Farewell your worshipfulness…

“We love you Carrie…”  “I know.”

We all a bit saddened at the death of Carrie Fisher.  Since she had her cardiac incident a few days ago, I had some self-reflection about why her and her character has endured.

Until Star Wars (no number is needed) Fisher was relatively unknown.  Yes, pundits will spout her credits, but to be honest, none of us had seen her face until Star Wars.  The fact she played the role so well with so little experience catapulted her into our collective memory and hearts.

She played a princess that didn’t fit the mold.  Up until that time we had the sugarcoated vision of princesses that Disney had been churning out for decades. Sure, we had Princess Diana (Wonder Woman) but in the end it was her figure that drew us in.  Fisher’s Leia character was a tough, take-charge woman who was as comfortable in diplomatic settings as she was wielding a blaster.  She was a role model without shoving it in your face like so many “stars” try to do today.  A huge part of the appeal of Star Wars is her character and the fact that she did not fit the stereotype of a princess in distress.

Even the other characters like Han Solo, which should have overshadowed hers, were stymied at her audacity and biting lines.  Yes, that was the product of great writing and directing, but in the end it was Carrie Fisher.

Her character fell in love with a guy from the wrong side of the tracks and she made it work.  One of the best moments we had in Rogue One was seeing her there, once more, buns in hair, on the screen again.

And that slave girl costume from Return of the Jedi…well, that was another image we proudly carry thanks to her.

Was she a stunning actress with depth?  Probably not.  She didn’t have to be.  One of my favorite moments recently with her was on Big Bang Theory when James Earl Jones and Sheldon rang her doorbell and ran.  There was something so cool in that one short segment that made even the most stiff and cynical critic grin broadly.

“It’s not funny James!”  “Then why am I laughing?”  

When we saw her in The Force Awakens, we saw that time had stripped some of the veneer off of Fisher but not off of the character she played.  While the years had changed her looks, the spirit was still there and that was all her – all the actress.

She was still our one and only Princess.  She had a father with issues, deep issues.  Yes, she kissed her brother – but we moved past that.  She is gone, and for those of us who proudly refer to ourselves as geeks, we have lost our only true royalty.  Her legacy is one of memory for us.  She will always be in our minds wearing white, hair in buns, blaster at the ready.

For me, like so many, the reflections are personal.  I proudly bear the fond memories of working at the Battle Creek Auto Drive-In for 10 weeks while Star Wars showed every night 1.5 times – to the point when we could do all of the actors parts while we did our jobs.  It never once got old or corny.  I took my children to see the digitally remastered films when they released in theaters, and my grandson to see the new films when they came out.  Carrie Fisher is, for most of us, generational.  Her image is iconic around the globe, which is why we care.

For her to have taken a part in Star Wars was risky…a risk we are all better for her doing.  In her own words, “You came here in that?  You’re braver than I thought!”

Farewell your worshipfulness.  The Force is with you…you are now, truly, one with the Force…


Review of Into the Guns – America Rising – by William Dietz


I am a sucker for novels that deal with the end of the United States and how that would be horrible.  I was in for the John Birmingham’s After America series, though I found myself wanting.  He did a great job of character creation and all – but I struggled with it near the end.

So when I spotted Into the Guns by William C. Dietz, I jumped at it.  Perhaps now I would get some of that satisfaction I felt missing.  I came away liking the book, but felt I was still missing something.

The premise is simple.  In 2018 a meteor shower destroys Washington DC.  War breaks out because everyone assumes it was some sort of an attack.  The results are a fragmented United States stripped of its Federal Government (stop cheering!) and hilarity ensues.

I liked the kickoff premise more than the reality.  Birmingham seemed to factor in a lot of real-world stuff in After America.  Dietz focuses on the characters.  The sole survivor of the cabinet (ala Designated Survivor) paddles his way north from Mexico only to be taken prisoner by a New Confederacy that is setting on most the shattered nation’s oil reserves. The military finds itself splinted into a small bands that fight for survival, trying to retake military bases and protect local citizens.

