in the process (Good). The colonies, however, aren't safe for them, so they flee to the one planet where they aren't allowed to live, to try and hide amongst the shrinking huddled masses of Earth. Because of this, the police forces of Earth maintain bounty hunters to administer the tests to suspected androids and kill them if they fail.

Our main character Rick Deckard is such a bounty hunter. He's a fairly average guy in a lot of respects: he's married, wants to do well in his job and gain the respect of his peers and desires various luxuries that most people do. At the beginning of the story, what galls Deckard the most is that he has to settle for an electric animal instead of the real thing (I'll address this when we get to Mercerism so just hold on to it). Deckard has a number of tools to support his work as an escaped slave hunter, such as a laser pistol which will burn through any android quickly and is next to impossible to dodge. He also has the Voigt-Kampff test, which uses a machine to measure empathetic responses by measuring involuntary facial muscle reactions to a series of questions (I kinda read this as the machine reading microexpressions but that's just me (You are correct)). Now the reason the test is used is that androids lack empathy, or at least they're supposed to (Sociopaths are gonna be false positives… or more likely autists, but I’ll get to that later). Deckard is about to have a hell of a day, however. His senior in the bounty hunting department, Dave, was ambushed by the android he was hunting and was beaten within an inch of his life. That's not bad enough, this android is also a member of a six android gang that escaped Mars together and they're considered armed and dangerous. No one has ever managed to retire six androids in a short period of time, so Deckard's got a day. Just in case you thought this wasn't bad enough, these six androids are all from a new model line, the Nexus Six, said to be able to calculate a million times faster than a human, physically strong and fast as well. Deckard could likely win out anyways with some good old fashion grit and luck but a chance encounter at the corporation that produces the new androids sparks something within Deckard. He ends up seeing one android as a person and when he admits that, he finds that he sees all the androids as people. Deckard struggles with doing his job while realizing just what his job is. To top it all off, he's having religious visions of Wilbur Mercer, the central figure of Mercerism (wait for it, we're not there yet!).



On the flip side of this is John Isidore. John Isidore is what's called in the book a chickenhead. Someone who has been damaged by the radioactive dust to the point that his intelligence has degraded, as a result, he is not allowed to reproduce and isn't allowed to leave Earth (Yay for Eugenics! Still practiced in the US up until 1971! If you can’t tell the Yay was sarcastic.). The government has basically decreed him a dead end and condemned him to rot. John, however, has found work for a repair company that repairs electric animals, all while posing as veterinarians. This is done so you can call the repairman for your electric sheep without admitting that you cannot afford a real animal or worse, can't be bothered to care for one. The pose is important because while Mercerism calls for empathy and the raising and care of animals as a duty to those creatures who cannot care for themselves, it's become a symbol of status. The religious idea has been cast aside in favor of using the ownership and care of a living animals as status symbols and reinforcement of a person's own social worth and well being. This is further underlined by the fact that John doesn't have an animal. No one will sell one to him, because he's a chickenhead, a worthless freak who doesn't deserve such status (Wow, the irony in that… they have animals to showcase their empathy…). John, however, continues to believe in the message of Mercer and because of that is even willing to show empathy to androids, such as the three who show up in his abandoned apartment seeking to hide from the bloodthirsty bounty hunter who will kill them if he finds them. Despite his nervousness at their own cold-blooded behavior John decides to do his best to protect them because that's what Mercer would want him to do. Even as Rick has visions of Mercer telling him to kill the androids even if it's wrong because that's what he has to do.

Let me dive into Mercerism a bit more because it's honestly a pretty important pillar of the book. Mercerism doesn't have much in the way of creed or theology, beyond show empathy to individuals and work to uphold your community. There are no temples, no churches, no rituals, no rites. Instead, there's the empathy box, a strange device that when grabbed by the handles induces a shared vision of the same experience. That of Wilbur Mercer walking up a hill, to be hit by a rock thrown by an unseen attacker. While you grab the empathy box, you feel the same emotions that everyone else whose grabbing the empathy box at the same time is feeling. So you feel their joy, their depression, their anger, everything. That said, Mercerism doesn't offer salvation or enlightenment, a fact that Mercer himself says. What it offers is an intense community experience and a pair of simple rules, which makes it a fairly simple religion that most of the characters in the book still managed to screw up. It's also part of an intense social engineering effort to guide humanity into acting a certain way before I get into it let me talk about the other part.

Mercerism and the empathy box isn't the only piece of technology capable of screwing with someone's mood in the book. There's also the Penfield organ, a machine that allows you to dial in an emotion that you will feel. Everyone not only uses it, but uses it constantly and heavily. This device operates without any physical connection to the characters as well, so I can only assume it works through some sort of field effect (Could be chemical…). This technology is fucking terrifying in it's implications, you can be literally forced to feel anything with the turn of a dial! I actually had to stop reading the first chapter a few times because the device frankly scares me more than anything else in the book and everyone treats it the same way you would treat your bloody blender (Doesn’t really scare me that much to be honest, because it’s driven by the choices of the user.). However, when I went back and read the dialogue, where Deckard's wife Iran admits that she turned it off and immediately fell into a deep depression, I realized why it was necessary. Iran turned off her Penfield organ and her T.V and was alone in a large building and felt the utter silence of it. Because there was no rain, no insects or birds to hear, no human beings in the building at that time. Just the utter silence of a soon to be dead world and the realization that they have no one to blame but themselves for it. I realized then that the Penfield organ and Mercerism were all vitally necessary just to keep the ragged remains of humanity from jumping off the nearest high ledge in despair! That should tell you just how damn bleak things are in this book and you never hear the characters talking about how bleak it is. Instead, you watch them do everything in their power to avoid realizing how bleak and empty their lives are, which only hammers in the point harder.

So why all this social engineering, why this emphasis on empathy and a new religion stressing taking care of animals and trying to preserve the shattered remains of a dead world? There are several reasons for this I think. Before I get into it I want to stress that this is my own reading of the text and I have no idea if Philip Dick would approve so take it with a grain of salt. First is the practical effect. There is a massive amount of effort needed to try and preserve as many species from the reaper when the entire ecosystem is turning into literal dust. By making it into a religious devotion, something that we do fairly well, even if we are hypocritical about it, you enhance the amount of the population that will join in and the amount of labor you have access to. This also gives the population something else to focus on besides the realization that we've murdered our homeworld while standing on it and reduces the chances of mass insanity. When you're trying to stave off the extinction of your own species, you stack whatever bonuses you can on those dice after all. Third is that this emphasizes the differences between natural born humans and their artificially created slave androids. We see this happen in history as well, for example at the time of the American Revolution, most of the founding fathers were willing to admit there was little difference between them and their slaves in terms of human potential and feelings. Fast forward some 80 odd years to the 1860s and every member of the slave-owning class was loudly declaring that Africans were fundamentally different and less than Europeans and justified holding their fellow humans in bondage because of it. Every slave system reaches out for an ideological justification and drums up some difference between the slave and slave owner. If none exist, then one is invented. While the androids do seem at best socially awkward and at worse sociopaths (one decides to chop the legs off a spider that Isidore finds because she can't believe that the spider really needs that many legs), I can't help but wonder if this is the result of socialization or some effect of their fast growth not giving them the time to learn empathy (Doing things like taking the legs off a spider is something that many children do, it’s a natural part of their development to take the world apart and put it back together. The problem here isn’t empathy, but theory of mind. Even very young children do display empathy if its approached the right way. The difference between a child and an adult is theory of mind. An adult is capable of more easily understanding the consequences of their actions and how those actions are felt and perceived by others; and this is both a matter of experience and physical brain development. This is also the primary difference between neurotypical people and autists. We have a harder time understanding the minds of others, but it isn’t a lack of empathy. In this case, as you’ve mentioned, the failure of the android isn’t necessarily in empathy, but in their social performance of empathy, as a consequence of lacking that experience. So a natural-born human autist would likely fail the test, but a sociopath would not because they’re capable of faking performative responses including facial expressions that they don’t feel.) . The Voigt-Kampff test for example that no android can pass, would be impossible for the vast majority of us to pass. One of the questions asks what you would do if given a calfskin wallet, a lack of outrage is considered a sign of being an android. Other questions involve eating lobster, sitting on a bear hide rug and so on and so forth. These are things we would consider normal but the human characters consider their disgust and outrage at such things to be fundamentally human and the androids indifference as proof of their sub-human nature. Meanwhile, the failures of humans to empathize with each other, whether it be treating John Isidore as a thing rather than a person because of the damage he's suffered, the lack of such between Deckard and his wife Iran or even empathy for the androids from humanity at large is ignored. I find myself wondering if this sense of empathy and it's definitions weren't carefully engineered in order to enhance the gap between the natural born and artificially created branches of humanity so no one will question the enslavement of the androids (Yes).

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is able to present all of this while telling a complete story of the worse day of John Isidore and Rick Deckard's lives. The day they both become legends, both touch the face of god and are forced to face the very real shortcomings of their societies and themselves. It's also able to do this in 200 pages. I find myself very impressed with this given that there are modern fantasies can't tell half as meaningful stories and character arcs in 600 pages. Deckard starts the book as a rather cold-blooded greedy social climber that I found myself disliking but warming up to over the course of the book as he came to understand what he was doing and grappling with it. That said the book isn't perfect, Iran is less of a character and more of a plot device and is quickly shunted to the side. I'm not left with any impression that she means anything to Deckard or that Deckard really means that much to her. In fact, I kinda found myself wondering why they were married at all. The book much like Solaris also raises a lot of questions without providing much in the way of answers (I'm beginning to wonder if this is just a trait of science fiction books from the 1960s). Unlike Solaris however Mr. Dick does provide a sense of catharsis and a sense of ending in the book instead of just coming to full stop. As you can see from this review there's a lot to talk about and consider in this book, and you get a pretty interesting story on top of that. I honestly have to say I think this book stands up rather well to the passage of time, perhaps shockingly so. I'm giving Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick an -A. Sit down and give it a read sometime and then just think about it for a while.

Next week we're gonna confront the biggest legacy of the novel, the film Bladerunner in all it's 80s Cyberpunk glory. Keep reading folks.

Red text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen
Black text is your editor Garvin Anders

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"it takes two sides to end a war but only one to start one. And those who do not have swords may still die upon them." Tolken


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 15, 2019 10:34 pm 
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Bladerunner 1982
Directed by Ridley Scott


“You were made as well as we could make you.” Eldon Tyrell


A quick note, I will be spoiling parts of the movie here but the damn thing is as old as I am. There's a limit to demanding a spoiler-free life folks.

Bladerunner is a movie that can and has fueled a small industry on the story of its troubled birth, examinations of its troubled childhood (as I extend the metaphor) and its rise into a celebrated and respected mature pillar of science fiction film. There have been documentaries, books and more about it. So this review cannot comprehensively cover everything, so I will simply attempt to hit the highlights. Let's start at the beginning, 1968 when the novel is released, it gains attention quickly. Martin Scorsese was interested in filming the novel but never made any move to buy the rights to it. In the early 70s a screenplay was written but was widely regarded as terrible so never got close to filming. In 1977 a screenplay was optioned and producer Michael Deeley convinced director Ridley Scott to direct it, although he had originally passed on it to try and direct Dune (that would fall through and David Lynch would direct Dune but that's a topic for another day). What changed Mr. Scott's mind in many accounts was the death of his brother Frank from skin cancer at the age of 45. This was a harsh blow and this left Mr. Scott in a grim and somewhat downcast mood understandably and you see this in the film. Mr. Scott never read the novel, to be fair that was normal for the time and neither anyone else working on the movie. They didn't even use the title, strangely enough, the title comes from a completely unrelated book written by Alan E Norse written around the idea of black market doctors and the men who smuggle them medical supplies called Blade Runners. It's probably fitting that the movie that has an almost Frankenstein like beginning given it's about a race of people created in labs to be slaves.

The role of Rick Deckard proved hard to cast, months were spent in discussion with Dustin Hoffman, only for that to fall through, various others were also considered, Jack Nicholson, Clint Eastwood, and Burt Reynolds but in the end, Harrison Ford won out based on his performance in Star Wars. The role of Roy Batty however easily went to Rutger Hauer and to be honest I struggle to imagine anyone else doing as well as he did in the role. Actress Daryl Hannah landed the role of Pris, a female replicant who is basically the second female lead of the movie. The role of Rachael, the main female lead had a lot of competition as well and required several ladies to undergo repeated screen tests with Harrison Ford before Sean Young landed the role (bit of a side note, Philip Dick saw a picture of her and was instantly smitten, he asked to be introduced to her in a very, Philip K Dick style note to Mr. Scott, who perhaps wisely decided not to do so). Of course just as the casting was nailed down the money was pulled, as the company that had signed on to finance the production pulled out, Michael Deeley would in two weeks, however, drum up millions of dollars to replace the lost funds and he would gonna need every dollar. Because Ridley Scott was determined to make a perfect film, even if he had to kill everyone involved in the most expensive way possible to do it. Worse as filming began, it became unclear if was murder was actually off the table. Mr. Scott a British director was not used to American Union rules and by American standards was a micromanager. This would also set off a brief war by T-Shirt as an unfortunate remark about how British Crews were easier to work with because you just give them orders and they would comply spread to the crew and they responded. Luckily Mr. Scott was able to break the cycle with his own T-Shirts. Mr. Scott would set up a video playback booth because he was frustrated in his attempts to get ahold of the camera at times (one of the things that infuriated the crew in the first place). This leads him into conflict with Harrison Ford who now felt isolated from the director and wanted to work more closely with him as he had his own creative ideas. Remember at this point Harrison Ford was coming off of not just Star Wars but Indiana Jones so he was a tried and tested veteran who wanted to be a partner with his director, not a minion. This fed into artistic conflicts, Mr. Scott wanted to run with the idea that Deckard was a replicant (I'll talk more on that later) and Mr. Ford hated the idea. On top of that Ms. Young and Mr. Ford disliked each other so much that the crew called their love scene the hate scene. Mr. Scott drove the movie over budget and the producers begin to threaten to take the movie away from him (so he was feuding with the crew, his star and now the producers, I feel like this movie was really just an extended super expensive session of conflict therapy in a way), on top of that there was the looming threat of a directors strike. Mr. Scott's reaction to this? To whip the crew and cast through several marathon filming sprees and finish the movie. In fact, when they filmed the final scene of the confrontation of Roy Batty and Rick Deckard, everyone had been working for a straight 36 hours.

But they weren't done yet. Test audiences were left confused and dismayed by the movie so it was decided to add a voice-over by Mr. Ford. At first, was Mr. Ford was lukewarm on the idea but he swiftly moved to hatred as he was forced to voice over the entire movie, 3 times. Mr. Scott wasn't too thrilled either as he was mandated to film a happy ending with Harrison and Sean driving off into a lush forest. The movie had a good opening weekend but bluntly it opened 2 weeks after E.T hit theaters and E.T just sucked all the oxygen out of the room and left Bladerunner kinda foundering in its wake. The critics at the time weren't kind either mostly panning the film. However, the film survived as a cult classic with fans often forming Blade Runner clubs and academics would fall over themselves to analyze the film and discuss the text and sub-text. Cyberpunk works across all forms of media and across the planet would take visual and plot cues from the movie making a major influence going into the 21st century. Hell, you can see its influence on things I've reviewed in the past like Altered Carbon. New life was breathed into it with the release of the Director's Cut in 1993 with audiences declaring it a classic and Mr. Scott releasing the final cut in 2007 (which is the version I watched for this review). Given that Blade runner finds itself deeply concerned with what is real and what is artificial, I find the fact that there are by some counts as many as 7 versions of the film to be an ironic echo of the theme. But let's talk about the film, shall we? Quick reminder, that for films I as always issue two grades, the first being a grade of how the movie stands alone and the second grade how it stands as an adaptation of the novel it's based on.

Taking place in the all to close year of 2019, Bladerunner gives us the story of Rick Deckard, a Bladerunner (a cop who specializes in killing replicants) trying to live in retirement but dragged back into the the line of duty to chase down 4 escaped replicants who are hiding out in L.A. These replicants are seeking to find a way to gain a longer life span as they are near the end of theirs, all 4 years of it. Deckard hunts down each one in turn while exposing Rachael, a new kind of replicant who was unaware of her lab-grown origins and implanted with artificial memories. It's during his battles with the 4 escaped replicants that Rick Deckard resolves to save Rachael's life (as she's fair game to any other Bladerunner that finds her) and falls in love with her. However, first, he has to survive a confrontation against a replicant that was designed to fight wars and has no problem killing to protect his own life. Throughout these confrontations, Deckard is repeatably asked “It's painful to live in fear isn't it?” as the replicants seek to express the stress of living as a slave, of being a living thinking person who is property. This is a life where you live based solely on the whim and desires of others. They mostly express this by beating the crap out of Deckard but they are only about 4 years old. Deckard's own understanding of that may be the motive for his desire to get out of the life of a Bladerunner, of course considering that Deckard is doing all of this under threat he might have a more first-hand understanding of what the replicants are going through. After all, the only reason he took the job was the fact that his Police Captain let him know if he didn't that the police department would come down on him full force. That can't be a very pain or fear-free way to live.

Bladerunner is a good movie although it's a flawed movie. The Cinematography is amazing in the movie and Ridley Scott uses the images to communicate a number of ideas and feelings. The world seems run down and decayed, while there is no lack of luxury, it seems to exists in isolated islands amidst the smoke and haze of an L.A made up of neon lights and dirty streets. The attention to detail in the settings and props is amazing even over 30 years later. The characters, even the human ones all seem very physically and emotionally isolated, everyone in this movie seems to live alone. Be it Deckard, the geneticist Sebastian, the billionaire Eldon Tyrell, no matter their station or situation everyone is incredibly isolated from their fellow human beings. No one has a live-in girlfriend or boyfriend, no one has a friend over, no one even has a generally disinterested roommate. But that plays to the theme of how no one is above from the alienation and isolation that the society of this future has forced on humanity. Even those who reap the benefits of that technology must suffer its negative effects. Technology is everywhere as well (Deckard is able to go to a biologist with a powerful microscope and computers operating out of a roadside stall for example) but has not seemed to aid or uplifted humanity in general and nature is absent, in fact every animal shown in the film is an artificial creation with the implication given through dialogue that real animals are rare and incredibly expensive to get and maintain. There are constant advertisements and encouragements to immigrate off-world to better lives. This gives us a dark future where the planet may, in fact, be dying and mankind is fleeing out to the stars to avoid the consequences of its decisions. The acting is great in this film as well, with Rutger Hauer and Daryl Hannah being the stands out. They had the difficult job of portraying replicants, lab created humans who only live about 4 years and spend those years in service doing jobs that no one else wants to do. Rutger plays Roy Batty, who is a military model and his girlfriend Pris is a pleasure model. Both actors were able to portray people who struggle with their emotions as they lack the context and experience to understand what they're feeling and react accordingly. One scene that really stood out to me was when Roy is informing Pris that the rest of their band is dead, killed by Deckard and Rachael. Rutger does this through using the same facial expressions I've seen on small children when I was tutor when they were deeply unhappy (sometimes over small things and sometimes upset over big things) and didn't have a way of expressing it. Pris' instant acceptance of the news and her reaction combined a small child and a feral creature's. Which made sense, for all their intellect, the replicants don't even have a handful of years and it takes humans decades to fully understand and come to grips with the emotions we're capable of. Hell some of us don't manage it even with half a century of experience! The replicant actors managed to convey a human being that is a mix of a small child trying to understand what they're experiencing and genius level super predator who will spare no effort to keep living.

This makes Roy's decision to save Deckard's life at the end all the more memorable since it would have taken no effort to let Deckard die. I've seen a lot of argument about it and frankly being arrogant enough to review this movie and the novel, I'm of course going to pitch in my 2 cents. Roy saved Deckard for a lot of reasons, but I don't think forgiveness was one of them as I've seen suggested. Rather I think it was a mix of Roy realizing he was dying whether he killed Deckard or not and thus killing him would be meaningless, a very human desire not to die alone and a simple point blank rebellion against his creators. Roy was built to kill, to be a war-machine that destroyed whoever he was told to without question or mercy. During his time on Earth, he continued this behavior has he murdered his way to his creator and when he was told that a longer life simply wasn't happening, he killed his creator as well. He also killed the one man who showed him nothing but kindness, the genetic engineer Sebastian. Which might be the one killing that he honestly regrets, as his last words to Sebastian are an apology. This time, this one time, Roy would show mercy on his own terms and prove he was his own man, not just a biological machine fulfilling its biochemical programming. Whether or not Deckard deserves to be spared is kinda irrelevant to the thought process here. It's about Roy making a decision as to whether or not he's going to spend his last moments as the piece of rampaging, malfunctioning military equipment everyone says he is or as the man he knows he is. Whether that gives Deckard any grace is completely up to Deckard's actions I would say. As you might guess this moment really stuck with me.

However, there are things I didn't care for. The pacing is kinda all over the place managing somehow to be a slow film that doesn't get enough character interaction to really cement the relations to me. Additionally, there's Mr. Scott's idea that Deckard is a replicant. I just don't see it in the film, I mean yes it's odd that Deckard doesn't have anyone in his life and there's the now-famous ending with one character leaving a unicorn origami in Deckard's apartment when he had earlier had a dream of a unicorn but that frankly lends itself to several interpretations. My own first thought was the fact that unicorns are often symbols of worthy but impossible goals. Deckard's unicorn is leaving behind an empty of violence to live in peace with a loved one and Gaff leaving that unicorn in his apartment was a silent encouragement to pursue his unicorn even if it was doomed pursuit. Because when it comes to a goal like that, the simple act of struggling to achieve it is worth something in and of itself no matter how doomed the struggle. I'm also going to note that I don't see the point of going through the trouble of making a replicant only to strip such a person of all the physical advantages that would bring. Deckard is clearly physically weaker than all of the replicants, even Pris the smallest and weakest of the replicants being meant for life in a whore house is able to physically beat the crap out of him without much effort. If you're going to design a policeman in a lab, you might as well make him capable of standing toe to toe with the people he's fighting or it's just a pointless waste. After discussions with friends who were big fans of the movie, the theory seems mostly held up by circumstantial evidence and a lot of reaching. If you disagree please, walk me through it! I would really like to hear from you in the comments.

That said let's wrap up. I think Bladerunner has earned its status as a strong science fiction influence and the film even in the face of its issues. So as a stand-alone movie I give it a B+. However as an adaptation? The plot bears next to no resemblance to the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. The only thing they really have in common is a police agent hunting rogue lab-grown human slaves in California. Entire plotlines are chopped out, characters changed (Deckard is vastly different, as is Rachael and their relationship) and erased and the whole thing is barely recognizable beyond sharing the same visuals and starting idea. So as an adaptation I'm going to have to give it a D+. See it for its own sake but read the novel as well because you can look at one without having any idea of the other.

No editor this week as he is moving across the continent to further his career. Please join me in wishing Dr. Allen well and hopefully he'll rejoin us soon.

Next week, we tackle Blade Runner 2049 to see if any of Philp Dick's influence reached it. Keep Reading!

No editor this week as he is moving across the continent to further his career. Please join me in wishing Dr. Allen well and hopefully he'll rejoin us soon.

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"it takes two sides to end a war but only one to start one. And those who do not have swords may still die upon them." Tolken


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2019 10:42 pm 
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Blade Runner 2049
Directed by Denis Villeneuve


Over the three decades since it's release the influence and popularity of Blade Runner built up to the point that the final cut had a limited release in theaters in 2007 before being sold as a DVD and Blu Ray. Despite it being twenty-five years since the first version of Blade Runner was released and the very limited number of theaters and only being in theaters for a couple months... The final cut made about 33.7 million dollars and then the money from DVD sales came rolling in. At this point, even Hollywood executives realized what they were sitting on and so they set out to make a sequel. Ridley Scott ended up as executive producer and Denis Villeneuve, the French Canadian of Sicario and Arrival was his chosen director. Unlike the first Blade Runner film, there don't seem any great legends or feuds floating around on this one. Blade Runner 2049 had a producer who was determined to create a better experience then he had and a director who had worked on a number of American movies. Which is likely all to good, another movie with the kind of production drama that the first Blade Runner had would likely turn tragic. I do want to note that a construction worker was killed dismantling the sets for this movie in Hungry, I couldn't find his name but I feel it important to note his passing. That said, let's turn to the film.

