While an invading empire shells planets into volcanic glass all around him, a cloned space captain must decide whether he will take on the memories of a fallen war hero – and his military command. In Britain’s third space war, the Royal Navy must strike deep into the territory of the alien Foxes to bring a swift conclusion to war before riots rip apart the homeland. Family intrigues draw an ancient fox spirit to an antebellum Baltimore governess and her precocious charge. Caught in the interstellar chess game between two mad scientists, a naval captain must pilot his salvaged alien derelict into unexplored space in search of a fabled alien artifact. Two titans of the Pulp age join forces to recover a warship stolen from New York City’s docks.
Authorearnings.com reported that over half of the 2016 book sales for science fiction and fantasy came from Amazon imprinted and self-published writers. If the feast set by indies and small presses on Christmas through the end of January is any indication, 2017 will continue to build on this success. Let’s take a look at some of the new releases you can’t walk in and buy from the brick-and-mortar bookstores.
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Resurrection (Frontiers Saga: Rogue Castes #3) – Ryk Brown
Since the last time the Castalia House blog looked at the Frontiers Saga, Captain Nathan Scott and the jumpship Aurora have united the Pentaurus cluster, forged a new alliance to protect Earth, and taken the war to the Jung empire. After a strike against the Jung topples a moon into their homeworld, Captain Scott staved off Jung retaliation by standing trial for war crimes. Seven years after his execution, the Dusahn caste of the Jung have blitzed through the Pentaurus cluster, seizing control of entire systems. Commercial space captain Connor Tuplo has been hired by the elite Ghatazhak regiment to ferry people to their training center – and also because of a secret hidden from him. Now, as the Dusahn shell resisting worlds into volcanic glass, the Ghatazhak must evacuate under fire, rally a resistance, and convince Connor Tuplo to take on the memories of the war hero of the Pentaurus cluster, Nathan Scott.
After a comparatively sluggish first two books in the Rogue Castes series, Resurrection is a return to form. While Tuplo’s decision is never really in doubt, even after a head fake or two, he still needs to get to a medical center with the proper equipment for the memory download by sneaking past the Dusahn warships, setting up a fun action sequence. Like many indie writers, Ryk Brown is best in the chaos when the adrenaline is rushing, the plasma is flying, and the rocks are falling. However, the Ghatazhak lose their mystique in this book, as their dialogue during their battles is indistinguishable from that used for Corinari and Earth troopers from earlier in the Frontiers Saga, lacking the voice of the ruthless elite unit found in earlier books.
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Cartwright’s Cavaliers (The Revelations Cycle #1) – Mark Wandrey
In a future where humanity’s only export to the rest of the galaxy is trained mercenaries, high school student Jim Cartwright soothes his wounded pride with pizza and Aethernet browsing. The heir to Cartwright’s Cavaliers, one of the most prestigious human mercenary companies, Jim would be rejected for line duty by any merc company with standards. The spirit might be willing, the mind might be brilliant, but the body is fat. He resigns himself to leading his father’s company, not as a commander but as an office administrator. Upon his graduation, however, he learns that his mother has purposefully bankrupted the company, leaving only the name behind for Jim to use – and a small company museum. Now Jim must rebuild his mercenary company with nothing more than a cadre of museum curators and the surprisingly well-stocked warehouses on the grounds.
Cartwright’s Cavaliers combines a coming of age story with mil-SF. The curators prove to be the mentors Jim needs, and as he learns to bear the responsibilities of duty, Jim finds that the rewards are more satisfying than Aethernet games. As such, it combines Heinlein’s juveniles with Ringo’s action into a campaign more fanciful than its sequel, Asbaran Solutions. Like many indie science fiction books, the aliens are thinly-veiled analogues of Earth life. However, Wandrey’s version of powered armor avoids the familiar cliches of space marines, and the finale is pure grin-inducing kaiju big battle tokusatsu like that seen in Pacific Rim.
