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PostPosted: Wed Jun 11, 2014 11:51 pm 
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Okay, I've been chewing on this awhile and decided to just go ahead and get it done. Now for the record this isn't a Let's Read. I honestly don't have the patience for that. This is a set of book reviews.

Let's do the grading system real fast.

A+ = There is nothing wrong with this book. It is perfectly written, all the characters are note perfect, the plot is amazing. This is the book that Jesus, Buddah and the Monkey King would write if they got together to write books for us lowly unworthy mortals. Someday I will find this book and then I can rest.

A = Great book, the best of the best that mere mortals can hope to do. Finding these books is a good day.

A- = This book has some minor problems but is a great book that will not fail to entertain.

B+ = Really entertaining and good, but with issues.

B = Really good book, I wish this was the standard.

B- = Better then average, but you could have done better.

C+ = Above average.

C = Average.

C- = A good effort but a number of fuck ups hold it back.

D+ = Please attend a writing class. No don't keep practicing, get to a writing class, you need help.

D = Substandard. Weep for the trees that sarificed their palp in the vain hopes of being part of a good book and were instead made into this.

D- = I NEED AN ADULT! I NEED AN ADULT!

F = NEVER WRITE AGAIN! This book has no redeeming value and the writer has done everything wrong. There is no F+ or F-. Once you get past D- you're just an awful human being.

Touched by an Alien, by Gini Koch.

A man suffers for his mistakes. This is a universal constant that I do not dispute, nor do I really even dislike. That said, attempting to be just and fair shouldn't be a mistake guys! This book was recommended to me by a Barnes and Noble employee, who I found out later, recommended it to me because she remembered seeing me attempt to read Twilight. I say attempt to read because I only got 10 chapters into the book and decided to try something else, anything else to pass the time.

TbA is a sci-fi romance that gets by on massive amounts of pandering to it's reader. We're talking oil tanker amounts here. In this case the main character, one Katherine Katt is a witness to an alien attack and through aggressive action manages to foil it. By killing the poor bastard being controled by an alien parasite with her pen. She is then scooped up by a flying squad of pretty young men in pretty sharp suits and whisked away to fantasy world. There are two sets of aliens here, one a band of parasites who feed on negative emotions and latch onto people experience them. They tend change the body of their host into some sort of raving monster (expect for a single class of super parasite of course) and go on rampages. They can hook up to any mammal, survive the void of space and atmosphereic rentry. They can however be killed with enough firepower or when they first inhabit a host (then you can kill them with a pen, or a butterknife I suppose if you have no writing tools handy).

Opposing them are a bunch of superhuman aliens from Alaph Centauri who all look like supermodels, are super fast (like flash fast) and have two hearts (because of course they couldn't go fast without two hearts, don't you know anything about SCIENCE!!!). Of course two of them fall for Katherine, who must now face the agony of chosing between two really good looking men with superpowers who think she is the most awesome thing since buttered toast was invented.

To be fair, Gini is an equal oppotunity panderer! The girl aliens are all super hot, super smart (we're talking NASA brains here guys), super nice and really want to meet nice human boys who are into science stuff. Yep, that's right, happy cheerleaders who want to bone nerds and then talk about your science project. So... Something for everyone I guess?

Oh there's also this side issue of saving all life on Earth from extinction. Don't worry though Katherine has all the brains we need! Her job in this story is to figure out everything! I mean everything! There is no important problem that she doesn't solve usually within an hour of hearing about it. All while telling us how dull, dumb and average looking she is. This isn't aggravating at all. Additionally some of her solutions make me want to rip out other people's hair. For example, one parasite looks like a slug, so we kill it with salt! EXPECT YOU TOLD ME THE PARASITE HOSTS WERE MAMMALS! MAMMALS DO NOT DIE FROM SALT LIKE SLUGS! Oh this parasite looks like a snake, we'll hypnotize it with rock music! Expect snakes aren't actually hyonotized by music guys, they're following the motion of the music player. Even then, it's not actually a snake because you told me the parasites only inhabit MAMMALS! A SNAKE IS NOT A MAMMAL!

Sorry. Sorry. But yeah, Katherine and her rather simplistic solutions that magically solve everything is a big problem. But don't worry guys, she's not perfect, she can't cook and drinks to much Coke (how is she in such great shape then? Nevermind!) to the point that every character makes jokes about her Coke fetish. That horse is reduced to paste. Now there is smut in this. Smut in and of itself isn't a problem, although it's not what I really want in a book. In this case? The smut is boring. You hear that smut, you're boring. I'm bored. BORED! I ended up skipping ahead. The romance is incredibly unrealistic and frankly rather heavy handed. The aliens such balent wish fulfillment I can't begin to describe it all. That said, the characters are consistent and... Still a better romance then Twilight. I think the big problem here is a demographic mix up. I'm clearly not the person this was written for. That said Frankly I think you can do better for sci-fi romance. I pray to God you can do better for sci-fi romance.

Touched by an Alein gets D+. Avoid this book.

That said, I feel that Gini is owed money by the Coke Cola Corporation. Because after this book? I really wanted a Coke. Clearly she missed her calling as a marketer... Wait, that's Katherine's day job... SON OF A BITCH!

The Pope Who Quit by Jon Sweeney

This is a history book about the first Pope to resign his post.

Image
NO! Not him!

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This Guy!

Pope Celestine V, born Pete Morrone, a hermit, founder of a religious order of hermits. Managed to get himself elected Pope by accident in 1294! By writing a letter to the Cardinals to get the lead out and pick a new Pope already...

Be careful what you ask for.

He would serve as Pope for 6 months before resigning. Never once did he step foot in Rome, serving as Pope from Naples the whole time. An act that rocked the Catholic Church to it's very bedrock and would pave the way for Benedict's own resignation. This book discusses the times that produces Pope Celestine V and his early life, the issues the Church was going through and the political times and people who were players in this drama. We get a look at the intense religious feelings and desires of the age, the corruption and failings of the Church and the conflicting desires of the Church's Princes. The conflict within spiritual orders between those who want great rigor in their lives and those who seek liberalization and how this all feeds into this Papacy and it's failure. This book was really interesting and enlightening not just about the very brief Papacy but the events that led up to it. Although there's weak coverage of the aftermath in my opinion.

If you're interested in the Middle Ages, odd stories of history, the Catholic Church or any combination of the last 3, then you're interested in this book.

The Pope Who Quit gets a B+

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 01, 2014 7:46 pm 
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Heartwood, by Freya Robertson.

I imagine the HHBB on Skype will be pleased to hear I have finally finished this book. I have certainly waxed on about it enough. Heartwood is a book of epic fantasy, taking place in a religiously unified world where everyone worships the Arbor, a tree that is connected to the creation spirit of the world. Guarded by the Militas an order of celebate (but not chaste) male and female knights, who also take up the duties of trying to maintain peaceful borders between several nations who are at the best next thing to actual war. At 519 pages you would think the book hefty enough, but you would saddly be wrong. Stuffed in this book is dozens of characters, many battles, 5 grand quests, 3 romances, 2 massive invasions, and one epic revealation about the nature of tree which lies at the center of this world religion. Additionally there are characters who will come to grapple with their own self worth and true natures, the hidden events of their past coming to haunt and the idea that they may have devoted their lives to a mistaken belief. None of these events, characters or stories are given enough space to really unfold or the grounding to deliver the kind of impact that this story deserves. In shot, Freya Robertson is a good writer, but she is in to much of a damn hurry to develop her interesting stories (plural because Ms. Robertson, you were telling several stories here).

Robertson keeps jumping form quest to quest often with awkward breaking points. We don't get to know anyone expect the leaders of the quests (and even then we aren't given enough time with them expect for maybe 2 characters,). This is a shame because even the supporting characters are hinted at having interesting stories and features and profound relationships with their leaders. However when they suffer and die, the impace is much less because I can't even keep all them straight much less have any connection to them. In fact we have one supporting character, a female knight who goes on a quest with her fellows to help save the world. See's strange and interesting lands, is captured by savages (who frankly are elf stands in with their pointy ears filed off, see more below), horroribly abused but shows bravery and determination. This woman escapes from under the eyes of her capturers and from the middle of hostile lands alone and unarmed finds her way home! This is an amazing story... Which is mentioned in 2 lines of dialogue.

You see my problem.

