21 July 2014

BOOK REVIEW: The Grand Duke by Yann & Romain Hugault

The Grand DukeThe Grand Duke by Yann & Romain Hugault
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Eastern Front during the Second World War: Oberleutnant Wulf, a young Luftwaffe pilot, is horrified by Nazi barbarism and at odds with his fallow pilots, even as he finds himself taking to the skies to fight the infamous "Night Witches" - the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, the most decorated female unit in the Soviet Air Force. 

Motivated only by his desire to return home to his daughter, Romy, Wolf tries to survive the increasingly desperate and ferious Eastern Front, while Lilya, the "Red Witch," leads her comrades against the German invaders.

This graphic novel is a mixed bag in that it's got an average plot wrapped in amazing artwork. I found myself not caring much at all about the story because I was so thoroughly absorbed by the illustrations. This isn't the first book illustrated by Romain Hugault that I've read, and I'm again blown away by the detail and realism in his art. I was able to 'feel' the action, so to speak, and it's a real shame that the story line is mediocre. It's a run of the mill WW2 fighter pilot story told about two pilots, one German and the other a Soviet woman who began her combat career as one of the famous 'Night Witches'. These brave women pilots fly their simple biplane aircraft on night raids of German positions on the Eastern Front to deprive them of sleep and generally harass. The German chap, Wulf, is not a Nazi or a follower of Hitler whereas the beautiful Russian lass Lilya is a patriotic pin-up for the Soviets. Needless to say, when they cross paths (or flight paths) things are not altogether straightforward. Overall it's okay, but had it not been for the wonderful art, I wouldn't have finished it.

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20 July 2014

How is Science Fiction for you these days?

In the past twenty years or so science fiction has come a long way, in the movies anyway, but in books? I'm not so sure that it has, to be honest. Some really cool sci-fi movies have been made, Elysium and Oblivion are two examples that I thought were good films, but their basic premise was the same old stuff that we're being handed in so many recent books as well. That is a 'dystopian' concept of a ruined Earth and the hardships that it's inhabitants endure. I see there is a movie called Interstellar being released later this year that exhibits a similar story from what I can ascertain from the trailer. Now, I'm sure it's going to be an okay movie, but come on, haven't we had enough of this sort of stuff? Where is the hope and the excitement of possibilities?

It's not a foregone conclusion that the future is going to be bad for Earth or for us citizens. I also love the idea that we could discover habitable planets outside our solar system and maybe even other intelligent species with which to interact (hopefully peacefully), but more for the joy of wonder that it brings than the need to abandon our homeworld. I'm hoping that the outcome of the previously mentioned Interstellar movie will deliver some of this optimism. The movie Europa Report touched on the wonder of discovery somewhat even though the ending wasn't all that positive.

The same issue has often led me to the question "Is sci-fi getting better or worse as it gets older?" I'm referring more to the literary field, but the same question applies to all sci-fi mediums. I know that many others have been considering this as well and even writing some great essays on the subject. One I read recently is this article by well-known science fiction author Allen M Steele from a recent Asimov's Science Fiction magazine. Here, Steele addresses where sci-fi literature has come from, it's 'golden age' and where it appears to be heading.

It's interesting to note that science fiction has generally been a reflection of the general feeling of the society of the day from which it was produced. That being the case, are we that negative and pessimistic about our future? If so, I truly hope that this view changes and that more imaginative and wondrous sci-fi gets written for us dreamers. We may even discover other worlds and intelligent life out there.

That would be awesome.

Andromeda galaxy

09 July 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Caliban's War (Expanse, #2) by James S.A. Corey

Caliban's War (Expanse, #2)Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We are not alone.

On Ganymede, breadbasket of the outer planets, a Martian marine watches as her platoon is slaughtered by a monstrous supersoldier. On Earth, a high-level politician struggles to prevent interplanetary war from reigniting. And on Venus, an alien protomolecule has overrun the planet, wreaking massive, mysterious changes and threatening to spread out into the solar system.

In the vast wilderness of space, James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante have been keeping the peace for the Outer Planets Alliance. When they agree to help a scientist search war-torn Ganymede for a missing child, the future of humanity rests on whether a single ship can prevent an alien invasion that may have already begun . . .

This book made me read in a way that is different to how I normally would, in that I consciously took my time and even had to force myself to slow down periodically. This is the second book in the epic space opera series The Expanse, and you really begin to get a sense that there's so much more of the story ahead. This made me want to fully digest it and enjoy the fantastic storytelling. The world-building here is about as good as it gets in sci-fi, even though the overall story is still currently confined to our own solar system. The writing style is wonderful, and it has to be said that these guys really know how to write.

