Tag Archives: Mark L. Van Name

Review of KINDLE Ebook Children No More – Book 4 of the Jon and Lobo series by Mark L. Van Name #Brainfluffbookreview #ChildrenNoMorebookreview

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I’ve really enjoyed this quirky military space opera series featuring solitary super-soldier Jon and his formidable sentient space ship, Lobo. It manages to deliver gripping adventures, nicely tempered with welcome humour, either in the snarky exchanges between Jon and Lobo, or the chatter of semi-intelligent machines as they bicker amongst themselves – see my review of Jump Twist Gate. However this time around, there aren’t so many laughs…

No child should ever be a soldier. Jon Moore knew that better than most, having learned to fight to survive before he’d hit puberty. So when a former comrade, Alissa Lim, asks for his help in rescuing a group of children pressed into service by rebels on a planet no one cares to save, he agrees. Only later does he realize he’s signed up to do far more than he’d ever imagined. Jon’s commitment hurtles him and Lobo, the hyper-intelligent assault vehicle who is his only real friend, into confrontations with the horrors the children have experienced and with a dark chapter from his past.

That is as much of the rather chatty blurb as I’m prepared to share, as it gives away far too many plotpoints in my opinion. The author clearly feels passionate about the subject of child soldiers – in the Afterword, he says that the groups trying to reintegrate these children have estimated that at present there are approximately some 300,000 child soldiers around the planet. As he says – that’s a shocking number of children whose childhoods have been devastated and turned into something horrific.

However, this isn’t some gritty non-fiction exposé on the issue – it happens to be the main spine running through a military space opera adventure story. So does it work? Yes, overall I think that Van Name has once more delivered a strong story with plenty of tension. I always find Jon a very sympathetic character and I enjoyed learning about the traumas in his childhood that led to him falling into the wrong hands, sealing his fate as mercenary. And in this book, we learn just how much he minds about that choice being taken away…

I love the villain of the piece in this story – it doesn’t hurt that he’s a politician, given that right now I’d happily put all the ones littering up Westminster on a boat and set them adrift in the Channel until they start behaving with some responsibility. There were also some moments of real emotional heft in the story where I had a lump in my throat. To be honest, I could have done with a few more laughs, but I do understand that Van Name’s own sense of humour wasn’t firing on all cylinders this time around – and I certainly prefer that he didn’t attempt it if he wasn’t feeling it.

Any niggles? The pacing was just a tad slow in the middle – something I haven’t experienced before in this series – I felt the lead-in to the final denouement could have come a few chapters sooner than it did. But overall, it wasn’t a dealbreaker and this was a gripping, enjoyable episode – though if you haven’t yet had the pleasure, please don’t start with this one. This is definitely a series which needs to be read in the right order.

Recommended for fans of gripping military science fiction.
8/10

Sunday Post – 9th June, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

Weekly Roundup

The sharp-eyed among you will notice that it’s actually Monday – however I spent most of yesterday with my sister – and then the evening found me up a ladder, staring at a ceiling. It’s been one of those weeks where I’ve been quite busy with not a lot to show for it. We started decorating the bathroom, so I spent long, unlovely hours cleaning the tile grout before applying whitener. It’s been hard work, but the bathroom is already looking a lot better – and yesterday I put the first coat of paint on the ceiling. It’s going to be quite dark, but as the whole room is fully tiled with white tiles with a white suite, I wanted a splash of warm colour (terracotta) so it doesn’t end up looking like a mini-morgue…

Elsewhere (I seem to be spending a LOT of time in the smallest room in the house…) I was back to Northbrook for my last term running my Creative Writing course, enjoying spending more time with my lovely students. On Thursday, Tim ended up at my house for his lesson as reboarding the loft at his home meant everything was upside down – not conducive to concentrating on his English lesson. The work in the garden has halted due to the rain and wind that swept in. Yesterday, I met up with my sister and went for a late breakfast together to put the world to rights – and finally got back home at 4 pm…

Last week I read:

