Her Brother’s Keeper – Mike Kupari (repost review)

51f83jc4-flHer Brother’s Keeper by Mike Kupari of Correia-and-Kupari mil-thrillers is a 2016 Baen SF novel, and that’s about the aptest way to describe it that I know.

Where it’s good, it’s…well, it’s Baen. There’s a tough, Honor Harrington / Heris Serrano-esque ship captain, a weaselly but ultimately honorable aristocrat, an extremely intelligent and extremely socially inept xenoarchaeologist who might be about to stumble over the discovery of the millennia–if it doesn’t get sold on the black market first–there’s a spooky ghost ship interlude that hits every AARGH GUYS GET OUT OF THERE button there is, there’s ground and space action, some perfunctory romance, a couple of heartwarming reunions, and a happy part-1 ending.

On the other hand, where it’s bad, it’s eyerollingly bad. Look, we get it, you love the great state of Texas, good for you. Now shut up. And take that hat off, you look STOOPID with it over your space helmet.

What really knocks any chance this book might have of moving past its flaws is the fact that a) its tone isn’t SF, and b) its overall writing style isn’t SF. What do I mean by this? That this book could have had the word “-space” excised from all scenes and been set on present-day Earth with no change in tone or format. There’s no sense of vaster scope. There’s no iota of widened imagination.

There’s no sense of wonder.

So, starting at the beginning:

Captain Catherine Blackwood returns to her ancestral home at her estranged father’s request. Her feckless younger brother, the heir and the child actually valued by their family, is being held for ransom on the furthest human world, Zanzibar. Her father will spare no expense–even though it would be more cost-effective just to have another son (lol)–to get him back. Captain Blackwood’s light patrol ship is highly trained and professional, but understaffed for what might turn out to be a military operation instead of just a straight prisoner exchange, so a stopover at the Lone Star System AKA Planet Texas (sheesh) collects some hired muscle: hero named Marcus, who also is blandly muscular enough to be played by Mark Wahlberg; sidekick with a sexbot, sniper girl, some other people, and Marcus Wahlberg’s teenage daughter, who needs to get off planet after punching a drugged-up rodeo queen who poisoned her barrel-racing horse Sparkles. I’m not making that up.

OK, well, whatever.

So they set off. Meanwhile, in captivity, feckless brother Cecil and his two sidekicks are being forced to excavate space-archaeological sites for the ruthless but not very interesting warlord Aristotle Lang. Aristotle Lang plans to Take Over The World with the money he will earn selling them on the black market. We are told that this is a bad thing, but he’s such a nonentity in this book it’s open to interpretation. I mean, really, who cares if a place like Zanzibar gets taken over by a warlord? Can he at least make the space shuttles run on time?

Despite the lack of a solid antagonist, this book is actually at its strongest when dealing with the Zanzibar-archaeology plot. There’s some kind of mysterioust secret about the planet Zanzibar which our heroes are on the cusp of discovering. Who were the humanoids who inhabited it millions of years before? How were they able to produce sophisticated technology despite their Bronze Age cultural level? Why did the obligatory-bug alien war go to such lengths to keep the planet intact when they happily used mass drivers on all other human settlements?

Why was was Zanzibar once sterilized down to the molecules of the planetary crust–and how?

Replace “aliens” with “unknown civilization, possibly Atlantis,” and “sterilized” with “volcano,” etc, etc–and you get a perfectly decent current thriller that would entertain on an airplane flight and probably be useful afterwards, if you’re traveling somewhere with no free toilet paper.

Unfortunately, Mike Kupari chose to make this book Science Fiction with a capital SF, but he doesn’t have the imagination or the writing ability to answer the questions he raises, make his heroes interesting, make his antagonists threatening, make his worlds alien, or his spaceships memorable.

Even more unfortunately, this particular plot made me compare this book to another with a very similar plot: Edmund Hamilton’s The Closed Worlds (Starwolf #2). Feckless younger sibling + treasure hunt on an unwelcoming and deadly alien planet + mercenaries…except that Hamilton added: Way Cool Stuff, Big Ideas, Big Scenes, Big Reveals, Scary Villains, Memorable Characters. Morgan Chane would kick the snot out of Marky Mark, laugh while doing so, and have pointed words about Planet Texas vis-a-vis Varna.

In Hamilton’s book, the unwelcoming nature of the alien planet is shown by clear, forceful action on the part of characters with a motivation to act in the way they do: Helmer, who dies as he lives–trying to protect his people from something that destroys the strong and makes the weak vile. Its dangers are even more vividly drawn out with the flitting, white-bodied, laughing, mouthless nanes (brrrrr).

In Kupari’s…Zanzibar is just kinda there. There’s no way of distinguishing the planet from any other by any kind of scene or scenery. Aristotle Lang is just kind of there, devoid of any personality save a vague, theatrical, villainous menace. He doesn’t actually twirl a moustache while threatening the helpless academics. That would be absurd. But it would probably have helped.

In Hamilton’s book, there’s a reveal of the great mystery of the Closed Worlds–and it’s a reveal that’s worth the wait.

In Kupari’s….it’s Sufficiently Advanced Aliens, but, eh, it’s okay, they’re gone now.