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Asbaran Solutions (The Revelations Cycle #2) – Chris Kennedy
A contract on the planet Moorhouse goes sour for the human mercenary company Asbaran Solutions. Repeated attempts to retake their overrun garrison have decapitated the Shirazi family, owners of Asbaran Solutions, leaving the control of the company in Nigel Shirazi’s hands. Now the black sheep of the Shirazi family must somehow save his sister from her ransomers on Moorhouse, using rookie replacements and outdated power armor. But to do that, he must first save his company from impeding bankruptcy. Nigel must learn quickly, as alien machinations attempt to push Asbaran Solutions into collapse. The only way out of this mess is through the company motto: Kill aliens. Get paid.
If Cartwright’s Cavaliers was a Ringo-esque take on a Heinlein juvenile, Asbaran Solutions patterns itself on Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International. The comparisons to Baen series are further reinforced by the familiar Baen in-jokes, from maple syrup to Joe Buckley’s unfortunate death. Like Jim Cartwright, Nigel Shirazi needs good mentors to help him overcome his natural weaknesses to save his company, as Nigel’s hotheaded stubbornness is inclined to get himself killed in the attempt. Once calmed, Nigel learns the virtues of the indirect approach. But where Cartwright’s Cavaliers soared from triumph to triumph, Asbaran Solutions must pay the butcher’s bill.
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We Lead (Ark Royal #9) – Chris Nuttall
In the ninth volume of Chris Nuttal’s love letter to a British space navy that he will likely never see, the war between humanity and their alien allies against the Foxes has bogged down on the battle line, too close to the ally’s homeworld. Fearful of the costs of a protracted war on the home island and her colonies, Britain joins an international task force planning a hail-Mary response. Bearing new alien propulsion technology and armed with the best weapons humanity can muster, this fleet strikes deep into Fox space, marching Shermanesque towards the alien homeworld, burning military bases and factories in the hope of starving the Fox fleets. But the Foxes have developed their own surprises to spring on the human invaders.
This is the longest book in the Ark Royal series so far. While the space combat is the series strength, much of the book is filled with policy and procedure that fails to be as intriguing. Additionally, Nuttal’s officers tend to have major flaws that in other series (and real life) would seriously undermine good order and discipline of the units they lead. In previous trilogies, these faults” military effects have been hand-waved away. However, in the Vanguard trilogy, of which We Lead is the finale, bad character and poor judgment attrit the officers as surely as missile and laser fire do. And while military science fiction writers are always searching for ways to reinforce the horrors or war, the reliance on the death-can snuff shot becomes tiring. Despite the flaws, We Lead and the Ark Royal series serve as a standard for military science fiction. In order to truly succeed, you have to be at least this good.
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Sword & Flower – Rawle Nyanzi
(Disclosure: Rawle Nyanzi is a fellow contributor to the Castalia House blog.)
Chiyo Aragaki, better known as idol singer Dimity Red, is killed in an explosion set by a jealous fan. She awakes in the Lesser Heaven, a realm of Valkyries and demons that serves as a holding place for souls prior to their Judgement. After foiling a demon’s attack with her ki blasts, she is arrested by Puritans who mistake her energy and light show for witchcraft. After her trial, Dimity flees the township, overwhelmed by the clash of cultures. But demons still besiege the township, and Dimity runs headlong into a demon Centurion, feared by the Puritans…
As a novella, Sword & Flower follows in the fantasy tradition of light novels such as Zero no Tsukaima, Scrapped Princess, and Slayers, with a hefty leaving of Dragonball Z. Where it diverges from anime tropes is in the treatment of religion. Rather than treating the Puritans’ faith as evil and inflexible, Sword & Flower acknowledges the obvious conflicts in mores and beliefs caused by a beam-spamming idol singer in a short skirt suddenly appearing in their midst. Yet mercy tempers the Puritans’ reactions, as their faith and concern for Dimity’s soul is genuine. While some of the prose and execution is rough at the edges, as first novels are wont to be, the questions raised by the story beg for a sequel.
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The White Jade Fox – Andre Norton
Recently orphaned Saranna Stowell arrives in antebellum Baltimore, into the care of her middle-aged brother, Jethro, and his widowed daughter, Honoria. As soon as Jethro takes to the sea once more, Honoria takes control of Saranna’s guardianship, and sends her to the haunted Tiensin manor as a governess. Once there, she is caught in the conflict between Honoria and twelve-year old Damaris, as Honoria tries to steal control of the manor and its collection of Chinese treasures from her eccentric step-daughter. To Saranna’s dismay, Everyone seems powerless before Honoria’s charm. But from the hedges, foxes are watching, and Saranna dreams of their leader, a Fox Lady who calls Saranna “younger sister” and asks her to help Damaris.
