Tag Archives: sci-fi

Two More Book Reviews

You know I stint on five-star reviews, but I gave out five for both of these very different books. One, a memoir, the other a sci-fi book. Both on Kindle. As the brain freezes from finishing my own projects, it’s almost always possible to read something somebody else wrote.

Hippie at Heart: What I Used To Be, I Still AmHippie at Heart: What I Used To Be, I Still Am by Lynne Zotalis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

On a 30th anniversary trip to Mexico, her beloved husband dies on a beach of an apparent heart attack. That’s an opening frame in this memoir of discovery in her home state of Minnesota. As many youth in the sixties, she finds escape in a variety of drugs readily available then and well into the seventies and beyond. Miraculously, she encounters the love of her life in that world.

The title exemplifies the life the author and the man who would become her husband led for some time–the counterculture rejection of the staid life normal parents led. I didn’t go quite so far as they did–building a log cabin in the middle of nowhere. Yet, I can identify. Especially in the rejection of the traditional cultural and political values. The two found a very different spiritual path than I did–one I could never in my wildest nightmares have adopted. One so far from the drug culture that they had been a part of. Still, you will find that–and their eventual departure from it, a very intriguing journey.

If you can’t find this book engrossing, you must be from a very different place. Not just a time, but a culture. It’s well-written and should keep you wanting to know what happens next. Despite knowing the end, it’s how Zotalis gets there that is where the rich tapestry of this story lies.

Oddly enough, we might have met decades ago–or at least been at the same Zappa and the Mothers concert in the Depot, a former bus station for “the Dog,” that briefly became a club for music and dance in Minneapolis in 1970-71. We might have been neighbors in South Minneapolis as well–hard to say. But then, those girls in their early twenties and guys as well had certain features in common–long hair on both, freak or hippie styled clothes and beards on the guys.

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Spiders & Spice (Federation Diplomat #6)Spiders & Spice by E.J. Randolph
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another great story by EJ Randolph about Kate Stevens, Federation Diplomat. This is my fifth read in the series. I received an ARC copy through StoryOrigin. Yes, it is a space opera–of sorts. But tech and space are setting and incidental challenges, not the main story. NOTE: you don’t have to read the others before this one–each stands alone. But to paraphrase the food jingle– “Bet you can’t read just one.”

Revisit the same cast of quirky characters on the crew of the transport that takes Kate to strange planets.–or meet them for the first time.  In Spiders & Spice they’re on an  intentionally backward planet that chooses to avoid technology and change. Consensus is the rule–a very strong rule. For those who can’t abide that requirement, there’s banishment to a more freewheeling town.

As always, Kate is challenged to save a planetary culture from itself–and a nefarious enemy. What makes the series worthy of reading is the world and culture building–with a well-developed sense of engaging diplomacy in peculiar political environments. Randolph does a fine job of doing that. With a good bit of humor thrown in. Humor like her supervisor (humorously referred to as “Really Big”),  who plays his usual shell game on her. All part of the reality of those who have ever worked for any form of bureaucracy will identify with. Or the stomach churning food combinations like marshmallows on sauerkraut that crewmember Nick produces from the food fabricator.

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#Book Review–The Forever War

Had this one on my list TBR. When the local library reopened (30 minute limit per person) I got my chance to get this classic, multi-award winner.

The Forever War (The Forever War, #1)The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book already has more than 134,000 reviews. It really doesn’t need another one. It clearly deserved all the the awards it got. Initially, I laughed a bit at the notion that the military would not only sanction but encourage sexual encounters among combat troops of the opposite sex. That said, Haldeman had the prophetic sense to have both men and women in combat roles. That wasn’t close to being so when he wrote the book.

While the military is resistant to change, especially regarding men and women in combat together (earlier about race), once the chain of command says go, all will eventually follow–grudgingly for some time, of course. Like Haldeman, I too spent a year in Vietnam; not too far removed in time from him. I know the nonsense that goes on. Although the “f*** you sir” sir, like the sex, seemed more than a little unlikely. Probably intended as a satirical jibe–maybe.

The main takeaway for me as a budding sci-fi writer (in my Third Age of life) is this: Be very careful in putting in near-year dates in your stories. Best to avoid dates of future events less than fifty years away. The same problem happened with Philip K. Dick’s famous novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, made into the now classic Blade Runner movie.

