Monday, August 29, 2016

Flashman by George McDonald Fraser

A long time ago, I owned a copy of Flashman, and of one of the sequels by Fraser, Royal Flash, which I am sure I must have loaned out to someone and was never returned - a fairly common fate for some of my favorites over the years -  and when I saw that the local library system has an extensive collection of the series, I decided it was time to re-read the ones I've seen before and enjoy the rest for the first time.

There was literary device often used in pulp fiction (and perhaps earlier) where the author would purport to have found a package of letters or memoirs, left in a secret hiding place, or in a dusty old crate at auction, or some equally odd place, which he had merely translated, re-telling a true story. Such is the case with The Flashman Papers, a collection of historical novels about a fictional rogue who lived through the late nineteenth century, and got caught up in most of its battles, usually landing in a pile of ordure, yet coming out smelling of roses, Harry Flashman.

When the tale begans, Flashman is kicked out his boarding school for drunkenness, and returns home to visit his father. His father secures him a place in a cavalry regiment, and in return Harry sleeps with his father's mistress - a portent of things to come. He is doing quite well ingratiating himself with the commander of the regiment when his affair with the French mistress of another officer lands him in a duel. While he survives the duel, he is caught by the political repercussions and sent off to exile in Scottland, where he seduces the daughter of the merchant with whom he is quartered, and ends up in a "shotgun" wedding. Shortly after that, his braggadocio at a party ends with him sent off to India as the aide-de-camp to a British general.

It's one of those out of the frying pan types of stories that I've always enjoyed, and Fraser makes it quite a compelling read, with an antihero you just love to hate.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Nightmare Stacks by Charles Stross

This seventh novel in the Laundry Files series takes another detour away from the story of Bob Howard, which seems to have stalled out in the midst of the breakup of his marriage, to pick up a fresh POV in Alex Schwartz, one of the PHANGs who was recruited after the scandal at the investment bank where he was working, in The Rhesus Chart.

Alex gets caught up in an incursion by beings from another plane, upon which humans have based their stories of elves. They're not exactly the singing elves of Middle Earth, and in fact their society is very warlike. They send a spy, one of the "princesses" ahead to gather information, and she assumes the form and identity of a theater arts major named Cassie, whom Alex falls head over heels for - despite figuring out fairly quickly that she's not exactly what she seems to be.

Filled with the usual Stross drolleries like,

"She racks her brain: but Cassie has no memory of ritual castration as a tool of management in this place, unless it's symbolized by the neck-wrappings man male uruk wear as part of their uniforms."

"She doesn't have any lectures to attend until four and the weather's nice: she might as well go to college and raid the theatrical wardrobe for something fancy to wear to the end of the world."

Alex, who is definitely not warrior-class, turns out to have more up his sleeve than most people thought. The "elves" pretty much use brute force spellcasting, which uses a lot of their own energy and mana stolen from the environment, but Alex is a programmer (hmm...I need to re-read the Wizardry series by Cook) and when he sets a DO LOOP to work on gathering spellcasting power, it's a wonderful thing.

This one really gets back to some of the things I used to love in the series. Hopefully we'll continue see more of the same goodness from Stross.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Monster Hunter: Grunge by John Ringo

Oh my word! Ringo does Monster Hunters! What fun! I can't hardly think of a better person to write in Correia's universe...well, maybe Drake or Weber.

Chad is a hard core Marine, who joined the Corps to irritate his liberal, hippie parents, but who really became an excellent warrior along the way. When he is killed in the Beirut barracks bombing, he is given a choice by a guy named Peter - go back to Earth to do the Big Guy's works, or take the easy way out and pass on to his final reward (as the song says, probably guarding the streets of Heaven). Of course, it woulda been a really short story if he had taken the easy way, now, wouldn't it?

