Science Fiction

California Dreaming

I finished this yesterday, but didn’t want to write and post the review the same day as Aftermath. This time James Philip brings us California Dreaming (Timeline 10/27/62 – USA), the second in his alternate history of the Cuban Missile Crisis gone hot from the perspective of the United States. The fantastic original series is from a British perspective.

The two series naturally interact, since these are the same events seen from different sides of the pond, through mostly different, if sometimes related, eyes. Coincidence stretches almost to the breaking point in the telling, but that can be the way of coincidence, so it’s not a real complaint.

Something sinister is happening behind the scenes. My personal theory is that the only reason for the October War in the first place was forces that didn’t exist or didn’t have their way in our own timeline. I could be wrong. Part of the beauty of the combined series it that there is such room to speculate and wonder. Having read the other series to date, I found myself anticipating larger events that would affect this (mostly) new set of characters. The author doesn’t disappoint, leaving things tantalizingly up in the air so we can’t wait for the next installment.

Something is rotten in America. Given that Americans were caught off guard by this, no wonder it was utterly baffling internationally.

The prices of $3.99 is a bargain for such an exceptional work. I had ordered in advance, so I had it in hand, virtually speaking, as soon as it released. Presumably the editing problems will be patched up in time, so you might see fewer or none. I’ve not seen as many errors in any of his other books. Mostly it’s wrong spellings, extra or missing words, as when you start to phrase a sentence one way and then change it, but leave a missing or dangling word. I’ve done the same many times. Too bad I can’t (as far as I know) flag a needed edit right from the Kindle.

That said, I would buy the entire rest of both sets on the spot, right now, if they were done, and read nothing but them until the conclusion. If there is a conclusion, per se, given that there’s an entire new timeline to play in, and endless possible repercussions. I would buy them in paperback, if they were available no other way. Your mileage may vary, but they are one of the best things I’ve read.

The Fire Seekers

The Fire Seekers (The Babel Trilogy Book 1) is a hard-to-classify book by Richard Farr. I know I say this too often, but I found it hard to put down. I actually finished the last 20% of it after waking and being unable to fall back to sleep in the wee hours this morning.

You could call it science fiction. You could say it’s young adult, but it’s not really, apart from overlap. That is, readers in the YA market might also enjoy it, and appreciate the relative youth of the main character and his friends. Most of us, on the other hand, wouldn’t be able to relate to his extraordinary childhood, background, and, overt only as a plot factor at a couple of key points, wealth. More than a couple plot points, if you count some of what the ordinary-seeming protagonist knows as a result of his background. It’s definitely loaded with action, suspense, and a mystery that remains largely unsettled in the satisfying yet disturbing conclusion.

Sadly, the next book in the trilogy has not yet been published, or it would be the book I jumped into next. Which tells you just how gripping I found it. It reads a little like The Da Vinci Code, or Raiders of the Lost Ark if you imagine that as a book.

There is history, archaeology, language, mythology and religion, with accuracy beyond the call of frenetic fiction. The book really doesn’t pick on a specific religion so much as examining the history and basis of religions. Much of the plot revolves around a new religion, or perhaps anti-religion, having been founded and grown vast in record time. But why? To what end? Who are the bad guys?

Highly recommended. On Amazon, it doesn’t even have a full four stars average from reader feedback. I’m surprised. I’d expect enough five star ratings to make it four and a fraction. (No book or product is for everyone. It seems suspicious when something with more than its first few reviews has a solid five.) Oh well. I recommend it. If you like this sort of action story that falls somewhere into speculative fiction.

The Time Bridge at Orion

Frugal? It’s 99¢, but it’s also a short 55 pages/17,500 words, albeit packed with action. The Time Bridge at Orion is a sequel to One Thousand Years, also by Randolph Beck. It picks up after the events of the original book. In a way, it’s larger than its length, because setup is no longer required.

We learn more about the advanced aliens, who are, it seems, having a civil war. This makes for a dynamic three-way encounter at the point in space where the Nazi ship does not want to be seen jumping through time.

This was gripping. It took little time to read, its length compounded by the difficulty in putting it down. I’ve paid the same for far shorter works, so I can’t complain. I might have preferred a book-length sequel all at once for 3-4 times the price, but this left me more satisfied than I would have been had I been required to wait longer and remained at the previous stopping point. Perhaps there is something to say for what amounts to serialization.