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First Book Reviews for 2020

Two Good Books–Recently Read

The Magus CovenantThe Magus Covenant by Toni Pike
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you like Dan Brown (as in The Da Vinci Code) you will like this. I only just got on to this book through reading a review on a blog post. I’m glad I did.

This is the first in the Jotham Fletcher series. He is a rector in an Anglican parish in Australia. His research into Simon Magus leads him to deliver a lecture in Rome. (Could not help but recall the Silver Chalice–where Jack Palance portraying Magus, believes he can fly. I saw it as a child).

Like Brown’s Logdon, Pike’s Fletcher gets embroiled in controversial sectarian elements within the Catholic Church. Unlike Logdon, Fletcher faces much more serious danger personally. So, this story is really stronger in that respect. I have never been a Catholic, so I have no preconceived notions, much less actual knowledge, of the possible intrigues within a 2,000 year old faith. Yet, I find it all very intriguing and perhaps potentially possible, (if somewhat implausible) given human nature.

Pike’s book follows the mystery/thriller precepts of plot/suspense progression well and builds to a climax with heightened tension and twists. If you like the genre, you will like this book–it’s well written.

The Ambassador Calls Twice (The Federation Diplomat Stories)The Ambassador Calls Twice by E.J. Randolph
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One should always review a book soon after, if not immediately, upon completion. Such has been my spring of brain fog that didn’t happen. After refreshing my recollection, I learned there are TWO books in one Kindle. OK, not really two separate books, but two different stories with all the same cast of characters that E.J. Randolph introduced in the first in this series about Federation Diplomat Kate Stevens.

Somehow I missed this one when it came out and then I learned it won a best eBook award in Arizona/New Mexico. It’s worthy of the award. It’s space opera for the 21st century–updated with hilarious friends and enemies. Vivid imagery of planets, people and more make it eminently readable. The description in the Goodreads summary needs no repeating here–that’s all you need to know. Well, you do need to know there’s no graphic sex or violence, just a well written story with believable but odd characters. Like the crew member who likes to eat meals that combine ingredients that might cause normal folks to upchuck. An AI (that runs the ship) that makes all sorts of interesting observations in discussions with Kate.

You know Kate will survive, but how she does it is still rendered suspensefully.

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Two New Book Reviews

Beyond the Sanctified (The Sevens Prophecy, #3)Beyond the Sanctified by Amalie Jahn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third and final book in The Sevens Prophecy continues in the same vein as the first two–challenging the light versus the dark psychics. If I knew more about it, I might say it has some allusions to Manichaeism–the 3rd century Persian dualistic religion. In any case, the characters continue to use both latter day technology and their own supernatural powers to meet the challenges facing them from the opposing side. I found that a creative and workable approach. Without adding any spoilers, I can say that some don’t survive (more on the dark or evil side) and nearing the climactic scene, the pace of the conflict ratchets up appropriately. Stay tuned for a surprising twist (or you could say two–given the denouement) about who is who. I’d recommend it to those into supernatural, paranormal and the current issues facing people around the world–various sorts of crime, drugs, the climate, etc. Read the series; you’ll see what I mean.

Dark MatterDark Matter by Blake Crouch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hardly needs another review, but I’ll say this–it was hard to put down. Also very scary. Makes you wonder if this could happen to you. Not the kind of book you want to read if you have any sort of mental insecurities or disabilities. Do you believe in string theory? Parallel universes or the multiverse? Can you imagine what it would be like traveling between them and not losing your mind? Blake Crouch will help you with that in this book. He’ll also inspire other authors like me to go further in my own writing world. It’s a great book. I don’t give a lot of five stars, but I had to for this one.

NOTE: I managed to snag a library loan of Dark Matter through Overdrive. That’s a plug for those of you who are connected through your local or state library system. Support your indie authors when you can by buying their eBooks. For the $10 and up big five eBooks, I don’t feel badly getting them from the library.

