On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington Book 1) – David Weber

The message she’d just ordered Webster to send and Venizelos to relay to Manticore was never sent in drills, not even in the most intense or realistic Fleet maneuvers. Case Zulu had one meaning, and one only: “Invasion Imminent.

The book follows military captain Honor Harrington’s adventures in a distant, far future, fighting foreign invasions, sexism, greed and incompetence. Honor is a woman, captain in the Queen’s Royal Manticoran Navy, and the reader sees how she handles different situations brought to her by politics and discrimination.

The protagonist is one of the best developed characters in the military scifi universe and an inspiration for the entire genre. The book and series is widely regarded as one of the must-reads for the military scifi fans, a reference for this niche science fiction style.

In this first book of the series, captain Harrington is exiled to a backwater station, Basilisk, where she is gradually building the confidence of her ship crew and of the local authorities in dealing with the trade and offworld traffic. She becomes involved in the defense of the planet against foreign forces.

Critics point out that the different types of views that the book presents make the reader to do no thinking, everything is well presented pages in advance. Honor Harrington is too much of an omnipotent captain, who never makes mistakes and pushes duty over everything, even her crew. The hard scifi part, the science in the book is passable, with a long description of the technologies and the world at the of the volume. Some more description of the everyday life and universe would have been helpful as well.

Despite these drawbacks, the book is truly memorable and entertaining. An easy, relaxing read for holidays. The plot is easy, but well paced. the vocabulary is adequate, not really fantastic, but not bad neither.

An entertaining, recommended read.

Dreadnaught (The Lost Fleet, Book 7) – Jack Campbell

If you don’t exercise a talent, you get rusty,

The odyssey of Captain Jack Geary and his start fleet continues beyond human-controlled space, into the alien enigmas territory. The captain finds itself again in new and tense situations, but dangers are much higher than during the war with the human Syndics.

Already the 7th volume in the series, the story keeps its appeal and, finally, Jack Campbell responds to some of the criticism and does not repeat the various descriptions of the universe it creates. The book is more ingrained in the space opera, rather than a stand alone book, which was always one of the aims of the author in the previous stories.

This time the war with the Syndics is over and enemy is a mysterious alien civilization. While the plot is simple, it develops well and has enough depth and logic to be plausible. This is indeed one of the strengths of the book – taking wild developments in the far future and then apply logic response to them. There is no silver bullet or magic that saves the day.

Beyond human-controlled space, into the unknown.

The jabs to politicians continue, but it is not a nod to fascism, as, while not explicit, democracy is still seen the best of all forms of socio-economical organisation. The political game makes sense and helps drive the plot forward.

The drawbacks remain the same: a somewhat limited vocabulary, too much focus on dialogue that does not really add more depth to characters, too little description of the universe it creates.

Nevertheless, it is astonishing how the series keeps its appeal, even at the seven volume. Jack Campbell is truly a masterful and ingenious storyteller.

Victorious (The Lost Fleet, Book 6) – Jack Campbell

We should have suspected that nonhumans were involved right from the start when the activation process didn’t involve a lot of arcane commands that had to be done in just the right order, and the destination was displayed as a name rather than using some counterintuitive code. No human software engineer would produce a device that easy to use.

The book is the last in the Lost Fleet series, completing the story arc. The odyssey of Captain Jack Black is finishing. Or does it? Jack Campbell brings the story to an end, but leaves place for another adventure.

Compared with the other books of the series, it is rather the worst. The plot is still good, but a bit predictable. The romantic twist is an interesting idea, but it does not add much to the main story. And the romantic ending is a cliche.

However, the story is still captivating and good enough to make the reader follow the story until its end. The final fights are well thought and engaging. The dialogue was never a strong point of the book, but managed to stay at decent levels. Some new characters are memorable, although seem sometimes as caricatures of some human traits and cultures.

I enjoyed the book, although the series does not finish with a high. A nice read for a rainy evening, with a glass of tea nearby.

Relentless (The Lost Fleet, Book 5) – Jack Campbell

He felt the comfort of being part of an eternal cycle symbolized by the gold strips on either side of the black mourning band he wore. Light, dark, light. The dark was just an interval.

The fifth book in the Lost Fleet series continues the odyssey of Captain Jack Geary, leading the Alliance Fleet back to home territory. However, a bigger threat than the rival Syndics is looming beyond the stars, a devious alien intelligence.

Already far in the series, the story is still captivating and it is a tribute to the writing skills of author, Jack Campbell, that he can come with new and unexpected ways to marvel the reader. The adventure is still very much anchored in hard scifi and no magic bullet happens that solves everything. Every progress of the fleet is marred by dangers and potential mistakes. Captain Geary is still human and, despite his undoubted talent, he loses ships. He recognizes himself that he could have done better.

