The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Winter Good Reads Part 2: Urban/Modern Fantasy Titles


Review of Paradigms Lost by Ryk E Spoor (Baen, Nov 15, 2014)

This is an urban fantasy set in an alternate 1999-2001. This is a vastly expanded and revised volume which contains the contents of the story entitled “Digital Knight”. Jason Wood is an expert in information searches, image processing and enhancement, pattern matching and data forensics. Some of his contracts are with law enforcement.

A dead contact on his doorstep sends Jason and his girlfriend Sylvie into an adventure involving people who don’t appear on film, werewolves (including an entire town full of them), court appearances relating to werewolf prostitution, and parties which lead to murder. This story is formatted as a murder mystery but actually Jason ends up investigating multiple crimes which are all linked together by werewolf involvement.

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As the existence of werewolves being public knowledge is relatively new, the laws written with only humans in mind have not been adapted to include how they apply to werewolves. As some werewolves kill humans in order to gain power, and they are very difficult to kill or arrest, a new approach is needed.

Computer geek Jason is an interesting character and the members of his supporting cast add depth to his world. It is sort of strange seeing “high-tech” gear which is now either commonplace or outdated, but adding werewolves and other supernatural creatures to the world of the 2000s definitely would make them more interesting. For those of us who lived through all the security changes brought about by the millennium and the terrorist attacks of 2001, all the people trying to secure against an internal threat as opposed to an external one was quite amusing and allows you to reflect back on how stupidly short-sighted some government entities can be.


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Review of Spell Blind: Case Files of Justis Fearsson by David B. Coe (Baen, Jan 6, 2015)

David B. Coe’s new series is an urban fantasy detective series set in a modern day Phoenix, Arizona where magic exists but most people don’t believe in it. Magic users keep their abilities a secret from most of society. Weremystes hide during the full moon because it changes them, ramping up their magical abilities while damping down their sanity.

Justis (Jay) used to be a Phoenix police detective like his father who is now retired, but weremystes aren’t accepted by most parts of society. No workplaces have rules about missing work on the days the moon is full because your magic goes off the scale and your sanity goes out the window. Only his ex-partner Kona Shaw knows he is a weremyste. Justis makes a living as a private investigator now. He’s on a case involving a runaway teenager who is the daughter of a well-known businessman and evidence suggests that drug use may have been involved. His search for the missing girl leads him to a bigger problem when several weremystes are magically attacked by an unknown assailant. He meets Billie Castle, a blogger covering the case and there is mutual attraction, but Justis’ weremyste nature makes for a complicated love life.

This is a fast paced urban fantasy mystery with murder, magic, family issues and romantic entanglements. As we see more mysteries in future volumes it will be interesting to see where Justis’ only slightly functional social skills lead to in the family and romance department. The characters and plot are both interesting and the magical part of the modern setting makes it different from other series out there. An excellent read for urban fantasy fans!

Interview with David B. Coe at MarsCon

Exploding Spaceship: Was the research for this modern series a good change from the historical settings you have used in the past?

David B. Coe: Yes, it was a welcome change. Having to do extensive research for a new setting is a challenge, but having different types of settings for my series make it more interesting. (Note: Coe writes historical urban fantasy as D.B. Jackson)

ES: “Case Files” means this is going to be a series?

DBC: Yes.

ES: When will we see the next volume?

DBC: August or September.

ES: What is the next volume called?

DBC: His Father’s Eyes.

ES: So we will see more of Justis’ dad in the next volume?

DBC: Yes, quite a bit more.


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 Review of The Mussorgsky Riddle by Darin Kennedy (Curiosity Quills Press, January 12, 2015)

The Mussorgsky Riddle by Darin Kennedy (Curiosity Quills Press, January 12, 2015)

This is a modern fantasy story centered around psychic Mira Tejedor as she uses her talents to help a comatose 13-year-old boy. She has previously helped find other people with her talents but never someone lost inside their own head as Anthony is.

Mira’s adventures in Anthony’s head are pretty straightforward fantasy, although they are contained within an unusual framework. The Pictures at An Exhibition (the artworks by Viktor Hartmann that inspired Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky) are all present as physical paintings or representations, with the musical components present as background sound, each movement from the suite being a different part of his psyche.

The book is very well written with good flow, which was especially important with the two vastly different settings. Darin Kennedy’s medical knowledge is obvious from the scenes in a medical setting and the times when a character has a mishap which requires attention. Mira and her psychic skills are an interesting juxtaposition on a modern world. It will be interesting to see if her continued success will impact her larger world.

