Preview of The Traitor’s Gambit, book 2 in the Rippers Raiders series

This month we are giving a preview of the next book in the continuing saga of the Ripper’s Raider’s Saga:  The Traitor’s Gambit  (copyright 2016).  This is the prologue of the book, opening after the end of Strings on a Shadow Puppet.


The tires of the airvan gave a tiny screech as it touched down on the street. A faint cloud of road dust and dried leaves billowed briefly and dissipated as its lift-fans wound down. Stub-wings folded into the stout passenger vehicle as it taxied into the car park.  The side doors slid open before it had slipped into a parking space, and eight people in heavy black boots and oversized cloths filed out. Behind it, a skysedan circled once, its blowers whining as it landed in the adjacent lot.

Car doors slammed and in a moment a group of ten men and four women stood on the pavement in front of a glowing sign: Swanzie Imperial Care Facility: A Home for Retired Naturals.  Around the placard flowed holographic text, “…because the worth of a society is measured not in its strength of arms or economy, but in the way it cares for those who cannot care for themselves. – Emperor Octavius Pleiades, IC 00.”  Behind it was a complex of low single story buildings, set with white picket fences that formed small garden courtyards.  In one a fountain stood, in another a flowering tree.

The group of men and women split their furtive glances. Some looked towards the buildings, others scanned the area around them; a few caught one another’s eyes.  A tall thin woman with a light brown pony tail and a rough scar down the left side of her face pulled out a PAD and typed a code into its touch screen.  Both the airvan and skysedan’s chirruped in response.  Next to her a tall, striking black man with a neatly shaved head gave a quick glance to a nearby window.  His eyes narrowed, his jaw clenched.

“See something Alec?” the scarred woman asked, brushing a loose strand of hair from her eyes. Some of the others put their hands inside their oversized coats.

The bald man gave a curt shake of his head. The others relaxed.  While the scarred woman pecked commands into her PAD, the rest of the group continued to scan the area around them.  Occasionally the woman closed her eyes, clearly observing something through her implants.

“We sure we want to do this?” a redheaded man asked. His gaze was locked on the bald man named Alec.

“No one’s going to get hurt, Wyatt,” the scarred woman replied.

“If it goes to plan.”

“If it doesn’t we’re fucked anyways.”

     “These are old folks, Rachel,” Wyatt said, pushing a loose strand of auburn hair from his eyes.

     “Old naturals,” a broad shouldered woman added. She was pretty, with skin a shade darker than the bald man and a muscular build. She looked to the red head as if for support, but didn’t find any. “Terms like aged, infirm, and grandma come to mind.”

“Alright look,” the scarred woman, Rachel, said as she lowered the PAD and caught the eye of each member of the group one by one, “The Delang was fake and Rubo was a twat, but they got one thing right: people who are vulnerable get attention.  Kids, and yes, grandparents.”

“But naturals?” the woman asked, hands wide as she shrugged. The bald man, Alec, looked at the Rachel with narrowed eyes and a clenched jaw.

“Yes, Annie. Naturals,” Rachel spoke with a firm voice, though her eyes hinted at less certainty, “Especially naturals. Anyone who chooses to turn down technological treatments looks old, infirm, and pathetic.  It will get attention.  It will get us what we need, and don’t kid yourself, we need it.

“We’re the last, get it?  Every other cell in Wayang Network has been taken out. The regulars are gone.  The terror cells are gone. The fucking Stalkers are gone, the Federalist Democratic Army has written us off. The Federalist Liberation Army has too, and it’s not just any set of Imperials who are after us, it’s Ripper’s Raiders, get it?  It’s only a matter of time before they get us – and you know what will happen if we are caught.”

Annie looked away.

“These ain’t all people,” a small woman in an oversized black trench coat said, her eyes fixed on Annie, “They got slimmies and bugeyes in their mix. Those don’t count.”

“Look, Annie,” the scarred woman said, sparing the speaker a distasteful sidelong glance, “I feel the same way, and I know you and Alec are new to us…”

“Don’t throw me in with her doubts,” the bald man said.

“…but most of the group here?” Rachel continued, “We’ve been on the run over a year.  Half of us have been declared Outlaw.  That means no civil rights – none.  They could torture us, kill us, cut us up for body parts, whatever the fuck they want. Oh, sure they say if we turn ourselves in we could get a trial, but do you really believe them?”

“Yeah, a trial,” Alec said with a snort. He ran a hand over his bald scalp.

“I get it,” Annie said, “we do what it takes.”

Rachel’s gaze narrowed as it moved between her and the other newcomer, Alec. The small woman in black looked around more frequently. She was growing jumpy.

