Best of 2016!

Courtesy of CLFA (Conservative Libertarian Fiction Alliance) here is the list of books that made it through the first round of recommendations for the CLFA Book of the Year. We are going to use this as the beginning of our own Best of 2016 list, which will be displayed after all, along with our upcoming Suggested Reading List.

Don’t see your favorites here? Please leave additional suggestions in the comments.

A Place Outside the Wild by Dan Humphreys
Awful Intent by John Brown
Banshees by Michael Baron
Bastion Saturn by  C. Chase Hardwood
Beyond the Mist by Ben Zwycky
Blood of Indivia by  Tom Tinney
Brings the Lightning by Peter Grant
By the Hands of Men, Book 3 by  Roy M. Griffis
Carhwright Cavaliers by Mark H. Wandrey
Chasing Freedom by Marina Fontaine
Discovery by  Karina Fabian
Domino by Kia Heavey
Eden by Keith Korman
Escalation by Ryk Brown
Fight the Rooster by Nick Cole
Glory Boy by Rick Paltrow
Iron Chamber of Memory by  John C Wright
Liberty Lost by John Colt
Monster Hunter Grunge by John Ringo
Murphy’s Law of Vampires by  Declan Finn
People’s Republic by  Kurt Schlichter
Rachel and the Many-Splendored Dreamlands by  L. Jagi Lamplighter
Set to Kill by  Declan Finn
Shrinkage by  Chuck Dixon
Souldancer by  Brian Neimeier
Swan Knight’s Son by John C. Wright
The Adventures of Tom Stranger by Larry Correia
The Big Sheep by Robert Kroese
The Good Fight by Justin Robinson
The Secret Kings by Brian Neimeier
Til Death Jason by Anspach
Van Ripplewink by  Paul Clayton
Wolf Killer by John van Stry

 

Sex, What is it Good For? (In novels)

In the last Superversive Roundtable discussion, we discussed romance novels, and how fast they went to sex scenes. And, seriously, a sex scene … why bother?  In the context of literature, almost a sex scene in it has been a horrid waste of time, energy, and irritates, at least, this reader. Heck, I’m up to book three of a vampire romance series — (yes. Really. It’s called Love at First Bite, honest) and I haven’t had to use one once.

Why? Because I find sex scenes boring.

I am not certain how much of this is my own personal opinion and how much of it is a critique of how sex scenes tend to be inflicted on the reader.

One of my major problems is the OSS, or the Obligatory Sex Scene.

For example, in the Douglas Preston/Lincoln Child novel Mount Dragon, our protagonists, after having found shelter and water in the middle of the desert, after nearly dying from thirst, while on the run from a nutcase with a gun…. are so happy they start having sex…

Huh? What the heck?

The OSS I just mentioned is quick. If it’s longer than half a page, I’d be surprised. But it was just dropped into the middle of the book, and was so jarring it broke the pace. It had been a nice, solid thriller, our heroes on the run from a psychotic killer with a rifle, and then…. they’re stopping to have sex? Really?

Looking at it objectively, what is the point of an OSS?

Playing Thomas Aquinas for a moment, I’m certain someone could object: “Physical intimacy shows the the relationship involved has gone to another level and has thus impacted the characters.”

Yes, this is perfectly true, but does that necessitate a five page sex scene? Or even half a page? If one wanted to tell the reader that, yes, two people slept together, I can do that right now: “X and Y fell into bed, kissing passionately as they stripped each other’s clothes. They then turned off the lights and hoped they wouldn’t wake the neighbors.”

Done. Two lines and a bit of smart ass can carry something a long way.

Objection two: “Things can happen during the scene that are relevant to the rest of the novel.”

True, but rarely does it necessitate going into intimate details. In fact, I would suggest that anything interesting that happened could be covered in the next chapter. “On reflection, s/he noticed something odd while lying on his/her back. S/he didn’t really notice it at the time, but now that it’s quiet…..”

