Another series of books I love: Monday Mania

Two thing always catch my attention when I’m reading fiction: world building and characters. It’s why I like the Harry Dresden books I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.

Today I’m going to write about another series of books I enjoyed. One with a strange lineage.

The ancient progenitor of the books is an old animé series entitled Macross. Like so many such series it consisted of a lot of battles between giant robotic weapons known as mecha.

Than a game company, Games Design Workshop, appropriated these machines and retitled them BattleMechs. They turned out a game they called BattleTech. This game was played on a hex board with standing counters representing the Mechs. These machines could be outfitted with weapons from machine guns to 200 mm cannon to multiple missile launchers. I had a copy a couple of decades ago and it was fun to play. Eventually there was a bad cartoon series made from it, and some very successful computer games published under the title of MechWarrior.

But it’s the books set in the universe of the game that I want to talk about.

The people working on these books created a long and complex history for the universe starting from humans leaving Earth for the stars. They went mostly in national/racial groups that founded nations of stars. Eventually a Star League was formed, sort of a cross between the Holy Roman Empire and the UN. It was organized along roughly feudal lines as central control was almost impossible. That fell when a usurper killed the royal family. This started a civil war which the usurper lost. The nations that made up the Star League started fighting amongst themselves over who got to rule. The leader of the Star League’s army got teed about this and took off for parts unknown with most of the people under his command. The Successor States battled one another for another two hundred years, nearly blowing themselves back to the Industrial Age. It’s at this points where the books start.

The first few books basically covered the conflict between two of the Successor States; The Federated Suns which was mostly English/American in nature, and The Capellan Confederation which was mostly Chinese. There’s intrigue, battles, betrayal, politics and marriage involved. The characters are interesting ranging from royalty like Hanse Davion, known as The Fox and leader of the Federated Suns, to Justin Allard, a gladiator on the world of Solaris. This covers three books and they were an okay read.

Then, in my opinion, the books really took off.

The Inner Sphere was invaded by an outside enemy know as The Clans. The Clans possessed superior warriors and their Mechs were superior as well. They started to go through the Inner Sphere like grass through a goose. Although they were human beings no one knew where they had come from which frightened people even more.

Again the books cover multiple points of view. Many of these are the children of characters in the first series. There’s Victor Steiner-Davion, son of The Fox. Kai Allard-Liao is the son of Justin Allard, and there’s Phelan Kell, son of Morgan Kell, commander of one of the leading mercenary units in the Inner Sphere. There are also several Clan characters as well which gives a lot of insight onto Clan society.

Again there are battles, politics, betrayal and intrigue, plus a few marriages. We slowly learn about The Clans, what sort of people they are, where they came from and their intrigue, battles, betrayal and politics. No marriages though. Clanners don’t marry.

I just loved The Clans. The people behind the series posited a society very different from ours. Clanners are a caste society; warriors, technicians, scientists, merchants and laborers, in approximate order of power. The warriors are the ones the books deal with the most.

Clan Warriors are all conceived in vitro and then brought to term in an ‘iron womb’, a machine in which the fetus develops. Sperm and eggs (Clanners, in fact everyone in this future are remarkably free from misogyny) are taken from warriors when accepted into the caste. If they distinguish themselves their genetic material is used to create a new batch of children.

Those children are place in a sibko, which is short for ‘sibling company.’ They are trained to be warriors from the time they can walk. Of a sibko of forty usually only four or five will become warriors. The rest fail and get moved to other castes, or die. The Clans don’t hold back in training.

When the time comes the potential warriors mount up in a Mech and battle a group of Clan warriors. The more they defeat the higher their rank will be in the caste. Not winning any means failure and they don’t get second chances.

There are only 800 last names in the Clans’ warrior caste and only twenty five can have a last name. When a ‘Bloodnamed’ dies that particular name is fought over for the right to hold it. This is known as a ‘Trial of Bloodright.’

Although each Clan is ruled by a council of the Bloodnamed, who vote on policy, often policy is fought over. A losing side in a vote can call for a ‘Trial of Refusal.’ Then the two sides select people to fight over the vote, with a little twist. The side that lost the vote cannot use more force than the amount they lost by. So if they lost by 100 to 60 votes, they couldn’t bring more than 60% of what the winning side brings to a fight. So Trials of Refusal aren’t common.

It’s never that simple with the Clans, because leaders bid on their battles. Two commanders are chosen for each operation. They roll dice, essentially, to see who can bid first. The second takes the force that the first commander selects and removes units from it, declaring that is what he or she will fight with. This goes on until one is no longer willing to bid. This ensures that warriors and units are not used carelessly and guarantees that commanders have to be sharp.

