Well written, a LOT of action, surprises and twists, and just the right amount of romance and pathos are the hallmarks of this excellent Dock Five series. I greatly enjoyed each book - especially the last two which dealt much more with the sci fi and a little less with the mysticism.
Somewhere about the half way mark of listening to the Audible version of Dark Space, I began to realize that this was very much a Mary Sue (or, at least, a Gary Stu - pure middle age male wish fulfillment fantasy). The deus ex machina is so thick here as to really be mind boggling - in a very bad way. From the loser 'salt and pepper haired' main character with the hot exotic girlfriend half his age, perfect wife and son, and chance to really inexplicably prove he's still studly to the evil moustache twirling bad guy. Really, take a blender and add in Firefly and Star Wars and here you go.
Story (such as it is): Ethan and the surviving humans have fled to a place called "Dark Space" - closing a gate behind them so that the vernicious knids...er...evil aliens...can't continue to exterminate the humans. Han Solo...er...Ethan Ortane wants to rejoin the army but his ship is in hock to Jabba...er....Brondi and Brondi concocts the most senile plot ever in order for Ethan to get his debt paid. Ethan must use a holo device to pretend to be an officer of the surviving military - infiltrate and sabotage the last remaining law in the human universe. The only ones preventing the aliens from finding the humans....
Characters. Right off the bat we have the aging vet and hot girlfriend from well-to-do family slumming with him (for reasons unknown). He treats her like crap and she takes it - being so 'madly in love' with him. But he's still mooning over his missing wife and son from some 20 years previous, so it's ok that he abuses the girlfriend and treats her like crap. Of course, we have the wonderful cliche of women: exotic 'super' gorgeous young girlfriend with 'violet' eyes and fancy name like Alara. Contrast that with the other female character, a hard hitting, tough talking pilot with the common name Gina. Because who would want to date a Gina when you could have an Alara?
It's hard not to go into the silliness of the holo device, lack of any ability of detection of someone using it, and that no one seems to question the personality change of the office he is impersonating. Better yet, (mild spoiler here), everyone seems to forgive quite easily that he was involved in the officer (and mate) being tortured and killed for that identity and used it to do harm (actually, kill) 10,000 other people. But hey, it's ok, no biggie.
We're also supposed to like a character that is willing to hurt so many in order to save his own hide or that of his idiot girlfriend. I didn't buy it and everyone seemed to have 1 second of half hearted regret before patting him on the back and welcoming the loser to their fold - no biggie that he killed so many.
The bad guy is so over the top and yet so incredibly stupid. Half the time the set up is gentle coercion but it always turns into kidnapping of family, etc. E.g., Brondi has Ethan over the coals for the debt but only thinks to kidnap the girlfriend on impulse later? Or the scientists who are concocting Brondi's evil scheme for a payment - only to have family members kidnapped after completion anyway. Why not just kidnap in the beginning and get it over with? It just seemed silly and a forced way to escalate the drama/plot.
There are some 'plot twists' at the end that are so left field as to make implausible segue straight to impossible. I won't go into it for spoilers but the book ends abruptly on the spoiler and not in a very eager or satisfying end of arc way.
There was a lot I really didn't like about Dark Space. It lacked gravitas, realistic characters, or an interesting storyline. I hated each one of the cliche characters and never invested in any part of the story.
I listened to the Audible version and the narrator did an ok job with a really silly story.
I purchased the Audible version on sale and decided to give this series a try. Unfortunately, turns out this is the type of military sci fi that generally turns me off: uber jingoistic "superpower" Americans fighting thinly veiled Islamic aphorisms while bogging down on endless scientific drivel. I tend to prefer character and story rather than technical jargon and macho men.
Story: Well, typically I'll put a story synopsis here. But this book was so all over the place that I'm not quite sure what the story is about. There's a lot of fighting, your typical military incompetence/apathy/negligence/politics horror stories, and some aliens.