The story is structured like a mystery; with one of the places Mira gets clues being Anthony’s mind, the settings and characters in the scenes of the fantasy adventure in Anthony’s head give clues to Mira. All the characters in both the real world and in Anthony’s fantasy adventure are well developed, although the fantasy adventure ones really are meant to all add up to being the reader’s picture of Anthony’s character since in the real world he rarely moves and doesn’t communicate.

This is an exceptional first novel, well written, well plotted, with a very imaginative main character and background. The dream-like scenes in Anthony’s mind remind you of the dark fairy-tales and myths upon which they are based. Perhaps we’ll get further adventures of Mira and get to see her relationship with Thomas grow. Plus the love/hate relationship with the police detective could also prove interesting. This is a good read for both mystery lovers and fantasy readers as long as they don’t mind a little mixed genre.


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Review of Undercity (Baen, Dec 2, 2014 ) by Catherine Asaro

This is the first volume of a new series set in Asaro’s Skolian Empire Universe. The main character is Bhaajan, a former military officer who is now a private investigator. Bhaajan had been working in Selei City on Parthonia, the capital of the Skolian Imperialate, but a client paid a large sum of money for her to take a case on the planet Raylican in the City of Cries where she had grown up. She is surprised to discover that her employer is not just a wealthy person, but the Majda Matriarch who is also one of the Joint Commanders in charge of the Skolian military.

We get to see the culture of the lower classes on Raylicon revealed in great detail in this volume. The upper classes still keep their males hidden to non-family but the lower classes have more equality of the sexes.

Bhaajan uses her childhood connections to investigate the undercity and find a runaway prince, but along the way she stumbles onto a bigger plot that could change the balance of power in the entire Imperialate. She becomes a much more well-rounded character as we discover her past, including friends and enemies. These people from the past bring an emotional response from Bhaajan and cause her to step up her game.

The book is plotted like a private investigator case story but has special ops elements as well as some moments of non-violent demonstration. The ending of the book leaves Bhaajan still in the City of Cries and in a situation good for many more adventures. Compared to previous Skolian Empire novels this one has a straighter plot and lower class characters, which resulted in a more enjoyable read. The Empire is more complete culturally now that we are seeing the parts of society never seen in previous novels.

This is a great reading choice for lovers of science fiction adventure and a good starting point if you haven’t read any of Asaro’s other volumes. Also, if you tried her work previously and were not a fan, we would suggest giving her another try with this volume because the pace has picked up and the tone is different. This is now our favorite volume and we have been reading her stuff since she sold us a copy of Primary Inversion from a little table in a Waldenbooks in 1995!

Your Humble Reviewers hope to see more volumes of this series soon!

The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Winter Good Reads Part 1: Science Fiction and High Fantasy Titles



Review of  The Fortress in Orion: Dead Enders Book One (Pyr, Dec 2, 2014) by Mike Resnick

It’s the first volume in his new space opera series set in his Birthright Universe. Cyborgs, aliens, convicts, or war heroes can all make interesting main characters. But what if you make them into an ensemble cast of a space adventure book? Resnick has taken these different character types and made them into a mostly non-military special ops team.

This is old-school space opera with the only military character leading a bunch of civilians. There is plenty of intrigue and some interesting characters that use brains and special skills to do their jobs, not just guns. Three members of the group are women: Snake, Pandora and Circe are all strong characters, but each of them shows strength in a different way. They have very distinct looks, personalities and skill sets. The other two team members are a male human and an alien who looks like a male human, but that is really a visual illusion; his appearance won’t fool electronics or cameras.


The team has to go to a space station full of aliens to switch an alien military leader with a clone version trained to lead the aliens to peace with humanity. Nothing goes quite according to plan, of course, but we do get a battle and some very impressive fast-talking from the clone.

Your Humble Reviewers really enjoyed this book and greatly appreciated the believable relationships of the women with each other and with the male (or visually male) members of the team including the alien clone. We look forward to more volumes of Dead Enders tales.