The movie takes place thirty years in-universe from the original Blade Runner. The world has not done well for itself. While the Tyrell corporation has fallen, replicants continue to be made now by the Wallace Corporation led by Niander Wallace. Earth in the meantime has suffered an ecological collapse and a mass blackout that wiped out (nearly) all electronic records. This was accompanied by a number of replicant rebellions that led to a ten year prohibition on creating replicants (as well as a number of older models escaping out into the world to live in secret) until Niander Wallace, who made his fortune by creating ways to feed people despite the ecological collapse, received permission to restart production. Niander Wallace was played to great creepy effect by Jared Leto who stated that he based Wallace's behavior on the behavior of several silicon valley overlords he knew and turned it up to eleven (Yep! He basically dialed the standard corporate sociopath up that high. Honestly I’m not even sure he turned it up to eleven.). Niander Wallace is a man with a god complex, given that he controls the food supply of Earth and the labor force of the colonial words... He's a very powerful and wealthy man with a god complex. He is, however, a deeply frustrated man. His model of replicants, the Nexus 9, have life spans equal to humans, they are faster, smarter, stronger and always obey but he cannot make enough of them to satisfy his ambitions of spreading humanity across the galaxy (I can't say I sympathize honestly, he complains about only adding nine worlds to the total of worlds that humanity lives on, but the fact of the matter is if humanity was set up on ten worlds that would make us more extinction proof than any species in history).

This is where our main character Police Officer KD6-3.7 (A fun note, P (for police) KD come together to make the initials for Philip K Dick) comes in. On a routine run K “retires” a Nexus 8 who claims to have seen a miracle. That's when K finds a box buried under a dead tree with a set of bones in it. The bones belong to a female replicant who died doing something impossible. The bones belong to Rachel and she died giving birth to her and Deckard's child. The news hits K's superiors in the LAPD like a thunderbolt, if replicants can give birth, it is the biggest and most fragile wall separating them from natural born humans torn down. It also suggests rather firmly that the ideology that justifies enslaving replicants and treating them like objects is wrong. So, of course, there's only one thing to do here, find the child and kill it, while burying all the evidence and pretend this never happened (The systematic dehumanization of the replicants in this movie literally made me weep). So they set their super reliable hound K on the case, however, the clues and revelations that K finds on his way quickly subvert him as he begins to have suspicions about just who the child is and finds himself unwilling to carry out his orders. Especially as it comes to light that some of his implanted memories actually happened. If his memories are real... Then how much of his life is real and how Much is the lie?

Ryan Gosling plays K and I find myself split on his acting choices here. He actually does a wonderful job playing K as the submissive and down-beaten slave (sure he's paid but he's still property without any rights so I would consider him a slave). He constantly looks down and to the right (replicants have an identification code on the underside of their right eyeball so to verify you have them look up and to the left) when around humans. He hunches and keeps his body language closed and when speaking to his superiors keeps his tone as neutral and emotionless as possible. This is really well chosen as the movie takes pains to show up that natural born humans react with hostility and borderline violence to replicants. From fellow police officers screaming slurs to him, to the people in his apartment building vandalizing his door and howling diatribes at him whenever he shows his face. So a replicant like K would quickly learn to adopt such submissive postures and tone to avoid attracting additional abuse. However, when alone or with Joi (I'll get to her in a moment) his tone and expression doesn't change that much, so K is left feeling very flat as a character for a lot of the movie. I can see the argument of that's how such a person would act in real life but this is a movie and I have to sit through it (Then it is a you problem, and not an acting problem. I subscribe to that argument. You wear a mask long enough, and it’s hard to take off. You repeat the lie that you’re worthless and don’t deserve dignity to avoid a beating or execution for long enough and you come to believe it yourself, you become the mask you wear and live a life of despair. What you see is not flat acting, but a lifetime of situational depression and stockholm syndrome. {That’s great but this is a movie that I have to sit through, and it’s still Gosling being flat for over 90 minutes, having him show more emotion when alone with K would have made the audience connecting with him easier. Which is what you’re trying to do in a movie, sometimes reality has to take a back seat to audience engagement in movies about replicant cops hunting children. So yeah, it is an acting problem.}). He does get more expressive towards the back half of the movie but at this point, you've already sat through 90 minutes and the impression is made.

That said it is interesting to note that K is the only character in this movie with a companion of any kind. While Niander has the replicant Luv to carry out his will, she isn't a companion so much as a minion/tool (Because Niander is a sociopath. He doesn’t have companions. He’s incapable of attachments of that type.). Niander is shown to be always alone unless attended on by Luv (seriously I don't even see a butler or a maid), which goes for every human character in the movie as well. This carries on the theme of alienation and isolation from Blade Runner while making K the sole exception. As for Joi, she is a hologram programmed to be a live-in companion, played by Cuban actress Ana De Armas. Joi is supposed to be an artificial intelligence, at first she comes off as a very advanced chatbot but as the movie progresses, she plans, advances her own ideas and expresses her own desires and envy of others. She even shows an awareness of the possibility of death and puts herself knowingly in danger to try and help K. Which brings up the question of just how real Joi was? (My answer is this: exactly as real as K or anyone else.) I think this sub-plot is the part of the movie most influenced by Philip K Dick, as he would enjoy the idea of grappling with the question of whether or not your relationship is real or if even the other person in the relationship is even real. As the question is never definitely answered in the movie. I admit that I tend to fall on the side of if Joi wasn't a sapient person at the beginning of the movie, she was one by the end. As I pointed out, she didn't just follow her programming but adapted to changing situations, developed her own ideas and plans and had her own desires. That strongly suggest being self-aware and sapient to me. While she did make K the center of her universe, there are plenty of human beings who do that, so I don't see that as a disqualification per se. I honestly would like to hear your opinions on the matter however so feel free to leave a comment.

On the other side of Joi is Luv, a replicant specially made and named by Wallace to be his right hand. Luv is perhaps the most privileged replicant in history, as she runs the Wallace corporation in Niander's name. However, she is still property and it is perhaps being allowed to sit on the high ledges while having to live under another person's whim that creates the rage inside of her. Luv is played disturbingly well by the Dutch-born actress and model Sylvia Hoeks, who plays Luv as a woman who lives under restraint, who seems almost eager to kill humans whenever she can, to the point of murdering not just one but two police officers in their own damn police station (this is one of those things that leads to the world of Blade Runner feeling crowded but damn empty, how do you murder cops in their own station without anyone fucking noticing!?!). I'm not sure if it's because Luv resents being a slave so much as it is she resents humans getting to pretend they're better than her despite all the real power she has and knowing that her achievements only matter so far as her master and creator says they matter. We see this in the differences between her and K, she doesn't look down or hunch over when dealing with humans. However, every time she's in Niander's presence, she adopts the posture of a small child in front of an unpredictable parent and she expresses rage whenever a different natural born human asserts themselves over her (with the exception of Niander). She never had to suffer the abuse that K did but she did have to learn that all her privilege and power doesn't change her disadvantaged position in society. Which explains the happiness we see when she gets to assault one of these uppity natural born humans.

She is also determinedly hunting the child on the orders of Niander as he believes that with the child's DNA he could finally unlock the final secret and make a replicant that can have children, allowing him to make a self-sustaining workforce that can spread quickly. I have to admit I'm kinda looking cockeyed at his statement. He creates replicants as full-blown adults, while any natural born replicant would need at least a decade to grow up to be a useful laborer. Additionally, a woman, be she natural born or lab-made human can only have so many children at once or so often. While it seems to me that a factory could pump out a lot more in a year. Lastly... You can make programs like Joi, so why not just churn out robots with half of Joi's intelligence, give them replicant overseers and send them off to make planets useful for natural born human colonists? This honestly seems like an overly complicated answer to the simple question of how do we get enough labor over there to make the planet usable. But I digress.

As both K and Luv close in on the truth, they both also get closer to Deckard and frankly I don't the movie really can say whether Deckard is a replicant or not. We know that Mr. Scott says he is but well, it just isn't on screen (Does it really need to spell it out though? Having to spell it out just insults the intelligence of the audience, the film treats it as self-evident by the time he’s found.{No, the film doesn’t and it needs to provide some evidence! Which neither film does! The whole thing works just as easily with Deckard being a natural born human. In fact the idea that replicants and natural born can interbred makes for even more panic}). Niander offers the idea that Deckard was created solely to meet Rachael fall in love with her and get her pregnant but admits he can't prove it (But he is in a position to know Deckard is a replicant {Expect he isn’t, he flat out admits he doesn’t know and the only to know is to cut Deckard apart which loses the information they’re seeking}). Deckard dismisses the idea out of hand. Honestly, that idea doesn't hold water for me either, it's just to damn complicated and depends on Deckard not getting killed and frankly his courtship of Rachael (I abuse the term courtship here and I apologize) sat as much on her lack of options and desperate need for any emotional anchor in the storm as anything else. If Tyrell could have set all that up, he should have been able to foresee the need for some security in his own damn home to avoid having his skull crushed! So Blade Runner 2049 doesn't change my position on Deckard being human.

Blade Runner 2049 is a very interesting movie in what it explores and suggest and to avoid spoilers I've avoided some of the more interesting parts. That said, this movie has massive pacing issues, at times moving slow enough that a tortoise in the desert could outrun it (Why aren’t you helping?) and at times so focused on its themes and their exploration that the characters and story suffer for it. It's run time is over 2 and a half hours and even Mr. Scott (a man who loves long cuts let's be honest) said it could have lost 30 minutes. It also tends to introduce plot ideas and not really do anything with them to my frustration. That said, again this is an interesting movie with a lot of ideas being dug into and there's a lot to discuss in it. The movie did alright at the box office scoring 259 million dollars against a budget of 185 million, of course, due to Hollywood math it needed to make 400 million to break even (look I'm primarily interested in books so I'm not going to spend a lot of time exploring that but seriously). So it was announced a commercial flop even as it became a critical darling winning 44 awards including Academy awards and being nominated for over a hundred in total. This led the director, Mr. Villeneuve, to declare it the most expensive art-house movie ever made. That said, the movie was one of the top sellers in 2018 for DVD and Blu Ray sales, bringing in another 21 million to the table. So much like it's parent film the final chapter is likely still be written but we'll have to see. I think that there are echoes of the themes and ideas that Philip K Dick wrote about in this work, the question of who and who isn't human, who is and isn't real is a very Dickonian question to ask in a story and it's interesting to have the characters defiantly shout out they know what's real, when the rest of the world says they don't. I'm giving Blade Runner 2049 a C+, despite the ideas and some interesting acting choices the super slow pace and the flatness of K's character works heavily against it but time will tell on that one.

Well, that's it for our first Philip K Dick Month and it's been an interesting experiment. We are slated to do this again next February will likely do something like this when Dune is released next year but until then let's get back to books! Join us in March for the end of the Warp World Series, as we review Warp World Final Revelations. Keep Reading.

Red text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen
Black text is your reviewer Garvin Anders

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"it takes two sides to end a war but only one to start one. And those who do not have swords may still die upon them." Tolken


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 01, 2019 11:12 pm 
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Warp World Final Revelations
By Kristene Perron and Joshua Simpson


Warp World Final Revelations is the final book in a five book series, the first book of the Warp World series, entitled simply Warp World was released in October of 2012. I reviewed that book in 2014 and followed up by reviewing every other book in the series. Before I get into that, let's talk about the authors. Kristene Perron worked for 10 years as a professional stunt-woman gaining an in-depth education in all the ways a person can be hurt or killed; nomadic in many ways she lived on both sides of the equator before settling down in Canada with cats and a husband. Her stories have appeared in numerous publications and she’s won awards for those works. Joshua Simpson is a native of East Texas (The poor soul) and has a long colorful list of careers, among them long-haul trucking, safety man for a nuclear power plant, stonemasonry; and he currently works as a pain relief specialist, focusing on nerve release techniques. Which as far as I can tell means he causes you short term pain in order to bring you medium to long term relief and improvements to your health (Basically when you’re injured, even relatively minor injuries, scar tissue can form and your sensory nerves close to those areas can get stuck on the scar tissue and become inflamed. The fix is to manually unstick them, which can be painful). Continuing my stubborn tradition of full disclosure, Josh Simpson is a friend of mine and he was incredibly kind in providing me an e-copy of this book for the review. That said this is my honest opinion on the book, as I believe that's what my readers deserve. I should note there are spoilers here for the series if you haven't read the books stop here, pick Warp World up and see if you're interested.

Final Revelations brings to an end the saga of Seg Erananat, combat anthropologist, brutal reformer, unrepentant rebel and tired exhausted hero; and Ama Kalder, ship captain, rebellious slave and force of nature. They are also both hopelessly in love with each other and completely devoted to the same goals. Those goals were never humble or small either, first was the liberation of Ama's people from the colonial rule of foreign overlords, then it was the reform of Seg's people away from a system of monstrous slavery and dehumanization while huddling in increasingly smaller and smaller patches of their own planet. A planet that was being eaten by a phenomenon known as the Storm (Seg's people simply aren't very creative nomenclaturists as I've noted in the past) the Storm simply destroys any and all life it touches along with draining away the energy source known as Vita. Vita is if I just strip it down to the simplest explanation, a magical energy source created and fueled by faith and hope. Something that Seg's people were so lacking in that they developed a technology to visit other worlds to simply loot their stores of Vita; which they needed to do because the technology that powered the shields that kept the People (I mentioned not being very creative?) safeish was powered by Vita. Meanwhile, their social structure was barely held upright by the slaves they kidnapped from those same worlds and consigned to a nightmarish existence. Seg sought to turn the People to a less barbarous existence by creating a new settlement where there was no slavery and thus spread reform and liberty throughout the world. He failed and in the end, the World of the People was devoured by the Storm. There was one bright spot in this however, Ama managed to survive being exposed to the Storm and as a result, has gained new abilities and a growing understanding of the what the Storm is. However, these abilities come at a dark cost and leave Ama concerned if she is even human anymore. On top of that is another horrid wrinkle. I often wondered in my reviews why the People didn't just eat the cost of warping to new worlds to flee the storm and simply settle on a new world. This book also answered the question. Every time the People visited a new world, they opened a path for the Storm there and as a result, every world the People raided was destroyed by the Storm in a decade. The leaders of the People knew this and did it anyways for centuries, making them perhaps one of the most prolific bands of mass murderers ever as their victims could easily be numbered in the tens of billions if not more. It's interesting to note that even characters who wholeheartedly supported the People's system react with horror and remorse at this revelation, suggested that even in their degenerated brutal state some lines were simply too much.

Final Revelation takes us back to Ama's homeworld, where her people the Kenda have been rebuilding their nation free of the imperial yoke. Two groups of the People have survived and found refuge in this world. One group made up of the people who followed Seg's vision of a better world and society and the other group is a band of mercenaries and spies who were lucky enough to escape into the Warp when their world was finally destroyed. The group that followed Seg ended up in Kenda lands, the group of people that gave birth to Ama and allied with Seg, way back in book one. Things have gone pretty well for the Kenda; they achieved independence and under the rule of Ama’s cousin Brin are slowly unifying and building a cohesive nation-state so as to resist any further aggression. The other group landed in the middle of nowhere. This group is taken over by Issensio, a spy who managed to cause a good amount of grief to Ama and Seg in prior books and has now talked and shot his way to being in charge of this group of People. Despite being washed out of the same school that produced Seg, he's one of the most intelligent, driven and gifted people on any world he ends up on and he's now driven to find a solution for a pressing problem. You see, due to everyone warping over to Ama's world and dumping thousands of people on it... It doesn't have a decade until the Storm shows up, it has a year, maybe... Tops. To that end he'll even ally with Lissil, the woman who schemed, plotted and decided if she couldn't rule Seg's settlement next to him, she would burn it all down. Lissil is from Ama's homeworld to, she's a Welf, a third ethnic group that was reduced to abject servitude below even the Kenda. Lissil basically fought her way up from the very bottom of the heap based on her willpower, physical beauty, native intelligence and utter lack of anything that could even be considered a moral code. She might not as dangerous as Seg, Ama, or Issensio but that's only because she lacks their training and resources.

Meanwhile, Ama wakes up separated from everyone else in the very stronghold of her first enemies. The capital city of the Shasir, the people who colonized the Kenda in the first place. She finds herself in the midst of a political and religious dispute. It turns out that the technology worshipping religion of the Shasir has some secrets of its own. Secrets that tie back to Ama's ancestors and to hidden secrets of her own world. Like why they bothered to hide a continent from everyone and what's on that continent and what ties these secrets to the Storm? The secret may be carried by a single priest named Sa'lais, a true believer who is bound and determined not to let his people repeat the sins of the past and use a weapon so horrifying that they built an entire religion around the idea of keeping anything like that from ever being developed again. Ama has to figure this all out fast because as usual she is surrounded by people who want her enslaved or dead and is operating on a quickly shrinking margin of error. However, Ama has learned a good deal since the early books and Mr. Simpson and Ms. Perron shows us a matured Ama who is more world-wise and less foolish then earlier books. She's also however colder in a lot of ways, some of that being fueled by the changes wrought in her by the storm and others by the deep emotional and mental scars left by the abuse she suffered at the hands of the People. While that gives her the tools to survive even in the very heart of her enemies, it does show us that she had lost part a piece of her goodwill and for lack of a better term innocence. Ama no matter what she has lost though is just getting started and will save her homeworld no matter who she has to go through to do it. Seg on the other hand...

Seg Erananat has seen better days, he's once again separated from Ama and now from everyone else in a strange new place that is somehow in between the World and Ama's homeworld and operates on completely different laws. He's not alone either, surrounded by people from his past he has to figure out who his enemies and who are allies are and do it with full knowledge that history may be entirely misleading. Seg is having to deal with all of this while under the massive stress of being afraid that everyone he loves and knows is dead, devoured by the Storm or lost somewhere in a hostile universe out of his reach. He's also carrying enough grief to kill a lesser man, as he not only saw his world die (and knows his actions hurried that along) but has lost out on his ambition of saving his people and making the People into something worth saving. He's also carrying personal grief for losing his family just as he buried the hatchet with them and made peace. He cannot even be sure that he saved the people closest to them or delivered them to even worse fate. So this Seg is one who is aged beyond his years, feeling like he has failed at everything and is very close to his limit. That doesn't mean he's out of tricks or out fight though, after all, men are most dangerous when they think they have nothing left.

This book reveals to us the nature of the Storm, the hidden secrets of Ama's world and the last terrible secrets of the People. These aren't the only revelations however, as we see just what kind of deals that everyone will cut and what actions they are willing to do when everything is on the line. While everyone has been playing for fairly high stakes throughout this entire series, Ms. Perron and Mr. Simpson have found a way to bring the stakes for the last showdown to an even higher level. The result is a series ending that brings us to new levels of tension and suspense even as they wrap everything up for the final curtain. On top of this, just about every action, the characters take on all sides make sense, I can't find anything to point at and yell that this an incredibly stupid action. Other than letting Lissil run around free but Issensio doesn't have a lot of choices there. I wouldn't call the book perfect however, there were parts of the storyline that dealt with Ama's family that I found a little too neat and pat for example. Also, the fact that we're on the very last book and thousands of pages in... They have to insist on dropping in new characters. Now bringing in a new character isn't a terrible thing but that means giving up space and time to develop them while competing against established characters. It's tough to do without annoying your audience (think of all the fan hated characters that show up in late seasons of television shows or loathed comic book characters who try to change the dynamic of beloved characters) while Sa'lais doesn't irritate, he simply doesn't get developed to the scale that characters like Viren, Gelsh or Jarin did across a couple of books they appeared in. So I don't really feel all that attached to him or invested in his journey in the book. I'll admit I would have rather seen more of Viren then Sa'lais but then Viren might be my favorite supporting character and in my opinion, he never gets enough face time. I'll also note that if you haven't read the last four books in the series you going to be utterly and completely lost as it picks right up from the end of book four and takes off running like a charging horse. That said, the book did completely pull me in and I completely enjoyed it. Warp World Final Revelations by Kristen Peron and Josh Simpson gets an -A.

As always the red text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen
Black text is me, your reviewer.

Join us next week for The Red Knight by Miles Cameron.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 08, 2019 10:40 pm 
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The Red Knight
By Miles Cameron


“Vade Retro Satanus” The Red Knight page 563


Miles Cameron is one of the pen names of Christian Cameron. He was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1962 and spent his childhood bouncing around between Rochester New York, Iowa City, Iowa, and Rockport, Massachusetts. After graduating from McQuaid Jesuit High School, he attended the University of Rochester and graduated with a BA in Medieval History. He then spent the next thirteen years as an officer in the United States Navy (...I now have this mental image of him making sailors refer to him as ‘M’lord’ after he issues orders). There he served as backseater in an S-3 Viking aircraft assigned to Sea Control Squadron 31 (VS-31) gaining his air observer wings. Afterward, he served as a human intelligence officer with NCIS and DHS in Washington D.C. He left the Navy in the year 2000. Before turning his hand to fantasy he wrote over a dozen historical novels covering a wide variety of periods and characters. He's also a student of a variety of martial arts and a historical reenactor focusing on the medieval period (Break out the dueling shields and copies of 15th century german training manuals!). His first books were written in cooperation with his father Kenneth Cameron, who was a playwright and novelist himself. Christian Cameron released his first solo novel in 2002; The Red Knight was published 2013 by Orbit books. Orbit books was founded in 1974 and bought in 1992 by Time Warner Book Group. Let's get to the book though.

The book takes place in a parallel world to our own, where Christ existed but the history and condition of the world is very different. Magic is real and man is not alone on the good earth, but man humanity wishes it was. The nation of Alba stands on the very edge of civilization. To the east across the vast seas lies the continent, the fully settled lands of man where the only foe that you face in war is other men. On every other border however lies the Wild; the domain of inhuman and alien intelligences who hold values and beliefs that are often frightening and bizarre to civilized men (I would be very interested in a map of this world…wait, are there dog-men in the Wild? Do they have souls? Can they be converted to Catholicism and baptized? {No dog-men... Yet.}). A generation ago, the father of the current King of Alba won a great victory against the armies of the Wild but the cost was great. Where his father could raise 20,000 knights and their troops, the current king has less than a fifth of that. The population is expanding and growing, so recovery will come if there is time. If. On the very northern edge of Alba stands the fortress nunnery of Lissen Carak, which is also the name of the rich town that surrounds it. The Abbey is not that old all things considered, two centuries ago it belonged to the Wild and the powers of the Wild simply called it The Rock. They want it back and are willing to kill every man, woman, and child living there to do it. The many creatures of the Wild, insect-like Boglins who mass in great swarms, the graceful and small Irks the mighty wyverns and the powerful and hauntingly beautiful creatures that men call demons. The “demons” are actually pretty interesting although Mr. Cameron doesn't go too in-depth into their culture; they are taller than men, winged with crested skulls and beaks. They often cover their crests and beaks with engraved decorations of precious materials which suggests a good understanding of tool use. The demons and wyverns also generate fear as a magical effect on humans so panic is always a real danger from their very presence. The Wild also has its human allies, first being native human tribes that live in the wild and govern themselves by the Wild's rules. The second is a rebel movement within human civilization known as the Jacks. Men who have grown fed up with the feudal order of peasants and lords and seek to kill off the aristocrats even if they have to ally with creatures who view humans as a good source of protein to do it (Damn people, just use a guillotine already…). Because yes, the creatures of the Wild will eat you and they won't wait for you to die before they start. In the face of all this, the Abbess has her nuns, some town militia and farm boys, and the mercenaries she called from the continent. These mercenaries are hard and sinful men, in some ways as dangerous as the creatures of the Wild and expensive, but they're her best bet against having her abbey and home destroyed out from under her and watching her people tormented and killed in their own homes like rabbits in a snare.