“If we don’t get a ship and clear out of Imperial space, we’re fucked.” Rachel’s eyes lingered for a moment on Alec. “If we can make it to Atrucan space maybe we can make lives for ourselves in one of the camp.  Those who want to keep up the fight might be able meet up with one of the Feddie Regular units, or who knows.  Maybe Hectoro, or the Raksash, or the Voice, or fuck knows maybe even the Great Mother herself, but if we don’t, we’re dead. Or worse.”

“Let’s get this over with,” Wyatt said, eyeing Annie like one might watch a poisonous snake.

The woman called Rachel nodded and most of the group started towards a path that ran between a tall hedge and the back of one of the numerous buildings.  As the others moved forward, she the redhead’s arm. Two others hung back with them.

“Keep an eye on those two newbies,” Rachel whispered, indicating the black woman and the broad shouldered man who spoke, “Alec seems a little gung-ho, and Annie is a bit too reluctant. I don’t care who they worked for in the Lai-Jung cell. Everyone but us and them who were tied to the Wayang is dead or captured.  Let’s not get lazy and join them now.”

“I could off them now,” Wyatt said, “You know I never liked adding untested people to the team so late in the game.”

“I know,” she said, “But we need them. Besides, we’re not Rubio. We don’t just off people without reason.”

“Except old naturals?”

“Just keep an eye on them, okay?”

Wyatt shrugged, running his hand through his read hair as he broke eye contact.  The other two took up posts on the outside of the building.

In a moment, the rest of the group stood beside an emergency exit and Rachel took her place right by the door. She looked up at a security camera by the door, then nodded. A mix of weapons were drawn from under their jackets, some submachine guns, some shotguns and one laser rifle.  Rachel pushed one last button on her PAD before pulling a hand gun and ripping open the door.

In the center of the room a group of old men and women gathered around a table. Others sat in high backed seats and wheelchairs set about in scientifically predetermined “conversation” groups.  To one side a collection of men, women and sentient aliens held half-made arts and crafts in their hands. Some walls were hung with water colors and landscapes, while others projected a bucolic holographic countryside in 3-D. Some of the residents stared as if unaware the projections were not real, most others turned watery eyes to the armed terrorists rushing into the room.

“Everyone listen and no one will get hurt!” Rachel shouted.

For a moment the room was still as a tableaux.  At the central table a beautiful blond woman bent down as she laid a candle covered cake onto its surface, a smile frozen on her face.  In front of her an old man seemed oblivious to the intrusion and the cake, his eyes looking down the woman’s sweater blouse.  In the corner, a large ententicled alien loomed unmoving over the craft makers, its skin flushed in patterned beige.

One of the terrorists moved towards it and fell head over heels as he tripped over an oxygen tank.  Bullets sprayed the wall and ceiling. That is when the screaming started.

“Fuck.” Wyatt said between clenched teeth. Alec smiled.

“Quiet!” Rachel shouted.  The screams grew louder. Others just looked around with confused and watery eyes.

One of the caregivers, the woman with honey colored hair, tried to calm the mix of old humans and aliens. The radially symmetrical quasi-vertebrate sentient alien, wrapped its long, tentacle-like limbs that ended flower-like ends around four others. The creature’s skin took on a shade of bright and angry green with leopard like spots flowing across its surface. The screaming and sobs continued.

Annie grabbed an old man in a wheelchair and put the barrel of her submachine gun to his head.  The man screeched, the wheelchair clattered to the floor.

“Shut it! Now!” Annie shouted. That seemed to have some effect. Silence fell and the redhead stopped watching Annie.

“Patients against the windows, facing out,” Rachel ordered, “Nurses, keep them calm and no one will be hurt.”

“I’m not a…” the blonde started.

“Shut up!” Alec said, gesturing at with her gun.

There was the shuffling of feet and the squeaking of wheels as sobbing frightened naturals moved towards the windows. A withered old sophant had difficulty undulating its way into position, Alec kicked it.  It let out a squeak and a terrible smell. The blonde lifted it and carried it over. Rachel noted the muscles beneath her clothes and wondered how an aged care nurse could spend so much time in the gym. In the distance, sirens could be heard.

“That was fast,” Wyatt said.

“Imperial Facilities have constant security monitoring,” Alec said.

“Everybody take up your posts,” Rachel said as she pulled out her PAD and awkwardly pecked commands into it with the hand that held a pistol.

For a moment everything was quiet.  The terrorists kept out of view of the windows, the old aged pensioners were kept up against them.  The redhead started to eye the striking blonde teacher in a less than professional manner, the old man had never stopped. Annie continued to hold the old woman. Alec kept a gun on the alien caregiver, sneering with disgust. Its spots shifted into stripes.