I won’t shatter the overarching plot for you here – please go and read the book.  Suffice it to say, there is a good strong plot, even if parts if it seem a little forced.  My gripe is that the New Confederacy card is one played out in Alternate History and Sci Fi far too often. Yes, it’s a minor thing – but I would have liked something different…personal choice here.

Dietz shines less with story and more with characterization in this book.  While I can sit here and nit-pick it apart, I won’t.  Look, you have to suspend belief here.  This is less a post-apocalyptic survivors book than it is a gritty military fiction book.  This is where Dietz plays well on his home field and provide readers with some very cool battle scenes.

I give this book four out of five stars.  It is the first time I’ve read the author’s work and I find myself compelled to read more – so it must have been pretty decent.

Review of Fallout by Harry Turtledove


I’m going to try and keep this a spoiler-free review of this novel, so it will be relatively short.  In his first novel in this series, Bombs Away, Turtledove laid an intriguing twist…what if we had used nuclear weapons in the Korean War? How could that have played out?

The answer is a world where B-29’s drop bombs fresh from the factory.  This is not Wargames version of global thermonuclear war…it is slow, grinding, ponderous and painful. It is a bomber war.

In book two, Fallout, we see the results of this war lumbering forward.  There is no quick victory here for the characters.  As with all Turtledove novels I’ve read, he’s got multiple story lines and perspectives in play.  The nature of the war shifts in Fallout, bringing rise to the use of nukes on the battlefields.  Several of the story line characters are on those fields of war and experience first-hand the kind of war we only speculated as children.

Both sides start to break out their WWII surplus tanks and weapons to replace losses.  I know some readers found that far-fetched but in reality, up through the 1960’s, the Soviets maintained a large stockpile of T34/85’s from WWII, just for such an eventuality.  I learned that in my research for my own military history book, The Fires of October.

Personally, I would have enjoyed more battle scenes.  There are some story lines I found myself drawn to.  The woman sent off to the gulags is an angle that is proving interesting and is something of a departure for typical Turtledove characters.  I also love the cliffhanger moments with the English woman who owned a bar in Bombs Away.  I came away from the book thinking about how cursed some people are to having bad things happen to them.

The politics of the war and the rise of Joe McCarthy get some reader-time, but don’t seem to add much to the novel.  I wish that had been explored more as a source of tension.  Then again, knowing Turtledove, he could be holding back an “October Surprise” for us fans.

The book does have a big escalation moment near the end – which I won’t spoil.  It was good – damned good.  It could have been more – but it was still pretty awesome.

People love to take shots at Harry Turtledove’s work, as one of the fathers of contemporary alternate history.  Going after his style, his repetition, his character arcs, etc., is almost cliché at this point.  I won’t go there.  People like to take shots at the people at the top of their game – there’s something very American about it.  I won’t.  I’m enjoying the series.

If you liked Bombs Away, you’ll find Fallout as a good solid novel.  Four out of five stars in my opinion.


Review of Captain America – The Ultimate Guide to the First Avenger by Matt Forbeck

Eat Vibranium 

I’m a big fan of Captain America, I have the entire collection on DVD-ROM and have read them (no minor task mind you) so when I saw that DK was publishing a definitive guide to Cap, I put it immediately on my wish list.  Even better, it was written by Matt Forbeck, a fellow gaming author and comrade in arms.

DK has published some awesome books covering comic books. Their encyclopedias for DC and Marvel are must-haves if you are running a superhero RPG or are just a fan.  This book falls in the same category, concentrating on Captain America starting with the WWII era books up to the present.  I hope that DK is planning more of these hero-cetric books having read this one cover-to-cover.

The very early material interested me the most – the pre-Marvel days when Captain America was punching out Adolph Hitler. There was some material there I was not familiar with (these early works are not in my collection).  Matt did an awesome job of bringing this forward for a new generation.

