Book Review: The Expanding Universe, Volume 4 Part 2

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Hey Space Cadets, how’re you doing?  I’m sorry for the delay in posting the second half of this review – our house has been hit with that nasty cold virus going around our area. I’ve still managed to get some writing done. Here is the second half of my last book review. This review was also a discussion on the Sci-Fi Shenanigans Podcast, which has already dropped. I’ve reviewed a few short stories here that didn’t make it onto the podcast. If my co-host also writes a blog with his thoughts on this collection, I will share here as well. It should be fun to see two different reactions to the same stories.

But enough dallying, on to the review! 

 

Title: The Expanding Universe 4: Space Adventure, Alien Contact, & Military Science Fiction (Science Fiction Anthology)

 Author:  Multi-Author Anthology

Editor: Craig Martelle

Price:  USD 3.99 (Kindle Edition)

Obtained:  I read this anthology on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program.

 Pages:  478

 

 

Rating:  5/5 Grenades

 

 

Overview:

Today my book review will be a bit different, I’m going over a massive collection of short stories in this anthology. I was included in Volume 3, so I was confident in the quality I would find. Since the collection has 31 short stories, we couldn’t review them all. My co-host for the [Sci-Fi Shenanigans Podcast], [Chris Winder], picked the ones we reviewed. Click [here] to listen to us break down this anthology. To keep it fresh, I’ve added some here that we didn’t discuss. I hope that you enjoy my selection! This is my third review of an anthology, but I like this format for such reviews. If anyone has a different or better format to review an anthology, please comment below! I’ll include the actual summary of the story from the blurb and then write my thoughts on the story separately and conclude with an overall review of the collection.

 

Darkened Skies: Chancerian 3 by Drew Avera:

Summary: Thrust into a life or death situation, the next decision Tawny makes could cost her everything

My thoughts: The story was premise was interesting, and the plot scope was perfect for a story of the size. The main character, Tawny, was a young girl indiscriminate age running from an unseen foe. We learned that she has stolen something important, bartering the captured artifact for safe passage off her home planet. During the escape through the slums, we get to see how horrible life is for the impoverished citizens of the planet. Diseases once eradicated on earth, run rampant among the poor. When she reaches the ship, her salvation, and transportation off the planet, their unexpected complications. I can’t say more than that, because this is a spoiler-free review, but I liked the way the action played out. I did have issues with the execution, there were sentences that were clunky and pulled me out of the story. There wasn’t enough description for me to visualize everything, especially her escape from the planet. Because so much of the details are shrouded in mystery, I wouldn’t call her character Mary Sue, but she definitely qualified as a Mary Who. I don’t believe there was enough character development with the main character, and the uncertainty of her age may be ending somewhat implausible for me. The names given to characters and planets were difficult to wrap my head around, especially in a world I’ve only encountered in the scope of a 10K short story. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it either. I struggled on rating this one. It was hard, I was stuck between rating the plot and pacing and the execution and character development. Well, lack of real character development. If I based my rating on the plot and pacing, this was a solid 5. If I base it on the character development and overall execution, the story was a 3. Therefore, I’ll split the difference and give this story 4 out of 5 grenades.

 

Lights Out by Kayelle Allen:

Summary: He can save mankind. After he does one important thing. Die.

My thoughts: I really loved the basic premise of this story, it was well written and expertly executed. The basic concept was fun; soldiers revived from death to fight an immortal enemy. It had shades of the HALO gaming franchise, which appeals to the frustrated gamer inside me. Life prevents me from playing more, but this exciting story gave me a glimpse into that world again. This wasn’t a story in that franchise, the premise merely reminded me of it. The main character, Tornahdo, was a lot of fun. He was a soldier who died gloriously fighting the Ultras, the previously mentioned undying aliens, and was brought back so he could die many more times fighting them. Along the way, he was lied to and manipulated by his own commanders and mistreated by his psychotic fellow ghosts. I won’t say more about the story itself, because I don’t want any spoilers. However, rest assured that it was amazing, and I loved every second of it. On the technical side, there were several places that had odd spacings in the middle of words and missing punctuations. It didn’t completely draw me out of the story, but it was definitely noticeable. The one flaw, which is major, was where the author referred to a rifle as a gun. A minor thing, one a sailor wouldn’t catch, but a thing all the same for us grunts. If you want to see why just watch the bootcamp scene in [Full Metal Jacket]. Given the authors status as a Navy veteran, I didn’t hold it against her and it didn’t affect my rating of her adventure story. Overall, I enjoyed the story so much that I didn’t care, and I would still read more by this author. This is another story where the ending felt more like a new beginning. Don’t get me wrong, the plot arc wrapped up nicely, but the possibilities of more were tantalizing. Even with the few technical issues, I give this story 5 out of 5 grenades. This was another story that made the price of admissions worth it, you should read it and tell me what you think!