How To Twist a Dragon’s Tale AUDIOBOOK – Book 5 of How To Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
The heat is on for Hiccup as he is called to save the day once again. Someone has stolen the Fire-Stone. Now that the volcano on Volcano Island has become active, the tremors are hatching the eggs of the Exterminator dragons! Can Hiccup return the Fire-Stone to the Volcano, stop it from erupting, and save the Tribes from being wiped out by the terrible sword-claws of the Exterminators?
I read this with Oscar a while ago, but listening to the audio version with David Tennant’s wonderful narration is such a treat and makes working in the bathroom so much more fun…

 

Children No More – Book 4 of the Jon and Lobo series by Mark L. Van Name
No child should ever be a soldier. Jon Moore knew that better than most, having learned to fight to survive before he’d hit puberty. So when a former comrade, Alissa Lim, asks for his help in rescuing a group of children pressed into service by rebels on a planet no one cares to save, he agrees. Only later does he realize he’s signed up to do far more than he’d ever imagined.
Unsurprisingly, this slice of the Jon and Lobo series is quite a bit darker than the other books – but that didn’t stop me yet again, really enjoying the adventures befalling this quirky team of an ex-mercenary soldier and a AI sentient warship.

 

Lady of Magick – Book 2 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Hunter
In her second year of studies at Merlin College, Oxford, Sophie Marshall is feeling alienated among fellow students who fail to welcome a woman to their ranks. So when her husband, Gray, is invited north as a visiting lecturer at the University in Din Edin, they leap at the chance. There, Sophie’s hunger for magical knowledge can finally be nourished. But soon, Sophie must put her newly learned skills to the test. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, Queen of Midnight, particularly the alternate history where pagan religions still prosper in a Regency period, where the UK is still divided into small kingdoms. This adventure took the story forward in an intriguing way and I look forward to discovering how the consequences play out in the next book.

 

Truckers AUDIOBOOK– Book 1 of the Bromeliad Trilogy by Terry Pratchett
Under the floorboards of the Store is a world of four-inch-tall nomes that humans never see. It is commonly known among these nomes that Arnold Bros. created the Store for them to live in, and he declared: “Everything Under One Roof.” Therefore there can be no such thing as Outside. It just makes sense. That is, until the day a group of nomes arrives on a truck, claiming to be from Outside, talking about Day and Night and Snow and other crazy legends…
This was one I’d read to my own children another lifetime ago – so was delighted to catch up once again with Masklin and the intrepid nomes who take on a world so much bigger than the one they were designed for…

 

Just William: William’s Treasure Trove AUDIOBOOK by Richmal Crompton
It’s the beginning of the summer holidays and William and the Outlaws see an endless expanse of gloriously carefree days stretching ahead – but how to fill them …? The six classic adventures contained in this unabridged reading are: “William and the Holiday Centre”; “William’s Treasure Trove”; “William and the Cottage”; “William Tackles the Job”; “William and Detective Journalism”; and, “William and the Parsons’ Guy”.
I used to love listening to Martin Jarvis read the Just William series on Radio 4, so this collection of short stories was a real bonus as I scrubbed away at the grout…

 

 

My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Rough Magic: Riding the world’s wildest horse race by Lara Prior-Palmer

Friday Faceoff featuring The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Across the Void by S.K. Vaughn

Review of The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

Sunday Post – 2nd June 2019

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last few weeks, in no particular order:

Joe Orton’s LOOT Opens Odyssey’s 50th Anniversary ‘Circa ʼ69’ Season
https://www.broadwayworld.com/los-angeles/article/Joe-Ortons-LOOT-Opens-Odysseys-50th-Anniversary-Circa-69-Season-20190516 I have been following this one with great interest – seeing as my son is playing Hal – and would love to be able to see it. It’s going well and he is thoroughly enjoying himself.

5 New Poetry Books to Watch Out For https://librarystaffpicks.wordpress.com/2019/06/05/5-new-poetry-books-to-watch-out-for/ As ever, this award-winning library site is providing informative information on the latest books to hit their shelves…

Inevitability of Science Fiction Movements https://rosieoliver.wordpress.com/2019/06/07/inevitability-of-science-fiction-movements/ Scientist and science fiction author often has thought-provoking articles on what is happening with science fiction…

A Snapshot of my Writing Process https://writerunboxed.com/2019/06/07/a-snapshot-of-my-writing-process/ As a writer, I’m always fascinated by other writers’ writing processes – and I would think readers are also intrigued to discover how their favourite books are crafted…

Book Addiction Tag https://comfortreads13.wordpress.com/2019/06/07/book-addiction-tag/ While I was interested in reading what Jess had to say in response to these excellent questions – I also found myself putting in my own answers, too. How did you get on?

