Book Review: Season of Marvels: Viking Tales

Book Review: Season of Marvels: Viking Tales by Deb Houdek Rule

This is a collection of four speculative fiction short stories on the general theme of “Vikings” from the small label press Variations On a Theme.

Season of Marvels: Viking Tales

“Viking -Trojan War” is an after-action report about 8th Century Viking raiders suddenly materializing on the USC campus due to the Temporal Physics department getting a bit careless.  The narrative voice is apparently one of the college administrators, and sudden bits of informality suggest that this is the draft version of his or her report rather than the final one.  Lightly humorous.

“The Last Ship” is set in Greenland during the 15th Century, after the supply ships from Norway stopped coming.  A shepherd sings an old song from the pagan times, and one last ship arrives.  Did she call it, or was the ship doomed to begin with, and the survivor less monster than alien?

“Season of Marvels” is closer to the fantasy side.  Kieran, Irish slave of Einar the Earless, wants his freedom.  And in this Icelandic winter where marvels and dark magic are on the rise, he might be able to get it.

“Borealis”, on the other hand, is more inclined to science fiction.  An orphan boy who forms a bond with a cat (possibly psychic in nature) is drafted by a secret organization.  That organization drops him without a briefing on a planet with a Norse-like culture that’s been stagnating for centuries.   Culture shock ensues.

This last story has the most potential to be turned into a full novel, or even a series, as Brock deals with Chimaera and its mysterious goals.

They’re all decent stories, with four very different moods.  The paperback is perhaps a bit overpriced for the size, but I see the Kindle version is inexpensive, or free if you already have Kindle Unlimited.

Consider this one if you like Viking-themed stories, or as a gift for someone who does.

Book Review: Soldiers Out of Time

Book Review: Soldiers Out of Time by Steve White

Spoiler Warning: This is the fifth book in the Jason Thanou series, and as such, this review will contain SPOILERS for earlier volumes in the story.  Starting with the very next paragraph, so you are on your own from here.

Soldiers Out of Time

The Special Operations Section of the Temporal Regulatory Authority has at last captured the Transhumanists’ time displacer, which they have been using in an effort to recapture control of Earth.  The hidebound Council declares that this means the war is over, and disbands the SOS.  Commander Jason Thanou isn’t so sure, but this does mean he can at last return to his homeworld and his actual military career.

But before he can actually get on the ship home, Jason and a handful of his friends are called in for a special consultation.  It seems that Transhumanist Underground operatives have been spotted on a distant alien world.  This is odd, as the Transhumanists normally have no interest in aliens.   So it’s off to investigate!

Soon Commander Thanou and his comrades are up to their necks in a Transhumanist plot to plunder 19th Century Afghanistan for slaves to create a new war world to overwhelm normal humanity.

Baen Books is known for what’s called “military science fiction”, a subgenre in which new technologies are applied to killing people and people-like objects in mass quantities.  While it can be quite thoughtful or delve into deep philosophical concerns, that’s not the primary thrust.  Generally these stories tend to feature strategy and tactics as influenced by the latest scientific imaginings, the camaraderie of fighting people, and stuff blowing up.

This volume is a fine example of the type.  In this instance, Earth was taken over by the Transhumanists in the 22nd Century, people who felt that Hitler and Pol Pot had generally the right ideas but didn’t understand that it was genetically modified cyborgs who should rule over humanity.  They were about as awful as one would expect until Earth’s colony worlds helped overthrow the Transhumanists.  The remnants of the former overlords want to come back into power, and want to use time travel to help them.

Due to the way time travel works in this series, they can’t change history–but they can work in the blank spots to create “time bombs” that will unleash their forces at The Day, a point still in the relative future.  Jason’s job has been to find these operations and stop them.  To make matters more complicated, there’s a race of aliens called the Teloi, who don’t have time travel…yet, but are effectively immortal, and believe themselves to be the rightful owners of the human race.

Commander Thanou is your typical hypercompetent protagonist, who is always more skilled/right than anyone else in the area.  The only times he is ever overruled, the person who does so will turn out to be wrong.  The main villain (an old enemy of Jason’s) does manage to get the drop on him a couple of times, but never through any fault of Jason’s/  This does get a trifle wearing.

The Transhumanists are big fans of rape (of women) and torture (of men) and show this off in the story.  There’s some period racism, religious prejudice and ethnic prejudice among the 19th Century folks, and some cultural posturing on the narrator’s part.  (Western Civilization is what let humanity survive to reach the stars, and Islam is inherently a warlike religion, which is only peaceful as a subversion.)

The story itself is exciting, and moves right along in a reasonably logical fashion, with some likable side characters.  There’s some characters that have wandered in from other stories, some of whom will be recognizable to any well-read person, and others more obscure.

Overall, this is a decent example of the military SF subgenre which I would recommend to those that already enjoy such things.  Beginners may want to consult the Baen Books free library at http://www.baen.com as the publishers have a generous selection of free stories and even entire books to download so you can see if this sort of thing is for you.  (Remember to actually buy something if you really enjoy it, print needs all the help it can get!)

Disclaimer:  I received this book free from the publisher because I am a book reviewer.  No other compensation was involved.

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