Thursday, July 3, 2014

Fighting Men (and a Fighting Woman) and Others...

The Theodore Roosevelt is a old, underpowered starship outclassed by modern, more powerful vessels. It patrols a backwater sector, is commanded by a broken-down captain and crewed by misfits it's cheaper to reassign than kick out of the service. So it's exactly the place Wilson Cole should be sent when he once again exceeds the letter of his orders and brings about success that embarrasses those in power above him. Twice a commander in his own right, Cole will now serve as third in command. It's a given he'll rise to the occasion.

Cole promises to behave and sets his focus on reinstilling some military discipline and perhaps even pride of service into the crew of castoff losers he's flying with. But his natural gift for finding trouble -- and handling it -- asserts itself and puts him on the outs with both his superior officers aboard ship. He'll have as many problems with his own side as he does with his enemies, except his own side isn't shooting at him -- yet.

Veteran author Mike Resnick gives his Starship space opera series just as much detail as it needs and nothing more, opting to leave out details like how his space drives work and playing pretty fast and loose with galactic cartography. A little finer resolution in these areas would probably have helped matters, but Resnick's main goal is the characters in his story and the events they contend with. And given how some authors go overboard with the techno-exposition, his restraint isn't the worst choice. Resnick keeps the story moving, doesn't digress overmuch and crafts a readable and diverting opening to his series about the Teddy R and her crew.
Brad Taylor began his "Pike Logan" series with his title character broken by a tragedy, and has been rebuilding him ever since. Logan was once an operative for the Taskforce, a super-secret organization given the authority to go outside the lines in its battle against America's enemies. Now he and partner Jennifer Cahill are private contractors working with the Taskforce and are matching wits with the ruthless gangs that control Mexico's drug trade in an attempt to learn what happened to Jennifer's brother Jack, a reporter working on a story about the gangs. A mission that begins for personal reasons develops into a true Taskforce operation as a plot to sabotage the Global Positioning System (GPS) network is uncovered during the search for Jack.

Taylor, himself a retired special forces soldier, knows some of what Pike has to handle as someone given the authority to take lives or spare them on his own choice, without the guide of the law or governing agency. It brings about a tightrope walk between protecting the country from its enemies and becoming just as bad as those enemies. He's been bringing Pike and Cahill along that walk -- Cahill as the rookie coming to terms with just how thin the line can be and Pike as the veteran making sure he hasn't lost sight of it -- for five novels and his improving writing style is helping.

Polaris hangs together a little less well than do earlier Logan thrillers, as important elements introduced in earlier scenes disappear without real resolution. But Taylor is still offering some excellent thrill-riding that can also offer a snack-for-thought or two later on.
It might be tempting to dismiss Jeff Guinn's Glorious when you read this cover blurb by "Longmire" series author Craig Johnson: "If, like me, you've been waiting for the next Louis L'Amour or Zane Grey, the good news is his name is Jeff Guinn." But Guinn's not responsible for what other people say about him or for Penguin Putnam's decision to put silliness like that on his cover.

And just because Jeff Guinn ain't Zane or Louis doesn't mean either he or Glorious is somehow substandard. A longtime reporter and author of several non-fiction books, Guinn manages to make his first outing with protagonist Cash McLendon a mostly enjoyable romp through the Arizona Territory in the first decade after the Civil War.

McLendon had been married into a wealthy family in St. Louis, but tragedy sends him out West in search of an old flame whom he knows to be living in the prospecting town of Glorious, Arizona. Things don't proceed as he wishes with his reunion, so he resolves to leave the town on the next stage. Only he finds himself more and more caught up with the people of this tiny town, who are hoping and praying for the silver strike that will keep their town alive and maybe bring in enough people to stave off raids from nearby Apaches.

Guinn gives Glorious a dry, wry semi-comic tone that echoes the voices of Charles Portis or Larry McMurtry. He is patient in drawing out his plotline, giving us time to learn the characters and their situations as McLendon does. McLendon is not a typical gunslinging hero, but he proves worth the time to watch grow.

Some interviews and other reviews suggest that Guinn plans Glorious as part of a trilogy or even a series, and that's where the book's problem arises. Its resolution is really not much of one and chops off short. There is little organic or natural reason for Glorious to end where it does, and the transparently artificial "Bridge to Sequelbithia" that Guinn employs dampens enthusiasm about subsequent travels with Mr. McLendon and his erstwhile neighbors.

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