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week…

Sunday Post – 10th March, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

And here I am a whole month after my last Sunday Post. It’s been a difficult one. During half term I had a bad reaction to my blood pressure medication and am in the process of waiting for things to calm down before the Dr begins another treatment. I cannot speak highly enough of the fine folk in the NHS, who have been nothing but prompt, professional and kindly – such a relief to feel I’m in capable hands.

But what that did was bring forward a decision that I’d been considering for a while. So when I returned to Northbrook after the half term break, I tendered my resignation as Creative Writing tutor to take effect as from the end of the summer term. Given my health is still iffy and I am striving to step up my writing output, something has to give – while I’ve loved teaching at Northbrook College, it takes a lot of work over and above delivering the lessons and I simply need to ease up. As ever, Himself has been a rock throughout.

Other than that, Life whizzes by at its usual breakneck pace. Himself and I are attempting to clear out the loft and have made some progress by taking bagfuls of books to the charity shops. It’s made a bit of a dent… Last week we went down to Ringwood and had a lovely day with my in-laws and I spent last Sunday with my sister, which was fabulous – I haven’t seen much of her recently.

Last week I read:
Day 115 on an Alien World – Book 1 of the Settler Chronicles series by Jeanette Bedard
A dishonourable discharge left Margo unable to find honest work on Earth. Signing onto a colonizing mission heading to a new world promised a fresh start. Or at least that’s what she’d thought. Strapped into a crashing colony ship, she realized how wrong she’d been.
They hit the ground and the straight forward colonizing mission becomes a scramble for survival…
I really enjoyed this colony world thriller and will be reviewing it in due course.

 

No Going Back – Book 5 of the Jon and Lobo series by Mark L. Van Name
Haunted by memories of children he could not save, Jon Moore becomes so increasingly self-destructive that even his best friend, the hyper-intelligent Predator-Class Assault Vehicle, Lobo, is worried. So when Jon receives both a job offer and a message from a woman from his distant past, he and Lobo leap at the welcome diversions. That the job is illegal is the least of their problems. They’re happy to retrieve stolen artifacts from Jon’s quarantined home world, and their fee is high even for a job so highly illegal. The forces protecting their targets are formidable, and the assault team that’s chasing them is even more dangerous–but Jon and Lobo are used to that. The scientist Jon and Lobo need for the mission has an agenda of her own, but they’ve faced that problem before. This time, though, the knowledge that they and the others seek spells doom for Jon.
I thoroughly enjoyed the first three books in the series – and will be now tracking down the fourth one. The relationship between Jon and Lobo is both poignant and funny and I love the overarching story arc that is emerging. Review to follow.

 

Frozen in Time AUDIOBOOK by Ali Sparkes
Ben and Rachel Corder are sure they’re in for the longest, dullest summer ever, until they discover an underground vault at the bottom of their garden with an amazing secret inside – two children from the 1950s who have been asleep for decades. But waking up Freddy and Polly Emerson means unearthing the secrets that were buried with them. Why would their father leave them frozen? How is cryonic suspension even possible? Why doesn’t the world know about the process fifty years later? How will the Emersons ever fit into the 21st century world of cell phones and microwave dinners? And why does it feel like they’re all suddenly being followed?
I’d loved reading this children’s thriller to Frances years ago – and then bought her the audiobook, so when she helped me get my Kindle Fire going during half term when the grandchildren came to stay, this was the first book I wanted to listen to. It’s been great fun – and so very different to reading it. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Cyanide with Christie – Book 3 of the Crime with the Classics series by Katherine Bolger Hyde

Friday Face-Off featuring The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of String City by Graham Edwards

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

Jonas Brothers Carpool Karoke #Jonas Brothers #James Corden http://www.fundinmental.com/jonas-brothers-carpool-karaoke/#.XIT9objgrb1 When I spotted this offering by Sherry at Fundinmental, I knew it would make this week’s cut. I love James Corden – talented and witty and very, very funny – what’s not to love?

