Archangel (Book One of the Chronicles of Ubastis)
By Marguerite Reed; Narrated by Dina Pearlman
Audible Studios via Resurrection House
Release date: 17 June 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours, 5 minutes
Themes: / military sci-fi / grief / humanity /
The Earth is dying, and our hopes are pinned on Ubastis, an untamed paradise at the edge of colonized space. But such an influx of people threatens the planet’s unstudied ecosystem – a tenuous research colony must complete its analysis, lest humanity abandon one planet only to die on another.
The Ubasti colonists barely get by on their own. To acquire the tools they need, they are relegated to selling whatever they can to outside investors. For xenobiologist Vashti Loren, this means bringing Offworlders on safari to hunt the specimens she and her fellow biologists so desperately need to study.
Haunted by the violent death of her husband, the heroic and celebrated Lasse Undset, Vashti must balance the needs of Ubastis against the swelling crush of settlers. Vashti struggles in her role as one of the few colonists licensed to carry deadly weapons, just as she struggles with her history of using them. And when she discovers a genetically engineered soldier smuggled onto the surface, Vashti must face the nightmare of her husband’s murder all over again. Standing at the threshold of humanity’s greatest hope, she alone understands the darkness of guarding paradise.
I spent a lot of my time while listening to this book confused, which made it all the more surprising when I realized at the end that I’d liked the book, and am fairly intrigued about what will come next. A book spanning multiple topics/thoughts, it was interesting to see how the various topics mostly worked together.
I think this book served in some ways as world-building/scene-setting for future books, which may explain why I was confused at times. This may be seen as a negative, but since I liked the world, it was okay, once I realized that I hadn’t missed anything with the plot (though at times, I was convinced that I had). I also liked the main character, a researcher on the planet of Ubastis but also one of the one people on the planet with a literal license to kill…anything. So while it seemed that the plot may have moved slowly, or that I was sure I was missing things, in the end it worked out okay for me. But others, especially those who listen, might have similar confusion.
It’s hard to describe what the book is “about” since Archangel covers so many topics. The book is set sometime in the future after the Earth has been effectively destroyed/overused by humans. Humans seem to have escaped to space, though it’s not clear that they had to go far to find other places to live. The book mentions a station at L5, which I presume is the L5 Lagrange point that people who’ve studied physics/astrophysics and sci-fi lovers alike will probably recognize. L5 has long been thought of as a place where space colonization might be feasible, so it seems as if it fits and that it’s not some L5 in relation to the world in the book, separate from our own system. Many humans seem to live in space, while a small handful live on Ubastis. Ubastis is a planet that has seen small waves of colonists; the first two waves of colonists were trained primarily as a military would be trained, though the job was to scout areas of the planet and start setup for more colonists in the future, to establish it as its own world. The other aspect of the colonists’ life is to study the planet and understand the resources it has and the balance between the natural ecosystem and those resources–the colonists do not wish to make Ubastis into another Earth, and so immigration to the planet is heavily controlled, only up for discussion once every 10 years. Archangel takes place just prior to one of these votes, and there is a heavy contingent of “off-worlders” lobbying for the strict limits to be lifted, to open immigration to the planet. In the book, human engineering is also not only possibly but heavily used, and most people have some level of genetic modification; most to dull aggression and many for vanity reasons.
The main character, Dr/Commander Lauren Vashti, is a “natural,” a non-genetically modified human. She was one of the people in the second group of colonists to come to the planet. Her husband was one of the leaders of that second group, and the pair are seen in many ways as a literal mother and father (and in the case of her husband, even a saint) of the planet and its resources. Vashti’s husband was killed by a highly-engineered “assault human,” a BEAST, one who was specifically genetically modified to be a soldier of sorts. This brings me to the first of the interleaved topics that the book touches on–motherhood and, to some extent, single motherhood. Vashti spends much of the book seemingly at odds with her dual role on the world. She has a literal daughter, a toddler, but often sees that being a literal mother is incompatible with being a leader, a voice for the planet as a whole. Because of her natural gifts as well as the reverence given to her, Vashti is also a literal mother to many Ubastians (and off-worlders?), as her eggs were frozen and used to create other offspring. There were striking scenes in the book where Vashti’s grief/memories of her husband are interrupted by her daughter, perfectly capturing the issues with motherhood. Later in the book, as she realizes that she is in some way a mother to the planet, similar memories are jarringly interrupted by the politics of the planet, things she must stand up for.