I could go on in this vein for a while, but I think that that’s sufficient.

Rated: I think I’m going to go read Starwolf over again.

Son of the Black Sword – Larry Correia – Book Review

sons-of-the-dark-sword-send-to-larry-c.-2Son of the Black Sword is Book 1 of the Saga of the Forgotten Warrior trilo…oh wait no people actually like this so let’s make it a five…wait are they still buying it? What, after book 3 didn’t wrap everything up? Multi-part series instead.

I complain, but it’s in good humor. This series showcases Correia’s strongest writing, because it plays to his strengths: exciting combat scenes; honorable men; fight scenes; violent men; battle scenes; emotionless but charismatic men; chase scenes; beautiful women, and you may have gotten the gist at this point: he writes fight scenes really, really well. There’s a one-vs-many fight at the end of this book that is just a work of art. What’s more, this book avoids his weaknesses: self-insert characters, silly humor, and bashing of political opponents in juvenilely amusing ways.

It’s a damn good book. Fight scenes with a purpose are exciting, charismatic protagonists with inner depths and meaningful journeys are memorable and enjoyable, and beautiful women who have personalities, motivations, and effect on the plot, are good characters regardless of what they’re wearing. Son of the Black Sword has all of those. (Note: with the exception of a ditzy librarian who tries using a romance novel as a how-to spy manual, all female characters are dressed quite appropriately for their circumstances.)

As mentioned, SoTBS was originally #1 of 3 books, before Trilogy Creep Syndrome set in. I hope the story doesn’t get stretched out too far, because I want to find out how it ends, damn it! There is the distinct impression that the story Correia is telling is going to be epic enough to withstand the expansion, but…I really like this story. What is the story?

So.

20-year veteran, Senior Protector Ashok Vadal is one of if not the most dangerous men on Lok. Not only is he a scion of the powerful and respected Vadal House, a Protector gifted with superhuman abilities, not only trained to the peak of physical ability and combat skill, not only above the law and tasked with enforcing it as the most famous member of an order of right hard bastards–Ashok is also the wielder of the mighty ancestor blade Angruvadal. Ancestor blades, made of the mysterious black steel, can cut through steel and demon hide, cleave all four legs off a galloping horse, and, moreover contain the memories and instincts of every warrior who has borne them previously and can guide the muscles and mind of its present wielder to victory….or can savagely punish the unworthy who dare set hand on it.

Ashok was judged worthy as a small child and has lived his life in the Protector Order ever since. How could a man who never lies, who never feels fear, who is wholly devoted to the Law, be unworthy? And why could his mentor, the man whom he trusted and loved as more than his own father, tell him that his life is a shameful falsehood, a disgraceful lie.

Ashok is given a choice: become Lord Protector, head of the Order and continue to live a life of fame, valor, and value…or open a letter that will reveal his past to him and reveal the truth.

Ashok chooses honesty. (Ashok, it transpires, didn’t have a choice).

The disgraceful secret the Protectors have kept for twenty years? Ashok isn’t a man. Ashok isn’t even a human being. Far from being son of the First Caste, the rulers, movers, and shakers…he is actually a casteless. Legally, less than the tools used to till the fields; practically, of less value than the animals used to pull the plow. Although Angruvadal chose him, the utter shame of the choice meant that House Vadal had his mind magically wiped to remove all memory of his casteless origins, deep compulsions implanted in him–rendering him literally fearless and utterly devoted to the law–and he was sent to the Protectors as a mere child in hopes that he would soon die. Oh, and his mother was murdered as part of the cover-up.

Ashok, after delivering a fairly gory reckoning to the people who have committed this injustice and this sin, checks himself into the nearest prison to await trial and sentencing. (Remember what we said about devoted to the Law? Ashok walks the walk…not only because he’s been brainwashed for his entire life.)

Unfortunately, what Ashok gets instead of justice is Omand, the Chief Inquisitor. Omand is seriously bad news. For one, he’s planning a genocide against the casteless…as a stepping stone to whatever his evil plan actually is. Step 1 involves creating a reason for his genocide to continue. Step 2 is ordering Ashok to join with the casteless rebellion and make it into enough of a threat to justify continent-wide genocide.

The implication is that Omand is going to get a horrible surprise about just how clever he isn’t a book or two down the road.

Ashok obediently escapes from prison to find and join the rebellion. He finds–or is found–by Keta, Keeper of Names, and his hostile bodyguard Thera. They have been sent to judge his worthiness before he can be allowed into their ranks, or to meet the mysterious Prophet whom the rebels have rallied about–the Prophet who speaks with the voice of a Forgotten god and testifies that blood, seas and messes of it, are incoming…

But that’s not really a prophecy so much as an accurate observation, really.

And anyhow, yeah. I’m out of time and I need to put some content up that isn’t cat pictures.

Rated: It’s really good. Get it and read it and then tell all your friends.