Done.

Exceptions can be made to this rule, obviously. If the couple rolls off of the bed as someone walks into the room, be it with room service or with a gun, then that is a useful detail.

There are moments when character can be served, strangely enough. I’ve seen sex scenes done well. I don’t mean the sex scene in the novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter, where he dwells on a nice neat serial killer, his girlfriend comes in, starts kissing and disrobing him, and the next line is, literally, “How did that happen?” I mean a sex scene, rating R to NC-17.

John Ringo’s “Paladin of Shadows” series (Ghost, Kildar, et al), has sex scenes and nudity. However, the point of the hero, nicknamed Ghost, is that he is not a “nice guy;” he hangs out in strip clubs, and some of his contacts are strippers… it’s rather amusing reading a scene where a stripper is informing him of pertinent information during the course of her duties.

The sex scenes themselves are surprisingly thought out. The first novel, Ghost, is a series of vignettes. The second vignette is described as “two-thirds bondage porn and deep sea fishing, and who knows which is worse” (I’m paraphrasing there). Before the sex scenes take up whole chapters, the character Ghost has a discussion with the two young ladies he’s dealing with… and their parents. The conversation that follows is one part clinical dissertation on bondage subcultures, and five parts comedy routine.

After that, you can skip read, unless you really want to learn more about leather goods and deep sea fishing than you ever really wanted to.

So, here we have someone who makes sex funny without it being gaudy. In fact, the amount of thought put into many of Ringo’s later sex scenes shows a lot of character, intelligence, and humor.

Even then, are they necessary? Surprisingly enough, some are, and two are crucial to the stories they show up in. Almost all of them impact the characters in some way. And almost all of these scenes can be entertaining for reasons that are anything but sexual. Why Ghost does what he does (and I don’t mean sexual maneuvers or positions) tells the reader more about the character than a hundred pages of sex scenes from any given novelist….

Laurell K. Hamilton, I’m looking at you.

Laurell K. Hamilton created a novel series about Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter. It was a nice, solid series, set in St. Louis, with a well-constructed, detailed world, where vampires were public figures, werewolves are treated like HIV cases in the 80s, crosses work against vampires, and demons aren’t the actor in a suit you see on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

For nine novels, the series went well. There was sexuality here and there (a major character was a French vampire, after all), but it never really got in the way of the story. By book seven and eight, the main character was sleeping with both a vampire and a werewolf, but the OSS’s were few and far between, and they were easily skipped by turning a page. Quite painless, overall.

After book #9, Obsidian Butterfly, I was warned off several novels because they opened with a hundred pages of vampire rituals of who gets to have sex with who. I went back for book #15, because it featured the return of Hamilton’s best, scariest character: a mild mannered, white-bread fellow named Edward, a mercenary who started hunting vampires because humans were too easy.

However, I had to skip a hundred and fifty pages of the novel. It was one, long and drawn out OSS. Not a menage a trois, but a bisexual sextet among Vampires and were-creatures. Yes, you read that right. Much of the rest of the book had pages of Anita Blake defending her sex life. “The lady dost protest too much.”

When the author herself was asked about the overabundance of sex during a Barnes and Noble interview, Hamilton’s best defense was that “I only get complaints from men. I had two reviewers tell me that they’re disturbed that a woman is writing this sort of stuff. ”

Ahem…

Dear Madam. Hamilton: I get disturbed with John Ringo writing about a man and two coeds on a boat with bondage gear. For the love of all that’s Holy, what makes you think that a bi-sexual sextet with were-furries would go over any better, no matter who or what you were?  So, you’re going to defend yourself against criticism with some kind of strange faux-feminism based off of two reviewers?  How about “I want more plot than sex scene,” are you going to blame that on me being male? Really? Really?

Again, I’ll go back to John Ringo, only a different series — The Council Wars.  One short story is seriously NC-17, and reading through it, I would be hard-pressed to see how it could be written otherwise. With Hamilton’s novels, I could skip over a hundred pages and not miss a single plot point. That’s screwed up.