Viking Heritage Day at Woodstown https://inesemjphotography.com/2019/03/09/viking-heritage-day-at-woodstown/ Once again, Inessa’s fabulous pics bring a slice of beauty into my life – and this time around, she’s gone time travelling…

Understanding and handling your bookworm. A guide https://thisislitblog.com/2019/03/04/understanding-and-handling-your-bookworm-a-guide/ Shruti’s funny take gives outsiders some inkling of what it is to be gripped by a passion for books.

Eagle Eyes https://storyshucker.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/eagle-eyes/ Stuart’s delightful account of a classroom incident that happened waaay back is worth a read.

New blogsitential questions https://readerwitch.com/2019/03/09/new-blogsitential-questions/ Alexandra discusses issues that we all have to face when we suddenly find the days have slid past and we’ve been too busy to post a new blog article…

Many thanks for taking the time to comment, like and visit my blog – I am so sorry about my lack of response and am aiming to try and get back on track during the next week or so. In the meantime, have a wonderful week!

Favourite Space Operas – Part 2

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This is the next section of favourite space-faring tales. Again, in no particular order…

Sirantha Jax series by Ann Aguirre
As the carrier of a rare gene, Sirantha Jax has the ability to jump ships through grimspace — a talent thagrimspacet cuts into her life expectancy but makes her a highly prized navigator for the Corp. But then the ship she’s navigating crash-lands, and she’s accused of killing everyone on board. It’s hard for Jax to defend herself: she has no memory of the crash…

Aguirre’s depiction of a space jumper apart from the general run of humanity, with her own closed ethos and set of rules suddenly bumping up against a group of people with differing attitudes, works well. Jax’s ability to alienate everyone around her is impressive, but as the book and its sequel, Wanderlust, progresses, she is forced to reassess her priorities and attitudes. I think this is one of the undoubted strengths of this sub-genre – offer up a heroine in the middle of a major crisis, present her with yet more life-changing problems – and then watch her change. See my review of Grimspace here.

 

Vatta’s War series by Elizabeth Moon
Kylara Vatta is the only daughter in a family full of sons, and her father’s only child to buck tradition by tradingindangerchoosing a military career instead of joining the family business. For Ky, it’s no contest: Even running the prestigious Vatta Transport Ltd. shipping concern can’t hold a candle to shipping out as an officer aboard an interstellar cruiser. It’s adventure, not commerce, that stirs her soul. And despite her family’s misgivings, there can be no doubt that a Vatta in the service will prove a valuable asset. But with a single error in judgment, it all comes crumbling down.

I love this entertaining five-book series about a merchantile family under attack – and their gritted struggle to survive. My strong advice is to read them in the right order as you’ll gain the best from the Vatta clan’s roller-coaster ride between triumph and disaster, starting with Trading in Danger.

 

Horizons by Mary Rosenblum
Ahni Huang is hunting for her brother’s killer. As a Class 9 Empath with advanced biogenetic augmentations, she has complete mental and physical control of her body and can read other people’s Horizonsintentions before they can even think them. Faced with deceptions behind deceptions, Ahni is caught in a dangerous game of family politics—and in the middle of it all lies the fate of her brother. Her search leads to the Platforms, which orbit high above Earth. On the Platform New York Up, ‘upsider’ life is different. They have their own culture, values and ambitions – and now they want their independence from Earth. One upsider leader, Dane Nilsson, is determined to accomplish NYUp’s secession, but he has a secret, one that, once exposed, could condemn him to death. When Ahni stumbles upon Dane during her quest for vengeance, her destiny becomes inextricably linked to his. Together they must delve beyond the intrigue and manipulative schemes to get to the core of truth, a truth that will shape the future of the Platforms and shatter any preconceived notions of what defines the human race.

All the best science fiction, in my opinion, gives us some believable insights into some of the dilemmas that future technology will pose for our descendants. In this stand-alone book, Rosenblum shines a light on some of the problems that are starting to loom uncomfortably close – such as genetic manipulation; cloning; what defines humanity and the faultlines along which humankind will divide. See my review of Horizons here.

