Posts Tagged john ringo

John Ringo’s “To Sail A Darkling Sea” — Review by Chris Smith

Welcome back our irregular reviewer Chris Smith as he tackles “To Sail A Darkling Sea” by John Ringo.

To Sail A Darkling SeaWell, here we are. Yeah, it’s really late, since the book was released months and months ago (Februrary-ish) but I finally cleared my extremely busy schedule to write the review. Work, work, work, that’s me.

(Dramatic pause, sheepish look)

Ok, I forgot that I told Jason I’d do it.

This is the second book in the ‘Black Tide’ series, John Ringo’s take on a zombie apocalypse. For those that haven’t read the first one, stop reading now and go read it. Really, Under A Graveyard Sky is a lot of fun, and you need the background to fully get what’s happening in ‘Sail.’

(Hey, Jason, this would be a good time to link to the first review, maybe with one of those cool embedded link things that makes this parenthetical the actual link.) (Ed. note: Yeah, yeah… I got this.)

Moving on…

‘Sail’ takes up a totally different  aspect of the whole zombie genre, with our characters spending a lot of time on introspection and really getting to know the infected. What is this person’s motivation? How can we look at the human condition in the same way after the majority of humanity has been reduced to their base wants and desires? Are you really a good person if you don’t take the time to get to know the infected person in front of you before you slam a kukri into their eyeball? Can’t we just use the power of love and inclusiveness to conquer all?

….

Ok, that was tough to get through with a straight face. C’mon folks, it’s Ringo. The only good zombie is a dead zombie.

‘Sail’ picks up very close to the end of  ‘Sky,’ with some overlap. The opening scene shows the beginning of the breakout aboard the Iwo Jima, and progresses from there to the Smith’s clearing the ship.

As the story progresses, we get to see the, now larger, Wolf Squadron in action, as well as the flotilla coming together as a unit. This is important, since it’s a four book series.

Don’t worry, there’s still prime Faith moments, as well as interaction between she and Sophia that anyone with two kids will recognize. (I have taken to calling my two daughters Faith and Sophia when they pester each other, and have read some of the more relatable passages from the books to them to illustrate my point.)

Here, though, we get to see more character development, as well as the addition of several key supporting roles. Where ‘Sky’ set the stage as to the personalities of the main characters, here they get to grow.  Basically, what we see is two young girls becoming members of an active military unit, and Steve dealing with the weight of command.  Faith has to learn how to be a junior Marine officer, and the conduct that requires, Sophia deals with the pressures of being a ship’s skipper, and the emotional and physical burdens that brings. Steve juggles the double load of sending his daughters into harm’s way, knowing they are capable of handling it, but also dealing with the consequences of their ‘personality quirks’ for lack of a better term, in a professional military manner.

The supporting characters are excellent, from the sleazy former movie producer Zumwald, to the ‘Old Salts’- Chief Petty Officer Kent Schmidt, US Navy (Ret), and Sergeant Major Raymond Barney of Her Majesty’s Light Horse (Ret). You’re going to love hating Zumwald, and you’re just going to love the two crusty guys. (If you’ve never seen the Yeoman tour guide at the tower of London, go watch him. Here’s a link: http://youtu.be/DeiW_bWZ2Is. He’s all I could think of reading Barney.)

Here’s one of the things that endears the series so far to me. I’m a former Air Force Brat, with no time in service. That puts me in the position of straddling the line between Active Duty and Civilian. There’s some things that I ‘get’ about the military lifestyle and being AD, but there’s a lot I don’t, simply because I never had to quite follow the same rules as the AD. However, the Black Tide series allows us to see that career and what it entails through the eyes of Faith and Sophia, two (sorta) Brats thrown into a full Active Duty situation. They were civvies, now they are Service. Their mistakes and mindset- and more importantly, how they evolve- give us non-service folks an insight into what it means to sign on that line.

