Spoiler Free Summary: The Start of Something Beautiful by Kacey Ezell is the final story in the Four Horsemen anthology, For a Few Credits More. Azah is a Tortantula who never should have survived hatching. Azah is about to bond an infant Flatar (and I just don’t know what that is, I think it’s the Torantula word for human, but I don’t know). But the infant Flatar, Sadek, isn’t at all what Azah expected, but after a close encounter with Azah’s murderous siblings, they start to see each other in a different light.
Character: Azah is proactive enough, but the character isn’t very sympathetic. Part of the issue stems from a short story (though this is the beginning of a novel by Ezell and Mark Wandrey called Weaver). It’s hard to connect with a character in just a portion of a story.
Exposition: This was honestly the best part of the story. I had my issues with this story, but at least the author didn’t try to narrate the problem away. The story moves quickly without forcing the reader to sit through a history and biology lesson.
World building: This story fell way short here for me. It might be that this story relies on the universe and is targeted straight at long-time fans of the universe, but I’m not in that group. I was lost. Sure, I understood the actions of the story, but I don’t have any context and couldn’t begin to tell you much about how this story works.
Dialogue: It wasn’t badly disguised exposition, but it wasn’t very informative either. It wasn’t snappy, and it didn’t really add to the conflict or tension. The characters just sort of talked to each other without any real range or wit.
Description: Honestly, I needed more here. I get that Azah is essentially a giant spider, but that’s literally the only thing that stuck in my mind. Now I’m a guy who actually isn’t a fan of description. But I wasn’t given much at all to work with here. It probably would have been easier to connect with this story and the characters if I felt more like I could see and experience what was going on.
Overall: This story is fun and cute in a lot of ways. It’s just find for a quick read, but there isn’t much power or entertainment value. Even as a first chapter, it felt a little forced. It’s not bad writing at all; it’s just not great writing. Fairly forgettable characters with a plot that seemed rushed. If you like “creature introduction” stories, this is just fine, but this final segment seemed a far drop from the awesomeness of the story before it.
Spoiler Free Summary: Tinkerman by Jake Bible is the 15th story in the Four Horsemen anthology, For a Few Credits More. Tee, called Tinkerman by those he provides cybernetic implants to, is in hiding. Sooner or later, people are going to come looking for him because of the secret he carries. When they do, he’ll be prepared, as will the world that’s protecting him, such are the terms of his care for those same people.
Character: Tee is a fantastic character. He’s proactive and capable. He’s got great depth. He’s sympathetic, but not in that he’s just likable or just unlikable. Indeed his range of emotion is a part of the story, and it’s the best part. I was hooked on this story from the moment I started the story as Tee was in his shop.
Exposition: This was perfect. I got the back story I needed as I needed it. Perfect isn’t a story that has no exposition, it’s exposition that provides exactly what the reader needs to be able to progress through the story.
World building: So for a few reviews now, I’ve been talking about one story I loved, and this is it! This world is every bit as amazing as its characters. This planet feels real. It has textures and minute details that make the feeling of the location visceral. In every scene, I truly felt like I was there. The more I learned, the more I was able to suspend disbelief. We’re not overloaded with aliens and tech. We’re exposed to a cast consisting of different species of aliens; we’re exposed to tech and gadgets that are immediately relevant to the plot. I’m probably going to read on of Bible’s books just because of this short story.
Dialogue: Powerful. Relevant. Realistic. Bible’s conversations move the plot forward without sounding like some sort of plot direction. It’s snappy. It’s entertaining.
Description: Just as I’ve mentioned in the world-building, the feel of this story is amazing. The movie theatre in my mind was on full IMAX-powered overload in all the best ways. I wasn’t bogged down by details, but I always had all my senses active.
Overall: Here’s how much I liked this story. First, there were a handful of stories I truly thought were fun or entertaining. However, whatever I paid for the whole anthology, I would have happily payed for just this one story. It’s honestly amazing, and I think any fan of gritty scifi should make sure they take the chance to read it.