The Riders of Skaith’s Top 25 Search Results for 2020

riders of skaith15Hiya! Come for….well, I’d love to say the science fiction but by own stats contradict that. (Stay for the tiger pics, though).
the romance of hua rong5Not unexpectedly, the Romance of Hua Rong recaps are by far and away the most popular things on this blog. Lovely Swords Girl and Love and Destiny are yards behind, but the review of the Siege in Fog novel also gets steady hits. 
jim butcher peace talks4Review here! Incoherent initial thoughts here! Slightly more coherent thoughts here.
angelique the marquise of the angels4Review here.
byakuya movie3They did my boy wrong and I am still upset about it.
correia assisns review3A brief review of House of Assassins is here.
captain marvel rewrite3Way better, amiright?
riders of skaith, terminator2Here is my take on how the third Terminator movie should have gone. Here is my mother’s take on the first movie.
larry correia destroyer of worlds2I haven’t written a review of this one….guess I should.
pax dickinson amanda robb2Okay, I had to google this one to find out what it was about. It’s the time some guy made some reporterette wear a MAGA hat and scavenger hunt for him, back like three years ago or something when Comicsgate was going big.
silver creek audie murphy duel ay2Ay. Here you go.
house of assassins larry correia review2Wait, how did more people spell this wrong than spelled it right?
what will dresden mirror mirror be about?2Beats me. 
why was blood coming out of lingxi’s mouth in love and destiny?1‘cuz it’s a dramatic trope often used in cinema to show a character has a serious internal injury or to just intensify a scene by implying that the character might. Plus, this way you can get a lot of drama without having to get a lot of blood on the costume.
what do the einherjar call dresden files1That is an excellent question.
i want to read what happened in a chinese film named,sword girl,season 1 episode 1 to season 6 episode 1,from the starting to the ending.1Can’t help you, fam. 
jim butcher battle ground review spoiler1Justine is Nemesis.
a wizard in bedlam1Here you go, sir, ma’am, or tentacle.
is thomas raith dead bartle grounds1I’m slightly offended by this.
real identity of mr jin hua robg1He’s some kind of prince guy who is related to another prince guy who is the bad guy except Mr. Jin is a good guy who was temporarily pretending to be a hero guy except that the real hero guy was Qin Shang Cheng in a mask. I hope this clarifies the situation for you.
scifiwright the green knights squire1Given the length of the review I wrote for this, it’s really gratifying to see that someone landed there. Thanks, m’lady, m’lord, or churl!
uprooted naomi novik common sense1It wasn’t present in the novel, no.
dark emu criticism1Me, I was just having fun arguing with my dad. 
telzey amberdon and giant otters1No, no, no, it was Nile Etland who had the otters. Telzey had her telepathic tiger/crest cat, Tick-Tock.
bfs what it stands for in peace talks1Friend, why don’t you try reading the books instead of googling everything? It’ll work out much better for you that way, I promise.

Monster Hunter Files – partial review

“Thistle” by Larry Correia – 3/5. Owen and company rescue a little girl from monsters. The little girl has a rather different opinion…
This gets a low score because a) I dislike Owen as a narrator, and b) it, as unbelievably as this sounds, it stretches disbelief too much. Edward the tracker-orc can smell a little girl’s doll, but not that she’s a thistle-monster herself?

Correia is at his weakest when he’s writing Owen–there’s just too much smugness in his voice. He might deny that Owen is a self-insert, but it’s a weak and unconvincing denial given how OP and insufferable Owen is. Still, even the worst of the Correia’s popcorn stories is readable, even if it does make you absolutely swear off popcorn until the next book comes out.

“Small Problems” by Jim Butcher – 5/5. MHI meets NIMH.

In order for fanfic story to be good, it must match the original author’s tone. To be outstanding, it should also put an new (but fitting) perspective into play, adding shading and original colors to the picture while still staying inside the lines. Most fanfic authors are amateurs. JB is a pro. This is a really good story that is well written, matches the tone of the original, portrays known characters without disfigurement, and adds a cool new element to the world to boot.

NIMH rats will forever fight in Roman shieldwalls in my imagination. It’s excellent.

“Darkness Under The Mountain” by Mike Kupari – DNF. This story started off with more than five Kindle pages of driving in a jeep down an Afghanistan road, talking about zombies, and that’s where I left it. Kupari is just not a particularly good writer. Also, I despise zombies.

“A Knight Of The Enchanted Forest” by Jessica Day George – 5/5. Building a better mousetrap is a worthwhile career skill. This story didn’t have much action at all, as it stars a teenage girl and is set in the Enchanted Forest trailer park, but it is well-done and quite funny.

“The Manticore Sanction” by John C. Wright – 4/5. A James Bond-type spy is ordered to kill his nonhuman lover. Also featuring The Mummy, Grendel, The Creature From The Black Lagoon, and the underwater oxygen-burning gadget from Gojira. Wright is perhaps the best writer in this book; however, he has a couple of characteristic tropes that tend to negate this.

1) His characters will stop, mid-action, and moralize to each other. Generally, this is in-character, because he writes self-important, pompous twerps…but…I like action and don’t like to have it interrupted, especially by more freaking dialogue. It’s frustrating and annoying.