Obviously, another topic in the book is that of genetic engineering and the…sense…in doing so. I won’t go into details, but Vashti being a “natural” woman actually has a fairly important aspect in the plot. In particular, it seems that BEASTs can only really be “controlled” by natural humans, those without genetic modifications. This speaks volumes to the topic of genetic modification in general, but the topic is also touched upon by human nature. Because Vashti is a “natural,” she has a “normal” level of aggression/willingness to kill. It seems that many people have that particular knob turned down. Vashti is looked down upon by outsiders because she is in fact willing to kill to study the fauna native to Ubastis and willing to kill in self defense. It seems that most others find killing repugnant in general, something to be psychologically educated-away/re-educated away. The people of Ubastis (and also the off-worlders, I believe) are vegetarian. In fact, many are Muslim, though it was never really clear to me why it was important that so many were Muslim (the rest seemed to be Christian of some sort).
Another topic commonly dealt with in science fiction is that of resource use/protection of a planet/avoiding a runaway situation like we have on Earth/that eventually dooms Earth in many books…this book is no different. In her role as scientist and “mother” on Ubastis, Vashti preaches for conservation and minimization of the human footprint on the planet. The Earth is looked to as a sign of the worst that can happen.
In all, Archangel is a book about revolution. There are many types of revolution in the story, both personal revolution for Vashti, but other aspects of revolution, too. Once I came to terms with being “confused” every now and then, it was actually a fun read. The narrator, Dina Pearlman, is one whose name is familiar but I can’t find any other books that I’ve listened to that she’s narrated. Her narration had an odd cadence that was particularly difficult to follow at first. I found speeding up the audio playback helped that significantly, though her pacing may also have contributed to my confusion at times. Once I got “used” to it (at the faster playback speed), I got more into the book, but it did take awhile.
This book might not be for everybody–and certainly might not be for everybody in audio form–but as for me, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next on Ubastis.
Posted by terpkristin.
Angles of Attack (Frontlines #3)
By Marko Kloos; read by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 21 April 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours
Themes: / military sci-fi / weird aliens / combat power armor / humanity uniting /
The alien forces known as the Lankies are gathering on the solar system’s edge, consolidating their conquest of Mars and setting their sights on Earth. The far-off colony of New Svalbard, cut off from the rest of the galaxy by the Lanky blockade, teeters on the verge of starvation and collapse. The forces of the two Earth alliances have won minor skirmishes but are in danger of losing the war. For battle-weary staff sergeant Andrew Grayson and the ragged forces of the North American Commonwealth, the fight for survival is entering a catastrophic new phase.
Forging an uneasy alliance with their Sino-Russian enemies, the NAC launches a hybrid task force on a long shot: a stealth mission to breach the Lanky blockade and reestablish supply lines with Earth. Plunging into combat against a merciless alien species that outguns, outmaneuvers, and outfights them at every turn, Andrew and his fellow troopers could end up cornered on their home turf, with no way out and no hope for reinforcement. And this time, the struggle for humanity’s future can only end in either victory or annihilation.
The more I read Marko Kloos, the more I am impressed. This is military SF done right. The writing is solid, the story is solid, and the longer his Frontline series continues, the better it gets.
Angles of Attack is the third book in the Frontline series, and it is by far the best written and executed story. Kloos delivers truly strange aliens known as the Lankies that force a divided humanity to unite. The year is 2116, and it appears that Earth is about to fall.
When you begin navigating the military SF genre, you quickly, all too quickly, encounter massive info-dumps politely known as exposition, really super extra bad melodramatic writing, and fossilized tropes that just won’t die. And while Marko Kloos does employ some well-known tropes, he does so in such a way that it feels fresh, and the reader doesn’t mind the slight manipulation because the story is engaging.
