“Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Volume 4- Stratagem” by Yoshiki Tanaka

The Legend of Galactic Heroes is a… well, legendary anime series. What far fewer people have experienced is the novels upon which it is based. I’m probably something of an outlier here–having only read some of the books while not having seen the anime. I wanted to write about the series of novels to encourage others to read them.

Volume 4: Stratagem

Stratagem is the fourth novel in the Legend of the Galactic Heroes, and it is perhaps the first where Tanaka steps back and develops the political machinations more than anything else.

We’ve had some epic battles through the first three books of the series, sometimes comically huge battles, to be honest. I’ve said it multiple times, but it should be said again–the scale is intentional. It’s a kind of anime level of absurdity to get the point across of the epic-ness of the conflict. Readers looking for military realism should look elsewhere than this series. Here, however, the battles take a backseat to the planning of a coup in the Empire and the overthrow of Phezzan’s mercantile blockade of resources from both sides.

The coup is a major theme of the book as the 7 year old emperor is used as a pawn for multiple sides of the internal Imperial politicking as well as the actions of the Free Planets Alliance and Phezzan. Reinhard appears to be pulling the strings, aware of what’s happening even as he allows things to happen so that he can manipulate them more effectively towards his own ends. Tanaka’s style of writing–that of a kind of dispassionate historian reporting all the events in the story–struggles occasionally with characterization here. It’s clearly a choice Tanaka has made at this point to tell the story in the fashion he’s been using, but it also means that we don’t get as much of the internal dialogue or conflict as one might expect from some characters, especially Reinhard. What is his ultimate motivation? We can only know through the few vignettes we have in which others essentially ask him the same question. It’s frustrating at times, but I wonder if the payoff will be high towards the end of the series.

The conquest of Phezzan is another major turn for the galactic conflict, demonstrating the stakes that are involved much better than the last book’s conflict between two massive space stations. While Tanaka managed to make the latter of interest by hand waving some science fiction magic to make the locale essential, he’s done a significantly better job making Phezzan a kind of economic third player that has been a juggernaut in politics for books 2-4. Now that we end this one with the conquest of Phezzan, I wonder where Tanaka will go from there. One thing is clear–the Black Fox of Phezzan, Adrian Rubinsky, will have something to say and do about all of this. I think that character is one of the more tantalizing plot threads Tanaka has dangled thus far.

Stratagem ups the ante for the conflict’s scale, and sets up several characters to have larger parts in the series to come. I look forward to seeing where Tanaka takes us next.

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SDG.

“The Unpleasantness at Baskerville Hall” by Chris Dolley- An SPSFC Review

I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and I’m reading and reviewing whichever books in the contest appealed to me! Follow the blog to keep up with more updates from the contest, along with many, many other reviews and topics!

The Unpleasantness at Baskerville Hall by Chris Dolley

Steampunk pseudo-Holmes madcap retelling-ish! That’s the fastest elevator pitch I can come up with to sell this book to you. It’s a fun premise, and Dolley capitalizes on it to make an ultimately satisfying story.

Family money is on the line as murder haunts the Baskerville-Smythe family. Strange reptiles, steampunk tech, and the bumbling nonsense of detective-antics all pile up to make this mystery a funny, entertaining read. One of my favorite scenes in the book is when the attempt at solving the mystery is put forward, but there’s a twist that readers might not expect.

The Unpleasantness at Baskerville Hall is a good read with a mystery at its core. I enjoyed it, and I think readers who enjoy steampunk and/or mystery will as well.

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Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Reading the Babylon 5 Novels: “To Dream in the City of Sorrows” by Kathryn M. Drennan

Having finally watched Babylon 5 for the first time (check out my posts for that series at my Babylon 5 Hub), I decided to dive into the novels. I’ll be reading them largely in publication order and reviewing them individually as we go along. Please do not spoil later books for me. There will be SPOILERS for the book reviewed going forward.

To Dream in the City of Sorrows by Kathryn M. Drennan

Tie in novels are tough. They have a number of major tasks set before them, from pleasing fans of whatever the “main” series is that they draw upon, to being good enough for random people at the bookstore to perhaps give them a try, to not “ruining” the voice or characters of the original media. So far, a lot of the Babylon 5 novels have been mediocre. To Dream in the City of Sorrows absolutely delivers the goods, however.