The world itself is steched in some what thinly as well (because Robertson is trying to tell me so much). In it you will be introduced to at least 4 cultures (5 if I count the Militas) 2 of them Laxony and Hanaire bluntly blurred together for me. But that might be because I didn't get much time with them. Although Chonrad the noble from Laxony does a good job representing his culture all by himself (he's the closest thing the book has to a main character though). That might be a good thing because frankly Robertson shows me, she doesn't really understand how societies work (I'm not trying to be insulting here but...) when she does try to detail her societies they don't work! This is a common problem with fantasy and science fiction writers and it's a serious one when the average fantasy/sci-fi writer is actually churning out societies en masse.

For example the Wulfengars. This is a fuedal society where ownership of title and land is passed from father to son. Women have no property rights and are the servants of men. They are short, hairy, close mouthed and prone to hitting things (I almost think that they were dwarves in a 1st draft that got rewritten, this is not a problem, changing dwarves and elves to humans would actually make a number of fantasy series easier to read). Often enbroiled in fueds with their neighbors and they love raiding the Laxons and Hainires. Wulfengars tend to not believe in marriage and just grab whatever woman strikes their passing fancy.

NO! FLAG ON THE FIELD!

Look, I got to point out the basic flaw of this arrangment. If you don't have some form of informal/formal relationship where you're the only person sleeping with the girl, how do you know it's your son you're passing the title to? There's a reason most hunter gathers don't have formal marriage ceremonies and most societies where you own land to. Part of it is to ensure inhertence is passed on to the right people (which isn't an issue in most hunter gather socieites, there's no property to pass on!). In the real world the solution most Patrilineal socieities adopted was to make women the wards of their male relatives in some manner or another. Or to put it bluntly, in a society like this women are the property of their fathers, brothers or husbands. There are levels here of course. In Medieval Europe women could and did hold property, run business and have noble office and titles. But there are also other times and places where thier sex disqualified them.

Look I know most of you won't give a damn about stuff like this but I did frankly spend alot of time studying how societies workd and how they formed. So this stuff is like biting into a steak and finding a core of sand instead of good red meat.

Speaking of groups that were likely made human in later drafts there are the Komis. A group of people who tend to have golden eyes, be fairly pretty and live deep in the forests in cities built in the treetops... Oh they also have special green magic powers that let them grow plants and heal people. They're also not very nice people, which is an interesting change... But again doesn't have the space to really get into. In the final battle I find myself asking why they're there? Their presence is almost a throwaway to the real battle (I'm not going to spoil who the real bad guys are, because that's the best part of the book!) and they're handwaved away. Honestly? I tend to feel anytime you have to handwave away an invading army you've made a mistake. You could have cut out the Komis invasion and not lost a damn thing in this story.

Honstly Heartwood feels like it should have been 2 or even 3 books. I'm going to point out David Eddings spent 3 books on a single quest and 2 books on the aftermath for the Belgariad. Which worked because I remember those characters and that story years later. I have a feeling that besides Chonrad and Beata, I'll have trouble remembering the characters of Heartwood. Although the ones Robertson does spend time on are done really well. Beata and Chonrad and their conflicts both internal and external are very well done! I was very sympethic to Beata and felt that Chonrad was a great leader and an all around good guy. It's just a shame that there wasn't time or space for the others...

Heartwood gets a C, the premise and the characters that actually get to grow and move in this story keep it from being a C-. However the damnable rush, poor grasp of society and such means that average is the best this book can ever hope to be. Freya Robertson in the unlikely event you ever read this, I think you're a good writer and you have some interesting stories but you should slow down and tell me these stories.

Persian Fire by Tom Holland

This is a another history book. This time about the Persian Empire and the Greek cities states and the reoccuring conflicts between them. You may remember the Persian Empire as the bad guys from 300. Well Mr. Holland would like to introduce to them properly. In this book you'll read about the foundation of the Empire, the coming of Cyrus the Great who conqueared not just 1, not just 2 but 3 empires to build the first great superpower of human history. A world bestriding colossus, that brougth religious tolerance, local autonomy and rather enlightened rule... Not really the armies of Mordor here.

You also meet Darius the man who if he doesn't have the biggest pair of brass balls in history, should at least be in the conversation. This is the guy who kills Cyrus' son and with the blood still on his hands turns around and yells,

"I have saved the Empire! This isn't the son of Cyrus at all but an evil wizard who killed him and took his form to rule over us all as an evil tyrant!"

And makes it stick. You have to admire the sheer gall of the man here. There are other examples to, but I start listing them all this is going to go from being a book review to a essay on how awesome Darius is. We also get to look at how the Persian Empire is set up and run, the tribute system, the roads (admittly nice roads for a bunch of non-Romans :wink: ) and the messenger service that is right up there with the Pony Express. Since I didn't know much about the Persian Empire this was a welcome thing.

We also talk about those unruly Greeks. We get a front side seat to the transformation of Athens (where the last tryant is stabbed to death by a pair of angry young men because he tried to break up their romance... So he could sleep with one of them. And you thought Republican Gay Sex Scandals were interesting). The creation of the Spartian military state and a look what was necessary for the Spartians to go so far into batshit crazy land to do it. We also get a sense of just how hard it was for all these Greeks to work together... Even has a giant Persian Army is storming Greece itself and burning down Athens. The cast of characters is vast and interesting with plenty of blood, lies, honor, sex, war, terrorism and more to go around. This is one of those books for people who keep saying history is boring (that's a statement that honestly tells me the person doesn't actually know much history).

Persian Fire gets a A- and I hope to be able to review Tom Holland's other book the Rubicon sooner or later.

Next up is Shadow Ops: Control Point... Oh Boy.

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 01, 2014 8:01 pm 
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I've really been enjoying your reviews thus far. Not just because they're in-depth critiques, similar to Havoc's style of movie & music reviews, but because they bear your perspective on all of them.

I look forward to reading your take on the Rubicon. I now have it on my list after CynCat suggested it, and not just because I'll want it to be armed for the next time in the Dark Ages game that Marcus runs his mouth about how awesome the Roman Republic was to Matthias.

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 22, 2014 9:29 pm 
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This is the 3rd time I've tried to write this review without something fucking me over. I will not be deterred! I will not be stopped! I will write this review!

THIS IS!
Shadow Ops: Control Point

Shadow Ops: Control Point is the debut novel of Myke Cole. Myke Cole himself was an Army officer, a contractor and federal employee before writing this and draws deeply on his experiences... To write a book about a heroic Army officer defying the evil government. It's gonna be a thing guys.

Shadow Ops takes place in the year 20*coughmumblecough* and things have changed dramatically! Magic (or something sorta like magic but not really!) has returned to the world... In a kinda half ass way if you're a shadowrun fan (look I'm sorry, but I didn't see anyone turn into a Troll and I sure as hell didn't see any Dragons run for President in this book!) but it'll do for government work. See, a small percentage of people have started developing inborn abilities that are... Well... Magical. These inborn abilities are for the most part classifed into catorgories called schools. There are the traditional greek elementalists (fire, earth, air and water) and the healers with the ability to mend or rend flesh. They're the "legal" schools (I'll get back to this). Then there are the illegal or probe schools. Negramancy (aka rot magic), Whispering (animal control), Elemental summoning, Necronmancy and Portals. Displaying any of these inborn abilities you have no choice (expect whispering) in having is breaking the law and you will be hunted down by military magic users for your crimes (of existing). The legal schools have it better! You have a choice. You can join the Army... Or be hunted down and killed. Wait what was that? Join the ARMY!?!

NO! No! no! Nope! Uh Huh! Not happening! FLAG ON THE PLAY! NO FIRST DOWN!

Let me explain it like this. You got people who can now fly, control the weather, summon fire, instant create massive earthworks or heal massive injuries with no scars and you think the other armed services are just gonna meekly let the Army have a monoploy over them? What you don't think the guy who can weather wouldn't be useful for carrier ops? Or water control wouldn't be handy for submarine ops? Do I even have to touch on the healers? The Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force would rather see the Pentagon burn to ashes before they let the fucking Army be the only ones with this resource. And don't tell me that SOC (Supernatural Operations Command) is a joint service venture. They use Army ranks, Army terminology, refer themselves as Army and answer to Army officers! This is a crack in the old Suspension of Disbelief but honestly I doubt anyone with any military experience would catch it. So we'll let Cole unrealistically and blatantly favor his old service. And no Cole, giving us Marines the bone of the Supression Lances isn't good enough.

Anyways... Moving on.