Here’s the down and dirty of this book. The first four-fifths is stunning. The final one-fifth is comparable to something sticky stuck to the bottom of your shoe. You wish it wasn’t there, but you’re not sure how best to remove it, so you keep walking and hope that eventually it will simply go away. This is to say, even with the not so great last act of this book, it is a damn good story that is well written and worth your while to read.
Get the audiobook. Luke Daniels hammers this reading out of the park. Seriously, find the audiobook and listen.
For those of you who aren’t entrenched military SF readers, the Frontline series by Marko Kloos is one of the best series to become familiar with the subgenre. I highly recommend this series, and this book.
This is a 3.5 out of 5 that I am rounding up to 4 out of 5 because I feel generous.
Posted by Casey Hampton.
Steel World (#1 in Undying Mercenaries)
By B. V. Larson; Performed by Mark Boyett
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 3 December 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours
Themes: / dinosaurs / regeneration / military sf / alien bean counters / science fiction /
In the twentieth century Earth sent probes, transmissions and welcoming messages to the stars. Unfortunately, someone noticed.The Galactics arrived with their battle fleet in 2052. Rather than being exterminated under a barrage of hell-burners, Earth joined their vast Empire. Swearing allegiance to our distant alien overlords wasn’t the only requirement for survival. We also had to have something of value to trade, something that neighboring planets would pay their hard-earned credits to buy. As most of the local worlds were too civilized to have a proper army, the only valuable service Earth could provide came in the form of soldiers…someone had to do their dirty work for them, their fighting and dying.
I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a soft and accessible military SF walk-through. If tropes don’t pose a nuisance, this might just graze your fancy.
B. V. Larson’s Steel World is passable military SF, but it’s not a genre standout. If you’re looking to scratch that itch, this will do the trick, but it may not satisfy. All the ingredients are here. We have humans from Earth fighting on a distant planet inhabited by aliens, futuristic weapons, and the technology to make death nearly nonexistent. All the trope-trappings are here of course too, a young recruit, training, deployment, battles, technology, spaceships, etc. But what we don’t have? Genre originality. But it should be said that one doesn’t need break the mold of military SF to have good military SF. In Larson’s case though, it may have helped to step outside the lines in order to make a memorable impression.
For the most part I enjoyed the ride, but I was ready for it to end. The writing affected a forced feel. I was disappointed with the glossed over battle scenes, stereotypical gruff commander, manor in which the recruits fraternized, and the abrupt ending reinforcing the soldier’s inability to “come home” again all felt too prepackaged to ring that bell of authenticity. I struggled with the at times awkward anachronisms. Similes sporting pigs at county fairs, and basic phrases referencing the Internet, the act of brown-nosing, shopping cart wheels, horseshit, and people being pricks kept pulling me out of the future and plunking me back in the contemporary.
Mark Boyett narrates the audiobook, and does a nice job. Boyett has a clean yet slightly senior sounding voice that is incongruous with the main character’s youthful inexperience. While this is feasible to overlook, it never fully leaves the listener’s consciousness. Boyett sounds more like an old man on a porch than a jacked up soldier full of bloodlust and vitality who never stops checking out the backsides of female officers.
Posted by Casey Hampton.
To Honor You Call Us (Man of War #1)
By H. Paul Honsinger; Read by Ray Chase
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 18 February 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 13 hours
Themes: / military SF / swords in space / rat-faced aliens /
The Terran Union is engaged in a vast interstellar war against the KragRuthless aliens intent on exterminating humankind. In 2315, the wily Max Robichaux is given command of the USS Cumberland, a destroyer with state-of-the-art capabilities but a combat record so bad, she’s known as the “Cumberland Gap.”Capt. Robichaux’s first mission: to take his warship to the Free Corridor, where the Krag have secretly been buying strategic materials, and to seize or destroy any ships carrying enemy cargo. Far from the fleet and under enforced radio silence, Max relies only on his determination and guile…and the support and friendship of his chief medical officer, the brilliant Dr. Sahin.Because even as he deals with the ship’s onboard problems and the stress of carrying out her risky assignment, Max and the doctor discover that the Cumberland and her misfit crew are all that stands in the way of a deadly Krag attack that threatens to end the war—and humanity—once and for all.A far-future story in the tradition of “ships of wood, men of iron” novels, To Honor You Call Us and the Man of War series combine the adventure of exploration, the excitement of war, and the dangers of the unknown through the eyes of a ship and her crew.