As I said, in my book series, there are no sex scenes. Book one and three have some interesting and creative make out sessions, but that’s about it. Can I write a sex scene? Sure, they’re easy. I’ve gotten requests from lady friends of mine for erotica (please God, do not ask. It’s a long story).

But are they necessary? Not really. Did I need intimate details to add to the plot, the character, or anything related to the story? No.

Frankly, I think a PG-13 novel sometimes requires more skill than an NC-17 rated. I find that sex sequences are a cheat, sort of like premium cable—just because you can use four letter words doesn’t mean you have to write them into every single line.

I have actually made my lack of OSS’s in my novels work for me. For example, the hero of one of my books has had a long term girlfriend … they’ve never had intercourse because every time they do, someone tries to kill them. And there are other creative ways around a problem.

Just because an author can throw in a sex scene doesn’t mean s/he must do so. Doing sex scenes well takes skill, and making them relevant takes talent; most people don’t have it. Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer had several moments where our heroine’s sex life was literally going to get people killed (Season 2, Season 4, et al). Sherrilyn Kenyon, a ROMANCE NOVELIST, wrote at least one book where the LACK of sex was a key plot point, and another where intimacy between the hero and heroine was surprisingly crucial to the story. Ringo was mentioned above.

So, it has been done well. Just not very often.

To answer the opening question: Sex, what is it good for?

In novels… yes, it can be good for something. It just rarely is.

Declan Finn is a Dragon Award nominated author. His “Catholic Vampire romance novels” can be found on his personal website. As well as all the other strange things he does.

Review: Murder in the Vatican, the Church Mysteries of Sherlock Homes

Reviewing Murder in the Vatican requires a bit of backstory. When I was 13, I started reading through the collected stories of Sherlock Holmes. I made it about halfway through. stopped dead by “The Adventure of the Gloria Scott”—the first time Holmes was the narrator.  Even G.K. Chesterton noted that it showed why Watson was relevant: because Holmes was a terrible storyteller.

Since then, I have been critical of anything about Sherlock Holmes written after the death of Arthur Conan Doyle.
When Robert Downey Jr. starred in Sherlock Holmes, I crossed my fingers and hoped it didn’t suck … instead, I got a checklist of what they did right.

When they created Sherlock, I also crossed my fingers. It was surprisingly awesome.

Then I heard about Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes. It had an interesting premise: author Ann Margaret Lewis takes Watson’s offhand references of Holmes working on cases for the Pope, or involving religious figures, and turns them into entire stories.

I experienced the same feeling of dread. How off would the narration be? Would someone try converting Holmes? How lost would a detective from Victorian, Anglican England be in Catholic Rome? How many different ways were there to screw this up?

I stopped worrying when I read the first sentence. And, oh my God, this book is awesome! I loved this book…

Lewis caught the voice of Dr. John Watson as though she had taken it, trapped in a bottle, and used it to refill her pen into as she wrote. I liked the voice. I liked Watson, the doctor, trying to diagnose an ailing Leo XIII (85 at the time of the events of the first story). I like the brief sketch of the political situation between the Vatican and Italy. I even enjoy Watson’s discomfort at the Pope slipping into “The Royal We” when he speaks of himself as the Pope.

Even the artwork was as though it had been lifted from issues of The Strand magazine. Someone had fun here.

Thankfully, there is no overt attempt to convert Holmes, evangelize or proselytize him. There is only enough theology in the entire novel that explains to the casual reader exactly what the heck the Pope is doing. The closest the book comes to exposing Holmes to theology is a page-long sequence that ends with Leo saying, “Perhaps you should spend some of your inactive time pondering that conundrum [of Jesus] instead of indulging in whatever narcotic it is with which you choose to entertain yourself.”

That is the best zinger I’ve ever seen a character use on Holmes regarding his drug use. Even the most secular person I know can appreciate a page of theology for one of the better one-liners I’ve ever seen.