There are basically three major plots in the novel. The first follows Jeffrey Sinclair as he becomes the ambassador to the Minbari and is caught up in the development of the Rangers. The second is about Catherine Sakai, Sinclair’s love interest from the series who eventually joins the Rangers herself. Finally, we have perhaps my favorite character in the series, Marcus Cole, given a kind of origin story for how he joined the Rangers as well.

Yes, this novel is very Ranger-centric, and in my opinion that’s a good thing. It allows Drennan some capacity to move around the universe without the confines of the station, and it also gives us more insight into the formation, training, and recruitment of the Rangers. I go into novels like this hoping for impactful story that will have some kind of relevance to the show, and Drennan delivers that. While we knew Marcus joins the Rangers, we knew very little about his apparently tragic backstory. Here, we learn all about it and his motivations for joining the Rangers. We knew Sinclair went back to Babylon 4 and helped with the Rangers, but not a lot about how he got to that point. His story, along with Sakai’s, helps resolve some of those burning questions as well.

I wasn’t as interested in Sakai’s story as I was in the others, but the way it gets tied into the end of the novel and certainly into broader Babylon 5 canon and the show is superbly done. It gives plausible backstory without ever feeling like it’s taking over or going against the “official” plot from the show.

To Dream in the City of Sorrows is the best of the nine Dell books from Babylon 5. There are plenty other novels to go, though, and I’m looking forward to finding out more about the Centauri and Psi Corps in trilogies about those groups! Follow the blog, and let me know in the comments what you think!

Links

Babylon 5 Hub– Find all my Babylon 5-related posts and content here.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

SPSFC2 First Impressions: “Fid’s Crusade,” “There Are No Countries,” and “Novum Chronicles”

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (“SPACEFIC”) is underway, and my group is going through one of my favorite parts of the contest: sorting through a slush pile. Basically, we get a stack of books and need to sample them all to narrow down our selections for quarter- and semi-finalists. Here, I’ll be going over my first impressions of some of these books. Please note my “Yes,” “No,” or “Maybe” vote is only indicative of my opinion and may not reflect the opinion of our whole group. Since we advance books as a group, it’s possible a “Yes” from me may end up a “No” overall and vice versa. Let me know what you think of the books in the comments!

Fid’s Crusade by David H. Reiss

Fid is a supervillain. But he’s got deeper motivations, it seems, than the superheroes. I was a huge fan of the sardonic self-commentary from Fid, and I also just inherently love superhero-type stories. The wrinkles in this one include our villain being, apparently (at 10% in) the actual hero of the story, and other subversions of the superhero tropes. Honestly, this reminded me quite a bit of Brandon Sanderson’s Firefight in tone and theme. To be fair, I’m only a little ways in, but it’s safe to say that I am all in on this one. It’s a yes.

There Are No Countries by Marshall Smith

Wow. Sometimes you open a sci-fi novel and you’re so buffeted by strangeness and otherness that it just makes you want to keep going. There Are No Countries did that to me. It has that otherworldliness that so characterizes some of my favorite sci-fi. The main character is not great, but is compelling. The plot is engrossing. The asides at the beginning of the chapters are confusing, but in that ineffable way that makes you want to figure out what’s actually going on. It’s just… quite well done. I don’t know how to categorize it–is it a first contact novel? Is there even first contact really happening? What, exactly, even is happening in general? I’m so intrigued that this has to be a yes for me. I’ll probably read it even if it doesn’t make our final quarterfinalist selections.

Novum Chronicles by Joseph Rhea

I love the idea of an undersea world. It reminds me of watching seaQuest DSV and loving the submarine sci-fi storyline. The first 10% or so of this book reads almost entirely like setup for more. Jacob Stone is setting up for an adventure, he’s got to haul some cargo he doesn’t especially want. It’s a down-on-his-luck scenario. I kept thinking I wanted me from the world and the world-building. It’s underwater! There’s gotta be an impact on everything. Where’s all the cool tech? Where are the problems that might spring up from the locale? It read, instead, like a kind of standard “throw a crew together on a smuggling run” type story. It’s a no, but I like the world idea.

Conclusion

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SDG.

SPSFC2 First Impressions: “Intelligence Block,” “The Treasure of Lor-Rev,” and “In Times of Peace”

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (“SPACEFIC”) is underway, and my group is going through one of my favorite parts of the contest: sorting through a slush pile. Basically, we get a stack of books and need to sample them all to narrow down our selections for quarter- and semi-finalists. Here, I’ll be going over my first impressions of some of these books. Please note my “Yes,” “No,” or “Maybe” vote is only indicative of my opinion and may not reflect the opinion of our whole group. Since we advance books as a group, it’s possible a “Yes” from me may end up a “No” overall and vice versa. Let me know what you think of the books in the comments!