This novel pretty much failed to engage me at all levels. At one point, I started to vacuum the carpet and didn't bother to turn up the volume so I could hear the narration. When the vacuuming ended 20 minutes later, I didn't feel like I had missed anything. I realized then that I'd had enough of Earth Strike.
At the half way point, I felt confident that I could go apply for a degree in xenobiology or speculative physics. There is so much endless scientific discussion it felt almost like a case of phallus waving - macho soldiers and they have a brain too! It was boring and really difficult to skip through those sections in an audible presentation.
Added to the endless annoying science was the complete lack of characterization. No one in the book felt real and each seemed to react rather than actually think through situations with emotion or any kind of feeling. Add in a real pet peeve of mine - POV chapters from an alien - and I was left with no one to root for or want to know more about.
Finally, the whole first part of the book seemed to be about the author making observations about the current Islamic condition as it pertains specifically to the US. The whole idea that there are no Christian fundamentalists wreaking havoc (or Buddhist!)only those evil daughter killing Muslims - it got old fast.
I did manage to get through most of the book but really want that time back. But at least perhaps I've grown some hair on my chest (to my husband's dismay) thanks to all the machismo in there - and I can drop terms like "relativistic" into ordinary conversation with ease.http://www.audible.com/write-review?asin=B00657NR2K&rdpath=%2Flib#
The Dragons of Dorcastle is an interesting entrant into the Jack Campbell/John G Hemry catalogue: it has all the hallmarks but also the excesses of his writing. But with the YA angle, several defy the genre but too many simple don't work. Admittedly, I was bored and even annoyed through 3/4 of the book and only at the end did I ever engage with the characters or the story. In a nutshell, this features both the strengths of the Lost Fleet series with the weaknesses of earlier work such as Stark's War.
Story: On a planet where the inhabitants originally came from 'the stars' but have developed into a somewhat steampunk Western 1800s feel, two guilds fight for power. The mages take what they want and have eschewed emotion in order to hone their illusion magic techniques. The mechanics are mercenary and zealously guard technology and its use. Both despise the other and have built up an elaborate series of lies to indoctrinate their members in that hate. Into this scene, two teens - 18 year old Master Mechanic Mari and 17 year old mage Alain find themselves on a caravan under siege in the desert. They will join forces and begin to unravel the elaborate system of lies that is slowly destroying their culture and civilization.
Problematic for me were the Campbellisms: Militant/military forces that are riddled with incompetence, greed, or ambivalence typically are a setting for an everyman with a moral compass. The male hero will be emotionally stunted and completely befuddled by women. The heroine will be highly emotional, a bit high strung, but fortunately very empowered - so much so that she's leading the hero by the nose. Add in a lot of musing on why the system into which they have to work is so messed up. Unfortunately for the Dragons of Dorcastle, most of the book ponders endlessly on the obvious - both guilds have lied to young Mari and Alain and each has to throw off their indoctrinations.
A full 80% or more of the book felt very inert to me. It didn't help that the premise of the mage guild is that they are denied all social skills completely, including any emotional expression. So we have a protagonist who is boring, simplistic, and so obviously brainwashed as to be pathetic. Our heroine, Mari, is completely oblivious to even the most obvious of clues about things - so much so that she appears to be reacting purely off the hip and without any kind of consideration of a bigger picture at all. They are both so clueless that it stretches belief too far that they would have survived for even 5 seconds in the situations they are found. It was hard to root for them when you wanted to bang your head on the table every few minutes.
In a way, we don't have the typically wishy-washy idiotic unique snowflake YA heroes with a soppy and all consuming romance. But in another way, we have really idiotic unique snowflake YA hoes with a soppy and all consuming romance. It doesn't read like most YA and yet the underpinings are sadly the same. As an example, instead of staring at the guys 'rippling torso', we have endless paragraphs of denying that either is attracted to their 'enemy'. Same obsession, different reasons. Move on.
