Super Galactic


Emma is the only human on the planet-sized Violet Enforcer starship. She receives a mysterious message from her lover taunting her to retrieve a gift that he left on the exterior of the ship. Intrigued, she goes outside only to have her spacesuit try to kill her. An investigation into the true source of the message leads to the discovery of a bomb planted in the ships propulsion system. An identical bomb on another starship is not found in time, and thousands of humans, including Emma’s fiancé, are killed along with thousands of members of other species that comprise the galactic police force, Concord. At the same time, unmanned buoys that monitor the activities of species that Concord does not permit to leave their star systems are disabled. All the evidence points to Earth.


Concord: Sabotage is a story of nearly infinite scale. Chris Mason has invented whole universes and done it very plausibly, then he populated the galaxy with scores of fantastic creatures. He even invented pronouns for the unisex species, which smacks a little of the gender identity issues promulgated on universities these days. Nevertheless, Mr. Mason has done a fine job with Concord, as he always does. I must say that the numerous creatures with whom Emma shares the spaceship that is the size of Pluto challenged me to remember who had feathers and who had two heads, but his gentle reminders brought me back on track. The hard science has tremendous verisimilitude, and the mythology is intriguing. Chris Mason’s prose never disappoints. Buy a copy, and read Concord: Sabotage. You won’t regret it.

Across the Multiverse

The Battles Of HastingsThe Battles Of Hastings by Steph Bennion

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jane finds herself playing possum amid the dismembered carcasses on the field after the Battle of Hastings but which Battle of Hastings? A local in period garb is plundering the dead. When he approaches Jane, she grabs an abandoned bow and threatens to put an arrow through his genitals. As it happens, he is a fellow time traveler from an era farther in the future than Jane’s time. Alex reunites Jane with her team leader Darius, and introduces her to Catherine, a time traveler from yet another period. Each has a unique and conflicting opinion of the outcome of the Battle of Hastings. It seems there is someone tampering with history.

The Battles of Hastings is a clever and intelligent novella. Ms. Bennion has an advanced understanding of the theory of the multiverse or parallel universes. Being a multiverse fan myself, I was delighted by this little tale of tinkering with the past. It is extremely well written and offers some of the science behind the real possibility of time travel. Do yourself a favor, spend an afternoon with Duke William at Hastings in 1066.

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The Naiad’s Tale

Naiads Cover

Ears—the fennec cub was a ball of puppy fur with enormous ears and a long, pointed nose. Cyrene cuddled him to her breast as the little fox squirmed to get free. She nuzzled him with her cheek and got the end of her nose nipped. “Damon, that was bad. What am I going to do with you?” She set him on the moss-covered ground, and he began tugging at the hem of her filmy gown. “Damon, stop that. Now, it’s time for a nap. Be still.” She laid her head on the soft tuft of velvety moss, closed her eyes, and let the sound of gently falling water lull her to sleep. The body of the little animal felt warm against her side.

The harsh scream of a hawk woke her in a panic. Feeling for Damon and not finding him, she leapt to her feet and called his name. The hawk screeched again, and she saw that there was nothing in those wicked talons. She began a frantic search for her precious pet before the sharp-eye raptor spotted him first. Following the stream against the flow of the diaphanous water, she called his name desperately.

“Gaia, have you seen my Damon?” she asked the dryad of the oak grove.

“It’s not my job to keep track of your suitors,” the haughty tree nymph retorted.

“No, Damon is a baby fox that Aeolus gave me at the Dionysia on the full moon last.”

Gaia laughed cruelly. “What sense does it make to give a water nymph a fox? He should have given you an otter.”

Cyrene contorted her elfin face. “Go suck an acorn.”

“Give yourself a thrill, Cyrene, douche with tadpoles.”

“Oh, go back in your knothole.” Cyrene stamped her foot and continued up the stream calling her dear pet’s name.

Near the place where the brook bubbled from the rocks, she spied a blur of reddish brown. The little beast’s ears perked at the sound of his name, and he looked at the willowy girl who ran to catch him. Damon turned and darted into the grotto.

“I’ve got you now,” Cyrene said laughing. She picked her way across the stepping-stones cool and slick beneath her bare feet. The joyful water frolicked from the fountain in the center of the brooding cavern. Little Damon taunted her from the wet stone floor at the back of the smallish hollow. “You can’t get away from me now,” she giggled as she splashed through the last few steps in the pool.