Perfect case in point- Faith handles a harassment situation instinctively, and is subsequently corrected by a superior officer, [Marine Capt.] then THE superior officer, Steve. Steve is required to handle the situation as both a commander and father of a teenage girl. Seeing him wear both hats, and still react accordingly is eye-opening for a civilian. (Granted, this is an idealized version of what happens, however, it is a great example of how it SHOULD be done.) Later on, Steve confronts Faith’s superior. How he is written,  as both a Commander and father, is handled adeptly.

‘To Sail’ is less world building, but more character and squadron development heavy. This is not a bad thing. There are plenty of great, funny, and hair-raising action sequences, but the infected are not the core focus of the book. This is not a bad thing. Like UAGS, the survivors are just that-survivors. No hand wringing for hours about a course of action that doesn’t offend the masses, just the desire and know-how to make decisions quickly, effectively, and lethally. We are allowed to see how this group begins to come together as an effective unit, and honestly, this is where we see the groundwork for its success in the future. There is hope for the future, simply because the right people are trying to bring it around.  All in all, it sets the pace for the next book, bringing Wolf Squadron together as a functional unit, one that can keep the flame burning in the worst darkness human kind has ever experienced.

An excellent addition to the series, a fast read, and fun.

–Reviewed by Chris

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Under a Graveyard Sky: Fast zombies, smart survivors

Ed. — Once more we welcome Chris Smith and thank him for reviewing for us. Barb’s been fighting a sort of pneumonia/bronchitis/flu  for the entire summer (a whole world of suck there) while I’ve been slacking off on my reviews. So thank you, Chris, for filling in admirably. Good reviewers are not easy to come by; especially the funny ones.

Under A Graveyard SkyUnless you have been living under a rock for the past few years, you may have noticed the fairly large amount of zombie related entertainment in today’s market.  For the rock dwellers, welcome! It’s the year 2013, the country is still in a recession, Obama won a second term, and zombies are extremely popular these days. Oh, and still no flying cars or hover boards. (Personally, that stings the worst.)

Now that everyone is caught up…

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, zombies still seem to be going strong. Books, movies, comics, TV shows, even ammo- they’re everywhere.  Funny, since Romero’s original use of the monster was to satirize American consumerism. I wouldn’t be surprised if ol’ George was praying for death, so he could get started on the ‘spinning in his grave’ process.

What is the appeal? Hard to say, as there are many different, and reasonable answers. Zombies represent an unstoppable force of destruction; They’re the embodiment of the faceless masses, a collective of unthinking, uncaring and insatiable consumers, able to overcome individual free thinkers with sheer numbers and mindless determination; An excuse to use creative killing techniques on something you don’t have to feel guilty about. (My favorite, oddly enough. Redneck and proud, baby!)

Here’s my problem with the genre:  In general, there can be no smart people in zombie fiction. Why? Because the smart people wouldn’t have an issue with the zombies. They’d hole up, figure out the best course of action against the monsters, and get down to the business of survival. This is my main issue (and the reason I scream at the TV) with ‘The Walking Dead’.  In ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and ‘Zombieland’, we are supposed to laugh at the idiots/tropes and go along with poking fun at them. It works, because it’s a huge nod and wink at the genre. ‘The Walking Dead’ and the Romero remakes (not the originals) are meant to be taken seriously. That’s what makes the huge, glaring mistakes so difficult to stomach.

Here is my short summary of ‘The Walking Dead’:

“AAAAAHHHH! Walkers! Aaaahhh!”

“Om nom nom”

“Oh thank God, we survived! That was terrible and unforeseen!”

“Yes, thank God it’s over.  Let’s continue on with our lives, secure in the knowledge that it will never happen again,”

“AAAAAHHHH! Walkers! Aaaaahhh!”

I realize the characters live in a world where zombies were unknown. However, we start the series three months into the plague, and are following a group of survivors. They should know the threat, and more importantly, know how to DEAL with the threat. Apparently, the writers decided that, to move the story in its various dramatic arcs, the characters needed to be completely incapable of making consistently good decisions. They make the same lousy choices time after time.  It’s frustrating.