As you read this book you come to grips that Captain America, Bucky, and Red Skull have been rebooted more times than the James Bond franchise.  A lot of people have picked up the shield over the years and I had forgotten that until I dove into this book.  Forbeck does an outstanding job of walking you through all of the incarnations of this fantastic hero.  I love the summery write-ups of key issues as well.

From a writer’s perspective, I have to applaud Matt’s work here.  For those of you that have never written a book like this, with lead articles and a number of sidebars, it is a lot of logistical work.  Been there – done that.  Forbeck’s prose is tight and there’s a lot of consistency here which I’ll attribute to him (though I’m sure his editor played a role).  Writing a tome like this is not an easy undertaking and keeping it organized had to be a big chore.  Of course we all benefited from it.

I purchased it as a hard copy book so my grandson Trenton could enjoy it.  He took two nights of reading time to flip through every richly illustrated page.  It passed his muster and mine from a reading perspective.  There’s a lot of material here and the stories are all very interesting.  We get all of Cap’s allies and enemies detailed out, as well as how they have morphed over the decades.

I give this five out of five stars if you are a Cap fan.  If not, this will get you up to speed pretty quick.  Pick it up and enjoy!

Doc Savage

Doc Savage
Coming to a screen soon!

When I was in high school a classmate, Scott English, got me to read a Doc Savage paperback and I became hooked.  The books, reprinted in the 1970’s-80’s were reprints of the pulp magazine stories from the 1930’s – yet oddly they seemed to be entertaining to me.  The books were fast and easy to consume and noir settings and cast of characters made them really stand out.

If you don’t know who Doc Savage is; I’m not surprised.  The character was a super-human character that came into being in 1933.  Clark Savage Jr. was the pinnacle of human development, with a brilliant mind and a team of comrades that followed him on world-saving adventures.  The mix of characters that he had with him included an archeologist, a chemist, an electrical engineer, a lawyer, and a construction engineer – all exciting and expanding fields in the 1930’s.  Doc’s team were not some cardboard group of characters.  Some of them didn’t get along with each other (Ham and Monk sparred verbally often – with Monk have a pet pig named after “Ham” Brooks). Thomas “Long Tom” Roberts was an electrical engineer that was the equivalent of a tech-geek today.  They stood out on their own, yet were better when working together.

Savage and his “Fabulous Five” thwarted bad guys that were somewhere between old-school Lex Luthor and Scooby-Doo adversaries.  The evil plans were insidious yet believable in context.  There were fantastic sci-fi technology weapons and tools intertwined into the books, many of which were precursors to technology that would eventually be developed in the real world.  The books were thin paperbacks because they were reprinted pulp stories, really they were novellas in length.

I thoroughly enjoyed them.

Doc Savage (Clark) bore a lot of resemblance to Superman who also emerged later in 1933.  They had above average strength.  Savage had a Fortress of Solitude long before the Man of Steel.  Where Superman was alone, what made Doc Savage work was that he had a team – a Justice League before there was a Justice League.  One must wonder how much of Clark Kent was lifted from Clark Savage Jr.

Doc lived on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building, at the time the tallest building in the world.  He used an autogyro, a zeppelin, and a Batmobile-like car to get around.  He was fabulously wealthy and had a hot cousin, Pat Savage, who also became part of the mix of characters.  Doc was a pulp superhero before all of that existed.

There were a ton of books, pulp magazines, radio shows, comic books, and even a movie made about Doc Savage in 1975 that is best left forgotten.  A new Doc Savage comic books is out now too, so the legend continues.

Ironically, Lester Dent (under the name Kenneth Robeson), who penned most of the stories about Doc and his team considered his work anything but enduring.  For him it was just something he made money at.  Oddly enough, his was some of the only pulp fiction to continue on in book format reprinted decades later.

I saw this week that Dwayne Johnson has been cast to play Doc Savage in an upcoming film adaptation of the Man of Bronze (Doc’s nickname thanks to his George Hamilton tan).  I have to say I’m a little bit excited.  Doc Savage consumed a chunk of my allowance as a kid.  Yes, the stories were as formulaic as a Dukes of Hazzard episode, but there was always a twist or two that caught you off guard.  What made the books work was the mix of distinct characters which Lester Dent combined and shuffled to make for unique adventures.   Doc Savage is part Indiana Jones, part superhero, and a touch of pre-war nostalgia all wrapped in one neat bundle.

In fairness, I haven’t gone back to the books to see if the stories still captivate me the way they did back in my youth.  A part of me doesn’t want to know.  I have the memories and that is enough for me.

I have always been surprised that no one published a Doc Savage RPG.  The wealth of source material out there would make it a natural.

I know the naysayers out there will blast the project before the ink is dry on the script.  Most will decry that Doc doesn’t have a place in our fast-paced world – that he is too cartoony for us to enjoy.  The one thing the internet has done is made us a nation of bitter cynics who delight in tearing things apart even if we haven’t seen it.  I have no illusions that Dwayne Johnson is some academy award winning actor – but that doesn’t mean he can’t and won’t capture some the essence of the character.  I know one thing, I will be going to catch the film when it opens and I am sure it will conjure up some fantastic memories.

When I heard the movie was coming, the first thing I said was, “I’ll be superamalgamated,” one of Doc’s team (William Harper “Johnny” Littlejohn’s) favorite sayings.  Yeah, I’m geeky and I’m comfortable with that.  Bring your A Game Dwayne Johnson, those of us that like Doc Savage are expecting a lot.

Progress on my new BattleTech novel

Exodus Road
A trip down memory lane (note, this is not a hint about the new book…or is it, quineg?) 

I started two weeks ago on a NEW BattleTech novel and it is starting to gain momentum.  It hit the 16k word count out of at least 90k for the entire book.  Not bad given that I do my writing at night (after my day job) and on weekend.  I stress “new” because a lot of my older novels are going back into reprint under the BattleTech Legends banner.  (And yes, I have convinced myself that the “Legends” refers to us authors, not the stories.)

This wasn’t the first story I proposed.  The editor and I worked out a cool idea at GenCon last year for a neat book set in the Jihad (the WHOLE Jihad).  That idea didn’t get shot down, but it was clearly going to take a lot to rework the storyline.  As such my editor, John Helfers, asked “do you have any other ideas?”

Yes, yes I did.  A whopper.  One that crossed multiple eras and tied together some loose ends in the BattleTech universe.  One that had some powerful and neat characters to boot.

First and foremost was getting the story approved and tweaked.  I got feedback from the good folks at Catalyst about some incredibly minor changes – which I either accepted or adjusted to make work.  With the story in hand, you would think that this is simply a matter of sitting down to write it – right?  I mean, I’ve written 11-ish BattleTech novels, heavy on the “ish,” so it should be old hat for me. *


BattleTech novel writing is complex.  This is like writing a doctoral thesis.  There are time you almost want to put in the footnotes.  There is a LOT of material out there in the BattleTech universe that I have to factor in.  I’ve been keeping up (boy that Jihad dragged on) but now, after years of being away from BattleTech, I need to write a book that most of the fans out there will devour.  I’m not saying that I’m rusty, but if you don’t do something for a long time, it can take a while to get back in the saddle again.

You have to remember, I’m a fan of BattleTech as well as being an author.

To do that, I have to re-read no less than six books, some of which I wrote.  BattleTech fans are fact-checkers with attitudes, so I needed to get things lined up properly in my own head.  I had to crawl back into the belly of the beast and relearn BattleTech again.  I broke out the rules books and did some research to make sure that, for the most part, I adhered to the game functions.  I admit I do fudge some of the battle scenes now and then because the fiction gives you a lot more freedom than the rules offer.

It has been a long time since I sat down and read one of my own books.  You would think all of that stuff would still be stored in my brain in active memory.  Wrong.  First off, some of these books were written almost two decades ago (some much sooner).  Second, I write a lot of stuff, so the things that are in my memory get a little fuzzy.