Intelligence Block by Kit Falbo

The first 10% of Intelligence Block is largely made up of a tech wizard at a birthday party. It’s silly, delightful, and charming. It’s got shades of LitRPG and cyberpunk. I was a fan of the main character, the Wizard Joontal. It’s possible that his introspective narrative style and lofty self-opinion may become grating, but for now I found it genuinely endearing. I’m on board to see what happens with Joontal, what kind of wrinkles Falbo might introduce to the world, and what’s going on with the tech/magic. It’s a yes.

The Treasure of Lor-Rev by Bryan Asher

An explorer finds a high-tech artifact but doesn’t realize just how important it is. I am all about future archaeology. It’s honestly one of my favorite things in sci-fi. Here, I was excited to see a favorite trope utilized. I didn’t find the way information kept getting fed to the reader to be the way I’d prefer. It felt more like several info dumps than like a naturally evolving story. The world itself has a lot going for it, and it feels like there’s potential for a huge story building behind the scenes. There just wasn’t enough in the nuts and bolts for me to advance this one on my list. It’s a no.

In Times of Peace by The Loneliest Lone Wolf

I read 15% of this and honestly I’m very confused. What, exactly, is it? Characters are introduced as they show up with comic book-like pictures and quick description placards. The first portion of the novel reads like it’s all set up for those very cards. It’s a jarring way of presenting the story. And what’s there so far doesn’t grab me like I’d hope it would. I think the book has potential as a kind of comic book presentation of a big story, but I didn’t find the substance behind the style enough to grab me. It’s a no.

Conclusion

This is an intriguing batch of books. Each has a lot of potential. Unfortunately, it’s the nature of this contest that not every book can make it and even some good books may not make it farther. Both books I said “no” to had aspects that made me think about continuing, but neither had enough in the portion we sampled to make me want to definitively say yes and potentially kick off another book I’ve said “yes” to. Readers looking for indie books should check out any of these three, though!

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Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

“The Last Shadow” by J.D. Robinson- An SPSFC review

As a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), I’m reading and reviewing all of the semi-finalists! Check out my SPSFC Hub for all my posts and reviews for the contest.

The Last Shadow by J.D. Robinson

Boston in 1990s has some weird stuff going on. Bas Milius gets in a ring fight and loses… a cherished ring. Then, he accepts a PI case that leads him down some strange trails. Dee is a nonverbal autistic teen with some strange abilities thrust into a wider world. There’s also a reclusive couple who are doing some weird–possibly cultish–things with people and monitoring them. What’s going on with that?

The central hook is a mystery that keeps growing throughout the novel as more and more odd things keep happening. Readers are kept in the dark for quite a while with only tantalizing clues to go off. The characters are what needs to keep readers involved in these central sections, which can occasionally feel bloated. For my part, I’d have liked the mystery to move on at a faster clip. While I enjoyed the reveals getting doled out, I think the speed of it could have moved up a bit.

Again, the characters have to sustain this middle section, and they do an okay job depending on readers’ preferences. Bas has some real character growth, though readers who aren’t fans of the kind of stereotypical tough guy private investigator in SFF will perhaps not enjoy the tropey nature as much. Dee also experiences quite a bit of growth, and it’s great having a neurodivergent character feature so prominently.

The Last Shadow has a great hook and good characters. It might need some editing down, but it has enough story of interest to keep readers going. Fans of urban fantasy and mysterious sci-fi should check it out.

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Links

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the SPSFC here!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

“The Hammond Conjecture” by M B Reed- A Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Semifinalist Review

The first Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) has finished, but I’m still finishing reading and reviewing all of the semi-finalists! Check out my SPSFC Hub for all my posts and reviews for the contest.

The Hammond Conjecture by M B Reed

Hugh Hammond awakens, ostensibly injured and with memory loss. He’s an agent for MI6, and the world suddenly feels… wrong. But are his memories false, or is the world, or is something else happening?

Readers follow Hammond and a few other characters through the course of the novel, ultimately seeing the story across the course of years and unveiling more and more of the truth behind the events occurring therein.

