Book Review: Starcraft II: Heaven’s Devils

I promised you a book review, and by golly you’re gonna get it! In my own, inimitable BBB style.

Starcraft II: Heaven’s Devils by William C. Dietz is at it’s heart a military sci-fi tale that follows a very familiar style.

There is a familiar theme that keeps getting repeated in military novels. Naive young man goes off to war, enters boot camp, is exposed to the order and structure of training, feels prepared and confident, and then goes out into the harsh reality of the real world, where blood stains your stuff, people die even when they’re you’re friends, and chaos seems to reign. 

It’s a familiar theme because the coming of age tale is something to which we can all relate, and it helps draw us into the setting. Much like us, the new recruit doesn’t know what the future holds, and as things are explained to him along the way, we learn right along with him.

For those of us that have been there before ourselves in some way, we can also chuckle as we remember just how naive and stupid we really were back then.

This particular story is centered on Jim Raynor, a young man helping his family keep their farm alive on a dusty agrarian world, as the Guild Wars rage between the Confederation and the Kel-Morian guilds over who will control the future of Terran colonized space.

As the story progresses, we follow young Jim’s own coming of age tale as it unfolds, from his very beginning on the Confederation world of Shiloh, and all the way through until the end of his military career.

Along the way, we become acquainted with the ways of the Confederation military might, and bear witness to the birth of an elite force, the Heaven’s Devils.

The story is set in the Starcraft universe, and is faithful to the Starcraft lore that has come before. This is not a reboot, revamp or reconstruction for Starcraft II, it all fits nicely in the existing storyline. In fact, much like the recent book Arthas, the back of Starcraft II: Heaven’s Devils includes a detailed Starcraft timeline that lays out important events in sequence, and for each event lists the book(s) in which those events can be found. 

Yes, Starcraft II: Heaven’s Devils is a tale set solidly in the Starcraft universe, and yes it is faithful to the existing lore, but first and foremost this is a military sci-fi novel in keeping with the finest works of William C. Dietz. Anyone that is familiar with his work on Legion of the Damned will feel right at home here without having read anything else, or having played SC1.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Legion of the Damned… Dietz infuses his military sci-fi with a stripped down quality; the story advances from event to event, and you’re expected to keep up and pay attention. He doesn’t spend much time describing the color of the grain in the fields of Shiloh, and he doesn’t bother you with details on what the major export crop of whatever town the characters happen to be in might be. His books also bear a cynical edge and black humor common to military sci-fi, a tone perfectly in keeping with the setting and subject matter of this book. 

I enjoyed this book a great deal, but at the beginning, it was hard for me to get into. The “From boot camp to the front lines” theme has been done so many times, in so many ways, and let’s be honest… not all of them can be Full Metal Jacket. When you realise what the theme of this story will be, an experienced reader will start to worry… “Is this going to have some imagination, some new and interesting edge to it, or is this going to be some formulaic piece of derivative crap?”

Hey, I know that’s what I was worrying.

So yes, starting out, when I saw what direction the book was heading, I was worried. I dragged my feet a bit.

In the end, it goes off the rails in a very good way, and has a great “Oh crap” feel to it. It’s not a story you’re going anticipate, it does a good job of sucker punching your expectations. 

Still, in the early stages, I didn’t know that it was going to go off the rails.

What kept me going was the promise that this was Jim Raynor’s story.

I played Starcraft I, so I know who the hell Jim Raynor is. At the time Starcraft I begins, it’s been ten years since the end of the Guild Wars. We know that the Confederacy won the war and now rules unchallenged over Terran space. It’s all one big happy Confederation family. we als know that if you want any sense of freedom in the Confederacy, you go out to the rim of colonized space looking for some crap out of the way planet and find a hole to hide in.

Four days before the Starcraft I story begins, an alien fleet popped out of nowhere and laid waste to a colonized Terran Confederacy world. Panic among exposed colonial worlds ensues, and we enter from stage left as a Confederation assigned Magistrate abrubtly placed in command of the colony of Mar Sara.

As the Colonial Magistrate, we are tasked with protecting the colony from a feared alien invasion and chilling them out so they don’t panic at the idea of being Zerg chow.  On our very first Starcraft I mission (real mission, not the training mission) we encounter a very dusty, tired, and cynical James Raynor, the “local Marshall” of Mar Sara, and we enlist his aid in relocating refugees immediately in the wake of General Edmund Duke’s surprise announcement of a 48 hour lockdown and colonial quarantine.