The book opens onto school shooting. A magic school shooting! Which honestly is well done. It shows us what's it like to confront magic users, even unskilled ones flailing about in a panic. Two kids with no training in their magic powers manage to destroy US Army Kiowa helicoptor (the use of Kiowas, Blackhawks and Apaches tells me this isn't that far in the future) and nearly fatally wound at least 1 Soldier despite being confronted by a full team of armed men and an Army trained Socerer. The scene conveys the sheer chaoticness of combat and the danger of magic users effectively, efficiently and avoids the usual sin of starting a book with massive infodumping. I liked it!

The problem is the opener also introduces us to our main character Lt. Oscar Britton. Before I tear into him, let me mention what I like about Oscar... I like that he isn't a generic white cookie cutter protagionist. He's instead a black man who is struggling with situation while trying to keep from being an emo crybaby. Saddly he quickly becomes the living example of why butterbars are usually not beloved by us lowly enlisted men. No. That's not fair. Lt. Britton is worse then any butterbar, 1st Lt Platoon leader I've ever had to deal with (keep in mind as a Cpl I didn't have much contact with even Lt.s and frankly I liked it that way!). You see your average USMC Lt can at least MAKE UP HIS FUCKING MIND! Lt. Britton waffles and flips more often then waffle being juggled by a Vegas showmen! HE! JUST! CAN'T! MAKE! UP! HIS! FUCKING! MIND! Half way through the book I didn't even care what he did anymore just as long as he fucking picked something! ANYTHING ASSHOLE, JUST SOMETHING! ARRRRGGGGHHHH!

*Deep breaths*

After the battle while in the hospital keeping an eye on his injured man, Britton manifests an illegal ability. He's thinking with Portal. And Glados ain't having it! Oscar finds himself teleporting inbetween our world and someplace else. A very dangerous someplace else that ends up killing two people (one his asshole abusive father, the other a poor bastard of a cop just trying to do his job. In 30 pages he'll change his mind between flight and surrend about 3 or so times. Which means he flip flops every 10 pages... He doesn't quite keep to this average but damn it feels like it. Well Oscar is caught and instead of being killed like everyone assumes happens to illegals, he secreted away to a top secret base in the very someplace else he's been gating to! Where an International Base has been set up to study the secrets of this alternate world full of strange creature (Rocs! Goblins! Talking Demon Horses of Doom! We're talking the good weird shit man!) called the Source. As it's believed to be the source of magic (clearly the name was created in committe). The base feels like it was lifted right out of Afganistan or Iraq, complete with using natives (in this case goblins) as civilian workers who aren't liked or trusted by most of the military personale. Due to other goblin tribes constantly attacking the base. It's very well done.

Here we find out that one of the kids from the school shooting was given the same deal as Oscar. Only she's more gung ho about it. Oscar has doubts (then he won't, then he will, then he won't). What follows is a training montage which is actually pretty good, course the trainer is a pure grade asshole! A hard drinking Warrent Officer who has just enough magical ability to suppress other's abilities (if you have magic you can suppress someone else's magic, but then you can't do anything else, this is a neat addition to the magic system and I have to applaud Cole for it). See Oscar is a now an unpaid contractor (well, he's being paid but his wages are being garnished at 100%) who can quit at any time but then they'll trigger the bomb they've planted in his chest. And you thought the exit clauses in your job contract were bad right?

Through the course of his training Oscar meets magic users who are for the system, neutral or deeply against. Some just refuse to cooperate (the No No Crew) others intend to escape and kill their way to the top (you'll know her when you meet her). Others are just trying to muddle through. This part... Really kinda of drags. It's not awful and only really becomes noticable on a 2nd read through but it does kinda drag and get info-dumpy. The other characters aren't really fleshed out very well either. We simply don't get to spend time with them, instead it's all about Oscars rather tedious waffling and doubts. Which makes me grit my teeth. It's also here we get some scraps of world info. India, Russia and Japan all have their own Magic-Corps who are on the base. China has it's own system and doesn't appear on base at all.

The European Caliphate (this was another thing that broke my SOD, I mean really? Euro Caliphate? In under 20 years? Seriously?) outlaws all magic... Which leads to the problem of how a very small minority in Europe who have thrown the best weapon possible under the bus is somehow dominating an entire continent? Plus even if Muslims became the econmic/politically dominate class in Europe... I don't see them all uniting. The Turks in Germany don't share anything besides a religion with the North Africans in France. Not a language, common hertiage, nothing. A turkish dominated Germany isn't going to pursue union with a North African dominated France, or a South Asian dominated British or Somali dominated Finland... And I'm thinking to hard about this aren't I?

But the important thing was that all Muslim powers it seems ban all magic or at least all the Muslim extremists. Because Muslim. Which we are still fighting. Where was I?

Oh yes!

More fun is the section of the book where Oscar and company go on missions! This is the section where Oscar waffles over to being pro part of the system in the idea that he can help people and protect them from dangerous things. Cole does a good job showing us those things and is rather inventive in how people could use these powers but frankly injects tensions between asshole mcdrunk trainer and Oscar that doesn't really need to be there but hey we got to get Oscar to change his mind (AGAIN!) somehow. This leads to daring escape or cascade of major fuck ups that will get many many innocent people killed but hey Oscar and his small band of magic users and goblin buddies now get to be free!

Hooray?

This book isn't bad... But the main character is deeply unlikeable! He's self righteous despite never being able to make up his mind on anything! Any sin of his is suppose to be forgiven while the mistakes and sins of others are deep character flaws! And worse? He gets smug. Lt Britton What The Fuck Do You Have to be Smug about? The end of the book is also somewhat sudden and choppy with a plot twist that's not very well foreshadowed. Plus I hated Oscar's speech at the end. I really did. I mean really did. The magic system is good, but is somewhat brought down for me because it feels like a simplifed version of Larry Correia's Hard Magic system, which is an incredibly complex and interesting system but I won't discuss it here.

Shadow Ops: Control Point gets a C-

It's an interesting story but the cracks in the SOD and the fact that I have to spend so long with a character I would love to set on fire with my mind drags it down. Still this is Myke Cole's first book and I have every hope that he will improve. That said... I'm never reading this book again.

You know what that's two rather underperforming books in a row... I'm gonna go read Lost Fleet!

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 24, 2014 4:16 pm 
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Lost Fleet didn't really impress me, honestly. Read the Destroyermen series, that's some cool shit.

I seem to recall Kris meeting and liking Myke Kole. I know she's mentioned him.

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 24, 2014 9:09 pm 
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Josh wrote:
Lost Fleet didn't really impress me, honestly. Read the Destroyermen series, that's some cool shit.


I would need to find this Destroyermen series first. To be fair I did find one book (3rd? 4th in the series I think?) and... The back of the book really didn't grab me. I mean a single WWII destroyer is suppose to be the salavation of mankind? You know at least in the animes the Japanese send a Battleship with a fuck off Death Star Cannon. But if that's a recommendation I'll put it on the list.

Quote:
I seem to recall Kris meeting and liking Myke Kole. I know she's mentioned him.


I'm sure he's an alright guy, but he wrote an awful protagionist. That said my book reviews are not meant to be moral judgements of the writers. Unless they get an F. If they get an F they are awful human beings after all.

Anyways, speaking of recommenations, I feel I should lay out some ground rules.

1: I am not on a quest to find the worst books out there and read them. If we all already know a book is bad, then don't bother. So no Twilight or Mein Kamp. I literally have nothing to add to the discussion anyways.

2: Not a big fan of parody books so stuff like 50 shades of green isn't happening either.

3: Must be a book I would actually read. Sci-Fi? Fantasy? Western? Historical? Political? Yes! Romance? Soap Opera books? Mysteries? Not so much.

I will likely review books I've already read before but there's a stack of books I haven't done yet first.

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 25, 2014 3:37 pm 
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Okay, here's the score on the Destroyermen series: it's about an old four-stacker destroyer that gets sent across to an alternate universe where the dino-killer never landed. Subsequently the human race never came along, though a pair of other sentient species arose, these lemur-like mammals (who our heroes end up allying with) and voracious bipedal lizards with a taste for conquest and a habit of eating their prisoners.

The tech level when they arrive is roughly eighteenth century for the lizards (a convoy of East India company ships passed through, the Grik captured some and copied their lines) and worse than that for the lemurs (they're still using what amounts to ballista when the Walker shows up.)

So on the one hand, the Walker outguns everything else that's already there. On the other hand, it was being pursued by a Japanese cruiser when it got caught in the rift and said cruiser also made the trip.

Standard 'our heroes are facing impossible odds and must overcome them with plucky ingenuity' stuff.

The later books are kind of uneven in spots, but worth it for me just in that I like a lot of the core characters and seeing where they end up.