Far too much of the book is spent on the characters slowly figuring out that the other isn't an evil gremlin. In between, we have a bunch of kidnappings and a lot of clues that both characters should have figured out early on about what was happening. E.g., if you've been kidnapped twice and someone has attempted to murder you even more times, you should probably take the hint that when your guild's valuables are suddenly taken off a train you were immediately ordered to take, that train probably won't have a smooth trip. But no - even though it's figured out in the first 10% that Mechanic Mari is the target of all the mayhem, nothing is done about it after that first attempt and so it keeps on happening and no one seems to wonder why? I didn't like either Mari or Alain.
I will likely continue the series since I have read all of the Campbell/Hemry books and really like this author's work. Perhaps now that we have all the 'worldbuilding' and endless pondering on the nature of the guilds done, we can get on with a real story. Because truly, those long thought passages work really well on a bigger stage as with the Lost Fleet series but felt very forced on a smaller stage as with the Stark's War series.
Note that I listened to the Audible version and the narrator did a decent job - but I never warmed up to his reading.
Fire Dance is a somewhat silly historical romance - with an emphasis on the romance since the history part is daft. Admittedly, I only made it half way through the Audible narration before the constant eye rolling was about to cause me vision loss. The funny thing is - I don't mind a bit of supernatural elements or alternate universe. But seriously, the plot has to at least be believable and with some modicum of attempt to put history in the historical - or just make it a straight fantasy.
Story: Melisande's sorcerer/lord father has died and the Normans are at the gate. She decides to impersonate a maid in order to avoid a forced marriage to the handsome and just knight Alain de Crency. But Alain needs to wed the daughter of the lord - even as he pursues the beautiful maid - little knowing that her hearsay could destroy all he is building.
So yes, this is a romance and if you don't look too closely at it, you may enjoy it. The dialogue, characters, etc. are all very modernized and clearly we have clean peasant (and knight) syndrome. As well, actions that should get characters beaten, raped, or murdered never seem to happen. About half way through the Audible version of this, I'd had enough with the stupidity of both Alain and Melisande. He was borderline incompetent as a knight (ok, seriously, how hard is it to find one girl of a certain age and description - knowing she is hiding from him - and not figure out it is the woman without calluses, well educated, and who talks back to him?). And her actions were so patently stupid as to wonder how she put on a dress...er kirtle...in the morning.
I never even made it to the sorcery part, the romance was too wince worthy. I listened to the Audible version and the male narrator was perhaps a bit too gruff for the part.
In this final book, completing Paul Sinclair's tour of duty on board the Michaelson, we're given more complex character building along with the expected action-then-trial of the previous books. This fourth is just as engaging and I was a bit sad to see it come to an end. Things are tied up fairly neatly but not always in favor of our poor beleaguered protagonist.
Story: When it becomes obvious the SASL ships know far too much about the Michaelson's orders while on a mission, deaths of civilians and military are the result. Paul Sinclair is approached to help root out the spy on his ship - a position Paul is quite uncomfortable about accepting when he discovers it is one of the officers - perhaps even one with whom he shares a stateroom.
This last book had a lot more machinations in it; now that the characters are well established, Campbell spends time with a more intricate plot. As with previous books, guilt isn't necessarily assumed and Paul grapples with not only condemning one of his fellow officers but the idea that anyone could blithely perform actions that cost lives. It's a constant theme in Campbell's books, especially this series, that the loss of lives will always be a result of apathy, arrogance, or incompetence. As well, his actions in previous books hardly endeared him to the brass and he will pay for that as a result.
I listened to the Audible version and the narrator did an excellent job with all the characters.
As a fan of the Lost Fleet series, I was happy to get the Audible version of this book from a recent sale. As expected from the author, we have a story of a personable and decent guy in a military world where people are people - good and bad. Most of the book is the main character acclimating to life on his new ship; it is near the end that an event happens and we go through a realistic type of military trial. Our protagonist isn't a lawyer and doesn't want to be one (he had a rudimentary legal course prior to assignment on the ship), but he has a strong personal sense of justice and that precipitates his participation in the trial.
