Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight - Jack Campbell

The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight
Jack Campbell

Military SciFi

The endless war between the Alliance and the Syndicate Worlds is finally over.  The author’s last two books (DREADNAUGHT and INVINCIBLE) took up the post-war story of the victorious Alliance.  This novel looks at the end of war from the side of the losers.  The Syndicate Worlds held power over its people for centuries by maintaining a stranglehold on acceptable speech and behavior, and using the ruthless Internal Security Service (ISS) to do so.  Now it’s clear to the inhabitants of the Syndicate’s star systems that the power structure can be defeated.
Artur Drakon and Gwen Iceni were CEOs in the old power structure.  Both of them realize that times have changed.  They also know that their star system, known as Midway because of its jump points and hypernet gate, is tactically significant.  Before the remaining powers on Prime can pull themselves (and a fleet) together and try to take over, Drakon and Iceni decide to declare that Midway is now independent.  They have some ships and some very loyal people, but it’s going to take more than that to keep order and protect themselves.
There’s some clear crossover between this book and the previous two, but reading the previous books is absolutely not necessary in order to enjoy this one.  It’s military scifi, carried out by realistic characters with understandable goals and relatable flaws.  Drakon and Iceni were both raised in a culture that taught them to distrust absolutely everyone.  It’s difficult for them to work together and trust that they both want the same things.  It makes them very human.

Once peace breaks out, so do unforeseen problems.  Drakon decides to rename military ranks, throwing out the Syndic-speak nomenclature of CEOs and Executives.  CEO Drakon becomes General Drakon.  Meanwhile, Iceni has the same idea and becomes President Iceni.  It’s a bittersweet bit of irony that no one, including the two handing out new titles, really know what they mean.  But it instantly improves morale across the board by proving that promised changes are really happening. 
As in any revolution, there will be those who remain loyal to the old power structure.  Most notably here, that would be the “snakes,” the agents of the ISS.  Ordinary citizens remain rightfully fearful of the ruthless ISS and the repercussions that were de facto in the old days.  Other citizens immediately rise up and attempt to start their own citizen-based power bases.  Every group has their own ideas, and chaos will inevitably follow.  On some planets, civil wars begin over differing ideologies.  Nothing is certain for anyone in these times.  Through it all, Drakon and Iceni prove that it’s not just lonely at the top, it can be deadly.  This is only the beginning of the story and proves that the best scifi filters the universal ideas through the prism of imperfect personal experiences to make compelling stories.
Rating: 8
October 2012
ISBN# 978-1-937077-82-2 

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

the girl she used to be - David Cristofano

the girl she used to be
David Cristofano
Grand Central


Her name was Melody Grace McCartney for the first six years of her life.  Then she and her parents walked in on a mob murder in progress.  Not long after, they were placed in Witness Protection and lived in a series of middle-of-the-road towns, under various names.  They were moved several times due to ongoing threats.  Twenty years later, Melody is living alone.  Her parents are dead, victims of the always-threatened mob vengeance.

Despite the fact that she is now a teacher (not by training – the government produced the required documentation for her) Melody feels her life is completely without purpose.  Because she is thoroughly bored, she calls the U.S. Marshalls and tells them about a threatening phone call.  Of course, the Marshalls respond as they must: they swoop in, put Melody in the back of a car, and make plans to move her to a new town and a new life.  On the way, there’s a stop at a seedy motel.  During the night, Melody meets Jonathan Bavaro, son of the mobster who killed her parents.  And, here’s the kicker: she slips away from the Marshalls with him.
Both Melody and Jonathan are clearly emotionally damaged individuals.  Melody’s damage certainly stems from watching a murder at age six.  Since she’s the narrator, we’re not privy to the interior life of Jonathan, but he has his own issues.  The problem is that Melody is not a compelling character.  She seems to have stopped maturing emotionally sometime during her early teens.  There really is no reason at all for her flight with Jonathan.  She tells us that she feels safe with him, but it seems equally possible that she’s just excited by a different lifestyle and a nice car.  The story is an original one, and the pace is quite fast.  Melody’s enduring interest is math, a discipline in which logic should always lead you to the right answer.  Or at least, to the answer in the back of the book.
Rating: 6 ½
March 2010
ISBN# 978-0-446-58221-6 (trade paperback)

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

The Hiding Place - David Bell

The Hiding Place
David Bell

Crime Fiction
Twenty-five years ago, Janet’s parents sent her to the park with her little brother, Justin.  It was a big event in her life, since, at age seven, this was the first time she’d been given the responsibility of looking after herself and her brother.  It was a public park in a small Midwestern town; most of the parents and children knew each other.  It seemed safe enough.  But only Janet returned home.  Justin was missing.
The police searched the park and its surroundings.  They questioned every child and adult in the park.  Still, it was months before the child’s skeletonized body was discovered.  A local man, seen playing with Justin in the park that day, was arrested and sent to prison.    The event changed everything about Janet’s young life.  Her mother died not long afterwards – of grief, everyone said.  Her father remained a stoic and distant presence.  Janet had a child of her own before completing high school.  That child, Ashleigh, now fifteen, also feels the weight of past events in her life.
One night, a man appears at Janet’s door.  He says he knows the truth about what happened to Justin.  He begs Janet not to call the police, so, against her better judgment, she doesn’t.  One of the original investigators on the case, Detective Stynes, warns Janet that the articles marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of Justin’s death will bring out all kinds of people with all kinds of motives. He’s surprised to find that even he has questions about what happened.
What does anyone really remember about a specific day at age seven?  By the time this story begins, Janet isn’t quite sure if she really remembers events, or if she’s simply heard and read about them so often that they seem like memories.  Details are fuzzy; conversations are forgotten or remembered out of chronological order.  It is not at all difficult to understand why Janet allows the man on her porch to lead her on by dangling hope in front of her. 
The author (who also wrote the fine CEMETERY GIRL) excels at exploring human emotions.  A lot of them are not particularly nice, but they’re real.  Janet is absolutely realistic.  Her relationships with her father and daughter are complex and true.  Truth is what’s really at stake here.  Some of the characters believe that it’s best to leave the past where it belongs and look to the present and the future.  Others believe that basing life on a lie makes life meaningless.  When does it become easier to live with a simple lie than to uncover an ugly and potentially destructive truth? 

Rating:8 ½
October 2012
ISBN# 978-0-451-23796-5 (trade paperback)