 

Duty by Bill Patterson:

Summary: The greatest problem with doing one’s duty sometimes is deciding exactly where one’s duty lies.

My thoughts: This was a fun story, though a bit darker than I normally read. It was gritty and realistic, with a likable main character, Lieutenant James Benison. When the main character is screwed over by the military serves, for winning in spite of the odds, you really feel for him. The plot was intriguing and fast-paced, with enough lows to balance the highs. Humanity is at war with the Slorg, a race of alien bugs who want to use humans as larval hosts for their young. Pushed to the brink, the story picks up with humanity in its darkest hour. In addition to the plot, the characters really shined through. There were believable and flushed out, more than you would expect from a short story. I can’t say anything more about the plot, without giving spoilers so we will move on to the technical side of things. The communications on the bridge of Benison’s ship seemed too wordy, but the author adroitly addressed the issue. He made the communications assessable for nonmilitary readers while justifying the long-winded pros. Throughout the story, the use of full name and rank seemed a little bit overdone but not so much that it drew you out of the story. Another technical complaint that I had were the portrayal of the aliens, they just felt too human. They spoke and acted like humans, with an almost unnoticeable barbarian tinge to them. I don’t know how he could’ve fixed that in such a short story, but it did strike me as odd. When it comes to the naval tactics, I don’t have much experience but everything the author did seemed plausible and creative. Moving right along, the story was a bit confusing when he jumped ahead on the timeline. At first, I thought he was going back and forth, and then slowly figure things out. This could just be my head injury, I get confused easily. This is one of those complaints where your mileage may vary. Overall, I enjoyed this story… a solid 4 out of 5 grenades for me. The ending was darker than I’d like, not really leaving room for follow-on stories in this universe but had there been an opening I’d follow the breadcrumbs and read the series.

 

Daughters of Ayor by David R. Bernstein:

Summary: The Salvation One’s mission was to find a new home for a dying civilization, but a massive solar flare slowly kills all but one crew member.

My thoughts: The story was a lot of fun and jumped right into the action. Well, it jumped right into the dire circumstances for the main character, Officer Len Morrow. He woke up to find the rest of his shipmates dead, and he’s slowly starving to death as critical supplies dwindle away. We learn that he’s trapped in his lab, unable to leave because of a radiation contamination issue and slowly losing his mind. He’s unable to do anything about his surroundings because he doesn’t have the appropriate security clearance. The systems in place to protect the ship are literally killing him. His world is turned upside down when he realizes that he isn’t alone on the ship but saying anything more would get into spoiler territory. Since I can’t talk about the plotline anymore, let’s get on to the more technical side of things. The pacing of the story was well done, perfectly designed for a short story format. The main character was believable and easy to relate to. He became a stand-in for the everyman, allowing readers to envision themselves in his place. The census felt a little clunky in places, although they were grammatically correct. Overall, I enjoyed the story and would continue reading more tales set in this universe. This was another story whose ending, while satisfactory, felt more like the beginning of something more. I could see a whole series of books opening up from this short story. Books that I would read! Since it left me wanting more, I give this story 5 out of 5 grenades!

 

Endpoint by Michael Campling:

Summary: One mission will make or break Sergeant John Chapman’s career; it’s just a damned shame nobody told the enemy.

My thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed this story, it jumped you right into the action at full speed and didn’t let up until it reached its natural conclusion. The main character, Sergeant John Chapman, was a lot of fun to read about. What starts as a normal training mission goes horribly awry, leaving the survivors in a desperate struggle against an uncaring foe. Instead of sim rounds, the cyborgs have live ones and the team would be Cyborg Tactical Response Regiments or Cutters must fight for their lives. The action starts at a slow simmer, but the author cranks up the heat and no time these soldiers are running and gunning. It’s an exciting ride, one that you’ll be glad you went on. I can’t say more about the plot, without giving it away, so will move on to the technical aspects. The plot was fun, your standard man versus machine trope that permeates science fiction. It builds on the existing works in this category of science fiction, but you never bored or weighed down by a sense of déjà vu. The main character is competent, though not perfect, which only makes him more likable. You can relate to him as the everyman, as the sergeant you wished you’d had and wished you could be. There were several places where the wording was clunky, though not dramatically incorrect, but those didn’t prevent you from enjoying the story. You were never confused about what was going on or felt stemmed by the floating head syndrome. There was never a place that you could visualize, and just enough detail was given to allow you to visualize the scene in your head. Like several of the other stories in this anthology, the ending of this story felt like the beginning of a whole new universe that was waiting for us to explore it. I give this story 5 out of 5 grenades and think you should read it for yourself.

 

One Last Battle by Timothy Ellis:

Summary: The Yorktown Recon fleet is scouting the Cuba system in Earth sector, at the beginning of the last big sector war. A broken fighter pilot makes a choice, without knowing living or dying has consequences to the future.