Also, the little things were entertaining for a nerd like me. For example, the casual mention of John Cardinal Newman, referred to as “a recent convert.” The political situation at the time is given just enough of a sketch to explain what’s going on, but nothing obtrusive; history nerds like me can be satisfied, but you don’t have to have a degree in it to comprehend what’s going on.

There are truly parts where the novel seems to merge all the best qualities of Sherlock Holmes with those of G.K. Chesterton’s Fr. Brown short stories …

At this point, I must make a small confession. I write reviews as I read the book. There is plenty of backtracking, filling the blanks, and rewrite the review as the book goes. I wrote the Father Brown line when I finished the first tale. In fact, the interview questions I sent to Ann Margaret Lewis were written before I even received a review copy of the book.

I then read “The Vatican Cameos,” and discover a Deacon, named Brown …

I swear I didn’t see that coming.


The first story in this collection is “The Death of Cardinal Tosca.”

In this memorable year ’95 a curious and incongruous succession of cases had engaged his attention, ranging from his famous investigation of the sudden death of Cardinal Tosca — an inquiry which was carried out by him at the express desire of His Holiness the Pope . . . .

—Dr. John H. Watson, “The Adventure of Black Peter”

Imagine Sherlock Holmes on vacation … if you see that vacation turning out like an episode of Murder, She Wrote, with a body hitting the floor at some point, you pretty much have the setup. It has a poison pen letter, with real poison, some Masons, references to two different cases in the space of two paragraphs, and a Papal commando raid with a real pontiff. This story is so delightfully odd and over-the-top, but still preserves as much reality as any other Holmes tale. I enjoyed every moment of it. And I can’t argue with any story where the pope gets most of the amusing one-liners.

Heck, even the murderer gets in a good line. When confronted, our first killer sneers. “Let me guess. You’re going to explain, to the amazement of your friends, how I did the deed?” Holmes replies, “I’ve already told them that. It would be old news. They already know you blundered badly.”

I think the story concludes on a nice, solid note. As Holmes tells Watson, “[Leo XIII] is genuinely pious. He is also imperious, but in a most endearing way.”

Watson merely replies, “Yes, well. I’m used to that.”

Let’s see Martin Freeman deliver that line.


“I was exceedingly preoccupied by that little affair of the Vatican cameos, and in my anxiety to oblige the Pope I lost touch with several interesting English cases.”

—Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles

The second tale, “The Vatican Cameos,” is a bit of a flashback episode to when Holmes first met Pope Leo XIII. A collection of cameos is sent to Queen Victoria, secured tightly in the box, but upon their arrival in London, the box is empty. The Queen simply sends Sherlock Holmes. Watson is busy with a medical emergency, so he wasn’t around.

When Watson asks Sherlock about the incident, Holmes says, quite clearly “Watson, I am incapable of spinning a tale in the way you do. The narrative would read like a scientific treatise.” Thus, there is only one person left who to narrate this tale … Leo XIII. This was the story that truly showed that the author did her research, assembling little details of Leo XIII’s interests and hobbies and putting them together into a rich, vibrant character. He is shown here as witty, humorous, and bright.

The byplay between Leo XIII and Holmes in this story was marvelously entertaining. The Pope is shown to be about as smart as Watson … maybe a little smarter. When Holmes first meets the Pontiff, and rattles off conclusions in his usual rapid-fire manner, the Pope takes a minute, and deduces how Holmes came to most of them. Not all, but most. Making Leo this smart only serves to make Holmes as impressive as he should be—yes, everyone else may be smart, but Holmes is smarter.

Also, having Leo XIII using Thomas Aquinas to talk with Holmes of reason and science … it works for me.

And the scene with Holmes, the Pope, and the gunman was fun, too.


“You know that I am preoccupied with this case of the two Coptic Patriarchs, which should come to a head to-day.”