As for the mercenaries, they are led by a man who calls himself the Red Knight. He's young, only 20 years old and leading men who were fighting wars when he was still dirtying his own diapers. That said, he's got the talent, he’s got the training and he's got the luck to be one of the greatest war leaders of the age. If a stray arrow or wyvern doesn't turn him into fertilizer first (Or dysentery. So many Great Leaders died from dysentery…). The Red Knight is also a man with a hell of a chip on his shoulder. He was born into a world of wealth, power, and privileged but because he was born a bastard, he was loathed and always at odds with the rest of his family. It doesn't help that he wasn't the child of some amusement or forbidden love, the Red Knight is the child of a rape. Because of that, he was both the target and the vessel of his mother's hate, who raised him for one single purpose. To destroy all the works of man and civilization (Yeeesh. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a kid…). In his own words, to be the Antichrist, but either because of the abuse or despite it, the Red Knight instead has decided to try to be if not a hero at least, not a villain. This is a man who is convinced that God hates him, but he's going to do the right thing anyway and to hell with the Almighty. This is a difficult kind of character to write well, it easy to go overboard with the angst and the grim darkness of it all or to dance around it so much that you might as well not have done it. Mr. Cameron, however, does a good job of writing someone as angry as only an abused young man can be while keeping the character from going too overboard. I mean there are times when I want to reach into the book and smack the Red Knight on the head but Mr. Cameron is sure to make it clear that the Red Knight is being the kind of idiot that only a young man can be. It helps that the mercenary company provides a good cast of supporting characters from his squire Michael, and corporals Big Tom and Sauce, who is a woman at arms and even grunt archers with colorful names like No Head, Willful Murder and so on.

The Red Knight and his company aren't the only characters moving in this world however, there is also the Galle knight Jean de Vrailly, who upon having a vision of an angel decided to grab 300 lances (I'll explain in a bit), sail across the sea and come to Alba to do great deeds. He's considered the greatest knight in the world and unbeatable in one on one combat, incredibly handsome and incredibly arrogant, classist and frankly a jerk. It's only the company of his cousin Gaston that keeps him from starting a war with the Alban natives at every turn and restrains his behavior (My god. He is an embodiment of French Knighthood…). There's also Peter, a man who was being dragged north in a slave convoy but escapes when the Wild attacks and accidentally breaks his chain. His own voyage gives us a very different but important view of the world. Another focus of the narrative is the young Queen Desiderata who struggles to support her older husband as he prepares for a war with the Wild, with a smaller army and fewer resources than his father would have had. I should speak a bit about the book's treatment of woman, in short, it's a very good treatment. As a historian, Mr. Cameron shows us the influence and power that woman such as the Abbess (who would in the real world would have been treated as equal to a feudal lord) the Queen and other wealthy and well-born woman had in their society. Sauce is a woman fighter but it's treated as a rare and strange thing that Sauce has to earn by putting more effort and achieving better results then a man in her position would be expected to. By mixing these two elements, one very clearly historical and the other perhaps not as historical, Mr. Cameron creates something realistic and believable.

Let me actually discuss how Mr. Cameron treats the world he has created, this is honestly one of the details and medieval feeling worlds I've seen without turning into an unreadable mess. Magic is approached using hermeticism which was a real philosophical and mystical tradition that existed in Europe. I should note that hermeticism was one of the first traditions to argue that the world could be observed and tested in experimentation, so while hermeticism was not science, it did help introduce ideas that would become the cornerstones of scientific endeavor. Magic users use a memory technique called a memory palace invented by the ancient Greeks. The idea is to use the memory of location and move through it in your mind to recall memories, you do this by placing what you want to remember along the route you take through the building in your memory. Like if you're memorizing a grocery list, you put the first item, let's say carrots as a large picture on the front door of the building. This creates a mindscape that gives us a whole new mode of interaction between magical characters who can communicate with each other from their mind palaces that non-magical characters cannot interact with. It also makes magic feel like an incredible mental discipline requiring years of training that demands concentration and devotion from its practitioners. I have to applaud Mr. Cameron for finding such a simple but evocative method for that. On top of that, Mr. Cameron uses his experience as a reenactor to give us detailed but not overblown accounts of battles and the arms and armor used. Warhorses get to star as the incredible killing machines they were, knights feel like an ancient analog to light armored systems almost unstoppable unless they run into another knight or a lucky hit gets into their joints or eyes. The book is also deeply littered with Arthurian references, such as the Red Knight himself, as there are a number of characters in the Arthurian Myths that went by the name The Red Knight. Other Arthurian characters appear in various guises but I'll let you discover them for yourself. The end result is a story with medieval characters who feel medieval instead of 21st-century people in medieval dress and that’s a good thing. That said I do have some criticism, Mr. Cameron rarely explains some of the things he was doing - like the memory palace technique - and the story is vast, so at times you might lose track of characters and some of the characters don't feel entirely necessary to the story. There's also a lot of jumping back and forth between characters so sometimes you might have to go back to remember what this specific character was doing when you last saw him. That said, all the stories do come together in the end and while the book is over 600 pages, I'm hard pressed to say which of those pages were wasted but also feel that this book could have used another editing pass to make it flow easier. This is still a very good book and it is without hesitation that I recommend it. The Red Knight by Miles Cameron gets a B+ and my promise that we will return to this series.

That said, last week we closed out a series and since we started one this week, let's end another next week. Next Week join us for Darth Vader 4: End Game. Keep Reading!

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Darth Vader Vol 4: End of Games
By Kieron Gillen


End of Games brings the series written by Kieron Gillen to it's the dark, triumphant, but inevitable end. Set between the movies A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, Mr. Gillen faced the struggle of writing an interesting story when everyone who picked up the comic knows what the ending is going to be. After all, we see Darth Vader commanding his own fleet in Empire, utterly secure in his power and without rival... Well without rival, as long as you don't count the Emperor of course. Mr. Gillen solved this dilemma by bringing in original characters that he could use to build suspense with, while not stealing the spotlight from our villain. Instead, Vader's arc is one of him recommitting to his path of power above everything else and not letting a single scruple or scrap of emotion stand in his way. Instead, Mr. Gillen explores what separates an antagonist from a villain. He does so while also letting us indulge in the kind of unstoppable destruction that only a villain of Darth Vader's resolve and power can bring us. In a way Vader is extremely refreshing in this series, there are no speeches about the greater good, no waxing on about necessary compromises or puffed up posing of hard men doing hard things. Instead, Vader does what he does, how he does it because he chooses to and simply dismisses any other concerns other than his own will. There is no attempt to present an argument to justify his actions to the audience. Darth Vader is a Sith and for him, his might makes him right and if you disagree, you had best be strong enough to stop him and so far no one has been. I wouldn't want every villain to be like this, but there is certainly a place for the pure simple directness of Vader's stance.

Throughout the series, Darth Vader has faced competition for his position; for his power; and for his very life. He has also been pursuing his own agenda in hunting the pilot that destroyed the first Deathstar, Luke Skywalker as well as trying to piece together what connection there might be between Luke Skywalker and Anakin Skywalker. To do all this, while in public disfavor with the Emperor, he has been forced to gather his own henchmen and troops outside of imperial law and engage in crimes and other immoral actions. He must also fend off ambitious Imperial officers who want his power and the creations of the mad Dr. Cylo, each one believing they can take his position as the Emperor's right-hand man. It's to Mr. Gillen's credit that he was able to tell the story and keep it interesting despite the fact that we know what is going happen. He does this by not trying to soften or subvert Vader at all but showing us why Darth Vader holds the power we see him holding in the movies. Because he has utterly destroyed through means fair and foul (but mostly foul) anyone who would threaten that position or try to sap his power.

While we know that Darth Vader is going to thrive and survive (at least until Return of the Jedi) whether or not his hirelings Dr. Aphra and the rogue droids Triple Zero and BeeTee are going to make it to the end of this storyline is an open question (BTW I love those droids). Honestly, the odds aren't looking good for Dr. Aphra who is increasingly being considered a loose end by Darth Vader instead of a useful asset. She was taken prisoner by the rebels in the last graphic novel (Vader Down) and her escape is covered in another series (that we will get to). Now Darth Vader is tracking her down and it's up in the air whether or not she'll survive being found. What's not in the air is whether or not Dr. Cylo the mad scientist who has utterly abandoned any idea of ethics and morality (and likely jettisoned his ethics committee into space along with it) will survive. Which is honestly just as well, because in all truth Dr. Cylo isn't that intriguing to me as a villain and while he's a great inventor and talented engineer, I'm left doubtful about his skill in pure science. Let me explain, Dr. Cylo lives in the Star Wars Galaxy and is old enough to remember times before the Empire. That means he remembers the Jedi and likely had at least heard a bit about the Sith-Jedi wars in history This makes the reactions and statements of himself and his hand-picked minions pooh-poohing the kind of power a fully mature and trained force user like Darth Vader can bring to bear somewhat baffling and rather foolish. They do this without any direct observation or experimentation, instead embracing arrogance and ego-driven faith in being smarter than anyone else in the room. Here's the thing, I know scientists. Hell, our editor is a scientist! Most of them will tell you that making such statements without observation (preferably direct observation) and experimentation to prove your theory is the kind of foolishness that leads to humiliation and laughter in the world of science (Plus, there is that working hypothesis gleaned from historical anecdotes that a force-sensitive can do things like telekinesis…). It's perfectly believable in Dr. Cylo's case since he's been exiled from the realms of peer review (creating cyborg lobotomized slave space whale ships, for example, tends to be a no-no for most science communities) and surrounded by slaves and minions but it honestly makes him a less interesting character. He's so busy screaming about what a genius is he that he doesn't notice Vader causally tying the metaphorical noose around his neck.

It’s the game of wits between Dr. Aphra and Vader and the sheer spectacle of Vader destroying everything in his way to his goals that carry this story though and I'll be honest that's very well done. While Cylo falls flat for me, Dr. Aphra comes across as an extremely clever and quick-witted character; using her wits and willingness to gamble on one outrageous idea after another to stay inches ahead of the vastly more powerful Vader. We also get to see that power on full display which is a draw in and of itself. This series shows us the savage glory of the Sith in general and of Darth Vader specifically and does a great job of showing the double-dealing, the backbiting and willingness to betray in the name of power and strength that lies at the core of the Sith ideology and their way of life. This storyline uses this to show us the weakness of the Sith and Vader. His drive and uncompromising position leads him to destroy possible allies and destroy still useful assets and in doing so weaken himself in the long run. It leaves him isolated, alone and without the ability to choose any method but the most direct and savage which deeply limits him compared to his opponents in the Rebellion and newly emerging Jedi, I say opponents because Vader doesn't regard them as his true enemies, his true enemies are all lined up in the imperial court just waiting for one moment of weakness. Which is one of the many reasons why the Rebellion won in the end. I really enjoyed End of Games, but I think more effort could have been done with Dr. Cylo to make him less of a one-note character but I found it fascinating how secondary Cylo was to the real conflict. End of Games by Kieron Gillen gets a B+ from me. It's a strong and worthy finish to the series even if the main antagonist had worn out his welcome.

Join us next week for Wayward Volume II Ties that Bind by Jim Zub.

Just a reminder that we have set up a patreon to help us sort through recommendations and possible reviews. Just one 1$ gets you a vote on what we review starting with our April reviews! So Join us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads Keep reading!

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 22, 2019 8:49 pm 
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Wayward Volume II: Ties that bind
By Jim Zub art by Steve Cummings

I discussed volume one way back in 2017 so while there will be a link at the bottom of the review let me cover the basics right here. Jim Zub is a Canadian comic book writer who broke into the industry when he created the comic Skullkickers, a sword and sorcery action comedy that ran from 2010 to 2015. Since then he has worked on numerous projects for Marvel, DC, and Image. In addition, he has done work for companies such as Hasbro, Capcom, the Cartoon network, and Bandai Namco. He is also a program coordinator for Seneca College’s animation program. Steve Cummings is an American born veteran artist who got his start for DC comics and since then has done work on comics for everyone from Marvel and DC, to IDW, Kenzer & Company, and Devil's Due Publishing among others. He also created a manga, Pantheon High for Tokyopop. Wayward was started in 2014 and takes place in a modern Tokyo where the shadows and dark places of the city are filled with all sort of supernatural creatures. Most of these are rather hostile and predatory towards our main characters, a group of teens with supernatural powers. Fair warning there are going to be some mild spoilers.

Ties that Bind starts by focusing on a new character Ohara Emi, who goes to the same high school that the main character Rori Lane attended before she went missing due to her home... Exploding. Emi is in her own words a standard Japanese girl, leading a standard Japanese life and feeling rather trapped by it. She does the same thing every week and knows that her future has been completely mapped out and there's no escape. That is until she sees that missing girl from school floating outside her window, then things get crazy. She finds herself falling into a group made up of Nikaido; a homeless girl who can generate feelings of calm or use anger to create destruction, and Ayane; the crazed girl created by the union of the souls of a group of stray cats (Woah…). This volume does a good job introducing her and fleshing her out, as well as linking her up to the main group. We also get more insight into the character of Ayane. Considering that was one of my complaints with the last volume I do appreciate that. Although Nikaido is still left in the background. Ayane and Nikaido believe themselves the only survivors of their little group and have been waging a vicious guerrilla war against the supernatural creatures of Tokyo through the means of murdering any small group or individual they find. To be fair, every time they've run into supernatural creatures so far, that creature has tried to kill and eat them, so I have a hard time blaming them for their killing spree. However, they lack any idea of what they're fighting and what their enemies want so there's a profound lack of strategy to their actions. So when they run into a group of supernatural creatures who instead of wanting to kill or eat them, offer alliance and suggestions on ways to do real damage to their enemies, the kids jump all over that without asking any real questions. Which is honestly not a smart decision but seems entirely realistic when you realize these kids aren't even old enough to drive in the United States. This is entirely the kind of move that a group of 15-year-olds under stress and living in an abandoned building would do, hell there are adults who have done dumber with less excuse (I really really want to make jokes about cold war and post cold war politics {you are a model of restraint to us all Doc}). So it feels realistic and not forced... Even if I'm facepalming more than a little at the characters here.

Meanwhile, Rori and Tomohiro (a young man who has to eat spirits to survive) aren't dead but find themselves dealing with their own challenges. Such as having to deal with Rori's powers, Rori seems to have a great wellspring of powers that flow from her ability to see and manipulate the strings of fate that bind people and objects together. This lets her do things like find people anywhere, see parts of the future and create new clothes (yeah I'm not sure how that works either [Well she can weave the strings of fate… why not other strings?]). The power also seems to rush right to Rori's head, as she starts making decisions for people she hasn't even met yet. Major ones and while we didn't get a chance for any fallout here, I'm really hoping to see it in future issues. That said, making such questionable decisions is also pretty realistic so I didn't feel like the character was doing something against her nature. Given how young she is and the fact that she is under a lot of pressure I see how she got there. I just hope she gets called out on it.

This volume does a better job of fleshing out our protagonists but our antagonists are still left a rather shady and mysterious group. They appear to be some type of governing body for the supernatural creatures of Japan who regard the teenagers as a threat to them. However, why the kids are a threat to them beyond our bad guys' own actions provoking them into a war stance is incredibly unclear. A good chunk of the group could have likely been brought onside with the proper introduction and mentoring for example. Instead of introducing yourself to a super powerful teenager by beheading her mother in front of her! This is just bad decision making on behalf of Team Bad Guy, a living hostage is always more valuable than a dead family member in these situations. I'm still in the dark as to what is driving this conflict and what the antagonist team wants or even who they really are beside a random collection of Japanese spirits and this leaves the plot a bit flat when you step away from the action. This doesn't feel like a mystery either as the protagonists are making no moves to find any of this out. So I can't consider a story element because nothing is done with this! If for example Emi and Nikaido had done some work to find out why all the supernatural creatures in Tokyo want them dead and who's pulling the strings here, it would have added some depth to the story. That said I do feel this was an improvement over Volume I, just not a huge one. That said I do enjoy the clear research that Mr. Zub puts into Japanese mythology and the appendixes in the back are a treat. So I'm giving Wayward Volume II a C+. It's good, but not that great.

So next week for our last review in March we're going to head back to fantasy novels for a bit and discuss The Tiger's Daughter by K Arsenault Rivera. Afterward, we'll be opening April with the winner of the Patron poll! If you'd like to vote on what books or graphic novels you'd like to see reviewed next month, then please join us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads

In the meantime, if you enjoyed this review, please feel free to comment below, or share the link with your friends but above all Keep Reading.

Review of the first volume is here: http://frigidreads.blogspot.com/2017/09 ... b-art.html

Red as always is your editor Dr. Ben Allen
Black is your not so humble reviewer.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2019 9:45 pm 
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The Tiger's Daughter​
By K Arsenault Rivera​


K Arsenault Rivera was born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico and moved to New York when she was three years old. She grew up in New York and remains there to this day living with her partner. The Tiger's Daughter is her first novel, published by in 2017 by Tor Books. Tor Books is an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates LLC a publishing company founded in 1980 in New York City, which was bought in 1987 by St. Martin's Press and is now owned by the Macmillan Publishers.

The Tiger's Daughter is an epic fantasy story built around a romance. The epic fantasy is the story of a cultured, old powerful empire being slowly and surely brought to its knees by terrors without and rot within. Demons and corrupted former humans cluster at the borders and seep across the walls that guard the empire. While within the empire suffers from famine and plague as the powerful sink deeper into debauchery. This romance is the relationship between the two main characters, both young woman, with powerful legacies behind them and dangerous futures in front of them. Both these legacies and futures are deeply intertwined to the point that frankly, it would be surprising if they didn't become lovers or arch enemies. This is before we get into the fact that they might be demigods. Let me introduce you to each one in turn.

O-Shizuka is the daughter of the greatest hero of the prior generation and the brother of the emperor of Hokkaran. Her Mother is legendary for her sword work and generalized killing ability, gaining the nickname the Queen of Crows, for her habit of feeding the crows bread in her travels... As well as leaving behind mountains of bodies for them eat (Sound strategically and tactically. Be nice to crows and they’ll be nice to you). Her father, an imperial prince, is the most celebrated poet of his generation and her biggest fan (O-Shizuka's Mother, in turn, is a huge fan of his poetry so it works out pretty well). Now you would think that would be the kinda hard act to follow that would make a kid feel shadowed by their parents but let me add one additional tidbit. O'Shizuka's Uncle the Emperor? Has no children, legitimate or bastard, nor has he any siblings other then O-Shizuka's Father and so O-Shizuka is first and only in line for the throne (Excellent. No male-only primogeniture {I'm glad to know this imperial god-king system has your approval}). Most of us would be excused for feeling a bit under pressure. O-Shizuka on the other hand believes that this is exactly the kind of set up that she deserves and not only is she going to live up to these legacies and responsibilities, she's gonna rock them so hard that in centuries to come people will be referring to her parents as the prologue to her own mind-blowing heroics and poetry. This would be incredibly irritating if it wasn't for the fact that O-Shizuka not only lives up to her self imposed standards, being an empire-wide lauded duelist capable of beating hardened soldiers one on one by the age of 13; but her calligraphy is so famous and awesome that she can literally use it as money. She can walk into any shop she wants and walks away with just about anything just by offering to write them a nice sign. Oh, she also has superpowers like being able to glow, make plants grow whenever and however she wishes and when she walks into a garden every flower turns to face her. Let's be honest anyone of us would have a healthy amount of appreciation for ourselves at this point (That kinda shit would turn most of us into an insufferable narcissist, to be honest). Balancing it out is the fact that she lives in an enemy camp. Her Uncle the Emperor hates her for not being his daughter and for the fact that she's wildly unimpressed with him. Throughout her young life, she is faced with attempts to control her or marry her off to some man old enough to be her father. So in a way her pride is a defense mechanism because if she ever lets it slip she runs the risk of being enslaved. Instead of being annoyed with her, I often found myself sympathizing with her, especially as her situation would go from bad to worse as she grew up.

Shefali, the daughter of the Karsa of the Qorin people, a group of horse nomads that were only fought off a generation ago due to the heroics of the Queen of Crows is rather impressive herself. Her Mother was the woman who slew her brothers so she could avenge her sisters and then united her people without ever speaking a word. Still, without speaking a word, she breached the walls that held them away from the Hokkaran Empire and led her people in an attack deep within the Empire. When the heroics of the Queen of Crows and others made her position untenable she humbled herself by making peace with the Empire, marrying one of its nobles, and bearing two children with him before going her own way. Shefali was the younger of the two children and was given over to her mother to raise. She would face some resistance due to her mixed blood but would win over her relatives and people emerging as one of the greatest riders and archers of her people despite never mounting a horse until she was five. Not only that but she can speak to and understand horses and can hit any target with a bow even while blindfolded. Interestingly enough Shefali is actually rather humble about the whole thing but then she was brought up with a family that basically accepted her and wasn't constantly surrounded by enemies pretending to be friends. What's kind of interesting to me here is just how impactful that is without any attention given to it. While Shefali is considered the shy and untalkative one, it's her social network that the girls use throughout the book, be it Shefali's brother who was raised by their father instead of their mother or going on a mission given to them by someone who met Shefali in a town. Which leads me to suspect the narration isn't entirely trustworthy (it wouldn't surprise me that Shefali underestimates herself) but I'll come back to that.

The world that O-Shizuka and Shefali inhabit is a troubled one and Ms. Rivera takes time to show us that trouble in depth even if she doesn't dump a lot of information on us. From what characters say and do we can glean that the Empire and the world is barely holding back some fallen divine being, who turned on the other gods and leads corrupted armies of humans and other beings. These creatures bedevil and torment humanity which holds them back with armies and walls... okay mostly holds them back with armies and walls. Putting that aside, the Hokkaran Empire is a state with a number of internal issues; there are divisions between the various component states and political resentments. In addition, they have a ruling class that abandons its responsibilities in favor of losing itself in various debaucheries, power games, and artistic pursuits that do little except serve as social status symbols. Now at no point is this flat out said in the story; instead, we're shown a world where bandits operate openly and state paramilitary forces are too afraid to confront them (Dear God, don’t they even have competent junior officers who can take some initiative? {Under emperors like this, junior officers like that get executed}). The peasants abandon farms where the crops don't grow or turn rotten due to malign magical influence. The noble class lives in massive palaces and argues over the merits of old poetry styles standing in massive flower gardens while dressed in clothes expensive enough to feed entire villages. This story does a lot to show rather than tell, with Ms. Rivera doling out her world-building carefully and methodically so as not to overwhelm the reader or give so little as to lose their interest completely. This is done around O-Shizuka and Shefali with both girls serving as sort of tent-poles for the world and the story itself. This is mirrored by the fact that their friendship and later romance is the central column of the story itself and Ms. Rivera approaches that with the same level of care and craft that she does her world building. To be honest it's a more believable relationship than a great number of ones that I've read in the past. The only thing really concerning is how they don't have a lot of friends or allies outside of each other but Ms. Rivera takes care to explain why that's the case within the story. I've mentioned all the things I liked and thought were well done, that leaves what I didn't care for.