Story: Paul Sinclair is an ensign newly assigned on the USS Michaelson. As he gets to know the crew - featuring a huge variety of characters from incompetent captain to high strung shipmates, he forms friendships, learns lessons, makes mistakes, and ultimately finds his place about the ship. But one event will change all that when the Michaelson is on patrol and encounters a foreign ship's incursion into their sovereign space. Misunderstandings mount, the foreign ship is destroyed, and a captain is put on court martial trial. Will Paul allow his active dislike of the captain to watch the man hang on trumped up charges - or will he defend someone no one else believes in?
Hemry/Campbell's ability to write likeable everyman characters and to populate his world with nuanced, flawed, but very believable people is clearly the strong part of the book. You'll like or hate Paul's crewman but none ever feel like cardboard cut outs. There are no evil villains or saints - some may be selfish, greedy, stupid, short sighted, or intensely loyal to the point of fault (sometimes all at once) but none ever feel like they are there simply to make the main character have something to do.
The trial goes for realism over drama so there is quite a bit of procedural stuff to get through. Since it is the last 1/4 of the book, it's not too problematic. The trial will, of course, hinge on the testimony of our main character. And will cause higher ups to notice and respect him - which may be unrealistic in itself. But this works as a dramatic fiction so I didn't mind it.
Once I had finished, I immediately purchased the next book. I found I wanted to read much more about this world (set perhaps a few centuries before the Lost Fleet - when there was still a United States). It is an easy read/listen and the narrator did an excellent job giving all the characters a unique voice.
With this third in the series, we continue the pattern of action/character building in the first half of the story and then the trial in the second. It's a formula that works and once again the unrealistic tv-courtroom drama is (mostly) avoided in favor of an engaging but grounded court martial trial.
Story: Paul's hope-to-be fiancée Jen Shen is working in the engineering department aboard the Michaelson's sister ship Maury. After a routine exercise testing new stealth equipment, the Maury disappears in an explosion that takes out most of the ship. Jen is the only survivor from the Engineering department - creating suspicion that she was the cause of the explosion. Paul will have to use all his resources to defend Shen and save her from court martial - or even the death sentence.
Admittedly, this was the least favorite of mine for the series. Although still as engaging as the previous, the cause of the accident was obvious and completely overlooked by everyone. It made the lawyers, who had hitherto looked quite competent, look rather silly. And, ok, if you've read a Campbell book, you already know that military hardware is inherently unreliable - explosions are more likely to be the cause of manufacturing problems than a bomb. So I had a hard time with the credibility of a trial that purports malice rather than incompetence - even considering the possibility of coverups.
All the same, Campbell brings in some strong pathos here. The loss of comrades is never glossed over and Jen gets to be both strong and very vulnerable. Paul does ride a white charger to save the day (sadly - it was a bit too deus ex machina) but I enjoyed the book all the same.
I listened to the Audible version of this book and the narrator did an excellent job.
With this second in the series, we establish the pattern of interaction/action in the first half of the book and then trial in the second. Author Campbell never gives away so much information that there is a foregone conclusion nor are there any tv-drama hysterics or surprises. This serious is about an everyman standing up for ideals (a recurring theme in Campbell's books) despite the costs.
Story: As Paul Sinclair works his way up the military ladder, engages with a new Captain for the Michaelson, and gets to know fellow officer Shen better, life settles down on the ship. Until an explosion rocks the engineering deck and costs a good man his life. When the evidence is collected, it points to an officer better at impressing superiors than performing his job. A young man whose father is an admiral. As Sinclair watches on the sidelines, he'll find he may be more involved in the case than hoped - or feared.
The story begun in the first book builds quite nicely in this second novel. The characters are all interesting and fascinating - from the antagonists to the friends that Paul meets on the ship. As crew continues to rotate around him, he'll deepen some relationships but also be forced to say goodbye to others.