Which–finally, right?– brings me to Under a Graveyard Sky (UAGS from now on).

I like this book. I have recommended it to as many people as I can. This book does zombie apocalypse right. No, wait, let me rephrase that: This book does ZA SURVIVAL right.

We focus on the Smith family (no relation)– Steve, Stacey, Sophia, and Faith. Dad, Mom, older sister, younger sister. They are smart, prepared, and capable. This is a group of folks that would be odds on favorites to survive ANY major disaster, short of the Sweet Meteor of Death. And even then, they may pull through.

Steve is ex-military, and fills the role of team leader. Stacey falls into a mostly support role, but isn’t portrayed as though she is less important than Steve. She is equally important, and vital, to the group’s morale and cohesiveness. Sophia is the team’s medical officer. Then there’s Faith.

Oh, good God, there’s Faith.

If this were a D&D party, Steve would be a Ranger, Stacey a magic user, Sophia the team’s battle cleric/healer, and Faith would be the fighter/berserker. (Roll a 2d-20 for a geek save. If you have 2d-20, you passed it.)

The ‘zombies’ in UAGS are bio-type, much like ‘28 Days Later’. They’re still human, infected with a rabies-like virus that degrades brain function down to a feral animal type level. The first act of three concerns the beginning of the infection, allowing us to follow along as the Smiths make their preparations to survive what’s coming. It does bounce around a bit, giving us several viewpoints, but does a good job of adding depth to the universe. This is the more technical section, providing info as to how the virus works, how it was spread, and how it affects the infected. This doesn’t slow anything down, however, as the tech info is worked smoothly into the story with the action, humor, and tension. While all the Smith family members are well represented throughout the section, the focus begins to shift towards Faith at roughly the halfway point. She has the best lines and scenes, and is generally the center of the action. (I still chuckle about her disarming before entering New York-think Mad Max as played by a thirteen year old girl.)

Act two takes place just after the plague has spread, following the Smith’s as they scavenge the seas for supplies. Here we begin to encounter other groups of survivors, setting up the “well, now what?” question. This is the pivotal point that sets the tone for the rest of the series. Steve’s decision to not just survive, but to fight back and rebuild, separates UAGS from most of its contemporaries. We also see groundwork laid for possible future conflicts, as various personality types come in contact.

In something like ‘The Walking Dead’, these conflicts would be met with some hand-wringing “we all have to get along, because TOLERANCE” attitude, until it became a major distraction/threat. Dealing with the distraction would be the perfect time for “AAAHHH! Walkers!” and the inevitable death of the source of the conflict. Until the next time.

In UAGS, Steve deals with potential problems immediately, before they become a threat to the group’s survival. This is what normal people refer to as “smart.” It goes a long way towards establishing the credibility of the book. The characters will deal with issues in a realistic fashion, display the necessary mindset to make the difficult decisions, and the intelligence to handle things before they develop into obstacles. Random and consistent good luck will not become a major plot device. This is a good thing.

Act three has the most action, as the now named Wolf Squadron has grown significantly. Switching the mission from simple survival to search and rescue means clearing larger and larger vessels. More action doesn’t mean less character development, however, even if it is mostly centered on Faith. Beneath the ‘kill ‘em all’ exterior, there is still an innocent thirteen year old, dealing with the reality of her ‘kill, or become lunch’ world.

Be warned, while it wraps up neatly (figuratively speaking- there was nothing ‘neat’ about the big fight scene) UAGS ends on a cliffhanger of sorts.

All in all, it is a well thought out, well written and, most importantly, fun novel. As with other works in the genre, I can see potential for future novels to get bogged down. Concentrate on the politics of rebuilding society, and it gets boring quick. Throw in a lot of zombie killing, and you run the risk of “been there, done that, got blood on my T-shirt” type action.  However, as long as the series continues to build on the personalities of the characters and the strong human element of the story, the desire to see Wolf Squadron succeed where others have failed could override any problems.

Reviewed by Chris

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