The 'protomolecule' that we were introduced to in Leviathan Wakes is back in action again but in a more advanced state to wreak havoc about the place and is now carrying out some sort of large-scale breeding program on Venus. Jim Holden and his likeable crew are again swept up into the action, and end up on the hunt for a missing person and becoming central players in a massive standoff between the Earth, Martian and Belter military forces.
A couple of new main characters are introduced to us, firstly there is Bobbie who is an intimidating female Martian soldier caught in the middle of things after an encounter with the protomolecule on Ganymede, and second there is Avasarala who is a hard and abrasive Earth politician and who is smart enough to join the dots and figure out who is behind the current situation.
The battle scenes seemed to be a little more brief than in Leviathan Wakes, but this is not a bad thing at all, and I reckon there's plenty of action for anyone in there.
Overall it's good, very good, and surely must rate as a must-read for all fans of top-shelf space opera.

It's followed by  & , and there are three novellas as well that fit in between the main novels.

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08 July 2014

TALES OF HONOR comic series

The Honorverse series by David Weber is one of the better science fiction space opera series out there, and it has recently taken an exciting leap forward with the release of an excellent comic format version by Evergreen StudiosThere's a game as well and apparently a movie on the way too. Very cool.

The first story arc (five issues) tells the story as told in the first novel of the Honorverse series On Basilisk Station where Honor ends up having to go way beyond to prove herself as the new Captain of HMS Fearless

There's great action and the cutting-edge artwork depicts this in an awesome fashion. The text is generally faithful to the novel and makes this an excellent addition to the Honorverse canon of works. 

Check out the website and where to buy the comics HERE.

05 July 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Enemy Ace: War in Heaven by Garth Ennis

Enemy Ace: War in HeavenEnemy Ace: War in Heaven by Garth Ennis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From 1914 to 1918, Hans Von Hammer earned the nickname "The Hammer of Hell" in the bloody skies of World War I. Now it's World War II, and blood rains from the skies once again! Von Hammer, the finest pilot Germany has ever known, is now a 46-year-old man with plenty of enemies in the Nazi regime.

The story recounts the pilot's activities during World War II where he is persuaded to once again fight as a pilot of the Luftwaffe. Von Hammer is placed in charge of his own squadron and initially serves on the Eastern Front. Though no friend to the Nazi regime, he rapidly amasses numerous kills flying a red-painted Me-109 against the Russians, and later in defense of Germany (flying a scarlet Me-262) against American bombers. Nevertheless, von Hammer becomes increasingly disillusioned as he continues to witness the horrors of war. In 1945, after bailing out of his damaged aircraft, he inadvertently parachutes into a concentration camp where discovers the Nazi perpetration of the Holocaust. He proposes a mutiny upon returning to his base and later surrenders to advancing Allied troops.

A good story with a sobering message about the futility and stupidity of war. While not being too familiar with the comic world, I have recently been enjoying a few good graphic novels and while browsing for these I came across Enemy Ace. An easy to read and action-packed classic comic format, with exploding B-17 bombers, zooming Messerschmitts, tough Russians and general carnage. Galloping through the pages I felt like a kid again, but it was the dialogue that kept snapping me out of it. Written more for a mature audience, it's a thought-provoking theme with some really good lines that lead you to reflect on the reasons for the fighting. As I said, it's sobering and the story comes to a satisfying end.

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02 July 2014

Luft '46 - WWII German Aircraft

A HUGE note of thanks here from me to the people at Luft '46 which is a website dedicated to experimental German aircraft of the World War Two period.

You may have noticed recently that at the end of each of my reviews of the Wunderwaffen series of alternate history graphic novels I posted a picture of an experimental aircraft featured in that episode of the story. These wonderful images are from the Luft '46 artwork collections by various artists.

During WWII German aircraft designers put forth many aircraft project ideas, which ranged from the practical to the bizarre. Some of these ideas were ahead of their time and reached a more advanced design stage, and even affect aircraft today. Within the pages of Luft '46 you will find descriptions of these aircraft projects, illustrated with three-view drawings, model photos and custom color artwork.

I trust that I've not offended anyone with my use of these images. Check out Luft '46. It's pretty cool.

Skoda-Kauba Sk P.14.01

BOOK REVIEW: The Left Hand Of The Führer (Wunderwaffen #4)

The Left Hand Of The Führer (Wunderwaffen #4)The Left Hand Of The Führer by Richard D. Nolane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beginning in 1947, Murnau, the enigmatic Wunderwaffen pilot whose his fate is linked to that of Hitler, is now under the control of the SS. At the same time, he becomes involved in Himmler's game to take control of the Reich, the decisive part which will take place in the secret base SS in Antarctica "Neue Schwabenland". Here the Ahnenerbe and Sonderbüro 13 are preparing to implement the wildest SS projects under the protection of the Wunderwaffen machines controlled by Murnau...

