Positive Novels

Positive Novels

Friday, November 1, 2013

Hard Luck Hank: Screw the Galaxy

From time to time, I stumble upon a science-fiction novel that hooks me, and Hard Luck Hank: Screw The Galaxy, by Steven Campbell, is one of those novels.

The story that is told is about a community on a space station on the frontier of space in a galaxy populated by what we would call "humans" by looking at them, but who call themselves Colmarians.

The author has setup a website for the novel over at belvaille.com. There is also a movie synopsis/trailer about the novel you can watch (it has some minor spoilers in it).

So, as readers of this blog know, I am always on the lookout for entertainment media that isn't dark and depressing -- and that is exactly what I found in Hard Luck Hank.

The story is kind of a hard one to describe, it takes place in a well-worn sci-fi universe that has that lived-in feel like Star Wars and Mass Effect. The basics of the story are that we follow Hank around as the main/point-of-view character as he walks us through his daily life, as it is happening. Hank is a mutant, as are most of the Colmarians in the galaxy. Hank is a level 4 mutant, though, where most others are barely level 1. Hank's mutation is an insane healing ability, and a huge amount of natural toughness. What that translates into is the ability to take a bullet to the head and not die (it does hurt him, though), walk away from a huge crate being dropped on him, and live through being shot with all manner of cannons, lightning and most other forms of non-tank/battleship fire.

Hank is not a complicated guy. He lives on a space station stranded on the edge of controlled-space that has largely been abandoned. Those who are left are more or less criminals and people with a reason to be hiding away from most of society. He works as more or less an enforcer/negotiator. Because he can't simply be easily killed, when he shows up to mediate between two fighting gangs, they more or less have to listen and find a way to work things out, because if they don't Hank can and will just kill them if they provoke him. A typical day for him is eating a lot, bouncing between the gang bosses on the station, and doing odd jobs for the station's Adjunct Overwatch, (the top military official there, more or less like a Lieutenant-Commander from an Intelligence branch of the Navy) Garm -- who also happens to be running her own businesses on the side.

Hank's world is about to get turned upside down, though. Soon to visit the station (in no particular order) are going to be: insanely powerful (and murderous) androids, a hot blue-skinned woman, insanely powerful mutants, the military, insanely powerful aliens, and a pet many-ton robot from a resident scientist that suddenly gets a puppy complex.

Hard Luck Hank is a good read, it is a lot of fun, it moves along at a good pace, the characters are interesting and believable. Hank is a good guy, and you can understand that he doesn't do anything maliciously, even when he is forced to do something bad. The universe is rich and varied, and the author scatters some interesting nuggets of history into the story that I would love to see him explore in a sequel.

Read it, you'll be glad you did :)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Star Wars: Razor's Edge: Empire and Rebellion

Star Wars: Razor's Edge: Empire and Rebellion is the first book in a new series set in the early days of the Rebellion (YAY!!!!!) named Empire and Rebellion.  I am just SO happy about this, you don't even understand. Star Wars has just been depressing me more and more lately with their downward spiral toward dark and depressing storylines. Star Wars has pretty much ALWAYS skirted the line between light and dark (naturally) with the Dark Side of the Force being a real thing in the universe the stories are set in. But man, lately with the last few series, we have had to deal with authors killing off favorite characters, characters turning to the Dark Side, and just general death, destruction and mayhem. I am actually quite hopeful that since the Extended Universe has never been considered canon by Lucas (see Karen Traviss and her abrupt cancellation of her series, and her vow to never do Star Wars again after they retconned her series and screwed her) that with Disney now owning Star Wars we can just ignore what has come before, and start over with more stuff like we are getting now in Empire and Rebellion. I hope this new series harkens back to the early days of the novels like the X-Wing series, the Thrawn series, and the early stuff featuring Han and Leia's children. I would like more Star Wars goodness, and less death and destruction please. If the authors they have to work with aren't willing to do that because it isn't edgey enough, I hope they find different authors like Martha Wells. Timothy Zhan has been reliable in the past, as has Elaine Cunningham, Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allston. Use them, and anyone else willing to write fun sci-fi stuff, without resorting to killing off characters to try to seem edgier and more unpredictable in their writing. One of the things I LIKE about Star Wars is that the bad guys may gain the upper hand every now and then, but the good guys always get to walk away from the table. I am OK with the occasional background or side character getting killed off, but trying to port in the George R. R. Martin (an author who's work I loathe) school of writing where main characters can and will be killed off randomly, is a HUGE no-no with me.