2) His action scenes are frustrating and annoying (and that’s after you wade through acres of quasi-Shakespearian dialogue to get to them), because he undercuts his protagonists at every turn. Sure, it’s thematic in this story (To make Ardath Bey look better), but this is a pattern I’ve noticed ever since Orphans of Chaos. (Trying to escape? Your powers get shut off and you get spanked.) Last Guardian of Everness: use the magic weapon you are destined to wield to defeat the villain? It breaks your arms and then he walks over you. Somewhither: Heroes charging a line of cowering spearmen? Heroes get stabbed from a distance with pointy sticks. It makes sense in Somewhither….not so much the others.

3) Would James Bond really be that dumb? He did get married once and he’s had enough experience with women to know that some of them can be really psycho bitches if you get them mad…

On the pro side: this is story written by a master of lyrical prose who knows well how to invoke a sense of wonder, seamlessly blends classic monsters and modern fantasy, and features a damsel who has more on her mind than being distressed.

“The Bride” by Brad R. Torgersen – 2/5. Dippel actually also created a female body, and Ben Franklin also cuts a deal with her. Also von Steuben is in on it. Eh, meh.

“She Bitch, Killer of Kits” (a Skinwalker Crossover Tale) by Faith Hunter – 2/5. This a crossover story starring Jane Yellowrock, a part-Native American panther-type shapeshifter biker babe bounty hunter with waist-length black hair who is tough and strong and has relationship troubles, and uses TWO machetes, how cool is that? Did we mention her hair is waist-length and shiny? The story does, twice.

She gets two stars for managing to rescue the kids before the werewolves eat them. People mock the Dresden Files–but those women at least have personalities and their personalities are different from each other.

“Mr. Natural” by Jody Lynn Nye – 3/5. A STFU team rescues hippies from a nature god who has taken over their commune. This story wasn’t nearly as funny as it could have or wanted to be.

“The Troll Factory” by Alex Shvartsman – 2/5. A computer geek hunter ends up in the Russian IT farm known as the troll factory…guess why. This onetries to do too much with too many concepts and ends up underusing each one of them. Trolls/spiders/demons: if your page time is limited, pick one and stick to it. I mean, internet trolls who are literal trolls is a hilarious concept and you could have even made something out of the new competition from the insidious Russian Bots threat…

“Keep Kaiju Weird” by Kim May – 3/5. A Japanese schoolgirl runs into some strange events…fortunately, she’s not an ordinary girl, and she knows some extraordinary people.
This story was almost really good. However, I have questions, like:
– Why does kitsune girl have Franks on speed-dial?
– I know people don’t like Grant, but even so, why did he lose so many IQ points?
– How come just Franks and Grant are responding with no team to back them up?
– How come Franks was on a mission with no team and yet is able to call in an airstrike within seconds?
– If kitsune girl had a special katana the whole time, why not just go ahead and take care of it herself?
– If the artist who drew the monsters was already so well-known, how come MCB hadn’t already shut him down with extreme prejudice?
– Am I going to finish the rest of this book?

The really annoying thing about the Monster Hunter International series is that, when you’re forced to read it, you’re forced to admit it’s pretty good.

Rated: Ain’t nobody forcing me.

House of Assassins by Larry Correia – Repost Review

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This cover is stupid. This is a fantasy adventure. Stop it with the wannabe high-brow lichratchur covers. Give me scantily-clad swordsmen or give me death.

(I’m going to review Destroyer of Worlds, just as soon as I get the time. I promise! TLDR: It’s awesome. Also it’s available as an e-arc.)

House of Assassinson the other hand, is available as a full-on e-book, audio book, and paperback book, at this point. You can also try your local library and if they don’t have it, try raising hell, because they should.

This is actually just a compilation of thoughts rather than a strict review. As far as quality goes: if you liked Son of the Black Sword, then you will have to read this book. If you haven’t read Son of the Black Sword, then get it and read it; it’s Correia’s best work to date.
House of Assassins is the immediate continuation of it, and also the second book of a trilogy. While somewhat affected with Middle Of Trilogy Symptom, it still expands the world, the characters, the story, and the stakes. Now I really, really, really want Book 3.

The plot is mostly as summarized in the back blurb (NOTE, spoilers for SotBS): Thera, unwilling prophet of the Forgotten, has been stolen by the wizards of the Lost House–the titular House of Assassins. The maddened and ambitious master of the wizards, Sikasso, intends to gain her power for his own use–by teaching her how to master and use them. It’s an uphill battle, given that Thera has the magical ability of a frog rather than a princess; but Sikasso is, as the narrative dryly points out, an excellent motivator. If she doesn’t learn, they’ll give her to the Inquisition.

Meanwhile, Ashok and his new army–the Sons of the Black Sword–march to follow the command of a god they do not believe in and rescue their prophet, who also doesn’t believe. Meanwhile, the corrupt and evil (no, really evil. No. Genuinely without redeeming merit or value, evil and vile) head of the Inquisition, Omand, is putting his plan into motion…and the world may die because of it.