After his medical retirement from the Marine Corps, he spies a sign for a tent revival, and decides to check it out. When the revival is interrupted by a resurrection - of a whole bunch of zombies - Chad destroys all the Zulus and gets "read in" to the truth about monsters, and gets offered employment with Shackleford's MHI.

After Parris Island, Chad never wants to work in a hot, humid area again, so he opts to take a job in Seattle, and settles in hunting down zombies, wights, liches, vampires, werewolves, ogres... and anything else that makes a habit of taking human victims.

There's a really funny scene in here where Ringo exploits the idea of the blue screen of death, when daemons are climbing out of the monitors in the sub-basement at "Microtel".

Not nearly as many graphic sex scenes as we're used to with Ringo, and Correia must have done some fairly extensive editing. He mentions in the forward that he had to tell JR, "hey, my kids read this stuff!" All of the raunchy stuff takes place offstage, in the dark, as the moon passes behind a cloud.

The whole books is written as if Chad is putting together an instruction manual for noob monster hunters. He gives advice on different monster species that one should befriend, in order to have confidential informants; like Harry Dresden pays the pixies for information with pizza, Chad pays the gnolls (who dwell in the sewers) with rotten, smelly fish - which they love, and the sasquatch get Hersheys kisses.

Good fun, and there's a sequel coming!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Three to Get Deadly by Janet Evanovich

Uncle Mo is a candy store owner in Trenton, beloved by the children of the "burg" and his neighbors, and Stephanie catches a lot of flak over her quest to bring him in to face the charges of carrying an unregistered weapon.

There's a pretty funny bit of interaction between Stephanie and her second grade teacher, who lives next to Mo's store. Stephanie is still terrified of the woman, twenty years later.

Morelli is working a parallel case involving a lot of drug dealers turning up missing, and eventually the tangled and humorous web that Evanovich weaves brings Stephanie to the realization that Mo has gotten caught up with a bunch of vigilantes.

As always, she can't leave things alone, and has to suffer a series of mishaps before the case is solved.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Two for the Dough by Janet Evanovich

Just another light and amusing read by Evanovitch wherein Stephanie is assigned to locate and return Morelli's cousin, Kenny Mancuso, to jail, so he can stand trial for shooting a friend in the leg. He and  friends turn out to be involved in a conspiracy to steal and sell military weapons from a local base.

In what appears to be a side issue, Stephanie is hired by the director of a local funeral home to track down some missing coffins.

We begin to get to know Grandma Mazur a bit better, and follow along with her main social opportunity, attending funerals. Grandma seems to have a fixation on viewings, and gets a bit peeved when the funeral is "closed coffin".

At the conclusion of the tale - semi spoiler- Stephanie and Grandma manage to burn down the funeral parlor, which leaves Stephanie with a lasting reputation in "the burg".

Monday, August 1, 2016

Profiteer by S. Andrew Swann

I had this trilogy called Hostile Takeover sitting on my TBR pile for a very long time, and thought I'd give it a try. I almost feel like I missed some early short stories, since the tale begins with two brothers who have been lethally at odds with one another for a very long time, Dom and Klaus (neither one of their real names). Dom has gone underground on a planet filled with anarchists, Bakunin, and is the CEO of a large company, while Klaus is a Colonel in the Terran Executive Command, the power behind a group of solar systems with a common defense, trade and political structure. Klaus has been assigned a mission to get the planet of anarchy under Confederacy control, and the added bonus is he gets a shot a killing his brother as part of the deal. The first attack pretty well destroys the corporation, but Dom has a plan to steal back some hidden resources and make a comeback. He encounters a hacker girl named Tetsami when they are both in the custody of a militant religious order, and they team up with some of her confederates to pull off the heist. This religious order had some interesting practices, and it would have been fun to explore that and other aspects of the planet, Bakunin, filled with anarchists of various stripes, as Michael Z Williamson did with a Libertarian planet in Freehold. Kinda fun, but it didn't hold my attention enough to make me finish the trilogy.