Hard-combat SF that delivers thoughtful alternative history speculation rather than ray gun stuff.

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THE TEMPEST

From the New Persia series , Vol. 2

In this sequel, the citizens of New Persia—on a distant planet—face an invasion by a rival nation as a natural disaster approaches.

The author follows up his New Persia: Before the Storm (2018) with a military-SF actioner whose technology is more retro-20th century than futuristic. That’s because the setting is a twin-sunned planet, circa the 34th century, settled by refugees from Earth, deep-space colonists overwhelmingly of Muslim/Baha’i background trying to recover from a harsh beginning and setbacks costing generations of progress. Territorial conflict now simmers continuously, chiefly between the Farsi (Iranian) kingdom of New Persia and the adjacent Azania, established by people of primarily North African descent (speaking Bantu and Swahili). The previous volume set the stage for the latest outbreak of hostilities launched by the Azanians against the Persians—whose own empire was slipping into petty internal power struggles. This installment offers little exposition in favor of mostly nonstop battlefield action, on land, sea, and air, as New Persia warriors engage the enemy’s armored divisions, navy fleet, and flying corps. Early defeats put the mighty Persian capital, Persepolis, at risk. Two characters crucial to the city’s defense are Suri Pahlavi and Nasrin Avesta, young women discontent with their devalued status in the conservative, male-dominated Islamic society. Suddenly granted official rank in a hastily concocted female auxiliary, the Bar Basiji, the pair far exceed the expectations of chauvinistic men when ground combat hits. Meanwhile, a background threat looms against both warring nations: a “seed storm,” a periodic calamity occurring in this alien ecosystem, when ubiquitous native plant life starts a chemical cycle of fiery holocausts     Genre readers hoping for fanciful mega-weaponry may have to dial back expectations; indeed, some of the technical details impinge on steampunk. A surprise advance sprung by the Azanians turns out to involve the helicopter. And cyberfans may get a frisson when they discover that Bar Basiji’s principal function is to tend the wheels and gears of a Charles Babbage/Alan Turing proto-computer. Lynch (Endemic, 2018, etc.) only drops hints about the backstory of his compelling, imaginary world, but he does mention that—in its millennia or so of human habitation—the spacefaring civilization here rose and fell to ruin more than once, climbing its way upward repeatedly from dark ages featuring seed storms and entrenched belligerence. On that note, the only Azanian character of consequence, a tank commander named Aran, turns out to be an ethical soldier (and a Christian disciple, at least in part), initiating a cease-fire to evacuate vulnerable civilians. Persians themselves do not savor causing casualties or terror, declaring it is God’s will whether or not an enemy survives. Genocide and atrocities are not driving forces in what is, for contemporary readers, a throwback to a more chivalrous theater of war than this genre typically evokes. Some readers may notice that a whole planet of displaced Middle Eastern societies, untroubled by such factors as Israel, America, or Russia, nonetheless winds up just as crisis-torn and bomb-cratered as the present Persian Gulf. But if the author intends religious or political critiques, they are safely locked in the armory during this installment of the saga. The theme of female courage and resourcefulness under fire does come through loud and clear.

Hard-combat SF that delivers thoughtful alternative history speculation rather than ray gun stuff.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2020

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

ONE GOOD DEED

Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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Great storytelling about the pursuit of extrajudicial justice.

ONE MINUTE OUT

Ninth in the author’s Gray Man series (Mission Critical, 2019, etc.) in which “the most elite assassin in the world” has his hands full.

Ex–CIA Agent Courtland Gentry (the Gray Man) has Serbian war criminal Ratko Babic in his gun sight, but when he decides instead to kill the old beast face to face, he uncovers a massive sex-slavery ring. “I don’t get off on this,” the Gray Man lies to the reader as he stabs a sentry. “I only kill bad people.” Of course he does. If there weren’t an endless supply of them to slay, he’d have little reason to live. Now, countless young Eastern European women are being lured into sexual slavery and fed into an international pipeline, sold worldwide through “the Consortium.” Bad guys refer to their captives as products, not people. They are “merchandise,” but their plight haunts the Gray Man, so of course he is going to rescue as many women as he can. The road to their salvation will be paved with the dead as he enlists a team of fighters to strike the enemy, which includes a South African dude who is giddy for the chance to meet and kill the Gray Man. Meanwhile, Europol analyst Talyssa Corbu meets the hero while on a personal mission to rescue her sister. “You don’t seem like a psychopath,” she tells him. Indeed, though he could play one on TV. Corbu and her sister are tough and likable characters while the director of the Consortium leads a double life as family man and flesh merchant. Human trafficking is an enormous real-life problem, so it’s satisfying to witness our larger-than-life protagonist put his combat skills to good use. There will be a sequel, of course. As a friend tells the wounded Gentry at the end, he’ll be off killing bozos again before he knows it.

Great storytelling about the pursuit of extrajudicial justice.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09891-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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