“Citizens of Sophya!” Rachel spoke into the PAD as if it were a camera. “We are the Federalists Liberation Army and we are fighting to free you from the totalitarian grip of the Imperialists who claim to protect your rights! We have taken the Swanzie Imperial Care Facility and are holding the residents in protective custody until our demands are met. We need a ground transport, a long range, jump capable ship, and clear roads and airspace. When we reach a lagrange point, we will release the captives…”

The front door opened and the two remaining terrorists ran in. “The first wave of Imperial Guardians are pulling into the lot.”

“I am sending a full list of demands now,” Rachel said as thumbed a send message, “Long live the Federalist Revolution!”

“I think there were Marines with them,” the man said.

Rachel looked up, her brow deeply furrowed. Outside they could hear feet tramping on the ground and aircars circling overhead.  The redhead and the dirty blond shared a quick, nervous glance. So did Alec and Annie. Annie nodded.

“That’s all of them,” Alec said out of nowhere.

Wyatt gave the good looking bald man a quizzical look, Rachel opened her mouth.

“And then there were none,” the tall striking blonde said.

The old men and women turned in silent unison to face the inside of the room. Wyatt stepped away, Annie let go of her hostage, but Rachel grabbed another.  The man who had been staring at the blonde’s chest.

“Tell them to face outside!” She pulled the old man tight to her body and put a gun to its head.

The frail framed residents snapped open their mouths, but instead of screams there was only a soft hissing noise.

“I am Lieutenant Samantha Smith of Imperial Naval Intelligence,” the honey blonde caregiver said as she stood straight and impressively tall, “You are under arrest for…”

Wyatt raised his gun. Before he could shoot the weapon was out of his hands and the ground, the butt of Alec’s rifle smashing into the redhead’s face.

Annie’s submachine gun came down on the skull of one of the terrorists, before she delivered a back-kick into the face of another.  The first dropped like a stone.  The second flew backwards onto an easel. He didn’t move.

Rachel pulled the trigger and winced. The head of her wrinkled captive blew open. Coolant and circuits sprayed across the floor.

Across the room, the multi-colored alien burst into action.  It enwrapped the woman in the black trench coat with two tentacle-like limbs and ripped her gun away with another.  By the windows, the old men and women raised their hands as they continued their hissing scream.  Flicking their fingers, needles sprang out.

“What the fuh…” one of the terrorists started, before collapsing to the ground. As the others began to follow suit, the senior citizens leapt from their spots, landing on their captors and sticking their needle claws deep into the necks of their victims.

Head spinning, Rachel raised her gun to aim at tall black bald man who had betrayed her. Annie took a step towards her, but the blonde Lieutenant was faster. She flicked her wrist and a pistol snapped into her hand from beneath the sleeve of her sweater. Samantha Smith took the shot, and the last leader of the Wayang Network died with a bullet to the brain.

There was silence for a moment. Only four people remained standing: Alec, Annie, the alien and Lt. Smith. The old people remained hunched over the others, needles in their victim’s throats, but their hissing mouths finally closed.

“You know Samantha,” the bald man spoke, his voice suddenly heavy with the plummy educated tones of the social elite, “It would be nice if once in a while you could avoid shooting people in the head. That would leave questioning as an option you know?”

“Sorry Alex,” Samantha replied, brushing a strand of her honey colored hair from her eyes.

“Hell yeah, I’m not sorry,” Gunnery Sergeant Andrea ‘Annie’ Chrom, said, “That bitch was gonna shoot your ass.”

The doors to the room burst open and a mixture of Imperial Marines and Army Guardians entered the room. They filled the room quickly and efficiently, combat rifles smooth and steady as they secured the space.

“Commander?” the lead Sergeant asked, looking at Alex with narrowed eyes and a cocked eyebrow.

“Yes, Sergeant Bowman,” Alex said as he ran his hand over his bald head, “The room is secured.”

“Sorry, skipper, I didn’t recognize you-”

“No need to apologize,” Alex said with a smile, “That was the idea. Amazing what some sun and a razor can accomplish. Now, secure the prisoners.”

“Aye, aye, Skipper,” Bowman said, then gave a smiling nod to Gunnery Sergeant Chrom. In less than a minute the limbs of the terrorists were cuffed regardless of whether or not they were conscious, or even alive.

“Good work people,” Alex said when the last of them was bound, “I’d particularly like to thank Colonel DuZhod and Lieutenant Popolopolis, for your assistance.”

“Wouldn’t have missed it!” the radial sophant said through its translator as a spectrum of colors flushed over its hide. One of its flower like heads bobbed in a gesture intended to mimic a human nod.

“My pleazhure, heh, Lieutenant Commander,” one of the women in a wheelchairs said with the heavily accented voice of an adult man.

“Now Colonel, if you could be so kind as to shut down your seniorbots, I think we can proceed from here.”

The ancient looking androids slumped to the visible relief of all the marines. They, and the Imperial Army Guardians began to haul off their unconscious forms.