H. Paul Honsinger’s To Honor You Call Us is on the softer side of Military SF. Rat-faced aliens religiously motivated and determined to exterminate humans play the role of villain. The stage is the stars, and the stars teem with alien life. Some species resemble catfish; others appear to mirror carnivorous teddy bears.
The year is 2315. Rough and tumble Max Robichaux is promoted to Captain, and the story follows his journey into deep space to fight the dreaded rat-faced Krag. In this era of FTL (Faster Than Light) space jumps, pulse cannons, and universal interspecies translators, we also encounter boarding parties, cutlasses, traditional firearms, beer and liquor rations, and battle-axes.
I struggled with this book. The characters are not very engaging, the dialogue feels clunky, and neither of these are helped by a novel written entirely in passive voice. Honsinger overloads his prose with anachronistic stumbling blocks jarring the reader from the 2315 present-day. I didn’t want to at first, but I was willing to accept sword wielding boarding parties in space. I drew the line at the ships commissary selling t-shirts (all sizes), ball caps, pins, coffee mugs, pillowcases, pendants, charm bracelets, polo shirts, shotglasses, workout shorts, throw pillows, Christmas tree ornaments, etc. When I encounter a character saying, “Maybe Santa Claus will come by in his sleigh and act as a missile decoy,” I stop and scratch my noggin. The year is 2315, what character drops this antiquated holiday reference? And why does a character observe, “The sounds reminded Max of a child playing with his oatmeal by using a drinking straw to make bubbles.” Are there really still straws and oatmeal in 2315? Don’t get me wrong, I like oatmeal, but I’ve never used a straw with it before.
The struggle lies in Honsinger’s earnest desire for his story to be taken seriously. If this had been presented as a farce, a jape upon the genre of Military SF like the film Galaxy Quest poked good-naturedly at its contemporary counterparts, I could have better rolled with the punches. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Honsinger’s incessant desire to drop knowledge in the form of military history on the reader is tiring, and does nothing to advance the story. When it’s all said and done, this reads like fanfic, poorly written fanfic.
I listened to the audiobook. Ray Chase is the narrator, and damned if he didn’t make this book better.
Since To Honor You Call Us is the first in the Man of War series, I fully expect Honsinger’s writing to improve as the story continues. And while I do feel burned by this book, I might be willing to pick up the next volume, in time, if Honsinger figures out what he is writing, drops the passive voice, and commits to more intensive revision.
Posted by Casey Hampton.
Seal Team 13
By Evan Currie, Read by Todd Haberkorn
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication date: 15 November 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 9 hours
Themes: / military sci-fi / Navy SEAL / supernatural / horror /
It’s been ten years since a mysterious, horrific incident in the South China Sea annihilated a US Navy destroyer and its Navy SEAL team. Only one man survived. Now, the US Navy is determined to put a stop to the new, frightening incidents taking place with alarming frequency. Enter SEAL Team 13, an elite group of soldiers led by sole survivor Harold “Hawk” Masters. Everyone on the team has survived contact with supernatural forces from “the other side.” Will their camaraderie and duty to country be enough to defeat the malevolent undead forces threatening the country? From world-building author Evan Currie, SEAL Team 13 is a dark, riveting, and action-packed tale of military intrigue and supernatural horror.
I hadn’t heard much about this one, but the description convinced me to give it a go. A military group is assembled to take on supernatural occurrences and with my experience with Myke Cole’s Shadow Ops series, which is really only similar in the fact that the military is involved, I thought I couldn’t miss.
Sadly, what started out as a fun romp with the military and monsters turned out to be a cliched and underwhelming frustration.
I don’t outright hate cliches. I think they can be used well and it’s an easy way to get people into the story or characters without having to waste time (i.e. pages) explaining things. The problem I had here was that once you make reference to “it’s like I’m in a movie” one too many times, it starts to pull you out of the immediate story. It’s no longer its own story, it’s someone else’s. And it just plain started to bug me since just about every character had to make mention of being in a bad horror movie.