Spoiler Free Summary: Faith by Chris Kennedy is the 15th story in the Four Horsemen anthology, For a Few Credits More. Andrews is a prisoner who’s being recalled to duty? Why? The job will probably get him killed, and prisoners are handy sacrificial pawns. He’s thrust into a Suicide Squad style mission, and when he lands, he realizes this kamikaze mission has taken him home, a place he’d never want to return to.
Character: I’m actually of two minds about Andrews. As a character arc, he’s solid. He’s a man without hope trying to stay alive. The reason this doesn’t quite work for me personally is the end. His decisive moment for me would have been much more satisfying if his arc were different. What’s the choice? Come on folks! I’m still trying to get a good anthology some plug, so go pick it up and decide for yourself if the end is satisfying.
Exposition: This maybe wasn’t as good as messenger (or another I’m still yet to review), but it was very good. This story was an experience without much exposition even with the first person narrative, which is just impressive.
World building: This world was the second-most enduring world in my imagination (again, there’s another story coming that I loved). The world where this mission is really stuck with me, and it wasn’t just an alien planet for the sake of being different, it was a well-thought-out plot device. I think this is the best aspect of the book.
Dialogue: If I’m being fair, this was pretty standard for the genre. None of their voices stand out to me, but the dialogue wasn’t wooden or stilted. Sure, there were a few wise cracks that got a smile out of me, but it wasn’t wit of the century. Overall, it wasn’t bad.
Description: The world building to the story made this segment seem that much better. I can tell the world building was stronger because I didn’t feel dragged down by the description. However, the details that pop into my head are a credit to the author’s ability to make the world feel real.
Overall: Some might see the end coming, but for me, military sci-fi is all about the action. This book has it, and it gives us compelling characters to follow through that action. I hadn’t read anything from Kennedy himself, but I know his reputation, and this story shows how well-deserved it is. It’s a fun story that keeps your eyes glued to the page.
Spoiler Free Summary: Messenger by Nick Cole s the 14th story in the Four Horsemen anthology, For a Few Credits More. Tom Kyle was the sole survivor of Hastings Ridge. He found faith. But he’s still struggling to make sense of the massacre he’d escaped. Then he was sent on a mech with no weapons to a planet, where this new life was. All life is precious, and Kyle means to protect that life, even against another company. Whether he lives or dies matters far less than the fact that he fights to protect life.
Character: Kyle resonates with me. I had to look up his name, but this story had a lot of power. He’s struggling with being a survivor, which is, unfortunately, something a lot of veterans have to deal with. He’s determined, and he’s sympathetic. I like that we first see him through the eyes of his former commander, then through his reflective self, then through the eyes of another character (spoilers). This really put a lot of emotional power in this story even though it’s not very long.
Exposition: This was awesome in that it was nonexistent. From one point of view, it might be a lot, but everything we learn, we learn from the viewpoint of characters who are deep in their conflict, and all we see, we see through the eyes of some wonderfully developed characters. We learn about them as they learn about each other.
World building: This story didn’t have a lot of that. Where most of the other stories sought to play in the world and look at different aliens (which is cool), this story focused on a real, human emotion with tremendous impact. It’s not a story designed to wow you with scope and detail. What it did for me is make me think about how I feel about combat and how others view it.
Dialogue: This story didn’t really have any. Oh there’s a flashback story I think, but not really enough to evaluate fully.
Description: Die hard scifi fans might be disappointed. I’ll admit, this is a bit thin on description, but there’s reason. As you read one perspective and then another, you start to understand how it all fits together, and too many descriptive beats or blocks of description would have taken away from the emotion.
Overall: This reflective story gives the reader a tremendous sense of loss with an uplifting message (no pun intended) of hope, and that makes this story truly powerful. I’m not sure what general fans of the universe would think, but I think fans of speculative scifi might really appreciate this little glimpse of characters trying to deal with real trauma and loss.