“Congratulations, Lord Fotheringday,” the alien Lieutenant Popolopolis said as it turned the flower-like head of one of its tentacles to Alex, “If I am not mistaken, that puts an end to the very last remnant of Wayang terror network.”

Somewhere, someone started to clap.  Soon the room was filled with cheers.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Problem with Military Science Fiction Part 3: The Myth of the Gung Ho Space Marine…

This imechnstuffssue we are returning to one of this blogs most popular series of articles: the examination of what Military Science fiction (Part 1, Part 2, and Pollyanna was a Space Marine).  As stated in the previous articles, Mil Fic has a bad reputation.  We’ve already examined criticism of the subgenre ranging from complaints that characters are not very well developed (Link to Pollyanna was a Space Marine), that the nature of conflict in the books is simplistic (link to part 1), and/or that as a whole subgenre is a bit schizophrenic, with pacing ranging from plodding to frenetic (link to part 2). Yet, while these issues are each important, so far we have ignored the one complaint that is most frequently aimed at the subgenre – the elephant in the room.

The single most common criticism leveled at Military Science fiction (and Military Speculative Fiction as a whole) is that it glorifies war and promotes a pro-military, often conservative political agenda.

foreverwarIndeed, in 2011 the Guardian Newspaper published an article by Damien G. Walter that said exactly that.  It critiqued the subgenre as a whole suggesting it encouraged men and women to “enter the meat grinder” of modern military life and as a whole glorified combat, and simplified the world into a militaristic the us versus them nature needed to engage in a war.  The article ended by summing up the world as a dichotomy:

On the one side, it seems, are the Guardian reading liberals, for whom war is good for nothing, and nothing more than a failure of understanding and communication between peoples. On the other are military SF loving conservatives, who believe that the enemy is out there, is evil, and can be defeated by heroes carrying very big, very expensive weapons.

A bit ironic for a person who criticizes the genre as dividing the world into Us and Enemy.

soldiersdutyOf course, as anyone who is familiar with MilFic as a whole, this particular article seems to have been poorly researched and based on the reading of one or perhaps two works (mostly Weber’s Honor Harrington series it would seem, and even that not very closely). Even so, it is an article that strikes resonance with many critics of the genre, espouses sentiments that are often felt by non-fans, and puts some potential reader off many excellent works.  It is also a viewpoint is fundamentally wrong.  This is not to say MilFic does not have its problems (as this whole series of articles explores), but in this case, such a reading is just plain wrong.

While there are certainly books out there that do glorify war, promote the military, and/or put forward a conservative agenda, to categorize the whole subgenre that way is like saying that all Christians are Creationists, or that all liberals are vegans. Yet, even if this claim was true, the putting forward of those agendas, should not, by itself, be a reason to dismiss the genre as good for nothing, no matter what your place on the political spectrum.


Stop challenging my world view!

Literature should not only be allowed to express myriad ideologies, it should strive to do so.  In a modern world of educated actors, one NEEDS read viewpoints different than ones own, one should try to understand them, not just as straw men arguments, but as the fully fledged concepts they represent.  If nothing else, it allows you to argue against them all the better.[1] Being made to feel challenged and/or uncomfortable is how we evolve our understanding no only of the world, but of the self and the other.[2]

This is not to say that every book you read should be an experiment in building your world view. It is more than just okay to just read light, comfortable books – it’s good! Fiction should be enjoyable.  Even so, I am grateful that not all books simply confirm my world view, and the best ones often make me challenge them.  I would hope that other readers feel the same.

Beyond such intellectual idealism, however, there is another problem with the argument that Military Science Fiction is gung-ho, pro-war, conservative propaganda. It is blatantly not true.  There are just as many works of MilFic that do quite the opposite.  Indeed, even some of those that have been critiqued as flaunting ultra-conservative agendas that promote military states are in fact quite the opposite (link to Starship Troopers article). Such misinterpretations are frequently the result of a failure to read more deeply into the text. This is something we will discuss in detail later in the article, but for now, let us just note that like any other form of literature, there are books that fall across the whole spectrum of political and ideological views.

StarshipTroopersProblemMilFicThe most classic examples of this range of attitudes can be seen, in fact, in many of the most famous books of the genre. Indeed, the “bookends” of Military Sci-Fi themselves, Robert Heinlien’s Starship Troopers and Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War can be seen as diametrically opposed views of the military and politics.  As discussed in my review,  many see Starship Troopers as a novel that promotes an extreme form of pro-military conservative politics, one that suggests only those who serve the government or military should have the right to vote.

forever-warModernCoverWhile this view is highly debatable (and not one I believe Heinlein actually supported – see the link to my review), it certainly is the kind of state outlined in the book.  In contrast, however, there is the Forever War, by Joe Haldeman which in no way can be interpreted as pro-war, pro-military, or conservative. Even the lightest of readers can see that it is a clear cut condemnation of the Military and the Military-Industrial complex. What is more, the Forever War is far from alone in the genre. Other giants in the field also show a range of views on both politics and the military.

