Books

Journey to Fusang / The Wild Blue and the Gray

I read some of William Sanders’ material in a short story collection and decided to search for more of his works. I found Journey to Fusang and The Wild Blue and the Gray. Both of the books are good, but have a different tone. Journey to Fusang is a hilarious romp through the U.S. in an alternate history where Europe never came to the New World. Instead, America is full of Arabs, Chinese, and Russians. Finn goes from one sort of trouble to another, but always seems to get out of harms way through bluff, skill, and a little luck. It is a fun trip by water to New Orleans then north and later west, eventually to California (Fusang). Finn makes allies and enemies throughout the book, but is always looking out for himself and a way to make a buck. The ending was funny but disappointing in a way. Overall, a good, fun book to read.

The Wild Blue and the Gray is definitely more serious, but fun as well. The Confederacy won the Civil War, and is now trying to help their allies England and France against Germany. Amos Ninekiller is a Cherokee sent to join the air war, but there are many ulterior motives afoot. The brutality of war is displayed, as well as some humanity here and there. Amos is in the thick of it from the get-go, and sometimes takes matters into his own hands to help his friends and allies. The ending is somber, as war is hell and there is really nothing glorious about it in terms of human suffering and loss. Another good book by Sanders.

Pirates of the Outrigger Rift / Free Trader’s Fortune

These are some indie books I read free through Amazon’s Kindle Lending Library. The first one by Gary Jonas and Bill Allen had a 4 star rating so I wasn’t sure about buying it, but I thought it was good. I liked the universe the authors’ developed and the variety of characters and their development throughout the book was good as well. There were some funny moments, lots of action, and a mystery to who the real villain is until the end. Lots of cool tech and the whole cyberpsi powers of Sai were awesome.

The second book was written by only Bill Allen, but I was hooked from the beginning. All of your favorite characters are back with some new villains and other characters, and the typical government desire to use or discard people. I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s been a great ride so far. More interesting tech is introduced and there are more good action scenes and banter.

I recommend both of these books for some fun science fiction reading.

Luftwaffe Victorious

This is the first alternate history book I’ve read that deals with the Luftwaffe during WWII. It is one story only, not a collection of short stories. It reads like some of Peter Tsouras’ books in that it comes across as a telling of military history and not a story set in alternate history. I liked what Mike Spick did to cause the change in history. It was also interesting to read about the different planes and what other uses the Luftwaffe could have had for Germany.

Each chapter has footnotes referring to other books or what actually happened to give the reader some perspective. At just over 250 pages it was not tedious to read. It also follows time for the most part in order, not jumping around to different points in the war. I recommend Luftwaffe Victorious for anyone who is interested in WWII and alternate history and fans of Peter Tsouras.

Free Kindle Books and Tips

I stumbled across this blog as an app a year or two ago. I was skeptical of it because of the name, but it is the real deal. I have downloaded many free books thanks to the blog and found others at discounted prices. The daily blog includes book descriptions, categories, and ratings. Nothing under 4 stars makes it into the blog. The blogger, Michael Gallagher, also occasionally references free Kindle books on other sites. Michael frequently provides tips for getting the most out of your Kindle as well. Michael’s blog is a great resource and it is free. You can check it out online at http://www.fkbooksandtips.com/ or download the app for your phone, tablet, or Kindle. If you find a book you like through the blog, make sure you purchase it from the blog link so Michael gets credit for his hard work.

Wings of Steele: Destination Unknown

This is my first foray into independently published authors and also into the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library. The Lending Library lets Amazon Prime members borrow certain Kindle books for your Kindle (not Kindle app); you can borrow one book per month. I was pleasantly surprised by how good this book was. It started off a little slow and I kept wondering when and how they were going to get into space, but those questions were shortly answered. There were some implausibilities in the beginning such as how easy the characters accepted their situation once in space, or how two people who just met decide they not only are going to sleep together immediately but experience love at first sight.

However, once I moved through several chapters, the story started picking up and the storyline flowed much better and much more interestingly. Speaking of chapters, one thing I did notice is some chapters were short, but some were very, very long, so there was definitely no consistency to chapter length. Also, there were many typos in the book; they weren’t too distracting, but the author should consider a professional editor for his next book. There are bits of foul language here and there, but it doesn’t distract from the story. Also, the author did a nice job of moving through the bedroom scenes without actually getting into the details of what happened.

On the positive side, the author had several good fight scenes and some great tense moments in the book where you just wanted to read a little more to find out what happens next. Later in the book the author introduces us to some overarching storyline about aliens looking for the prime planet where life began in the universe. This is somehow related to the prologue of the book which is explained at this point about 3/4 of the way through. This is really a setup for some sequels and can pretty much be ignored if you just want to enjoy this book on its own. The nice thing with this is the author ties up pretty much all plot threads by the end. There’s one other mystery hanging out plus a discovery at the end of the book about one of the characters that is not resolved by the end of the book.