Nevertheless, the fleet advances, and the advantages that were at the beginning (surprise tactics) fade away, as the Syndic learn themselves how to deal with the Alliance movements. However, now the Alliance’s sailors are veterans and know well their ships and how to maneuver them. Furthermore, the captains act more like a team and cover each other way better than at the beginning of the odyssey.

The fifth book in the Lost Fleet series continues the odyssey of Captain Jack Geary, leading the Alliance Fleet back to home territory.

On the negative side, the editing of the book seems to slightly drop the quality, with some extra spaces or commas missing. The vocabulary is less rich than other similar scifi series and the hard scifi part does not expand more than the already established environment. It would have been nice to know more about life in 24th century. Finally, it feels that the story gives too much time to the protagonist’s love interest.

Nevertheless, the book remains captivating, very hard to leave the book (better saying the e-reader) from a reader’s hands. Let’s see what happens in the next book of the series!

Valiant (The Lost Fleet, Book 4) – Jack Campbell

You’re not fighting for abstractions. No one does. Humans pay lip service to that, to big causes and great purposes, but any politician of any skill soon learns that what really motivates people is the small, personal things. Close friends, family, the small area they call home. They wrap those things around ideals and call them precious, but they’re precious for the smallest and closest of reasons. Soldiers may swear to fight for their flag, but they really fight because of the soldiers next to them.

The book continues the odyssey of Alliance fleet, caught behind the hostile Syndic lines. Led by legendary captain Jack Geary, the fleet tries to escape the pursuing Syndic fleet, while a more dangerous enemy shows its presence.

A military hard scifi story, the fourth volume in the series, manages to keep an unpredictable plot, decent writing and adds more depth to the fleet characters. The organic development of the fleet officers’ relations, the way the enemy reacts and the motivations behind every character make the story credible. The consequences of the fleet actions are well thought and no “magic bullet” exists. Mistakes have costs and there is no get-out-in-the-last-moment. That really helps pushing the plot and make the reader understand and appreciate the characters.

No wonder the series expanded to 8 books, followed by spin-offs. It is a highly appreciated series, by a former US military navy captain, pen name Jack Campbell, who really took the time and research to take a military story into a captivating hard scifi odyssey.

Tarkin – James Luceno

His strategy of flying boldly into the face of adversity was studied and taught, and during the Clone Wars would come to be known as “the Tarkin Rush”.

The book, happening in the Star Wars universe, presents an important episode in the life of Wilhuff Tarkin, the Imperial general. His unique and advanced stealth ship is stolen and used against the Empire by a cunning crew. He is tasked, together with Darth Vader, to catch the thieves by the Emperor himself. The entire story is told by using flashbacks and memories, neatly arranged.

James Lucerno is a veteran of Star Wars novels, specializing in stories of the antagonists. In this book, the reader can gave a glimpse in the life and of personality of the famous Imperial Moff, later Grand Moff, Wilhuff Tarkin.

Tarkin is meant to represent the military power: ruthless, efficient, domineering. But his personal background is rather surprising, and seems unfit with the personage.

The plot is compelling and the characters are well developed, but I would not go so far to say they were memorable. The Star Wars universe is beautifully constructed, giving depth and engaging the reader.

However, I have found the vocabulary used rather poor, despite some good tries of the author. The background of the protagonist does not seem fit with his career and personality. It often feels that his inner motivations are not explored in depth. The plot is engaging, well-thought and unpredictable, but more could be drawn from it.

Overall, a solid piece of work from Lucerno, an enjoying book for the fans of the genre.

 

Ninefox Gambit – Yoon Ha Lee

She didn’t need ordnance; she needed someone who could work around the problem. And that left her the single undead general in the Kel Arsenal, the madman who slept in the black cradle until the Nirai technicians could discover what had triggered his madness and how to cure him. Shuos Jedao, the Immolation Fox: genius, arch-traitor, and mass murderer.

The book is the first in the “The Machineries of Empire” trilogy, a military sci-fi saga set in a humanoid futuristic world.

The story of the first book revolves around Jedao, a genius strategist with a twisted story. The protagonist is undead, his conscience being kept alive by a black cradle, and he needs a human anchor to move. Jedao is a prisoner of the hexarchate, an all-dominating, tyrannical empire, which we find later our strategist wants to destroy.

Jedao’s anchor is a woman, Kel Cheris, an infantry company commander, with remarkable military skills.

Jedao, the undead genius strategist with a twisted story. His conscience is kept alive by a black cradle, and he needs a human anchor to move. A breathtaking military scifi saga, awarded by Nebula and Hugo awards.

The world-building is profound and brusque, the reader being immediately immersed into the new vocabulary and organisation of the world. The explanations come only later and they are sometimes subtle and sometimes straightforward.

The plot is rather simple, a difficult rebellion needs quelling and the infantry commander chooses as weapon the infamous undead strategist. They go together to fight the rebels. However the story progresses rather nicely, with a entertaining action, careful character construction and motivations, and unexpected turns.The strong point of the saga is the world-building: a humanoid world divided into six classes, with exotic weapons, needing constant balance and removal of heresies.