Spoiler Free Summary: The Kra’daar by Chris Winder s the 12th story in the Four Horsemen anthology, For a Few Credits More. Nik’Thil is a Kra’daar who’s looking to determine the source of a series of fires that have started to haunt his home. Will he be able to learn what, or who, is causing them before on breaks out of control?
Character: I recalled this story a bit more quickly than others. It’s not at the top of my list, but I remember liking the back and forth between Nik’Thil and the creature he’s chasing. This story had a nice sense of tension, and I think the character is the main reason why.
Exposition: As a whole, this anthology was solid in this regard. If I don’t remember much, it means I at least didn’t feel dragged down in a story, and that’s almost always the fault of too much exposition. This story had a good pace with a nice sense of progression. I read it pretty quickly. This whole anthology (of which this story is an example) is custom made for an airplane or long layover. You don’t get bogged down with too much depth. You get entertainment and quick resolutions.
World building: This is the main reason I remember this story. The setting and conflict of this story were memorable. The details were interesting, and I enjoyed an alien perspective in a story featuring an alien character.
Dialogue: This probably wasn’t as strong. I can’t remember a single line. I can’t remember a single situation in which the dialogue added to the plot or drama. It wasn’t bad or thinly hidden exposition; it was just conversation.
Description: This holds true from my last review. Any time I don’t think back in frustration about how many buttons that guy wore or what color the chips in the paint were, I feel like I was happy with the description. This element was a bit stronger than previous stories. I say this because I immediately remembered the overall plot and the world building, which only sticks if a scene or two stick in a reader’s head.
Overall: If you want Sci-Fi that isn’t overcrowded with human perspective, you should give this story a try. I like fantasy that expands beyond the human perspective, and this story does that. Is it an example of everything I want to read ever? No, but it is interesting, and it does have a fairly compelling main character.
Spoiler Free Summary: Go for Bait by T.C. Bucher is the 11th story in the Four Horsemen anthology, For a Few Credits More. Mackey seems to be running a boring operation in a crap location, but when projectiles randomly start flying at his team, he has to discern who’s attacking. Once he does, his team still has to take on the threat.
Character: This is another story that I had to go back and skim just to remember stuff. I remember breezing through the story, but the characters aren’t very memorable. This story is a great action piece. But it’s plot driven, and while I don’t have a single negative memory of the story, nothing stood out either. The characters fell into this category for me.
Exposition: This had to have been done well. If I don’t have memorable characters, the action needs to be fast and the exposition needs to be next to nonexistent for me to be able to read it as quickly as I did. So what this story loses in depth and memorability, it makes up for in pacing and fun.
World building: This was fine. I didn’t get frustrated with any questions (I would have remembered then).
Dialogue: This is sort of up there with character. I don’t remember any, so I know I didn’t hate it, and it didn’t slow me down. However, I can’t recall a single line of spoken word.
Description: If I have trouble remembering it, the description had to have been done right. It was enough to keep my imagination active, but not so much that I felt like I had to slog through it.
Overall: When I went back today to scan this story, I immediately thought, “Oh, this is the story with the enemy in the tunnels!” No, I won’t remember it for years to come, but if I have a long drive or a plane ride I don’t know what to do with, this book was a pleasant, fun way to burn a few hours. Not every story can be super memorable, but this one was at least fun.
Character: What I like about this is that Taylor’s story is powerful even without what I think is context fans of the world will have. This story is strong just on the power of Taylor’s guilt and his memory for his brother. My thought is (and I’d love it if fans of the universe could confirm or bust my theory) that Taylor is a much more relevant character than just a solid solo story. Of all the stories in the anthology (though this isn’t one of my top three) this is the story that made it most tempting to delve into the universe. Taylor’s depth and conflict are the reasons why.
Exposition: When I started reading this, I really thought I was in for ten pages of back story that would really drag the story down, so I was really impressed when I realized that wasn’t the case. Sure, the story does have some info-dumps, but not nearly as much as a lesser writer would have trying to help the reader connect. For any author looking to study “show don’t tell” this is a solid story to read to find out how it’s done.
