The Starman Saga

Thursday, July 4, 2024

Rocco's Retreads

Hell and Gone by Henry Brown.

In the tradition of “The Expendables” and “The Dirty Dozen”, Hank Brown delivers rock solid military action with just a hint of techno-thriller. Brown paints Rocco’s Retreads with a sold brush that emphasizes gritty, realistic action instead of a troop of invincible soldiers. The fighting is brutal and intense; the characters are recognizable and empathetic. The language of the book is noticeably less crude than one might expect from this type of military fiction, which makes the book that much more enjoyable. The plot is straightforward, and complications derive from perfectly natural mission-creep rather than complexly contrived circumstance. Brown stays on target and develops his characters and story without resorting to vulgarity, graphic violence, or gratuitous sex. This is a book about experienced soldiers on a dirty covert op; the writing is well-rounded and professional. 

Monday, June 24, 2024

The Apocalypse Will be Virtualized

Meta: Game On by Xander Black

In the world of 2065, the immersive experience of the Cybernet has replaced nearly every aspect of daily existence. It has unified global currencies. It has allowed perfectly safe social interaction in a world that experienced a global pandemic. It provides jobs, entertainment, and every sort of experience possible through the direct stimulation of the brain. Even if the worst possible thing happens and you are killed, it's just an avatar. Your body is perfectly safe. Until it isn't. 

Cyrus and Everett are in the wrong place at the wrong time, when a high-profile personality's avatar gets killed and their actual body is found dead as well. If it only happened once that would be bad enough, but the bodies just keep hitting the floor. Cyrus and Everett, of course, are completely oblivious. Add in the return of an old flame and the involvement of a couple of high-level "metas" - power players in the Neverborn game that defines the virtual world. Top it off with some questionable behavior by the algorithms running the game, and even Cyrus can tell something weird is going on. Someone, or something, is pulling strings to manipulate events in cyberspace.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Fly on the Wall

Flypaper Boy: Coming of Age by Philip "Norvaljoe" Carroll

What do you do with the world's lamest superpower? For starters, you end your first mission getting kidnapped by the bad guys who are determined to brainwash and blackmail you into becoming their next pet supervillain. They're going to provide you with all the training you need, teach you to fight properly, put you through a strength-building regiment fit for the special forces. Not to mention the company of a beautiful girl who makes you the sole object of her attentions. When you're 16, you figure you can handle it. Nothing they can do will prevent you from being a hero.

When it turns out they want you to kidnap the teenage daughter of an Eastern European communist leader. It's for her own good, and it will help rescue the entire country. When it's put that way, it doesn't seem like the bad guys are quite so bad. 

Flypaper Boy nails the title dead on. This is a coming of age story for Jimmy in many different ways. He's a teenager learning what it means to be an adult. He's an agent in training learning what it costs to enter a world of deception. He's a kid with a superpower learning that power doesn't automatically make him a hero. Most importantly, he's a young man learning that compromise begins with the words "That's not so bad," and ends with a cost that can never be recovered. 

Saturday, June 15, 2024

This Cold War Just Got Hot

Battlegroup Z series by Daniel Gibbs

Justin Spencer thought he was signing up for a free education and a leisurely tour of duty blasting asteroids out of the shipping lanes. Instead, he bought himself a war. 

I enjoyed this series in the same way I enjoyed playing the Wing Commander video games. There is some background for the setting, the bones of a motivation for hostilities, and some cut scenes where the main characters get to know each other, but the primary draw here is the non-stop, slam-bang, seat-of-your-pants starfighter shoot-outs.

There's a lot to like about this series. The action scenes are exciting and vivid, calling to mind my favorite dogfighting video games and movies. The characters are distinct in voice, approach, and motivation; it makes them easy to follow and keeps the large cast from getting muddled. The bad guys are clearly painted, nicely despicable, and a credible threat. The consequences of the engagements are bleak and impactful. The writing is smooth, clear, and natural.

Monday, June 3, 2024

We Bury Our Own Dead

Archie Andrews and the Riverdale gang are some of the most enduring characters in comics history. They’ve teamed up with superheroes, met countless pop music icons, taught Bible lessons, and fought Sharknados. Their stories range from innocently humorous vignettes to deeply emotional personal drama; Archie married both Betty and Veronica in divergent story arcs that converged again with Archie’s death. Archie Comics as a company has taken on a number of licenses through the years and never been afraid to push the boundaries of comics as an art form. I guess it was inevitable that the zombie apocalypse would eventually make it to Riverdale.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

A Lovely Night for a Witching

The Witch Hunter series by J.Z. Foster.

When your only trained witch hunter thinks it's all a very serious LARP....

J.Z. Foster starts out only slightly tongue in cheek with a hapless narrator, a setup familiar to any horror movie fan, and the drumbeat of inevitable plot beats. It's your average girl reporter meets dorky D&D playing witch-boy who pretends to lead them in search of a witch only to find out witches are real, a ghost is after them, and the all-devouring wight in the basement won't put them on the menu as long as they feed him pork rinds....

Foster's quick descriptions and natural dialog make the pages fly by. The stakes are real - the danger is real - the absurdity of it all is very real - and it very really works together to make a scary, humorous, and engaging tale that gets you on the inside even as it takes you to The Outside....

Monday, May 6, 2024

The Most Magical Comics on Earth

I just happened to be in the Magic Kingdom when I noticed a comic book on the shelf at the Haunted Mansion gift shop, Seekers of the Weird. I didn’t pay much attention. I flipped through the book and decided that if it caught my attention again when the trade came out I’d give it a try.

Five issues came and went. The collected edition hit the shelves. It didn’t catch my attention.

Quite without my knowledge my wife had been buying issues of Figment for my daughter, a huge fan of the imaginary purple dragon. All five issues went into Destiny’s comic box without crossing my line of vision, accompanied a year later by the follow up Figment 2. When my wife discovered they had missed the five issue run of Big Thunder Mountain, she painstakingly tracked down and special ordered every one of them. It wasn’t until Haunted Mansion came out that they saw fit to approach me. “Destiny doesn’t want to read Haunted Mansion,” she said. “I need you to add it to your pull file so I don’t miss any of them.” Ah, me. Les bandes dessinĂ©es sont la langue de l’amour.

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