Yoon Ha Lee’s saga is similar to Warhammer 40,000 stories, but less grim and hopeless; and no new species, but castes.

The story won multiple sci-fi nominations, including to Nebula and Hugo awards. A good read for the fans of the genre.

Horus Rising (The Horus Heresy PART 1) – Dan Abnett

You are walking along the shores of a lake,’ Sindermann said. ‘A boy is drowning. Do you let him drown because he was foolish enough to fall into the water before he had learned to swim? Or do you fish him out, and teach him how to swim?’
Loken shrugged. ‘The latter.’
‘What if he fights you off as you attempt to save him, because he is afraid of you? Because he doesn’t want to learn how to swim?’
‘I save him anyway.

It’s the 31st century and the martial society of humanity, the Imperium of Man, is expanding in the galaxy. The story follows the military feats of the “Luna Wolves” Legion of Space Marines. Their leader is Horus Lupercal, recently appointed Warmaster, general chief of Imperial military forces. Horus is one of the Primarchs, genetically engineered lieutenants of the Emperor. We find about his actions through the eyes of Captain Garviel Loken, leader of the Luna Wolves’ 10th Company.

The book sets the stage for the Chaos’ plot to destroy the mysterious founder and leader of the Imperium, the Emperor of Man. This story is followed in the next 49 books of the famous series.

Lupercal, lupercal, lupercal!

This is the beginning of the famous Warhammer 40,000 military scifi, a dystopian future galaxy-spanning war. Books, board games, figurines, video games, comics were all developed in this fascinating environment.

The plot itself is absolutely fantastic, building the base for a great military saga. There are obvious inspirations from Starship Troopers of Robert A. Heinlein. The recent Red Rising saga seems to take some inspiration from the Warhammer universe as well.

However, the military heavy element of the book might be hard to digest for many. The book has many plot strands, characters, sub-plots. However, the writing is fluid, the universe makes sense in itself, and the moral and ethical questions that are asked are mind blowing.

Overall, a great book for the fans of the military scifi and a must read for all passionate about the Warhammer universe .

Marines (Crimson Worlds 1) – Jay Allan

The new officer AIs were the state of the art in quasi-sentient computers, and the designers had decided that giving them a soothing, human-sounding voice and an active personality would reduce stress on officers in the field. I can’t speak to the psychology of the officer corps in general, but the damned thing creeped me out. And it talked too much.

Marines is the first book of the Crimson World series, a military sci-fi saga with assaults on planets, marines, decrepit governments and futuristic technologies. The book follows the astonishing rise through the ranks of Erik Cain, from a gang member and low strata to major in the space marines.

Jay Allen creates a dystopia, 250 years in the future, where Earth superpowers fight in space among themselves for colonies, resources and warp gates access. Society returns generally to feudal politics level, with a tightly controlled population and only token elections. In this environment, the army provides a refuge for those willing to be in a meritocratic system, a brotherhood of arms.

Space marines and planetary colonies. Intro to the Crimson Worlds saga.

The author promotion of military values is visible throughout the book, rarely any officers or troops being unfit for job. The highest sought-out skill is military experience. Politicians are disdained. Colonists are brave people, willing to preserve democracies and the main reason of the protagonist’s motivation to fight.

The book is well-written, engaging, with good depth of characters. The universe is well described and the author tries to explain why things are as they are are, which adds to the depth of the book.

A drawback is the nearly perfect career of Erik Cain, who skyrockets through ranks without enough explanation why. He tops the academy (how? why was he special?). He displayed brilliance on the field (how? what others would do normally and he did differently and exceptional?). In this respect, I recommend the Man of War series or Star Carrier, also on the blog, who really kept the reader guessing.

The book reads generally as an intro to the series, with a rushed plot and some, but could have been more, description. Maybe next books in the series will have a more twisted plot.

Old Man’s War – John Scalzi

I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.
Visiting Kathy’s grave was the less dramatic of the two.

In a distant future, humanity developed, colonized different worlds and fights wars. The protagonist joins the Colonial Defense at 75 years old and finds that his conscience is transplanted in a new, young, augmented body. With that, he regains practically a second life, but the war he is about to embark and the Colonial Defense are a lot more sinister and mysterious than he thought.

Would you join army if you are given your youth again?

This book is a classical military sci, with an engaging premise and a good follow up. The ending is a bit open, more scifi than military. Overall, the book tilts towards a mystery scifi rather a military story.

Most of the book follows the transformations, physical and psychological, of the hero, John Perry, after the body transplant. After the training camp, the protagonist fight various aliens, gradually climbing ranks.

It was a good book, but not exceptional. Nonetheless, entertaining enough to finish it, but no continue with the series.