Originator: A Cassandra Kresnov Novel (Pyr, Jan 6, 2015) by Joel Shepherd

This is the sixth volume in his space adventure series. The series is military SF from the viewpoint of a synthetic human but is more about Cassandra’s growth and change as a character than about the big picture plot. The big picture impacts her quite a bit, so you see it, but it is really about how the events impact her life, not about the events themselves. The series has quite a great deal to say about what it means to be human and what makes humans want to be parents, even when they didn’t have parents themselves. It has enough action to satisfy space adventure and special ops fans, but is centered on characters and so should satisfy readers who want more character-driven stories. Read the rest of this entry »

The Exploding Spaceship visits MarsCon 2015


Review of MarsCon (January 16-18, 2015), Williamsburg, Virginia, Fort Magruder Hotel and Conference Center

In the southeast US, MarsCon is one of the best-organized science fiction conventions that focuses on writers and writing, and in this, their 25th year, they had the logistics figured out well.

This year saw a bumper crop of good writers attending with David Weber, David B. Coe, Katherine Kurtz, Alethea Kontis, and Steve White all discussing their writing, signing books, and dispensing advice for other writers. With several Baen authors in attendance, they got a visit from the Baen Roadshow as well, so we got to see all the art of upcoming books.

The con hotel and several next to it were full. Parking was at a premium but they did have crew out to try and send you to where there were spaces. We opted to stay offsite and drive elsewhere for dinner and then didn’t return for evening events. The con space was large enough for the crowds but some of the auditorium style rooms with chairs and table were a bit small for some panels (like the Baen Roadshow). The dealer room had many book dealers and several game dealers as well as artists and crafts people. The tables were spaced well on two sides, but the space at the back between the row against the wall and the row opposite was too tight, if you got people looking at one table you blocked the way for people to get by or look at stuff on the opposite table. So it would be best to visit there on Friday before it gets crowded.

Buzz Lightyear in Mark I Space Ranger Powersuit

Steampunk Buzz Lightyear

There were some excellent costumes including those pictured. There were also many Honorverse uniformed fans from different ships, as can be expected when David Weber is at a convention. Your Humble Reviewers really enjoyed the round robin musical session on Sunday. Many conventions only have music at times when people are doing panels, having meals after the panel tracks end, or so late on Saturday that anyone needing to be up on Sunday morning has gone off to bed!

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Beast Boy from Teen Titans

This year most of the science fiction writers and scientists on panels were male and for next year the con chair wants to concentrate on women in STEM careers and women who write science fiction (many of the female guests were fantasy writers). Robot battles with all female teams were also mentioned as a possibility for next year. The female half of the review team has already volunteered for panels and robots for next year. We want next year’s female-focused events to be excellent so the males can’t complain, so all you female science people from the RTP area, volunteer! It’s really only a short drive away and will be fun. This con definitely had an oversupply of males of all ages, so women writers and scientists should volunteer for next year, and bring your younger female friends and relatives with you! Visit and send email to .


The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Our Favorite Anthologies of 2014


First we have two short story collection volumes by authors we know, Lee Martindale and David Drake. Lee’s volume crosses all genres and David’s is mostly time travel to hunt dinosaurs.

We enjoyed all the stories in Bard’s Road: The Collected Fiction of Lee Martindale (June 1, 2014, HarpHaven), even re-reading those we had read in their original publication.  We bring you highlights of the volume, as its 29-story length makes it impractical to discuss all of them.

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Our favorite has to be “Combat Shopping”, the title of which has now become our code phrase for a frustrating shopping mall trip, particularly during the holiday season. Lee does humorous pieces extremely well and we particularly like her contributions to Esther Friesner’s anthologies. Read the rest of this entry »

Coming to Town: John and Carole Barrowman for NC Comicon


Article and Interview by Angela and Gerald Blackwell (The Exploding Spaceship)

This weekend, Nov 15th and 16th, NC Comicon is being held at the Durham Convention Center. Featured guests include John and Carole Barrowman, Tommy Lee Edwards, Neal Adams, and Sean Murphy. See the entire guest list and download a schedule at Some highlights of the schedule include a panel with John and Carole, the US premiere of a new Kung Fu Panda short, a Lego panel with the editor of BrickJournal magazine, artist portfolio reviews and a writing workshop with Carole.

Interview with John and Carole Barrowman

Both you and John have fans in North Carolina and we have wanted for years for you to attend an event here, so we are very happy that you are visiting NC Comicon. Is this your first trip to North Carolina for an author event or convention?

CB: We’re both looking forward to this con! When my children were small, my husband and I did a road trip through the Carolinas and up to Washington DC. It’s beautiful country.

JB: I’ve never been to the Raleigh/Durham area, but I’m looking forward to it, even if only for a quick in and out visit.