My biggest problems with the novel are that it seems to be far too soft on Fascism and has some scenes that set off my “yuck” factor regarding men and women. In one of the latter, a man and wife are reunited after the wife was off at an SS convention–yes, that SS. Anyway, the husband thinks it’s time to get it on, but she doesn’t. He bitterly imagines all the SS agents chasing his wife the whole time she was there because she was on birth control and therefore apparently more desirable than their own spouses or other women. He gets angry at his wife for this imagined scenario. It’s a pretty gross scene, in my opinion, and not the only one that took me out of the story in that fashion.

The plot itself has some delightfully funny moments, with Hammond’s spy exploits often showing him as a kind of hapless Indiana Jones or James Bond. the way the ultimate reveals are slowly rationed out makes it interesting to keep finding those nuggets of information, but I’d have liked to have them feel more impactful than they initially do.

The Hammond Conjecture was not my favorite read. I think a lot of the style struck me the wrong way, but I could see where it might find an audience. Fans of alternate history and humor might want to check it out.

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Links

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the SPSFC here!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Star Wars: Expanded Universe Read-Through: “X-Wing: Wedge’s Gamble” by Michael A. Stackpole

I’m on a quest to re-read all of my favorite (or least favorite that I kept for whatever reason) Star Wars novels in the Expanded Universe and beyond. Come along for the ride and check out my Star Wars Hub for more. There will be SPOILERS for the book discussed.

X-Wing: Wedge’s Gamble by Michael A. Stackpole

I’ve read so many novels in the Star Wars Expanded Universe but, as I said in my review of Rogue One, I missed the X-Wing novels. That means this is my first go-through of the series, and I’m having a blast.

Wedge’s Gamble is the story of the Rebellion attacking Coruscant, but most of the novel is the lead-up to that event. Stackpole starts it off with a blast as he shows off his ability to write a great space dogfighting scene. Does it make scientific sense? Absolutely not, but that’s not what you’re reading Star Wars for (I hope). It’s a great action scene and sets up Corran Horn as a major player again.

The novel fairly quickly moves to Rogue Squadron dealing with Black Sun and the planet of Kessel before diving into a plan for Rogue Squadron to lower the shields on Coruscant for the ultimate attack. The action drags in each of the major scenes, making it seem a bit overly long. This was especially evident in the scenes in which Rogue Squadron was on the ground in Coruscant, which clearly means they ought to be out in space fighting dogfights.

Ysanne Isard as a villain isn’t bad, but she’s almost comically evil. Like, I get the Empire is the baddies, but it can seem a bit over the top with how one-dimensional it seems. On the flip side, there was a surprisingly thoughtful scene in which Wedge and Iella see how the Empire has presented the history of the Jedi Knights and see Vader as “rooting out the evil” therein. It’s a brief scene, but shows how easily history can be reframed by people on different sides of a conflict, something which is clearly still an issue into today.

The way Isard is obsessed with a virus may be seen as a way to make it a less predictable final conflict for Coruscant, but it ultimately makes the conquest of this planet a bit anticlimactic. It’s the capital of the Empire and they decide to defend it with a virus? It didn’t sit right with me, and if there’s anywhere where a major space battle would make sense, it would seem to be on Coruscant.

X-Wing: Wedge’s Gamble is a fine read in the series, but not as mind-blowing as the first book. I’m looking forward to reading book 3!

The Good

+Great dogfights
+More development for side characters
+X-Wings
+Captures Star Wars-esque feel
+Surprisingly thought-provoking

The Bad

-Pacing issues abound
-Enemies remain pretty one-dimensional
-Droids are mostly non-players again
-A bit anticlimactic

Cover Score: 5/10 – it’s an explosion with some ships in front of it. Though, to be fair, I spent quite a bit of time staring at the Lambda class on the cover.

Grade [measured against my super objective* Star Wars enjoyment factor]: C+ “It’s a good read but has pacing (and other) issues.”

*Not super objective and in fact wholly based on my feeling at the time of this review. Not measured against any other sci-fi works or really any other literature. This score is purely because I like giving scores to things.

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Star Wars Hub– All of my Star Wars-related posts can be found here. These include posts about more expanded universe books, the movies, and new canon novels.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

There are other posts on science fiction books to be found! Read them here.

SDG.

SPSFC Book Review: “Shadow of Mars” by I.O. Adler

We’re now in the round of semi-finalists for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and I’m reading and reviewing all of the semi-finalists! Check out my SPSFC Hub for all my posts and reviews for the contest.