In this ebook rerelease, Appendix N stalwart Andre Norton indulges in her love for gothic romance, looking to the chinoiserie tales that filled Weird Tales for inspiration. In the manor filled with Chinese treasures, Norton deftly balances Honoria’s calculated schemes against the other-worldliness of the foxes that make Tiensin their home. But the fox spirits are not the only supernatural forces sweeping through Saranna’s life; the men of the story rage across Tiensin like elemental forces of nature against which Saranna is physically powerless, caught up like a kitten picked up by its scruff. Yet The White Jade Fox is not a soppy love story, but a tale of a young governess and her precious charge swept up in family intrigue and eerie mystery.
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The Lost Planet (Lost Starship #6) – Vaughn Heppner
The Swarm Empire is preparing to invade the Orion Arm. In preparation, Humans, genetically augmented New Men, and androids jockey for power and scavenged alien technology, set at each others’ throats by the machination of the Methuselah Men, mad scientists adjusted by the mysterious Builders. When rumors of a faster-than-light scanner with a range of 100 light years makes its way to Earth’s Star Watch, the admirals dispatch Captain Maddox and his salvaged alien battleship Victory to the Junkyard Planet, accompanied by the Methuselah Man Ludendorff. To recover the scanner, Captain Maddox must brave the Builders’ automated defenses, a zombie planet, a New Man armada, and the lies of Ludendorff and his rival, Strand.
Heppner loves to breathe new life into familiar tropes in the Lost Starship series, starting with the alien derelict so beloved by indie writers, to an escape from a lethal jungle prison planet, to the classic mad scientist. In The Lost Planet, he mixes an Indiana Jones-style artifact hunt with an alien version of Zombieland. This away team mission from Hell is further complicated by the competing machinations of dueling mad scientists, an android, the New Men, and the non-Zombie remnant of the Junkyard Planet, who are violently protective of their zombie kin. The conflicting intrigues keep the tension building throughout the novel, even in the down time between action scenes. However, the sheer complexity and number of schemes and schemes may be daunting to new readers. Start the Lost Starship series from the beginning; watching the webs of intrigue grow is a delight.
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Doc Savage: Empire of Doom (The Wild Adventures of Doc Savage #20) – Will Murray as Kenneth Robeson
On a foggy New York night, Shiwan Khan and his army steal a destroyer from the Navy’s shipyards, using its gunfire to cover an even more daring raid on the Shadow’s hidden sanctum. Steaming away with the Shadow’s collection of superweapons, the Mongol lord seeks once again to rule the world. As the United States Navy searches for its missing ship, Doc Savage and the Shadow are in pursuit. Uneasy allies at best, can the Man of Bronze and the Knight of Darkness stop this mystical warlord and his mentalist powers?
Where the previous team up between the Shadow and Doc Savage, The Sinister Shadow, had Doc and his boys play agents to the Shadow to foil a mastermind’s crime, Empire of Doom is unmistakably a Doc Savage adventure. Doc, Monk Mayfair, Renny Renwick, and Long Tom Roberts rely heavily on their scientific knowledge, gadgetry, and fists to chase down Shiwan Khan and neutralize the weapons stolen from the Shadow’s sanctum.The Shadow, however, plays his familiar game on friend and foe alike. He taunts Doc and his allies ever forward in the pursuit of Shiwan Khan. But whenever the Khan’s forces pin Doc in place, the Shadow reappears, laughing as his guns blaze away. Doc’s frustration with villain and vigilante is palpable.
Will Murray raises his game with his crossover novels, as Doc’s adventures with with King Kong in Skull Island and team-ups with the Shadow show. Whether it is because of the responsibility of giving both series their due or that the extra cast helps fill the narrative space, the sluggishness that tends to mar Murray’s Doc Savage stand-alones is replaced by taut adventure.