But Damon wasn’t finished with the game. His tiny paws thumped on the damp floor as he vanished behind a boulder. Cyrene sprinted after her playmate. To her dismay, he vanished into the blackness of a hidden chasm there.

“Damon, you come out of there this instant. If I have to come get you, I’ll bump my head on the low ceiling or fall into some bottomless pit.”

The little fox made no sound.

With a sigh, the girl flipped her golden tresses behind her shoulders and started into the Stygian darkness feeling her way along the humid walls. She focused her mind on her sisters of the stagnant waters. She sent a plea to the fens and marshes, cupped her hands, and opened them to release the faerie light. A bluish ball of cool light danced on her palm. It barely vanquished the gloom but offered enough illumination to spare her cracking her skull on the jagged ceiling.

The flickering orb of light also made Damon’s beady eyes glow. “I see you,” she tittered, and the tiny fox turned again to flee deeper into the inky labyrinth. Cyrene followed by the glow the cold fire, but it rolled from her hand and bounced along the floor. Blue became green. It flared and subsided to blue again with perhaps some orange. In the brief flash of brightness, she saw it—a face, creased and leering. “Oh,” she gasped, “who are you?”

“Are we lost, little girl?” a disembodied voice asked from the darkness.

“I’m looking for my baby fennec, Damon.”

The marsh light twinkled to life and floated around her head. She could see nothing beyond its feeble glow.

“Are we lost, I say?” the voice had an unpleasant edge of mirth.

“I don’t think so. As soon as I catch Damon, I’ll go back the way I came.”

“Did you come this way?” The will-o‘-the-wisp swished sidewise as if thrown by an unseen hand. “Or that way?” The purplish fire blazed in front of her in the opposite direction. At each end of the arc, she saw the gaping maw of a divergent tunnel.

“I don’t think I came from either of those passages.” She felt confused and frightened.

“Are we lost then, little girl?” the voice in the darkness cackled.

“Again, I don’t think so, but if you might help me catch Damon, I’ll be out of your way.”

“If we catch the little beast, we eats it.”

“No,” Cyrene wailed. “He’s hardly got a morsel of flesh on his tiny body.” She tried to capture the shimmering constellation of light. Her hand went right through it. Shadowy palms reached from obscurity, engulfed, and extinguished it. The naiad sent her prayers back to her sisters of the stagnant pools, and again the magic fire kindled in her hands. “Damon, Damon,” she called, and heedless of the scarcely seen menace, resumed her pursuit of the impish canine. Her fen fire flared once more, pulsing yellow and revealing the malign features.

“Your precious tidbit did not come this way, little girl.”

“Well, which way did he go then?” She stood rigid feeling her imperious side return.

“Which way will you go, little girl?”

“Stop calling me little girl. I’ll have you know, I am the daughter of a king.”

“Doesn’t make you any less of a little girl, and now you’re a lost little girl who cannot even find my supper.”

“I’ll not hear any more of this. Damon is simply not edible. And who are you anyway?”

The murky countenance faded into the gloom. Cyrene tried to thrust the globe of light toward it, but the bauble of blue morphed green and pink and tumbled from her tenuous grasp. She followed the feeble source of light if only to stay in its comforting sphere.

A plaintive yip froze her. She swatted at the glowing cluster and succeeded in swishing it in the direction of the sound. Tiny eyes burned in the umbra and the diminutive cub cowered on the cold stone. Scooping him into her arms, she embraced his soggy fur while he squirmed and kissed her chin.

“Ah, we have found our victuals, have we?”

“I have found nothing of the sort, whoever you are,” Cyrene tried to sound bigger than she felt.

“Give us a taste.”

“Don’t be absurd. Damon is safe now, and we’re going home, thank you.”

“We are going home, are we? Do we know where home is?”

“We’ll find our way. You needn’t worry.”

“Did you say you came from this way?” As before, the wraith contained the nebulous swamp light and shone it on the entry of a passageway, then swung it toward another. “Or this way?”

“We came from the way we came. I shall simply retrace my steps.”