World building: Honestly, this is where the story fell short. Yes, I’m glad I didn’t get a multi-page pile of exposition on who these guys are and their relevance, I also didn’t really understand the scope of this story. If my theory above is true, than this is just a problem for those who, like me, didn’t read the rest of the saga. However, if the same theory is true, fans of the saga will enjoy this little peak into a character’s origin.
Dialogue: This was also a bit of a low for me. One of the pivotal plot points required dialogue, and it just didn’t hit with me. Perhaps it was the shorter nature of the story. I don’t recall that many internal narrative beats either. Ultimately, the conversation didn’t amp up the emotion, and when your plot point is based on dialogue, you really need that.
Description: This was just fine for me. I could have even used a bit more detail in the scenes, but I’d rather have “a little less than I’d like” than anything close to “more than I need.” It didn’t detract from the story, but I’d be lying if I said it added to it either.
Overall: This is an emotionally powerful story that would be orders of magnitude more powerful if the reader already had a connection with the story. Fans of the series who (perhaps) recognize this character and his unit will truly love this little vignette. However, people who know less will still enjoy it if they like character drama or moment of truth stories. I truly would like to know if my theory is right, and if it is, what was your opinion of this story?
Hello everyone! As promised, we’re back to the anthology reviews. Thank you for being patient!
Spoiler Free Summary: Change of Command by Thomas A. Mays is the ninth story in the Four Horsemen anthology, For a Few Credits More. Sheila’s company commanders have a terrible habit of dying on her. Zuul keep killing them, and they keep putting themselves in perfect position to be killed. Sheila is just trying to keep her unit alive. How many COs will it take before they find a way to survive?
Character: Shelia is a perfect character for a story like this. She had layers of conflict that made her compelling. She may have resonated with me a bit more than some. Rather, she might resonate with any enlisted person who’s been a bit peeved at an overzealous or undertrained officer.
Exposition: The pace of this story was solid. It helps that this story had a degree of snark that I personally appreciate. When you can feel the emotions of the main character, you tend to gloss over a pretty significant amount of exposition.
World building: This story felt pretty independent. I’m pretty sure the tech from the main universe was the common thread, but the details were woven pretty seamlessly, so I didn’t feel lost. A few of the terms and proper nouns might have given me some trouble (it has been a while), but I was able to grasp most of what was happening.
Dialogue: This was sneaky good. It’s easy to have snark or banter in a conversation. It’s a lot harder to express conflict and professionalism. Shelia’s conversations resonated with me because I’ve felt like her sometimes. No, I’ve never been in any remote sort of danger in my career in the Navy, and I’d never want to make it seem that way, but as a communication specialist, I’ve had my share of conversations with people who had one idea about what I should be doing while I had another. He expressed this well.
Description: Mays has a lot of action. I have to admit, his opening line was one of the best in the anthology, if not the best! He’s at his best in action sequences, but I was pretty happy with the visual cues in this story.
Overall: This story has a ton of cool action with some sneaky good military drama sprinkled in. No, it’s not as memorable as some of the other stories, but if you want a nice, quick thrill ride before the plane lands, I’d recommend this story.
Happy Halloween everyone! I hope you all have a wonderful (scary but not dangerous) night. Enjoy the trick-or-treating!
Spoiler Free Summary: Forbidden Science by Terry Mixon is the eighth story in the Four Horsemen anthology, For a Few Credits More. Jeff Peters is a graduate student about to work with a professor as part of Peters’ doctoral studies. Instead of being able to choose a professor he’d like to work with, he’s been recruited … by a complete nut job. At least, that’s what he thinks. Professor Xaltar is as eccentric as his is intelligent, which is saying something. The problem is, what they’re working on could be destructive in the wrong hands. In fact, even if his dean learned about how far the experiment has come, it could spell trouble.