HH001David Weber’s Honor Harrington series certainly seems to fall under the more conservative scale of politics. Within the pages of most, if not all, of the Harrington books more conservative viewpoints are not only promoted, liberal positions are frequently used as straw men arguments, and even all but ridiculed.  There are some who even accuse Weber of promoting an Ayn Rand-ian world view where some people are just born to lead.  I would certainly not go that far, but clearly Weber’s Honorverse books promote a more conservative view point.

HammersSlammers.jpgIn direct contrast, however, are series like David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers.  While some of his tales may occasionally appear to promote a pro-militaristic viewpoint, one need only read his first short story “Under the Hammer”[3] to realize nothing could be further from the truth. Oh, it’s true that some of his stories, such as “Standing Down”[4] could be seen as promoting the virtues of military coup d’etates, I would argue that they are world building and thought experiments.  Most, if not all, of his other stories demonstrate that his tales are descriptive and/or cautionary more than they can be said to promote any sort of political agenda.  Indeed, they primarily describe the horrors of war far more than any form of glorification of it.

OldMansWar(1stEd)Other books give complex views as well. In Old Man’s War and its related series John Sclazi wavers back and forth between the two poles. At one point he seems to damn any military held political power, at other times he seems to justify dark secrets and military agendas.  There in lies Scalzi’s greatest strength, he does not simplify the situation or give right-and-wrong answers.  Instead, the right and wrong of it is seen through his character’s eyes, and as points-of-view change, so do the judgments that go with it.  To this end, he simply draws a picture in shades of greys and let’s the reader decide.[5]

The list goes on, and indeed, from my reading, most of the stories fall on the more progressive side of the political spectrum. Why then the concept that Military Science Fiction represents a pro-war, gung-ho and militaristically conservative point of view?

In part it is because some individuals, such as Damier Walter (above), seem to feel uneasy in the reading of any story about war that does not whole-heartedly condemn it and those who take part in it.  People like that seem to support the idea that all soldiers should be portrayed as baby-killing neo-Nazis.[6]

Yet, individuals such as that are few and far between.  Just as most authors and fans of MilFic hold a wide spectrum of views, most critics are not simplistic nor jingoistic card-carrying lefties. Indeed, I’ve got more than a few friends whose views are on the extreme left who LOVE MilFic. So why then are there so many people who seem to feel that Military Science Fiction is gung-ho, pro-war, propaganda?

Well, in one light it is easy to understand why even close reading, deep thinking person might misinterpret certain elements of MilFic with such a pro-military/ultra-conservative agenda.  Certainly I once did, for despite the wide range of political views within the subgenre, and indeed the wide range of story types told by the authors, there are some elements that all of these books hold in common – elements that could easily be misconstrued for a militaristic viewpoint despite the subtext of many of these books.

Techno-Weapons Porn – or a love and focus on the hardware of war

air-and-space-museum.jpgTrue to the traditions of Heinlein, most books in the genre spend a certain amount of time lovingly describing the hardware of death.  My books certainly do.  In part this is because MilFic generally has a certain element of hard-sci fi in them – it is part of the “trope”. Military Science fiction often describes and relishes the technical workings of the weapon systems they describe.  Be it StarFIST guns and drop ships, the altered bodies of the Old Man’s War, the warships of the Honorverse, the ultra-cool cyborgs of the Legions of the Damned, or the Spectre-Class stealth ships of my own novels, there is a certain pornographic glee in the description of the military hardware within the annals of Military Science Fiction. This is as much a part of the genre as ghosts, zombies, and vampires are part of Paranormal stories, or Magic is part of High Fantasy. Yet does a focus on the guns imply a love of war?

slammers.jpgOf course not. For one thing, the weapons are part of the setting and plot in the same way that murders are part of Crime Fiction, magic is part of Fantasy, or clothing and décor are part of the appeal of Regency Romances. The accoutrements of war are part of the mechanics and setting of a story about the military. Soldiers use guns.  Star pilots fly ships.  Knowing how they work and how they run are important to the characters. Soldiers know about their guns, pilots know about their ships. What is more, those are important aspects of their lives.  To that end, the gear helps set the tone, affects the plot, and fleshes out the lives of the characters in a manner that is key to the workings of most of the stories.

gun002.jpgAfter all, what is 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea but the loving exploration of a technology based idea – what would happen if we could build a ship that sailed under the water for extended periods? So too many if not most of the MilFic genre include plot elements tied upon the technical workings of their gear.