After reluctantly becoming part of the new air arm of the SS, our main character Walter Murnau is beginning to see glimpses of what his leaders don't want him to see. With information from his lover Ingrid, who hears things while kept under house arrest to ensure Murnau's cooperation, he suspects that the Nazi regime is up to no good. Himmler's own personal agenda becomes more apparent now as he deviously manipulates events to ensure things fall into place. Hitler, now furnished with an amazing new prosthetic left arm, continues to rally the German nation for the final victory that must surely come.

Murnau now commands an elite unit of the 'LuftSS' and flies some of the incredible 'Wunderwaffen' experimental combat aircraft, now along side Hans Rudel and the legendary Hannah Reisch. Meanwhile, the Germans are scaling up their operations in New Schwabia in the Antarctic. It seems that they have found something of incredible significance to Nazi ideology buried under the thick ice. The Allies sense that something important is going on down there and dispatch a naval task force to raid the base. As the Nazis discover that the buried artifact is not actually what they thought it was, the race is on to get Murnau's Wunderwaffen unit down to the Antarctic before the Royal Navy task force gets there.
The pace has increased steadily in this series so far, and I'm continually impressed with the artwork, which is perfect for a work like this. The dialog is still a little 'jerky' in places and the odd typo has shown up, but it's otherwise excellent.

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Focke-Wulf "Super Lorin"
Image courtesy of Luft '46

01 July 2014

BOOK PREVIEW: The Abyss Beyond Dreams by Peter F. Hamilton

Peter F. Hamilton's next novel The Abyss Beyond Dreams is due to be released in October from Pan Macmillan. You can preorder the eBook (to be released Sept. 30) or the hardcover from Amazon HERE.

When images of a lost civilization are ‘dreamed’ by a self-proclaimed prophet of the age, Nigel Sheldon, inventor of wormhole technology and creator of the Commonwealth society, is asked to investigate. Especially as the dreams seem to be coming from the Void – a mysterious area of living space monitored and controlled because of its hugely destructive capabilities. With it being the greatest threat to the known universe, Nigel is committed to finding out what really lies within the Void and if there’s any truth to the visions they've received. Does human life really exist inside its boundary?

But when Nigel crash lands inside the Void, on a planet he didn't even know existed, he finds so much more than he expected. Bienvenido: a world populated by the ancestors of survivors from Commonwealth colony ships that disappeared centuries ago. Since then they've been fighting an increasingly desperate battle against the Fallers, a space-born predator artificially evolved to conquer worlds. Their sole purpose is to commit genocide against every species they encounter. With their powerful telepathic lure – that tempts any who stray across their path to a slow and painful death – they are by far the greatest threat to humanity’s continued existence on this planet.

But Nigel soon realizes that the Fallers also hold the key to something he’d never hoped to find – the destruction of the Void itself. If only he can survive long enough to work out how to use it...

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BOOK REVIEW: The Reich's Damned (Wunderwaffen #3)

The Reich's Damned (Wunderwaffen #3)The Reich's Damned by Richard D. Nolane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's 1946, and after the surprise failure of the allied landings on 6 June 1944, the Nazi special weapons begin to dominate the allies.
Major Walter Murnau, a hothead, man of honour and talented pilot, is decorated by an Adolph Hitler who, having survived and assassination attempt, is horribly mutilated. The Fuhrer takes an instant disliking to "The Devil's Pilot" and becomes obsessed with engineering his demise...
Having attracted Himmler's attention, Murnau narrowly escapes the Fuhrer's wrath but finds himself, against his will, piloting revolutionanary new Wunderwaffe for the SS. But it's not without it's dangers, because the slightest misstep means falling among "THE REICH'S DAMNED": those for whom the New Auschwitz reserves the worst of fates...

Hot on the heels of the previous installment "At the Gates of Hell", episode three of this World War Two alternate history series opens the story right up. The central character, pilot Walter Murnau is now an unwilling officer in the 'LuftSS', the newly formed air arm of the notorious SS under the leadership of Himmler. He and other students of the the occult SS ideology are fascinated by Murnau's seemingly supernatural ability to cheat death. Meanwhile, the Allied leaders debate how to finally finish Hitler's Germany, and learn through an agent the true nature of the secret New Auschwitz base. They put wheels in motion to destroy it by a bombing raid, and the Wunderwaffen once again leap into the fray, this time with the amazing new Focke-Wulf Triebflügel VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) machines, to defend the fanatical and abominable Nazi scheme that is crucial to the Nazi 'solution'. In closing, we're shown a secret Antarctic base where this entertaining story is set to continue in episode four "The Left Hand Of The Fuhrer". A romping story line with awesome color artwork continues to provide a truly fun read.

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Focke-Wulf "Triebflügel"
Image courtesy of Luft '46