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Proelium Veritas by John Murphy – a Review

Vaughn Killian had risen to the top of the candidate class for Black Saber by the end of the first novel in the series. Now he’s ready to graduate…but the Brass isn’t happy with him.

Even in an elite unit like this, there’s an emphasis on by-the-book procedures. Killian is more of a field soldier–hands-on, seat of the pants. While that’s the kind of guy you want in combat, maybe he takes it a bit too far. And it turns out his instinctive warrior ways have backfired on him: because of his disregard for regulations, he’s being held back as cadre to train other candidates while his classmates get deployed. This is the last thing he wanted.

Nonetheless, he’s about to see action anyway. It seems the Carthenogans have somehow discovered the location of Black Saber’s secret training facility, and have dispatched a force of barbaric neandergrunts to capture some personnel and wipe out the rest.

With this second book, the storyline becomes increasingly complex. Murphy bounces around an ensemble cast to weave espionage, political intrigue, combat, and personal drama into the narrative. By book’s end, it’s still a mystery how some of these plot threads will tie together…and where all they will take us before they do. However it all weaves together in the third novel (???), it’s shaping up to be something huge.

It’s probably impossible for any author to write something I can’t nitpick in some way (myself included). But my biggest complaint here has to do with storytelling technique. Specifically: the cliffhanger ending. I think some plot elements could have been tied up a little better…there could have been a bit stronger sense of resolution…and likely we’d still want to read the next book. As is, it kind of feels like a much longer novel that was cut in half.

You may have read military sci-fi with similar elements before (Ender’s Game is one that comes to mind), but chances are you haven’t read a series with as much going on as this one.

thereplacements

The Replacements – A Review

With NFL millionaires flaunting their hatred of America, and contempt for at least half of their fan base, now looks like a good time to plug one of the best comedy jock flicks ever made.

“Every athlete dreams of a second chance,” proclaims Coach Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman) in voiceover toward the end. Second chances is what this movie is about, at it’s core. All the jokes, action, and Sports Movie Formula might distract you from that central theme; but those frills are not what resonates with the masculine soul while watching it.

Inspired by the NFL players’ strike in the late 1980s (before Joe Gibbs’ Washington Redskins went on to destroy the Denver Broncos in the Superbowl), the story begins with crybaby millionaire star quarterback Eddie Martel throwing a game in order to avoid getting tackled. The end of the game marks the beginning of the players’ strike.

The owner of the “Washington Sentinels,” hungry for a playoff berth despite the strike, woos “controversial” (old-fashioned) coach McGinty into putting together a roster of replacement players to finish the season.

Turns out, McGinty has been tracking some former players with great potential who, for various reasons, never made it in the pros. “If nothing else,” McGinty says, “they should be fun to watch.”

And they are.

Unfortunately, there are only so many plots available for a sports movie. It is a credit to the director that there are enough twists in The Replacements to make it stand out despite the formula.

The movie does have flaws. The romantic subplot, for instance, comes off as tacked-on and superficial. I suspect the scenes that might have fleshed it out wound up on the cutting room floor. It probably should have been left out altogether, so that other scenes didn’t have to be pared down for the sake of running time (Shane Falco’s first pass in the first practice was obviously two scenes cut together).brookecheerleader But the compromises that weaken the film are not why the critics hate it.

There’s none of the obligatory LGB-pandering anywhere in the film (except, perhaps, in a tres risque pantomime by the strippers-turned-cheerleaders on the sidelines at one game). The screenwriters didn’t contrive some way to put a female on the team–even as a kicker. Comraderie and male-bonding are celebrated throughout, and men act like men. When a female reporter invades the locker room, she gets little cooperation from the players and is ultimately convinced to give up and leave the “male space” intact. The bulk of the entire movie is an unapologetic celebration of masculinity guaranteeing that it could never get made today.

In fact, it’s amazing it got made 17 years ago, because the culture was deeply pozzed by then, already. Instead of watching the anti-American NFL bite the hands that feed them on Sunday, check this flick out.

Every Blade of Grass by R.A. Mathis – A Review

In this third novel in the Homeland series, there’s a turning point in Civil War II. Some Americans saw the writing on the wall, and bugged out just before “The Second Founding.” They organized while in hiding, and are now coming out to tangle with the forces of the new regime.

The state governments have been dissolved, and what was once the continental USA  has been divided into 10 regions under the totalitarian government of President Tophet. But in Tennessee, there are enough surviving patriots (even in the legislature) that resistance to the takeover is made official. Tennessee will not lay down without a fight.

Sergeant Cole has found the organized resistance–in this instance led by LTC Lee, his old battalion C.O. But concern over his family leads him to undertake his own mission to find them even as the flames of civil war spark to life across the country.

There is significant character development in this book–not just of Cole, either. Eduardo Garcia has quite the interesting character arc, which culminates here.

Author Mathis has masterfully woven a tale of one possible future history of the USA in the Homeland trilogy, which doesn’t bog down in technical details at all, or read like an advertisement for gold, survival supplies, or anything else. What this third novel does deliver is hope. The collapse of the USA as we know it may be inevitable, but it’s comforting to imagine there will be enough people with the wisdom, courage, and competence to mount an effective resistance.

I recommend you read the entire series. And speaking of that: the three novels have been combined into one omnibus edition now.