From there, the Starcraft I story takes off running… and from there we got to know Jim Raynor very well. Jim, and Kerrigan.

But what was Marshall James Raynor’s story back before he ended up on Mar Sara?

Starcraft II: Heaven’s Devils did what I really wanted. It does tell Jim’s story, and along the way also tells the story of the elite unit he was a part of, and gives us one hell of an eyes wide open view at the reality of the Confederation Terran Marines.

Unfortunately, the book ends near the conclusion of the Guild Wars, and leaves us with a ten year gap to wonder what happened until we see him again in SC1.

Still, have you seen the trailor for the Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty game out this Tuesday?

God, I love that trailer.

I think it’s safe to say that if you want to know more about the man that comes to lead a Mercenary force in the new Starcraft II game, if that trailer makes you interested to know more about what kind of actual military background he had in the Confederacy, and why he wasn’t STILL a loyal little happy Confederate puppet, then Starcraft II: Heaven’s Devils will answer those questions admirably.

Oh, and yeah… I’ll be buying the game on Tuesday. What can I say? They had me at “Kerrigan”.

Bottom line – It was a good book. I had a good time. I’d like to see Dietz fill out those missing ten years.

Starcraft II Book Contest – Winners Announced!

That’s it, folks!

Stick a fork in it, the Starcraft II: Heaven’s Devils Book Contest (North American version), as announced last week, has now drawn to a close.

There were some excellent submissions, but at the end of the day, two clearly stood out from the rest for their sheer awesomeness.

And the winners are!

Adgamorix, of the Divine Plea blog, for his story of using StarCraft I during his time in the military as a group tactics instruction method.

Dechion, of the Dechion’s Place blog, for his excellent fictional story set within the StarCraft universe. It kicked butt. Hopefully, he’ll post it (when he’s polished it up to his liking) on his blog for us!

It’s purely coincidence that both winners have blogs. Sometimes I think all blog readers eventually start writing their own blogs, and then we all just link to each other in an ever-growing circle of blogging cannibalism.

Congratulations to the both of you! I hope you enjoy your books. :)

In other news, I’ve got my copy and I am reading it, so you can expect the second contest to go up sometime next week for my (slightly) used copy.

Again, congratulations to you, and thank you to everyone that sent in an entry. They were all wonderful.

Have a good weekend!

Reminder: Starcraft II book contest ends soon!

The Starcraft II book contest draws to a close this Friday. Time is fast running out.

If you wanted to enter the contest to win your own copy of the book, and haven’t done so yet, please do so now! Even a one paragraph entry is far better than not entering at all.

I’ve got my review copy now, and let me tell you, it’s pretty damn cool.

So, go refresh yourself on the contest details here, and get your entry mailed in now!

~

Tell you what

I’ll add one more way you can make a cool entry.

You could send in your favorite screenshot of you in Starcraft or the Starcraft II beta pwning the enemy. If you find it hard to come up with the words to describe how much you love Starcraft, let a picture do the talking for you.

Good luck!

Massive book recommendations!

I’ve tried to touch on different things here over the years, sticking with things that I love as a proud geek fanboy. 

Just like a ferret, I’m not consistent. I bounce all over the place. Ooh, shiny!

I’ll talk about WoW for a month, and then out of nowhere you get a post about John Ringo books, or World War II heist movies, or Top Chef.

This pays off for me, because invariably you folks offer suggestions for things I’D like that you enjoyed, and boom, my music collection explodes with awesomeness, or I hear about a new old movie I end up loving, or like the other day, I take the plunge and buy Jim* Butcher’s first Dresden book, Storm Front, and really like it.

I have gushed about John Ringo before, and I also wrote a post about some of the older books and series I really, really loved a long time ago.

That’s not really very complete. Not when reading is something I have done all my life, and when writing and fiction are among my greatest passions.

I was emailed by Averna a few days ago, asking if there were any other series I would recommend for someone looking for something to read.

Ahem.

I might have a few series of books I could suggest.

What I’m going to do is list the series that retain a permanent place on my bookshelf, regardless of genre.

Each and every one of the following series is a collection of books that I enjoyed so much that I went out and bought all of them, keep all of them on my shelf no matter how little space I have, and will forever retain no matter how many times I do a purge to clear out the stuff I know I’ll never read again.

In many cases, especially on out of print series, I’ve spent many an hour driving around looking in used bookstores or online or by phone for that scarce copy of Sten #4, or something.

Most of my searching was done before there was such a thing as an internet, when finding that one damn book meant networking with eclectic booksellers across the country for weeks, so all you youngsters that can click a button and find that rare book in three seconds? Yeah, you can kiss my butt.

Again, these are the series that I directly support by “voting with my wallet”, by buying new books when they come out with actual cash, and suggest and keep because I love them, in some way.

Many of them I don’t love in all ways, but there will be something that is amazing.

For example, the World as Myth series by Robert Heinlein, some people are turned off by his writing because of the interpersonal relationship issues within the stories, but for me, the concept and way he explores the heart of the subject, worlds of imagination existing as reality somewhere, is just flat out brilliant.

Since 95% of my reading comes for free from the public library system whenever I want, spending money on books, for me, is one hell of a luxury purchase and I have to really want that series to be sitting on my shelves to make it happen.

The great thing about doing this, is that even if you don’t see anything that might be interesting, you get to mock some of my choices,  agree with some others, or suggest your own. Score!

Science Fiction (general)
Space Cops – Three book series by Diane Duane and Peter Morwood
The ‘World as Myth’ books by Robert A. Heinlein
  Time Enough for Love
  The Number of the Beast
  The Cat Who Walks Through Walls
  To Sail Beyond the Sunset  
The Continuing Time by Daniel Keys Moran

Science Fiction (Military)
Posleen War/Legacy of the Aldenata by John Ringo
Sten series by Chris Bunch and Allan Cole
Northworld, RCN and Hammer’s Slammers series by David Drake
TimeWar series by Simon Hawke
Legion of the Damned series by William C. Dietz
Honor Harrington and Dahak series by David Weber
Empire of Man series by David Weber and John Ringo
Robotech novels/book series attributed to Jack McKinney

Detective/Mystery
Prey series and Kidd series by John Sandford
Matthew Scudder novels by Lawrence Block
Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelly

Fantasy
Anything in the universe by Terry Pratchet
Dragonriders of Pern and especially the Dragonsong series by Anne McCaffrey
The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny
The Vlad Taltos series, and the Khaavren romances by Steven Brust
The Deryni series by Katherine Kurtz
The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan
The Legion of Videssos series by Harry Turtledove
Doc Sidhe series by Aaron Allston
Lord of the Isles series by David Drake
War God series by David Weber

Honorable fantasy mention;
They’re not a series, but each is freaking brilliant; Talion: Revenant, Eyes of Silver, and Once a Hero by Michael A. Stackpole.
Personally, I don’t enjoy a lot of his other books or series, but I thought Talion in particular was one of the finest works of fantasy fiction I have ever read in my life. Oh, and his Star Wars books also kick ass. A LOT of it. Rogue Squadron? Pretty win.

Military (general)
Rogue Warrior series by Dick Marcinko
Able Team series attributed to Dick Stivers

Adventure
Dirk Pitt books, particularly the earliest ones, by Clive Cussler

Series I once had all of (or almost all of) back in the day, and wish I still did, but I don’t want them quite enough to spend thousands of dollars rebuilding them;
Casca: The Eternal Mercenary series by Barry Sadler
The Destroyer (Remo Williams and Chium) series by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir
Doc Savage by Kenneth Robeson

EDIT
Damn it, I knew I was going to forget to include this one, I was driving around thinking to myself, “Gotta remember that series, don’t forget”, and sure enough, I hit publish? Forgot.
I heartily recommend for pure fun the Bureau 13 books by Nick Pollotta.If you have ever been a GM of any crazy fun role playing game, I dare you to read the first book, Judgment Night, and not kill yourself laughing. I shared these with Manny, and I thought he was gonna kill me. Seriously. At least try the first one. They are amazing.

EDIT 2

The list above came from my head while I was at work… so it’s not only the permanent ones, but also the ones that came readily to mind.