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What is the US release date for Book of Beasts?

JB: Simon and Schuster will release the third book in our trilogy next year some time. Perhaps later in the summer. We don’t have an official date yet. The cover is amazing, though. Read the rest of this entry »

Coming to Town: David Weber and Timothy Zahn for HonorCon


Article and Interviews by The Exploding Spaceship (Angela and Gerald Blackwell)

This weekend (Oct 31-Nov 2) HonorCon is being held at the Hilton North Raleigh/Midtown. This is a science fiction convention celebrating military science fiction literature and Honor Harrington’s birthday. Most of the events feature David Weber’s Honorverse which now has a new participant, Timothy Zahn. A Call to Duty by David Weber and Timothy Zahn was released on October 7 (see review here). This is the first volume in a new series about the early days of the Royal Manticoran Navy.

The convention will include events about all aspects of the Honorverse including some panels led by fan groups as well as the expected Weber panels, events about writing and getting published, and some panels on other science fiction universes like Star Wars, Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica. You can see a full schedule of events here. Online tickets have sold out, so if you don’t have yours already, then you must buy them onsite, where there are weekend passes as well as Saturday- and Sunday-only passes, as well as reduced-price children’s tickets.


Interview with Timothy Zahn

You have a new book out which is set in the Honorverse. Can you tell us how you went about this collaboration? Did you interact with BuNine as well as David Weber?

David, Thomas Pope, and I first hash out the story, after which I write it all down in a general outline. David and Tom read the outline and we tweak it until we’re all satisfied. I then write the preliminary draft, which is then again filtered through David and Tom (and, via Tom, through BuNine). They send me their comments/suggestions/changes, and I do the rewrite. One final pass by everyone, a final (hopefully final) polish, and we’re done.

What are some of the events you are looking forward to at HonorCon? Read the rest of this entry »

The Exploding Spaceship Release Day Edition: Review of A Call to Duty and Falling Sky



Review of A Call to Duty, Manticore Ascendant: Book One by David Weber and Timothy Zahn (October 7, 2014, Baen)

Timothy Zahn is writing in David Weber’s Honorverse and he presents a story from the early days of the Royal Manticoran Navy. And at 354 pages, it has to be one of the shortest books in the series. Zahn has made himself as much at home in Weber’s extensive universe as he did when writing in the Star Wars universe.

The first four years of Travis Uriah Long’s enlistment parallel the story of the RMN during the same period. There are many people who don’t care about being battle ready, more who lie, cheat and steal, and those honest, hard workers like Travis get punished when they don’t accept that behavior. His refusal to back down to someone who is wrong leads him to switch from Impeller Tech to Gravitics Tech during his post-basic training. This ends up serving him well to get him posted to a ship which is a tightly run place like he imagined they all were before he enlisted.

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His outside-the-box strategies to get himself, his mates, and his ship out of danger or to rescue others are just what the revamped RMN will need. For those of you who haven’t read any of this series, this one is a good place to start because it is shorter and occurs earlier in the RMN’s timeline than the books focused on Honor Harrington.

As with all Honorverse books, you get naval battles, ship techie talk, and personal interactions of the crew. This volume was an easy read compared to some previous volumes and is of normal novel length. The plot and pacing are good and we see quite a bit of Long’s character and even what some of his officers think of him, which can be enlightening about that particular officer’s character. Hopefully we will see another volume with Travis Long in the near future.

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Review of Falling Sky by Rajan Khanna (October 7, 2014, Pyr)

Airships, feral zombie-like humans created by a disease, and a Jewish hero named Ben Gold all come together to make a very interesting post-apocalyptic first novel. Ben has an airship named the Cherub, which he inherited from his father.  Because of the risks of being on the ground, he lives in the airship most of the time.

Ben has hooked up with a group of scientists who want to cure the disease, but their refuge gets attacked by inhabitants from a floating city. Now he must work with the scientists, some old friends, and some new acquaintances to get them and their airships all out of the clutches of their attackers.

It’s fast-paced with good characterization and the background of the world and Ben’s history is a steady trickle throughout the story rather than being dumped on you all at once. Background information pops up as it becomes relevant to the narrative, as it should do in a well-written novel.

Ben balances a current love interest with an old girlfriend but does eventually end up with only one girl. We are left hanging as to their future beyond their surviving the final battle, so hopefully there will be another volume coming soon. This one was around 250 pages, so perhaps a second book was written at the same time and we won’t have to wait long!


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