 

The Jon and Lobo series by Mark L. van Name
This duology of the first two books, One Jump Ahead and Slanted Jack, in the popular Jon and Lobo series was released by Baen in a smart marketing move.

jumptwistgateJon Moore: A nanotech enhanced wanderer who wants nothing more than a quiet life and a way back to his strange home world. Lobo: An incredibly intelligent machine equipped for any environment from the sea to interstellar space. Two battle-scarred veterans unwilling to tolerate injustice. Together in a collection that not only includes the first two novels, but also two short stories giving some of the backstory to the two protagonists and an interestingly frank foreword and afterword by the author.

I very much enjoyed the unfolding relationship between Jon and Lobo. In One Jump Ahead, Jon meets Lobo for the first time and they work together. Jon’s enhancements have forced him to be constantly careful how he interacts with other people, as his greatest fear is finding himself locked up by some large corporation and treated like a labrat as they discover exactly how he came by his unique abilities. One of the consequences of these enhancements is his ability to communicate directly with the machines around him – including, of course, Lobo, his intelligent battleship. Lobo’s constant frustration with Jon’s micro-managing temperament creates a nicely sharp relationship between the two of them, which gradually deepens into trust and genuine affection – from Jon’s side, anyway. We can only guess at what Lobo really thinks… Read my review of Jump Twist Gate here.

 

The Seafort Saga by David Feintuch
I thoroughly enjoyed this seven-book series that Feintuch freely admitted was inspired by C.S. Forester’s Hornblower naval adventures. It all kicks off with the first book, Midshipman’s Hope

A hideous accident kills the senior officer of UNS Hibernia, leaving a terrified young officer to take 300 midshipmanshopecolonists and crew aboard a damaged ship, on a 17-month gauntlet to reach Hope Nation. With no chance of rescue, Nicholas Seafort must save lives and take them, in the name of duty.

And so we first encounter the young man, whose space career is charted by a series of adventures, including marauding aliens. Great fun!

Are there any series or standalone books you would like to add to my list?

How Are They Doing?

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You’ve followed the protagonist and her friends and enemies through a whole series of books, finally closing the last volume with a sigh… So, which character would you like to revisit to see how they’re now getting on? Thanks to Anastasia, who first posed this question here, I’ve compiled my own list of top ten characters I’d like to catch up with.
In no particular order…
1. Corporal Carrot from the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett – Okay – I lied. There is an order – GuardsGuardsbecause this wonderful body of work has to be one of the major starting points for any speculative fiction fan. And why Corporal Carrot out of the cast of Discworld characters? Because if anyone is liable to suddenly march out of obscurity and into a Hero’s storyline, then it’s got to be Corporal Carrot. And I’m betting even an ordinary day in his life is probably rather more event-filled than most folks – particularly if he and Angua ever get around to producing offspring…
2. Johan Eschback from the Ghosts of Columbia series by L.E. Modesitt Jr – This fascinating series is set in an alternate world where America was settled by the Dutch – and large parts of the world are uninhabitable because whenever anyone suffers a violent death, they return as ghosts able to cause havoc to the living. Johan Eschback is a retired secret agent, now happily remarried to an opera singer, who finds himself unable to turn down an offer to resume his former career in a series of enthralling adventures. I’d love to peep back into his life and ensure that he and the lovely Llysette are still thriving…
3. Jarra from the Earth Girl series by Janet Edwards – This YA science fiction trilogy follows the adventures of Jarra, who is part of a minority of humans trapped on Earth due to an allergic reaction she suffers whenever travelling offplanet – leading to discrimination by the majority of humanity who have now relocated to more desirable planets. Is Jarra enjoying her new role? I really hope she retains all her energy and enthusiasm which makes her such an engaging protagonist.
4. Tintaglia from The Rain Wild Chronicles by Robin Hobb – This series of four books set in Hobb’s world concentrates on the dragons and their keepers struggling to find the fabled dragon city. Tintaglia has to be the most defiantly self-centred and arrogant protagonist I’ve ever cared about – and I’d love to know if the beautiful blue dragon is still engrossed in her own affairs to the exclusion of everyone and everything else.
5. Sookie Stackhouse from the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris – I read all the books and Deaduntildarkeven followed the first couple of series on TV until I decided that it was all a bit too gory. While the TV series followed the storyline of the books reasonably closely, it couldn’t successfully recreate the dry humour that ran throughout Sookie’s first person narrative, which makes her a solid favourite of mine. Is she still well and happy? I’d love to drop in and find out.

6. Nadia Stafford from the Nadia Stafford series by Kelley Armstrong – This entertaining trilogy features an ex-policewoman who embarked on a career as a hit woman after being kicked off the force for taking the law into her own hands. The story arc over this enjoyable thriller/whodunit series with a difference is a cracking read – and I’d love to know that if the choices Nadia finally made are still working for her…
7. Jon from the Jon and Lobo series by Mark L. Van Name – This science fiction romp is about a duo, so I suppose I should have also added Lobo’s name. Jon is an ex-labrat who has done some fairly awful things in his time – and teamed up with Lobo, a mouthy AI. Together they are a formidable twosome who try to provide might for the right. With mixed results… I love the non-stop action and sharp dialogue that accompanies this entertaining, well written offering. And would like to think that Jon enjoys a measure of peace in his life – though I have my doubts, given he has Lobo alongside…
8. Matthew Swift from the Midnight Mayor series by Kate Griffin – To say that Matthew is a troubled soul is something of an understatement, given that he’d been murdered and spent two years living in the wires cris-crossing London before being reincarnated as the spiritual saviour of the city. I’d like to think he is now putting his feet up – but somehow have my doubts. He does occasionally put in an appearance in Griffin’s spinoff series – and I wait patiently to see if he settles down. Or better still, steps away from the gruelling post of Midnight Mayor.
9. Lila from the Quantum Gravity series by Justina Robson – This genre mash-up is a tour de force and I still find myself sliding back to considering these remarkable books. The premise is that a quantum bomb has allowed creatures from other realities to bleed through into our world without anyone really noticing… And yes – you’re right. It sounds mad, but Robson makes it work. I’d love to know that Lila is still raising hell somewhere. Preferably a safe distance from where I am.
10. Devi from the Paradox series by Rachel Bach – This enjoyable space opera romp featuring adrenaline œF$¿Æ‘$8Òò¤»däå¸R8BIjunkie Devi, who gets into more scrapes than I’ve had hot dinners, is a blast from start to finish. And I’d like to think that she and Rupert are still dancing around each other and causing sufficient chaos to keep them happy, though probably – knowing Devi – she’s probably up to her eyebrows in trouble.

Those are my choices for protagonists I got to know and would love to be able to just peep into their futures and ensure everything is still going smoothly for them. Who would you like to revisit and check out?

Review of Jump Twist Gate – a Jon and Lobo duology by Mark L. Van Name

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This duology of the first two books, One Jump Ahead and Slanted Jack, in the popular Jon and Lobo series was released by Baen in a smart marketing move a couple of years ago.

Jon Moore: A nanotech enhanced wanderer who wants nothing more than a quiet life and a way back to his strange home world. Lobo: An incredibly intelligent machine equipped for any environment from the sea to interstellar space. Two battle-scarred veterans jumptwistgateunwilling to tolerate injustice. Together in a jam-packed collection that not only includes the two novels, but also two short stories giving some of the backstory to the two protagonists and an interestingly frank foreword and afterword by the author.  I read the third book in the series last year, Overthrowing Heaven, and was very impressed – so when I got the opportunity to grab a copy of this duology off the shelves, I took it. Did it live up to my expectations?

This series falls into the adventure/military science fiction sub-genre. Sort of. Because although Jon is an ex-mercenary who offers his services for hire – including his lethally effective battleship – he is also allergic to killing anyone. Indeed, he goes to great lengths to try and avoid using lethal force and if someone does die, Jon treats it as a very big deal. I have to say that I find this approach to the inevitable violence very refreshing and a lot more thought provoking than those shoot-em-ups where bodies are constantly being blown up or ripped apart in a variety of gory ways.

I also very much enjoyed the unfolding relationship between Jon and Lobo. In One Jump Ahead, Jon meets Lobo for the first time and they work together. Jon’s enhancements have forced him to be constantly careful how he interacts with other people, as his greatest fear is finding himself locked up by some large corporation and treated like a labrat as they discover exactly how he came by his unique abilities. One of the consequences of these enhancements is his ability to communicate directly with the machines around him – including, of course, Lobo, his intelligent battleship. Lobo’s constant frustration with Jon’s micro-managing temperament creates a nicely sharp relationship between the two of them, which gradually deepens into trust and genuine affection – from Jon’s side, anyway. We can only guess at what Lobo really thinks…

However, Lobo isn’t the only machine that Jon can communicate with – he is also able to chat and eavesdrop on drinks dispensers and toasters, which produces some amusing interludes. I really enjoy this world – the inevitable mcguffin that allows humanity to zip around the universe in next to no time are a series jump gates, apparently left or seeded by another species. All very convenient – but there are also a number of interesting aspects to these gates that have a bearing on the plot, in addition to creating extra layers to the story and giving faster-than-light travel extra zip, something that this author is adept at doing.