So, thoughts: [Some spoilers, be wary]

– If Correia extends this trilogy into an Umpteen-Part series, I’m going to be pissed. I want to know how THIS story finishes. There’s plenty of space to continue exploring Lok, righting wrongs, adventuring across continent and ocean…in ANOTHER story. Everything has been put in place for Book 3 (Destroyer of Worlds) to blow my socks off, and I am awaiting it. When is it going to be coming out…?
– As I mentioned, this book does have a slight case of fantasy-journeyitis. Chunks of the narrative is simply following characters from Point A (here) to Point B (over there, where the next plot event is scheduled to happen). On foot. Or on horseback. Or on boat. Or while being stalked by wizard assassins. Correia mostly uses the time for character development; but still. Now, this is a standard of the fantasy genre, and I really should overlook it…but a) someone who specializes in fast, pulp-fantasy, high-action pacing should know to minimize this; and b) it’s a trope I’m particularly sensitive to, so it annoyed me.
– The Point-A–>Point-B dilemma also pops up at the climax, and I’m unsatisfied with how it was handled. As it is, it makes Ashok look rather stupid, and wastes a certain amount of time and energy. Hopefully, it’s something that will be corrected with another round of beta reading and editorial feedback. Or perhaps I’m being too picky. But I was vaguely unsatisfied with the final battle, after the all-out, gloriously gory One Man Last Stand of book 1. Ah well, so I just have to wait for Book 3, huh?
– I was wanting a heck of a lot more information about the origins of Lok, the black steel, Ramrowan, etc. What is the deal with Angruvadal? If it’s still able to help, why doesn’t it? If it can’t, what is it waiting for? And now I’m going to have to wait for Book 3. Damnit.
– Random observation: what is it with the motif of women and damaging their hands with magical powers? It’s in The Invisible Library, and here again in House of Assassins; I vaguely remember something of the sort in Lioness Rampant, and there was a slight case again in The Aeronaut’s Windlass. Convergent tropism?

Oh, but the good stuff: [DEFINITELY SPOILERS]
– Thera actually does get rescued by the end of the book, so there is none of that infuriating “Your Princess Is In Another Castle” nonsense. THANK YOU. And by rescued, what I actually mean is, “Someone’s got to save all our skins. Into the garbage chute, flyboy!”
– There’s a really great action scene where Ashok and Jagdish have to infiltrate a brothel. In fact, the entire bit where Ashok is attempting to go undercover is really magnificent, mostly because he knows his limits and doesn’t actually try. (“I thirst. Bring me water. Now.”)
– There’s another really great scene where our heroes have detained and questioned an outsider. He’s given them the information they need, and now they need to know how to deal with him. Turn him loose in return for giving them accurate information? Honorable, but he’ll bring Protectors after them immediately. Or should they kill him–after having promised him mercy?
Ashok listens to both sides of the argument, and snaps the man’s neck with his bare hands without saying a word.
– There’s a lot more characterization. Thera, Jagdish, Sikasso, and the newcomer Inquisitor Javed (who is so casually psychopathic and also charming and amiable, even Omand is slightly put off). Omand himself gets some time in the spotlight…and it becomes very clear that whatever shreds of a chance at redeeming virtue might have been hinted at in the first book, aren’t actually there.
How bad is he?
He has a captive demon in the dungeons of the Inquisition.
It’s scared of him.
– There’s a good bit of dry humor (“and then Sikasso proved what an excellent teacher he really was”), such as the Historian-Librarian feud that almost gets Rada locked out of the Historian’s Museum, and other such moments.
– I think my favorite over the top action sequence is when Ashok gets hung on a hook…through his heart…and proceeds to lift himself up the chain and yank the hook free with his bare hands. That’s what I’m talking about.

Rated: Want Book 3 now….!

