May 14th, 2017

Dead Dog Cat

(no subject)

This is about two weeks' worth because I didn't have Internet access for a couple of days last weekend. I was out of town, which led to me having more reading time.

First finished book or story or whatever was Faster Gun by Elizabeth Bear, something of a time travel story with aliens in the Wild West. Eh, I'm not that fond of time travel stuff so it didn't amuse me as much as I'd hoped for.

Next was Osprey Men-At-Arms #62: The Boer War, once again an older book of this series and thus with lesser quality plates. It does do a fair job of setting the political stage.

Then, Andorra the Hidden Republic, a rather old book (pre-World War I, I think) that I downloaded from the Internet Archive which deals partially with the history of this tiny country in the Pyrenees, and partially with the travels of this American that included visiting the place. Moderately interesting especially as I've been listening to a podcast about the Albigensian Crusade which took place not far from there.

Follow that with The Monarch of the Glen, something of a retelling by Neil Gaiman of the Beowulf saga using characters from American Gods. Short piece. Good work.

Then, Osprey New Vanguard #33: M3 & M5 Stuart Light Tank 1940 – 45, not the best-designed piece of work an American has ever done.

Next then was The Key to the Coward's Spell by Alex Bledsoe, a short story piece from his Eddie LaCrosse series (I'm not sure about the spelling). Hired to find a lost boy, it deals with trafficking in children in a magical realm/fantasy world. I've liked this series and I hope the author writes more novels in it.

Then I read Osprey Raid #34: Oldest Allies: Alcantara 1809 which discusses the British and Portuguese alliance in the Napoleonic Wars and the raids that knocked the French back from Portugal during the Peninsular Campaign. Pretty solid writing.

Next, Fool by Christopher Moore, something of a retelling of King Lear in a comedic way. Very good read.

I followed that with Osprey Vanguard #38: Mechanised Infantry which gives a general talk about how the infantry supporting tank units are brought to the front in a combined arms fashion.

Then there was Dr. Blink Superhero Shrink: Id. Ego. Superego!, not so much a graphic novel as a collection of pieces dealing with a world full of superheroes who need counseling help as much as the next guy.

Next was Vulture Peak by John Burdett, the fifth mystery novel by this author set in the Bangkok police service. It deals with organ selling on the black market.

Finally I can report finishing Osprey Warrior #60: Sharpshooters of the Civil War. As I've said before, Civil War history is hard for me to read because of my own failure to accept emotionally that the US could have broken apart. Even given my prejudices, I found this book to be a good read, addressing a number of issues leading to the formation of these units on both sides of the conflict.

smirk by geekilicious

Book 48

The Guns Above (Signal Airship #1)The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was lucky enough to get an early copy at the Steampunk Symposium in Cincinnati. I wasn’t going to get it as I’m not a huge fan of military SF/F and this sounded as military as it gets. War and battles aren’t my thing and fighting tends to bore me quickly. However, the editor Diana Pho, talked so fondly of this novel in the various panels at the con that I rolled the dice and bought it.

And I was blown away. It’s probably a 4.5 read for me but the fact that I read a book on battles and wasn’t bored or skimming once, I’m rounding this up to a full on five. I really enjoyed it, one of the better steampunk novels I’ve ever read. I was leery at first. I don’t need much justification for the airships. I’m content that they can fly and fight but Bennis isn’t. A good chunk of her world building is about the mechanics of the airship and it’s woven in so well that it doesn’t feel like it’s bogging the story down. In fact almost all the world building is centered on the tech. The Garnians (our protagonists) and the Vins could be any Europeanesque countries. They’re fighting. No one really even knows why they’re fighting other than ‘we want that piece of land’ and ‘honor.’

In fact they’ve been fighting so long, they made a woman’s auxiliary corps to fill the depleted ranks. The novel opens in media res with the tail end of a battle where our main protagonist acquits herself so well on the battle field that the media gets a hold of it, forcing the military to given her her own ship. Josette fully understands that this isn’t going to be easy. She knows the officers sure as hell don’t want her there and she’s not at all sure about her crew. Worse her ship is a new ‘experimental design’ which is often code for ‘going to crash on the first time out.’ Her immediate superior, part of the nobility, General Fieren is desperate for her to fail and assumes she will before the trial run of the Mistral is even over with.

Fieren is so determined to sink Josette and her ship that he uses it to rid himself of a second problem, his feckless nephew, Bernat (who becomes our second main protagonist). Fieren loves to discuss problems in the museum under works of art he thinks sums up the situation and the one he picks for Bernat stuck with me the whole book because it perfectly captures Bernat at the beginning of the book and how Fieren feels about him (but I don’t want to say and spoil it for you).

Bernat is broke and his mother and uncle tired of him sniffing around for hand outs of cash arrange to put him into the military (and hopefully send him to his death). Bernat manages to twist it to his own ends and ends up as a spy with one job, write reports that will end Josette’s career.

Bernat, with his lacy jackets and luggage of high end foods, sticks out like a sore thumb on the airship, in other words the world’s worst spy. For those of you who think epithets are terrible or lazy writing, you aren’t always right. For a good chunk of the novel Bernat is only called ‘the fop’ by Josette and her crew and it works. It’s meant to put distance between him and the others. (in fact keep an eye on how they refer to Bernie because it’s actually part of his arc).

Not too surprisingly that when they’re on their time trials, they spot the enemy and it’s worse than anyone suspected. It might be the first loss in generations but not if Josette has anything to say about it.

There are two character arcs in this. Josette’s is actually the shorter of the two. She was a bad ass capable soldier from page one. She just had to convince her men. Bernat has the longer journey. Will he remain a spoiled brat of a man with no direction or will he find something in himself even he didn’t know was there. Josette and Bernat are excellent characters and I loved them both. I am hopeful there will be more with them (I suspect there could be since this bore the tag a signal airship novel,which I sort of wish it didn’t because knowing it’s a series means at least one of them has to live so it sucks away some of the tension). Even the cover is cool. It’s not pretty but then again neither is war. It’s the middle of battle, sort of like a blurred photo with Josette surrounded by cannon smoke (and I liked that it was cannons and not aether and phlogiston, which I don’t have anything against but they tend to be used like near magic in a lot of steampunk stories).

And a minor spoiler here, the one thing I wanted was a bit with Bernat and how he felt about his mother and uncle basically sending him off to die. We’re in his head a lot but that betrayal was oddly glossed over. Other than that, I really loved it. And oh, no romantic subplot shoehorned in. I don't mind romantic subplots but it is nice to see something without one.

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