Sherlock Holmes, “The Retired Colourman”

“The Second Coptic Patriarch”: The third and final tale is from yet another throwaway line of Arthur Conan Doyle’s.

In this case, a former criminal comes to Holmes to solicit his services; the priest who converted him away from his life of crime is in jail for murder. A bookstore owner has been murdered with a book (“The Rule of Oliver Cromwell–weighty subject, no doubt,” Holmes quips), and the priest will only say that the victim was dead when he arrived.

It’s almost Sherlock Holmes meets Alfred Hitchcock … I didn’t know someone could do I Confess like this. It’s a fun little read, and possibly the most traditional of the Holmes stories — it’s a good tale. From the perspective of the overall book, it’s a perfect cap to the character arc.

Now, after reading Murder in the Vatican, I think I’m going to go back and finish the Sherlock Holmes series — and keep Murder in the Vatican handy, so I can read them all in chronological order.

Ann Lewis said that the book was “meant to be fun and lift your heart for a short time. I had a blast writing it, and I hope you have a blast reading it.”

Mission accomplished.

Frankly, between Cumberbatch, RDJ, or Elementary, if you had to live with only one expansion of Holmes works, you buy Ann Lewis. Period.

Declan Finn is a Dragon Award nominated author. His “Catholic Vampire romance novels” can be found on his personal website. As well as all the other strange things he does.

Tom Stranger: International Insurance Agent

Image

Welcome to Larry Correia’s audio book, The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance AgentThe Adventures of Tom Stranger: Interdimensional Insurance Agent, narrated by Adam Baldwin.

Yes. Really. I’m not making this one up.

Have you ever seen a planet invaded by rampaging space mutants from another dimension or Nazi dinosaurs from the future?

Don’t let this happen to you!

 

Rifts happen, so you should be ready when universes collide. A policy with Stranger & Stranger can cover all of your interdimensional insurance needs. Rated “Number One in Customer Satisfaction” for three years running, no claim is too big or too weird for Tom Stranger to handle.

 

But now Tom faces his greatest challenge yet. Despite being assigned the wrong – and woefully inadequate – intern, Tom must still provide quality customer service to multiple alternate Earths, all while battling tentacle monsters, legions of the damned, an evil call center in Nebraska, and his archnemesis, Jeff Conundrum. Armed with his Combat Wombat and a sense of fair play, can Tom survive? And will Jimmy the Intern ever discover his inner insurance agent?

 

It’s time to kick ass and adjust claims.

Adam Baldwin (Firefly, Chuck) performs Larry Correia’s madcap interdimensional tale of underwriting and space travel, where the only thing scarier than tentacle monsters is a high deductible.


My first response? “Oh good God, what the sweet heck is this?”

But it’s by Larry, and it was free at the time, and I am both cheap and a fan of Correia’s, so why not?

I decided to play it while on a trip into Manhattan.

Happily, I didn’t crash the car.

Chapter 1: “Tom’s 9am meeting,” takes place in a dimension in which the star of the five-season libertarian space cowboy show (and three blockbuster movies) has become President Adam Baldwin. SecDef is R. Lee Ermey. They are being invaded by the attack of the flying purple people eaters on meth, steroids and rocket fuel. But, thankfully, they have coverage with Stranger and Stranger.

Also, Adam Baldwin does a great Ermey impersonation.

Chapter 2: “The Mediation”

The mediator is Chuck Norris. The awesome is hilarious, as is Baldwin’s impersonation of Norris. Just bask in the awesome.

Chapter 3: “Hell Comes to Nebraska”

This might be the best bit of the book. Not only because it blows up an SF convention, but because it stars Larry Correia and Wendell the Manatee as CFO of CorreiaTech, creator of the Combat Wombat. There are also legions of Hell invading Nebraska.

Then there’s the Balrog…

Yes.

Chapter 4: The book gets a plot!

Just when you thought that this was just a string of vignettes from a day in the life of Tom Stranger, surprise, we have a plot.

