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: Blood of Innocents by James Young s the 13th story in the Four Horsemen anthology, For a Few Credits More. Bolivar Thompson just bullied a client into a $10 million contract. Each time they get closer to the objective, things only get more complicated, and just reaching the planet they need to get to will leave his team changed forever.
Character: Bolivar is a pretty solid character. He’s a little bit arrogant and a little bit of a jerk, but it works for him. I wish he were more proactive and competent. His fatal flaw frustrates me in regard to how it relates to the plot, but I got a kick of of the story as I was reading it. (So I had to scan back a bit to recall the plot. This provides me an opportunity. This story, like many in the anthology, were not bad. I measure that by how well the characters stick with me. So Lessa, Ruth, Rand, Vin; those characters stick with me. They own a place in my heart. The next level down are the characters I remember by talent or skill. These are like the guy from Tron or the cop from The Women’s Murder Club. I remember things about them, but they only bring up images or good feelings. This is still cool, but not next-level characters. Next down are characters like Bolivar. These are guys I like while I’m reading, but then after time (in this case six months), they fade away. Sure, if I read it again, I’d like it, but it doesn’t hold up in the test of time. That’s unfair considering it’s taken six months to review all of these, but this anthology has a great character that has stuck with me for that long (and will for more). So when I say a character wasn’t bad, that’s what I mean.
Exposition: If I liked the story, this was minimal. I can’t stand stories that get lost in exposition or description. I’m a man of motion, and I want a plot that moves, this story does that. My problem is that I felt like the cliffhanger ending let me down (I hate all cliffhanger endings).
World building: This was good. I didn’t feel lost, and most of the elements in the book helped me better understand the world around me. It was well thought out and showed this universe through a window I could understand.
Dialogue: This is where Bolivar’s personality was on display. It felt a bit like watching a good episode of House, only instead of investigating a disease, they were working on a contract. The dialogue had a wit and humor that I liked.
Description: This story gave description from a point of view better than others I remember. You were always in Bolivar’s head, and the description was another place where his personality shown, especially when describing the other aliens in the story. I got a kick out of this.
Overall: You have to be okay with cliffhangers if you’re going to like this story. It’s entertaining with a, perhaps inappropriate, humor. It has some emotion to it, and more drama than action, but this story’s charm is in it’s character interactions, which I personally liked. So if you like a touch of House and a touch of character drama, you’ll like this story.
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.
Spoiler Free Summary: Emancipation by Mark Wandrey is the seventh story in the Four Horsemen anthology, For a Few Credits More. Jim Cartwright leads a team of CASPers tasked with taking down a group of slavers set on using or even killing 400 Aku, an alien race Jim means to keep alive. Can Jim take down the slavers without harming the slaves? What happens if those who paid his team aren’t interested in the collateral damage?
Character: I like Jim. He’s a classic white-hat with strong morals much like Captain America. I think characters with depth and flaws are great, but it’s nice to see a good ol’ fashioned good guy once in a while. The other characters in this story contribute to the feeling as well. Most of these characters are charming. The villains might be a tad 1980s (bad slavers who just do bad), but I don’t mind so much, especially considering Jim.
Exposition: The exposition of this story was solid. Sure, Wandrey gets into the world a bit more, but that’s to be expected since he’s been playing in the universe for a while. But he never dragged me down with details I didn’t need or information that could have been presented in a better way.
World building: It’s obvious Wandrey knows his world. He was able to toss me the details I need without going to far into depth. Where it feels like most authors just sort of stayed in the context of the story, Wandrey uses his knowledge of the universe to add scope to his story without dragging the pace down.
Dialogue: This was solid. I don’t really remember any particularly piffy lines, but I do remember the dialogue helped move the plot and got me to smile once or twice. The dialogue between Splunk, a Fae, and Jim was particularly charming.
Description: I actually think this was the strongest aspect of this story. Wandrey’s story felt like I was there, and that doesn’t happen much with me. Great little details to add a visceral feel combined with subtle adjectives when the pace was fast. Scifi tends to drag the reader down with details and description. Wandrey has that part figured out.
Overall: This is a great, motivating (in a military sense) story with just the right mix of action, adventure, and humor. Jim is a great character to hang out with, and the visuals in this story really do draw a reader in.
Spolier Free Summary: Luck of the Draw by J.R. Handley and Corey D. Truax is the fifth story in the Four Horsemen anthology, For a Few Credits More. Ivan Petrov is a shadow of the man he was, and the man he was wasn’t much to begin with. Drunk, in debt, and in trouble with loan sharks, his life takes a turn when his association with said loan sharks makes him the perfect tool for Boudicca, a bounty hunter tracking a much bigger fish than a simple bookie. But Ivan’s trial in this new bounty hunter mission may just be the first step to his path to redemption.
NOTE: Corey and J.R. are both friends. I was also honored to be a beta reader for this project. These facts do not change my honest opinions of their work.
Character: Ivan and Boudicca are solid characters. Ivan’s arc is the more interesting of the two. Ivan carries the story. His trial for forsaken to self-actualized is a great one. He’s witty, but he has flaws that both frustrate and charm.
Exposition: While some might be hidden in the dialogue (backstory), the exposition on this story is wonderfully light. I’m not overwhelmed with info I don’t understand. All the info I need, I get just when I need it.
World building: I don’t know who reads what review first, so I have to keep reminding folks that I’m new to The Four Horsemen Universe, which was created by Chris Kennedy. If anyone’s read the series and this anthology, I’d like to see what they think. The fact is, I enjoyed this story in and of itself. Sure, there were some terms I didn’t understand, but this story did a great job of helping me understand what I needed. Yeah, if I knew more, I’d probably enjoy it more, but unlike some stories from this book, I don’t feel like I’m missing something.
Dialogue: This story doesn’t quite have the amount of clever banter I like in a story, but the dialogue is realistic and appropriate. There were a few zingers I liked, and this is the medium through which Boudicca and Ivan bond the most. That makes it a valuable part of the book even though it’s perhaps not the strongest.
Description: Heavy scifi fans would probably want more, but I was more than satisfied with the visualization of this story. The movie theater in my head was more than happy with the descriptive beats and use of senses. Lots of stories focus on visuals and ignore the other senses. This story gives a sense of touch and sound as well.
Overall: This is another story that had a great Lethal Weapon feel. (I know I mentioned that in a previous story, but I’m not sure which off the top of my head.) I have to admit, I wish this story were another 20,000 words, but it’s a satisfying vignette. I consider this my third-favorite story in the entire anthology because of it’s character and charm. Fans of a good ‘ol fashion 1980s buddy cop movie will love this.