In a sub-genre where a number of effective world-building writers manage to create their particular brand of magic at the expense of characterisation, Van Name’s characters are believable and suitably complex, allowing him to weave engrossing and complicated plots in first person viewpoint. Indeed, approaching the climax in Slanted Jack, I actually felt physically nervous… If you enjoy fast paced, lively space opera featuring interesting characters then this is a must-read – even if you don’t generally dip your toe into science fiction on the grounds that all that nerdy, techie stuff gets in the way of a good story, you owe it to yourself to track down this book. It’s worth it.
10/10

Review of Overthrowing Heaven – Book 3 of the Jon and Lobo series by Mark L. Van Name

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This is another excellent offering from Baen – which immediately tells those of you in the know that this is adventure space opera, with something of a military edge. There is plenty of action, with plot twists aplenty and two strong protagonists who fully engaged my sympathies and drew me into the world.

overthrowingheavenJon Moore grew up on an island of outcasts and in a prison laboratory. When he escaped, memories of the things he’d done still haunted him and he often helped those in need. This particular adventure began as a favour to a woman trying to get away from an abusive household. However, his kindnesses frequently didn’t work out well. This one really didn’t work out well.

It hurled John and Lobo, the intelligent assault vehicle and Jon’s only friend, down an accelerating, dangerous spiral involving: private armies and government covert ops teams; a courtesan who always seems a step ahead of him; rival superpowers that define ethics as whatever doesn’t get in their way; and a brilliant, amoral scientist to whom human beings are just more experimental animals – and who might be Lobo’s creator.

I have to say that the book is better than it sounds on the blurb – I’m not convinced that their back-of-the book summaries are one of Baen’s strengths. However, there is nothing wrong with the quality of their current stable of authors – I’ve recently read a batch of Baen books which have all impressed me and Van Name is one more to add to the list.

His characterisation of Jon is extremely deftly done in first person viewpoint – we get a real sense of how damaged and closed off he is because of his horrific childhood. At times, this is played for laughs – Jon’s complete cluelessness with women and Lobo’s merciless teasing creates some welcome humour in amongst the ever-tightening tension. There are also times when Jon’s essential loneliness creates a real sense of poignancy. I also very much liked the fact that despite their formidable strengths, Lobo and Jon are not depicted as invincible. They are up against a major organisation and there is a realistic appreciation of just what a difficult business it is for an outsider to gain access to Wei, the unscrupulous scientist, whom Jon and Lobo are contracted to extract. The other aspect to this book, which is a recurring theme throughout, is that Jon is determined that no one should die unnecessarily. He constantly wants to use trank weapons and is concerned that injuries he inflicts on his opponents aren’t life threatening. In a genre where violence is a staple and bloodstained bodies are part of the landscape, I found this preoccupation both enjoyable and a refreshing change. Jon is very aware that it is only his moral compass that sets him apart from a monstrous killing machine – and doesn’t let the reader forget it, yet manages to avoid any kind of preaching. It’s a clever trick to pull off.

Van Name’s pacing is faultless. It zips along at an appreciable rate so that a 541 page book didn’t seem long, yet at no time what I ever left in any doubt exactly what was happening in any of the action scenes. He also manages to effectively provide the whole unfolding plotline from a single viewpoint without sliding into omniscient viewpoint or holding up the action with a lot of description – an achievement which is a great deal harder than Van Name makes it look. He also earns a gold star from me by managing to make a third book in a series sufficiently stand alone, that I didn’t feel I was missing anything by not having read the two earlier books, One Jump Ahead and Slanted Jack. Having said that, I’m definitely going to try and get hold of them – Van Name is a great storyteller whose world is worth another visit.

10/10