“Oh, really?” The cluster of scintillating blue pinpricks swept around her colliding with a blank wall. They slid to the floor and recoalesced. “Did you say you came from that way?”

Cyrene’s bluff wilted. “Which way did I come?”

“Little girl is lost. Now we shall have her precious, and we shall have our dinner.”

“No,” she pleaded. “Which way did I come?”

“Little dog first.”

“He’s not a dog, and you shan’t have him. I’ll find my way.” She attempted to gather the recalcitrant ghost-light. It flowed over her hand while she clutched tiny, wriggling Damon with the other.

Invisible fingers pinched her curvaceous haunch. “Succulent. Perhaps we let the bony beast be and dine on the lost little girl.”

The ghostly thumb and finger made her leap and cry, “You don’t know who you’re dealing with. I shall no more let you eat me than Damon.”

Cackling, the hideous visage thrust toward her face barely perceptible in the meager radiance. “She won’t let us? However does she plan to stop us?”

“You don’t know who you’re dealing with.”

“We heard that before—daughter of a king. All the more toothsome it sounds.”

Cyrene forced her mind to calm. She let her energy flow with the current sending her will to the fountain that frothed in the grotto spilling gentle water into the brook that was her domain. With her naiad’s will, she bent the course of the obedient fluid. She heard the trickle increase to a torrent, and then to a rapid. The first wave curled around her dainty feet and quickly floated her sheer garment to her thighs. In heartbeats, the surge wafted her on its sacred bosom deeper into the bowels of the earth while sweeping the dreadful mountain nymph with it.

The column of water carrying Cyrene and her beloved, but drenched, fennec pup rose through a rocky chimney while leaving the drowned shell of her nemesis far below. Sweet sunlight warmed her face as the sheltering deluge emerged from the netherworld placing her and her charge gently onto the sandy bottom of a limpid pool. The naiad gracefully unfolded her silky legs, swept her flowing locks from her eyes, and adjusted her transparent gown before taking poor, soaked Damon to the grassy bank where he shook the water from his downy coat. He shivered and supplicated her to take him to her breast. She embraced the fickle little beast that licked her face and once more nipped her nose.

Some Really Weird Ideas

False Steps: The Space Race as It Might Have BeenFalse Steps: The Space Race as It Might Have Been by Paul Drye

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Nazis had a plan to put a huge mirror in orbit that could focus sunlight on military targets and boil ocean water to generate electricity in peaceful times. During the war, the Nazis also had plans for a space plane that they intended to use to bomb New York. In the fifties, the British had a space program that they abandoned. The US Army planned to build a base on the moon and keep a permanent detachment of soldiers there. Their launch site was to be on Christmas Island. The Soviets’ premier rocket designers worked from a forced labor camp. The Japanese had a space program. There was an American proposal to create a spacesuit that would allow stricken astronauts to parachute from orbit. As a precautionary measure for the Apollo moon landing, a design was proposed for stranded astronauts to blast off the moon’s surface in a rocket-powered chair.

Paul Drye recounts over fifty space flight schemes that worked, failed, or were laughed off the drawing board. All of the spacefaring nations and some that you never expected to fall into that category are represented here. False Steps is an intriguing collection of space trivia that will fascinate space enthusiasts, engineers, and nerds in general. The remarkable depth of research the author has done is nothing less than astounding. I was delighted to learn that on a proposed long-term mission to Venus, astronauts were to be allowed to take two kilograms of movies and one and a half kilograms of recorded music. Using kilos as a unit of measure for music and movies had not previously occurred to me; although, in retrospect, I can think of plenty of music that ought to be judged in kilograms. Mr. Drye’s writing style is crisp and clear if necessarily burdened by acronyms and initials—he is, after all, recounting military and governmental jargon. False Steps captivated me from start to finish. Anyone interested in space and technology will love it.

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Decisions; and They’re All Bad

Decisions (Family Forever Book 5)Decisions by Tamara Miller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Franny’s husband, Harry, died a slow, miserable death from cancer. Then her mother, Isla, sank into the sad morass of dementia and had to be put into an assisted living center. It was not a happy task. At the same time, the lives of Franny’s twin daughters, Emma and Jani, are upset by a flurry of troubling pregnancies. Jani is expecting her third child and fears complications. Jenny, a distant acquaintance, arrives at Emma’s house and announces that she and her husband of two days need a place to stay. He splits before she knows that she is expecting. Alice, Jani’s nanny, realizes that she is pregnant and doesn’t know where the father is. While all these stressful events are unfolding, Fanny is being courted, maybe seduced is a better word, by her boss, Bryan. Emma and Jani are aghast, but none of them know that Bryan is damaged goods. Could it possibly end well?