Some things I learned, my writing style has changed over time.  I think it’s better, but that’s not for me to say – that’s for the readers.  I embraced some of my old characters again with new perceptions about them. The new novel will be told through the eyes of two primary characters (and one other minor one) that I needed to develop character arcs for – the larger uber-story of the journey of these characters.   Since these characters will be familiar to readers already I think it’s important to see them evolve and change.

This book also covers a lot of territory time-wise.  So it’s not just a matter of boning up on the Clans, I have to also rekindle the memories of The Dark Age.

Perhaps the most challenging is dovetailing all of this into existing canon and novels.  I like to think I’ve pulled that off.  There are some scenes where quite literally, I recreated the scene out of a Mike Stackpole or Tom Gressman novel, but from another character’s point of view.

I just finished a big battle chapter which was a lot of fun.  Clan combat nuances and language can be tricky, not to mention combat Trials.  I’m also dealing with some Clans that haven’t gotten a lot of fiction exposure in the past, which means I’m digging through old source material to make sure I get their feel right.

The best news – I’ve been asked to start thinking about the cover art.  In the past, I was asked to submit a couple of possible chapters and the art director went off and the magic somehow happened and I was surprised as hell when the book came out.  Catalyst is actually asking for my input on the cover.  While my artistic skill is rated at zero (stick people are complicated for me) I’m actually excited to work with the Art Director Brent Evans on coming up with an awesome cover.  (Brent and I know each other VERY well, but we rarely do BattleTech stuff together.)

Oh, I should have included that I am including a few select players names in the book.  I’m kind of doing that at random.  The characters are not based on these individuals.  I wanted to give some of the fanboys out there a chance to be IN a BattleTech novel.  Hopefully they will help spread the word once it is out.

So, that’s the update.  A sea of planetary maps, a barrage of “quiaffs?” and the smell of ozone from a near miss of a particle projection cannon…just a typical day writing in the bunker.   You know what they say, “No Guts – No Galaxy.”

* I performed the extensive re-write of Star Lord back in the day.  Don’t ask…

Review of Amerika – Alternate History by Paul Lally

Nazi’s, A-Bombs, and General Patton.  What could go wrong?

Spoilers below!  This was a novel that seemed to have a lot of potential but seemed to fail on delivery for me.  It’s a “Nazi’s got the A-bomb” book, with some neat twists.  The Germans attacked on the day after Pearl Harbor, nuking Washington DC and New York.  America goes all neutral on Germany’s ass.  The German’s press the war on, nuking other capital cities around the globe but get bogged down in a war deep in Russia.

The story centers on a pilot of a rundown flying boat living under the heels of Nazi dominated neutrality.  America however is not entirely on the ropes.  General George S. Patton and the Sons of Liberty are planning to send the Nazi’s reeling with a diabolical plan of their own involving using a captured German nuke on our own reactors to prevent the Nazi’s from getting our plutonium – since they have exhausted their own supply.

Hilarity ensues.

Generally I am all over a book with Patton in it.  I’m a sucker for Patton, having read many of his biographies.  Patton’s role in the book proved to be fairly limited however.

I had two issues with the book.  One, it seemed to waste a lot of text on flying airplanes.  It was buried in pointless technical dialogue that didn’t help the story along.

Second, the plot itself was clumsy.  Why bomb our own source of plutonium production?  America is a big place and hiding our stash would have been easier and faster than nuking t.  It just felt forced to me, and a bit unnecessary.  Also, we have Nazi troops landing in Washington and Louisiana, clearly violating our neutrality, but it never even seems to make the press or airwaves in the book.

The one thing I did love about the plot is it’s like watching a 1940’s film akin to Casablanca.  The dialogue is good (when it’s not about flying a plane) and it has that 1940’s spy film feel to it.  The characters come right out of central casting and each has a good arc in the story.  Paul Lally made me like some characters and hate the bad guys.

The writing is solid too. Mr. Lally is clearly talented and his prose are crisp.  He weaves in dialogue from the 1940’s masterfully.  I only wish I had subscribed to his plot more than I did.  I give this book three and a half stars out of five.  It’s fair, if you want to read another Nazi bomb story.