The story is told in the narrative device of a letter from Shefali to O-Shizuka, which while not written badly is a narrative frame that I just don't like. For one thing, it drains the suspense out of the story because we know the ultimate ending and leaves me wondering why Shefali wrote a letter that covers their entire lives together rather than telling her about what Shefali did when they were apart? While there are some things that O-Shizuka doesn't know in the letter (which lead to interludes in the “present day” of the novel) for the vast majority O-Shizuka does know what happened because she was bloody there! There's also the fact that Ms. Rivera seems to be modeling this on Victorian letters, which I'm honestly not a fan of. This makes The Tiger Daughter's an example of an Epistolary novel, which is a novel written and presented as a series of documents, like letters, diary entries, or documentaries. This is a format that's achieved recent success, with examples like The Martian or World War Z (although neither of them used the letter version) and has a number of classical novels using the format like Stoker’s Dracula. Now, this format can work and as I pointed out with my examples has worked in the past remarkably well. For example, The Martian was able to maintain suspense by keeping the narrative framing as diary entries by the main character that could have been recovered after his untimely end (Both The Dresden Files and The Laundry use this format as well. In the former it’s unstated by clearly a personal memoir, and in the latter as a series of memoirs designed to provide continuity of institutional knowledge). We can't do that with a letter that Shefali wrote to a still living O-Shizuka who is shown as ruling the Hokkaran Empire from the imperial palace, however. Another issue I have is a frankly personal one that I don't think will affect the majority of readers. I have mentioned in prior reviews that my parents are deaf as you could imagine this meant that I learned sign language at a fairly young age (ASL is his first language, in point of fact). There was simply no choice in the matter if I was going to communicate with my own folks. Shefali's Mother, due to a vow, doesn't speak but signs to communicate to the world (or writes notes), despite living with her Mother for years, Shefali doesn't bother to learn anything but the sign for her own name! (The Fuck?) Needing one of her cousins to translate everything for her. It's also galling because it reminds me how some of my Mother's own family never bothered to learn even the basics of sign language and that led to her being a stranger in her own home and family. This isn't as uncommon within Deaf circles as I would like (Ideal incidence rate is 0%.) and while it's not Ms. Rivera's intent to bring that up, I'm left thinking on it all the same. I'll admit this isn't a problem with the story as much as it is me reacting to something an element of the story reminds me of. That said these reviews are my own subjective experience and opinion of the story. So I have be honest and say that this sapped some of my enjoyment from reading an otherwise really good story. In the end, I have to give The Tiger's Daughter by K Arsenault Rivera a B. Despite my own issues, this story is clearly very much above average and I do think Ms. Rivera should be proud of that, considering some of the other first novels I’ve read.

Next week, we open with our first ever Patreon choice! That being Heaven Sword & Dragon Saber by Louis Cha and Wing Shing Ma. After that comes our second ever Patreon choice Lamplighter by D.M Cornish. If you would like to select future reviews or recommend books join us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads. Of course, feel free to comment, and if you liked the review share it with your friends. Above everything else though, Keep Reading!

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 05, 2019 8:27 pm 
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Heaven Sword & Dragon Sabre Vol I
By Louis Cha/Jin Yong and Wing Shing Ma


Louis Cha who used the pen name Jin Yong was born in 1924 in Haining, Zhejiang in the Republic of China. He was born with the name of Zha Liangyong of the Zha clan of Haining and could claim a number of known scholars and poets in his ancestry. An avid reader of wuxia and classical Chinese literature even as a young man he got into conflict with the authorities to the point of being expelled from school for denouncing the Nationalist Government as autocratic. Despite this, he would graduate high school in 1943. In the early 50s, his father was arrested by the Communist government in the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries and put to death (he would be declared innocent in the 1980s... posthumously). Mr. Cha found himself in then-British-ruled Hong Kong working for the New Evening Post as a deputy editor. There he started working on his first novel in 1955 and quit his job to work as a scriptwriter and scenarist director for Great Wall Movies Enterprises Lt and Phoenix Film Company. In 1959, he founded the newspaper Ming Pao and served as its editor in chief, at the same time writing serialized novels and editorials to the tune of 10,000 Chinese characters a day. Which frankly makes me light headed just thinking of it. Mr. Cha would write 15 novels that are to this day wildly popular in the Chinese speaking world; they have been made into movies, tv shows, radio dramas, and graphic novels. Louis Cha would pass away in October of 2018 and has been compared to JRR Tolkien, George RR Martin and JK Rowling for his influence on Chinese fiction in general and wuxia specifically (as for what wuxia is, all I'm gonna say is we are going to get into that later this year, stay tuned!)

In fact, the subject of this review is a graphic novel. The novel of Heaven Sword & Dragon Sabre (for the record I'm told this is a mistranslation and it should be Heavenly relying Sword but Heaven Sword is catchier so we're sticking with that) which was adapted into this graphic novel by Wing Shing Ma, a Hong Kong artist born in 1961. He quit school in 1975 to focus on his art and well, it paid off. Wing Shing Ma is known for series such as Chinese Hero, Two Extremes, and Black Leopard. He would release this in the late 1990s with the English translations being released in the early 2000s.

Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre is actually the third part of the trilogy but stands well enough on its own that you can follow the story without needing to read the prior two books. Which is good because I haven't. I grabbed this one because it was mistakenly labeled as a stand-alone and I didn't do enough prior research. The novel is set in a fantasy version of China where martial art training can unlock a person's inner power (or Chi as it commonly referred to) allowing them to do fantastical feats that aren't physically possible. Which is a good thing for our main characters because they're going to need every feat they can pull. Let's talk about them a bit.

Jay Shan is the Fifth Brother of the Wu-Tang Clan (no, not that one) a martial arts school founded by a man who achieved a spiritual awakening and taught his insights to seven students. It's on their master's 90th birthday when they discover their 3rd brother has been wounded horribly perhaps even to the point of death. With few clues and fewer options, the brothers of the Wu-Tang Clan split up to search for what happened to their Third Brother and why. Jay Shan quickly finds himself wrapped up in a series of events that center around the Dragon Sabre, a legendary sword that can cut stone and steel as if they were paper and if the wielder can unlock the swords secrets, they can rule the world. His lead into this story is Sue Ying, the daughter of the leader of the Sky Eagle Clan. Ying is an interesting figure in her own right; as Shan finds her by tracking the back trail of his injured brother and finding out that someone had hired a group of bodyguards to bring him to the Wu-Tang Clan's stronghold after he had been injured but had murdered that group when they failed. That was Sue, who also murdered a pair of monks for trying to stop her but not before getting tagged with a trio of poisoned needles. Oh, she also did all that while disguised as Shan; so now everyone thinks he's a maniacal monk-murderer. What really caught my attention here was the fact that she was dying of poison, with Shan wanting to heal her but she refuses on the grounds that Shan needs to apologize for scolding her for committing cold-blooded murder and admit she was right to do so. I've seen some gutsy power moves in my day but this is a new one. I don't think I've run into ‘I won't let you save my life until you validate my life choices and apologize for doubting me’ before. Especially pulling that with someone you basically framed for your crimes? I'm flat out impressed. She's gonna need that gall and audacity to deal with their antagonist though.

Zhune Shai, who rejoices in the title of King of Gold Lion, is a man of singular purpose. Many years ago, his master who goes by Vigor Fist of Kun betrayed him and killed Shai's entire family. As is entirely expected of you in a wuxia story (or most fantasy stories honestly, to be fair blood feuds and cycles of revenge are simply what happens in societies without effective law enforcement or government) Shai embarked on a quest of revenge to kill his old master and if he has to make a mountain of bodies to get to his old master, well so much the worse for everyone else then. I've always found the wild disregard for innocent bystanders somewhat interesting in a way. Since it was someone else slaughtering an innocent that started it in the first place. You'd think at least one character would stop and go ‘No, killing unrelated 3rd parties whose only real sin is being in the wrong place and time literally makes me just as bad or worst than the person I am trying to avenge myself on’, but they don’t. Shai, however, does have that pointed out to him by a Monk on his first rampage, who tries to extract a promise from Shai to stop the killing on the grounds that while what Vigor Fist of Kun did was terrible and wrong, we have to start somewhere in putting an end to blood feuds and murder. So while Shai does try to limit his bloody vengeance, he's perfectly happy to look for a reason to kill someone if it's convenient for him. Given that this is a wuxia story in fantasy China, there's a lot of terrible people to kill. Shai's goal is to hunt down the legendary Dragon Sabre, which is the one thing that might give him the edge over his master and allow to finally reap his vengeance. He also wants to make sure there are no witnesses to him getting ahold of the Dragon Sabre because learning how to use such a weapon takes time and he'd rather that Vigor Fist didn't come looking for him before he was ready. I kinda like that since that's a touch of realism to the fantastic here. A sword that can cut through anything is going be a little different in its use than a normal sword. Both Ying and Shan get dragged into this while trying to hammer out just what their relationship is and suddenly they have the pressure of not being murdered on top of that. Despite that, they do work well together.

The first volume of Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre is more of a prologue than an opening chapter but it's an interesting one. The story does show it's age in the translation and plot progression, however. Within pages, I could tell I was reading a story that was at least older than I was and while that doesn't bother me, a modern reader may want to keep that in mind. The art is really well done in a style that is colorful and detailed enough to keep the reader's interest. It makes a good tale for anyone who enjoys martial arts stories or just enjoys stories with larger than life colorful characters. That said, there is a pacing issue as the story is a bit in a hurry and could have used more time to establish the relationship between Jay Shan and Sue Ying. There's also the fact that you rather keenly feel the fact that this is part of a larger story. In its defense, the graphic novel does manage to tell a complete story with a beginning, middle and end. That said I'm giving Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre Vol I by Louis Cha and Wing Shing Ma a B.

This review was brought you by my supporters at Patreon, having won our monthly poll. If you would like to help choose future reviews or even make suggestions, then join us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads where a vote for what books I'll review next only cost a 1$ a month. As always I also welcome your comments below and of course, Keep Reading.

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 12, 2019 9:45 pm 
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Lamplighter
By D. M Cornish


Lamplighter is the second novel in the Monster Blood Tattoo series by D.M Cornish. It was originally slated for publication in 2007 but for reasons I was unable to uncover was pushed back to 2008. Once published it was nominated for the 2008 Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Novel. I covered the first book last year in October so I won't retread ground but if you're interested in learning about D.M Cornish or the publication of the series, I'll leave a link to the last review. Right now, let us turn to the novel in question.

Lamplighter takes place on the Half-Continent, where the greatest and most powerful nation is the Haacobin Empire. The Empire is a state that is caught between a feudal past and a the idea of a modern, rational state, where semi-independent city states, duchies and princedoms all feud and claim ancient rights; emerging technologies and strange alchemical learning have led to the development of new devices and enhancements to the human body and to human industry. However, humanity is also locked into conflict with Monsters, creatures that are neither natural beasts or humans. Many of them are sapient although none of them appear to have created a tool using civilization. Most monsters appear to view humans has only a fairly chatty food source. Add in greater strength, speed, usually an array of natural weapons and the ability to work together in large numbers when they feel like it and you begin to question how humanity even survived long enough to reach the city building stage. On top of this, it seems the Monsters have some sort of effect on the land itself. Lands that are heavily populated by Monsters developed a phenomenon called the Threwd, in which people feel an awareness in the land itself. Usually, a hostile one that in powerful instances can drive humans mad with fear and paranoia. Because of the dangers real and imagined humanity, for the most part, has reacted with a xenophobic rage towards monster kind, working to clear them from whatever lands humanity possesses. To be honest I can see how that developed when you have a situation where entire families are disappearing in the night and are afflicted with a constant low-grade dread while you're simply trying to maintain a farm... You're not going to very open to the idea of peaceful co-existence or to the people who suggest it may be possible.

In this grim but changing world Rossamund Bookchild, a child of unknown family and origin strives to find his place and to form his own beliefs about the world around him. The last book, Foundling covered Rossamunds journey from his childhood home to the fortress of Winstermill to begin his career as an imperial lamplighter. This book covers his training and first posting as a Lamplighter. Let's explain what that is first. Most of the Empire is held together by imperial waterways which are faster and safer to travel, as rivers are fairly easy to keep monster free by the use of dams and canals and other such things. However not everywhere is reachable by river and there are only so many boats to go around. So tying together the rest of the Empire is a system of Imperial Highways, in an effort to make them safer for the poor souls who must travel them and they are lit by great lamps using Bloom, a type of plant that glows in the dark. Lamplighters tend the lamps, lighting them at sunset and by caring for the Bloom and mechanism of the lamps themselves during the day. They also serve as road-guards garrisoning small forts and strongholds across the Empire to try and maintain some level of safety for overland travelers. It's a harsh, lonely life at times and given that many of them are stationed in out of the way places where Monsters can set upon them without warning, it's a way of life with a high amount of casualties. Which at least means there's always openings for new blood I suppose.

Of course Rossamund's adventurers in the first book led to him arriving a bit late and gaining the nickname of Mister Come Lately (at least it isn't something about him having a girl's name) along with him being one of the smaller apprentices in his platoon means he's starting with a pretty steep uphill climb here. To make matters worse Rossamund finds himself being pulled into the murky world of politics, as factionalism within the Lamplighters ranks rears its nasty head. The newly appointed Master of Clerks is pushing to expand his power throughout the ranks and has brought with him a slew of supporters such as the surgeon Grotius Swill. As Rossamund finds evidence that Swill might be involved in forbidden dark arts, such as the creation of Reaver Men (artificial monsters made using the parts of human corpses for the most part), he now has to fend off powerful enemies in an arena he has neither the education or experience to operate in. Further complicating his life is the arrival of Threnody, a young lady from the clave Right of the Pacific Dove, who has decided to become the first woman lamplighter.

Let me talk about what the Right of the Pacific Dove is before I discuss the young lady herself. Throughout the Empire, there are all female societies known as Calendars, who provide fighters and social services. They do things like protect the poor from monsters, provide protection to women who need to flee their homes and campaign for social justice. They're known for dressing colorfully and running about doing heroic deeds. Threnody has the misfortune of being the only child of the August (the leader) of this group of Calendars and as such her Mother has mapped out and planned her entire life for her. As you can guess that means Threnody's biggest concern is thwarting her Mother's will as much as humanly possible and fighting for every choice she can get. She hasn't been doing so well on that front. She was forced to undergo the surgeries to become a Lahzar, which is a human being who has been enhanced to fight monsters. In Threnody's case, she was made into a Wit, which is someone who has the ability to send out mind scrambling signals which can put down men and Monsters. Of course, she's not very good at it yet and there tends to be a bit of friendly fire when she gets involved. Given how new she is at it and the fact that her body is still adjusting from the experience of having foreign organs shoved into it to give her superpowers, well it would be a miracle if she wasn't a bit lacking in control. Threnody is a very bitter and at times self-important young woman and honestly, I can understand why she isn't given control over her own body but is treated as a mere extension of her Mother's will. Her mother leads a society that preaches greater justice and rights for individuals; and while that hypocrisy is never directly confronted in the book, it hovers over Threnody's character like a cloak and dictates a lot of her responses to the world around her. She is told she is better and more important than others and has a duty to fight for their safety and rights. Because she isn't just a young woman but the heir to a title and the future leader of a society of fighters. However, she is constantly prevented from exercising the very things that she is pressured to provide other people and that isn't going to make for a sweet personality. Threnody has however managed to win the right to join the lamplighters and thus escape a bit from her Mother's authority and in the doing become friends with Rossamund. Threnody isn't the only lady taking an interest in Rossamund however as Europe the Lahzar with the ability to toss around electricity is also hanging about looking to convince Rossamund to leave the lamplighters and come work for her. Europe's role in this story is changed from her last appearance, as she works to provide mentoring and protection to Rossamund despite his belonging to a group that holds her at arms distance.

Foundling, the first book in the series was about Rossamund leaving his childhood home and learning how to function in an adult world that is dangerous and a lot grayer then he expected. Lamplighter is about Rossamund learning how to function as a young man among his fellows and how to operate within society. For most of the book, Rossamund is learning how to fit into the society of the lamplighters and be a good contributing member of that society. Even if he doesn't agree with all the opinions of that society, because his experiences have taught him to have empathy for the Monsters that Mankind is locked into battle with. That empathy is what causes conflict with him and the lamplighter society at large because honestly, the lamplighters can't really afford empathy for Monsters in most situations. At the same time, their xenophobia is creating enemies that they don't need. What I like about this, is that the conflict isn't that humanity just needs to learn to accept Monsters and stop being scared of them. There is a real and good reason to be afraid of the things sniffing at your locked and armored door in the dead of night and offering your hand to any monster can lead to that limb being torn off. I do think the best end would be to find a way for at least some Monsters and humanity to live in peace but I'll admit I'm not very sure how you could accomplish that. Both sides need space to live and their ways of life are so dramatically opposed. Mr. Cornish does a good job of presenting this conflict from the ground up and letting his readers make their own judgments, while also presenting a depth of worldbuilding and character development that can stand toe to toe with such writers as Bakker, Cameron, Leckie or even the old heavyweights like Tolkien or Howard. I have to admit I find myself both looking forward to the last book and disappointed that Mr. Cornish has only written one more novel in this world. Lamplighter by DM Cornish gets an A.

Next week, we reach back to the past to review Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny. This book was also selected by my supporters on Patreon, if you would like to help choose future reviews or even make suggestions, then join us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads where a vote for what books I'll review next book only cost a 1$. As always I also welcome your comments below and of course, Keep Reading.

You can also catch my review of Foundling here. http://frigidreads.blogspot.com/2018/10 ... rnish.html

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 19, 2019 8:31 pm 
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Lord of Light
Roger Zelazny


Roger Zelazny was born in 1937 in Cleveland Ohio, he was the only child of Joseph Zelazny and Josephine Sweet. Joseph Zelazny immigrated from Poland and worked as a pattern maker for a typewriter company, Josephine was a homemaker. Mr. Zelazny started reading early and his first published works were poems in his high school literary magazine, which he also edited. While in high school he submitted stories for publication to science fiction magazines but only one story was ever accepted; this discouraged him a bit so he focused on his poetry, After graduating high school, he enrolled in Western Reserve University in Cleveland, originally he studied psychology but switched eventually to English and graduated with his BA in 1959. While he was there, he won the Finlay Foster Poetry Prize, twice. He then headed to graduate school at Colombia University, where he would study Elizabethan and Jacobean drama (Jacobean drama refers to works written during the reign of the British King James I, who took the throne after Queen Elizabeth). He would also serve a term in the Ohio National Guard. He received his Master's degree in 1962 and sold two short stories as well as started work as a claims agent in the Social Security Administration, writing part-time. He married his fiance after delaying the wedding due to an auto crash but the strain of the accident and the death of his father in the same year led to the marriage falling apart and they separated in 1965, Mr. Zelazny moved on and married Judith Callahan in September 1966. She was the mother of their three children and they remained married (although separated) until his death due to colon cancer in 1995. Mr. Zelazny was a major writer throughout the 1960s and 70s, mostly known for the fantasy series Lords of Amber, he also wrote a long list of science fiction and other works. He won the Nebula three times (Nominated fourteen times) and the Hugo six times (also nominated fourteen times), as well as two Locus Awards, a Prix tour Apollo Award (a French science fiction award), two Seiun Awards (Japanese) and two Balrog Awards (which ended in 1985). The book we're reviewing today is actually Mr. Zelazny's third novel and a Hugo award winner, Lord of Light. Published in 1967 by Doubleday publishing, which is today owned by Penguin Random House (which means, you guessed it, owned by Random House).

Lord of Light takes place in the far future on a distant planet where the remnants of humanity have found themselves surrounded by hostile alien species and unable to leave. Deciding to fight it out to the last alien creature, members of the crew undergo strange treatments to create various physical and mental powers to give them an edge over the strange beings they must confront and oust in order to secure a future for humanity. These people also find a style of immortality when they are able to transfer their minds to new bodies and find that their powers transfer right along with them and over time grow even stronger. The people who underwent the procedures to gain these powers find become warlords, then monarchs, and finally gods; as humanity slowly reverts to a dark age existence. This was encouraged by a faction among the new gods who claim it's safer and healthier for everyone to let all memory of vanished Earth and its technology fade away, proclaiming that due to their mind transfer technology people can live for generations and eventually gain the wisdom to be trusted with such power. Meanwhile the gods (who have taken the names and some of the physical appearances of Hindu gods in the meantime) will of course take up the hard burden of policing humanity, deciding who gets to move up the ladder towards godhood and of course living in their own post-scarcity utopian city of heaven and if some folks get “promoted” faster and it seems odd that some of them are really attractive folks that caught a god or goddess' eye? Not to worry all part of the plan. If it seems that people who question this system end up spending centuries in the bodies of beasts or worse actually dying... Well doesn't that mean it's best not to question? You do want to get to heaven after all... Don't you? Have faith, maintain your Karma and obey the priests (who have access to high technology in disguise, the better to serve the gods), paradise will come to you in time. Of course, there were those among the gods who didn't agree with this social order. A faction called Accelerationists wanted to share the knowledge and technology that the gods hoarded with the people in order to improve their knowledge and lives and, you know, let the average person enjoy such dangerous wonders as indoor plumbing, printed books, and electricity. Then again, I suppose if you're hiding knowledge, the printing press is the most dangerous thing in the world to you. They first tried to debate but lost against the temptations of keeping an entire world as a personal game reserve and whorehouse. They tried to fight but were all swiftly rounded up, crushed and quietly done away with. Well, almost all... There's always one isn't there? I'm gonna quote the first lines of the novel because there is no better introduction to our main character.

“His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god. He preferred to drop the Mah- and the -atman, however, and called himself Sam. He never claimed to be a god. But then, he never claimed not to be a god. Circumstances being what they were, neither admission could be of any benefit. Silence though, could.”

Sam is an immortal on a mission: he's gonna break the stranglehold his fellow transhumans have on this world by any means necessary. Because until he does that, humanity is locked in the existence of drudgery and mindless obedience to beings who’ve honestly outlived their purpose. To do this, he will plot, lie, cheat, murder and... Refound Buddhism. Which honestly makes sense, as the gods control people through their hope of a better reincarnation and created an entire system of social and cultural controls to reinforce that hope. The only way to really counter that is to undermine the whole thing, Buddhism among other things suggests that maybe being endlessly reincarnated isn't that grand of a thing and what you should pursue is a spiritual union with the universe which means a surrender of yourself and individuality. By creating a counter-culture that rejects the preachings of the dominant religion, Sam lays the ideological and cultural groundwork for resistance to the gods. It's not enough to oppose something, after all, you need to create an alternative. This creates an interesting paradox, an unenlightened man who preaches enlightenment. A man who is living a lie embracing and spreading a doctrine of Holiness. While the gods oppose this spiritual awakening in their midst, they can't kill it because it is rooted in the flaws and contradictions of their own system. The only way to get rid of Buddhism here would be to reform the system to the point of rendering the protests moot. Which for many of the gods would defeat the whole point of having the system in the first place. But if you don't then you run the risk of things getting out of control and losing anyway. Of course, this isn't Sam's only string on the bow; there are other forces lurking at the edges of the world who disagree with the established order. Survivors of the alien races that contested them in the first place for example, or members of the group who left a lot earlier. There are even those among the gods who are dissatisfied with the way things are going for reasons both petty and sublime. Throughout all of this is Sam, working every seam and weak point in the regime, questing for every ally and advantage, because before things can get any better, first they’ve got to change.

The plot of the novel unfolds in seven interlinked stories that tell the origin of Sam's resistance; his creation of Buddhism on an alien world; and the ultimate fate of his attempts to change his world for the better. These stories cover a long stretch of time, as you could imagine when talking about an immortal engaged in a long grim twilight struggle. There is also a host of recurring supporting characters and antagonists. Interestingly enough, we are never given a full first-hand look at the brutal wars that gave rise to this in the first place. We do not see the desperate battles against creatures who only exist as electromagnetic patterns, or beings able to attack our very minds just by existing. We don't see the discussion and thinking that lead to people subjecting themselves to experiments to gain the powers and tools needed to fight such beings or the relationships that were built and fueled by such conflicts. Instead, we only see the breakdown and existence of a degenerate world order designed to keep those same warriors in charge. This creates a mythic background to the story in front of us, as we only know those deeds through myth and hazy memory, they become mythical tales that create the pantheon that Sam struggles against. This also leaves us trying to work out the history behind the personal relationships between the gods, Sam and the gods, and everyone else. Because Sam is also in the situation where the only peers he has, the only people who really understand him... Are the people he's trying to overthrow. By leaving so much unsaid, Mr. Zalazny also injects a heavy air of mystery into the novel which helps to draw the reader in. Especially to the motives of supporting characters, who I won't ruin here, you'll have to read the novel yourself.