For the record, we also make fun of Kung Fu Panda.

I won’t continue with the chapter breakdown, because spoilers would happen, but the short version is that this is off the wall insane and hilarious. Granted, a lot of the humor is of the off the wall variety, but it was hilarious.

However, if you dislike having your sacred cows made into hamburger, you might have some problems. Here, Larry takes shots at Obama (Adam Baldwin does a terrifyingly good Obama), Joe Biden (or “the alcoholic clown”) call centers, squishy degrees, and even nerds to some degree, because Larry’s been to conventions where not all nerds are interesting.

But, yeah, this was a wonderful ball of strange … no pun intended.  Much.

For the record: Tom Stranger will return.

Declan Finn is a Dragon Award nominated author. His “Catholic Vampire romance novels” can be found on his personal website. As well as all the other strange things he does.

A (Brief) Defense of Asimov

I’ve noticed that down at the Castalia blog Asimov has been taking a heavy beating lately. REALLY heavy. The comments section crew has been merciless.

And I do get it. Asimov is best described as bloodless. His stories are much like his robots; every now and then there’ll be a brilliantly shined gem, but it’s ultimately still a gem. There’s no spark of life to his tales. And I too find his opposition to heroic fiction rather repulsive; despite my cynical nature I am actually a romantic at heart (but don’t tell anyone).

That isn’t to say he didn’t write some excellent stuff. The “I, Robot” collection is uniformly excellent, and “Caves of Steel” is to this day one of the most clever mysteries I’ve ever read (never really “got” “The Naked Sun” though).

The robot stories play to Asimov’s strengths. They’re weak on description, and weak on character, but they are very, very, VERY strong in plotting and ideas. Asimov was skilled at twisting his laws around like pretzels in order to get them to do the tricks he wanted, and some of his stories are super clever.

He also wasn’t AS bad with character as is often claimed. Some of his best robot stories, like “Liar!”, only work because they play off of existing character traits; Susan Calvin, at least, definitely had a distinct personality that definitely played an important role in several stories.

I mean…we’re getting comments down there trying to claim that the three laws of robotics weren’t actually that influential. The THREE LAWS OF ROBOTICS.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Here’s the thing: In all of the years before I decided to try reading sci-fi – and I didn’t even try any until after high school outside of “A Wrinkle in Time” – the Three Laws were one of the ONLY sci-fi concepts I’d ever heard of. Seriously. I, who knew nothing about science fiction, knew what the three laws of robotics were.

To say they didn’t influence things is misleading. Now every AI created since either had to consciously accept or consciously reject the three laws; there was no ignoring them. Even little known things like the webcomic “Freefall” make sure to reference the three laws. A hit summer blockbuster was made based around them (the “I, Robot” movie, a pretty good film with little relation to the book it shares a title with outside of the three laws conceit).

Do I think the laws would work? No, I do not. But so what? It’s fiction. It’s a fascinating premise for stories. Honestly, I doubt the two laws of “God, Robot” would really work either, but they make for really interesting Legos to play with.

I got the impression from a couple of reviews that people looked at “God, Robot” as a sort of “response” to Asimov. Nothing could be further from the truth. “God, Robot” was not a critique of Asimov, it was not a response to Asimov, and it was certainly not a repudiation of Asimov. It was the opposite: It was a homage to Asimov. My hope isn’t that those who read the book come away convinced that we one-upped Asimov, it’s that they come away convinced to pick up “I, Robot” for themselves and see why I loved it so much.

So here’s to Isaac Asimov. Was he perfect? No, but he was brilliant, influential, and exceedingly clever, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of about that, either.

 

Review of Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge

What happens when you bring together one of the best SF&F writers into one of the best fantasy worlds in books today? Grunge.

At LibertyCon, John Ringo mentioned that he had been reading Monster Hunter International because it’s not the sort of thing he would write, so he wouldn’t be stealing anything from it by accident.
Instead, Ringo ended up writing three books for the world Larry Correia invented.
The premise behind this one is … interesting.