Review – Target Rich Environment by Larry Correia

61xtt-zhnel._sy291_bo1204203200_ql40_Target Rich Environment – Larry Correia
This is a collection of previously-published stories, including several from Correia’s Monster Hunter International universe, the Grimnoire universe, and the gonzo Stranger & Stranger Interdimensional Insurance Agents cycle. Like all Correia lit, these run the gamut from, “I can’t believe this stupidity is this amusing,” to “I don’t fetishize guns/RPGs/vidya! This is boring–wait, did he just put emotional depth and characterization there in a throwaway line?”
So:
Tanya: Princess of Elves – elves are actually redneck trailer trash. I actually kind of feel bad about finding this story amusing. Nevertheless…
Dead Waits Dreaming – the dread and fear of Great Cthulhu reaches beyond Earth unto even the stars. Thanks, I hate it.
Sweothi City – BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRT BANG BANG BANG SLASH RRRRRARRRRR I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Let’s steal from bad guys.
Meh.
The Bridge – This is based on an RPG game called Aetaltis, for whatever good that’s worth (which is to me, nothing). Nevertheless, it’s a nice little story about a guy who has to guard a bridge, and a monk-warrior who has to cross it. No, it’s not nearly in the same league as Troll Bridge, but given that Baen Books has recently put out an anthology of stories by authors named David (no, really), I wouldn’t hesitate in including this story along with Pratchett’s, in an anthology about bridges. And that’s kind of high praise, really.
Detroit Christmas – The annoying thing about Correia’s writing is how often he writes stuff that sucks you in despite every indication that it’s going to be trash and your not wanting to get sucked in to reading stupid trash about some magical private eye dude tracking down a missing husband the day before Christmas…
Murder on the Orient Elite – This is a brief sequel to the main Grimnoir trilogy, sketching out some of what would be the stakes and enemy forces in the sequel. As such, it’s just a sketch, and more remains in doubt than is actually revealed. Let’s just say that Otto Skorzeny is involved.
Father’s Day – My favorite in the collection. Correia’s forward states that he wanted to write the ultimate tearjerker: a story about a father powerless to save his child from a horrible fate. He succeeded. But Correia also knows his audience: no one wants to see a child actually endure a horrible fate. No one likes it. Everyone wants a happy ending. But how to get a happy ending without compromising the emotional catharsis factor of a tearjerking story? By very clever strategy, that’s how: in this case, the gut-punch isn’t lessened, but it is mitigated. Because the little girl who is being recruited to fight monsters? Knows she is walking into the line of fire—to become a superhero.
Destiny of a Bullet – Also an RPG fic….and I didn’t read it.
Bubba Shackleford’s Professional Monster Killers – It’s an MHI fic. So your mileage will vary tremendously in whether or not you like it. I actually don’t like the MHI books very much, although it is interesting to chart Correia’s improvement as an author as the books continue. I will say that there are several factors in this story’s favor: it does not star Owen Zastava Author-Insert Pitt, and it does have a clever resolution. And anyone named Plague of Crows is automatically badass, even if they are deceased. SPOILER:
“Count coup” = Awesome.
Blood on Water – This is the companion story to the previous, from the point of view of not-so-much-a-lady sharpshooter Hannah Stone; it’s written by Ms. Hinkley Correia. Eh.
The Losing Side – MIL-SF isn’t my thing, especially the kind where rooms get cleared aggressively every three pages and/or anything involving tanks. So this is a story which gets a particularly hard meh from me.
The Great Sea Beast – It’s about a Japanese guy who has a vendetta against the kaiju which destroyed his village. It ain’t half bad.
Force Multiplier – Can vampires co-exist with humans? (No.) Should humans wipe out vampires? (they can try.) What about when the vampires fight back? What about when the vampires used to be very highly decorated Special Forces veterans who wrote the book on infiltrations, guerilla tactics, weaponry, and insurrection?
“oh shit,” that’s what.
The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent – OK, any story in which the great Libertarian Cowboy Space Opera TV show ran for five seasons and which resulted in Adam Baldwin being elected President of the United States (SecDef: R. Lee Ermey….yup), has got to be good. The really endearing part of this story is hearing Correia giggling happily to himself as he writes it.

Rated: Two CorreiaTech Combat Wombats out of five (which is still enough to blow up the planet and possibly a chunk of the multiverse)…

ALERT ALERT ALERT

Larry Correia has a short story out on Baen to accompany (well, precede) the release of House of Assassins.

The Testimony of the Traitor Ratul

Thoughts (SPOILERS):
– What are the Astronomers actually watching for?…oh. UH OH.
– ….blue giants? Aliens? ALIVE? (Well, before the Protectors got to them) Whoa.
– The Crown, the Mask, and the Demon will stand against the Priest, the Voice, and the General. EPIC.
– Ratul has been to Fortress. (I’m secretly expecting Fortress to provide gunpowder weaponry for the rebellion. I’m also secretly waiting for Ashok to become Gunslinger Ashok, come on you know it’s gonna happen.)
– The question obviously isn’t “Who is Mother Dawn?” –it’s “What is Mother Dawn?”
– Devedas may turn out to be one of the most tragic characters ever. If he doesn’t stop being a resentment-driven ambitious jerk with no perspective who lets the villain manipulate him.
– The only other series I’m this hyped for is The Dresden Files. I can’t wait for Destroyer of Worlds. Correia rocks.

Fantasy Casting: Larry Correia’s Saga of the Forgotten Warrior

So, with House of Assassins about to be officially released next month (it’s a solid entry in the series which is his best work yet), I figured I’d work up one of these posts: which actors would be best in the movie of a book of your choice. Fair warning: my picks get kinda weird. My previous efforts (Nine Movie Stars in Amber) featured actors from (mostly) Golden Age Hollywood.

Now, The Saga of the Forgotten Warrior takes place on a fantasy (but secretly SF) world with a strong Indian/Asian flavor. Think Zelazny’s Lord of Light, but without the immortal gods who remember Earth That Was and control sophisticated technology.

So naturally, I imagined the cast as being all Chinese or Japanese. Well, they aren’t paying me to do this, ya know.

(SPOILERS FOR BOTH BOOKS: YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED)

Ashok Vadal – Tatsuya Nakadai. nakadai - goyokin
Our hero, something of a cross between a Terminator, a samurai, and a Knight Templar.
Ashok has been shaped, forged, and bound his entire life into being the perfect weapon of the Law, its servant and its most powerful enforcer….until one day, somehow, he breaks free. It’s as much a shock to him as it is to everyone else.
I feel Nakadai is right for the role because he has not only has the physicality to portray the world’s greatest living swordsman, but also the acting chops to show the cold, tortured soul beneath it.