Flickr_-_Israel_Defense_Forces_-_Female_Soldiers_Unload_their_Weapons.jpgYet there is more to it than simply setting and a love of techno.  While much of Military Science Fiction does focus on the cool nature of military hardware, it does not always do so favorably.  Indeed, the very first volume of the StarFIST series, Starfist: First to Fight (Starfist Book 1) by David Sherman and Dan Crag (Del Rey, 1997), is centered around the introduction of a piece of technology that does not work: the UPUD[7]. Indeed, in one sense the whole book is nothing more than an action packed adventure that criticizes the nature of military command structures and the way they introduce untested equipment risking the lives of good men and women.  The other way to view the book is as a tribute to the men and women who can overcome such obstacles, but we will get into that later.

LEgionOFDamned2An even more clear cut example can be seen in William C. Deitz’ Legion of the Damned – a series that introduces the very cool concept of brain-in-a-box cyborgs soldiers.  While it does spend a lot of time discussing the hardware of the different cybernetic bodies that such soldiers can be plugged into (everything from anthropoid to battle tanks and fliers), and while this description is very cool and definitely keeps the reader engaged, the book is far from a glorification of it.  Indeed, it is quite the opposite – it is a metaphor for how twisted a military can become when it is put in inappropriate hands. It is a metaphor for how a soldier can be viewed as little more than a weapon. What is more, it and the other books in the Legion of the Damned series show the conflicts soldier have when in this position, and how honorably they can behave despite being made killer slaves.

This then leads us to the second element that leads critics to misunderstand the genre…

Pro-Soldier is NOT Pro-Military

ladysoldier.jpgPerhaps the most common misunderstanding of the genre is the confusion between pro-military and pro-soldier.  To a degree this is very understandable error to make.  If one is creating a tale a heroic men, women and things who serve in the military, it is easy to understand how many of these tales could be see as promoting an agenda that suggests the military as an institution is somehow superior.  In fact, there could be nothing farther from the truth.

MilFic is, in fact, very rarely pro-military.  Indeed, the focus of most of the stories (even the Honor Harrington series) critiques the military in some form or another.  Be it a condemnation of how it can be misused and misguided (Dietz), the finding of faults in military command structure (Weber), the over reliance on technology (StarFIST), the application of jingoistic propaganda and how that can create a fundamentally flawed atmosphere (Jack Campbell’s Dauntless, The Lost Fleet Book 1 (aka John G. Hemry) (Ace Publishers, 2006)), the absolute horror and death that comes in battle (Drake) or some combination of all of these (Heinlein and Haldeman… ironically), MilFic focuses on the problems with the military, not its glory.

soldier.jpgYet, the misunderstanding of this is completely comprehensible – for the other element that all MilFic have in common is NOT that it is promilitary, but that it is Pro Soldier.  It focuses on the honor and dedication that men and women who serve in the military have.  It may point out how this can be misused, or it may focus on how it is the solution to greater problems but it is a constant across the subgenre.

MilFic is a genre that focuses on the men and women who serve and the lives they live while serving.  While some may interpret that as being gung-ho, it is not per se.  MilFic examines what life in the military is like.  Sometimes it focuses on those who serve a good cause, some on those trapped or fooled into serving a bad cause, some who shouldn’t be there in the first place.  Yet, no matter how you view it, the genre looks at the lives and mentality of those who lay down their lives for their nation – be it voluntarily or through a draft.

Here then, is where the worst elements of misunderstanding lie. For those who critique milfic as gung-ho propaganda have not really read it for what it is, but rather condemn it for what it isn’t – and it isn’t as a genre a way of promoting a political or military agenda.

None of which is to imply that a person who doesn’t enjoy reading military science fiction is in someway wrong (or in any sense unpatriotic) if they just don’t enjoy the subgenre.  That would be an even worse stereotyping than the one I suggest. Not every type of literature is every reader’s cup of tea: AND PEOPLE SHOULD READ WHAT THEY LIKE.

Some people don’t like MilFic because they don’t feel comfortable with the topic matter (which is not to say they don’t respect soldiers. Indeed, I have one friend who doesn’t like it because he saw too much while serving and really just doesn’t want to think about it). Others dislike it because they don’t like the plot structure or kinds of character arcs that are at the stories’ cores. Still others dislike it because they get bored with the description of hardware or of the violence or of any number of other elements inherent in the stories.  There are a thousand reasons why a smart reader might not choose to read such a tale, in the same way that one might dislike Fantasy, or Romance or any other genre.[8]  AND THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT!!!  One need not like every genre, or subgenre.  Good on you if that’s how you feel.

anna-popplewell-silva-forward-unto-dawn.jpgThe problem comes when readers, particularly professional critics (or worse yet University Professors), write off the whole subgenre as a single category: especially when it is just not true.  Military Science Fiction as a whole does not glorify war. Some of it does, sure, but most doesn’t.