Anyway, with that little rant done with, let's talk Razor's Edge. We are back in the heyday of the rebellion, Leia JUST saw Alderaan get destroyed, and the Death Star blown up. Han is still hanging around -- and doesn't know why (but does know he likes Leia), and Luke is still a junior Jedi-in-training. In other words, we are in the classic Star Wars universe, everything is just like we remember it from the movies, and nobody has died yet! YAY!

The book tells the story of Leia on a mission with a General Willard (a new general we've never heard of) aboard a converted freighter (NOT the Falcon) to get supplies for the Rebellion to help build their new, as-yet-to-be-built base, code named Echo Base. On their way to the meeting, their ship falls under Imperial attack and they have to flee to a nearby system for repairs and safety. That's where the book really takes off.

When they arrive in the system, they see a ship from Alderaan's limited military/defense force acting as a pirate. Leia is, understandably, upset and demands to speak with them. The pirates are indeed from Alderaan and want to see her, as they recognize her as someone important from Alderaan. I won't spoil the book for you by giving away major plot points, but suffice it to say, the pirates are from Alderaan, their ship is an ex-Defense Force ship from Alderaan, turned pirate, and through a series of events, Leia, Han and a few members from her crew end up having to go along with the pirates to the pirate lair in the sector.

Luke and Chewie are in the book, but they mostly serve as background characters in this story. The majority of the story follows Han & Leia and their dealings with the pirates and the crew from the ship from Alderaan turned pirate. Leia brings Han with her to deal with the pirates, and 3 of her crew members: Davit, Kifar, and Sian (nobody we have heard about before now). Among the Alderaanians, we meet: Captain Metara, their leader; Kelvan, their Second in Command; and Terae an important crew-member on their ship (more or less 3rd in Command). The Alderaanians are struggling with their decision to turn pirate, and Leia is doing everything she can to show them how wrong that decision is.

However, that isn't the worst of their problems, the leader of the pirate lair they find themselves in, is a vicious cutthroat named Viest. She is out to keep the new Alderaanian crew for herself, and takes an instant dislike to Leia. There are other characters we meet in the book, but those are the major ones. The book revolves mostly around their struggles to deal with the pirate lair, Leia's struggles to set everything right, and Han's struggles to keep them all alive. The danger feels real in this book, but not too real. However, there is a death scene in the book where Viest kills someone most unpleasantly, but it isn't too graphic, and I would say falls inside the bounds of R-rated movie violence like you might find in a James Bond movie.

There is a nice write-up about the book over at the Star Wars website's blog. You should read it for their official take on the book. They are the source of the great graphic of a scene from the book I am showing here :)

I am VERY excited that they are launching a new series of books set in this timeline. I already have the next book, Empire and Rebellion: Honor Among Thieves pre-ordered. I really really hope you all read it too, so the series is successful, and the powers that be keep making more of them! :D

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Star Wars: Wraith Squadron

I started to read the Star Wars: X-Wing novels when I ran out of ongoing Star Wars novels to read. At that point I believe they we either just wrapping up the New Jedi Order series, or hadn't started it yet (it's been a few years ^_-). Anyway, I wasn't really expecting much from the X-Wing novels, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out how good they were. Michael A. Stackpole does a good job writing them as action/adventure stories, and he vastly expands the character of Wedge Antilles, and a few others. Start with Rogue Squadron at book number one, and read them all, they are all good books.

However, I didn't fall in love with the series until I read Wraith Squadron, the 5th book in the series. Wraith Squadron was written by Aaron Allston, and it turns out, he's funny! At first I was bummed Stackpole wasn't continuing with the series, but after the first few chapers of Wraith Squadron, I was hooked. I have never laughed as hard as I did with Allston's books, as I have with any of the other Star Wars authors to date. The banter between some of the characters is downright hilarious in many cases, and even in dangerous/hostile situations, the "mood" of the book was always flippant and funny, which was a nice change of pace from how serious some of the Star Wars books can be. I heartily recommend the X-Wing books in general, and the ones written by Aaron Allston in specific. Those ones are: Iron Fist, Solo Command, Isard's Revenge, Starfighters of AdumarMercy Kill, which is a recent entry into the series published just this last August in 2012 by Allston. I hope it leads to a new set of books in the series :)