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More Book Reviews

Ore Pirates (Federation Diplomat #2)Ore Pirates by E.J. Randolph
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An oddly entertaining story about the (mis)adventures of Kate Stevens, Federation diplomat. The author sets up some humorous situations and laughably named characters–like Really Big (her supervisor). For anyone who has ever worked in a government bureaucracy, the bosses and their behavior will be unfortunately all too real. Still, it’s sci-fi–so we have the issues of meals aboard a spacecraft, the effects of gravity that’s higher or lower than Earth’s. That makes for some interesting development of the emigres who live there. On the political side, we have the standard problems of greed, corruption and malfeasance. In examining the development of colony planet cultures the author even tosses in a planetary regime clearly modeled after North Korea–complete with a “Beloved Leader” and not just secret police but secret, secret police. I enjoyed it. You will too if you like your political humor a paler shade of dark than Vonnegut or Dick–maybe a mid-range gray.

A Spider Sat Beside HerA Spider Sat Beside Her by K.E. Lanning
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An intriguing work of the perhaps no longer new but not yet widely known cli-fi genre (a subset of sci-fi). Lanning develops well the lead character of Lowry Walker, her somewhat estranged (and angry plus manipulative) father, an uncle and the nefarious political villains. She throws in some dishonest politicians and the corrupt intent of–yes, latter-day colonialists against what in Canada are known as First Nation folks, just like what happened in the USA way back when. But then, all is not what it seems in the conflict over who really attempted to sabotage the International Space Station (ISS). Despite her credentials, the author doesn’t make this a truly hard sci-fi story so don’t be put off by technological talk–it’s not much more than most of us are familiar with in today’s world. A great book. I’ve already downloaded the next book in the series, which apparently stands alone along with an upcoming third one.

The Broken World second revised editionThe Broken World second revised edition by Harley Brent Hightower
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Many folks have heard the admonition to “write from life,” especially those who are writers. Broken World is styled as fiction but the characters are so real that one might easily conclude there were some biographical (if not autobiographical) elements to it. Assuming not, then Hightower has some good observational skills and a vivid imagination enabling the creation of a very dysfunctional extended family of characters. Parents who verbally abuse children. Spouses who argue with one another. Self-absorbed people who justify their own misbehavior and withdrawal into small worlds of their own. It’s not a book with a happy ending. Nonetheless, it’s entertaining and worth reading for how the protagonist, Byrd Keane, escapes the insanity of the broken world that surrounds him by his excursions outdoors in rural New Mexico. He is intelligent beyond his twelve years and seemingly one of the few normal characters in the book. In some ways, I can see elements of John Irving mixed with Kurt Vonnegut. Take note that the fictional northern New Mexico town that Byrd lives in is called Alma Perdido, which means Lost Soul in Spanish. It could mean abandoned, missing or other things; you be the judge if you read the book.

UpstagedUpstaged by Aaron Paul Lazar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Still good, but I’m getting less keen on the Julia Child parts, the song lyrics and the church services. The characters, the crimes and looking for foreshadowing is all there. It’s not quite a “cozy mystery,” as I understand the term but it is certainly not as hardcore as some. So if you are looking for less blood, gore or heavy violence (It does have some but not too graphic) then this is a good choice.

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Book Promo – Get ‘The Fountain: and six more fantasy and sci-fi stories’ FREE from 14th to 18th December…

Humor, twists and more in this collection of seven fantasy and sci-fi short stories.

Karma can be painful in “The Fountain”–when a plunderer meets a long-dead shaman.

A family adopts a retriever with special talents in “Lily, an Amazing Dog.”

The cover of The Fountain, a Kindle book

A vampire has a strange problem, in “Alfred’s Strange Blood Disorder.”

A perennial favorite, dimensional travel, with a strange twist in “The Closet Door.”

What could that column of fire be, rising from the Atlantic off the Outer Banks, read “The Flame” to find out what it meant to troubled writer Carson.

A wizard casts a spell that works well for a princess, but

will it be as good for him?

Check out “The Wizard.”

Finally, “The Fribble” offers an alien encounter of an odd sort, to a pharmaceutical company rep searching for new drugs in the Amazon Rain forest.

Source: Book Promo – Get ‘The Fountain: and six more fantasy and sci-fi stories’ FREE from 14th to 18th December…

Retrograde–a Book Review

Been a while since I’ve done a review. When I have, I often do two or three at a time. I’ve been so slow at reading the past several months, I only have this one today but it’s a way of getting my reading and reviewing feet wet again.  😎

Retrograde: Some Principles Are TimelessRetrograde: Some Principles Are Timeless by E.J. Randolph
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Borrowed a copy of the paperback edition. Didn’t know what to expect but was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the writing and the story-line. Randolph keeps the plot moving in this sci-fi tale of diplomacy made dangerously difficult on an intentionally backwards and backwater planet. Conflicts among various factions keep things challenging. Randolph makes good use of a history degree with a focus on diplomatic and military history (according to her profile). Interesting interactions among crew members set up future books about up-and-coming Federation diplomat, Kate Stevens.

The book is available widely in both paper and eBook. You’ll find it on Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, etc. But here’s the easy link: Amazon.

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The Flame

This is a short story coming in the collection for the holidays. I seldom post stories here; they belong on John Maberry’s Writing. I’m making an exception this time. All the writers out there will understand. Plus it’s a break from politics–hurray!

The Flame

Carson sipped Irish coffee, bundled against the chill wind of a late October day on the Outer Banks. He sat on the third floor deck for its view beyond the barrier dune, rising 15 feet above the sand. The swimmers and sunbathers had gone. Only the beachcombers and solitude seekers remained this late in the season. He was among the latter. With the kids away at college and Sharon at her sister’s to “think about us,” he couldn’t face the empty house in Alexandria. Reading the backlog of beach books almost kept thoughts of Sharon’s surprise announcement away. He had just put down a thriller when he looked out to see a fiery column rising above the waves. It must have been a mile or two offshore. Only the bright yellow plume could be seen, even with the high-powered binoculars. No ship. No people. Nothing. What the hell is that? There’s no gas line out there. The sight had him baffled.

He called the Coast Guard at Hatteras Inlet. “Coast Guard, Petty Officer Harris speaking. Is this a boating emergency call?”

“No, I don’t think so. I’m looking offshore from Buxton, seeing a bright flame coming up from the water.”

“How far out is it? Have you seen any ships in the area?”

“A mile and a half, maybe more. Hard to tell from the shore with no landmarks to go by. No ships out there or anything else that I can see. The plume looks about the size of a power pole from here and goes up fifty or sixty feet from the surface.”

“Ok, we’ll send a boat to check it out. Thank you for letting us know. Please give us a call if anything changes.”

“Sure. Oh, and I didn’t hear any explosions or anything. One more thing—the flame isn’t bending much in the wind; looks like it’s under pressure. It’s yellow, by the way.”


Carson figured at least 45 minutes, more like an hour before they showed up. They’d have to come around the inlet to the oceanside and through Diamond Shoals, also known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic for all the ships that sank there over the centuries.

While waiting for the Coast Guard, Carson refreshed his Irish coffee. Barely three PM and he was on his third drink. The caffeine kept him up enough and the whiskey dulled the pain. The pain of not selling a book in ten years. Sharon’s billable hours at the DC law firm kept them financially flush. She’d made partner just after his last book sold. No coincidence his writing suffered after that. It took a toll on the marriage.

“So you think the booze will help the stories along, Carson?” That’s what she said, more than once, when she found him staring at a blank monitor slurping a drink.

“Hey, it worked for some of the greats,” he’d laugh before slamming down the glass. “I don’t know what will help. I’m trying; the ideas aren’t there—the words won’t appear without them.” That’s when the blowups came. Hurricane force words flying between them, loud as a storm screaming through the room. She once was his muse. No more.

Continue reading The Flame

Coming Soon–A New Blog Exclusively with Stories and Excerpts

It’s not ready yet. It will appear sometime in August. Not on this blog, on another one. It will feature excerpts from pieces I am contemplating incorporating into books. In the meantime, here is a sample of the type of writing to expect:

The path that Lily, my golden retriever preferred for her daily walks took us by the nearby retirement home. As much as I tried to steer her on a different route, three days out of four she would insist, in the retriever way with a gentle tug , that we go that way. So I yielded to her choice. With her stuffed plushie frog loosely gripped between her jaws and her bushy tail keeping up its horizontal metronome rhythm, she once again took me down that path. As we passed the retirement Continue reading Coming Soon–A New Blog Exclusively with Stories and Excerpts

You Can Write and Publish a Book, 2

A couple weeks ago I said that “Yes, you can write and publish a book.” To follow up on that topic, beyond will and determination I mentioned that some research will be required. Like anything else, you get out of writing what you put into it. Little effort produces little result. Ask yourself what and why before you get too far along in that effort. Continue reading You Can Write and Publish a Book, 2