What it does do, universally, is explore, examine and in most cases try to honor the lives of men and women who serve. That is the common thread across the genre.  It is what binds it together, and that is blatantly obvious anyone who gives serious thought to what is on the page, rather than what is already in their minds.

Go to :

The Problem with Military Science Fiction Part 1

The Problem with Military Science Fiction Part 2: Taxonomies

Pollyanna Was a Space Marine



[1] This is, by the way, the same argument I use to Creationist fundamentalists when they object to evolution being taught in my class.  I don’t ask you believe it, I ask that you understand it. Why would a god give you a brain if he did not want you to use it?

[2] Thus speaks the academic… you could never tell I teach at University could you?

[3] Hammers Slammers

[4] ibid

[5] Indeed, anyone who might suggest Scalzi has a conservative agenda need merely read a few pages of his blog and you might find a very different answer.

[6] Indeed, one cannot help but wonder how he feels about books such as All’s Quiet on the Western Front, or movies like Platoon.

[7] Yes, I still giggle every time I read that…

[8] Heck, I went through about a ten year period where I couldn’t stand mysteries.  ME!  I now write them, but I got bored.  I’d read too many in a row and the mechanics of the genre were just too blatant to me.  Thank goodness I got over that, but it was a thing and not reading mysteries because I didn’t enjoy them was a good thing.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Graveyard: The Mutant Files (vol. 3), William C. Dietz (Publisher: Ace Books)

(Science Fiction, Crime Thriller, Gritty Noir, Series, Chronicle)

graveyard1Grade: B/Γ +— Highly enjoyable book of mixed genre. Solid story, good characters, if you like these genres, read this book. If you like one of them, but not the other, I suspect you will still enjoy it.

SIDE NOTE – Yes… I am going to revamp the whole grading system. It’s gotten way too complex. In short REALLY liked it – but it’s combination of genres may not appeal to everyone.

In brief:
Graveyard by William Dietz is a gripping, gritty dark detective story that serves as the third installment in the Mutant Files series. While it can be read as a stand alone (I did), it is likely best enjoyed if you read the series in order. Set in a post-plague apocalyptic Los Angeles, Graveyard combines Sci Fi, mystery and gritty police procedural in a manner that grabbed my attention. Its strong female protagonist drew me further in, and I really enjoyed the read as a whole.

This is a good read for sci fi and crime drama fans, a great read for those who like both genres, and well worth picking up for anyone who likes Urban Fantasy mysteries, and interested in seeing that same dark element in a Sci Fi setting.

A post-plague apocalyptic Los Angeles, where the US has devolved into separate states. Some decades before the story opens, a devastating, man made disease was released upon the world population. This disease not only kills many of its victims, those who survive develop genetic mutations, not of the superhero form, but of the slightly more realistic body changing form. Some might be seen as beneficial, but most are painful, disfiguring and/or generally problematic.

As that many of those infected are still carriers, the non-infected population has created Red Zones that segregate the mutants from the rest of the population – resulting in social stress, bigotry and an unequal divide of resources.


ARC Copy that I read

In Depth:
So, for my first sojourn back into book reviews, I decided to start with an author I like who has combined two of my favorite genres (Sci-Fi and gritty detective stories) into a new series that seems well poised to draw fans of both – and perhaps appeal to those who, like me, enjoy Urban Fantasy but are a tad bored of it.

To that end, Graveyard is a highly enjoyable read that blends the dark detective novel with a science fiction twist, allowing the author to subtly comment on poignant social issues of today. It also nicely blends four plotlines (two volume internal, one personal story arc, and one the Bonebreaker case that serves as the main series arc) in a manner that I have often felt is missing in many mysteries and crime dramas.

I have always thought it funny how so many cop stories seem to ignore the fact that police usually have to deal with more than one case at a time. In Graveyard the main character, LAPD Detective Cassandra Lee has four main cases she is attending to – two of which are intricately interwoven, one of which is wholly personal, and the third of which is a serial-cop-killer case that serves and the principal story arc across the series. While the plots and subplots are tightly drawn enough to prevent the story from meandering, they are also disparate enough to give a sense of reality that is often missing from Police Procedural stories. While I personally felt there could have been an extra beat to the Bonebreaker plot, the last scene was highly enjoyable and the end brought a very solid and satisfying resolution to all four sub-plots.


Book 1: Deadeye

For those who have read the other two books in the series, Deadeye and Red Zone, Graveyard has the very appealing aspect of further exploring the Bonebreaker. We see a good amount from his point of view and discover a great deal about his past that builds upon and fleshes out the glimpses we had from earlier books (which I am in the process of going back to read). This has the advantage of both filling out how and the serial killer came to be, while also building up Cassandra Lee as a character – both in contrast and in backstory. It works very well.