As with all of the Star Wars books, there can be drama and darkness in them. However, Allston's books tend to avoid most of that stuff (one of the reasons I love him), occasionally there will be the threat of something happening, but nothing ever does. You can read his Star Wars books safe in knowing that nothing horrifying happens. Yes, characters can and do die, and that is sad, but that isn't the kind of stuff I am trying to avoid with these reviews. I am just trying to help people avoid the truly dark stuff out there, not PG/PG-13 levels of violence.  Enjoy the books, and let me know how you liked them! :)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Lost Fleet: Dauntless, by Jack Campbell

The Lost Fleet Series, by Jack Campbell is a book series I wish I had discovered a long time ago. The series starts off with Dauntless, which is book one of the Lost Fleet series (which has expanded into spin-off series since I started reading them). It scratches the Star Wars/Star Trek itch fiercely, and leaves you satisfied. Like Star Trek, the series is good at exploring moral dilemmas and showcasing cool science fiction stuff, and it even has some great space battles in it as well.

The series isn't dark at all. It does have some politics and romance drama in it, but mostly it has space opera action and exposition and plenty of it.  If you are a Star Wars/Trek fan looking for a fix and waiting for new material from your series of choice, you should check this series out. It is very similar in tone and flavor to those series, while being different enough to be interesting (lots more "real" science in this series, as opposed to the technobabble features in Trek/Wars).

The book starts off right smack in the middle of an action sequence, and just keeps going from there. Character motivations are transparent and easily understood to influence behaviors. All of the characters are relateable on some level. The villains/antagonists are fairly straight forward, and that's OK with me, I am just looking for some space opera in a book like this, not deep thoughts and poetry.

I am close to finishing the third book in the series right now, Courageous, and I am happy that this series, like Star Trek & Star Wars is free of extreme violence, rapes, torture, etc. Really most of the violence is barely PG level, it is mostly just space warfare which still involves killing, but not visceral killing. The rules of war are discussed openly and often, and that also makes me happy.

I am very happy with this author, and this series, and based on what I have read so far, I heartily recommend it!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Reviews of books that aren't dark and depressing.

I have a tremendous aversion to dark and depressing stuff. I think most people as they get older and see real-life death and devastation and come to understand how very different it is when the long-term effects are forced to be felt (unlike how it is presented in modern "entertainment") are no longer able to view that stuff as "entertainment" any more, whether is comes in the form of books, magazines, movies, TV shows, video games, or the internet -- I tend to avoid it.

This blog is going to contain reviews and discussion of novels which avoid heavy drama, depression, human misery and the like to "entertain" (by that I mean: rape, torture, horror, graphic/extreme violence, etc. not PG-13 violence). I don't like that kind of stuff, and I think that kind of stuff is damaging not just to the human mind, but to the society that revels in it. This blog will make the effort to show people the content out there that isn't trying to make human misery into entertainment. I will also link you to that content whenever it is appropriate. Anything I link to, I recommend.

This blog is going to be about novels set in the Star Trek/Star Wars/Mass Effect universes. It will be about novels written by Jack Campbell (of the Lost Fleet Series), it will be about novels written by the likes of: Michael A. Stackpole, Karen Traviss, L. E. Modesitt, Jr., J.R.R. Martin, Robert Jordan, R.A. Salvatore, Ed Greenwood, Christie Golden, Elaine Cunningham, Patrick Rothfuss, and Piers Anthony. No, not everything every author I've liked in the past will get recommended. And yes, I am well aware of the fact that quite a few authors and series I just named have touched on dark & depressing things, or a section of something they wrote is dark, while the majority isn't. Those works either won't get recommended, or will be recommended with extreme caveats.

I will also cover comics & manga when I can, things like: Penny Arcade, The Oatmeal, Questionable Content, Ranma 1/2, Tenchi Muyo, El Hazard, etc. Anything which has come out in book form, and isn't only on the internet (for now, I may expand that later).

This blog is going to be about stuff that I wish I could find easier to help point me to the next thing I would love to read, in the hopes that it will help someone else find something great to help brighten their day. And, of course, if any of you have any suggestions, let me know, and I will check them out.

Let's get started, shall we? :)