So yeah, the series is fairly aware of the limitations of a destroyer, particularly a four stacker.

As for Kole, I wasn't making a judgment or anything. Lots of nice people can write work that we don't think is very good. Most people's first novels tend to be questionable self-insertion stories.

Oh, and another recommendation- have you looked at James Lovegrove's Age of series? Fantasy/sci fi depending on the book (it's not a continuous series, none of the novels actually tie into the others.) My personal favorite was Age of Odin, which is more on the fantasy side. Age of Aztec (sci fi on that one) was pretty good, and I can't think of any of the novels that were out and out bad, though none of the three novellas really stuck out.

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2014 10:11 pm 
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The Lost Fleet: Dauntless

AKA: The review where I disagree with Josh!

tLFD by Jack Campbell is a retired navy officer (bloody hell this is going to turn into a theme isn't it?) who turned his hand to writing Space Opera books. For those of you who don't know, Space Opera is a sub set of science fiction, focusing on dramatic adventures in space often on a grand scale. Basically, think stuff like Star Wars (or for my truly nerdy brothers and sisters Farscape) and you're pretty much in the right ballpark. Space Opera tends towards the soft side of science fiction (soft vs hard is the scale to determine how much the story conforms to our modern understanding of physics vs how much magic pretending to be technology is in the story) but there are examples of Hard Sci-Fi Space Opera, they're just rare.

Lost Fleet isn't Hard Sci-Fi but it brings a bit of hardness to the table so to speak. But I should actually get to the damn book right?

The Lost Fleet is about Captain John Geary, a man out of time. See 100 years ago, the convoy he was escorting was ambushed. Captain Geary turned and to buy the rest of the ships under his command time to escape, attacked his enemies (a rival human space power known as the Syndics) and went down fighting saving everyone else in the process. Well, actually he survived, in a damaged escape pod that held him stasis for 100 years. 100 years where his own state The Alliance remained locked in a war to the death with the Syndicates. Captain Geary is rescued by an Alliance fleet about to launch a crippling surprise attack on the enemy capital and end the war! Huhhhh Expect not. The fleet has walked into an ambush, the Admiral is dead and the last thing he did was give Captain Geary command of the fleet and ask him to get everyone home. And that's when the story starts.

Geary soon learns that fighting the enemy is the (ridiculously) easy part. The Alliance navy taken by surprise and starting the war on the back foot was desperate for ways to keep up morale. They needed heroes, legends, tales to inspire and examples to follow. So they took the missing Captain John Geary and turned him into "Black" Jack Geary, SuperCaptain! Hero! Demigod! Pinnacle of Virtue! Conveniently not here to disagree with Command! That legend would take on a life on it's own and become practically a religious belief. A religious belief that Captain John Geary doesn't and in fact can't share. A religious belief that haunts him and is at time his strongest asset and at others the heaviest mill stone around his neck.

Worse is the changes to his fleet in the century since his *cough* glorious charge. The war has turned into a devouring maelstrom of combat on a scale not possible for people who only live on one planet to grasp. As such both sides are short of everything. Short of ships, short of training, short of experienced officers and NCOs who could fix that problem. Basically the only things they seem to have a lot of are weapons and men and women willing to charge at the enemy no matter the odds for a slim chance of killing someone before being blown out of the void. Geary has to convince these men and women that fighting as disciplined unit in a formation isn't some strange coward way of war but is in fact the key to victory. He also has to do this while convincing a head of an allied state (who is also a Senator in his own state which honestly seems strange to me, this like having the Prime Minister of Holland be a US Senator) that he's not some kind of
demagogue out to win more glory on a quest for personal power. Because his life was complicated enough simply being trapped behind enemy lines with a military unit that has turned into a professional soldiers nightmare of a how a military unit works.

Now, like I mentioned, I served 4 years in the United States Marine Corps but I'm hardly God's gift to warfare. But even I can see the problem with the idea that the Captains of the fleet are all suppose to vote on their course of action and the majority rules (Why even have admirals anymore?). Staff officers don't exist, the manpower needs of the war have sucked them all away to line officers positions. No one really knows how to fight in a formation, which is harder then you might think because Campbell did decide to interject some realism here. While FTL is a thing, all combat takes place at Slower then Light Speed because FLT combat is impossible. Additionally there are no FTL sensors. You have to depend on light speed sensors. This might not sound like problem... Until you realize that in such an environment if an enemy fleet (oh for example) were to drop into orbit around Neptune... We wouldn't see the event until 4 hours later. 4 hours in which that enemy fleet is moving in an unknown direction and speed. This makes space combat somewhat problematic. Fighting in formations that are light minutes across (Oh did I mention there are no FTL comms either? So it might take 15 or 20 minutes for your orders to reach someone... In the middle of a shooting match. This is hell for any officer who wants to retain direct control). Now it's certainly possible, but it takes very specialized training to do (which makes sense) and the skill was lost given the heavy causalities of war. In short, these people fight like Hollywood knights only they're using weapons that could vaporize entire cities.

Luckly Geary was trained before the war.

Geary is a wonderfully done character, he doubts and worries enough to seem human but resists those doubts and fears enough that you're rolling your eyes at Emo McAngst Broodypants. He's confident and capable in his skills but victory is more a result of him being the only one with those skills. Captain Geary is not presented as a tactical or strategic genius. He's just a professional in an environment where no one else has had the training and education he has had. I really like him. Which is a good thing because the book is relentlessly in first person and the only view point we get is Geary's. Which does help increase the uncertainly but I do wish I could have see inside some of the other character's heads. I also like Co-President Rione, the allied head of state accompanying the fleet (which is a multi-national unit now) who is both ally and problem for Geary. As she doesn't trust him and worries about him overthrowing the Republican government of the Alliance and installing himself as a dictator. Rione comes off as clever and capable in her own right, a person who is against our main character but with good reason. Which keeps this book from devolving into Geary is always right and everyone who doesn't like him is a moronic asshole (although we have plenty of those, there's always at least one in every group right?).

I do have problems with this book though. First off, I have problems buying the idea of a industrial Total War that lasted 100 years with no long term truces or cease fires. Even pre-industrial conflicts like the 30 years war or the famed 100 year war itself had long stretches of time (decades for the 100 year war) where both sides maintained truces and such. That you can maintain a stalemate for a 100 years while pouring continents worth of metal and men into the fire with no break seems... Well impossible to me. Additionally at some point you would think someone would break down and just start talking or that in a century of constant conflict to the point where there's not even enough time to fully train your officer corps, one side would seize the advantage by accident at least! The story and the characters are good enough to carry me through that, but it still detracts from my enjoyment.

Another problem is the combat. Which is to easy and well... Kinda slow and a bit boring. It's very realistic given that Campbell has refused to use Star Trek style FTL comms and sensors but it doesn't really make for pulse pounding combat. It kinda makes me wish we could drag Myke Cole in here because the combat scenes were one part of his book that were fairly well done. This means if you aren't interested in politics, character relationships or in John Geary... You won't like this book. On one hand, I like Campbell's grasp of what the technology actually means on the other hand, I really wish for some actual excitement in the battle scences, which play out as Geary watching things that happened minutes to hours ago and waiting for other things to happen, while radioing in orders that most of us aren't going to really understand. For example:

"Formation Fox Five Five, increase down angle at two zero at time three eight."

I have no clue what is being said here, other then Formation so and so, do something else in 38 minutes. Which isn't really pulse pounding is it? All well. Despite that I enjoyed the book very much and it is currently the best fiction book to show up in this review (I hope it doesn't hold the title long, I'd really like to see more awesome fiction show up here).

The Lost Fleet Dauntless gets a B- A good book, but combat and the problems buying the setting are holding it down. Still I enjoyed it enough to get the sequel Lost Fleet Fearless, which I will be reviewing next! Breaking the fiction-non fiction pattern because you should learn to expect the unexpected.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 01, 2014 9:18 am 
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The thing is, I do appreciate the attempts at accurately modeling what real space fleets would operate like, what with the lightspeed limitations on sensors and acceleration/deceleration to significant chunks of C and so on.

My problem with the Lost Fleet series as a whole goes like this: Geary basically comes out like a saint. He comes across as Campbell's Mary Sue (by the original Mary Sue definition and not the 'character I don't like' definition.) He does end up coming across as a strategic/tactical genius, constantly outfoxing the entire Syndic military as the series progresses.