One additional aspect I enjoyed about the novel was that, as with other of his books, Dietz also manages weave a socially relevant subtext into the series without hitting you over the head with it. In this case, the subtext is a dissertation on the problems of refugees, illegal immigration and the social complexities of building walls (real and symbolic).

In the world he’s built, America has torn itself apart attempting to deal with the mutant problem. Initially it created camps (refugee camps) where the infected were led and left to die. As the problem spread, the US created Red Zones, where the mutants were herded and left to fend for themselves. This resulted in the dissolution of the US and the creation of smaller federal states that do not always cooperate as well as they should.

Meanwhile to the South, Mexico was devastated by the plague. Unable to segregate itself as readily, the disease spread across the whole nation, with a much greater loss of life and a near universal infection rate. Those who survived reformed themselves into the New Aztec Empire… populated almost entirely by the mutant victims of the disease. A nation that does not exactly have a positive outlook towards Los Angeles and ruthless way it treated its own mutant population. Add to that elements that the Aztecs view as historic inequities, and you have quite a problem brewing.


Book 2: Redzone

All of this can be read solely as exciting story backdrop, but I strongly suspect something more going on. Indeede, one of the things I enjoy the most about Dietz’s work in general is that there is usually something deeper woven into his books. Sometimes it is a bit of philosophy, sometimes social commentary, but it is never “hit-you-on-the-head” in its nature. If you want a good adventure tale and nothing more, the message doesn’t prevent that. Yet if you keep your mind open, there is usually a bit of thought provocation there too.

In this case, I cannot help but read a bit of commentary on the problems of immigration and refugees within this book. It is not over the top, nor does it condemn any one point of view. Rather, it notes the issue and encourages you to think about it, from both sides.

Throughout the Mutant Files, there is the underlying problem of the plague. The Americans (or former Americans as it were) need to deal with the serious problem of an epidemic and the death and destruction it brings. To me, this speaks of American present perceived problems of immigration, drugs and crime. This is in no way spelled out in the book, and I could be reading Latino/Muslim where no such subtext is intended, but it is my view.

Meanwhile in the series, the mutants (read refugees) are facing a real problem of the disease as well, not to mention the destroyed economy and overall disparity that have followed in its wake. If the former US had problems, surely it was worse in those areas where the plague ran free. One cannot help but feel sympathy for the mutants trying to make a better life, or hiding like illegal immigrants within the city

To that end, the Aztecs (a mutant based state that occupies areas beyond the present day borders of Mexico) are unjust in what they attempt to do in this story, but the inequity they face, and to a degree their justification of their actions, makes it seem understandable. The citizens of Los Angeles were cold and terrible in the way they excluded the mutants from society, but faced with a horrible disease one can understand how and why they addressed the problem as they did. It is possible to read all sorts of things into this – drugs, terrorism, poverty, the present refugee crisis from the Near and Middle East (not to mention the one from Central America). I cannot say how many, if any, Dietz intended to play upon, but to me – this all seemed poignant.

BillDietzIndeed, this is what impresses me the most about the tale. Dietz does not demean the reader by coming up with a quick-easy (or worse still sci-fi ‘magic’) solution. He plays out both sides and lets the reader form his/her own views. He does not play the role of a prophet – he comments and lets the ideas provoke the reader to think without it interrupting the kick-butt action and adventure of the tale.

And this is one of the things that shows Dietz at his best – a great gritty, gumshoe cop story in a cool setting that points out social issues without presuming to solve them.

If you want some action, adventure, crime drama and good story telling spiced with something to think about, read this book, and the series. I think you will be highly entertained.


Posted in Crime Thriller, Dystopian, Mystery, Near Future fic, Part of A Series but can be Read without reading previous volumes, Saga, Science Fiction, Series, Strong Characters, Thoughtful, Trilogy, Uncategorized, Unique or Imaginative World, Urban Fantasy, World | 1 Comment

A quick note from the author

This is just a quick note to say that over the next few months I will be revamping and changing my grading system.  It has just gotten too complex and needs some revision.  To that end, I intend to combine a star system (how much I liked a book) with the Greek alphabet system that I have been using.  That system will be more about who else might like this book.

My first reviews will keep to the old system, and I will probably never go back to modify the old reviews.  But one thing I will say is that I will probably end up with a lot fewer bad reviews.  Why?  Because I just won’t be bothering to finish books if I’m not enjoying them – at least, not for the most part.  I don’t have time and let’s face it, most of you are probably more interested in which books they might want to read rather than which books I don’t like.

This will also result in a book acceptance policy that is more restrictive.  I will publish the criteria before long, but while I will be open to books from all types of authors (traditional, small press, micropress and indie), I will probably need some indication that this book was written and edited in a professional manner AND that it actually meets the criteria of novels that this blog was set up to review.

Sorry, but there are just too many people publishing books these days…

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment