See the source imageI’ve realized that unless I think the battle scenes and characters are really, REALLY awesome I actually prefer watching people deal with politics and economics. This is the exact reason “Log Horizon” is such a great show, and one of the things that makes “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood” so great are the vast background machinations going on between various semi-independent groups that may or may not be at odds with one another.

“My Hero Academia” is that rare show that has action scenes that are so awesome and characters so memorable that I’m happy with them being the focus of the show, and ditto with “Yu Yu Hakusho”. My second favorite shonen (to MHA), however, is not particularly notable for its action scenes (which are at a perfectly passable level) or its characters (which are never offensively terrible but are hit and miss in terms of memorability and creativity). What it is absolutely great at is dealing with the political machinations of its world and in making its characters act realistically within it.

This show is “Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic” and its sequel season “Magi: The Kingdom of Magic”, and it is a damn shame that they have fallen so far under the radar in recent years. Read More

Fiction (DMR Books): One hundred years ago today, A. Merritt‘s novella/short novel, “The Conquest of the Moon Pool,” was unleashed upon an eager public. The story which spawned it, “The Moon Pool,” had been met with such an outpouring of enthusiasm by the readership of All-Story Weekly that the pulp’s legendary editor, Robert H. Davis, practically demanded that A. Merritt write a sequel. Seven months later, Merritt delivered the goods.

 

Fiction (DMR Books): Welcome to Part Two of my re-read of A. Merritt’s classic and influential novella, “The Moon Pool.” In Part One, I posted a brief excerpt from the “Introductory Letter” which prefaced the original publication of “The Moon Pool” in All-Story Weekly. The letter is supposedly from the president of the International Association of Science, explaining why the story was appearing in an American pulp magazine and also thanking A. Merritt–who actually held a fairly prestigious position in the newspaper industry at the time–for arranging the facts into a publishable narrative.

 

 

 

Fiction (Black Gate): The very first Campbell Award, in 1973, went to Jerry Pournelle. Writers are eligible for the award for the two years after their first professional SF/Fantasy publication. While Pournelle had published a thriller, Red Heroin, in 1969 under the name Wade Curtis, his first SF story was “Peace With Honor,” under his own name, in the May 1971 Analog. This was the first story in his Co-Dominion future history, and the first to feature John Christian Falkenberg, one of his primary heroes. His nomination was based on that story, on another Falkenberg story, “The Mercenary,” and on the novel A Spaceship for the King (set much later in the Co-Dominion universe), as well, perhaps, on three stories that appeared in Analog under the “Wade Curtis” name: “Ecology Now!”, “A Matter of Sovereignty,” and “Power to the People.”

 

Cinema (Future War Stories): On December 14, 1984 one of the most ambitious science fiction films was released: DUNE. This unique science fiction film saw the merging of the young talented director in David Lynch, the experienced hand of the De Laurentiis family, the music of Toto and Brian Eno, a wealth of talent behind the camera that designed the universe of 10,191 AG. All of this was built on the foundation of the legendary 1965 novel of the same name by Frank Herbert that has been praised as the best science fiction book of all time. To breathe life into the pages of the book was one of the best casts were assembled for a sci-fi film ever.

 

Cinema (Kairos): Last night I made a special appearance on Geek Gab to discuss my new mecha mil-SF book Combat Frame XSeed and its impending sequel. During the show, I was asked if I’d seen Star Wars Galaxy of Adventures. I hadn’t, because I know that Star Wars’ current owners secretly hate me. Doing some cursory research, I discovered that their hatred is no longer secret.

 

Fiction (Pulpflakes): Phoenix Pick recently announced that, working with the Heinlein Prize Trust, they have been able to reconstruct the complete text of an unpublished novel written by Robert A. Heinlein.

Heinlein wrote this as an alternate text for THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST. This text of approximately 185,000 words largely mirrors the first third of the published text, but then deviates completely with an entirely different story-line and ending.

Science Fiction Fandom (Between Wast & Sky): Last time we talked about the beginnings of genre fiction and how everything you read emerged from the same place and only split apart due to preferences of those who seized control of the industry in order to mold it in their image. Before the 20th century all stories gelled in very straightforward genres. That is, until self-proclaimed experts decided to redefine words and meanings to fragment out what they didn’t like from their chosen genre and lock them all to isolated islands. Things had changed hard in mere decades.

 

 

Science Fiction Fandom (Pulp Archivist): Curious in reading Lundwall and Lewis, it is the post-Campbellian magazines of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Galaxy that appealed to European critics more than the drab technical work of Gernsback and Campbell.

I have previously noted that the Campbelline Revolution never thrives where and when Campbell is not present, and that attempts to graft cuttings from the Campbelline tree onto French and Japanese science fiction inevitably wilted.

 

Fiction (HiLoBrow): In this grown-up version of Kipling’s Captains Courageous, an effete young intellectual — Humphrey van Weyden, whose favorite philosophers are Nietzsche and Schopenhauer — is rescued from a shipwreck in the San Francisco Bay by a brutal schooner captain, Wolf Larsen, who takes his unwilling passenger along on a seal-hunting voyage. Larsen is a quasi-Nietzschean cynic who believes in nothing but the pursuit of pleasure and the triumph of strength over weakness; he thoroughly enjoys browbeating “Hump” while forcing him to do menial work and learn how to defend himself.

 

Cryptozoology (A Strange Manuscript):  In February 1899, a cargo ship brought to Sydney, Australia, the skeletal remains of a huge “two-headed sea serpent” – said originally to weigh seventy tons and extend sixty feet in length – that was found on a beach on Rakahanga island in the Solomons. The find was significant enough to reach the newspapers in the United States. On April 5 of that year, the Los Angeles Herald described the discovery as follows:

 

Comic Books (Gaming While Conservative): Every time another issue of “Chuck Dixon’s Avalon” hits my inbox, my heart skips a beat.

Don’t get me wrong, I like “Alt-Hero: The Series Not Written By The Legend Chuck Dixon”, well enough.  Each issue’s strategy of introducing hordes of named characters that you’d like to see more of but never do because the next issue also has to add six more names to my already overtaxed memory is an exciting and bold new approach to story-telling.

 

 

Fiction (Black Gate): The 1930s Golden Age of Weird Tales was in full force with the three main first stringers present: Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and C. L. Moore. Carl Jacobi, while not a headliner author, always produced good-to-excellent horror stories. The Arthur J. Burks story is a reprint from 1927. Burks was the sort of middling writer along the lines of Otis Adelbert Kline and Seabury Quinn that editor Farnsworth Wright was comfortable publishing. The only real weak story was by Dale Clark. Farnsworth Wright has a penchant for barely competent and unmemorable stories of this sort.

 

RPG (RPG Pundit): One way to tell a faker from someone (potentially) genuine is to look at the magical accouterments they use.  Are they going around with a fancy-looking crystal-encrusted rune-marked perfectly-straight wand that may have been store-bought or ordered from Etsy?  They’re 99% likely to be frauds.

 

 

A few weeks back, I did a post on artist Ezra Tucker. A friend of mine was able to identify two more non-attributed paperback covers by him.  One was the cover for Andrew J. Offutt’s The Sword of the Gael, Ace edition. This is one of Offutt’s “Cormac MacArt” pastiches of the Robert E. Howard character.

The Zebra and Ace paperback editions of the series have featured cover art by a who’s who of late 70s/early 80s fantasy artists: Jeff Jones, Doug Beekman, Sanjulian, Ken Kelly, Tom Barber, and Ezra Tucker.

The Tower of Death by Andrew J. Offutt and Keith Taylor was the last book in the series to come out in 1982.

The cover has nothing to do with the book. My guess is the painting was lying around and used for the book. This has happened more than once.

There is no artist signature and no credits on the copyright page. It also appears to cut off to the right and probably the left sides.

It is not a bad cover being somewhat symbolic. Could be used for just about any book dealing with a quasi-northern European setting.

The style reminds of Tom Barber. I asked Tom if he painted it and he told me no. ISFDB.org has Glenn Lord mistakenly listed as the cover artist. Glenn was a great guy, but he was not an artist.

I asked on social media on a Keith Taylor group if he knows who did it. I have not heard back from him and it is more than likely Keith does not even know who did the cover. One thing I have found is authors were/are often kept in the dark about their books.

So, if anyone may know who did the cover, post a comment below. I would like to end this mystery. I would also be curious in seeing the whole painting.

This week’s roundup of the newest releases in fantasy and adventure features unlikely dark lords, casteless rebels armies, a collector of magic swords, and an assassin collective waging war against the powerful.


The Dark Lord Bert – Chris Fox

How does a 1-hit-point goblin become the Dark Lord?

By accident. Bert is a tiny goblin with big dreams. He follows adventurers, and loots the copper they leave behind when they take the real loot. One day, Bert hopes, he’ll have enough copper to buy a warg, and finally promote from a 1-HP critter to a Warg Rider.

Kit is a typical gamer hoping to enjoy a good story, but her friends are more interested in rules, loot and experience. Kit’s friends Crotchshot, Brakestuff, and the White Necromancer rampage their way across the land desperately seeking the Dark Lord trope, which gives the wielder the power to reshape the world.

When Bert accidentally steals the trope, Kit is forced to make a choice. Should she help her friends, or help a new Dark Lord rise to power?

The world will never be the same. Get ready for The Dark Lord Bert.


Duel Visions – Misha Burnett and Louise Sorensen  

Is Death a dog or a cat? Would it be worse to be turned into a pig or a fish? After we die do we become characters in a movie, or parts for an old truck?

Weird fictioneers Misha Burnett and Louise Sorensen explore the dark depths of the human psyche across ten spine-tingling tales of terror and macabre.

The haunted visions these dueling tale-tellers have conjured find all the horrors that go bump in the night and make them dance for your delight… before drawing you down into the depths to join them.

We cordially invite you to share in our Duel Visions!


Heart of the Forest – Michael DeAngelo

Kelvin has left his country behind. His mentor, the elf Icarus Callatuil, has prepared him for a journey to Draconis, where old allies will be able to better train him for the hardships he is sure to endure in his life. But when he arrives on those distant shores, he discovers that the elves of Cefen’adiel may need him as much as he needs them.

A darkness arises in the forest in southern Daltain, and Tarenda, queen of the elves, decides that a stranger to the lands such as Kelvin can better serve their purposes as an investigator.

What will Kelvin do when he must trade his training exercises for real dangers?


House of Assassins (Saga of the Forgotten Warrior #2)  – Larry Correia

Ashok Vadal was once a member of the highest caste in all of Lok. As a Protector, he devoted his life to upholding the Law, rooting out those who still practiced the old ways and delivering swift justice with his ancestor blade Angruvadal. None was more merciless than he in stamping out the lingering belief in gods and demons among the casteless. His brutality was legendary and celebrated.

But soon Ashok learned that his life to that point had been a lie. He himself, senior member of the Protector Order, was casteless. He had been nothing more than an unwitting pawn in a political game. His world turned upside down and finding himself on the wrong side of the Law, he began a campaign of rebellion, war, and destruction unlike any Lok had ever seen.

Thera had been first daughter of Vane. A member of the Warrior Order, she had spent her life training for combat. Until a strange sight in the heavens appeared one day. Thera was struck by lighting and from that day forward she heard the Voice. A reluctant prophet with the power to see into the future, she fought alongside Ashok Vadal and his company of men known as the Sons of the Black Sword until a shapeshifting wizard with designs on her powers of precognition spirited her away. He holds her prisoner in the House of Assassins.

Ashok Vadal and the Sons of the Black Sword march to rescue Thera. But there is much more at risk in the continent of Lok. Strange forces are working behind the scenes. Ashok Vadal and the Sons of the Black Sword are caught up in a game they do not fully understand, with powerful forces allied against them.

Ashok no longer knows what to believe. He is beginning to think perhaps the gods really do exist.

If so, he’s warned them to stay out of his way.

They would do well to listen. Read More

Tooth or Consequences, by Robert Bloch appeared in the May 1950 issue of Amazing Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.

Oof.

Well, not quite an oof, even though maybe it should have been an oof.

In Tooth or Consequences, Master of Horror Robert Bloch tells the story of a struggle between a vampire and his dentist that by all rights should’ve been terrible but is dragged kicking and screaming across the threshold of “Okay, that was entertaining enough,” by his excellent writing that successfully merged humor and horror without one too badly stepping on the other.

It’s really not so bad as the name or the art would imply.

A dentist gets a new patient with deformed teeth.

The patient is a vampire.

Naturally, this freaks the dentist out.

While the vampire is visiting the hospital for dental work, he’s also stopping in on the medical supplies to swipe some blood.

The dentist tries to figure out some way to stop the vampire. The vampire’s all “Look, man, it’s not like I want to be a vampire–I’m just stealing blood from the hospital, don’t make me bite your neck.”

The dentist decides to treat him like any other patient. Kills him with a silver filling. Laugh-line. Applause.

Again, this should’ve been awful, but somehow it works. It’s also one of the shorter stories in the issue, so it helps that it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Speaking of horror, Duel Visions, an all new anthology of weird horror and macabre tales from Misha Burnett and Louise Sorensen is out now from Cirsova Publishing!

You just can’t go wrong with Glen Cook. Best known for his “Black Company” series of novels which are widely considered the fathers of modern grimdark fantasy, Glen Cook also has produced a string of solid sci-fi works that get a lot less press. His “The Dragon Never Sleeps” presents a convoluted space opera full of betrayals, big battles, and alien oddities, while “Darkwar” starts off with a dark-age setting populated by tiger-people who are actually being groomed for space wizardry.  Both of these novels are enjoyable one-off reads perfect those of us who have little interest in multi-volume epics that follow a familiar path.  Cook’s “Passage at Arms” provides another example of the short but sweet aesthetic, and this time gives the reader one of the best examples of submarine warfare – but in space! – that I’ve ever encountered.

The technical aspects of the story involve a war of attrition between equally matched forces.  The antagonists have a larger and stronger fleet with instantaneous communications.  The protagonists have the advantage of near-perfect cloaking devices.  These cloaking devices allow ships to “climb” up into a hyper-reality and move about nearly undetected.  Unfortunately, the “climber ships” are basically massive cloaking devices and fuel tanks with a bit of room left over for anti-ship missiles and maybe less important details like defensive weapons, crew quarters, and food.  I guess.  If the fleet really has to.

The result is a hard sci-fi universe where the plucky heroes serve as the doomed crewmembers of a space submarine tasked with hunting the shipping and patrol lanes of a larger, stronger, and better organized enemy.  To add another layer of complexity to the situation, strong hints are provided that the enemy might actually be the good guys in this conflict. Read More

Castalia House is pleased to announce that the first book in Vox Day’s Arts of Dark and Light epic fantasy series, A THRONE OF BONESis now available in audiobook+.

Manfully narrated by the indefatigable Jeremy Daw, A THRONE OF BONES is more than 30 hours of high-quality DRM-free MP4 format and retails for $29.99. The audiobook+ also includes the 934-page ebook in EPUB and Kindle formats.

Per Vox Day, “We waited literally years to find the right narrator for Selenoth, which was considerably more important than is the case with most audiobooks due to the sheer volume of content involved. In my opinion, Jeremy’s elegant English accent is ideal for both high fantasy and epic fantasy, and I prefer his voice to those belonging to both of the narrators who have voiced George Martin’s bestselling A Song of Ice and Fire series.”

And yes, Jeremy will be narrating A SEA OF SKULLS once he is finished narrating SUMMA ELVETICA and the stories that did not make it into THE LAST WITCHKING & OTHER STORIES. This is the third Selenoth audiobook, which means that there is now 40 hours and 20 minutes of Selenoth-related audio content.

To whet your appetite for epic fantasy, Castalia House provides an extended audio sample of A THRONE OF BONES. It is a one-hour, 44-minute recording that covers the entire battle between the Chalonu, Vakhuyu, and Insobru tribes and Legio XVII, commanded by Sextus Valerius Corvus.

If you enjoy it, you might want to consider picking up all 31 hours and 22 minutes of the audiobook+.

Tomorrow, Duel Visions, a  weird fiction / horror collaboration by two veterans of those genres, Louise Sorrensen and Misha Burnett will be released. For the title think dueling banjos. The authors went into this collaboration thinking it would be one of contrasting styles but found the end effect was one of synchronicity .

Reading Misha’s and Louise’s alternate stories (10 total), involves some shifting of mental gears as the reader moves from one to the next. I’m really not a horror fan so Misha caught me out, as his first story, Black Dog is a thoughtful piece on life after death but his next offering, The Silk Of Yesterday’s Gown, turns the Clive Barker dial past ten with a story concerning control,  and masochistic sexual fetishes gone wrong.  Silk is definitely not my cup of tea so I was glad that his next story, The Summer of Love, turned out to be Misha’s version of Bring the Jubilee.  Misha has never read Ward Moore’s book but uses the same concept to good effect.

Louise’s Ragged Angels was influenced by a trip she took to Vancouver in May 2017 and her shock at seeing the drug problem there first hand. She quickly thought of the story’s concept but couldn’t start on it until 3 months later. Immediately after she found time to start writing, she was called away to help on the farm and bring the hay in. Unable to write, she “started to write it in my head” and put herself to sleep at night figuring out what happened next. Three days later, the haying was finished, she had the story down and only needed to put it on paper. A few days after finishing typing, she walked past the barn and the title, Ragged Angels “just popped into my head”. I mention all that as she may have come across an extremely effective method for idea generation.  Who knows what the combination was? Hard work which by its nature allowed her to think about the story, pondering the story as she went to sleep and deep sleep brought on by hard work combined in her subconscious to make the idea generation and development process easier.  Something must have been at work in her subconsciousness as the reminder provided by walking past the barn a few days later delivered the perfect title.  We didn’t explore this in the Q&A as it was the first and so far, only time she wrote a story in this way.  I hope she lets us know if she tries that again next harvest.

And, by the way, Ragged Angels is a good vampire story. Sinker, Sailor will be enjoyed by Lovecraft fans and The Green Truck is definitely weird fiction and a good take on the aftermath of suicide, complimenting Misha’s Black Dog.

Q&A on the next page is not to be missed. One of the reasons I jumped at the chance to review this book is I enjoyed interviewing Misha the first time around and the thoughts behind his answers do not disappoint, while Louise proves she is one to keep on eye on going forward. We discuss the merits of short fiction, their writing styles and preferences and how their collaboration on Duel Visions came about.

 

 

Read More

No WW post today but there are a couple new ones over at my blog:

For Battle of the Bulge fans, there is a new post on the fighting in Bleialf. Immediately after the artillery bombardment in the early morning hours of 16 December, Bleialf faced a concentrated assault by a Volks-Grenadier regiment.  It was a bad day for the U.S. Army but the defenders of Bleialf had nothing to be ashamed of.

I’ve started a small series on the current situation in Venezuela. Not as in depth as the Bulge but the summaries provides some insight. I’d say the 11 FEB update is the most interesting because of the link to a report from a Russian journalist on the ground in Venezuela.

 

 

Science Fiction (Wired): Conventional wisdom holds that science fiction was written almost exclusively by men until the advent of feminism in the 1960s and ’70s. But when Lisa Yaszek, who teaches science fiction studies at Georgia Tech, went digging through old magazines, she discovered a very different story.

 

 

 

 

Tolkien (Daily Mail): In a 1937 letter to an Oxford colleague, Professor John Ronald Reuel Tolkien confessed that he didn’t much care for The Hobbit, one of his already popular works that was about to go into its second printing.

He wrote: ‘I don’t much approve of The Hobbit myself, prefering my own mythology (which is just touched on) with its consistent nomenclature … and organized history, to this rabble of Eddaic-named dwarves out of Voluspa, newfangled hobbits and gollums (invented in an idle hour) and Anglo-Saxon runes.’

 

Authors (Davy Crockett’s Almanac): If you really want to know Robert E. Howard, you’re out of luck. But the closest you’ll ever get (barring the invention of a time machine) is this lengthy memoir by his almost-girlfriend Novalyne Price.

The two became friends when she took a teaching job at the high school in Cross Plains, Texas in August 1934, and spent a lot of time together until July of the next year, when he found out she was dating his friend Truett Vinson. But their friendship continued, albeit less frequently, until he shot himself in June 1936.

 

Authors (Adventures Fantastic): John D. MacDonald was born on this date, July 24, in 1916.  I’ve written about him before (see herehere, and here).

Although he’s probably best remembered today as the author of the Travis McGee series of men’s adventure thrillers, MacDonald learned his chops in the pulps, albeit during the tail end of the pulp era.

 

Games (Follow Me and Die): As an RPG content producer, I’ve spent a lot of money on fancy tools, some that require more money when versions are updated, etc. Check out episode 77 of my podcast where I discuss this topic*.

Several years ago, I was very big into Linux and free and open source software. I’m still a proponent of free and open source software, I just had issues in the past finding Linux based solutions for some of my Read More

A couple weeks back, I was at the main library for the county and happened to notice a weird western anthology that I knew of but had not read was on the shelves. Dead Man’s Hand is a trade paperback edited by John Joseph Adams. Published by Titan Books in May 2014. A total of 397 pages plus a section on the contributors in the back.

In the introduction, John Joseph Adams distinguishes that that steampunk can be anywhere and often has an urban setting. The weird western “is typically a darker, grittier take on a similar notion.” He mentions The Wild Wild West, The Dark Tower, The Phantom Empire. Brief mention of Robert E. Howard and Joe Lansdale’s novel Dead in the West.

I had to get a new set of tires on my car and took the book with me while I waited.

The first story is Joe Lansdale’s “The Red Headed Dead.” It is dedicated to Robert E. Howard. Reverend Mercer, protagonist of Dead in the West, fights a Progeny of Judas, a form of vampire. A story very pulp in execution with plenty of action. Very much an homage to Robert E. Howard and I would also throw in Manly Wade Wellman who wrote more weird westerns in the 1930s than Howard. A good start to the book.

Ben H. Winters, “The Old Slow Man and His Gold Gun From Space.” Alien from Neptune approaches a duo of prospectors in early 1850’s California with a proposition. He will use a gun to find gold on their claim in return for 50% of the cut.

David Farland, “Hellfire on the High Frontier” Morgan Gray sent to fight a Clockwork gunfighter. This story has several different things going on with a Cheyenne skin walker, a cloud land with dirty angels, and a psychopathic steampunk robot who likes to kill people.

Mike Resnick’s “The Hell-Bound Stagecoach” has group of dead people on the way to Hell. They get off the stage along the way and set up a way station. A little cliched but well done.

I have not liked anything Seanan McGuire I have read in a few anthologies. “Stingers and Strangers” set in Colorado in 1931. Jonathan Healy and Frances Brown fight an Apraxis hive of big intelligent wasps. I liked this one I think mainly it got to the point and was short. A check at isfdb shows it is part of the “InCryptid” series. Read More

Jay Allan’s Blood on the Stars series, of which The Grand Alliance is the eleventh book, is the heir to David Weber’s epic Honor Harrington series.

High praise, to be sure, and a statement that sets high expectations for readers. This feat is even more impressive as Allan is not writing Hornblower in Space, yet still conveys the heart of the naval tale: wooden ships and iron men. Denied the escalating technological arms race of Honor Harrington, Allan’s Tyler Barron must rely on leadership, motivation, diplomacy, and his damage control crews to outfight the numerically superior Union and the technologically superior Hegemony. In earlier books, Allan conveys the tension of a damage control race between opposing ships vying to bring their guns back online first without resorting to Star Trek physics-defying wizardry or Honor Harrington’s occasional forays into the accountant’s view of war.

In The Grand Alliance, now-Admiral Barron is gathering forces to retake the Confederation’s capital after the brutal battle that stopped the Hegemony’s invasion. He needs time to rebuilt his fleet, time that will only make the Hegemony invaders increasingly stronger than his forces can ever become. While the rump of the Confederation’s government seeks to negotiate with the invaders assimilating their citizens, Barron decides to risk it all in one last drive to the Capital. But first he must draw away enough Hegemony ships to give his strike a chance.

The resulting campaign, from first raid to the final and decisive throw of the dice, forces the fleet to endure hardship, attrition, and even setback. Allan humanizes these costs without grinding the reader down or diving into anti-war cliche. It is right, good, and necessary to fight for one’s homeland, but scars are unavoidable. This human focus means that when it comes time to determine if Barron’s gamble leads to victory or disaster, the action is riveting as Confederation fighters lash out at Hegemony escorts and the lines of battleships duel, uninterrupted by clinical descriptions of ordnance and volume. The result reads like a “good parts” abridgment of a Honor Harrington novel while still maintaining its own identity.


War of the Spheres, by B. V. Larson and James D. Millington, begins as a security operative staggers out of suspended animation. Plagued with gaps in his memory, Chief Gray is assigned to protect a military research and development program plagued by strange disappearances. But when Chief Gray finds the lead scientist gutted by a shadowy alien assassin, he learns the truth about the program. It is an attempt to create a new propulsion system to breach the force sphere around the solar system that imprisons humanity. Now Chef Gray must fight against alien spies, an entrenched military bureaucracy, the vices of supervisors and scientists, and even his own replacement to make sure this moonshot project succeeds.

Larson has sold over three million books by sticking to a simple formula. A military-minded man gets swept up into secretive events driven by contact with a previously unknown group of aliens, and only succeeds in finding the best course of action for Earth because he is unencumbered by the vices of lesser men–including many of the vices celebrated by more traditional science fiction writers. Larson’s heroes especially are plagued by arrogant and uncooperative scientists who are worthless in social settings, but must be endured for their occasional utility. The technology and nature of the threat change from series to series, keeping the formula fresh.

Here, the conflict is spy verses spy as Chief Gray tries to keep the new star drive out of the hands/claws/manipulators of an insectoid alien crew trying to steal it through commando raids. Compared to the galaxy-spanning conflicts in earlier Larson series, the smaller scope keeps Chief Gray’s involvement small–nowhere near the imperial heights that previous protagonists climbed. Gray’s other strength is his social skills. He might not be deferential, or polite, or even agreeable, but his approach is direct and convincing:

“You left Logan out there,” Whitman said bluntly.

“That’s better than having that thing in here with us, isn’t it?”

“You shoved him out.”

I looked Whitman in the eye. “Yes, I did.”

He thought about that, and he nodded his head. “You played it right. Logan was always impossible. He knew it all–you couldn’t tell him anything.”

For once, we get science fiction that refuses to glorify the secret king, choosing instead to stuff him in a locker at every chance. This isn’t out of cruelty, since the vices of lesser men, cowardice, gluttony, pride, jealousy, etc., actively threaten Chief Gray’s mission and get a space station of bystanders killed. But while countless warnings of what not to be abound in the Chief’s path, no aspirational examples exist. Chief Gray is the sole man of virtu in the world of vice, and I hope sequels will show how fellow men like the Chief interact and support each other’s missions. In the meantime, following the Chief as he stalks alien commandos across the solar system is an unabashed pleasure.