Also what bugs me is that it's Saint Geary coming back from on high to restore the morality of his descendants. At every turn, Geary's morally correct choice also results in the best tactical/strategic outcomes, which is made possible by writer fiat. Moral dilemmas should be dilemmas, there should be some price to pay to create the actual problem of why this is even a debatable subject. But not in the realm of the Lost Fleet, where every time Saint Geary educates his devolved descendants on how to do things the Right Way he is always borne out on his decisions by superior results.

Basically, if doing things the 'right' way always gave superior outcomes then there'd be no debate, no situational ethics, etc. I could handle it better if they'd show that not everything that came after his time was a debased and degraded from his time. If it was a story of a guy from the past restoring a lost institutional ethos in a battle-hardened service without him being their superior in every aspect, I could totally groove on that.

What's especially galling about it is that Geary is portrayed as coming from a peacetime military. I could buy a devolution of ethics over a century-long war. I could buy institutional breakdowns over that stretch. But the trend of historical conflict is that peacetime forces only have some idea of what they're doing and they figure out the hardest lessons when the shooting starts, then evolve against each other due to continuous pressure. But here you have Geary returning from the past and being more competent than the entire Syndic military because hey, we had extensive simulated training on this where I came from. Again, writer fiat.

Also, Campbell's political aspects (which this novel doesn't really get into but he does get into later in the series) are pretty thin, weak, and stereotypical. Yes, politicians are often counterproductive assholes, but he doesn't give that any context. The series is just "Politics RAWR! BAD! But we must maintain the civilian government even though we give precious few examples beyond Rione of anything good coming from it!" Me, I agree that civilian governance over military affairs is a more ideal state, but this series reaaaaaaally doesn't show us why it's a good thing that Saint Geary constantly goes out of his way to show that he's subordinate to the utterly ineffectual and stupidly suicidal civilian authorities.

I would give the stories somewhere between a C and a B for the fleet action stuff and the detail he's put into his fights being conducted under the umbrella of relativistic physics, but his insistence on the innate, endless, and generally immediate superiority of the humanist approach gets old the longer the series goes on. The space material was strong enough to keep me in the series until Beyond the Frontier just sort of wiped me out. It's almost like this is an attempt to rebut the casual brutality of Hammer's Slammers or Pournelle's stuff by showing that nice guys really do finish first when the writer says so.

Caveat-ing all this to say that with my artsy opinions I don't regard my critique as final word. I hate it when people are all "I did not like this thing, and therefore nobody should" and even if I'm sometimes guilty of that in general, everyone likes what they like.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 01, 2014 3:14 pm 
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Thinking on it, part of my issue here is how the series evolves. The first book was solid enough to hook me to read along for a while longer. Campbell does do a good serial- ending with a solid enough predicament that you want to read the next one and find out how it turned out.

But I do think he didn't develop this series very well and handle his characterizations that well.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 01, 2014 4:29 pm 
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Josh wrote:
My problem with the Lost Fleet series as a whole goes like this: Geary basically comes out like a saint


I think we either have drastically different expectations of sainthood or we actually read different books. Josh if your idea of sainthood involves bombarding planets then I have to question what the hell kind of saints you have in that blasted wasteland of a state of yours.

Quote:
He does end up coming across as a strategic/tactical genius, constantly outfoxing the entire Syndic military as the series progresses.


... Seriously? How!?! He has done nothing that is the hallmark of a military genius. He has made no innovations, he has brought no new insights to the table, he does not use resources that no one else has never noticed until now. Everything he has pulled off as been literally by the book. The formations he uses are literally out of the fleet handbook! He is openly and completely doing everything by the book. That is not the mark of a genius. That's the mark of an average officer. The only thing separating him from the other officers is that he has been to an officer school that isn't churning out 90 day wonders but was able to spend years training up officers in fleet operations.

Quote:
What's especially galling about it is that Geary is portrayed as coming from a peacetime military. I could buy a devolution of ethics over a century-long war. I could buy institutional breakdowns over that stretch. But the trend of historical conflict is that peacetime forces only have some idea of what they're doing and they figure out the hardest lessons when the shooting starts, then evolve against each other due to continuous pressure.


Actually... Yeah I'm going to have to disagree a bit. Your thinking is due to the conscript militaries that dominated the 20th century. In such cases you have a small core of professional military service members and a rabid expansion with the onset of hostilities. It should be no surprise that training suffers in such an event. In such cases there is a distinct increase of quality during the conflict due to veterans emerging with skills dearly bought on the battlefield. For that to happen you need a hard core of survivors who can make it through this process and live long enough to pass on their lessons to the new troops.

Most of these skills are lost upon demobilization because the veterans do not remain in service to pass on these lessons and skills to the new generation but instead return to civilian life and in many cases rarely have any contact with the military afterwards. This trend is very much less pronounced in a professional military, where for example I was trained by individuals who saw service in the 1st Iraq war, Bosnia and Somalia. In fact you will note that the US military's performance from Desert Storm to Gulf War II (Fuck you all I'm not calling it enduring freedom!) remained consistent because no lessons in desert warfare were lost. There's a reason why even a green formation of US Marines will utterly destroy a veteran formation of most 2nd/3rd world troops (for the record, Russia and China are obvious expectations to the rule).

Ironically the fact that the military had to relearn COIN also provides evidence to my stance here. Vietnam was the last great military conflict that the US engaged in with a conscript army and the vast majority of the men and women who fought in it left the military after relativity short services. When the professional service emerged, there were few if any veterans of Vietnam left on the enlisted side and training for a Vietnam style occupation was abandoned due to both what we call Vietnam Syndrome on the negative side and the Powell doctrine on the positive side. Even then the military was able to apply lessons from Somalia and Bosnia and bluntly our performance was better in Iraq and Afghanistan then it was in Vietnam. Part of that was because of the retention of NCOs, which made passing on skills easier the other part was because we already had a large continent of ground troops we did not need a rapid expansion which would negatively impact training. The US Army and Marine Corps were able to retain for the most part the long training cycle that imparted skills to new troops without having to extract a cost in blood. This wouldn't have been possible in a conscript army moving from peacetime to wartime, nor would it honestly have been possible if our enemies were equally well trained and equipped. The Iraqi insurgency was pretty damn bad at everything expect blowing up defenseless people, the Taliban are actually fairly good light/mountain infantry but their equipment sucks. This meant more of our troops survived combat deployment and were able to develop modern COIN tactics. Course I think most serious scholarship will agree that the main reasons Iraq went utterly pear shape were due to political leadership. Afghanistan remains an open question but even then for the most part the military performed quite well under uncertain political leadership and in periods of open neglect, but I'm sidetracking and I apologize.

In Lost Fleet we see a situation where A: the long training cycle is not persevered due to combat loses making it impractical. B: the rise of veteran core seems to have been prevented but even if it wasn't, it wouldn't matter.

No one is trying to gain the skills in question anymore. Because of the communication and sensor lag if someone attempts to get cute with formations and fucks it up, you get overwhelmed piecemeal and your fleet gets wiped out. To put it bluntly the learning curve is to steep to try learning this in combat. Geary has the training needed no one else does. If I was the only one in the country who had any demo training, I would look like a wizard next to everyone else despite being rather average when it comes to the art and science of explosionmenship.

That said I do agree that this is writers fiat. As I mentioned I don't really buy the idea of industrialized war for a century of time with no pause or interruption. That really kind bugs me because not only has it never been done in human history despite us being rather ornery as a species but I'm not even sure it's physically possible. I mean we couldn't even pull off a decade of no holds barred industrial warfare in Europe! WWII ran for 6 years in Europe and when it was over, we almost didn't have a Europe anymore! You would think that at some point the fighting would have to stop simply because the border between the Alliance and Syndicate would be a blasted wasteland where all logistical valuable targets have been turned into smoking ruins and there simply isn't a way to support a fleet of ships operating for any period of time anymore.

I will agree (having finished the second book this morning) that it seems that Campbell wanted to write a story where he shows off how awesome your average officer is, but that can't happen if he's surrounded by other average officers. So he needed to wreck everything that produces average officers.

You know I'm tempted to go review Starship Mutiny now to show you what a Tactical genius looks like. :lol:

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 01, 2014 5:10 pm 
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Like I said, the stuff I got into becomes more evident as the series goes on. Yes, Geary angsts about what he's supposed to do. But at every decision point, every point, he makes the bestest nicest decision available. Every dilemma Campbell presents for Geary is an inherently false one- the 'right' decision is always the optimal decision at the same time. Not only that, he has the story demonstrate that Geary's take on things is the right decision so that Geary can be vindicated at every turn. That's where my comments on Saint Geary come from.

