Review: The Clone Republic

The Clone Republic

A (comparably) long time ago, before the rise in self-publishing, I read a novel called The Clone Republic, the first in a series of military science fiction books by Steven L. Kent. And in hindsight, it seems kind of impressive in how it nailed a type of story that would later appear in much greater numbers. It’s a strange kind of impressiveness, but impressive nonetheless.

Even at the time, I never thought this story of a futuristic clone army was never more than a merely satisfactory cheap thriller. But it really fits the niche of what I’d call a “spacesuit commando” novel because of its “genericness”, limited technology, and weird touches. For instance, the clones don’t know they’re clones, believe themselves to be genuine orphans, and all but the main character biologically self-destruct (!) if told they’re a clone.

So this book and its series is in the “weird nostalgia segment” for me. Then it may have stood out a little by being so generic (!). Now it wouldn’t diverge from the considerably bigger pack. Still, I had fun with it.

Review: The Iron Dream

The Iron Dream

Norman Spinrad’s The Iron Dream is an alternate history satire of the er, “issues” in lowbrow fiction. In it, Adolph Hitler doesn’t go into politics, instead becoming a pulp science fiction author. The book primarily consists of an in-universe novel involving the manly men of Heldon triumphing over hideous mutants and their masters, the mind-controlling Dominators. Does this remind you of anything?

This book is not subtle in the slightest concerning its message of the er “dubious” parts of adventure fiction. I could feel a tone of “Ok, here’s a very obvious reference? Do you get it? Ok, here’s another one. Get it? And to make absolutely sure that you get it, I’ll have an in-universe epilogue that explains everything”. My own reaction was “I get it! All right, I get it. Seriously- I GET IT.”

Thankfully, it’s quite understandable why Spinrad is so forceful. The stories of people not getting it despite his best efforts speak as to why. But it’s also dated in some ways. First, the type of exact “thud and blunder” prose/story he was parodying is now long obsolete. Second, it’s interesting to see a huge example of something coming not that long after its publication that was both prominent and different from the tone-Star Wars. Star Wars features a multispecies alliance of often-ugly aliens fighting a human-dominated empire. It may be a single example, but it’s the biggest example.

Beyond that, I can still understand and sympathize with the message. It’s one of the reasons why, while not a deal breaker, I tend to not like science fiction that has alien species’ introduced purely to be antagonists. However, I’ll admit it also feels a little like punching down at a very easy and very obvious target.

Nonetheless, this type of satire is very hard to write well. I know this firsthand. Of all the parodies of conventional WW3s I’ve tried to write, all of them I’ve junked as being too inaccurate and/or mean spirited. So Spinrad probably succeeded as best as he could, and the biggest satirical part does come across as him knowing his source material well.

Review: Recruit

Iron Legion: Recruit

David Ryker and Daniel Morgan’s Recruit is a military science fiction novel of hugely missed potential. While not an “exact” spacesuit commando book in that its main character controls too high-powered a mech (which is still part of the problem), it’s still one in spirit, especially given the opportunity it has. Which really works against it.

In execution, the prose, while satisfactory, isn’t the best. And it has the usual implausibilities and inaccuracies, including one that jumped out at me of the main character having his emotion crisis and self-doubt during, instead of the more realistic and dramatic after a big battle. But those are forgivable.

What isn’t so much is the opportunity it had, using its in-universe premise, of having the potential to make a story centered around someone who was at the very, very bottom. The main character is initially slated to go into the highest-casualty branch of the Space Military. The most expendable and least glamorous, something legitimately interesting. But nope, instead the protagonist is just so good that he becomes a spacesuit commando instead. Which is a shame. It’s still a passable cheap thriller, but it could have been so much more.

Review: Dune

Dune

It’s finally here. The time has come to do a review of Dune, Frank Herbert’s legendary science fiction classic. Arrakis is a very long way from the Fulda Gap. This book is not the usual fare of this blog. Even beyond that, it’s pretty tricky to get a really solid opinion on, because it has two qualities that are both richly deserved.

On one hand, it deserves to be a classic. It’s one of those sci-fi books that has genuine depth, and you can see how enduring and influential its setting is, even little factors like me thinking that Jabba the Hutt had to be inspired by Vladimir Harkonnen. Compared to spacesuit commandos and Kenneth Bulmer making up five million words for “plot-creature”, this is the real deal.

Unfortunately, it’s also a novel that’s written in an overly long, overly flat manner. While it has the imagination to back it up, its prose is still over-descriptive. And while this obviously isn’t Herbert’s fault, Dune has been famous enough that seeing its world doesn’t bring about the sense of wonder it would have to a far more fresh reader.

Dune is both of those things, which makes it very hard to actually judge. But science fiction is richer for it having existed. It can be an apple that stands alongside the pulpier oranges.

Review: Manhounds of Antares

Manhounds of Antares

Having read the first arc of the Dray Prescot series, I had anticipated what I was in for when I started Manhounds of Antares. I expected horrendously purple prose, a first-person narrative of constant action, and a plot driven by cosmic contrivances. How accurate were my predictions?

For the first, the prose is a teeny-tiny bit better than in the Delian Cycle, but it’s still very, very, purple and overly blocky. For the second, it was pretty much exactly what I’d expected. For the third, it was somehow slightly worse than before, as Prescot is teleported around multiple times by the Plot Star Lords in ways that feel especially forced and jarring. Another returning element is Bulmer’s broad but shallow worldbuilding. consisting entirely of creating pseudo-wondrous names and species.