Another element that caught my interest was the idea of trans or post-humans rising themselves up as gods. Let me explain what I mean by transhuman and posthuman. Transhumans are individuals who through the use of advanced technology have transformed themselves into better versions of human, being smarter, stronger, more resistant to injury and disease, and having a longer life. These people are still recognizably human and meaningful interaction is still possible with them. They would have human desires, needs, and goals. A posthuman is a being either created by humans or once a human that has transformed by technology into something that is honestly no longer human and in many opinions beyond humanity. The most common examples of posthumans in fiction tend to either be artificial intelligences who grow so powerful that humans become like monkeys before them or individuals who “evolve” into energy beings or advanced examples of life and then usually leave. A posthuman isn't recognizably human anymore and may be more alien than anything else we can imagine honestly. Lord of Light is the oldest book I've run into so far to use the idea of transhumans acting as gods, other examples include Ben Bova's Orion series, Safehold by David Weber, God Emperor of Dune by Frank Herbert, Illium by Dan Simmons and many more. It's a plot element I find honestly kind of interesting as it opens up the story to themes about what one should expect from a religion, or what exactly makes a divine presence. Being that this was written in 1967, you shouldn’t expect too many modern transhuman themes in it, although some of the timeless ones are there mostly in what kind of challenges an immortal may face over a long period of life.

My biggest complaint with Lord of Light is that there isn't more of it. There's easily enough story in this one novel for a trilogy or so. Much is left vague or passed over that could have been expanded on. As it stands the novel serves as a show of the highlights of Sam's long battle to free mankind from it's latest group of tyrants. There's just so much more that could have been shown here and a lot of the story that is left entirely to the reader's imagination. Additionally, there are chunks of the story that are told instead of shown. They're cleverly told in a way that shows additional parts of the plot and the world, usually using the character to relay information in a way that tells us a lot about them but I still would have been liked to have been shown this. That said it's an interesting story that held my attention rather effortlessly and offered me a lot to think about. Lord of Light certainly earned it Hugo's award and still remains a relevant read today over 50 years after it was published. I'm giving Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny an A- and an encouragement to any science fiction or fantasy fan to give it a spin.

First I want to say happy Passover and happy Easter to all my readers. I hope you and your families have a good holiday. If you enjoyed this week's review, consider joining us at our patreon at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads, for a dollar a month you can vote on what books get reviewed that month and more. Next week join us for the sequel of Kings of the Wyld, as we take a look at Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames! By all means, comment and share but above all Keep Reading.

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 26, 2019 9:17 pm 
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Bloody Rose
By Nicholas Eames


I reviewed Mr. Eames first work Kings of the Wyld just last year in December, so I'm not going to rehash too much here. Kings of the Wyld was Mr. Eames first novel and he knocked it right out of the park, delivering us a world where adventuring heroes, called mercenaries because they heroed for money, were treated like rock stars and their bands were discussed and viewed in much the same way we view rock bands. One can certainly understand why when you see how the older characters describe the state of the world: where Centaurs hunted human children on the outskirts of villages, where any sound in the night might be a creature coming to tear apart your house apart to get to you and your family... Where the girl you love might be taken right in front of you by a wyvern one night not even fifty feet from your home. In such a world any man willing to fight creatures the size of a person's home with nothing but brass balls and steel swords probably should be treated like a damn rock star. Especially if he survives and goes out to do it again. Of course, it wasn't that kind of world when Kings of the Wyld took place and you can't even really see that kind of world in Bloody Rose. Which in a way is a monument to the mercenaries of the past generation, they fought so hard that there was no longer a need for them. However, society still wants it's hard fighting hard-partying rock stars and there is always a stream of young dreamers willing to provide just that.

By the time we get to Bloody Rose's day, mercenaries fight in arenas battling enslaved and tormented monsters for the entertainment of increasingly bloodthirsty crowds (Gross). Those free monsters who survive must exist in the hidden cracks and margins of human society or end up sword fodder for a weekend's spectacle. Where monster races once fought to erase human habitation and destroy human civilization (and possibly cause our extinction), now monsters gather into hordes out of the simple realization that if they don't wreak destruction on humanity... They won't survive humanity. I suppose I could shrug and say this is the end result of picking a fight with a species out of your weight class; after all, most of these creatures wouldn't have a damn drop of pity if the shoe were on the other limb. But, I have to admit that Mr. Eames does a good job of pulling empathy out of his readers for creatures who would consider them nothing more than a good source of protein. It's one thing to kill something because it's hunting you and your loved ones. It's another thing to drag it kicking and screaming out of it's home and start tormenting it, before killing it to provide cheap entertainment (which is also something that wouldn't happen if the shoe was on the other limb). Which is what a lot of mercenaries have become. Where once going on Tour was slang for hitting the borders of human civilization and fighting back the savage wilderness step by bloody step, it's now slang for going from city to city to slug it out in arenas as freelance gladiators against half starved and abused monsters. While mercenaries are still hard-boiled killers, you can still be killed by a half-starved and abused hydra, after all, they aren't everything their forefathers were. Or at least most of them aren't.

Bloody Rose and her band Fable are bound and determined to be everything that Saga (her father Golden Gabriel's band in the last book) was and more. However, they're hampered by the fact that the monsters that her father built his legend on are mostly gone - mostly because he killed them - and fighting in the arena is the best she can do. The stomach-churning cherry on top of all of this is the fact that the story she's best known for, is how she was rescued by her Father and his band in their last wild ride. When you desperately want people to consider you a hero, it burns when your biggest story is the one where you're cast as a damsel in distress. Especially since she didn't spend that time cooped in a tower moaning about her inevitable death but took command of an entire city and fought out a siege against an overwhelming force for months. Of course, none of the songs mention that. Another factor in this is that Gabriel wasn't that great a Father, grand gestures aside, and Rose damn well knows it. So their relationship has a lot of baggage, which to be honest is going to come standard with any parent-child relationship. The blunt fact is you don't have a life long relationship with someone, especially one as close as parent and child without getting some carry on luggage here and there even in the healthiest relationship. This wasn't the healthiest of relationships, this was a Dad who never got over his glory days and often drank to much and a wild child who could barely be restrained because at least that way someone was paying attention to her. Then we have her bandmates. Bruin is a shape-shifting shaman whose destructive self-image is tearing himself apart (HAHAHA! Shape shifter with self-image issues. How droll!). Cura is a summoner who’d rather weaponize her fears and tragedies than deal with them in any way shape or form. Freecloud is Rose's Druin lover who will follow Rose anywhere and grew up so starved of contact he cannot figure out how to put up healthy boundaries in his relationship (Rose isn't a terrible partner, being faithful, loyal and attentive to his physical well-being but she isn't a stellar one, often unthinking riding roughshod over his emotional well being in pursuit of outdoing dear old Dad). Interestingly enough all of these issues have roots in their family and parentage, I would say more but it would be spoilers. Frankly Fable, like any legendary rock band, is a mental and emotional hot mess looking to boil over into some 3rd party’s face if it can get paid for it. That's not even touching our viewpoint character.

Our viewpoint character is a young lady named Tam, a 17-year-old girl who is deeply afraid that she will spend the rest of her life living with her Father serving drinks to mercenaries in a bar run by retired mercenaries. She's the daughter of a retired mercenary, whose Mother was a bard. Now bards didn't loom large in the last book because Saga couldn't keep a bard alive if the fate of the world depended on it. Bards are people who are both members of a mercenary band and not members because their job isn't to fight, it's to watch. A Bard is supposed to observe everything that a band does and then immortalize it in song and story, making them a combination of reporter and hypeman. Tam's mother was a great bard and unfortunately is a dead bard (Mustn’t make 3rd edition jokes…). Tam has lived her whole life with her Father working overtime to keep her from being like her Mother. So, of course, she has gone out of her way to be like her Mother and when a chance to join Fable comes along? She jumps on it with both feet. The difference between Tam and the other members of Fable is that her relationship with her parents is more or less a healthy one, if haunted by the fact that one of her parents died a violent death in the very profession she dreams of joining. So it never occurs to Tam to want anything but to follow in her Mother's footsteps. She does that by joining Fable and joining their half-insane pursuit of fame and glory because they believe if they can truly do something legendary, something beyond anything else that no one else as done... Then they can finally know peace. So when a noblewoman on the edge of civilization offers them enough money to sate a Dragon's greed to kill a monster that no one believes even exists... They leap on it, calling it one last job. Because it's better to go fight something called the Dragoneater (!) than sit down and confront your psychological issues (I'm just gonna comment these men and women would fit right into your average Marine Unit and leave that on the table for y'all). With Tam being our viewpoint character, we are forced to confront all these issues from the outside and watch as they are peeled open by events outside of the band's control. So often we're left with events that Tam doesn't know the full significance of but can only communicate to us, which does leave a lot in the reader's hands. This is directly opposite of the last book where Clay knew the significance of pretty much every event and the context behind it. Here instead of being introduced to the narrator's old friends, we're meeting them alongside Tam and learning as she does.

The last book was about brotherhood and coming to terms with your life, and the people in it. This book is about confronting your parental issues and learning to grow past the baggage and the trauma of your childhood. It’s about learning to accept the flaws in your parents and seeing them as either the good people who screwed up or the terrible people you don't owe anything to (Well shucks, I could write multiple volumes on that). There are both kind of parents in this book, which makes it deeply true to life despite the magic and fantastical monsters and deeds running loose. It's also about growing past your parents, which is something that is easier said than done. Most people think that means surpassing them on some physical level like Rose does. I honestly disagree with that, I think it means learning to live your life with your own goals and achievements as your measuring stick without locking yourself into some kind of frantic battle to surpass them or gain their approval. That doesn't mean you stop loving your parents (But it *can* mean that), but it does mean you stop making them the center of your existence. The characters in this book grapple with achieving that by pulling together and providing the support they each need... While having massive wild parties and murdering things with their bare hands and magic powers. Of course, that's not the only thing going on here, there's also the plot of Tam and her new friends realizing that they might be the monsters here. As someone finally starts asking ‘what glory is there in killing captives in a cage?’. Is this the only way that humanity and monster races can interact? Of course there's also a massive horde of creatures looking to burn human civilization back to the roots so they can get some breathing room and the slow realization amongst the band that there's something even darker and more dangerous than a creature nicknamed Dragoneater out there. Something that's back because the sins of your fathers will be visited on you and when your Father is Golden Gabe, well that's a lot of sins coming over for a meet and greet so buckle in.

I have to admit I am really into this book because of just how much is going on in it. Each of the characters here is on their own rather fraught personal journey while their civilization shudders on the edge of an explosion. Each journey has its own consequences and payoffs some of these journeys end in screaming, blood, and confrontation and some of these journeys end quietly in the middle of the night with quiet but heavy conversations. Meanwhile, the larger events wrap and intertwine with these smaller events as they feed off of one another. Also, there is an amazing amount of brutal violence, weird amazing creatures that only fantasy can give you and epic world-ending battles and confrontation. Mr. Eames has convinced me that he has a really bright future in the writing world and I look forward to seeing more from him. Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames gets an A. Go to take a look, trust me.

Next week, our patreon pick for May is the first unanimous pick by our patrons. If you’d like to vote for books to be reviewed, add to the recommendation pile or even put a book right up at the front of the line, consider joining us as https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads a dollar a month gets you a vote. That said, next week join us for GI Joe Vol I by Larry Hama brought to us by Marvel Comics. That’s right folks, I’m going all the way back because the voting public asked for it. Until then, Keep Reading.

Red text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen
Black text is your reviewer Garvin Anders.

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"it takes two sides to end a war but only one to start one. And those who do not have swords may still die upon them." Tolken


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PostPosted: Fri May 03, 2019 8:48 pm 
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GI Joe: Classics Vol I
By Larry Hama

So imagine you're a Hasbro executive in the early 1980s and Kenner, a rival toy company just handed your company the profit beating of its life with it's Star Wars action figures. I mean the company isn't in any real danger but this is eating into your market share and the boss just told you that the bonuses are now on the line (which puts your cocaine hot tubbing weekends in serious danger[Oh man! I’ll only be able to use ONE my my private jets and snort five eightballs from the asses as eight high-end hookers instead of two trips on different private jets and double the hookers and blow! Noooo!]). You got this product line, GI Joe, it was big in the 1960s but the Vietnam War has left the market for military toys kinda small. So what do you do? Apparently what you do is call a comic book company and rebuild from the ground up, changing the size of the toys, the backstory (not that there was much before), everything (The other thing you’ll do is pressure the government to change the law so you can put unlimited adverts in children’s programming and then use that to create an entire TV show that is basically one giant advertisement.) The company they called was Marvel, who in turn called in Larry Hama.

Larry Hama was born in 1949 in New York, a third generation Asian American raised in Queens. He grew up in his own words “playing Kodokan Judo as a kid” and later studied Kyudo (Japanese Archery) and Laido, which is a Japanese form of swordsmanship focused on using smooth controlled motions to draw your sword, cut your opponent, clean the blood from the sword and return the sword to the scabbard. He was also very passionate about art and that led him to study at Manhattan's High School of Art and Design, where at the age of 16 he sold his first comic to the fantasy film magazine Castle of Frankenstein. After graduation, he worked drawing shoes (Back in the hoary days of yore when an artist could earn a living…) for a catalog until serving in the Army Corps of Engineers in 1969 to 1971, where he became a firearm and explosive expert (As you well know, demolition is an art, and a science.). Afterward, he would find himself active in New York's Asian community and moved into the comic world, where he did some work at Marvel before landing as an editor for DC. While at DC he worked on Wonder Woman, Mister Miracle, Super Friends, and the Warlord. Around 1977 or 1978 he created Bucky O Hare. In 1980 he returned to Marvel (where he met his wife Carol) and worked on the comic The 'Nam and Wolverine. He also started working up a pitch for a spin-off of the Nick Fury comics, Fury Force. Fury Force would have been a daring special mission force battling the evil forces of Hydra. Instead, he got tapped to write GI Joe, and collaborated with Archer Goodwin to come up with Cobra to play the villains to the Joe’s Heroics. Ironically Hasbro was worried about selling bad guys (those bad guys became 40% of their sales) and about selling toys based on girl joes (also had no problems selling those) (It’s almost like sexist bullshit is bullshit.) Hama and Marvel stuck to their guns however and we're all better off. Hama's introduction of female characters who were motivated, tough and not willing to be defined by their male co-troops brought in a remarkably high female readership. Under Mr. Hama's leadership, a diverse cast also made up the GI Joe team members which in a lot of ways would support its longevity and this comic had legs. It ran from 1982 to 1994 with 155 issues, 147 were written by Hama, 2 were co-written by him and one was penciled by him. By 1985 it was Marvel's top subscription title and received 1200 fan letters a week. It was also credited with bringing in legions of new comic book readers as GI Joe was their introduction to the comic medium. Now a lot of this was Mr. Hama being willing to ignore the cartoon (given it didn't start until 1985, he kinda had to) and other sources. Additionally, Hasbro was willing to give them a large degree of latitude and Mr. Hama was writing the profile for each character's toys as well. This is just as well as Mr. Hama did not shy away from confronting and tackling the issues of military life or the contradictions of being in an organization that preaches ideals of honor and duty while asking its members to do often very dark deeds. Because let me be blunt, war is full of dark deeds even if you don't break a single law of war. The laws of war aren't there to prevent horrible things from happening, just to make sure that they're horrible things everyone else can live with (Well… almost everyone…That’s kinda where the horrible things come in. Unless the war gets really bad and “almost everyone” becomes a bit more relative.). Mr. Hama's own experience in returning from Vietnam also makes an impact here. In the GI Joe comics, you'll find little glory or jingoism but you will find a considered look at what being a soldier, sailor, marine, or airmen means. Even if it's dressed up in colorful outfits and takes place between stories of punching everything from terrorist, mutants, and manic robots (Are they really Manic? I mean, that’s a psychiatric symptom. Do the robots have prolonged periods of euphoria, hyperactivity, grandiose delusions, and poor impulse control?{I don't know ask Megatron or Starscream}). What's interesting is that while GI Joe might be Mr. Hama’s most lasting contribution to the world, it's not what he was aiming for. He originally wanted to write comics featuring more anthropomorphic creatures, like ducks. He's mentioned that his greatest ambition is to write for Scoorge McDuck and I dearly hope someone gives him a shot.

The first graphic novel collects issues 1 through 10, there's not really an overarching plotline connecting the issues but the stories all interconnect and feed off of each other. The series starts off in media res, not giving us an origin for Cobra or for the Joe Team but does introduce us to characters like Snake Eyes, Scarlett, Duke, Cobra Commander, Dr. Venom, and Baroness. At this point, we really only see the basic Cobra troopers and the Baroness serving as Cobra Commander's right-hand woman (Dr. Venom staying safely in his lab [As is good and proper. We academics ought not risk ourselves on the field of battle! What are you mad? The only ones who should do that are the Applied Computational Demonologists and Combat Epistemologists who might be necessary if creatures with Too Many Tentacles And Mouths rise from the vasty deep to eat our brains]) and the GI Joe team is a very small group barely more than a squad in size. The unit's very existence is top secret with the troops posting as the motor transport element of the Chaplin's assistance school, in Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island. A little fun fact, Fort Wadsworth was a real military base until 1995, it's currently part of a National Recreation Area. Their secret base the Pit is hidden underground and the Joes have to conduct their mission in secret keeping that information even from other soldiers in the base. The comics mainly focus on the Joes while on missions and show that while they are mostly operating against Cobra, they are used for a variety of other missions. That said we start to get a sense of who these Joes are, even if some of the more colorful characters haven't shown up yet. They are sent on missions such as rescuing a Doctor who was in the middle of decrying the US Military when Cobra kidnapped her, investigating the disappearance of a US science station, and even going into Afghanistan for their first confrontation with the Soviet Oktober Guard; the USSR's own top-secret special missions unit. In what might be considered a story ahead of its time, there's even a mission where the Joes have to infiltrate a militia unit that might be looking to not just survive World War III, but start it (Weirdly prescient that one…). We also see Mr. Hama's willingness to set out the not-so-glamorous side of military service, long hours doing boring work like cleaning weapons or being sent out on missions to serve as a glorified decoy without even realizing that everything you're doing is a feint (Afterall, G.I. Joe was written as a toy advertisement, not a military recruitment tool). I'd just like to point out that Stalker's reaction to that is very realistic. We do manage to get some sense of the Joes as people, Clutch is a fast driving maniac who is a womanizing pig. Breaker is a huge computer nerd. Stalker is a man who enjoys being out in the wild and will take pictures as readily as he will take headshots (I’ll be seeing you, you won’t see me; with my telephoto in the night. It’s only right. Put Cobra in the gunner’s sight, bombs in the night, Recon-Scouts foreveeeeeer). Scarlett is a driven and motivated woman willing to take on the entire planet just to make people take her seriously. As a group or individuals, the Joes will be sent all across the planet to counter threats to the United States and its allies and hopefully advance the cause of freedom and democracy... Even if it's indirectly by preventing Cobra Commander from killing those ideals. Each issue gets its own mission with the focus being on different characters and different interactions. For me, the most colorful interactions were between Stalker and the Oktober Guard or Clutch and Scarlett. Frankly, Clutch is lucky that Scarlett was under military discipline, otherwise, they would never find his body (And nothing of value would be lost? {Well, he is a really good driver, but it is a big military gotta be at least one other guy or girl who can drive that well.}). If your main exposure to the Joes and Cobra before this was the cartoon, you're gonna find this a little confusing. My best advice is to forget that the cartoon even exists (Good advice for everyone, really).

Cobra hasn't quite reached it's fully realized form here, however. Most of the Cobra cast hasn't been brought into the story yet and there are elements that feel out of place to a reader looking back from decades in the future. Such as the quasi-fascist and not-so-quasi salutes that the troops use (there's a panel of Baroness giving a full out Nazi salute in the background for example) and a semi-deification of Cobra Commander that has the rank and file willing to go to their deaths on his orders. I can't say that this Cobra is unrecognizable however, it's clearly a matter of time and experimentation for Mr. Hama to fully express the unique brand of crazy evil that Cobra is. However, it does suffer from a lack of characters on team bad guy and not much explanation of just what Cobra is trying to do beyond “We're bad guys, we wanna rule the world.” We also get a number of nonaligned characters, my favorite being Kwinn, who is called an Eskimo but is actually an Inuit mercenary (I should note that the modern-day Inuit consider Eskimo a slur and ask that term a slur and ask that we don't use it anymore, that is how he is referred to in the book, which to be fair was written in 1982. So no hate to Mr. Hama here, but this will be the last time we refer to Kwinn as anything but an Inuit) who always fulfills his contract and has his own odd but understandable morality. He's the first character to actually really pull off a win against the Joes (of course he shows up in the second issue). Which brings up the interesting fact that the Joes don't pull off a 100% win rate in their own comic, or even in their first 10 issues which aides in it feeling realistic. Kwinn has an interesting character arc in the GI Joes series, but it's only his introduction that happens here so we'll have to wait till further reviews to cover it.

The comic is also full of the military slang and jargon of the period, which had changed drastically by the time I got into uniform. That said the terms are always defined clearly in the issue when they are used and Mr. Hama avoids going too far into the weeds I think. Keeping in mind that this comic is meant to sell toys, Mr. Hama also makes a point to give the gear and vehicles that the Joes were using space to shine as well, so you do have to put up with Steeler the tanker waxing poetic about the MOBAT, the Joes tank. That said I've run into tankers who actually do that, so it's not that out of place (I mean, we both know Military Hardware Nerds who do this and some of them never served. So of course the actual tankers are gonna do it). Plus I imagine any tanker who gets inducted into a special mission team would have to be fairly obsessed with his vehicle. This comic isn't for everyone if you flatout have no interest in anything military you're going to hate it, on the flip side if you're only mildly indifferent the character interactions and arcs have a strong chance of pulling you in. The character relationships are still being worked on here but you can see the roots that are going to grow into strong trees that will bear up one of the longer lasting series in comic history. I do fully recommend that you give the comic a try unless the very idea of the subject matter turns you off completely. I'm giving GI Joe Vol I a B+, mainly due to the fact that Cobra needs more time to develop and if we're going, to be honest, I know how much better this series is gonna get. Especially once we get Destro and Roadblock rocking across this battlefield.

This review was brought to you by our patrons. If you would like to vote to see what reviews hit the website then join us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads. Next week Join us for The Fell Sword by Miles Cameron, the sequel to The Red Knight. As always Keep Reading.

In the Red Text you had your editor Dr. Ben "only plays a recon scout on tv" Allen
In the Black Text you had your reviewer Garvin Anders.

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"it takes two sides to end a war but only one to start one. And those who do not have swords may still die upon them." Tolken


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PostPosted: Fri May 10, 2019 9:18 pm 
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The Fell Sword
By Miles Cameron


It was only in March that I covered The Red Knight, the first novel in The Traitor Son Cycle. So I don't think we need to retread ground on who Miles Cameron is or on the subject of Orbit books. So let me just say that The Fell Sword was published in 2013 and move on.

The Fell Sword opens with our merry company of sell-swords heading into the Empire of Morea, an ancient state that has fallen on hard times. To make things even more complicated, their employer the Emperor is taken hostage by the most powerful noblemen before they get there. Which means their new job is to rescue the guy who hired them and win a civil war against the best army the Morean Empire has to offer. As a cherry on top? The Empire is broke and most of its soldiers haven't been paid in years. So if they want any native support they'll have to pay for it out of their own pockets and hope to make good later. That said, you can't win high stakes if you don't play high stakes and Gabriel, aka the Red Knight and leader of our crew of cutthroats intends to win big. He's not without resources, after all, he is flush with coin after winning a legendary siege in the last book and has the loyalty of a crew of veteran and highly trained killers with a wide variety of skills, is himself a skilled fighter and spellcaster and has a powerful wizard riding along in the back of his head. To counter this, the Imperial Princess they're supposedly working for might be plotting against him, the loyalty of mercenaries is prone to fickleness and he has a powerful wizard riding along in the back of his head (Faust! WAAAAAH You’ve doomed every one of us! Yes that was in the tune of a certain song by Queen.). Why is that an asset and a problem? Well, imagine you have someone who lost their body in your head. They have decades of experience and skill on you and they're perfectly willing to help but they always want to be in the driver's seat. It's not that they don't trust you but they've done this so many times before so why not just get out of the way and let them do it? How long before it's their body and you're the passenger in the back of your own head? That’s something that Gabriel has to balance against the fact that his passenger is literally the most skilled wizard for hundreds of miles around and the only one who can outstrip him for sure isn't human anymore (He is so screwed).

