Off the Bookshelf: The Lost Fleet, Storm Front, Fuller Memorandum

I’m in the midst of my spring reading doldrums. Between work, Cub Scouts, and baseball, most of my free time is accounted for. If I’m honest, when I do have free time I’m more likely to spend it catching up on episodes of Legion or The Flash than I am picking up one of the books I’ve got lying around.

The Lost Fleet

To motivate myself to go to the gym in the late winter and early spring, I started re-reading Jack Campbell’s The Lost Fleet series as audio books. I listened to the first four books in the series: Dauntless, Fearless, Courageous, and Valiant.

The series tells the story of “Black Jack” Geary, a captain who fights a desperate (and ultimately losing) battle in the early days of a war between two spacefaring human nations: democratic Alliance and the authoritarian Syndicate Worlds. He survives in cryosleep for a century while his legend grows up around him. By the time an Alliance fleet finds Black Jack, it’s foretold that the “Living Stars” will return him to lead them to victory.

Immediately after finding him, the Alliance fleet flies into a trap set by the Syndics. It wipes out the Alliance fleet leadership, traps the fleet far behind enemy lines … and sets up Geary as the most senior officer present.

The books hold up well to a second reading. In the follow up series, Beyond the Frontier Geary’s become all but infallible (the last book in that series redeems that fault), but in these novels he’s still making the occasional mistake. He almost always wins, but there is at least one major engagement that he has to run from. I paused listening to the series so I could start saving up Audible credits for my summer reading list, but I intend to finish the last two books this fall.

Storm Front

I started reading Jim Butler’s Storm Front because I wanted to play in a Dresden Files-inspired Fiasco event at MEPACon back in March. It’s all but impossible for a speculative fiction fan in 2017 to not have heard of The Dresden Files, but it’s not something I’ve read before. I’m not a big urban/modern fantasy fan — I’ve dabbled in it from time to time, but for the most part I’m more likely to delve into epic fantasy or science fiction.

The opportunity to play Fiasco — an improv-based RPG in which players recreate some sort of heist and watch it go horribly wrong (e.g. Fargo) — was enough to get me to pick up the book though. It’s been a decent read. I understand the series gets stronger as you go along, particularly after book 3.

The book is told from the point of view of Harry Dresden, a wizard for hire in Chicago (ok, the only wizard for hire in Chicago). He’s a private investigator who augments his deductive skills with magic. He’s had some run-ins with the White Council, a group of wizards that governs human use of magic, thanks to having used magic to kill someone in self defense. Now he’s caught up in an arcane murder mystery in which he’s the primary suspect.

I enjoyed Butler’s take on magic and the costs associated with it (those costs are a major theme of the first book). It starts off slowly, but the final third of the book rockets along as Dresden digs deeper and deeper into his magical repertoire to defeat his enemy.

The Fuller Memorandum

The only print book I’m reading this spring is The Fuller Memorandum, the third Laundry Files book by Charles Stross. Once again Bob Howard — IT guy, secret agent, and practitioner of digitized arcane arts — is up against secrets man was not meant to know. This time around he’s replaced his trusty Trio with an iPhone, augmented by all manner of specialized occult applications installed by Pinky and Brain, the Laundry’s skunkworks specialists.

The book opens with an occult investigation gone wrong, leading to Bob having to take a forced vacation at home. Soon afterwards his boss and mentor disappears, drawing him inexorably into the larger plot.

It’s been a slow read. It’s not that the book is bad — it’s on par with the two previous books in the series — but I think it’s hitting a little too close to home. This spring’s been crazy busy for me at work, and Bob’s misadventures are hitting a little too close to home. I may need to put this one on hiatus until the fall, and turn my attention to building my summer reading list for 2017.

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