Thera – Cheng Pei Pei lady-hermit-1968-cheng-pei-pei
Thera is a woman of the warrior caste, ostensibly the bodyguard of Keta, the Keeper of Names. An expert in staying alive she claims to stay with the Rebellion only because it’s well-funded.
Spoiler: she’s lying.
“So, they have to go and rescue the prophet of the forgotten god.”
“Why does the prophet need rescuing?”
“Because she got kidnapped by these evil wizards who turned into giant eagles, they sensed the magic in her–exactly what the god is, or is doing to her isn’t clear, so they didn’t know either, so they just grabbed her so they could find out.”lady2Bhermit
“The prophet is a woman?”
“Well, she’s….she’s secretly the prophet. She’s pretending to be the pretend prophet’s bodyguard. The guy who is actually just organizing the rebellion.”
“Oh, I see. Heh, Correia sold out.”
“What?”
“He sold out to political correctness. Could have happened to anyone. And the audience demands, I guess. Making the hero a woman.”
“No, the hero is Ashok. He’s this guy who–“
“But you said she’s a bodyguard. Correia sold out.”
“She–what–no, she’s the bodyguard because she uses stealth and trickery, not brute force.”
“Uh-huh, and I’ll bet she’s very well dressed while she does it, too.”
“[deep breath]…actually, she wears a long coat in both books. I don’t know why you have to cast aspersions just because you assume something–
“Why are you getting upset? It’s fine to write stories however way you like them. And men like stories like this, too. Especially if the heroine
 isn’t well dressed.”
[sigh]

Keta – I’ll admit, this one I don’t know. But Asian cinema never seems to have trouble casting “those skinny guys with a lot of teeth,” who trot around after the hero and annoy them, so…
Keta is a key role, however, because he’s someone who is simultaneously a deep thinker, dreamer, and believer, charismatic and compelling…and deeply annoying. He’s someone who has created something truly remarkable…but who has no idea of how he’s done it, and is desperately making stuff up as he goes. The actor would have to pull of someone who is all at once faintly comical, compelling, and deeply sincere.

Jagdish – Tak Sakaguchi. tak-sakaguchi
Jagdish is a guy who got dishonored (in a fight with Ashok), and who intends to regain his honor (by fighting Ashok). However, in order to gain the skill necessary to defeat Ashok fairly in a duel, he needs to take swordsmanship lessons. (Provided by Ashok.) The logic of this progression escapes everybody except Jagdish.
And Ashok.

Devedas – Ti Lung s6_53c3fabf30192
Bear with me. Mostly I base this off his performance in the wuxia flick Soul of the Sword, in which he (much like Nakadai in Sword of Doom), charismatically portrays a complete sociopath. “Nameless,” in Soul, is an up-and-coming young swordsman, whose straightforward, happy-go-lucky, taking life as it comes (literally) attitude is just the surface covering to a seething pit of nihilism, confusion, ambition, and cruelty.
The character of Devedas has a vaguely similar arc: a talented student, a loyal friend, a faithful soldier–secretly inwardly consumed with resentment…and ambition.
And looks fine with his shirt off, too, apparently.

Omand – no clue. The main villain, however, needs to have a strong presence. My mental image of him is “Evil Smiling Buddha.” He’s a man who intends to make himself a god. By genociding the last hope of rest  of the human race’s survival.

Gutch – Kinnosuke Nakamura. image-w856

AKA, that guy from Goyokin who I had to go spelunking into IMDB and the subtitled cast list to find out his name. Whatever, dude. You weren’t ever a big shot.

Karno – Toshiro Mifune mifune_4_large
Known as Blunt Karno–because he’s even less good at being tactful than Ashok is, and because he uses a warhammer–Karno is one of those characters who seems to be outgrowing the role he’s seemingly been assigned. Tasked with guarding a naive young noblewoman, he’s patient and (in a blunt kind of way) kind to her. In the face of increasing political unrest, he’s far more alert and in-tune with what’s going on than other characters expect (or want) him to be.–and there is the further hint that he will be open-minded enough to accept the casteless for the humans that they are, rather than blindly the Law that says they are not.
In short, subverting the “dumb muscle” archetype with a smart, well-rounded character: standard Correia.

Rada – Vicki Zhao or Yang Mi

Rada is also an interesting character, because she’s the main source of historical/worldbuilding exposition for the audience. She’s a sheltered nerd who is innocently researching the beginnings of the Law and caste system, gets caught up in things she doesn’t understand, and dragged on a fabulous adventure in the meanwhile.
As far as casting goes, either of the two ladies listed can “cute and funny,” though in different ways. Viki Zhao/Zhao Wei was hilarious as the accident-prone heroine of Treasure Venture (I really must find and finish that series someday), and would be good if the adaptation was to play up Rada’s cluelessness. Which, admittedly, is considerable. Yang Mi, on the other hand, has a positive genius for taking bratty characters whom normally you would delight in slapping the [blank] out of, and making them a) cute, b) sympathetic, c) really actually funny. So she would be my choice to cast if our hypothetical adaptation were to play up the spoiled-aristocrat angle.

Artya del Zarger – Tiffany Tang or Zhou Xun

This is a fairly small part, so casting a heavy hitter doesn’t seem really worth it; but given the praise lavished on her by Omand and the fact that she’s instrumental in his plan to take over the Capital and genocide the casteless, it does seem justified to cast a bigshot.
Tang Yan/Tiffany Tang, of course, is excellent at being regal, imperious, and disdainful (Chinese Paladin 3). Zhou Xun, on the other hand, is unparalleled at being really effing creepy.