As for the strategic genius bit, throughout the course of the series Geary pretty much always makes the best decisions and comes up with the ideal plan. He gets blindsided coming through the jump points and has to adapt, but once it's on he never misses the call that I remember.

Side note on this series: both Campbell and the fans of the series have commented on how ridiculous the covers are. Campbell even incorporates it into the dialogue in a scene in one of the later books, when Geary's wife (no spoilers on who that is) threatens to have the cover of his memoir depict him in battle armor and toting a rifle.

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 02, 2014 3:01 am 
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I think I figured out who the wife is. Not sure how I feel about that. Expect a review of Fearless before the end of the weekend.

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 03, 2014 1:53 am 
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The Lost Fleet: Fearless by Jack Campbell.

We continue with the adventures of Captain John Geary and his fleet trapped behind enemy lines. Which makes this the first review of a sequel! Yay!

How did I feel about this sequel? On the whole I enjoyed it, while a friend of mine (who I do respect... despite his inborn disadvantages :wink:) did warn me that the series got worse as continued, I don't feel this degraded to much... While I did enjoy Dauntless a bit more, I feel Fearless was pretty close to it in quality. However... I feel this book missed an opportunity. That the story that Campbell decided to tell was in fact not the best story he could have told. But I'll get into that.

Fearless, opens with Captain Geary storming another Syndicate star system (this starts to run the risk of becoming routine), we see the fleet is still uneasy under his leadership, with ships breaking formation and running face first into a minefield (thus starting a theme in this book). They also in the opening chapters find a Syndicate labor camp, filled with Alliance POWs. Captain Geary of course liberates the prisoners, really he couldn't do anything else both the book he's based on command on and the fleet that's shown itself twitchy with his leadership demand it. Still there's a ticking bomb coming onboard with those prisoners. A rival for the loyalty and command of the fleet, Captain Fighting Falco! When it was revealed that this was a guy that was idolized by the officers of the fleet, dreaded by the political leaders of the Alliance and a man who caused great damage to Syndicate fleets (and Alliance fleets for that matter). Here's where I feel the missed opportunity, see the big problem is that the various elements of the fleet that don't like Geary have no one to rally around. Well here's a guy on a silver platter! And they do! Kinda. I'll avoid spoilers, but it's resolved way to quickly and relatively painlessly. This should have been the centerpiece of the book, as it's the only conflict that Geary could actually lose! Falco was more interesting as a nemesis then the faceless Syndicate fleet or Geary's inner demons. I mean yes, we do see Geary wrestling with self doubt and so on but it's a understated conflict in this book. But no, Falco is really more a cameo role in this book, which saddens me deeply. Falco should have been the glorious charismatic warlord contrasted with the professional disciplined officer but I didn't get that. I got two bloody conservations and no public confrontations, no sneaky maneuvers and counter maneuvers. I mean come one, I get Captain Geary is suppose to be the lone soldier of civilization amongst the barbarians brought to their lowly state by unending war, but I've seen officers in professional militaries, these fuckers know how to politic! I almost wish this series had been written by an enlisted man (or woman) then we would get officers as sneaky motherfuckers.

The quarrel with Co-President Roine actually takes up more of the book but honestly isn't all that interesting. Captain Geary has plan that takes the fleet even deeper into enemy space in order to throw the Syndicate into confusion and dismay. It also rest on the fact that Geary understands the older form of FTL he's keeping the fleet reliant on. Roine accuses him of glory hounding and betraying her trust in a screaming match but the fight really doesn't hold my interest. The stakes are that Roine will stop regarding Geary with any respect and start working against him, but she's smart enough to realize that there isn't much she can actually do without killing everyone else in the fleet so at best all she can do is bide her time (which makes her screaming fight with Geary actually kinda stupid for a politician, but I'll chalk that up to emotion). They weren't all that close before the fight, being allies with a limited level of trust, so it's not like I'm watching a friendship die. Speaking of emotion, I don't think it's a spoiler to mention that they literally kiss and make up. This was telegraphed a bit given that it was specifically mentioned to Geary that it was perfectly legal for him to sleep with the Co-President as she wasn't under his command. The relationship is really... Kinda of lukewarm, they both seem to be sleeping with each other because there's no one else they can sleep with and the tension is getting to them. While they do seem to get more friendly with each other it's a very restrained friendship where neither side is big on trusting each other. But neither side dares start sticking knives in each back either so there's no thrill of danger there. I'm way more interested in the conflict between Roine and Flag Captain Desjani, as that is a fight that we're not allowed to know anything else (as they won't discuss it with Geary our viewpoint character) but this is a fight where the fighters can dare hurt each other and work against other.

That said the fighting does get more exciting, because there is less Geary shouting orders that mean absolutely nothing to me and more descriptions of what is actually going on! This is much better and it is I think an improvement. This is partly because Geary is forced to stand on the sidelines and watch a gifted subordinate do the fighting and thus Campbell is forced to tell me what Geary is actually seeing. Here the mechanics of fighting at a range measured in light minutes without FTL sensors or coms which means by the time Geary sees the fight, it was over hours ago (as this is a detached task force doing it's own thing). We also see some short ground combat scenes, which are utterly glossed over, but since this is a navy series, I'll let that slide. I will note that for someone who's suppose to be squeaky clean, Geary's tactics in maintaining troop safety in a city would drive many people into frothing fury and denounce him as a war criminal. You know, what with leveling entire city blocks to create a safe zone for his Marines looting foot from a city after orbitally bombarding several planets.

I'll be fair, Geary's choices are loot foot and supplies from the Syndicates or have the fleet decay around him as he is trapped behind enemy lines and surrounded. But he's still looting cities while talking about the rules of war. I kinda find it funny, course that may be because of my experience in the war, after the invasion I was searched before I was allowed to go home to prevent Marines from looting the Iraqis. I didn't object to this honestly, the average Iraqi I saw was living in a mud hut, they needed the gold in Saddam's palaces more then I did after all (although a pile of gold the size of toilet sure would have came in handy over the years, all well), although it did bother that it seemed that others higher up the food chain were allowed to loot. In some ways it seems troops aren't allowed to loot anymore because the privilege has been handed off to polite soft voiced men in suits. I'm not arguing that I should have been allowed to loot, it would have been wrong. Still at least I would have fought for it, the suits did really little to justify their looting beyond having MBAs. Well that was a weird divergence and I apologize.

Eh anyways, the book ends with Geary's command solidified, which I honest regard as a mistake. So far there's little drama in the conflict with the Syndicate, they charge in like barbarians and are faceless and characterless. All the real character conflict comes from the Alliance Fleet trying to buck Geary's leadership. It was still a good read though and if you can get past losing that, it's fun to read.

Lost Fleet: Fearless gets a B- While full of lost opportunities, the fact that it fixed the problem with combat and expanded several characters and added a new one that I find interesting gets it the grade.

That said it's time for a break from Lost Fleet. I'm gonna dive back into history. Next up is Catastrophe: 1914 Europe Goes to War by Max Hasting.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 15, 2014 2:17 am 
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1914 by Max Hastings.
"The great lords have quarrelled, and we must pay for it with our blood, our wives and children" German POW to Countess Turczynowicz page 410.
Yeah I'm pretty much going to refer to the book as 1914 from here on out. It's a damn long title. 1914 focuses on the year 1914 as you could have guessed, the first year of World War I. A glance at the calendar should suffice as to why I've decided to review this book. World War I was the end of a world order, of the empires and nations that fought that war 5 of them would suffer a collapse of government or utter destruction of the nation itself the entire European system suffered terrible injuries that it would never recover from. That said, as an American, I've primarily been taught to view WWI as the prologue of World War II. While in Europe I'm told World War I looms larger, which honestly makes sense given they fought it longer and paid a higher cost for doing so.

"Where a Serb dwells, there is Serbia"
Popular Serbian Catch phrase page 17

Anyways, Hastings starts before the war discussing the radical group the Black Hand, a Serbian terrorist group whose goal was to drive Austria Hungary out of the Balkans and establish a Greater Serbia or Yugoslavia. The Black Hand was supported by elements within the Serbian government including the head of military intelligence Col. Dragutin Dimitrijevic aka Apis. The Black Hand was a vicious group, responsible for a number of crimes before the war. He goes into the domestic situation of each of the major combatants, Germany, France, Britain, Russia and Austria-Hungary. A note is made of the social unrest simmering (and in Britain outright boiling) in all of these nations. The German leaders are noted for outright stating that a good victorious war was just the thing to keep the Socialists under heel. The assassination of Sophie and Franz Ferdinand by Princip is shown as the small match that lit the fuse. Interestingly enough, Franz Ferdinand is shown to be rather unpopular among the nobility of the Austrian Hungarian Empire, but the fact that the heir to the throne (and his socially embarrassing Czech wife) was murdered by a Serb was too much to be borne. This is where the gears began to turn.

Here Hasting begins a short examination of who should bear the blame of the war. It's a matter of some disagreement and interestingly enough Hasting argues (somewhat convincingly) that the blame for the war lays on Austria Hungary and Germany in the main. Mostly Germany though, as the Germans are shown to be perfectly willing to start a European wide war believing A lot of the book is devoted to the months of June and July the build up of the war, showing the stances of the men in power a number of whom were rather blase about sending millions of men off to war. An interesting note is that the President of France Poincare was in Russia or sailing back to France during most of the buildup to war, rendering him out of touch for the most part.

"You soldiers ought to be very please that we have arranged such a nice war for you" Foreign Ministry official to General Knox page 260.

Then the war starts, Hasting covers both the western and eastern front, although I feel he devotes just a bit more time to the western front (given that most of the people reading this would be westerners, I suppose that's forgivable). I learned the most reading about the Eastern front, which was an appalling exercise of incompetence, beyond what I had even imagined. The Austrian and Russian lack of a logistic system alone is enough to make a man weep! Add in their officer corps and being a soldier in that army seems more like a punishment from an angry God, seriously folks this is so bad it would be comedy if it wasn't so damn heart breaking. The Austrians alone would send half their army into Serbia only to get their asses whupped. The sheer level of idiocy on display should be enough to convert any believer of the superiority of nobility into a die hard Republican for life. The Austrians would do no better against the Russians, whose army wasn't what I would call expertly lead. The German army was the best army in the theater but even then it was plagued by over optimistic leadership and greatly inflated expectations. Which often left them over extended.

"We must wait and see whether it will be such a nice war after all." General Knox's reply.

Over on the western front, we get a examination of the first French offensive and the sheer disaster it entitled. What really shocked me was how in the month of August both armies were willing to use tactics that were used in the American Civil War. As in men marching in column and line to attack dug in troops with bolt action rifles and machine guns. Slaughter doesn't begin to cover the results. Thankfully everyone involved moved pass these tactics quickly but frankly they didn't have much of a choice! Even has it stands, there are casualties like regiments of 57 officers and 2629 enlisted to 6 officers and 748 enlisted in a single day. That's more than American forces in Iraq lost in a year. While Hasting doesn't linger on this, he does call attention to the human cost of the war. From German troops obsessing over finding francs-tireurs, civilians in occupied France and Belgium who were operating against them and the ruthless measures they took (burning whole villages over a rumor for example or taking thousands of hostages). This book is very good at showing us just how awful and brutal the war was while not turning it into a show of horrors.

"The gentlemen pass without one car stopping to pick the most exhausted [casualties]. The major mustn't be late for his roast!" Edouard Coeurdevey French soldier page 529

Another subject of note that attracts my attention is the sheer indifference that the upper ranks showed to their men. In the modern US military being treated in such a fashion by our leaders would seem practically unthinkable. I didn't see my battalion CO often, but I knew he was up in the front somewhere when we invaded Iraq. He wasn't chilling out in a hotel in Kuwait City. I think I prefer our system.

1914 is a very good and informative book. Easy to understand peppered with quotes like the ones I've been using throughout this review. It is a thick book at 566 pages (but given the sheer amount of things to cover, I can't blame Hastings for that) but I don't think that's a problem. Hasting does take positions on the matters of who started the war and whether or not things would have been any better if the Germans had won. He asserts (although not much proof is given) that a Europe that saw Central Powers victory would be a worse off Europe than the one that saw Allied victory. While I honestly agree with him, I feel he doesn't present much in the way of evidence for that and that does pull the score down. Additionally the jumping back and forth between the East and Western front is not something I've fond of. I would have preferred to see each front covered completely before moving on the next one, but that's a personal preference.

Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hasting gets a B+, it was greatly informative but not as much fun as Persian Fire. Then again, maybe WWI shouldn't be that much fun.

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 16, 2014 1:06 am 
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I double dog dare you to post that review on SDN. :cool:

Seriously, I'm entertained by the thought of you setting off Thanas by jamming all of his Berserk Buttons at once. :twisted:

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 16, 2014 2:20 am 
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If Thanas starts screaming because a book somewhere says that the Germans (based on things they wrote and said) were more than okay with starting a European wide war to secure dominance over Europe, then he should grow up or admit that he's less interested in history and more interested in preserving Germany's reputation.

Anyways that said, I'm not posting on SDN. The only time I was even briefly tempted was 2008. Anywho the next book is a WWII book and then after that one of Josh's books.

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 16, 2014 7:26 am 
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William Yale rode a German freighter to the Middle East in 1913. He initially thought that the German toast of 'Der Tag' was a salute to making it through another day, then found out they were referring to the then-hypothetical upcoming war when the 2nd Reich would come into its own.

Thing is, the Germans were far from the only rising power to consider winning a war with established European powers to be a mark of legitimacy. The US was looking for the exact same effect when they got into it with Spain, and the Japanese were legitimized by defeating the Russians. Germany just had the larger goal of being the big boys on the Euro block, which was also at that point in history a morally acceptable ambition based on how the previous great powers had gained their station.

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 16, 2014 2:17 pm 
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Germany was hardly unique in feeling that they could accomplish all of their goals by fighting a massive war with their enemies. But the base fact is that nevertheless that was what they felt, and post-war attempts to turn WWI into a misfired German attempt to peacefully unite the nations of Europe in a proto-EU are all revisionist bunkum. The war they touched off turned out to be considerably less containable than those of their fellows, which may or may not be their fault, but while it was definitely an age of unbridled militarism, the Germans were near the apex in their fixations with such methods.

The French were too of course, but that's another story...

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 16, 2014 2:34 pm 
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General Havoc wrote:
Germany was hardly unique in feeling that they could accomplish all of their goals by fighting a massive war with their enemies. But the base fact is that nevertheless that was what they felt, and post-war attempts to turn WWI into a misfired German attempt to peacefully unite the nations of Europe in a proto-EU are all revisionist bunkum. The war they touched off turned out to be considerably less containable than those of their fellows, which may or may not be their fault, but while it was definitely an age of unbridled militarism, the Germans were near the apex in their fixations with such methods.


Man, no love for Russia's rampant militarism?

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 16, 2014 7:04 pm 
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Basically everyone was massively militaristic in this period except maybe the British who, being the resident hegemon, had a vested interest in preserving the status quo. The Russians were clinging to Pan-Slavism whilst smarting from the loss against Japan and the still unfinished long-running grudge match against the Ottomans. The French were per capita the most militarized country in Europe because they were raring to go for Round 2 against Germany and take back Alsace-Lorraine. The Serbs were also militarized as hell and dreaming of Greater Serbia. The Rumanians, Greeks, and Bulgarians all had unsettled scores with their neighbours from the Balkan Wars, while the Ottoman and Austrian Empires were creaking along trying to hold themselves together. Seriously, there's a reason why they called Europe a powder keg, because the situation was pretty damn unstable.

As for who is at fault for the war, I fault the god damned Hungarians. King Milan I of Serbia found the burden of the crown onerous, and he was under heavy Austrian influence. He wanted to pass his kingdom to the Dual Monarchy, which presumably would go on to become the Triple Monarchy, but the Hungarians vociferously objected. They felt, correctly, that adding more Slavs to the Empire would dilute their power and make it more difficult for them to get away with oppressing the various minorities under the rule, and thus vetoed the plan. Due to the way the Duel Monarchy was set-up, nothing could be done without the Hungarians, and so Serbia remained independent to eventually become the spark that set-off the powder keg. Not coincidentally, Greater Hungary hasn't been a thing since 1918. Good job Hungarians.

More seriously I would lay the blame on Russia, and yes I say this as the board's resident russophile. Austria-Hungary had legitimate casus belli to invade Serbia and as such I do not feel inclined to blame either them or their German allies for deciding to do so. If they did wrong it was in dilly dallying around so long, as I think them beating around the bush through all of July that gave the opportunity for everyone else to pile in. Had they just denounced Serbia as the pissant terrorist state that it was and sent in the army from the get-go it's likely that nobody would have interfered. Even then though, when the Austrians did finally march against Serbia it was the intervention of Russia on behalf of their fellow Slavs that sparked the general European war. If Russia does not mobilize then Austria beats the shit out of Serbia and that would have been the end of it, but Russia did, which meant Germany had to come to her ally's aid and thus the Great War.