My thoughts: I enjoyed this space fleet tale of dogfighting against impossible odds. It was set in a world that seemed to be a clone of WWII, down to ship names (i.e. Yorktown). I had trouble accepting this as an enemy of America, given what I’ve learned through earning a bachelor’s degree in political science. That aside, I did like it. Who doesn’t want a fun World War II adventure with space as the backdrop? It’s a staple of the genre for a reason, so I can’t fault the author for that. I don’t remember the main character’s name, just that his callsign was Redline because he had a tendency to push the engines to the max. The main character was sidelined when a rookie pilot crushing to him, ending his flight career. He had been told that one more flight would kill them, his bodies being unable to handle the massive gee’s of taking off from the career. The story opens with his fleet being surprised by a German spacecraft carrier and bleeding pilots to a new enemy fighter. In that situation, Redline does the only thing he can, he runs to the sound of the guns. That’s an instinct I can respect, but I’m biased. I’ve mentioned before that I ran gun trucks in Iraq, both my combat tours included running towards the enemy everyone was fleeing. I don’t mention that into my own horn, but so I can freely disclose my biases. I know that sort of story doesn’t appeal to everyone so your mileage may vary. I can’t really say much more about the plot without spoilers, so let’s move into the technical aspects of the story. The plot was interesting and not terribly original, but this was made up for by the excellent pacing of the story. The characters seemed like the stereotypical Hollywood fighter jock, and I don’t know how accurate that is. I never worked with pilots, but it seemed believable enough that I went with it. There were a few places where the wording got a little clunky, but this could be because I used an app to read it out loud. I’d bet that it looked fine if you read it on an e-book page. The story felt like you had a satisfactory conclusion, though this one didn’t feel like it opened into another world like some of the other stories did. Given the writing style, I would probably read more stories by this author. Overall, this story is a solid 4 out of 5 grenades.

 

Overall:

First, I need to start with the presentation of the book. I was a huge fan of the cover art, it was a perfect balance of cool imagery and room for the writing (title name and author name) to shine through. As I’ve mentioned before, I am colorblind so your mileage may vary. If you hated it, start a discussion in the comments and we can talk about it! I love telling people how wrong they are! With that out of the way, let’s talk about the anthology itself. I enjoyed this anthology, though it was so massive that it wasn’t a quick read. At 478 pages of epic sci-fi goodness, you’ll get hours of entertainment from this collection of short stories. I couldn’t finish it in one sitting, though not for lack of interest. It was just too big for that, not when you have little ones running around demanding things like food. As with the anthology format, the stories will be a hit and miss. I really loved about 75% of them, with Terry Mixon, Kevin McLaughlin, Kayelle Allen and Yudhanjaya Wijeratne/R.R. Virdi’s story being worth the price of admission. If those were the only three stories in this collection, I’d still pay full price and demand more! Yes, hyperbolic but I really did love them that much. One of the things I loved about this anthology was that it was a perfect balance of established authors and some who were still making their bones. One of the things that makes this anthology series so special is how professional it is, it shines indie authors in a good light. Despite the talk, most of the indie authors who stick around or producing quality stuff. I love that this anthology helps dispel the myth that all indie writing is garbage. Our community will always be indebted to Craig Martelle for his work on this front. Why does it matter to you, if you’re not an author? Because you can guarantee your only reading the best, that you got your dollars worth out of this purchase.

 

When you read my reviews, keep in mind that I was just giving you a sampling of what was there and you should be your own arbiter of all things amazingly awesomely bookish. What I hate, you may love and vice versa. Let’s be real that is normal for an anthology, and part of what makes them useful. You get exposed to new takes on things and see the world from multiple perspectives. I’m confident that you’ll find you like more stories than you would normally skip, hence my recommendation. Even though one of them wasn’t my thing, there were parts of it that I really loved. Like always, I went the spoiler-free approach. What does this mean for my overall ranking?  I really enjoyed this collection, and happily, recommend it. Many of you have commented that I give a lot of higher reviews, but that’s intentional. I choose to study authors who do it better than I could, hoping to learn from the seat of the masters. I also like to find new voices, to see the world from another perspective. Because, seriously, I want to hook you from the first page! I want to weave the action in such a compelling way that you want to jump into the armor yourself. This leads me to screen my books before buying them. Life is too short to read books that you don’t like. Luckily, my tastes are diverse, and I enjoy the classics too. I just only write reviews on the science fiction stories I’m reading. Overall, this is a book I would happily recommend, and some authors I will definitely read again. I freely give this novel a 5 out of 5 grenades!

 

Until next time, stay frosty and don’t forget to keep your powder dry!

brown_bess

JR

 

–> As usual, all images came from the Google’s “labeled for reuse” section or are used on the Fair Use Doctrine.

 

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