Which leads me to story-line number two in this book, Thorn, the antagonist from the last book has survived and is rebuilding his forces. What he's rebuilding his forces for and why isn't entirely clear because Thorn isn't who he was in the last book. While his power is growing, it's coming at the cost of him coming under the influence of an unknown outside power (I need to sing the Faust song again…). What this power wants is somewhat vague but it's clear that one of its intermediate goals is the end of human civilization as we know it (Well it’s good to have goals. I mean, if that’s its mid-term goal I’d be interested to learn what its long-term goals are.), so it's likely that it's ultimate goal isn't anything good (Are you sure about that? I mean, maybe this human civilization just needs to go, or needs to change somehow? What if their magic feeds off the lifeforce of another universe?{The bad guy uses human souls to power some of his magic. I’m pretty sure he’s not doing this for sustainability reasons}Oh. Never mind. Standard Faustian Bargain then, pretty sure the demonic underworld has standard forms for the contracts...). Along the way though Thorn would like to punish the allies that deserted him which leads us to the third and fourth story-line in this book. Both of them having to do with former allies of Thorn realizing that they aren't done yet with this former man turned demi-god. The first one revolves around an escaped slave who joined a tribe of humans who live in the Wild, the Sossag. The Wild is a land outside of human civilization inhabited by various races, some monstrous and others less so but most willing to hunt and eat humans the same way we do deer. Despite that, some human clans and tribes live very well in the wild. One such example the Sossag are very similar to some tribes of American natives who lived in the Northeast. They live in fortified villages, farm and hunt; and have governing power divided between male and female assemblies. Born with the name Peter, he instead takes on a Sossag name, marries a Sossag woman and works to blend into the tribe and live in peace. However, thanks to Thorn he isn't getting his wish and may just lose his best friend and adopted brother to this new storm. Meanwhile the Jacks, a band of anti-monarchy radicals who barely escaped the end of the last book with their lives find themselves trapped in the Wild (Be strong comrades! Be strong!). With their supplies running out and surrounded by creatures that view them the same way most of us view Thanksgiving turkeys, they're forced to make their own bargains with the powers of the Wild. However, Thorn hasn't forgotten the Jacks either and is preparing to target them along with the Sossag for his revenge.

Meanwhile, back in Alba, the north of the realm struggles to rebuild, central to this is Sir John and Amicia. Sir John was an older knight who had let himself go a bit before the events of the first book but got himself back into fighting trim real fast. He's left as the ranking knight in the North and pushes himself and everyone else to try and keep the lands clear of creatures of the Wild and protect the survivors and new settlers coming in. Amicia is a nun, who is also in love with our main character the Red Knight and is loved by him but won't let herself do anything about it because of her vows. Which is a plot point I like, most modern stories would have Amicia just toss her vows out the window but Amicia means her vows and intents to keep them (Your reviewer and the editor have somewhat different ideas about such things, clearly.). It helps that she's also a sorceress of massive power and growing skill so there aren't many people who can force her to do anything she doesn't want to (You go girl!). Unfortunately, the keeping of her vows leads to one of the people that could bend her, The Red Knight's mother. The woman who wanted her eldest boy to become the bane of humanity but was such an awful person that he decided to become a somewhat heroic figure out of spite. She's also one of the most powerful sorceresses in the world, a politically powerful noblewoman and her husband is one of the greatest warlords in North Alba. I bet you thought your in-laws were tough right? Both Amicia and Sir John are going to have to walk into the heart of their power however to keep the trade lanes alive, because if they don't their town and home withers on the vine.

Further south and deeper in Alba life is still not a bed of roses. The Queen Desiderata is coming under increasing political and social attack. You see, in the last book a small army of knights from Galle - a nation across the sea on the continent where the Wild is but a fading memory - came to Alba under the leadership of Jean de Vrailly. Jean de Vrailly considers himself the greatest knight alive, something a lot of people would dispute but Jean is definitely in the top 1% of best killers alive so disagreeing with him is hazardous. While Thorn might be more dangerous, I honestly loath Jean de Vrailly a lot more. Mr. Cameron is very effective at writing him as a heavy-handed bully armored in a sense of self-righteousness that makes you just beg to have someone slam a hammer into his face (That is what a spike and a hammer are for while he sleeps. Killing someone while their back is turned or they are asleep is the safest way. Such sayeth anti-saint Elim Garak). The Gallish knights were certainly useful when the armies of the Wild were kicking in the gates but now, there's no enemy to point them at and they're ambitious. Jean believes that the crown of Alba has been promised to him by the Lord Almighty and the Queen is one of the obstacles in his path. So he spreads rumors that the Queen has been incredibly unfaithful to the King. Now historically a lot of Queens have been less than faithful to the Kings they've been wed to, but it's incredibly dangerous for that to become a public accusation. Part of this is because bearing the royal heir is a large part of her political duties. Which is an issue because most of the kingdom believes that the King was cursed to be sterile (and he deserved that curse and more bluntly) and the Queen is pregnant. The Queen isn't without friends or powers of her own though, her own magical abilities are growing stronger by the day and that strength has attracted the attention of something old and vast but at least somewhat benevolent. The King, however, instead of standing with the wife who has given him no cause to complain has sent most of the native knights who would defend her off on various missions giving the Galles a freer hand then they would have otherwise. The Queen and her ladies aren't the only ones feeling this, however, nor is Jean de Vrailly acting on his own. The common people of the realm find themselves beset by toughs who ape the Galles, which in this case means going around armed and trying to bully people into letting them do whatever they want via threats of violence. Facing off against them are the armed bands of the various Guilds and the apprentices of various trades as they find themselves under pressure to be more accommodating to the foreign knights.

Jean de Vrailly is just the tip of the wedge here. The King of Galle and his ministers see the chance to reduce Alba to a puppet state or colony and are prepared to pull out all the stops to make it happen. Whether it be through economic warfare by making counterfeit Alban coins that are made from debased metal or hiring their own mercenary army to head into the North of the Wilds and build a base from which to assault North Alba. They have a mercenary army led by a man with his own colorful nickname, the Black Knight: a man whose earned his nickname by having no level he won't stoop to win and now he's loose on the same continent as all the characters we already know and love and looking to make life harder for them. It's like we don't even need Thorn to burn down half of human civilization here. I should note that there are plenty of sympathetic characters from Galle, such as Jean's cousin who is constantly trying to restrain his worse impulses to Clarisse de Sarte, a young woman who has the misfortune to catch the eye of the King of Galle, a man whose gifts do not match his ambitions, to put it mildly. Actually I do have to note that we run into three male monarchs here, the Emperor of Morea, the King of Alba and the King of Galle and all of them are men who are not up to the task of ruling in a time of crisis, and are at the helm of nations experiencing several crises all at once (Such is the peril of hereditary monarchy). Which leaves me wondering... Just how long has whatever is using Thorn been active and just what the hell has it been up to? Because, gentle readers, once is an accident, twice is happenstance but three times is enemy action and we have a wealth of enemies here. That said there is hope in the fact that each of these monarchs has a more capable Queen or Princess around and we’ve got one hell of a bastard aiming himself at all of the enemies of man.

I enjoyed The Fell Sword a lot but was also somewhat frustrated with it. As you guessed from this review there is a lot going on in this book, to the point that 600 pages barely feels like enough and I'm left feeling that there wasn't enough space given to the Morean plot. There was a lot of intrigue and scheming that was left off panel so to speak, and the relationship between the Morean characters and the Alban characters really could have used more space and attention. Those relations aren’t badly written just feeling a bit sparse. Additionally a lot of the plots in these books feel more like set up for the next book (or the one after that) which I don't mind as Mr. Cameron does make an effort to put a good amount of pay off in this book for at least half the storylines, but when the book is this crowded I am left asking if this was the best use of pages? For example, I feel like the story-line featuring the Gallish court could have been moved to the next book and I was left unsure what the point of the story-line featuring Amicia and Sir John was; it didn't feel connected to much of anything going on in this book. Additionally, I'm not sure the story-line with the Jacks was necessary at all. Granted, Mr. Cameron is the writer and I’m just the reviewer but we’re still staring at 600 plus pages here. All the story-lines are well written and honestly, a less talented writer would have been thrilled to have just one of them to hang a good novel off of. I suppose it's telling that my biggest complaint is that it feels like Mr. Cameron is trying to cram three really good novels into a single one but there is it. I do feel that it hampered the pace and robbed space from all the story-lines. I suppose I'll just have to hope that Mr. Cameron starts merging plotlines soon because he does seem to be building up to something amazing and he certainly does have the talent and skill to pull it off in my opinion. However, this continues the problems I had with The Red Knight (although I still recommend both books). So I am giving The Fell Sword by Miles Cameron a B+. I remain hopeful that this series will break into A territory though.

Join us next week as we finally wrap up the Acts of Caine series with Caine's Law by Matthew Stover. Keep Reading!

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"it takes two sides to end a war but only one to start one. And those who do not have swords may still die upon them." Tolken


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PostPosted: Fri May 17, 2019 10:00 pm 
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Caine's Law
By Matthew Stover


“What if you could take back the worst thing you ever did?”
Caine page 24


Hey folks, our regular editor Dr. Allen couldn’t make it this week so we have special guest editor, please welcome Mr. Davis, science teacher, trained in marine biology and the wrangling of small mammals. Hey all Mr. Davis here, like Frigid said your usual editor is away on other business so I’ll be taking the reins. Don’t worry you get the same level of quality in service but with 40% less communist propaganda.

It's been years since we covered Caine Black Knife. So let me start from the top, Matthew Stover was born in 1962 in the United States. He attended Danville high school graduating in 1979 and then graduated from Drake University in 1983. He studied the Degerberg Blend, a style of combined martial arts that is based somewhat on Jeet Kune Do. His earliest novel I can find is the bronze age fantasy Iron Dawn and the first book of the Caine Series, Heroes Die were released in 1997. He would also write a large number of Star Wars novels (including the novelization of Return of the Sith) and dozens of short stories. He also wrote a Flash Gordon novel, entitled the Real Flash Gordon that was unfortunately blocked from publication by the gentlemen who holds the rights on the grounds of it being “unwholesome.” I'll just note for the record that I think we're all missing out and we could have seen a novel that brought Flash Gordon screaming into the 21st century. That's the kind of timidness that kills characters. The novel we're actually taking a look at today is Caine's Law, however. The most recent and as things stand most likely final installment of the story of Hari Michaelson aka Caine, it was published in 2012 by Del Ray Books, which is owned by Ballantine Books which is in turn owned by (say it all together) Random House.

Before we pitch in, let me do a quick recap of the worlds here. Caine (I'm just going to refer to him as Caine for simplicity's sake, although like anyone in his business he has a wealth of other names) is an Actor from a future Earth. Here the world has been unified under a world government that has created a massively restrictive caste system and enforces it by rewriting history, making political and social dissent illegal and breaking the critics of the system as cruelly and publicly as possible. It also keeps the masses distracted via massive entertainments and other diversions, Caine is part of that. See Actors in this Earth don't make movies and plays. That's too blasé and safe for this society. Actors are people fitted with cybernetic gear to record everything they sense, through all their senses, while the Actors provide a sub-vocal narrative that is picked up and recorded by those same cybernetics. These people are sent to an entirely different world, called Overworld, where magic works, there are elves, dragons and worse. There they have bloody, violent adventures which are then edited, packaged and released in everything from virtual reality experiences where you practically experience what the Actor experiences or less immediate experiences that you can watch on a screen with your friends. Of course, while this is an entertainment for you, it's real bloody life for the Actor and many of them can expect to die in the saddle. Suddenly, if they're lucky, but if not... Well there's a market for Actor dies an incredibly slow painful death while you watch entertainments as well. (I understand how there is a market for SOME activities to have the full sensory experience, but I’m just imagining if you have it set on a high level of physical sensation when out of nowhere you have some monster chewing on your face. Man i’m guessing netflix and chill could have some really great “date gone wrong” stories from this.) Much like our modern day Actors have varying levels of stardom with starlets and C levels and superstars who can bring a city to a standstill just by showing up. Caine isn't just a superstar, he's basically the superstar. Like Brad Pit smashed together with a Special Forces operator. The guy whose adventures are in the top 10, with billions of followers hanging off his gestures and words but due to the Caste society he's in and the sheer level of control that the Studio maintains, he's basically a dangerous but pampered pet. At least on Earth. On Overworld, he's Caine, a famous and terrifying assassin who has killed kings and paupers with equal disdain. Of course, the people of Overworld aren't entirely ignorant of the aliens in their midst. In their society Actors are the worst type of demons and Earth a wretched hell full of suffering souls dependent on the whims of indifferent and conceited monsters. They aren't entirely wrong about Earth honestly and given the actions of some Actors it's not surprising how they view them. I should also mention that Overworld and Earth actually have a long intertwined history but since finding out the scope and length of that history is part of reading the series, all I'll say is that it's no accident that our legends and myths feature things that are native to Overworld and it's no accident that there are humans on both worlds.


Caine's Law picks up right where Caine Black Knife (the book before Caine's Law) left off so I would recommend reading them back to back. Caine Black Knife gave us a look at Caine's beginnings and how to reach the heights of popularity that he did... He committed a genocide. Maybe I'm a terrible person but it's hard for me to judge Caine to harshly on this, given the Black Knife tribe of Orgilloi (basically orcs) had essentially chased Caine and his party down and proceeded to torture them to death until Caine pulled off his win. This was also the Black Knifes standard procedure, they would raid their neighbors, kill, rape, torture and enslave and would have kept doing it until someone stopped them. However, Caine has been feeling a bit of guilt over this, because frankly his escape and revenge weren't clean ones and he ended up not only basically destroying the Black Knife nation but being the cause of death for a lot of their children. Children who hadn't killed, raped or tortured anyone. So I can understand the guilt. This is also wrapped in the relationship that Caine has with Orbek, a Black Knife survivor who adopted him and who Caine in turn adopted as a younger brother. Because of this relationship, Caine learns that the majority of the survivors have been basically enslaved by a human theocracy and that the males can only get decent jobs and lives by submitting to castration. Frankly, the Black Knives may have been dangerous and wrong but this treatment is just as bad if not worse since the Black Knives can't really fight back anymore. When Orbek decides to address this and Caine tries to save his life, Caine ends up on Earth and is forced into a bad deal. From which our entire story flows.

While Mr. Stover has often experimented with non-linear storytelling, using flashbacks for example to tell related stories set in different times, he embraces the metaphysical fully in this book. As we are sent careening across different times and places of Caine's life as he works to pull off one last trick. To try and make a good bargain from a bad one, Caine moves across time and space to try and tilt history and the universe just enough to in his own words, take back the worse thing he's ever done. With Caine, there's a lot of prior actions competing for that title. To be fair that's not the only thing he's trying to do, as always Caine is trying to maintain the safety and well being of his friends and family. It's interesting to see how this self-professed monster is mostly only moved to violence to keep the people he loves safe, isn't it? He's also quick to enlist others into this quest by offering them the same reward and to be fair it's a hell of a pitch. I don't have anything that I've done that would be considered in the same league, hell even the same sport as Caine does but if he cornered me on the street and convinced me that it could be done? I'd be willing to do quite a bit and give a lot to get it done. Take a moment to ask yourself what you would do if you could make it so that the worst thing you ever did... Just never happened. So you can imagine what Caine, someone who starts his “what I’m willing to do” list with murder and maiming is willing to do. He's going to need every ally he can find though, because not only does he have to pull off a number of wild capers against angry priests, elvish lords and worse, he might be attracting attention from the divine. If you're doing something the gods don't want done, you gotta do it fast after all. Let's talk about some of these folks.

The most pivotal is likely the Horse Witch, a woman or something that looks like one, who travels with a feral herd of horses. Now I don't mean wild, I mean feral, as every horse was an abused animal that escaped it's situation to find shelter with the herd and with the Horse Witch. This is not a human-friendly herd, not necessarily hostile but it's made real clear that these horses are done tolerating abuse from humanity or anyone else. The Horse Witch herself is an interesting character that the book takes time and effort to unwrap for the reader, and her growing and developing relationship with Caine ends up forming a pole for the story to move around. This is true in a literary and metaphorical sense, as the story only makes sense when you fully grasp who the Horse Witch is, what her relationship to Caine is and how important and life-altering that is for him. Now, this isn't a Caine redeemed by the love of a woman story, banish that idea right now. Caine already tried that with his relationship with his first wife and in a realistic fashion, it failed quite miserably. Instead, this is Caine, with the help of someone who cares for him, not their idealized version of him but him the actual person learning to come to terms with himself and forgive himself his mistakes and learn to stop punishing himself. The Horse Witch is strangely well equipped for this as forgiveness and permission are her greatest powers. If you're wondering what that means, I'm going to tell you to read the book. What I will say is that Caine's journey in this book is a reflection of his internal journey which adds another layer to a story that already has a number of them. We also get a look at a real professional assassin, a gentleman by the name of Tanner from the same organization as Caine, he serves as a foil, ally, and snarker to Caine. Tanner kinda ended up being my favorite character in the book. He's not entirely sure what's going on, but he's gonna do his job and try to have some fun along the way, usually at Caine's expense. He can also get away with it because he's at least as good at hurting people as Caine is and younger so he doesn't have the same fear of Caine most men in his position would have. We also have returning characters but going over them would be spoilers so I'll invite you to take a look for yourself.

The book isn't entirely perfect, while Caine faces a lot of obstacles and near death events. Including finding himself almost getting the whipping of his life from a high-class elvish drug dealer and whore, who also happens to be a runaway prince. There's also a scene that I will laugh at until I die, where Caine finds out that an old enemy of his has a death cult devoted to him. Caine is morally appalled of course, but he's also offended that he isn't transgressive enough for some people considering all the ultra-violence and social upheaval he's committed in his life. It's kinda humanizing in a way. As usual, the violence is bone-jarringly real and full of consequences, people are crippled and maimed, our hero takes repeated injuries that slow him down and trip him up. That said, there's not much in the way of organized opposition from the various cosmic forces that the characters keep warning about us and seeing some would have increased the stakes and tension in the books. I do have to repeat for the reader that this book isn't told in an entirely linear fashion and the story becomes an exercise in piecing together clues from Caine's remarks and actions just what he is trying to do. Odds are since I didn't read the series in a single go that I missed a clue or three but frankly if you're paying attention and willing to do the mental footwork you can work it out pretty quickly. That said this book is not for lazy readers or for readers who are looking for straightforward simple storytelling. You definitely need to have read the prior books and expend some mental effort on this one. I'm not going to penalize the book for that though, since in all honestly reading a book or three that makes you expend some effort to figure things out isn't that bad for you. In fact, it might be good for you. (yes it is good for you, active reading skills are lacking in modern society and most people experience a sharp decline in technical reading ability after they leave academic settings. Being able to read and predict outcomes as well as interpret information that is talked about but not directly handed to you is a skill that many industrial psychologists have identified as an indicator of success in almost any profession.) I suppose this is me telling you to read your bloody veggies along with your junk food but there you go. I'm giving Caine's Law an A-, it's inventive, complex and provides a satisfying ending to the Caine saga. I just think it's unfortunate that we're not likely to see more books from Mr. Stover, since this is also the most recent book of his I can find, but you can't have everything.

If you enjoyed this week's review consider joining us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads, where for a dollar a month, you can vote on what books come up for review. Next week, we look at Champion of Mars by Guy Haley and after that, we kick off World War II month. Until then, Keep Reading.

Blue text is your editor Mr. Davis
Black text is your reviewer Garvin Anders

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"it takes two sides to end a war but only one to start one. And those who do not have swords may still die upon them." Tolken


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PostPosted: Fri May 24, 2019 9:25 pm 
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Champion of Mars
by Guy Haley


Guy Haley was born in 1973 in Halifax, United Kingdom. Before becoming an author, he was the editor for a number of science-fiction and fantasy magazines such as White Dwarf, SFX, and Death Ray. He’s written over twenty novels and short stories; and is a prolific writer for the Black Library, the printing arm of Games Workshop, who makes among other things the Warhammer 40K universe and all the associated games. Within that setting he is known for writing a number of books from the point of view of non-humans like goblins and orcs (Good, because we really do need to see more of this universe from a perspective other than blinkered theo-fascists; even if that perspective is that of insane sapient fungi. I would *love* to see some stories about the Tau {I just want to note that the editor’s opinions are his own and not reflective of the review series… Thank you}). Currently, he lives in Yorkshire with his wife and son. Champion of Mars was published in 2012 by Solaris books. Solaris was founded in 2007 as an imprint by BL publishing (aka the Black Library) as a way to publish and support mid-tier writers. In 2009 Solaris was bought by Rebel Developments, a video game developer company based in the United Kingdom. Now let's head over to the book.

In the far future, Mars - the last outpost of humanity in the Solar system - is dying. Divided between the lands of men and spirits; and the Stone Lands, parts of the planet unfit for life due to the corruption of the Stone kin. The Stone kin are upper dimensional creatures attempting to push into our universe from outside, due to the limiting realities of our universe, they can only push part of themselves in at a time. Imagine trying to push yourself into a 2-dimensional world and you might get an idea of the issue (So… when they corrupt things, are they doing stuff like extending their N-dimensional pseudopods into the 4th spatial dimension and drawing boxes around areas to prevent nutrient flow, or something?). This is actually where their name comes from because no one can see them move, instead, they in one position one moment and in another the next without actually crossing the space between the two points. A good way to visualize this would be to think of the Weeping Angels from the British television show Dr. Who, only they do this even if you're looking right at them and kill you even with you looking them right in the eye. Assuming they have eyes (Given they’re in a reality foreign to their own, perhaps they took Sam Niel’s advice from Event Horizon and concluded they didn’t need eyes where they’re going.). If that wasn't enough their very presence warps the laws of physics (and biology, chemistry and everything else) and creates changes in the structure of the universe and if they are not ejected quickly can create lingering corruption making the place worse for life then the nastiest radiation (Hm. Bringing Event Horizon to you!). How did this happen, you might be asking? You see, in the distant past humanity sacrificed its home system to lock the Stone Kin in, preventing them from leaving the Sol system but locking hundreds of millions of people in with them. Since then Earth and Venus have fallen to the Stone Kin and so has a good chunk of Mars (How did they pull that off? Did they use mass-human-sacrifice to close off the solar system in some kind of massive necromantic ritual? How do you do that when the enemy alters physics? {I’m not ruling out the necromancy, but their counter ploy seemed to involve rewriting the laws of physics on a local scale to prevent them from being able to leave, going more into depth would be spoilers}). In the face of this threat mankind and it's artificially intelligent allies (who now preferred to be called spirits) spends its time fighting itself in increasingly pointless wars over dominance and control of half a dying planet. Most men do not focus on the threat of the Stone Kin, instead, they focus their energies on securing their next lives. Let me explain (Indeed you should because this seems very counter-productive.).

Much like Altered Carbon (a book that I reviewed a while back,), humans have an implant that allows for their minds to be digitized and when they die their minds are sent to the stacks, a virtual world where you wait for rebirth. What separates this from other books like Altered Carbon is that if you die, your mind isn't just dumped into a new adult body. Instead, your genetic code is artificially mixed with a single or pair of adopted parents and you are born anew. In your new childhood, you don't have access to your prior memories, instead, when you hit puberty you have to choose to remember or not. If you chose to remember your prior life memories are gradually integrated into your mind. If not, well, you'll have that option in your next life. In a lot of ways, this seems like a healthier system and a more creative way of dealing with the problems of immortality. Through having people repeatedly experience childhood and new beginnings you keep them from becoming too set in their ways to allow for society to change and giving them the chance to refuse the memories allows for people to try for fresh starts unburdened by their pasts (Except it isn’t their past. It is an entirely different person they’re “remembering”, it isn’t correct to call this immortality of any kind.{The characters disagree} Of course they disagree, that isn’t the point! They have a very interesting definition of what it means to be the same person. This is a few steps beyond Destructive Cloning like with Star Trek transporters. This is outright reproduction. Being immortal through one’s kids is a metaphor! This is techno-reincarnation.). By the time of our novel, a person could have lived for thousands of years being reborn, growing up and dying over and over again. Simple time renders the memories of your earliest lives vague and indistinct but leaves everyone with a sort of racial memory of what their history was and what they have accomplished in the past, while their new years blunt the emotional edges of such memories. By the time of the main setting, they've worked out a system where the brave and awesome get reborn first and everyone else has to wait in line. I have to admit it's an interesting system and I kinda wish we could have explored it more since it profoundly shapes human society on Mars and one of our main characters. Let's met him.

Yoechakenon is and was the Champion of the Emperor of Mars, encased in the most powerful set of armor that humanity has ever created and wielding some of it's most devastating weapons, he is also a warrior with thousands of years of training and experience fighting the Stone Kin, fellow humans, and spirits. However, Yoechakenon is a man disgraced; he rejected the position of Champion after leading an army on a siege that ended in a brutal sack (Wait. So this is a science fiction setting, yes? And the culture is so fucked up that they sack cities? Wow…{It's a science fiction setting in a dark age, this is not a new concept}). He was sentenced to fight over and over in the arena stripped of his armor and weapons, despite that he kept winning (So they have fighting pits too. What is this degenerate Bourgeois bullshit?). His reward for this is being sent on a final mission in secret by the Emperor, there's only one chance to end the ceaseless wars of humanity and find a way to throw back the Stone Kin. To find the Artificial Intelligence known as the Librarian of Mars who can bring peace to Mars and organize resistance against the Stone Kin and perhaps even win. To do that Yoechakenon has to go into the Stone Lands themselves, into dead cities haunted by abominations that sit halfway between our form of life and the Stone Kin and piece together the clues that will lead him to his objectives. Well, actually he'll have to go there and let his companion piece together the clues (Because presumably All He Knows Is Killing?). That companion the spirit Lady Kaibeli, who is Yoechakenon's constant companion and lover and our actual viewpoint character for most of the story (Well alright then…). Kaibeli is an artificial intelligence who has for thousands of years sought and found Yoechakenon in life after life and stayed with him. To the point that their relationship has become legendary within society (Given my earlier commentary regarding immortality…). You see, while humans age, die and are reborn, artificial intelligence's instead simply continue onward, although the passage of time, lack of data space and data corruption renders their earliest memories hazy and hard to access at best. So eventually most spirits move on and become distant from their biological friends and allies, but not Kaibeli, who has stayed steadfast to one person (Does she though? She actually is immortal but… he isn’t.) with frankly inhuman devotion. Kaibeli not only serves as our viewpoint character but is the central character of the entire novel. I'll explain.

See, this foolhardy quest into possible madness and death isn't the only story being told in this novel. The novel also takes us back to the earliest days of Martian settlement and the near future when Dr. Holland - fleeing the memories of tragedy and divorce - comes to Mars to work on the terraforming project in an indirect way (Not knowing what the tragedy is, damn that must have been one acrimonious divorce.). Dr. Holland is hired to study and catalog the last ecologies on Mars. As mankind arrived and spread out, eco-systems were found deep in the planet’s lava tube systems (where the hell are these cave systems getting their energy? Mars isn’t geologically active anymore, so chemosynthetic communities are right out. Are they like a sealed glass terrarium, continually recycling energy and nutrients until eventually Entropy kills them?) Now while their very existence is exciting, you should banish visions of Calots or Thoats lurking in the depths of the red planet. The ecosystems that Dr. Holland is studying are microscopic and made up mostly of bacteria and single-celled organisms feeding on chemicals in the depths (Okay, that works.). In fact, it's a plot point that the environment that these life forms inhabit is extremely acidic in nature and when visiting you have to do so from inside specially constructed hard suits. I have to admit the safety measures and the research teams obsessive following of those safety procedures is very realistic. Despite what certain rather poorly done movies would tell you, biologists and other scientists are rather careful in the lab and tend not to move forward until they figure out how to do so safely (Can confirm, this part is correct!). So you would never have a scientist licking a newly discovered life form for example, or running up for hugs until some investigation takes place (In biology, we do not lick the science. Unless you study dogs, then the science licks you!). Of course, there's a wrinkle to all of this, Dr. Holland has an intense phobia of artificial intelligences due to traumatic life-experiences, which is a problem because the rather small research station has an AI named Cybele. However, he's not going to have a lot of time to try and get over his phobia as an underground expedition goes terribly wrong and discovers something deep below the surface of Mars. Something having an odd effect on the environment around it and something that is defying any attempt to analyze it. Not to mention forcing the AI to instantly shut down whenever they get too close. Dr. Holland finds himself having to make some choices and fast to determine just what the future of humanity and Mars is going to be.

Mr. Haley does a good job interweaving the two stories together and connecting them a lot more firmly then I would have thought possible. He also takes us through short intervening chapters through the different time periods which let us take a look at the development of Martian society and how relationships between artificial intelligences and biological humans changed over time. It also lets us see the development of the Stone Kin threat and the counters humanity took to block and contain it. This is an amazing voyage through society and culture and I really enjoyed it, you see golden ages, collapses, rebuildings, wars and peace all in short first-person views sprinkled throughout the book. I found myself both amazed and appalled that Mr. Haley was able to shove so much into a single book. It's somewhat ironic that some fantasy series are stretched out beyond reason and we get a story as epic as this that is contained a single novel. That said, the book isn't without issues. I was left entirely convinced of Kaibeli's devotion and love for Yoechakenon for example but I wasn't left all that sure of how much he cared for her (Well he’s not necessarily going to, now is he?). It may be due to the lack of space since there's a lot going on and the fact that we're never really in Yoechakenon's head but for a lot of the book I wasn't really sure of his feelings towards her (Those feelings are likely pretty damn complicated. He has an actually-immortal robot stalker who seems to have taken a liking to his lineage and because everyone including himself thinks he’s the same person as all those prior iterations… yeah, complicated.). Additionally, I was frustrated at how much is hinted at and will never be explained because there are no other works in this universe. What Mr. Haley does in this book is fantastic and I only wish he had been able to devote more time and space to this story because there is enough for a trilogy here, which would have been helpful because there were points in the book that didn't feel very fleshed out, as if Mr. Haley forebears from really going into details or spending time on character interactions because he had so much ground to cover as it was. Still, this is a great display of economic use of space and time to tell not just one sweeping story but several. To that end I'll be giving Champion of Mars by Guy Haley a B. We would be lucky if future novels could make this level the new average but its lack of space keeps it from going higher.

So our next and last novel of May will be The Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee, afterward, we will be embarking on World War II month in June. If you'd like to vote on what books we would be covering there's still time to join us over at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads where for a 1$ a month you get a vote on what books get reviewed.

As always the red text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen
The black text is your reviewer Garvin Anders

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PostPosted: Fri May 31, 2019 8:39 pm 
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Ninefox Gambit
By Yoon Ha Lee


Yoon Ha Lee was born in Houston, Texas on January 1979. His family moved back and forth between the United States and the Republic of Korea while he was growing up, and he attended high school at Seoul Foreign School, an English international school. He graduated from Cornell and earned a Master's degree in secondary math education at Stanford. In 1999 he published his first story in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and additional works in Clarkesworld and Lightspeed magazine, and has since then published over forty. Mr. Lee also designs and writes games, such as the browser-based game Winterstrike. Mr. Lee, who is openly trans, currently lives in Louisiana with his husband and young daughter. Ninefox Gambit is his first full-length novel, published by Solaris books (for more information on them please see the last review) in 2016. It made quite an impression, being nominated for a Hugo, Nebula, and Clarke award, and winning the Locus Award for best novel. So let's take a look at the book, shall we?

The book takes place in what I can only assume is a far future. The government known as the Hexarchate (oh I love that name) rules a large swath of space. It is a government at first split into seven factions but now six (Well duh. Otherwise it would be the Heptarchate {Yeah, it was… I mean it would be, wouldn’t it?}) with each faction adopting different duties to maintain and organize an intensely ordered society. Society is arranged to support what is called the High Calendar, a system of timekeeping that if enough people observe it allows certain technologies to work (Yas! Techno-sorcery! YAS!). Like the Hexarchate's current FTL called the Moth Drive (Is the destination called a lamp?) which is faster and has greater range then FTL technology that doesn't depend on the calendar. On top of that their communications technology is dependent on the calendar as well, so without it, the nation is at real risk of simply falling apart and being conquered by foreign powers. There are other technologies that depend on this, most of them called exotic technologies. Technology that doesn't depend on the calendar is called an “invariant” (presumably because they do not vary with population levels of calendar observance…). Most of the exotic tech we see in the novel is weapons technology, which is fair since this is a war story. A government at war against its own people. You see, because the technology that supports the Hexarchate depends on observing the High Calendar, not observing the calendar is considered a direct attack on society and is called Heresy. Being a Heretic is bad, but no worries, there's a spot for Heretics in the Calendar. That spot is as the victim in a ceremony called Remembrance where Heretics are publicly tortured to death to reinforce belief in the High Calendar. Which gives the Hexarchate a nice theocratic gloss, on top of the rest of the horror show.

This is the society that our main character Captain Kel Cheris has been born into. The member of a tolerated but suspected minority culture, Cheris had joined the Hexarchate military and for the most part, abandoned her birth culture. She didn't just join the military but the front line portion of it, which is made up entirely of the Kel faction. The Kel faction provides the combat troops and officers of the military for both ground and space operations (there is also a Kel wet water navy but it's irrelevant all things considered) with the Shuos providing intelligence officers and the Nirai providing engineers and other specialists as needed. So if you ever think the modern division into branches of service are silly and pointless take a look at a system where you need three branches just to run one damn ship! (Kafka would love this) Before I get to Cheris I should explain the Kel, because they're the faction taking center stage here and we need to understand them to really understand Cheris. The Kel often have to fight in areas where the High Calendar doesn't hold sway so they have developed formations that allow them to deploy their weapons by overwriting the calendar of a local area with their own through applied math and geometry (Ok, that’s pretty cool). The first wave of formations discovered were suicide formations because they burnt up the men and women in the formation to create the needed effect (Wait, discovered? Not devised? Did they like, experiment with this over a long period of time to optimize the solution through attrition? Like, create a best first estimate and then *iterate* it through a machine learning algorithm that used mass casualties as training data?). I'm speaking literally when I say burnt up. The Kel celebrate this, calling themselves ash hawks or suicide hawks and holding up examples of people who destroy themselves for the group good or follow orders to the death as the ideal (Oh my god they’re a geomantic death cult). Like most militaries, the Kel are very conservative and prize strong group loyalty and self-sacrifice. To the point that Kel High Command has merged itself into a single hive mind that is not so slowly losing its sanity and for the lower ranks they created a technology called formation instinct. How it is applied is kinda vague but here's what I can tell you, it creates a powerful urge to obedience to higher authorities and creates a subconscious need to conform with what is expected of the soldier by the group (Oh this is… awesome. It’s existentially horrifying, but I love the places Mr. Lee’s mind goes. That is so delightfully dark.). To say I am horrified by this is too mild, I know I keep bringing it up but I am a military veteran myself and I served in Iraq. So this isn't abstract for me, I've already seen plenty of firsthand evidence that a lot of politicians and civilians just don't value our lives or rights as fellow human beings and are perfectly happy to get us killed to prove an ideological point or ensure they can maintain a good opinion of themselves. The idea of applying such a thing to fellow Marines and Soldiers makes me physically ill (Note: my giggling above is not a contradiction of this. I just have a different horror threshold than Frigid does, and find this sort of thing fascinating in a very Nietzschean kind of way.{I’m pretty sure that if we talking about doing something like to scientists it would be immediate for you} Oh, I totally get it. I’m just a sick weirdo whose reactions to this sort of thing differ so long as it’s fictional.). You can't have loyalty under these conditions only compelled obedience and it turns thinking soldiers into pawns who cannot choose their loyalties or evaluate their orders on their own, only follow them (Thing is, this is a society that holds its entire citizenry to the observance of a system of timekeeping on pain of horrible death, so I think valuing the lives of soldiers is… well it went out the window a long bloody time ago. Like, that’s just a natural consequence of how fucked up this whole culture is). The only saving grace here is that the formation instinct doesn't impact everyone at the same strength or the same way so there are always those who can subvert it within themselves or resist it but that doesn't reduce the terror here. The Kel don't come across as a military so much as a terrifying perversion of what a good military is supposed to be, it doesn't help that I'm pretty sure that a great many governments, even liberal democratic ones would eagerly embrace such technology and its use (Probably).

Cheris is not the average Kel officer, for one thing, she's very good at math to the point that the Nirai wanted her to join up. Cheris, however, wanted to serve something bigger than herself and wanted to do it on the front lines. So she joined the Kel and beyond that became an infantry officer. However, she can't avoid the fact that she is creative and able to think outside of the box. A good example of this is her treatment of the robotic servitors, AI machines who do a lot of the grunt work in Hexarchate society (Because *of course* there are oppressed AI servitors.{The Servitors are the least oppressed group in the book actually, the human government ignores them as long as the work gets done so the servitors basically do what they want} Huh. Alright then...). Most humans simply ignore them but Cheris is polite to them and even reaches out to them. I like this trait honestly as it helps humanize her and gives us a look into who she is when not dealing with... Well, the events of this book. Either way, her creativity and willingness to grapple with unorthodox solutions are not encouraged by Kel society (Uh Oh). When she comes up with a bold new formation to subvert an enemy's calendar and destroy their exotic weapons, she's not celebrated because her formations linger too close to the border of heresy (Wait, but… if she subverts an enemy calendar and imposes her own, how can that mathematically even get close to Heresy? {Because she exercised creative problem solving and made new formations without approval} Ah! Now the world makes sense!). However, victory covers a great many sins and it seems that the Hexarchate has better use for her then using her as a showpiece for a Remembrance. They're going to give her a command to retake a fortress (a massive deep space station that was placed to enforce and extend the effects of the High Calendar) that has gone Heretic. Not just any fortress, but the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a powerful fortress with its own fleet and a shield that has never been broken. A fortress that as often proclaimed to be immune from outside assault. A fortress she needs to take despite having never led anything bigger than an infantry company and not having enough forces under her command to just overwhelm it (Well, they do love suicide missions…). If such a place can even be overwhelmed. Cheris is afraid that she's being set up for failure (because she most definitely is) and aware that she has no margin for error decides to be creative again and grabs Shuos Jedao. Let me talk about the Shuos faction first before we talk about him specifically.

The Shuos faction are the assassins, intelligence officers, spies, and such of the Hexarchate. They're led by whoever can assassinate the current leader of their faction (as a result a faction leader is considered lucky if they last a decade [Ah, I see they operate on Necromonger Rules]). They're also known for an intense fascination with games and being rather unstable, since murdering your superior is a lauded way of asking for a promotion you can see why (Unstable institutionally, mentally, or both?{Yes.}). Jedao started out as a Shuos and was trained as an assassin but decided to switch over to the Kel, becoming one of their greatest generals. In his last campaign, he won a great battle with almost no casualties despite being outnumbered 8 to 1 (this was based somewhat on Admiral Yi Su-Shin's victory but Admiral Yi faced greater odds) and followed it up by completely destroying two armies. One of them his own, as he went mad and was found as the only survivor. His punishment wasn't death, but instead to be rendered into what I would basically have to call an undead spirit. Imprisoned in something called the Black Cradle that keeps him a state of undeath, he became a weapon for the Kel (I… I got nothin’). A weapon they only dare pull out when the stakes are high but one that always wins. However there's a problem with deploying him, he needs a physical anchor to function, a living person. So Cheris has to direct a military campaign on a much greater scale then she's ever directed before while carrying the mind of an undead general who may or may not be insane but definitely has his own hidden agenda (Weeee! Fun for the whole family!). While she's also unsure if Kel High Command actually wants her to succeed or not. She has few if any allies and an embarrassment of riches when it comes to enemies.

Mr. Lee gives us a tense story filled with intrigue and battle. It's also a story of a deeply unhealthy society being held up by an increasingly high blood price of both loyal members and rebels. I know it's easy for me to declare the Hexarchate unhealthy. That said if your society is constantly wracked with rebellions to the point that your troops spend more of their time fighting their own people then foreign forces... There is something wrong with the way your society is set up, especially when the penalty for rebellion is being tortured to death. People don't take risks like that unless they have a very compelling reason, after all. Mr. Lee, however, doesn't shy away from the implications of the system he has set up and shows us in spades that this system is deeply unhealthy and needs to change This is also part of the story as Mr. Lee has made the consideration of military ethics a part of this story and does this without making this a black and white discussion. This mostly done through the interactions of Jadeo and Cheris but there are parts where we are given the views of troops on the front line and Mr. Lee even finds a clever way to give us the viewpoint of the people rebelling in the fortress. Honestly, I can see why Ninefox Gambit is so highly praised and was given the considerations it was. It was honestly hard for me to put the book down despite my intense distaste for the Kel. I do feel I need to put a warning on this book however. Like I said Mr. Lee doesn't try to shy away from the implications of what he's built here. So a number of dark things show up in this book, from war crimes to crimes like sexual assault. This stuff isn't ladled in for titillation but does serve as part of the character's motivations and experience. That said if this is something that is going to bother you, you might want to skip this book. That said I found the book masterfully done and compelling to read. To that end, I am giving Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee an A.

So if you enjoyed this review and would like to see more, please consider joining us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads where a 1$ a month lets you vote for what books will be reviewed, 3$ allows you sneak peeks at the unedited reviews and the unrestrained version of our editor. Next week we start World War II month with Code Name: Lise by Larry Loftis. Until then, Keep Reading!

Red text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen.
Black text is your reviewer Garvin Anders.

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PostPosted: Fri May 31, 2019 8:58 pm 
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So this is what Imperial China flavor 40K looks like. Sounds cool.

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 07, 2019 9:39 pm 
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Code Name: Lise The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII Most Highly Decorated Spy
By Larry Loftis


“Gentlemen you must take your pick of the counts. I can only die once.”
Odette Sansom to Nazi Court, page 173


Larry Loftis is an American author. He attended the University of Florida where he graduated with a BA in Political Science and a JD in Law. He served as a senior executive and articles editor on Florida's Law Review, a student-edited journal that operates out of the University of Florida. He also published legal articles in the Suffolk Transnational Law Journal, Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law, Florida Bar Journal, National Law Journal, and Florida Banking. He also worked in the University of Florida Law School as a teaching fellow for Legal Research and Writing/Appellate Advocacy. He also taught law as an adjunct professor at Belhaven University. Code Name: Lise is his second novel, being published in 2019 by Gallery Books, an imprint founded in 2009 by Simon & Schuster, which is currently owned by CBS.

It's 1941, Europe lies under the boot of Nazi Germany and its allies (Death to Nazis!). Of the Western Allies, the United Kingdom stands alone, defiant and unconquered but outnumbered and very possibly outmatched. Nazi Armies have just swept into the Soviet Union and wrecked utter ruin upon the communist armies that they had oh so recently divided Poland with (I would suggest looking at our Trail of Hope review for more information on that. [Also, because I have to say it in case Tatiana Tankikova shows up: F#@! Stalin. Tankies get out!]). The United Kingdom isn't about to surrender though or cease struggling for victory, to that end it must not only fight in the air and the seas but must wage war in a deeply unconventional manner (Praise be unto the SOE, may The Laundry protect us from gibbering horrors from beyond spacetime that seek to eat our brains). Because as been stressed from the Bronze age, a nation that does not know it's enemies courts defeat. Enter the Special Operations Executive. The SOE was a secret organization running campaigns of espionage, sabotage, and recon in occupied Europe, they were also aiding resistance movements in the hopes of preventing the Nazis from gaining the full resources and wealth of the nations they had assaulted. Operatives of the SOE were spies, often conducting operations that meant they had no protection under the Laws of War and thus were open to levels of abuse that most western POWs would not be subject to. As such the Germans would often declare them terrorists and argue that they had the right to execute them out of hand, although they rarely did so. Not out of any moral concerns mind you, but because dead spies can't be forced to give up their fellows. Despite the danger, men and women across the United Kingdom, Europe and beyond would sign up to serve in the SOE, going into the very Lion's Den of occupied territory to perform vital acts and gather desperately needed intelligence. Our characters are examples of such people, let's take a look, shall we?

The focus of the novel and our main character so to speak is Odette Sansom. Odette was born in France and lost her father to War World I. She was raised partly by her grandfather who brought his grandchildren to the grave of their father (his son) and stressing that they would need to rise to the bar their father had set someday, correctly foreseeing another war (To be fair, that doesn’t take a genius if you’re not blinkered by a desire for revenge. Even President Wilson saw that.). Which honestly may set the stage for a lot of Odette's later behavior. That wasn't the sum total of her rather eventful childhood, when she was seven she contracted polio and for a year was completely paralyzed, when she recovered from that, polio stole her sight (I'm just gonna note, that it's because of vaccines that the vast majority of my readers don't have to deal with realities like that [What he means is, and I concur: VACCINATE YOUR SPAWN!] {So much for subtle}). For three years, Odette's Mother searched the medical world for a cure but failed, meanwhile Odette's Grandfather refused to accept blindness as an excuse, pushing her to find things she could do and compensate. Odette in her turn would embrace music to deal with a dark sightless world. Fortunately, a cure was found, but not from doctors but from an herbalist who concocted a solution that restored Odette's sight by bathing her eyes with it over an extended period of time (Interesting. I’m gonna call this a failure of bioprospecting). Odette would be assailed by other childhood illnesses, given the state of medical science at the time (It was bad) these diseases would be vastly more dangerous then what we in the modern developed world are used to and Odette's family would move her to Normandy and enroll her in a convent school hoping the climate and controlled environment of the convent would fortify her until adulthood. The nuns would provide Odette with a good education (though her knuckles would forever be callused by their rulers) and their final report would state that Odette was intelligent and principled but volatile and possessing a petulant streak. A lot would hang on that petulant streak. In 1929 she would meet her first husband, Roy Sansom and the father of her three daughters, Francoise (born 1932), Lily (born 1934) and Marianne (born 1936). They moved to London after Francoise was born and observed with growing fear the shadow growing across Europe.

In 1939 Roy enlisted in the English Army and Odette and the girls were evacuated to Somerset in 1940. While Odette had every reason to stay in England and concentrate on raising her girls, she still felt like she was hiding from her duty. Fate would intervene when she heard on the radio that the Royal Navy was asking everyone for any pictures they had of the French coast, family photos, postcards whatever could be found. Odette had a few herself and dutifully sent them in. She didn't send them to the Royal Navy though, she sent them to the War Office instead. Where she came to the attention of the gentlemen running the Special Operations Executive. They needed native French speakers and Odette certainly qualified, additionally as a woman she would have an easier time moving around an occupied nation. At first, she is hesitant to leave her daughters behind. Their Father is already serving on the front lines after all but from my end, it's not only the influence of her Grandfather that wins out but her desire to do something for both her home nations and to strike a blow against the Nazis in her own name (It is the duty of all good and decent people who are able to fight fascists). So she takes her daughters to a convent and ensures that an aunt and uncle will be on hand to care for them after some soul searching and heads off to her training. After completing her training she shipped out to France, which proved to be an adventure in and of itself but if you want to know that story you need to read the novel. It's in France that she met the main supporting character of our drama Peter Churchill.