You must read the first book before this, or else it will make no sense at all. So far, I recommend the whole series, unless the genre is not your thing.

One Thousand Years

One Thousand Years by Randolph Beck is the book I have been reading exclusively on my phone for a few months. Let me explain. Before I got an actual Kindle, when there was a sale I couldn’t refuse, I used the Kindle app on my phone. This worked well, despite the screen size. The Kindle seemed so large as to be unwieldy at first, though it took all of a day to adapt. Once I had the Kindle, I continued to use the reader on the phone while in waiting room situations. Beats stale magazines and drug company propaganda, or just staring around the place. Selecting one book that was exclusive to the phone made it especially compelling. It turned out to be an excellent choice.

I bought it at 99¢, but it’s a bargain at the current price of $2.99. At least, it is if you like science fiction that has military and historical elements. It’s the story of a Tuskegee airman, rescued from a crash off Italy by future Nazis. You learn their history as he learns it. It’s not the history you know or as he expects it to unfold. But why?

In the end, it got almost too compelling to read only while waiting. I took advantage last night of my Kindle having an inexplicably dead battery. I was almost done with the latest Spinward Fringe, naturally extra gripping in the last several percent. When that was done, I finished this one, also in its last several percent. Unfortunately, between the adrenaline of the charging problem and reading the climax of two excellent books, I had trouble getting to sleep. Not good, when the alarm goes off before 2 AM. I started a book that explores an EMP scenario as faced by fictional preppers, but that was too interesting, so I switched to a fantasy book where the setup would render me sleepy faster. That and I switched back to the Kindle, which had enough charge by then. Which was good, since the phone was down to 5% and needed to go on the charger as it normally does while I sleep. But I digress.

I am looking forward to more in the world of One Thousand Years. I went looking today, thinking there might be a sequel. I haven’t read it yet, but there is a 99¢ , 55 page story that follows up the main one to some degree. I bought it, and will probably make The Time Bridge At Orion my next “read on the phone” book. Assuming I don’t get impatient, because the end of One Thousand Years left a terribly intriguing mystery. If that doesn’t resolve things, I hope there’s more soon!

Great Series

While you’re waiting for me to get around to reviewing them properly, ideally even book by book, I thought I’d throw out a list of some series that fall in the range of enjoyed to can’t get enough of them. In keeping with the general focus of this place, these are all low cost eBooks. Thus I won’t bother listing something like The Wheel of Time. Oh wait, I sort of just did.

Spinward Fringe by Randolph Lalonde is a fantastic, distant future SF saga that not only makes you think Firefly writ large, but contains unabashed references or homages to same, and to other bits of culture you may recognize. The first, prequel-like volume, linked, is free to get you started.

Timeline 10/27/62 by James Philip it a Brit-centric alternate history in which the point of departure is the Cuban Missile Crisis turning hot. This is the first series in which I have ever preordered the next book before it was released. I feel like I have shared the lives of Peter, Marijah and others, and cannot wait to see more. The abbreviated first volume, linked, will get you hooked for a mere 99¢. All are bargains. A secondary, USA-centric concurrent series is due to start releasing, appropriately, on October 27, even as the original continues.

Portals of Infinity by John Van Stry is a catchy fantasy series that I thought might be cheesy at first, but in fact is clever, distinctive, and hard to put down. The first is not introductory priced the way some first books in a series are, but it’s well worth $2.99.

Ark Royal by Christopher Nuttall is another Brit-centric SF series, which has become six books since I read and loved the first three, which frankly I thought tied things up neatly, but I guess I’ll see when I get around to the rest. Humanity’s first encounter with non-humans becomes interesting. The author is prolific and these are not his only books I have read and enjoyed, but the others so far have been standalones.

The Beast of Maug Maurai by Roberto Calas is one solid story in three parts, not quite like other fantasy that I’ve read, with seemingly hopeless odds, some deeper mysteries, and food for thought about duty. Seemingly contrary to how great the set was, the entire first volume in some ways read like a fleshed out version of gathering your band of characters for a D&D quest. Yet it felt real and memorable. I would love to revisit this world, the consequences and future developments. Then again, sometimes it’s fun to feed these things to our imaginations. I couldn’t put these down. I tend to read myself to sleep. Didn’t work with these. Lucky for me I found them after the series was complete

There are others I could probably name, but this covers most of the highlights of a couple years of reading primarily low cost Kindle books and making discoveries such as these.