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 16, 2014 8:23 pm 
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Yeah, but if the assassination hadn't set off the apocalypse, some other pretext would've brought about. Europe was itching for war en masse and a brutally quick resolution to the assassination at best would've just pushed the event back.

I lean toward the Teddy Roosevelt view that the only truly innocent party in the war (on a national level) were the Belgians.

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 1:25 am 
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The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945 by John Toland

The Rising Sun, was written in 1970 by John Toland, who is a known historian, this isn't his first book, nor was it his last. This book was written from interviews from Japanese Generals, Admirals and government officials. As well as a number of veterans and civilian witnesses. Interesting to note, Toland married a Japanese woman. I'm not sure how it impacted the book but all things considered I think it was a factor. A massive book even without counting acknowledgements and the index it's 877 pages which meant it took me awhile to crawl through. I found it worthwhile however.

The book while focusing on events from 1936 to 1945 (the period of hostilities on the Asian front in World War II), it also discusses events from the Japanese-Russian war and events in the 1920s but not in any great detail. The opening introduces us to the concept of Gekokujo, rebellion against authorities for the greater good of the nation (I'm skipping a number of subtleties). Gekokujo which claims the tale of 47 Ronin as it's inspiration becomes a source of much of the instability and trouble that shook Japan in the 20s and 30s. One of these events was the 2/26 Incident, an uprising of jr. officers ideologically motivated they attempted a wholesale purge of the government, including the Prime Minister of the time Okada, who they hated for supporting a recent Naval Treaty they felt unfairly limited Japanese power. The uprising failed, but none of the members of the cabal were punished beyond being dismissed from the Army. This happened in 1936.

Events like this and others (for example Japanese ship Captains refusing to preform convoy escort duty because it wasn't proper warrior duty) makes a convincing case that the Japan's officer corps was Japan's worse enemy. The Japanese government comes off as very unstable and insecure here, only one mistake from violent overthrow and held together only by everyone's honest and shockingly deep loyalty to the Emperor. Seriously even the Japanese Communist Party is quoted as wanting to keep the Emperor. Which makes them the 3rd weirdest Communist Party I've ever heard of in fiction or history. Still this book offers a fascinatingly deep and complex look at the mechanisms and inner working of the Japanese Government before and during the war.

The book examines Japan's war in China, but strangely glosses over the details. The Rape of Nanking is mentioned but barely gone into. This establishes a frankly worrying pattern in the book. Japanese crimes and excesses will be mentioned (although unit 731 isn't mentioned at all) but glossed over or excused. I found this a glaring problem in the book, this is a suppose to be an honest discussion of the Japanese Empire in WWII. I get this is suppose to be from the Japanese point of view but given these were Japanese crimes, shouldn't they be discussed?

Additionally is Toland's attempts to justify Japanese actions and repeated statements that America simply had no business waging war. I will quote page 146:

"Finally, America made a grave diplomatic blunder by allowing an issue not vital to her basic interests-the welfare of China-to become, at the last moment, the keystone of her foreign policy." And on the same page:

"More important, by equating Japan with Nazi Germany, her diplomats had maneuvered their nation into two completely different wars, one in Europe against Fascism, and one in the Orient that was linked with the aspirations of all Asians for freedom from the white man's bondage"

While I am not as learned as Toland, I feel educated enough to declare my total disagreement with these statements. It was completely in American interest to prevent a militarist, brutal empire from gaining domination of Asia no matter what their racial origin. This is not to defend European or even American colonialism, which deserved to be torn down. That said Japanese victory did not mean lifting the boot from the oppressed peoples of Asia. It simply meant trading one boot for another. There is after all a reason why many of the resistance groups fighting the European colonial governments decided to continue the battle against the Japanese. And while the Japanese military was welcomed at first as liberators, their conduct and open racism quickly wore out their welcome. I invite those who disagree to by all means ask the Chinese and Vietnamese how they felt about Japanese occupation and I will point out neither nation really has any reason to do the US any favors. I would be dishonest if I didn't admit that this affected the book's grade.

Rising Sun also covered the attempts on both sides (American and Japanese) to reach a peace, with the Japanese government and it's military staff feeling that a war with America was incredibly dangerous and best avoided. Of course the Japanese also implanted a secret deadline where they would start the war if they hadn't achieved acceptable peace terms. To cover for the fleet steaming Pearl Harbor they kept talking however.

We also get a look at the planning of the attack on Pearl Harbor. We get to know Admiral Yamamoto, who going off this book was a great Admiral, but also way to addicted to gambling. Something that would be ruinous for the Japanese fleet in the future. From the post Pearl Harbor celebrations (and there were celebrations) we are taken to every major battlefield and fleet engagement of the war, getting both a first hand look from statements and stories of the soldiers and officers who fought (mostly Japanese because again, a book from the Japanese side of the war) and the view from headquarters. These segments also cement my belief that the Japanese officer corps was the Japanese Empire greatest enemy. During Guadalcanal we are brought to bear witness to amazing amounts of infighting and backbiting between senior staff on the island.... WHILE THEY ARE UNDER FIRE AND OUTNUMBERED BY INVADING AMERICAN FORCES! The rampant insanity is on full display here. Nor are these isolated incidents, Japanese officers would engage in frankly moronic behavior right up until the very end.

We watch the reactions as the frontiers of the Empire inevitably and relentlessly shrank towards the main islands of Japan. We see denial, hysteria and obsession with the divisive battle. A number of Japanese senior officers were utterly convinced that if they could just force a big enough battle where they won and inflicted big enough causalities on the Americans, they would force America to come to the peace table. It worked for them against the Russians in the early 1900s, but this was a utterly different war... But they refused to accept it.

We also see the Japanese officer corps refusal to accept reality even up to Okinawa, where officers would insist on leading manic charges against dug in American units... Despite knowing they were worthless tactically. This denial carried on even after the Atom bombing where we read about Japanese Generals begging the government to be allowed to lead people with muskets and spears against the incoming American invasion. I used to think this was just people trying to hold on to power, but considering some of these Generals committed suicide in a gambit to change the Emperor's mind... Not so much after this book.

I am left utterly convinced that the atom bombings were necessary after this book however.

So summing up. This book is a great source of history. It is a direct look at the officers and officials who lead Japan into the greatest war in history and into it's most disastrous defeat. It pry's back the curtains and let's use see what was going on in the palace antechambers, the meeting rooms and smokey meeting rooms where policy was decided and examine why those policies were chosen. It shows us the mindset and desires of the lower level officers on the ground who carried out those policies. Introduces us to the grunts and civilians who felt the effects of those policies.

But.

It avoids really looking at the negative effects of those policies, often coming near white washing or throwing out justifications like the Japanese had to conqueror Manchuria to protect it from the Communist. In short I think Toland allowed his attachment to Japan and the Japanese people to cloud his judgement. I admit I could be being unfair to the man. This book was written in 1970 when the Soviet Union and People's Republic of China seemed a looming, unending threat. But, in the end, politics and personal attachment can be seen influencing this book. Which means that as a source for someone looking for information in the war this book is invaluable... But it should never be given to a beginning student of history nor read without counterbalancing sources that will point out just where Toland is sweeping things under the rug or is just plain wrong in his assertions.

Because of this, The Rising Son: Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945 by John Toland gets a B. It's undeniable value as a history source keep it high, but the writers own bias drag it down.

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 1:33 am 
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Next up Josh's Warpworld.

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:42 pm 
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Quote:
We also get a look at the planning of the attack on Pearl Harbor. We get to know Admiral Yamamoto, who going off this book was a great Admiral, but also way to addicted to gambling.


The IJN was built to be a gambler's fleet. They knew they were operating under a material disadvantage and configured their entire strategy around a series of knockout blows, behind which they set about to create a fortified frontier that would then make a counterattack prohibitively expensive. Their ships were ridiculous flimsy, dangerous, and built entirely as offensive platforms.

Thinking about it, it's kind of like the way that the desire for a decisive Napoleonic-style grand battle influenced the wars that followed that era without the leadership understanding that the entire concept was outdated.

A few good ones on the Pacific War- Shattered Sword, Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, Neptune's Inferno which includes the sheer holy fuck of an American AA cruiser lighting up a Japanese battleship at pointblank with rapid-fire 8 inch guns, Halsey's Typhoon, and Little Ship, Big War.

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