So there you have  my mental cast for the Saga of the Forgotten Warrior.

[I don’t know why the last few pictures have that much of a size difference and I don’t care enough to go fix it.]

Review: House of Assassins by Larry Correia

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That cover is stupid.

Available now as an eARC.

In the interests of not totally spoiling a book that isn’t technically out yet, this is just a compilation of thoughts. As far as quality goes: if you liked Son of the Black Sword, then you will have to read this book. If you haven’t read Son of the Black Sword, then get it and read it; it’s Correia’s best work to date.
House of Assassins is the immediate continuation of it, and also the second book of a trilogy. While somewhat affected with Middle Of Trilogy Symptom, it still expands the world, the characters, the story, and the stakes. Now I really, really, really want Book 3.

The plot is mostly as summarized in the back blurb (NOTE, spoilers for SotBS): Thera, unwilling prophet of the Forgotten, has been stolen by the wizards of the Lost House–the titular House of Assassins. The maddened and ambitious master of the wizards, Sikasso, intends to gain her power for his own use–by teaching her how to master and use them. It’s an uphill battle, given that Thera has the magical ability of a frog rather than a princess; but Sikasso is, as the narrative dryly points out, an excellent motivator. If she doesn’t learn, they’ll give her to the Inquisition.
Meanwhile, Ashok and his new army–the Sons of the Black Sword–march to follow the command of a god they do not believe in and rescue their prophet, who also doesn’t believe. Meanwhile, the corrupt and evil (no, really evil. No. Genuinely without redeeming merit or value, evil and vile) head of the Inquisition, Omand, is putting his plan into motion…and the world may die because of it.

So, thoughts: [Some spoilers, be wary]

– If Correia extends this trilogy into an Umpteen-Part series, I’m going to be pissed. I want to know how THIS story finishes. There’s plenty of space to continue exploring Lok, righting wrongs, adventuring across continent and ocean…in ANOTHER story. Everything has been put in place for Book 3 (Destroyer of Worlds) to blow my socks off, and I am awaiting it. When is it going to be coming out…?
– As I mentioned, this book does have a slight case of fantasy-journeyitis. Chunks of the narrative is simply following characters from Point A (here) to Point B (over there, where the next plot event is scheduled to happen). On foot. Or on horseback. Or on boat. Or while being stalked by wizard assassins. Correia mostly uses the time for character development; but still. Now, this is a standard of the fantasy genre, and I really should overlook it…but a) someone who specializes in fast, pulp-fantasy, high-action pacing should know to minimize this; and b) it’s a trope I’m particularly sensitive to, so it annoyed me.
– The Point-A–>Point-B dilemma also pops up at the climax, and I’m unsatisfied with how it was handled. As it is, it makes Ashok look rather stupid, and wastes a certain amount of time and energy. Hopefully, it’s something that will be corrected with another round of beta reading and editorial feedback. Or perhaps I’m being too picky. But I was vaguely unsatisfied with the final battle, after the all-out, gloriously gory One Man Last Stand of book 1. Ah well, so I just have to wait for Book 3, huh?
– I was wanting a heck of a lot more information about the origins of Lok, the black steel, Ramrowan, etc. What is the deal with Angruvadal? If it’s still able to help, why doesn’t it? If it can’t, what is it waiting for? And now I’m going to have to wait for Book 3. Damnit.
– Random observation: what is it with the motif of women and damaging their hands with magical powers? I saw it in The Invisible Library, and here again in House of Assassins; vaguely remember something of the sort in Lioness Rampant, and again in The Aeronaut’s Windlass.

Oh, but the good stuff: [DEFINITELY SPOILERS]
– Thera actually does get rescued by the end of the book, so there is none of that infuriating “Your Princess Is In Another Castle” nonsense. THANK YOU. And by rescued, what I actually mean is, “Someone’s got to save all our skins. Into the garbage chute, flyboy!”
– There’s a really great action scene where Ashok and Jagdish have to infiltrate a brothel. In fact, the entire bit where Ashok is attempting to go undercover is really magnificent, mostly because he knows his limits and doesn’t actually try. (“I thirst. Bring me water. Now.”)
– There’s a lot more characterization. Thera, Jagdish, Sikasso, and the newcomer Inquisitor Javed (who is so casually psychopathic and also charming and amiable, even Omand is slightly put off). Omand himself gets some time in the spotlight…and it becomes very clear that whatever shreds of a chance at redeeming virtue might have been hinted at in the first book, aren’t actually there.
How bad is he?
He has a captive demon in the dungeons of the Inquisition.
It’s scared of him.
– There’s a good bit of dry humor (“and then Sikasso proved what an excellent teacher he really was”), such as the Historian-Librarian feud that almost gets Rada locked out of the Museum, and other such moments.
– I think my favorite over the top action sequence is when Ashok gets hung on a hook…through his heart…and proceeds to lift himself up the chain and yank the hook free with his bare hands. That’s what I’m talking about.

Rated: Want Book 3 now….!