Overall, I recommend this book as a nice science fiction story with some great fighting throughout. This book is currently available on the Kindle from Amazon.com. You can get more information on the series at wingsofsteele.com.

The Blitzkrieg Campaigns: Germany’s ‘Lightning War’ Strategy in Action

This book discusses the basis for Germany’s blitzkrieg strategy during World War II and describes its application during the battles for Poland, France, and the opening year of Operation Barbarossa in Russia. This book was very interesting when the author focused on the background of blitzkrieg and the battles in different areas, but became tedious as he listed the details of every army group for each country in the different theaters.

Some of the best things I learned form this book were about Germany’s shortage of heavy tanks during these campaigns (using mainly Panzer 1 & 2 light tanks and far fewer Panzer 3 & 4 tanks). Because of this, Germany could have been stopped in France because the British and French had many heavy tanks, but their commanders did not know how to utilize them properly with combined arms as the German generals did.

This book also shows that Germany was not really ready for war in 1939 as far as certain branches of the armed forces were concerned and it was through the brilliance of her generals, the inferior performance of her enemies, and some good luck that she did so well in the early years of the war. As Hitler took over control of the armed forces, sacked many capable generals, and Germany’s enemies grew stronger and wiser, Germany’s chances for victory grew slimmer by the day.

If you can make it through the several pages of boring army lists, the book is pretty good with many photographs of the campaigns and discussion of why events went as they did.

World War ll Plans That Never Happened 1939-45

Because I am very interested in World War II, and alternate and speculative history, I picked up this book with some enthusiasm. It is a collection of many plans, both Axis and Allies, divided in chapters by the years of the war. I had previously heard of some of the more famous plans such as Operation Sea Lion and Operation Olympic, but there were many plans I had never heard of. The author covers each plans in 2-3 pages usually, but provides pictures and summaries of many actual documents from the war. He also gives some background on the plans and why they never happened.

Some have criticized this book because of the poor writing (some of the writing was hard to follow occasionally) and brevity of coverage, but I found the book enjoyable overall. It may not give you every last detail, but it certainly gives you enough to do further research on your own if you like. Also, most of the plans have significance to the war for either side, and it was interesting to think about the ideas each side entertained in an effort to win the war.

How Few Remain

I finished reading Turtledove’s book about an alternate history where the South won the American Civil War. The book takes place 20 years after the Confederate victory. Turtledove’s explanation for the South’s victory is plausible and is explained at the beginning of the book. I enjoyed how he told his story through the eyes of many historical characters such as Samuel Clemens, JEB Stuart, Stonewall Jackson, Abe Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, George Custer, and Teddy Roosevelt. It reminded me of his Worldwar series, but that was science fiction and this is not. I think this book was better because it was pure alternate history. The book flows well as you are taken to different places through the different characters to advance the story. This book is the prelude to two trilogies and a tetralogy of books on the North / South conflict in the 20th century. It’s a good read even on its own for anyone who likes alternate history.

What If? series

Being a big fan of alternate history, I picked up What If?, What If? 2, and What If? American History several years ago. These books are not fictional stories about characters in alternate history scenarios nor are they alternate history tales written as factual history. These books contain essays by leading historians examining different historical events and then looking at what might have happened if this or that were different. Because I like history in general I really liked many of the essays in these volumes. I learned a lot about actual historical events while also learning about what ifs.

The first two books contain essays on a variety of events from the ancient world until the twentieth century. Many of the usual suspects are  here: The American Revolution, Napoleon, the American Civil War, WWI and WWII, and the Cold War. There are also essays on Alexander the Great, the Romans, the Mongols, the Spanish at the height of their power, China, England, and other American events after the American Revolution.

Most of the essays are interesting in their own coverage of historical events. I learned a lot about parts of history I was not familiar with. In general I liked the military event essays more than the non-military ones. It could be because I am a big fan of military history, but also some of the other stories just were not as interesting and some were biased one way or another in their coverage.

If you like reading about history you will probably like these books just for their discussions of historical events. The what if questions are an added bonus.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

I finally read this book by Philip K. Dick. Many people who are familiar with the movie Blade Runner know that this is the book the movie is based on. I think the cover of the edition I read was more accurate in saying that this book “inspired” Blade Runner. Don’t go into this book thinking it is Blade Runner and you may enjoy it. There are some characters from the book that appear in the movie, the premise is the same, and there is one particular scene from the beginning of the book that appeared more or less in the movie. But that is about it. This is not an action story like the movie. It is a good science fiction story with some philosophical undertones. Some people may not like this or think a lot of the book is boring, but if you reflect on the story after reading it (as Roger Zelazny suggested about Dick’s stories in the introduction to my edition of the book) you may find the story more interesting. Then again you may not.

I remember reading The Man in the High Castle many years ago and not liking it that much because I expected an pure alternate history story. But apparently Dick was “deep” with meaning in his stories so they came off rather strange sometimes.  The book does have some action and some twists and turns. Dick also creates really cool settings. I think Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a good read for science fiction fans. Just know what to expect going into it and keep an open mind and you may like it after all.