There is one piece of advice that is given to all writers, one that I have given myself when asked for a tip, and it is quite simply to read! To read anything and everything that you can get your hands on, and especially to remain current in your genre. I’m going to be the first to admit that I have been terrible at this lately, and that I have fallen way behind on my reading queue, one way or another, but I’ve been making a determined effort lately to catch up on the milSF that has built up on my Kindle, and certainly it has been well worth doing. (Yes, this one is a review post.) There are three series - well, one of them damn well should be a series, and I understand there are more books coming - that I’m going to talk about today, but the short version, if you want, is that I recommend all of them. And this is the first of an indeterminate series of posts along these lines, with another already planned.
Space Carrier Avalon (Glynn Stewart)
I often start working on a book and discard the first few chapters, largely because of the maxim that if writing something is boring, reading something will be as well. My thesis is that it is best to open with a bang, to open with action, and I think that Glynn has the exact same approach. The book opens strong, very strong, and has plenty of twists just in the first few chapters. I’m not going to give you any spoilers, but suffice to say that I was hooked right from the start, and that I stayed well and truly hooked. (And in case you read this, Glynn, the Alamo reference made my smile for several chapters!)
I don’t really have any criticisms, here. It ticked all of my boxes, with fast-paced action and interesting characters, a well-developed universe that didn’t make itself too intrusive, lots of twist and turns and an ending I didn’t see coming. The technology was internally-consistent, and I loved the technological progression displayed, the contrast between different-generation fighters. Anyone following fighter development at the moment will know that too-darned well! About my only problem was that there isn’t another book out yet, but I understand that one is planned for next year, and from what I have seen this one has been quite a hit - deservedly so - and so I rather hope that he might move this up a bit. I’ll certainly be reading it as soon as it is on sale.
The Laredo War (Peter Grant)
I screwed up here, a little, in that this is a spin-off from another series that I haven’t yet read, the Maxwell Saga. (I mean to amend that in the near future, so expect that to be reviewed on here soon.) This one is space- and ground-warfare, as well as action/adventure/intrigue, so I’m probably pretty close in on its target audience. I got strong vibes of a Heinlein story from this one, especially in its early stages, ‘Free Men’, specifically. Which is a very good thing, actually, as that’s one I often go back to. This is the story of a resistance movement, fighting to overthrow the invading force that has conquered its planet, and in two books...well, I presume/hope that there is a third in the pipeline, because although it is complete in those two books, there are still plenty of places to go, and quite a few plot threads still hanging.
Good characters, good story, good setting, which does a great trick of expanding outwards from a small point seamlessly, an excellent way of introducing new readers. (Which is one way of saying that I felt no lack from having not read the earlier series in this universe.) The writer manages the difficult feat of setting up a pretty damn nasty enemy, whilst introducing POV characters from the enemy perspective that you aren’t repelled by. (Without resorting to the ‘democratic resistance’ concept.) I’m certainly looking forward to the next book in the series, and to reading the other series in this universe.
Kurgan War (Richard Turner)
Three books in this series so far, though right now I’ve only read the first two - principally because the third only came out a few days ago. Needless to say, it’s high on my list. This one is more of a ground-pounder point of view, though with space warfare elements, and as well as handling combat extremely well - with as good a ‘Stalingrad in Space’ vibe as I have ever seen in the first book - it also touches strongly on themes of treachery and extremism. I won’t go into any details on that, of course; you’ll have to read the book. (Damn, a no-spoilers policy really makes reviewing difficult.)
The characters are engaging, the plots interesting and intricate, and the action moves quickly. Which really is a common factor in all of these reviews, but I’ll get to that in a minute. I’d guess (though for all I know it ties up in the third book) that it has a long run in prospect, and certainly there is plenty of room for that. There’s an interesting treble-act in the three main characters, and it cuts right to the heart of the plot, with a strong sense of realism. There is an element of bildungsroman in this, handled well, as it needs to be. Too often that can be a crutch, but not here - instead, it develops organically. Needless to say, recommended.
Yes, you get some of my ramblings here. All of these works have in common that they get what action/adventure means. that it means that you need to have action - but not repetitive action. That doesn’t mean ‘big explosions’ every chapter, but it means that something happens to the characters. It can be a battle, an argument, a discovery, a twist, a surprise, anything like that, but the critical element is to keep the story moving, and to cut the meandering to a minimum. Worldbuilding at its best comes from within the story, rather than being dropped down - no, “As you know, Professor…” These have fast, detailed plots, with plenty of room for strong characters to show their stuff. (Strong as in ‘strong cheese’, with lots of flavour, rather than ‘lots of strength/combat skill’. Too often people don’t know the difference.)
Did I really just use cheese as an analogy for storytelling? I think I’ve put you through enough. Links to the three series are in the cover illustrations above. And more reviews in the next post. Probably not cheese, though.