The court scenes are surprisingly engaging and it helps that even Paul himself is not sure that the fellow officer is guilty. I found that once I started the book, I didn't want to stop and stayed up quite late with it. The story really was that good.
I listened to the Audible version and the narrator did an excellent job.
I am greatly enjoying the Lost Fleet series and similarly enjoyed the JAG in space books. But with Stark's War, I could very clearly see that this was a rough introduction to someone who would be a great writer. Most of the plot is forced, unrealistic, and full of ideas without a necessarily compelling story holding them together. I only made it half way through before bailing.
Story: Stark is a Sergeant dealing with a military whose officers are shuffled around too frequently to be competent and whose superiors issue orders from afar and with media approval as a main goal. It means Stark's companions are being needlessly killed through incompetence and apathy. So he decides to take things into his own hands.
The main problem with Stark's War is that Hemry wishes to take the core point that the military will eventually be an incompetent, bureaucratic, self aggrandizing mess - and then push that thought to the nth degree. Every word, action, sentence, dialogue, and character action is to make that point. It gets silly very early when grunts are constantly asking Stark, "Why would they do that, Sarge?" for every idiotic and dangerous decision by the military leaders. From cost cutting leading to faulty equipment, to war maneuvers solely for the point of televising to gain civilian approval, to officers issuing orders from far away and clearly not aware of the actual situation. The book is in serious danger of becoming a parody of itself due to the absence of any intelligence.
The characters are very unlikeable - surprising from a writer known for his engaging everyman. Stark spends most of the time emoting self righteously or completely disobeying orders. We're supposed to cheer him but really, it just makes him look really stupid to have been dumb enough to enlist in the first place. Ayn Rand did this point of view much better with Atlas Shrugged - at least you rooted for the main character.
Honestly, if there is one thing I really dislike in a book, it's when all the characters are stupid. Especially the antagonists - a really cliche moustache-twirling set of villains (read: military officers) only serve to make the protagonist seem equally dumb. At least give him something to really outsmart - not military personnel taken right out of the movie Idiocracy.
I listened to the Audible version of this story and only made it half way through. The narrator did a decent job with the material, especially considering it must have been difficult not to roll eyes all the way through.
Roughly around the half way point, I stopped the Audible version in disgust. There was just so much cliche and flat characterizations trying desperately to support a simplistic first contact sci fi. Everyone talked liked computers simulating a person; ironically, the aliens sounded too much like a person. But it was the over-the-top "military are eeeeeevil" messages that really had me rolling my eyes. I'm not a martial person and am hardly jingoistic - but the repeated bludgeoning of the "military screw everything up because they are stupid and utterly dogmatic" points became tiresome. There was so much telling instead of showing (he said, she said, he said, he did, she did.....) that the writing became a chore to follow.
Story: An alien sphere is heading toward the Earth - and the only person who figured out what it is doing is a computer dude. The military chief in charge of the project makes a bunch of stupid decisions based upon personal prejudice and whether something will make him look bad. Despite military dude throwing out computer dude from the program (even though computer dude was the only one to figure out the sphere), the sphere later (randomly) decides to merge with computer dude and tell him the hive mind are coming. Here are some gifts, humans, use them well or be annihilated.
The story greatly felt like it was written by a computer science guy and not a writer. The pacing, characters, and plot were flat as a board. I had a hard time telling anyone apart except for the military guys - they were universally stupid and self absorbed. Reactions and actions were lacking nuances and everything was simplistic to the point of being unbelievable. Giving the military guy an "aw shucks" down south American accent really threw this over the top of silly and stereotpyical. Really oddly, the book felt like it was written by a computer and not a person.
When the aliens started talking with our protagonist, I had had enough. It was all so clinical from the human side and overly emotional and touchy feely from the aliens. If this was a better writer, I could suppose the aliens were meant to show our supposedly scarred (but really just boring) main character how to be more emotional. But I think at that point, I was siding with the big evil hive mind that the humans should be wiped out.
I listened to the Audible version and the narrator did an ok job.
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