In fact just about everything in Clan warrior society is fought over. There are Trials of Position where warriors fight over a rank. There are Trials of Possession for goods that can range from planets to genetic material. Once there was a Trial of Annihilation.

A Clan used an atomic weapon on one of another Clan’s genetic repositories. The other Clans destroyed them. They didn’t even take prisoners, which they often do. In many cases Clans will adopt captured warriors from other Clans if the warrior is good. They didn’t in this case.

As you can tell by the way I’ve been going on, I loved the BattleTech books. I’ll especially recommend those written by Michael A. Stackpole.

If you ever need a series of books that will keep you engaged for a long time, that have interesting characters and wonderful world building, buy these books. You’ll have to get them second hand though. I believe they’ve been out of print for quite a while.

In case you’re interested, there’s a wiki for the BattleTech universe. Be careful reading though. Like all wikis there are a lot of spoilers.

One of my favourite book series: Monday Mania

Ghost Story (Book 13) by Jim ButcherToday I’m going to talk about one of my favorite book series: Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files.

The central character is Harry Dresden, who happens to be the only wizard in the Chicago phonebook. He’s not pulling a scam either. He really is a wizard. He can make potions, cast spells, summon various spirits and entities along with all that other wizardry stuff. He works as a private investigator. Needless to say he’s good at fulfilling the cases he takes since he has access to abilities vanilla PIs lack.

At least at the beginning. As the books go on things start to happen that draw him deeper and deeper into the dark side of the supernatural.

I love the world building of these books. Among the various things and people that Harry Dresden deals with are: several types of werewolves, four different Courts of vampires (Red, White, Black and Jade), both the Winter and Summer Courts of the Sidhe (the Rulers of the Fae), a Valkyrie and her boss, the White Council of Wizards, the Black Council (mostly wizards plus evidence of something else and if the Black Council actually exists which some people in the books don’t believe), the Grey Council (Two wizards and a mostly retired god so far), a skinwalker (not the nasty Native shamans but one of the things they learned their stuff from, and it makes them look like kindergarten children for pure evil), ghouls, the Knights of The Cross, an island/entity named Demonreach, oh, and Bob.

Mr Butcher has also created some original supernatural beings as well. My favorite is the Denarians. I mentioned the Knights of The Cross above. There are three of them. Each bears a sword in which a nail from The Crucifixion is set. The Knights travel the world fighting evil. They always seem to be where they are needed. They aren’t necessarily Catholics though. One became a Baptist after a concert when he was invited to meet ‘The King.’ He thought he was meeting Elvis. Another is a black, Russian agnostic. Seriously.

Arrayed against them are the Denarians. Each Denarian is a fallen angel residing in a piece of silver, a Storm Front (Book 1) by Jim Butcherdenarius, an old Roman coin. There are thirty coins. So you can guess what they were used for. If a human picks up a coin the Fallen start to work on them, corrupting them. It gives the person great power, but using it corrupts them further. Eventually the Fallen possesses the person. Save for a few who work in partnership with the Fallen, and these are the scariest of all. The Denarians are constantly working towards bringing about the apocalypse and they’ve come close far too often.

Another original creation of Mr. Butcher’s is The Archive. The Archive is a, spell structure I guess you could call it, in which everything written down in history is stored. The Archive exists in the body of a woman and has since it was created. The woman has access to this knowledge. Think about that: she has computer passwords, blackmail material, financial information, nuclear launch codes. In short a very great amount of power. When she dies the Archive is transferred to the woman’s daughter. The current Archive is about fourteen years old as of the most recent book. Nice kid, but very, very scary.

Oh, and Bob. Bob is a spirit contained in an enchanted skull. Bob is basically a simpler version of the Archive, but concentrated on the supernatural. Harry uses him as an encyclopedia of things that go bump in the night along with potion recipes, spell instructions along with historical events and important personalities in the occult world. Bob has a snide, sarcastic personality as well as an enormous fondness for romance novels, the spicier the better. He adds a lot of fun to the Dresden novels.

Then there’s ‘Gentleman Johnny’ Marcone, the crime boss of Chicago. Marcone is an example of ‘I have no morals but I do have standards.’ He rules crime in Chicago ruthlessly. He has no qualms about doing what it takes to get and keep his power. But, if you work for him and you hurt a child, that lack of qualms will be turned against you. He doesn’t like people who hurt children. He also works hard to keep violence out of Chicago, and he knows about the supernatural world which he also works hard to keep out of his city. In fact he’s a baron under The Unseelie Accords, a sort of Geneva Convention for the supernatural world. So he has both temporal and occult power. In someways I find him comforting knowing that vanilla mortals don’t have to be prey and nothing else.