Shadow of Mars by I.O. Adler

Carmen is starting a new job and just trying to make things work when she gets a message from her mom. The only problem is her mom was on a space mission and died. Almost immediately after this, Carmen is visited by government agents, which in this near-future setting include some kind of theocratic peace patrol type folks. Carmen is eventually captured by a weird alien spider thing and the plot gets going from there as she discovers what happened to her mother, and what else is going on in the universe.

I’ve got to say it, I thought this book was very strange. At times, I wasn’t sure if it was trying to be a lighthearted space adventure, a sci-fi horror story, or a kind of extended coming-of-age metaphor. Something just felt kind of off throughout the book. Is it supposed to be a comedic romp? Or am I supposed to be horrified by some of the really weird stuff happening? It was kind of disorienting. (SPOILERS the rest of this paragraph) One scene, in particular, stood out to me: Carmen and her mother are talking with each other shortly after Carmen has had her consciousness transferred to one of the spindly spider robots with TV heads, and I just sat there as a reader thinking “What the heck is going on?” At this point, I think the goal was to grab readers with a very odd, body horror-inspired mystery that would keep them going but it felt so off from the feel of the story to that point that I was just confused. (/SPOILERS)

There are significant elements of first contact here, as well. Adler does a fine job subverting some of the themes of alien contact and certainly making it feel more baffling and off-putting than many authors have done. There are almost elements of cosmic horror mixed in here, but going into that might be too spoiler-y. Suffice to say, these are some of the strongest elements in the book, but they come a bit too late into the story.

The questions about what’s going on back and Earth were the most interesting to me, but very little by way of answers were provided. Why are things so different when the tech base seems not that much into the future? What’s going on with the nigh-theocratic “police force”? Maybe this is just my own reflected biases in what I find interesting, but on the flip side I like first contact novels. It’s just that the introduction to the book (the first 10% or so) felt like there was some huge Earthside mystery happening, and then we completely leave that for the overwhelming majority of the novel. It made it feel a bit of whiplash about where the plot was going.

Shadow of Mars is the first in a series, and it feels like its just getting its legs under it by the end. Resolutions aren’t really provided here, as readers must wait for later books in the series to find out what is going on.

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The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the SPSFC here!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

“A Star Named Vega” by Benjamin J. Roberts- A Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Review

We’re now in the round of semi-finalists for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and I’m reading and reviewing all of the semi-finalists! Check out my SPSFC Hub for all my posts and reviews for the contest.

A Star Named Vega by Benjamin J. Roberts

Aster Vale loves doing street art, competing in an interplanetary game that ranks the art based on quality, danger of getting caught, and other details. She dreams of moving up the ranks as Wildflower, her screen name in the game. Isaac, a wizard for hacking, is on the same luxury liner she’s on board as they head towards Vega. Rel is a genetically-engineered soldier whose mission is to stop that liner before it can reach Vega. Why? It would mean extinction for his people.

A Star Named Vega is an incredibly fun space adventure story. Aster was immediately compelling to me as a character, and Isaac quickly grew on me. They each had such shenanigans and fun throughout the novel that it was hard to not crack a smile at times. Rel, our erstwhile antagonist/protagonist (question mark) is compelling as well.

The world-building is both narrowly focused and expansively broad, and I liked how focused the plot was to go along with it. The characters live in our far future, largely dominated by AIs who take care of humanity’s every needs. The inevitable dark side can rear its ugly head here, but Roberts balances the setup for a kind of dystopic plot with the many benefits of this near-utopian society. Of course, some of that plays into the main plot, so I don’t want to spoil too much of it. The takeaway here is that Roberts deftly balances questions about ‘What Could Go Wrong’ with ‘What If It’s Worth It’? in ways that I found unexpected and unique. I’d honestly have liked even more along those lines going on.

Roberts also builds some political intrigue and family drama into the book. I thought this was exciting, especially given the hyper-focused setting of the novel. It’s difficult to balance broader possibilities when the story is taking place on a star cruiser, but Roberts does it here and it makes the world feel very lived-in and real despite the narrow focus.

The novel starts as a kind of young adult, perhaps even juvenile fiction feel, but the amount of content going on behind the scenes and the way stakes are raised steadily from the beginning make it an ultimately satisfying read for readers of any age. I ended up hugely enjoying it, and I would think most of my readers here would as well.

Ultimately, A Star Named Vega is a delightful romp. Yes, there are darker things at the fringes, but the characters make the journey fun–and often funny as well.

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Links

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the SPSFC here!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.