Peter, who was of no relation to Prime Minister Churchill, was an upper-class British man by birth. The son of a British Consul, he was born in Amsterdam and attended the Malvern School (referred to as a public school in England [Because it is run by the public and not the state. These private boarding schools in the UK are basically training grounds for the british officer corps in this time period]) from the ages of 14 to 18. He then spent time in Switzerland attending Geneva University before finishing his education at the University in Cambridge in Modern Languages. While there he lead the Ice Hockey team and gained a reputation as a capable sportsman. He briefly served as a British Pro-Consul in Oran and Algeria before joining British Intelligence in 1940. In short Mr. Churchill was what British society at the time considered “The Right Sort” having the right family history, the right education and the right social connections that came with it. To his credit rather than use those connections to get himself a safe job in England or the United States, he chose to become a spy divesting himself of all the protections of the laws of war and jump into occupied territory to fight the Nazis in secret. As such he ran the SPINDLE network, a network of intelligence gathering in Southern France that as the novel progresses, seems rather cursed. In the novel, he serves as the primary supporting character which is honestly a good choice because personality wise, at least the personality presented to us in the novel, he's honestly not as interesting as Odette (People like him were also very normal in British society at the time). A lot of that is due to the novel being more focused on Odette. Another part of it is just circumstance as he does engage in more action but a good part of it is that Odette is simply the more outgoing person and she seems less concerned with risks. That said Mr. Churchill does a good job of showing his own courage and conviction.

The novel doesn't spend to much time on their espionage activities, showing us just enough to get a sense of what they were doing and their skill and daring in those activities. However, espionage is also a matter of luck and sometimes the other side has more than you, especially when one of the best spy catchers in the Nazi military is after you. The bulk of the story focuses on their capture and their treatment in captivity. It is here that Odette would perform the actions that would make her the single most decorated spy in War World II. First by convincing her captors that Mr. Churchill was her husband and didn't know anything of value and then standing up under torture and threat of death and refusing to give up any information (Damn). It's a rare person who can take torture knowing there is no help coming and not break but Odette managed it and the book leads us through her entire ordeal. From the prisons of the Italian Army and the Abwehr to the Gestapo and the all too human savagery of the concentration camps of Germany.

Code Name: Lise is an interesting book even without considering its source material. It bills itself as a nonfiction thriller. Now for those of you wondering what on Earth that means? Mr. Loftis presents us with a true story told via the conventions of fictional writing, by adding emotional states and making educated guesses to the internal thoughts and motivations of some of the people within the story. By doing so, he treads the line between writing a historical thriller and a straightforward biographical story. He avoids wandering too deeply into the weeds through careful research and use of primary sources and above all else he cites those sources. The back of the novel has a very robust notes section where you can find just what sources he used to come to the conclusions that he did. I do appreciate that and if we're going to be honest having someone willing to cite their sources clearly and cleanly is something to be encouraged. I also have to admit it's the first time I've seen a nonfiction story presented this way, with no fictionalized elements beyond the emotional states of the people involved and the result is the creation of a compelling novel (The Hot Zone does the same thing{I haven't read that one}). It keeps the novel from being to dry as some nonfiction can be by bringing in humanizing emotions but avoids creating or adding fictional relationships or events. Additionally, I appreciate how he matter of factly presents the various crimes of the Nazis without using it for titillation or exploiting it for cheap thrills. Because of this, I am giving Code Name: Lise The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII Most Highly Decorated Spy by Larry Loftis an A.

If you enjoyed this review, consider joining us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads where for as little as a dollar per month you can vote on upcoming reviews and at higher tiers vote on new books and even get sneak peeks at the reviews. Next week we continue World War II month by moving all the way over to the Asian Front, to look at Shanghai 1937 Stalingrad on the Yangtze by Peter Harmsen. As always Keep Reading.


Red text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen.
Black text is your reviewer Garvin Anders

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 14, 2019 9:34 pm 
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Shanghai 1937 Stalingrad on the Yangtze
by Peter Harmsen


Peter Harmsen attended Aarhus University (the largest and second oldest research university in Denmark) from 1989 to 1993 where he graduated with a Masters of Science in politics and studied Russian. Later, he attended the National Taiwan Normal University, where he studied the Chinese Language (he speaks both traditional Chinese and simplified) and Literature for a year. From 1994 to 1998, he studied at National Taiwan University focusing on Chinese politics and history. At the same time, he started a journalism career that would continue to this day as a freelance reporter for in East Asia. He focused on Chinese speaking countries and would work for such publications as The China Post, the Economist and more. In 2013 he released the first of a series of books about the Chinese Front in World War II, the topic of today's review Shanghai 1937 Stalingrad on the Yangtze. The book was published by Casemate, also known as Casemates publishers; established in 2001, Casemate is an American publishing company that focuses primarily on Military History. So let's talk about the book, shall we?

The year is 1937, the Nazis have ruled Germany for four years focusing on consolidating their power and oppressing the minorities within Germany. The Soviet Union endures Stalin's rule, as he arrests opponents accusing them of plotting with his arch “rival” Trotsky to undermine the USSR (Note: By arrest, we do of course mean kidnapping them in the night and handing them over to the NKVD who tortured them into giving the names of ‘co-conspirators’, and the either shooting them or shipping them to Siberian gulags. Fucking Stalin.). The Spanish Civil War grinds on with the powers of Europe using it as a testbed for tactics and equipment (and as a proxy war). In the United States, FDR has been re-elected to continued his massive programs to fight back the Great Depression inch by inch. In Asia, the Empire of Japan and the Republic of China are squaring off for another conflict. Ever since Japan emerged from its isolation, it had come into increasing conflict with China and other Asian powers. Whereas China had once been the center of East Asia and viewed itself as having no equal, the failure of its elites to reform and modernize in the face of predatory actions of the Imperial powers had led to it becoming a nation divided and poor in resources and industry. Imperial Japan, on the other hand, had pursued an aggressive campaign of modernization, leading to it being the first Asian power to flat out defeat a European Power in a war, that being the Russo-Japanese War (And a glorious defeat it was. The defeat was so bad it helped spark a failed revolution back in the Russian Empire that came on and ended in peasant blood so suddenly that Lenin himself couldn’t capitalize on it. Also, if you ever get a chance to look up the incompetent buffoonery that was the Baltic and black sea fleet’s trip to the Yellow Sea… do it. I’ll give you some highlights. It involves shooting at British fishing ships in the north sea for fear that they were IJN torpedo boats, shooting at merchantmen along the way thinking they were the Japanese fleet. Some EPIC stupidity on shore leave in South Africa that involved bringing venomous snakes onto a ship and letting them go to bite the CO...). That said, it isn’t like the Chinese were sitting there waiting to become victims, by the time of 1937. the Republic had reformed itself out of the ashes of the Empire of China and pursued its own course of modernization and industrialization. While it had suffered repeated humiliation at the hands of the West and Japan, it's ruling elites had finally accepted the necessity of modernization. Now all China needed was time. Time to educate its people, to build the factories, mines, and farms to create a modern state capable of creating a modern armed force to protect themselves from foreign predators. In 1937, however, time had run out and the Japanese were upon them.

The soldiers of China are numerous and brave but in the era of industry bravery and numbers simply aren't enough. The armies of Japan have more machine guns, more artillery, more tanks, and more planes. So in the plains, Northern China, the soldiers of China are being outmaneuvered, outgunned and frankly outmatched. Chiang Kai-Shek the chairmen and generalissimo of the Republic of China and his high command come up with a new strategy, instead of fighting on the great plains of the North, they will lure the armies of Japan into the great city of Shanghai, where their tanks, artillery, and plans will be of limited use. There they will deploy the best of their army, the crack troops trained by their German advisers and they will mire the Japanese down in the great city and bleed that army to death. They would also deliver a victory for the Chinese people to rally around and to show the Western Powers that supporting China wasn't a lost cause. Mr. Harmsen takes great care to walk us through the logic of the plan and show how it was a logical, rational decision with a chance at working. He also takes some pains to show us just what kind of city was being placed on the altar of war, although no one at the time had any idea how devastating open warfare in a city could be just yet. After all the massive city battles of War World II, where we learned just how terrible deploying modern military technology in an urban environment and how costly it was for a modern army to fight in a city... Hadn't happened yet. Shanghai in 1937 was one of the great cities of the world, it was a city of trade where foreign goods flowed into China and Chinese goods flowed out to the world. The second largest city in Asia and often referred to as the Queen of the Orient. The international section of the city - parts that China was forced to cede to foreign powers - were famous for their sophistication and glamour. Even the Chinese parts of the city were considered wealthy and they drew the populace of China like a magnet with the promise of jobs, education, and advancement. This did lead to great and terrible slums being thrown up as the desperate and the hopeful would flood in with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Into this Chiang sent General Zhang Zhizhong to command the first assault designed to remove the Japanese garrison from Shanghai (a result of the last time Japan and China went to war) although Chiang would remain deeply involved in the decision making process throughout the campaign. In comparison, the Japanese government would pursue a more hands-off policy allowing the General who would lead the Japanese expeditionary force to dictate most of the tactics and plans. That was General Iwane Matsui, who ironically was a Pan-Asian nationalist, who was known in the Japanese Army for his love of Chinese culture and things. This would not lead to him being soft on the Chinese however, because he believed that the Chinese government had sold out the Asian peoples through their friendship and dependency on the Western powers. Therefore he believed that the Chinese government had to be broken and that the people of China would thank him for doing so someday. By July of 1937, the scene is set and the leading players have assembled. However, the actual battle wouldn't start until August. The battle would rage until November with the Chinese making some early gains but increasingly being pushed back until they were forced to surrender Shanghai to Japanese occupation. A surreal element that Mr. Harmsen uses effectively is the fact that neither side dared moved troops or overt fighting into the so-called International Settlement. The parts of the city that were under the control of various Western Powers. That said that part of the city wasn't free of the war, as bombs and shells could fall within there and on the edges, stray bullets would claim the lives of the slow or unlucky. Additionally, the residents of the International Settlement opened it to noncombatant Chinese citizens who flooded in a bid to escape the fighting and later the Japanese occupation troops. The residents of the International Settlement would end up providing much of the coverage of the battle as neither side wanted to make an enemy (yet) of the Western powers and their journalists were allowed a lot of access to both armies (Similar to Nanjing that way). Mr. Harmsen makes a lot of use of the journalists who were there and able to provide 1st hand accounts of both armies.

Mr. Harmsen also takes us through each step of the battle, from the inciting incidents and building tension in July, to the deployment of troops in August and the beginning assaults to the fall of Shanghai to the Japanese. We see the tactics and planning used by both armies and how they broke down when contact with the enemy was made. Using a vast array of primary sources, including the diaries and journals of troops, officers, politicians, and civilians and those who were trapped there. Because of this we see the peak of Chinese hope and daring to the fall of having to give up the biggest city in China at the time. We also see the Japanese going from being caught off guard at this expansion of the war to slowly building up the men and machines that would ruthlessly cull the Chinese army. Mr. Harmsen makes the problems faced by the soldiers of China fairly clear here. They lost their air support early and therefore could only really move at night. Meanwhile, the Japanese could move as they wished during the day limited only by the defenses that the Chinese built. That said we also see that the Japanese didn't have everything going their way, as they were constantly having to shift more resources and men into Shanghai just to maintain the battle. In a way, this did achieve some of the results the Chinese were looking for but at a cost, they couldn't really afford to pay as their best divisions were left hollowed-out wrecks by the demands of fighting against the Japanese army. As an American it's a very different view of the Japanese Army I'm presented here through Chinese eyes. The American experience against the Japanese in World War II was of battling a fanatical opponent who did not have nearly enough weight of metal and machinery to overcome their disadvantages as superior American industry and firepower tore them apart. In China, the Japanese were the people who had the metal and machines and were willing to use them to ground China and others underfoot (Part of this is Japan’s lack of natural resources; part of it is the rivalry between the army and navy. You see, during this period the army was ascendant and their machines and material received funding priority. After they were broken by Zhukov at the battle of Khalkhin Gol, the Navy became ascendant and the army stopped getting the funding to develop and build new tanks and such.)

In the west, we tend to focus more on urban battles that took place in Europe, mostly on the Eastern Front (Eh. I’d argue that the Western Front gets more attention in our popular mythos {Name one large urban battle that gets the same attention Stalingrad gets} If you restrain the analysis to urban combat, I’ll grant that. I was referring to the dominance of the Western Front in our popular mythos more generally. {Sure I’ll agree, that’s why I said urban battles in the sentence}). For various reasons the struggles and sacrifices of the Chinese against the Imperial Japanese Army not receiving that much attention. Given how little attention the European section of the war is given in Asia (having served in Asia and spoken to citizens of different Asian nations I can confidently say that they don't focus on it much) I'm not going to apologize for that. However, if you want to learn about a part of World War II that isn't discussed that much in English, this book is a good place to start and gives you an in-depth view of one of the great early battles of the Asian theater. That said it is very focused on Shanghai and sometimes Mr. Harmsen doesn't provide much in outside context and he doesn't discuss their equipment in any great detail, which honestly isn't' enough to drag the grade of the book down. Shanghai 1937 Stalingrad on the Yangtze by Peter Harmsen gets an A.

If you enjoyed this review, consider joining us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads where for as little as a dollar per month you can vote on upcoming reviews and at higher tiers vote on new books and even get sneak peeks at the reviews. For 3 dollars a month you can witness the behind the scenes edits and polite discussion between myself and the editor. All this and more! Next week we move a bit south to the jungles of Burma for Elephant Company. Above everything else? Keep Reading!

Red text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen
Black text is your reviewer Garvin Anders

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 21, 2019 10:17 pm 
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Elephant Company
by Vicki Constantine Croke


“The more I saw of men... The more I liked my elephants.” James Williams page 257

Vicki Constantine Croke has been writing about and following animals for more than two decades now. She has worked on nature documentaries for Disney and the A&E channel, and also wrote the Animal Beat for the Boston Globe as well as provided stories to The New York Times, The Washington Post, The London Sunday Telegraph, Time, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, Gourmet, National Wildlife, Discover magazine and others. She has also in that time written a number of books, from Animal ER in 1999 to Elephant Company in 2015. Elephant Company was published by Random House and is the subject of our review. Let's jump in, shall we?

Elephant Company, when you boil it down, is about two individuals. The first being James Howard Williams aka Elephant Bill. The second being the great bull elephant Bandoola, named by his trainer after a Burmese general famous for resisting the British. Both Man and Elephant would have very intertwined lives as they deal first with the challenges of harvesting Teak from the jungles of Burma and then with the Japanese invasion during the height of World War II. A cross between a biography and a history book, Elephant Company mostly takes place in Burma in between the 1st and 2nd World War and is told mostly from the viewpoint of James Williams. I assume this is because Bandoola being an elephant didn't leave any written material behind for Ms. Croke to use in her research. Since Mr. Williams is the subject of the majority of the book and it's from his own writings that Ms. Croke crafted this book, let's take a look at him.

Mr. Williams was born in Cornwall, Great Britain on the 15th of November 1897. From a young age he often found he preferred the company of animals to people (This is reasonable of him). Although he was never anti-social nor prone to hating his fellow human beings. He was the son of a Cornish Miner who had worked in South Africa and a Welshwoman and would grow up in a sort of upper-middle-class environment. Mr. Williams and his Father were both men from a fairly new class that appeared in the latter days of the British Empire. As transportation grew faster and cheaper, it became possible for young men with little capital to travel to the various dominions and provinces, take up jobs reserved for white educated Englishmen, and make their fortunes (In the long run, this means that not only are the countries pillaged by Great Britain and other imperialist powers stripped of natural resources and often population, they are also denied the backbone of skilled trades, scholars, and civil servants necessary to run the place after the colonial power leaves.). They would then return to England, marry and raise children who would repeat the cycle. As a result, his family was wealthy enough to send him to good boarding schools (not the public schools that Mr. Churchill from Code Name Lise would have attended as they weren't that wealthy or had the right social background) and when he joined the British Army he was made an officer. He would serve in the camel corps in the middle eastern campaigns and transport officer in charge of mules. In this, he was lucky to avoid the nightmares of trench warfare in France, although he may have found his own demons out in the desert. Either way, little is known of his service during World War I and later in Afghanistan, as Mr. Williams never really wrote or seemed to speak of it. We do know that despite his father's offer to set him up with his own farms and property if he would stay in England that Mr. Williams instead took an opportunity to head out to one of the furthest and remotest corners of the then expansive British Empire (Shocking, that!). Mr. Williams accepted a job to head into the jungles of Burma to harvest Teak, where he would be isolated from civilization for months at a time. There are a number of reasons that any man would take up the job, the adventure, the escape and for Mr. Williams, there was one great overriding reason, the chance to work with elephants.

Burma was a poor, remote corner of the Empire, denied even a separate administration for much of its occupation by the British, it would be considered a province of India. The Burmese considered the Indians to be just as foreign as the British and resented the fact that every upper-level post and job that wasn't filled with a white Englishman was instead filled by someone imported from India (And people wonder why it’s a very unpleasant place today…). Which meant that there were few if any options for advancement for the Burmese in their own country. The British in turn were mostly interested in exploiting the natural resources of Burma as cheaply as possible (In fairness, all the other colonies had it pretty bad. Hell, so did the British people in this time period. Being an industrial worker in Great Britain at the time was god awful. I could tell you stories. Let’s just say that paying workers and providing decent living and working conditions was not on the list of priorities, and that’s for the people that the British Empire considered genetically and culturally superior. Imagine how they treated those they deemed inferior…). The greatest of these resources was Teak wood, extremely resistant to termites and other pests. Teak is also a very tough strong wood that stands up insanely well to weathering and time. As such it uses were (and are) legion and the prices it commanded were high. Wild old growth Teak was considered the best wood at the time (there were plantations for Teak trees but they weren't considered as tough as the wild trees) and the only way to transport them through the rugged and dense jungles of the time were elephants. So Mr. Williams would move from camp to camp, attending the health of the uzis (as elephant handlers were called) and the elephants. Here through a combination of practice, book reading, and working with the Burmese uzis, he learned the best practices and care of elephants. He also learned a lot about elephant social structures and behavior, some of which was only confirmed by formal science after the 1980s.

Even before the war, Mr. Williams was often fighting the system he was a part of. Pushing for better treatment of his men and elephants (Good! It was sorely needed!). Back then it was practice to only train wild-caught elephants, despite the fact that by tradition elephants were released in the afternoon, often spent the night with wild elephants and would sometimes come back pregnant. Calves born in the working camps were neglected terribly, with almost 70% of them dying (I don’t… I don’t even know how a non-sociopathic person can let that happen. {The decision was left up to men who had never seen an elephant as they cannot fit into the standard boardroom} Sure but I mean the people on the ground with the elephants. Still, there is a mental image. Hostile takeover by an angry elephant coming through the wall like the koolaid man.). If that wasn't bad enough, the process of catching and training a wild elephant was one of torture (Yes, it is morally equivalent. Fight me.). The elephant would be herded into a pen and tormented (up to the point of stabbing them with spears) and abused until the elephant would allow a human on it's back and submit to the man's rule. Mr. Williams was able to put an end to this by training the calves of already trained elephants since these elephants were already used to having humans around, the training was a lot more humane and less expensive. Bandoola was one of those elephants. Born to a captive female elephant, Bandoola was cared for carefully by a Burmese elephant handler named Po Toke. Believing that Bandoola would grow up into a great elephant, both Mr. Williams and Po Toke would work together to protect and educate Bandoola in this period and the young bull became one of the break out stars of the school, being trained to be able to head back to camp solo and grab specific named tools for his handlers (See the smartest of dogs can do this if the toys they’re trained with are not very far away, but elephants…). He was also able to lobby successfully for the establishment of elephant hospitals to care for elephants in their illnesses and injuries. He also lobbied for similar treatment for his men and spent time in native villages providing what medical services he could and there was always a need for it because infection and disease were rampant in the jungle (So much Malaria.{Elephant Bill contracted it at least half a dozen times![Mother of God. Praise be to quinone I guess…]}). The book covers this in great detail and provides a good amount of basic information on how elephants were trained and medically treated back then. Ms. Croke doesn't write as much about the native Burmese and their interactions with Mr. Williams but does show him lobbying for them to be treated as human beings and given responsibility and avenues of advancement. This perhaps showcases one of the tragedies of humanity that even terrible systems can have legions of good men and women working themselves to the bone to make the systems work and be just a little less harmful.

We also get a good view of Mr. Williams family life, his courtship, and marriage to Susan Rowland, who had come to Burma to care for her Uncle. Who himself was a bit of a character (the book abounds with colorful characters made even more vivid by the fact that they were real people) although I rolled my eyes at the fact that he called all his nieces Ms. Poppy so he wouldn't have to bother learning their names (Wow…You know, if I had an uncle who couldn’t bother to remember my name, I wouldn’t travel to Burma to care for them in what I can only imagine is their crotchety and unpleasant dotage. It would be one thing if said uncle couldn’t remember, but if they simply can’t be bothered to try…{Even if it meant living in luxury with access to a first class lab and spending your nights being courted by wealthy, attractive young men/women? Because that’s more or less what she got out of it minus the lab [I can see the appeal but… Ugh {and they call me a Puritan}]}). Then we get to the war, as Japan declares war on the Western Allies and begins to sweep into their Asian colonies. First, we have the evacuation, as Mr. Williams must gather his family (also including a young son) and flee to India ahead of the seemingly invincible Japanese. This trek is only made possible by elephants, as Mr. Williams was able to use them to carry goods and people out of the warzones through paths that jeeps and trucks could not follow. Then we have Mr. Williams rejoining the British Army and founding No 1. Elephant Company with the mission to keep elephants out of the hands of the Japanese and to use the Elephants to provide infrastructure and transport to the British Army (Good. Because as bad as the British were, the Japanese were so much worse. What with vivisecting people for funzies.). Perhaps the greatest use of the Elephants was their ability to build incredibly sturdy bridges at speeds that rival mechanized construction and do so in the heart of the jungle. Although Mr. Williams would have to fight to convince the Royal Engineers that. Building a couple bridges that they couldn't would end up proving his point. Here Bandoola comes into his own, as the prized elephant of Elephant company, working to construct bridges and lead the elephant herds into new ventures. Including on one great trek leading an elephant herd along a hand-hacked elephant stairwell up a sheer cliff. The book also covers the postwar period as Mr. Williams and his family says goodbye to Burma shortly before the nation achieves the independence that it's people had desired for too long. However, this part of the book is the shortest.

Elephant Company gives us a window into a vanished world and a look into a forgotten corner of World War II. While you'll rarely see much discussion of the Burmese campaign, it was where the largest British Commonwealth Army fought a large and powerful Japanese Army into a standstill and then pushed them back. Tens of thousands of British, American, Chinese, Australian and New Zealand troops fought with about a million Indian soldiers against over three hundred thousand Japanese soldiers and tens of thousands of their own allies (And unwilling conscripts from occupied territory.). Mr. Williams or Elephant Bill as he was called in the press performed a vital service in not just building bridges and roads but in transporting refugees and protecting his beloved elephants from both the Japanese and Allied armies. If you have any interests in the interwar period in Asia, or the Burmese campaign or even just an interest in elephants this is a great book to look at. Ms. Croke heavily sources this from Mr. Williams and his wife Susan's writing, preserved by their eldest son; and her research shows on every page (there's also a thick notes section in the back [Which as we all know Frigid just loves.]). So I am going to be giving Elephant Company by Vicki Constantine Croke an A. I hope y'all will check it out and enjoy it.

Thank you for reading, if you enjoyed this review, consider joining us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads a 1$ a month allows you to vote on what books will be reviewed in the next month and for 3$ a month you get previews of the review and the raw unfiltered opinions of my mad editor. Find out why his text is red! Revel in my attempts to just review a book while sparring with him.

Next week, we head back up to China for a wider look at what the nation went through, as we take a look at China's World War II 1937-1945 Forgotten Ally by Rana Mitter. See you next week and as always... Keep Reading!

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"it takes two sides to end a war but only one to start one. And those who do not have swords may still die upon them." Tolken


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