Changes (Book 11) by Jim Butcher

What is also fun is the relationships between all the characters. There’s the grudging respect between Marcone and Dresden. There’s Dresden’s relationship with his brother, who happens to be a White Court vampire. Dresden’s relationship with the White Council is rocky because he was first trained by a warlock and most wizards are just waiting for the day Harry turns bad, plus he mouths off to them a lot. Harry’s main backup on his adventures is a vanilla mortal by the name of Karrin Murphy. She’s a police officer and has faced more monsters than most people can imagine. Their relationship is, complicated, mostly because they’re so damned in love with each other but neither makes a move because of, well, a lot of things.

These books are damned fun to read.

So, if you’re ever in the mood for urban fantasy, grab the Harry Dresden books. You’ll enjoy them a lot. Just make sure you read them in order. Although each book can stand alone they work much better as a series.

Now, off to re-read Changes yet again.

Agent in Training by Jerri Drennen: A review (Monday Mania w/Rob Graham)

Agent in Training by Jerri DrennenI have a small confession to make. Although I write romances, both erotic and paranormal, I don’t read them often. They generally don’t appeal to me as I find them formulaic.

However, I suffered a bad bout of insomnia a few days ago. At three in the morning I opened up my iPad and started up my Kindle app. Running my eyes over the books available I selected Agent in Training by Jerri Drennen.

I ended up finishing it in one sitting.

Firstly, I was charmed by the set up. The heroine is taking over a national security agency and the hero, a new agent there, is not happy about it. This leads to friction between them.

At the same time they are very attracted to one another. An attraction that adds to the friction. It was rather fun watching the two of them spark off each other, try to deny how they felt, succumb ‘for just one night’ and then move away only to start over again.

Added to that is it quickly becomes apparent that some one wants the heroine dead.

For some extra pathos, which I quite liked, the heroine’s father is suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s which creates still more stress for our reluctant lovers, and leads to some questions about what the real lineage of the heroine is and how she got her job.

But what ultimately won me over is that the book broke one of the unwritten rules of romance. One I’ve railed against in the past.

Bluntly, I’ve rarely read a romance where the hero wasn’t above the heroine on the social scale. Nurse falls for doctor. Lieutenant fall for her Captain, and so on and so forth. That meme bugs me a lot considering how far women have come.

The heroine in this book is ten years older than the hero, and the head of the agency they both work for. It was this delicious breaking of the rules that made this book quite enjoyable. The heroine certainly wanted the hero, but she didn’t need him.

Even at the end, when she was confronting the person out to get her, she saved herself. The hero was on his way, oh yes. But she had dealt with the problem on her own.

That, more than anything else, made Agent in Training a very good read for me.

Since people like stars in their reviews I’ll give it 4.25 out of five.

Much enjoyed and highly recommended.

Welcome to Heaven’s Garden

Let’s blog together

Heaven’s Garden Productions (CA) is glad to welcome its readers to our new space.  After much contemplation, my husband and I decided to put our three businesses together into one corporation, as they are all connected with our self-publishing adventures.

My husband, author Rob Graham will be a regular Monday Mania blogger in the upcoming weeks and months. You’ll never know what to expect him to talk about. It could be his stories, his thoughts on politics or really, anything. Stop by to find out what he thinks and to comment.

We hope to begin a Wednesday Workshop that will be ongoing. The first bit will be about Social Media, as I have some things already planned in that respect.  I’ll try to spend about a month with each aspect, giving you new ideas on how to use Social Media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and much more.  I’ll link you to some of the best free/paid programs, as I see them from experience.

Friday Friends will be the days when guest bloggers stop by, or we give you the name/addy of friends we think are worth following their blogs. It could be anyone…even Neil Patrick Harris or George Takei. You never know who we’ll suggest.

Sunday Snippets will be when we promote books, ours or others, or we’ll do reviews on books we’ve read. We may share a snippet from a Work in Progress (WIP) You’ll have to come back to check us out and see what we have to offer.

In the near future, we plan to have a regular offering of Two for Tuesdays, which will be two reviews, two books that we think are worth reading, or a review and a book offering.  This will be coming shortly.

The new features available  here at Heaven’s Garden will begin being offered in the next week, when we’ve had time to get some of the kinks worked out of starting a new blog.

Please, come join us each week to see what authors angel and Rob Graham have to offer and to comment at any time.