And yet I’ll readily admit this book served its purpose for me as a light read with a tone and prose style considerably different than the “contemporary action” books I’ve been reading. I’m just not sure I’d recommend it to others.

Review: Starmageddon

Starmageddon

In 1986’s Starmageddon, Richard Rohmer struck again. By this time, The Hunt For Red October had been out for some time and Red Storm Rising was soon to come. One of my comments about Tom Clancy has been that his success and popularity was more due to being able to tap the trends of the time than any directly superlative writing skill. Well, for Rohmer, that kind of trend-chasing, mixed with inertia, was the sole reason for him being as successful as he was.

I’m reluctant to call anything the “worst ever”. But in terms of the worst World War III book written, Starmageddon is at least up there. Especially in the category of “worst World War III book by a big name author/publisher”. So what is this book?

Basically, take the hot-button issues and events of the day, in this case the KAL007 shootdown, the Strategic Defense Initiative, and trade concerns with Japan and South Korea. It’s okay to wonder what the third has to do with the first two, and that’s because it’s part there to set up the “plot” (which in turn cycles back to just reasons for showing those topics) and more there for just padding.

Shove them into a barely fictionalized form. In Starmageddon’s case, toss it into a lame, low-effort “future” where everything besides one superweapon is still at present-day technology levels. Add in what feels like the outline for a military/technothriller, and tell it completely in the form of conference rooms and scenes so flat they might as well be in conference rooms. Jumble them into an only slightly coherent plot. End on a “cliffhanger”.

This is nothing new for Rohmer, although he has regressed at least a little from the very small “height” of Periscope Red. Combining his writing “quality” with a World War III subject matter (no matter how halfhearted) automatically makes this book one of the worst ever in the small subgenre. This is especially so given the context. By this time, other authors were doing similar themes with far more skill, leaving Rohmer well behind.

Review: Magestic Book 1

Magestic Book 1

Geoff Wolack’s Magestic (the spelling is deliberate-it’s a code phrase in universe) is a gargantuan work about a time traveler going back to hopefully change his own apocalyptic time. The first entry is split into 18 volumes, which is still enormous by normal standards, but looks a little less so to someone who’s read a 27 and 54 (and counting) volume series.

Anyway, this is extremely ambitious in concept but less effective in execution, at least as of now. The actual writing is a little crude and jumpy, but I’m willing to let it slide for the time being. The bigger problem is how it handles time travel. The main character keeps predicting events and benefiting from them without any butterflies as of yet. Thus it comes across as bland.

The concept-which reminds me a lot of Asimov’s Foundation- is good enough and the core writing adequate enough for me to continue with the series. If disruptions and challenges do emerge, it’ll look much better. But as of now, the series doesn’t feel like it started on a good note.

Review: Decisively Engaged

Decisively Engaged

It’s been some time since I read a nice, proper spacesuit commando novel. And C. J. Carella’s Decisively Engaged fits the bill. Because boy, is this of the biggest spacesuit commando books ever. It’s Space America vs. The Alien Hordes. Sure there’s a backstory, but all you really need to know is it being (literal) Space America vs. the Alien Hordes.

The military sci-fi cliches are present here in such massive qualities that they stop being annoying and start being oddly endearing. This and the fact that the action is actually decently written-not the best, but at least decently enough-is enough to make the book enjoyable for me. The worst part is overly jumpy perspective shifts, not helped a few clumsy flashback “interludes”.

This is the sort of pulpy cheap thriller that doesn’t feel like “good” would be the right word to describe it. Yet it’s enjoyable, and that’s ultimately what matters more.

A Thousand Words: Time Gal

Time Gal

The 1983 video game Dragon’s Lair pioneered a feature to get around the then-primitive graphics of the time. Animated scenes would play via laserdisc while the player engaged in what are now called quick-time events. One of the more memorable versions of this is 1985’s Time Gal.

First, it has legitimately good-quality animation, no doubt due to the presence of the big-time Toei Animation doing the work there. Second is its premise. Basically, someone stole a time machine and Reika, the game’s heroine, must pursue him throughout many times, from the far past to the far future. Goofy anime antics and quick-time events galore ensue. There’s a tiny bit more depth in that from time to time, the game will briefly stop and allow the player choices, only one of which will succeed.

One of the more bizarre coincidences of the game is the one that ties it to Fuldapocalypse. The “AD 1990” stage features Reika avoiding M1 Abrams tanks and an AH-1 Cobra helicopter on a battlefield. The closeness of the then-future date to the actual Gulf War is uncanny, especially given how pop-culture to outright wrong everything else is.

This is a goofy spectacle that was meant to be a goofy spectacle. For the voice acting to be technically “better” or the animation to be more recent and even smoother would ruin the experience. And while many “interactive movie” games were cheap bandwagon-hoppers, this is not.

Review: Roadside Picnic

Roadside Picnic

It’s time to review another classic of science fiction, the Strugatsky brothers’ Roadside Picnic. It’s famous for leading to the “Stalker” movie and video game series, as well as gaining extra prominence after the Chernobyl disaster. But how does the book itself hold up?

Sadly, my thought after reading it is “not the best”. Maybe this is just the translation, but I felt constantly felt like the concepts were far better than the execution. The execution felt like it was either dull or pretentious with nothing in between, while the concepts of both “ultra-advanced aliens nonchalantly passing by” and “weird zone full of weirdness” are more interesting.

Perhaps this kind of higher-brow science fiction just isn’t my genre. But I could see why the book was both influential (because adaptations could take advantage of the really, really good concepts) and at least in some places less prominent by itself (because the actual novel doesn’t work as well).