Character: Jeff and Xaltar feel so much like Marty and Doc Brown I can’t help but love them. They’re every bit as funny as they are charming. Fans of Back to the Future will love this story, and people who didn’t well, do those people exists?
Exposition: The book started out pretty heavy in this category. I was honestly not into it for the first part of the story because I was getting information shoved down my throat, but once I got to those two characters interacting, I forgot all about my annoyance and just enjoyed the fun.
World building: This is another of the stories I felt stood on its own. If there was some connection to the universe that I missed, I didn’t feel like it. The story is expertly contained to the plot and the characters of this tale. It doesn’t expand much as far as I can tell, but I get the feel for what’s going on, and given that the experiment is a big deal in this universe, I understood the stakes.
Dialogue: Much like with Back to the Future, the dialogue was the star of the show. I had several laugh-out-loud moments usually based on the interaction between the main characters. It was lively and entertaining.
Description: I don’t remember much, which means there wasn’t a ton of description (which I, contrary to most fans of scifi, appreciate). No, the details didn’t stick with me, and I couldn’t tell you so much as the hair color of either main character. Other fans of the series will have to decide if that bothers them or not. It doesn’t bother me. I got a good story, and a three-page description of a ship didn’t get in the way of the ship blowing something up. (NOTE: I’m not saying those things happened, I’m just using that as an example.)
Overall: This story was just pure fun. It’s my second-favorite story in the whole anthology. It’s Back to the Future in a futuristic setting. If you like wit and zany fun, this is the story for you.
Spolier Free Summary: Contract Fulfilled by Tim C. Taylor is the sixth story in the Four Horsemen anthology, For a Few Credits More. Saisho Branco is in over his head. His day starts off waiting to find out if he’ll be blasted by missiles, and things only get worse from there. He’s stuck with the team he’s on, and Captain Sue Blue and Major Sun Sue seem determined to get him killed. He just has to make it until the end of the contract. But what happens when the contract is fulfilled?
Character: The characters in here are a charming kind of crazy. I like that the crew members of the ship are out-of-the-box thinking and clever. They grow on you as the story progresses. I can’t call them memorable. True, it’s been a good while since I’ve read it, but some characters stick with you. These characters aren’t bad at all; they just don’t stand out against some of the others in this book (see future reviews).
Exposition: This I remember being not just the strong suite of this story but also one of the stronger in the whole book. Taylor doesn’t beat you with history or hidden context, instead he gets to the heart of real action scifi and lets you enjoy the story. This is mostly due to the fact that it’s short fiction. Sure, in longer work, a reader would want context and depth, but in a shorter story, we just want to go for a ride, and Taylor gives us one.
World building: This is another story that I enjoyed for the sake of it. It’s a fun sort of buddy-cop story that has a few charming moments. I think a solid few of the stories in this anthology felt that way, but if you like those kinds of stories, this anthology is for you. The alien races can get a bit deep, but that’s not really a bad thing for a universe as deep as this. It just makes it a bit hard for a person who’s not familiar with it. The benefit of short fiction mentioned in the previous segment is the curse of world building, but I think Taylor made the right choice.
Dialogue: This story has some fun banter that maybe doesn’t have the most wit, but this is where Branco’s arc did the most of the work. Also, where a lot of story hide (badly) some exposition in the dialogue, this isn’t one of them. It’s fun. It got me to chuckle a few times, and it’s where I saw the most of Branco’s growth with the crew.
Description: Any time one feels like a story zipped by means that the author didn’t drag the reader down with details. I can’t claim it was visceral because some of the scenes didn’t stick in my mind (which I mentioned above), but I can say that I churned through this story. This makes me believe it was an intentional choice on the part of Taylor. He gave us everything that let us keep a fast-paced fun story, willingly letting go of the deeper context, which isn’t a bad choice in shorter fiction.
Overall: While I can’t remember the details, I can remember the feeling of this particular story. I had fun with it. Sure, some stories were more powerful, that’s not a knock on a story I read quickly and liked while I read it.