Tamara Miller is the queen of family drama. She brilliantly draws the reader into the landscape and time period of her stories, and, of course, into the joy and heartaches of her characters’ lives—Decisions having more heartaches than joys. Ms. Miller’s prose is clean and flowing. She illustrates her scenes with slices of real-life—kids squealing around the Christmas tree, the thrill of an illicit kiss, or the terror of contemplating an illegal abortion. Decisions is the fifth volume in her Family Forever series. She says it’s the last. We can hope that’s not true.

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A Long Strange Trip

The Lost Years of Billy Battles (Finding Billy Battles Trilogy #3)The Lost Years of Billy Battles by Ronald E. Yates

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As Europe plunges toward war, German agents manipulate competing political factions in Mexico to draw Washington’s attention to its southern border. Kansas sand cutter, William Fitzroy Raglan Battles, who spent the first half century of his life fighting outlaws in the American west, rebels in the Philippines and in Vietnam, settled into a life of peace and harmony in Chicago with his second wife, Katharina. However, in Billy Battles’ life, adversity always arises. A phone call from his old friend and commanding officer, General Funston, lured him and Katharina to Veracruz on a mission to mingle with the German community in the hope of gaining intelligence regarding Germany’s meddling. The pair, being both German speakers, soon had knowledge of the Kaiser’s plan to arm the Mexican rebels in the north under Carranza, Villa, Zapata, and Obregón. They also unwittingly thwarted the delivery of a submarine load of gold and silver bars.

Villa’s incursions into the United States drew Billy back to the border, and he even joined Pershing’s expedition into Mexico in search of the rebel general. In the meantime, war erupted in Europe, and the neutral U.S. was unable to return the interdicted gold and silver to its rightful owner. General Funston entrusted Billy with the task of stashing it in a secret bunker on a nascent military base in New Mexico. Only Funston and Billy had a key.

Billy’s gallivanting around Mexico did not sit well with Katharina. To placate her, the pair made some trips around the country, since Europe was off limits. They renewed acquaintances with the likes of Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp. Remember that I said adversity always arises? On a short idyll to Michigan, Billy’s lifelong nemesis, the notorious Bledsoe clan, made a play for vengeance that had a life-shattering impact on Billy. His retaliation forced him to flee to Southeast Asia once again where he spent many years putting his life back together.

Ron Yates did me the great honor of allowing me to do a pre-release read of this final chapter in the incredible life of Billy Battles. Mr. Yates does extensive research, has a keen grasp of history, and is a world-class storyteller. He is also a professor of Kansas-speak. The colloquialisms and Kansas jargon Ron Yates puts into the mouths of his characters will amaze and delight. The Lost Years is a stand-alone book. There is plenty of backstory to keep the first-time reader current on how we got to where we are; however, I would urge readers approaching this book to go back and buy volumes one and two as well. This trilogy is a long strange trip, and you don’t want to miss any of it.


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“Gravity Waves” by Scott Skipper: Another Hilarious Addition to the “Alien Affairs” Series

Marcha Foxe is a great writer and blogger. She is also a rocket scientist who used to work for NASA. Thanks, Marcha, for the great review.

Marcha's Two-Cents Worth


This is one of my very favorite series, ever, and this episode further confirmed that whatever science fiction sub-genre this happens to be, it’s what I’d choose if I had to, over just about anything else. I guess it could be called something like “snarky, politically incorrect, hard sci-fi” and I love it. It has technology and theoretical physics speculations to feed my nerdy, physicist brain; sarcasm that makes me wish I could be as witty; and snarky undertones to evoke hysterical laughter, such that my cat glares at me for disturbing her sleep when I’m reading in bed.