And I was even impressed that the cliches weren’t so much in the monsters themselves. Obviously there were some monster cliches, but I liked the idea behind the vampires/zombies. Sadly it wasn’t enough.
Why I Was Underwhelmed
One of the big promises I felt that were made early on was that this team was collected to take on the supernatural occurrences in the world. Occurrences is plural right? So, I figured we would get more than one.
Okay, technically there are more than one because of the backstory of the characters, but the team itself only ever takes on one ridiculously long occurrence of the supernatural and that’s the end of this rather short book. Just a couple more would have made this so much better. Let’s see what else they can do. Are they really here for just the one event? It makes the whole idea behind supernatural threats seem much less … erm … threatening.
Longest Drawn Out Fight Scene Ever
This was the kicker. The last bit of the story has these guys throwing just about everything at the “boss” bad guy monster thing. They chase her through the building, then down the road, and it’s always just in the nick of time that she gets away/protagonist gets saved. And then it happens again … and again. I was so done with this scene. There’s tension and then there’s a time when you’ve built up the tension so much it breaks. When nothing has actually occurred in terms of resolution, I just can’t care anymore.
The narrator, Todd Haberkorn, did a good job. He definitely matched the cliches well and did solid work. I can’t say he was my favorite ever, but that may have been the lines he was given to work with as well. It’s hard to say.
Posted by Bryce L.
Themes: / military sf / basic training / overpopulated earth / battle armor combat / aliens / marriage / mutiny / mathematics /
In the sequel to Terms of Enlistment, a desperate battle for interstellar supremacy pits man against man and humanity against aliens in an epic tale of vicious combat and political deception.
Vicious interstellar conflict with an indestructible alien species. Bloody civil war over the last habitable zones of the cosmos. Political unrest, militaristic police forces, dire threats to the solar system…
Humanity is on the ropes, and after years of fighting a two-front war with losing odds, so is Commonwealth Defense Corps officer Andrew Grayson. He dreams of dropping out of the service one day, alongside his pilot girlfriend, but as warfare consumes entire planets and conditions on Earth deteriorate, he wonders if there will be anywhere left for them to go.
After surviving a disastrous spaceborne assault, Grayson is reassigned to a ship bound for a distant colony—and packed with malcontents and troublemakers. His most dangerous battle has just begun.
In Lines of Departure, Marko Kloos picks up where Terms of Enlistment left off. Earth is overpopulated, various terrestrial governments are still warring with one another in space as people colonize the stars, and there’s a new nearly indestructible alien species that appears determined to exterminate mankind.
The combat scenes are crisp and the action flows at a nice clip. For the majority of the narrative, we tag along with Andrew Grayson as he along with his fellow NAC troopers battle the Lanky, the new aliens on the block. Again we are plunged into a universe where the Chinese, Russians, and North American Commonwealth manage to still fight one another in space as they simultaneously battle the eighty-foot tall Lanky.
Kloos writes a nice sequel, but unlike many others, I didn’t feel that Lines of Departure was as strong as Terms of Enlistment. Still, this is a good Military SF book and worth your time. I like the military hardware, interactions between troops and civilians, and the realistic paradoxical bureaucracy that apparently still plagues humanity’s future.
My favorite scene? Andrew Grayson having breakfast with his mother in a small Vermont diner. I like Military SF combat, and Kloos writes good combat scenes. But the breakfast is something special. Character development happens seamlessly, dialogue feels effortless and natural, and there is some genuine emotional growth occurring. I could almost taste the food, smell the coffee, and feel the heft of the menu and napkins.
The ending is good, maybe not surprising, but it’s true to the story and well written. Nice Job, Mr. Kloos. Thank you for not overreaching. You gave me what the story needed, and you resisted the temptation of adding too many whirly-bangs.
Luke Daniels narrates the audiobook, and turns in another outstanding reading.
I’m looking forward to the next book in the series. If you’ve read Terms of Enlistment, you’ll want to give this a go.
Posted by Casey Hampton.