Review: A State of Disobedience

This is an older review (pre-blog) that I’m posting here because the book is currently available for FREE on Amazon. Go get a copy!

A State of Disobedience
A State of Disobedience by Tom Kratman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The amount of Awesome in this book is incalculable! If you are liberal in any way, do not read this book! Seriously, you might have convulsions, so don’t do it! If you are a conservative, read it and behold the awesome!

This is not one of my usual Sci-Fi books, but I chose it because I had read Kratman’s collaborations with John Ringo (Posleen Universe) in the Military Sci-Fi vein. This one is not exactly a Mil Sci-Fi, but more a Political Sci-Fi with Miltary involvement. The story is about the next civil war, if you want to call it that, beginning in the state of Texas when the power mongering POTUS sends the FBI (and the new Surgeon General’s Riot Control Police) to stomp on some abortion protestors. Things go way wrong, way fast, and the resulting tragedy is more that the Governor can stand. The story then begins to illustrate how things have gotten to the point of insanity, how the scenario could play out, and how, just maybe, the federal government could be brought back under control.

I absolutely loved every minute of this read, and would love to see more like it. I give it 5 stars and the call it a Super Awesome Kick-Ass Read!

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Review: StoryHack Action Adventure, Issue 0

StoryHack Action Adventure, Issue 0
StoryHack Action Adventure, Issue 0 by Bryce Beattie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked this intro issue up just to see what it might be about, and the quality of the works chosen. This lower rating on this review isn’t necessarily fair because it is based on a faulty expectation on my part, but since I do these on Goodreads mainly as a reminder to ME of what I liked/disliked about the book/magazine/story, I have to give it anyway.

My biggest problem with it was not really the writing itself, but the sub-genre choices. I can’t say that anything in it stood out as a really great story, but they were all interesting in one way or another. The theme of the magazine is ‘Action & Adventure’, but I found that it leaned a bit heavily toward fantasy (magic) and the supernatural. That’s not bad, but it was not what I was expecting to read in it. They all fit the larger envelope, yes, but I want some sci-fi too. Robots or aliens or time travel, or maybe even dinosaurs would have helped. Thriller/spy stuff would have been a boost, too. Unfortunately, it’s just not in here.

Below are my reviews for the stories themselves:

A Tiger in the Garden” by Alexandru Constantin (2 stars)

Summary from Goodreads: A disgraced and exiled noble, stripped of his status, spends his days drinking and whoring in the exotic jungle colonies. When pressed to pay his debts he gets entangled in a deadly plot involving deceit, murder, and the dark magic of the deep jungle.

I didn’t care for this one much. It took an unexpected twist at the end that seemed sudden and basically changed the sub-genre from pirate adventure to paranormal.

The Monster Without” by Julie Frost (2.5 stars)

Summary from Goodreads: A werewolf private eye with serious save-the-damsel issues is on the hunt for the killer of a teenage girl. When a woman hires him to protect her from her abusive boyfriend, the cases collide in a way that may cost him his sanity-if not his life.

Urban fantasy/supernatural/noir combo that seemed like something I’ve read or seen before. Not bad, but I don’t like the supernatural stuff.

Hal Turk and the Lost City of the Maya” by David Boop (3 stars)

Summary from Goodreads: A Texan bounty hunter has chased a criminal through Mexico and into Guatemala. Can he survive when he and his quarry fall captive to a bloodthirsty, long-forgotten ancient civilization?

Entertaining, but the main is a bit of a Mary Sue.

King of Spades” by David J. West (3 stars)

Summary from Goodreads: What happens when the dead come back to haunt us? General Joab has to find a way to free his king from the rising specter of a long thought dead Goliath.

I was very interested in this story from the start, as I have not seen many alternate takes on Biblical history like this. Unfortunately, once the source of the trouble was revealed, I was back to the ‘I really don’t like paranormal so much’ point again. I would have probably been able to suspend that, but the ending fell flat for me. I don’t see historic David reacting that way, so I just ended up thinking…’meh’.

“Desert Hunt” by Jon Mollison (4 stars)

Summary from Goodreads: The first steps in Karl Barber’s hunt for the leaders of a human trafficking ring land him in the ancient city of Cairo. His investigation takes an unexpected turn when the fate of a single girl compels him to strike before he’s ready.

Good, but too short. I wanted more. This is the type of story I was expecting in the magazine.

The Chronicle of the Dark Nimbus” by Keith West (3 stars)

Summary from Goodreads: A cursed prince, is living in exile with his squire until the curse can be broken. They have been sent by their royal sorcerer to protect a thaumaturgist from assassination.

This one was a good action story in the fantasy genre. It starts in the middle and ends in the middle of an overarching tale that you don’t get to know about though. It felt like a chapter in an adventure novel.

Menagerie” by Steve Dubois (1 star)

Summary from Goodreads: In the Victorian era, a teenage countess and her motley band encounter a plot to restore the Confederate States of America.

The League of Extrodinary Goofballs outsmarts them dumb ole Rebels that just don’t know when to pick their own stinkin’ cotton. This one is clichéd as hell. It has a few funny moments, but not enough to save it from the awful plot.

Daughter of Heaven” by Shannon Connor Winward (4.5 stars)

Summary from Goodreads: A dealer of ancient artifacts flies to Mars to identify a particularly interesting piece. Can he survive when he triggers the fulfillment of a world-destroying prophecy?

Best story in the set just from sheer scope. Great imagery, and a very nice imagining of a universal scale calamity.

Dead Last” by Jay Barnson (3.5 stars)

Summary from Goodreads: A junior-level agent for a modern-day magical cabal on embarks on his first field assignment. When a necromancer turns his contacts into gun-toting zombies, he must use every bit of his wits, talents, and sometimes inappropriate sense of humor to survive.

This is a better than average story due to some neat ‘tricks’ of the characters. Still, it is paranormal/magic kind of stuff which is not what I was wanting to read in this magazine.

So, maybe my expectations were off. Could it be that my mental taste buds were expecting savory and got sweet? Possibly. The stories were well written, just not my cup of tea. Unfortunately, the average comes out just under 3 stars. I’ll be generous and round up. Maybe the next issue will be better. I’d probably give it a shot. So, this one gets 3 stars and I call it a Variable Read.

If you want to give this one a try yourself, you can sign up for the newsletter and received a free copy at www.storyhack.com.

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Review: Tanager’s Fledglings

Tanager's Fledglings
Tanager’s Fledglings by Cedar Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This exciting coming of age tale among the stars really explores what it’s like to be an introvert that still needs people. Jem is a young man whose adopted patron has left him with a good education, a well founded route through the inhabited start systems in which to ply his trade, and a trading ship – the Scarlet Tanager – to do it in… if he can keep it.

The story is fun and engaging. You discover the star lanes, stations, and hazards of space travel as the main character experiences his first solo journey as a full-fledged ships captain… complete with dangers and decisions that he’s never had to make before. Despite a somewhat sedate pacing at first, with a good bit of youthful angst mixed in, you will definitely be pulled into the action as Jem is pulled into the happenings surrounding his various ports of call. From space mine rescues, to battling bureaucrats, to repelling boarders, when the other shoe drops, you soon find that Captain Jem, despite his self-doubts, is quite the man of action… ‘when needs must’. But he still has time for taking care of puppies!

There is also a very deep intrigue afoot in the galaxy, which reveals itself, along with a character from a prequel. I read the prequel first (which I liked very much), and after due consideration, I recommend that order. You could read it after without a problem, but I think my knowing something ahead of time made this book feel a bit more exciting as it was revealed to the characters. But, hey, YMMV. Discovering the history of one of the main characters after reading this might be right up someone’s alley!

Only two small complaints kept me from giving five stars here. First, in several places I saw a tendency to split phrases at points more indicative of verbal conversation. Unfortunately, they were not good, as I sometimes lost track of the subject, for reading through. (<– like that but maybe not quite so exaggerated). It threw me off my reading stride because I like to make sure I get the ‘tone’ of what I’m reading correct. When I fail, I have to go back and ‘try again’… and I hate do-overs! 🙂 Secondly, I did feel like the ending was somewhat abrupt. Not horribly so, but there is a lot of build up of the unknown outcome of Jem’s continued Captaincy after he completes his first trade circuit, but at the end it is given a quick-pass explanation which was I expecting to be more… IDK, just more. Then again, to paraphrase something I read in this novel… Since I’m not perfect, “I cannot be the bottleneck through which everything has to pass.” because “There’s another name for that.”
You should definitely judge for yourself, because the book is really good.

To conclude, the lead-up to a sequel is excellent, and I look forward to picking it up. I give this novel four starts and call it a Fully Fledged Adventurous Read!

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There’s No Dark Side to Critical Role – A Fisk of TheDMsCraft Video

This is not my normal blog fare. This is not a book review or some creative writing. This blog is about Dungeons & Dragons, and specifically about a video regarding Live Broadcast RPGs on the internet.

 

If you have never watched Critical Role, then this post is probably not going to make much sense to you. If you’ve never played D&D, or some other RPG (or at least watched someone play), then it definitely won’t. If you have, then you can get the gist of the discussion.

For those who don’t know, but want to keep reading… a bit of background…

The internet (youtube, twitch.tv, etc.) has created a platform for game streaming of all kinds: Video, Tabletop, RPGs, etc. RPGs themselves are a big & expanding part of that.

Critical Role is self-deCRshowPage-241x160[1]scribed as a program where ‘a bunch of nerdy-ass voice actors get together and play Dungeons & Dragons’. It can be seen live on Geek & Sundry’s Twitch Channel Thursday’s at 7PM PST (10PM EST). It is nearly up to 100 episodes, most of which are at least 3 to 4 hours long, with many going longer. You can find all the back episodes on YouTube as well. The DM & players are Voice Actors with huge presences in video games, anime, and other media.  The cast is made up of Matthew Mercer as DM and the players: Liam O’Brien, Laura Bailey, Ashley Johnson, Travis Willingham, Sam Riegel, Taliesin Jaffee, and Marisha Ray. The most well known actress in the group is Ashley Johnson who plays Patterson from Blind Spot, and was also the child star who played Chrissy in Growing Pains. Taliesin Jaffee also played several child star roles, including the little boy with the woobie in Mr. Mom. IMDB these folks, and you will find a lot of credits. Anyway, it’s an excellent, entertaining show that I really enjoy watching each week.

If you want to see what it’s about, you can find Episode One here.  They start out seemingly ‘low budget’ in quality, but trust me, it gets progressively better and is so worth it. If you do start watching it, start from the beginning, and please come back and let me know. I would find it quite pleasing to know that someone began their CR journey through my blog!

Now, back to the subject of the blog…

After seeing this video by TheDMsCraft cross-posted on the Critical Role Fan Club on Facebook, I just had to comment on it. As a Critter, a fan of Critical Role, it seemed to me to be a video full of opinions that were pretty much all-around wrong, IMHO. DM Scotty seems to have a bit of an ego, and I think this video shows him to be feeling somewhat threatened in his niche. Anyway, it irritated me, as a fan, so I’m fisking the video. Topic points are paraphrased or summarized.

Watch the video first. Fisking below:

  • “I don’t feel that RPGs are a great spectator sport.”

Of course you don’t. That’s because you are looking at it from the perspective of control. You are a DM, and you don’t control this one. That grates on you, doesn’t it?

But, let’s examine the reason you actually stated. You are comparing it to the experience you get as a player; as someone who wants to be immersed and BE the ROLE PLAYER. However, if you actually watch the shows (which I suspect you have not, or at least not much because you are pre-biased against the possibility of it being good), you will soon come to realize that you can still get an emotional connection with the players and their characters. You can become vicariously attached to them in an emotionally satisfying way. And if the Player is great at it, it will have much more pull than you can imagine. This is no different from any long running series. Soap Operas, for instance have a very similar ongoing story that millions of people follow daily. Reality/Talk Shows pull in millions for short intense sessions of immersion in someone else’s lives (scripted or not)… think of these as One Shots. These are all spectator sport RPG analogs.

Can you get the same experience out of WATCHING an RPG vs. playing a character in one? No. It’s different. It’s not meant to give you that experience, it’s meant to give you a similar, yet unique one. And, since it’s mostly a new form of entertainment that’s evolving, we (fans and producers) are just discovering the actual format differences. Critical Role is not Acquisitions Incorporated, and neither of those is Harmon’s Quest… but none of them are ‘wrong fun’, and they all have loyal and large audiences. That fact alone disproves the initial argument.

  • The Camera Effect

Yes, there is a camera effect. It was noticeable when Critical Role started. It is still there now. They do tend to keep the audience in mind… as they should. They are not playing a home game for self entertainment. Although some fans argue – ad nauseum – that it’s ‘THEIR GAME’, they ARE playing for an audience. Granted, they have fun, and they have said that if it ever becomes ‘not fun’ for them then they will probably stop playing. Fair enough. But yes, Matthew Mercer as DM, with obvious consent from the players, guides the story to be ‘non-boring’ and keep it moving forward. For example: Shopping – a boring thing mostly, is done off-line, or when it’s done live, there are lots of comedic moments involved. If it gets bogged down, Mercer clamps down on it. Other example: Crafting – planned and done off-line for the most part. Other other examples: Character Advancement, XP awards, etc. All these things are not something the audience wants to watch unfold (well, some of us really nerdy folks might, but not most) so it gets done offline. That’s for the camera. So, yes the effect is there. So what? What’s wrong with that? Answer: nothing.

If what you are really concerned about is the effect on the way characters are played, then I have to say it is even less, and as time goes by, the camera is mostly forgotten and they just play their game. This is true for all the live RPGs I’ve ever watched. The Critical Role cast is a very talented group, and they do it very well. They also had the added benefit of established characters coming into the live stream. The cast of Aquisitions Incorporated plays toward the audience more, but I have also seen them tell the audience to shut-it! The new AI C-Team is very ‘chat’ participatory (Jerry Holkins actually lets them make narrative choices and refers to them as the Shadow Council). These Camera Effects are bonuses in my opinion. They don’t take anything away from the enjoyment, they add to it. The premise that the Camera Effect is in some way ‘bad’ or ‘negative’ is another ‘your fun is wrong’ statement that should not be applied to a Live View RPG event. Again, it is not the same as playing yourself, and it should not have to be.

  • DM Scotty would never make a basic mistake.

Oh come on dude! If you are as great/seasoned as you claim, then you should know that: A) No one knows all the rules, and B) The rules are made up, so changing them is OK, too. It’s right there in the DM guide… go lawyer it… I mean, look it up.

  • I’m the Best DM

Who are you again? Other than this video someone posted because you pissed them off, I’ve never heard of you before now.

  • Danger of Critical Role – Unreasonable Expectations

Yes, Scotty, we Critters understand that these are professional voice actors we are watching. No, they did not start out with the best equipment. It got better because the fans supported the show because they were just that good.

It is not edited, other than for rebroadcast. And why would you worry about someone watching the show being discouraged from playing because they can’t produce a twitch video? Didn’t you just say that the point of the game (paraphrase of your words) was to become a character, not show off for an audience? Your fears seem more to me like justifications for you dislike of something that is becoming more successful than you THINK you are. Again, who are you?

Also, you obviously don’t know squat about the Critter Community that’s sprung up around this show, or even Matt Mercer’s GM Tips. For those attempting to become GMs BECAUSE OF CRITICAL ROLE (tons of new face…BTW), the fact that they will not be close to flawless (aka, Mercer Level), and will have to work at it, is something that is known. And yes, they understand that playing does not require the use of many voices for characters, PC or NPC. We’re not as stupid as you must think. #WeKnow

The other thing you are not aware of, or simply discount, is that this community is very supportive. It’s a place where encouragement abounds. Tips, tricks, resources, and advice are freely shared here, and that, I believe, is going to grow Critters into a DM showcase. (Hmmm… Critter Certified DM has a nice ring to it. It should be on a shirt, maybe… or the bottom of a mug at least.) So, perhaps you don’t know enough about the audience of this show to even comment on things like this. Or, maybe you do, and that’s why you feel threatened in your niche? Either way, it’s an audience that you have very much riled up.

So, dear blog readers…to sum up…

Critical Role is a show that has succeeded beyond the expectations of anyone. It brought me into the world of D&D. I now play on a regular basis because of it. I will probably DM eventually. The rise in popularity of D&D, at this point in time, is a direct result of this show. I know it existed way before, but CR was a tipping point. I have a feeling D&D is about to peek it’s head into ‘mainstream’, which brings with it a whole other set of challenges for the ‘old school’ players. DM Scotty seems to be one of those. He’s seems worried that too many people will start having fun the wrong way, and maybe change the landscape too much for him. He doesn’t seem to realize that the side effect is that more people will enjoy the game the way he does as well, thus growing and giving new life to it. It’s going to be OK, Scotty. We can have our fun while you still have yours too.

Be Pleased.

Review: Machine World

Machine World
Machine World by B.V. Larson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Have you ever known an intelligent person who routinely made stupid decisions because it seemed as if actually trying to think was painful to them? Meet James McGill, one of the smartest dumb-asses you’ll ever run across in science fiction. He’s just in the Earth Mercenary Corp because everyone has to have a job, and it might as well be this one. Despite the fact that he’s a voluntary soldier, he really hates taking orders that he finds to be stupid, which are most of them. That always gets him into trouble with almost every side of every situation he encounters… which of course means he up for promotion!

There are flaws in this book. I don’t care about them. It was fun to read, just like the others have been. There is just the right amount of intrigue mixed with ass-kickery to satisfy. The only slow parts (to me at least) were the agonizing self-manufactured woman troubles that McGill allows to happen.

The flaws that I chose to ignore are mostly the characters decision making processes. As soon as you think you know how McGill will react, nope… he does something else. He’s tends to be overly forgiving of some pretty hellish grievances from others, and he is lucky almost to a Mary-Sue fault.
The major flaw in this book which cost it the 5th star from me is the fact that two of the main antagonists were known to be in collusion by McGill at about 2/3 through the book, but at the very end it was stated that he only suspected it. This was an editorial mistake, but it was very glaring, because many of McGill’s decisions were based off that collusion being a fact, not a suspicion.

Still, I don’t want to just talk about the flaws. The action and world building were detailed without getting overly bogged down. The galactic, as well as human, political intrigue is still intense, and widening. The series is definitely going places, and intend to keep following it.

I give this book four stars and call it a Just Shut-Up and Enjoy The Ride Read.
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Review: The Whisperer in Darkness

The Whisperer in Darkness
The Whisperer in Darkness by H.P. Lovecraft

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It was in my daily search of the internet for meaningless things, many of which connect unerringly to even more meaningless things – that is to say additional meaningless things rather than things that have even less meaning (although that too is potentially an outcome) that I happened across this short tome of bush-beating horror. Having read previous Lovecraftian lore, and realizing that this should be a somewhat simple endeavor, being only slightly over sixteen thousand words, I began to read. The tale of creeptastical fantasy and lore ever so slowly unwound with the typical style.

Herewith is an example of said style.

The story of which you are about to read is a scary one in which horrendously putridienous things occur. You will no doubt find them difficult to believe. If I had not been witness to them myself, I would hardly believe them either, but I assure you they are completely true; although I no longer have any evidence of their veracity, and find myself on the verge of insanity from just trying to get started telling you this story in a very long and meandering sentence. But first, you must look at this bush. It may seem to be an ordinary bush, and quite possibly it is, but it might not be, so pay close attention while I beat around its edges to make sure. I assure you that by doing so, I will extend the anticipation and sense of impending doom to a level that makes the really bad scary thing seem that much more so in the end.

Boo.

End style sample:

And there you have it. Lovecraftian horror at it’s core.

Oh, the story was pretty good. The narrator was an idiot who couldn’t resist the lure of the fantastical and almost ended up in a bad way. It’s not that long, so if you like Lovecraft, go read it. It’s free.

http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/t…

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Review: The Chronothon: A Time Travel Adventure

The Chronothon: A Time Travel Adventure
The Chronothon: A Time Travel Adventure by Nathan Van Coops

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is non-stop action adventure from start to finish. It’s a well written stand-alone sequel that grabs you and won’t let go. I’ve read lots of cool and interesting time-travel sci-fi books, but this is one of THE BEST action adventure based stories that I can remember. It honestly ranks right up there with Dinosaur Beach by Keith Laumer to me.

In this sequel, the author doesn’t spend a lot of time rehashing the tech, or the ‘how we got to this point in the story’. If you want that, go read the first book in the series before you read this one. It’s great too, so it won’t be a waste of your time. You can jump straight in to this one though without much of an info lag. There are only about four main characters that are transferred from book one that you need to know about: the protagonist, Ben Travers; Mym Quickly, his burgeoning love interest; her father, Dr. Harold Quickly – the inventor of time travel; and their friend Abe, the former watchmaker who now makes their chronometers. These are expanded upon, but all others are new introductions.

The story itself is about the still newbie time traveler, Ben, getting unwittingly caught up in the machinations of a Time Mobster that forces him to participate in the Chronothon… a time race. The action, one it gets rolling, does not stop. If you are an impatient reader, you will not even sigh once the race starts. The action is fast paced, dangerous, paradoxical, and often humorous.

If action adventure, intrigue and sci-fi are your thing, then you should definitely read this book. And go back and get the first one if you haven’t read it. I’m eagerly moving on to the third in the series. I give this book five stars and call it a Fantastic Read!

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Review: In Times Like These

In Times Like These
In Times Like These by Nathan Van Coops

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! I really enjoyed this book! It’s a well thought out time travel concept. It has great characterization. The story is always on the move… sometimes so fast you have to pay very close attention to keep up! I loved it.

So, what would you do if you were accidentally zapped backward in time? 2009 to 1986 is definitely a culture shock experience for a group of four twenty-something Saint Petersburg, Florida residents who find themselves in exactly that situation. Luckily for them, time travel is actually a fairly common thing. Not so lucky for them, it’s also dangerous as hell! Especially when you have to learn things the hard way because of a serial killer who also tagged along for the time-ride!

The writing style of this novel did give me a bit of heartburn at first, being written in first person present tense. You wouldn’t think tense would matter in a time travel book, would you? It took me a while to shake that off and get into the story. Luckily, the story was engrossing enough for me to ‘get used to it’. The characters developed quickly, and I soon found myself truly concerned with their plight.

I can highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys time travel novels. It’s one of the better ones! I give it 5 stars and call it a Fantastic Read.

What’s really awesome is that it’s Book 1 of 3 (so far?).

If you would like to read it, as of the posting time of this blog post is is FREE on Amazon.

Now… On to the Sequel! The Chronothon

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Heart of the Glade

Heart of the Glade

Tales of Kids Machina – A Critical Role FanFic Shortstory

by J.D. Beckwith

 

“I’m telling you, Max, she went this way!” Mercy said from above him as she pointed her ring bedazzled finger in the direction of the nearby wood. The carpet she lay on wobbled a bit as a gust of wind caught it, threatening to overturn its tiny ten year old passenger.

“You were just as sure the other day too, but you and Raven spent two hours wandering around wondering how I was throwing twigs at you,” Max retorted with a snide chuckle.

“Just because you cheated with that invisibility potion you ‘borrowed’ from Uncle Gilmore’s store doesn’t mean Raven will. She’s tricky, but she plays fair.”

Max sticks his tongue out at his sister. “As father always says: ‘The prodigious implementation of ingenuity is not cheating’.”

Mercy rolls her eyes and replies, “Well, as mother always says: ‘Let the ranger do the tracking, and the barbarian do the hacking’. There’s a patch of folded over touch-me-nots with a patch of flowers missing right over there. She went that way.”

“I am NOT a barbarian,” Max groused as he takes out his spy glass and trains it on the patch of flowers. After studying it for a moment he put it away and said with a very matter-of-fact tone, “You’re right. She went this way.” He then began walking in the direction indicated as if it was his intention all along.

This particular round of their daily game of Stealth and Perception had been going on for almost an hour already. Aunt Kiki had let them go early from their daily druid crafting session, and since Aunt Cassandra was busy entertaining some Tal’Dorei high muckety-mucks, today’s civics lesson had also been postponed. The girls had decided to forego a time limit on the round, which was testing Max’s patience. He really wanted to get back to his tinkering shop try out the newest set of tools his Uncle Tarry had sent to him. Instead, here he was stomping through the meadows around Whitestone looking for cousin Raven’s hiding place. He knew he’d never be left alone unless he ‘trained’ (as she called it) with this twin for a while.

As they made their way to the edge of the small patch of woods just south of town, they carefully tested what they saw against their memory of the area, looking for anything ‘out of place’. “I’m going to go higher,” Mercy said.

“Not too high. You know the wind gets tricky above treetop level this time of day. I don’t’ want to have to drag you back to Momma Pike’s Temple again.” Max reminded her.

“Yes, I know, worry-wort”, she said as she gained altitude. Mercy hung tightly to the edge of the carpet as she made a circuit of the small glade. She sighed as she noticed Trinket watching from a nearby hilltop. She had been about to go higher, but she knew he would report her to her mom later if she did. He took his responsibilities as High Guardian of the de Rolo Clan very seriously. Even though he was a tattletale bear, she did love him very much. She waved at him, and he raised one paw and waved back to her. She smiled as she continued her search.

She saw her brother flipping through his sketchbook, no doubt comparing some drawing or other he had of this glade to its current state. As she skirted the treetops, they became denser toward the center of the glade, making it hard to see into the interior. Seeing nothing immediately eye-catching, she continued on until she was over the south road – the agreed to boundary for their game – and lowered herself to just above head height in order to see over the brush and hedges along the woods edge into its heart. As she glided her way slowly back towards town, she caught a glimpse of movement.

“I’ve found something,” she whispered after touching a small stone on her earring.

“Well, what is it?” Max replied through the earpiece.

“I’m about to go check. It’s not far from you. West side of the glade, near the old rock overhang you fell off that time.”

“On my way.” he replied.

As she approached the spot where the motion was, she saw several small mice scamper across a turtle’s shell as they make their way around a fifteen or so foot tall rock jutting up sideways from the ground. Behind it, she can see the wide trunk of a small tree. It looked like a miniature version of the Sun Tree, but scaled down to a tenth or less of the size. This was odd, because the lowest branches seemed too large to be barely five feet off the ground. She smiled, knowing this must be Raven trying out her polymorph skills again. As she stealthily edged around the up-thrust of stone on her carpet, she saw her brother approach out of the corner of her eye. He nodded to her as he smiled and began a crouching walk up the rock.

Turning her focus back to the spot where Raven’s tree-form was, she prepared to yell out a shout of ‘Found you!’, but stopped herself quickly when she took in what is possibly the oddest sight she has ever witnessed in her young life. Before her, the tree-form of her druidic cousin, Raven, had revealed her face and shoulders from the side of her bark covered self. One finger of her right hand, complete with twig and leaf sticking up from the tip, hovered over her mouth in the gesture for silence as she stared at Mercy.

Her left hand casually stroked the silky strands of shoulder-length silvery-white hair of a young male goliath that was asleep with his back resting on her trunk. His ears were quite odd for a goliath, as they stuck out and wrapped around toward the back of his head, almost touching, with small whisker-thin wisps at the ends. Starting at the tips of those ears, and flowing down across his grayish-blue skinned face, neck, and bare muscular chest – even down through the leather waistcloth kilt he wears – all the way to his bare feet, ran a pattern of markings. Mercy had seen goliath fate marks before, but never had she seen so many curved ones. These seem to flow around his eyes, nose and ears more like water instead of the normal jagged lightning bolt style she knew.

She found it difficult to focus on anything but him for a long moment until a large brown lump, which she had taken to be a mound of dirt, suddenly shifted. It raised its head up and opened its jaws into a huge fang encrusted yawn which snaps shut with startling force. Then the snout turned and fell onto the stomach of the young goliath, who let out a small grunt and flopped a hand over the muzzle. Both the boy and the beast still slept as Raven continued to stroke the boy’s hair.

“Isn’t he beautiful?” Raven whispered to Mercy.

Mercy gave Raven one of her patented ‘You’re so weird’ looks, then started to ask “Who is…” However, before she can utter the third syllable, her brother suddenly stood atop the rock and shouted.

“Aha! Aren’t you a little short for a Sun Tree, Raven!”

The sudden shout caused the pair of sleepers to startle awake. The creature immediately jumped between Max and his goliath companion, who scrambled away on all fours while fumbling to pick up a small quarterstaff that had been lying by his side. As he regained his footing, he turned to face them trying to snarl like his companion, but the fear on his face made it into more of a comical grimace.

“Wait! They’re friends!” Raven shouted. She quickly transformed back into her true form, with small black wings peaking from her shoulders and tiny two pointed antlers atop her head. She held her hands palm out toward the boy and his guardian, but then clumsily swept one in front of her as an errant gust blew a tangle of her red hair across her heavily freckled face. “This is Max and Mercy. They were looking for me, remember?”

The boy’s stance started to relax a bit, but then he noticed Mercy for the first time, hovering about four feet up on the flying carpet. He jumped again, turning to get a view that encompassed them all. The beast in front of him made another menacing snarl, this time in Mercy’s direction.

“Please, Corm, they won’t hurt you. I promise.” Raven said. “Guys,” she continued, “this is Corm. He sort of found me before you did, and we were talking. He fell asleep while we were waiting for you to find me too. Oh, and this is Taz,” she said, pointing to very disgruntled animal. “He’s kinda grumpy.”

Mercy had backed off (and up) a few feet, while Max had his hand now resting on his sword hilt. He eyed the animal and the boy cautiously. “Be careful Raven, he seems more than a bit grumpy right now. In fact, I would say he’s very displeased.”

Relaxing again, the boy said, “Taz, settle, it’s ok for now. Come.” The goliath boy stabbed his quarterstaff on the ground beside him. Instantly, the animal turned and rounded his companion, sitting on the ground beside him. Its head is almost at the boy’s waist, which for a goliath of his age, twelve or there-about, is still shoulder height to the other three children.

“What is he?” Max asks, pointing to Taz.

“He’s a dire wolverine, he’s my companion,” the boy replied.

“Where did you come from?” Mercy asked, gliding closer to her brother’s perch. He stepped onto the carpet with her, using her shoulder to maintain his balance. Mercy then glided the carpet toward Raven, and they both stepped down to the forest floor beside her.

“Well, I’ve come a long way since I started, but I was born in the feywild. Have you ever heard of it?”

“Yes, of course, our parents have told us a lot about it.” Mercy answers. “But that’s a whole other plane. Where did you come to this plane?”

“I first began my Seeking near a place called Vasselheim. Since, I’ve traveled a long way finding bits and pieces of the Story as I went. I was able to convince an old woman I met to teleport me to Tal’Dorei. I ended up on a very nasty and stinky place called Stillben. From there I wandered north and west until I found a town that knew many tales that are part of the Story that I Seek. That was the last place I was in, called Westruun, and it has led me here.”

The twins looked at one another skeptically. Max said, “You traveled all that way alone? No parents with you?”

He looked at them a bit confused. “Of course. But I wasn’t really alone. Taz was with me.” He patted the head of the wolverine who rumbled and turned his head to have his ear scratched.

“What’s this ‘Story’ you keep talking about?” Max asked.

“Oh, that. It’s from my mother actually. The Story of the Skywatcher she calls it. I think she made up the name, but I like it, so I use it. My mother loves stories you see.” He propped his staff against a tree and walked off a few feet. From behind a large boulder he pulled a small two wheeled cart with harness. In the front of it rested a pack that he quickly set aside. In the rear was a hide covering a larger burden. He carefully unfastened some of the tie-downs and flipped the hide back. The others made their way closer, keeping a wary eye on Taz, to see what was there. Now uncovered, there was a stack of more than two dozen books of various sizes and colors. “I’ve managed to collect a few for her, for when I return.”

“So, your story is about collecting books?” Mercy asked.

“Oh, no,” Corm replied, “The books are just other stories I find along the way. The real Story of the Skywatcher is about me. It’s just that I don’t know the beginning yet. At least not the whole beginning. I know my mother’s part, but I’m working on knowing my father’s part. Until I find that out, I can’t really make it mine, you know?” He stared at them as if expecting them to understand exactly what he meant, but they stared back with blank or confused expressions.

“I don’t get it.” Raven said. “Your story can’t start until you know your parent’s story? But isn’t your story already started? I mean, here you are.”

“Well, it’s complicated,” he said. He frowned, thinking intently. He started to try to explain more, but was interrupted by a rising sound coming from outside the woods. A thud-thuddathudthud mixed with a hmmrf-snort echoed through the trees. The group turned suddenly as the lowering sun was blocked by the heavy breathing dark form of Trinket who skidded to a halt. He saw the form of Taz instantly and reared up on his hind legs, bawling a hideous roar in challenge. It seems he had heard the growls from before, and having lost sight of the children, must have reasoned they were in trouble.

Taz instinctively bared his own fangs and jumped in front of Corm once more in a protective stance. Corm also lunged for his own weapon.

The children all began to yell at once, telling Trinket, Taz, and Corm that everyone was friendly. It was such a cacophony, however, that no one could understand anything. Finally, Corm slammed his staff on the ground again and a bluish-white beam jumped from the top of it in two directions, one connected with his own forehead, the other toward Trinket’s. Taz instantly became quiet, although alert, and the others children stopped babbling as well. What ensued next was the weirdest exchange that any of them had ever witnessed. Corm began to grumble, growl, snort, and make all sorts of strange sounds. Trinket sat on his haunches on the stone and grumble-growled back in turn. This continued back and forth for several exchanges until finally, Trinket got up and began walking back toward Whitestone as if nothing ever happened. The bluish-white beam that connected Corm and his staff to Trinket blinked out.

All three of the Whitestone children stood with slack-jawed amazement as Corm turned and lifted the front of his small wagon and made a motion to Taz. The wolverine obediently walked over and into small harness set on the wagon’s front, which Corm loosely looped and clasped around his neck. The both began walking toward the road before he looked at the other three and said, “Well, are you coming?” He then turned and followed Taz out of the wood without waiting for an answer.

“Wha…what just happened?” Max asked the two girls beside him.

“I have no idea.” Raven said. Then with a smile she took off running after the pair and said, “But it was so friggin’ cool!”

“Hey, wait for us!” Mercy yelled. She jumped back onto the carpet and started after them as well.

“Mercy! No fair! The round is over! It’s supposed to be my turn to fly the carpet now!” Max complained as he scrambled to catch up to the group. He tapped his earring and said. “I know you can hear me! Come back here!”

Over the earpiece he hears a reply, but not the one he was expecting. It’s his mother’s voice instead. “Well, I know YOU can hear ME, Maximillian de Rolo. Where are you and your sister? I just got a very weird message from Trinket saying you were coming home with a guest. What have you been up to? Is Raven with you?”

Max began a reply with “Umm, yes, mother. Raven is with us, we…” when Raven starts talking over the top of him at about a thousand words per second.

“Oh, Aunty Vex, we met a boy in the woods, and he has a wolverine, and he can talk to Trinket, and he says he’s from the feywild and…” The excited and confused explanation of the events of the past few minutes continued in pretty much a random order until finally, Vex interrupted.

“Raven… Raven, dear… Raven… RAVEN!” She finally stopped talking, panting a bit, so Vex continued. “Catch your breath, Darling. You can tell me the rest when you get to the castle, all right? Max, Mercy, see you in a bit. And this better not be something else I’m going to have to pay for!”

“It’s not, mother, I promise!” Mercy said. She slowed and dipped to just above the ground to let both Max and Raven jump on the carpet with her. Together, they flew beside their new friend and his cart pulling companion in a small entourage behind Trinket as they made their way into the courtyard of Whitestone Castle.

As they passed through the front portcullis, they could see all their parents standing off to the side. Mercy and Max’s father, Percy, and his sister, their Aunt Cassandra, were in deep conversation with the diplomatic envoy from Emon. Uncle Gilmore and Aunty Alura were also with them, and would probably be leaving with them from the transportation circle in the courtyard soon. Various guards stood around, but had very little reaction to the group as they moved toward the group. Vex’alhia excused herself and pulled Keyleth and Vax along with her to another part of the courtyard while beckoning them to come to her.

At the sight of her father, Raven jumped off the carpet and sprinted toward him. As she arrived, he knelt down and said, “Hey there, Feathers! What have you gotten into this time?” She got within two steps of him then made a tremendous leap into the air in his direction. He caught her in mid-air, lifting her above his head, and proceeded to swing her in a huge circle while she cackled loudly. He did one final toss straight up into the air. Keyleth cringed and held one hand up as if to cast a spell to catch her. Raven laughed even louder as he caught her and began to bear-hug her till she squealed.

Keyleth let out a pent up breath and smacked him on the shoulder. “You know I hate it when you do that!”

“Oh, fiddle-faddle, woman, you know I’m not going to drop her!” He leaned down and placed her on the ground again. “Your mother is such a worry-wart. You know that?” to which she nodded vigorously.

By this point, the troupe has reached them. Trinket moves to Vex’s side and sits looking at them. He mumbles something, and Corm nods his head.

“So, who’s your friend here, Feathers?” Vax steps up and holds his hand out toward Corm, who takes it and gives a firm shake. “Nice grip! I’m Vax. What’s your name?”

“I’m Corm.” He notices a patch on the side of Vax’s cloak, and twists his head to get a better look. “Are you part of a member of Vox Machina?”

Vax gives a bemused glance at Vex and Keyleth. “Well… that depends. You aren’t a rakshasa in disguise are you?” he said, only half-jokingly. Keyleth tenses for a moment before realizing he’s kidding, and swats him on the shoulder again with a frown. Corm just stared at him, very confused.

“Yes, darling,” Vex stepped into the conversation, “we all are members of Vox Machina.” She points out the three of them, as well as Percy. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, does that mean you know Grog? Grog Strongjaw?” Corm asked.

As soon as he asks the question, Grog himself walks up from the direction of the kitchens, gnawing on what appears to be the last few bites of a ham hock. “Yeah, we know him. He’s me. Who’s asking?” He tossed the bone into a nearby brazier and stepped around the group. As he did, Grog finally saw Corm for the first time and stopped, a bemused look spreading across his face. “Hey, it’s a goliath kid. Sort of. Where’d you come from li’l man?”

As soon as he saw Grog, Corm immediately walked up to him, toe-to-toe, staring almost straight up at him. Grog returned the stare, almost looking straight down. There was silence for a minute.

Finally, Corm said, “My name is Corm Strongjaw, Skywatcher of the Glade of Nahla, Seeker of the Story. Now that I’ve found you, my story can begin. My heart is your heart.” And with that pronouncement, he grabs Grog around the waist in as big an embrace as he can manage. “It’s great to finally meet you, father.”

 

 

— And that’s where we’ll end our story today… —

Review: Tech World

Tech World
Tech World by B.V. Larson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This series just gets better and better. Somehow, the main character continues to screw up so bad the he can’t help but be promoted in rank and influence to cover it up. He invariably gets involved in the most convoluted schemes. Whether it’s his big mouth, his lack of caution, his inability to control his libido, or just his innate sense of right and wrong, he always manages to find the worst possible circumstances to be in. But, with that same set of… skills?… he always manages to get out of them too. I’m starting to get a very Slippery Jim DeGriz or Retief vibe from the character of James Magill.

In this installment, Legion Varus is sent off to play guard duty on a space station orbiting a world full of greedy Tau just to get them out of the way while all the other Legions are folded into the Earth Hegemony. Unfortunately, an even more greedy Legion Germanica officer causes a full scale revolt to break out, with James Magill and Varus caught right in the middle. And to top it all off, a very powerful ship shows up as a looming threat on the edges of the Tau system.

This book was a definite page-turner for me. It was one of those I didn’t want to put down, and cost me a few hours of sleep because of that. It’s action packed, intrigue filled, and downright facepalm funny in places. I’m looking forward to the next installment of the Undying Mercenaries. I give this one 4 stars and call it an Awesome Read.

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