 

When Marine Private Oliver Chadwick Gardenier is killed in the Marine barrack bombing in Beirut, somebody who might be Saint Peter gives him a choice: Go to Heaven, which while nice might be a little boring, or return to Earth. The Boss has a mission for him and he’s to look for a sign. He’s a Marine: He’ll choose the mission.

 

Unfortunately, the sign he’s to look for is “57.” Which, given the food services contract in Bethesda Hospital, creates some difficulty. Eventually, it appears that God’s will is for Chad to join a group called “Monster Hunters International” and protect people from things that go bump in the night. From there, things trend downhill.

 

Monster Hunter Memoirs is the (mostly) true story of the life and times of one of MHI’s most effective—and flamboyant—hunters. Pro-tips for up and coming hunters range from how to dress appropriately for jogging (low-profile body armor and multiple weapons) to how to develop contacts among the Japanese yakuza, to why it’s not a good idea to make billy goat jokes to trolls.

 

Grunge harkens back to the Golden Days of Monster Hunting when Reagan was in office, Ray and Susan Shackleford were top hunters and Seattle sushi was authentic.

Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge has everything that I’ve come to expect from Ringo: a smart character (in this case, super-genius) taking over-the-top situations, and responding to them very pragmatically. Swarm of zombies? Shoot them in the head. And shoot faster. Have a dream about a mission from God? Well, it could be a dream, or it could be a vision. We’ll see.

Also, “57.” And “do the whole village!”

Heh. You’ll have to read the book to get that one.

One of nice bits of business I liked was the interaction with Agent Franks, where one is fairly certain that our hero was given access codes to a secret handshake between himself and a creature like Franks.

However, if you’re reading this work looking for the John Ringo of Ghost … don’t. First, I never thought the first novel was representative of his work (even representative of the rest of that series). Second, Grunge feels a little bit more like my personal favorite of Ringo’s series: Special Circumstances. And I swear that Ringo immersed himself in Japanese culture and has come back to his Catholic roots — there’s a lot of both in there.

Ringo also brings in politics to the realities of monster hunting. While Larry Correia goes for a more laissez faire attitude between government and private enterprise (“Seriously, federal government, leave us alone”), Ringo has a more intricate view of this. This is due to the fact that Larry’s books are nonstop action pieces that largely take place over the matter of days, while Ringo’s is a look at years of service in a particular region (in this case, Seattle). And even most of the politics boils down to “This is the nuts and bolts of how things get done …. poorly and with plenty of cash.”

From what I can gather, the series will be broken down by region, Grunge is Seattle, Sinners will be New Orleans, and I presume the third one will take place in MHI’s home base of Cazador. But that last one is just a guess.

Due to the way Ringo has this book set up, we get a detailed look at the day to day operations of an MHI outpost — dealing with MCB agents that aren’t running the whole bureau into the ground; occasionally making deals with things and people you’d rather see shot dead, but the sausage has to get made. This doesn’t happen with the main series all that often, because those novels usually start with them up to their neck it, with a truck backing up with another load.

Grunge is a little more laid back. Granted, Chad, our narrator, is … okay, I don’t know why he sleeps with everything that moves, but thankfully, if it’s off-putting to you, you don’t have to worry about it. There’s nothing graphic …. usually, barely anything suggestive …. and doesn’t drastically impact the story a lot.

And everything fits together.  There are plots for this book, and an overarching plot that will spill over into the final book. And while Ringo even tells you who the ultimate bad guy is (and it’s not difficult to deduce), it doesn’t change anything.

Obviously, there are cameos from some of the supporting characters in the series, and I suspect they will play a larger role as Ringo’s series continues.

Overall, I recommend this one. It deals with the politics of monster hunting, how the boots on the ground MHI personnel interact with local law enforcement, and even how locals interact with the feds and the MHI alike. Also, let’s just say that the politics of an otherworldly fashion come into play. And boy, do you want a lawyer for them. Heh.