It was so much fun to get a glimpse of half-breed, Terrie Dreshler, now fully grown not only to adulthood, but middle age, to say nothing of her mother, Carrie Player, now an old lady, at least chronologically, and stepping into that role where she admonishes those around her for their…

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A Devious Woman

Blood and BlackmailBlood and Blackmail by Robert Trainor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Justine’s estranged husband raped and tortured her daughter by a previous marriage. Jesse was drawn into the matter through a chance encounter. Trent, the rapist, also took obscene photographs of his victim after the violation. Justine is adamant about recovering the pictures and convinces Jesse to help her break into and search the house. Before beginning the search for the obscene prints, Justine sneaks upstairs to verify that Trent is out of town as he said he would be. She discovers his body.

Blood and Blackmail is a well-crafted and clever mystery. The courtroom scene is especially well done with convincing legal procedures and norms. The characters are the best part of this book. They are superbly developed with unique voices. You are going to love Vanessa, she demonstrates the author’s brilliance. I will qualify that by saying that the characters tend to speak in lengthy monologues rather than the fragments most people use. There are a few other events that stretch credulity, but what is credulity for, if not to be stretched? Mr. Trianor’s prose is strong, smooth flowing, and grammatically accurate. The format of Blood and Blackmail is slightly unorthodox, however. It shifts from first to third person, and the police interview scenes are written like a court report or a script where the speaker is labeled before the dialogue begins. I cannot say that my enjoyment of the book was very much, if at all, diminished by this. I have high praise for Robert Trainor, and I look forward to reading more of his plentiful works.

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A Cautionary Tale

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Environmental contamination has decreased fertility. The fallout from this has spawned a strangely violent cult of morality. Viable ovaries are in high demand; therefore, men with influence are given exclusive access to breeding females who are not wives but handmaids. The handmaids are forced to wear chaste red dresses and white headpieces with modesty wings. They live sheltered lives in the homes of the Commanders with no access to entertainment or diversion except the monthly ritual of being held fast by the Commander’s wife while he attempts to impregnate her. Any violation of the strict code of conduct is dealt with in brutal and often lethal ways.

A Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1986. I read it then and recently reread it as required reading for the La Verne Writers’ Group. I have to say that I enjoyed it more in 1986. Not that it isn’t a great book, but this time through it, I found some parts going on a little excessively. Some scenes seemed repetitious. An element of the plot is a backlash against feminism, which was a more current theme in the eighties. Curiously, during this second reading, I was struck by how much Attwood’s apocalyptic world looked like a sharia zone. I had completely missed it before. Apparently, it wasn’t lost on Ms. Attwood, because she said: “They blamed it on Islamic fanatics, at the time.” Another element that lessened my enjoyment is that as I’ve aged as a reader, and perhaps a writer, I view metaphors with an increasingly jaundiced eye, and Margaret Attwood is nothing if not the queen of metaphors. The edition that I most recently read had an amusing sort of epilogue. It was a scholarly analysis of A Handmaid’s Tale from the viewpoint of academics in the distant future after having discovered it hidden on audio cassettes.

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Revisiting a Classic


From the deck of a yacht anchored on the Thames, while waiting for the tide to turn, Marlow relates a tale from his varied past. After hiring on as the skipper of a steamer bound for the interior of darkest Africa, ostensibly in pursuit of the ivory trade, Marlow finds that he is enmeshed in the drama surrounding an enigmatic officer of the Company, Kurtz. Everyone on the river is in awe of Kurtz who has created a sort of fiefdom among the indigenous tribes. In addition to the profit motive, the Company’s subtext is dragging the savage into the bosom of civilization at any cost to the poor brute. The crew, which is comprised solely of cannibals, vastly outnumbers the white men who are in charge of the dilapidated vessel, and they are, inexplicably, left to find their own food while the masters dine on tinned European delicacies. Word then spreads that Kurtz has fallen victim to the ubiquitous fever, and Marlow is forced to race against the treacherous current to reach him before it is too late.

The Heart of Darkness is, of course, a classic. It is brief, barely more than a novella, and it is told in the voice of Marlow whose narration gives the story a personal feel. Scenes that on their surface appear mundane resonate with subtle mystery. The role of Europeans in Africa is probed and prodded from many angles. It may have been required reading for many of you at an early date in your academic career, and many of you might have slogged through it under protest. The suggestion of this somewhat seasoned reader is: revisit it. It’s a journey worth repeating.