I suspect the rest of the series will be just plain fun.

Declan Finn is a Dragon Award nominated author. His “Catholic Vampire romance novels” can be found on his personal website. As well as all the other strange things he does.

Appendix N Review

This is a review of Appendix N, … or, Jeffro Johnson’s big book of SFF, and the start of the pulp revolution.

My first experience with RPGs is thinking “Well, I might want to play with a rocket propelled grenade, but I don’t think they’d let me in my neighborhood. New York isn’t any fun.”

My first experience with actual Role Playing Games can boil down to video games. I don’t even mean an extensive look at Final Fantasy (I’ve only played VI and XII). But this includes but Dragon Age: Origins, the complete Neverwinter Nights, and the first Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (which inspired my system for vampires).

Actual RPGs I barely knew about. I got some of the jokes in The Order of the Stick comic. I knew of Gary Gygax. I had vague recollections of the great D&D scare of the 80s. I knew very little about Dungeons & Dragons, and I have no idea of the differences between version one, version two, and version nine (Is there even a version nine?).

I essentially I went into Appendix N cold, with no idea what the title referred to.

For the record, the title refers to the Appendix N of the original D&D dungeon master’s manual, wherein Gygax highlighted and cited all of the various and sundry works that inspired the facets of the world of D&D.

It’s a reading list.

APPENDIX N: The Literary History of Dungeons & Dragons is a detailed and comprehensive investigation of the various works of science fiction and fantasy that game designer Gary Gygax declared to be the primary influences on his seminal role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons. It is a deep intellectual dive into the literature of SF/F’s past that will fascinate any serious role-playing gamer or fan of classic science fiction and fantasy.

Author Jeffro Johnson, an expert role-playing gamer, accomplished Dungeon Master and three-time Hugo Award Finalist, critically reviews all 43 works and authors listed by Gygax in the famous appendix. In doing so, he draws a series of intelligent conclusions about the literary gap between past and present that are surprisingly relevant to current events, not only in the fantastic world of role-playing, but the real world in which the players live.

And this spans …. everybody, really. Fred Saberhagen, Robert E. Howard. Edgar Rice Burrows, Lord Dunsany, Jack Vance, Poul Anderson, Fredric Brown …. I’m not listing all of them here. Many of them I had barely heard of, and some I had never heard of. The end result of a series of critical essays into a — by and large — literary world of pre-Tolkein fantasy.

This not only provides the footnotes for Gary Gygax’s world, but a meticulous study of each element thereof.

At the end of the day, this is also a study of what has been lost, buried alive under a mountain of grimdark, postmodern feces claiming to be “edgy” fantasy, while they are merely just wallowing in the miserable. George RR Martin, I’m looking at you.

Appendix N shows just how fantastic fantasy can be when not bogged down by the arbitrary and capricious rules of “reality,” where “the real” does not equal “the true and the beautiful,” but equals the miserable to such an extent that it thus becomes unreal.

Imagine the epic rap battle of history between Tolkein and Martin, only imagine it done across an entire genre.

This is an impressive work of literary history. In fact, the only problem this work has is in its footnotes. Yes, just the footnotes. You can tell that this is based off of a series of blogs, since some of the footnotes refer to works covered in other months instead of other chapters. And …. that’s it. Considering the effort it takes to make a book out of blogs posts — and trust me, I know — this is quite impressive. There will be some people who have some issues with some of Jeffro’s likes and dislikes of worls such as Star Wars and Tolkien, but we can all survive a difference of opinion.

Five stars all the way. For anyone who wants to see the entire history of a genre at a glance, you need to own this one. Buy it now.

Afterwards, you can go out and buy the books he covers.

Declan Finn is a Dragon Award nominated author. His “Catholic Vampire romance novels” can be found on his personal website. As well as all the other strange things he does.