Now that I’m home, I look at my shelves and see that I had let slip from my mind a few other series, and so let’s bring in the sad and forgotten, but still cherished loves;

Suspense:
Jack Higgens’ series of Sean Dillon counterintel novels
Stephen Hunter’s multiple interwoven series of awesome sniper/counter sniper books spanning generations

Fantasy:
Robert Asprin’s Fool’s Company and Myth Adventures series
Raymond Feists’ Riftwar series
The Sword Dancer series by Jennifer Roberson
The Riddle Master series by Patricia A. McKillip
The Gandalara Cycle by Randal Garrett and Viki Ann Heydron
The Darwath Trilogy by Barbara Hambly

Science Fiction:
The StarWolves series by Thorarinn Gunnarsson

Funny how an entire series of books and stories can just fade from memory, only to rush in at once when you see them on the shelves.

John Ringo finally brings the payoff

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a big fan of the military sci-fi writings of John Ringo.

I like his books. He writes some great fast-paced military sci-fi, with a great sense of humor, AND is rare among similar writers by including geek-culture references everywhere.

Tell me, how many other military sci-fi writers do you know that would have continuous in-jokes from the webcomic Sluggy Freelance? Or write an entire section of a book (not in this series) poking fun at other well known sci-fi writers based at a convention?

I love serious military sci-fi, I really, really do. Some of my favorites are David Drake, David Weber and William C. Dietz.

John Ringo brings his own special touch to the genre, though. It’s good military sci-fi with a, well, he doesn’t take himself very seriously. Love him or hate him, he’s got a sense of humor and it comes through.

What John Ringo hasn’t brung in years is a serious payoff in the Posleen War saga.

I’ve been following his Posleen War saga for a long damn time now. Eleven books to date over ten years, each one a big read with lots of great stuff. The entire thing is more serious in overall tone than most of his other works. It’s nothing less than the absolute invasion and dominance of Earth by alien invaders, and the centuries long struggle for humanity to survive and fight back. Still touches of the Ringo humor, but very gritty.

I read ’em, I love ’em, but it’s been a struggle.

Why a struggle?

Eleven books, and the first ten built up more teasers, glimpses and plot hooks that I thought possible outside of The Wheel of Time. John Ringo created, developed and grew great main characters, then took them in different directions, never to meet again.

Time after time… everything kept spreading out. Just like the real universe, the story kept expanding, leaving all these damn things hanging there, unresolved for the reader.

I love the books, but I’ve been feeling battle fatigue. When the hell was he finally going to wrap some of these things up, PARTICULARLY the personal relationships, and everyone getting focused on hunting down and killing the true evil scheming manipulative bastards in the story?

Seriously. It’s been ten books of everyone killing alligators across the galaxy, but nobody really getting to grips with draining the damn swamp!

They’re great books, but after ten in the series, I was ready for some resolution.

I picked up the latest book, numero eleven, wondering what fresh hell this would bring, and finally… FINALLY it’s all coming together.

Not just one or two things getting resolved, either. I’m halfway through Eye of the Storm, and he’s already nailed down and brought to fruition the plot hooks left dangling from damn near all ten previous books. All of it.

We’re doing nothing but going forward now, and I for one am nothing but happy for it.

I know it’s silly, but after a while of reading any series, much like watching a TV series, no matter how good it is, I want some things to wrap up, I want things to change, I want the entire story to move forward.

I don’t want Star Trek, I want Babylon 5. I want growth, change, and a journey. And, eventually, I’d like to see a destination get reached.

There it is.

Now that there is finally a book that wraps some of the deepest emotional issues up and advances the story in cool new directions, I’m once again delighted with it. I feel like I held in there, and now I’m being rewarded.

Here’s hoping the books continue to deliver, ’cause so far, they’ve really kicked butt. And just knowing that, yes Virginia, there is an eventual payoff, makes the whole thing better.

If you’re looking for a new (old) military sci-fi series to get into, I invite you to check these out.

Posleen War by John Ringo
1. A Hymn Before Battle (main story 1: war)
2. Gust Front (main story 1: war)
3. When the Devil Dances (main story 1: war)
4. Hell’s Faire (main story 1: war)
5. The Hero (side story elsewhere in same universe) (with Michael Z Williamson)
6. Cally’s War (main story 2: black ops)(with Julie Cochrane)
7. Watch on the Rhine (side story set in Europe during main war storyline)(with Tom Kratman)
8. Yellow Eyes (side story set in Panama during main war storyline)(with Tom Kratman)
9. Sister Time  (main story 2: black ops)(with Julie Cochrane)
10. Honor of the Clan (main story 1 and 2 brought together)(with Julie Cochrane)
11. Eye of the Storm (The payoff! Brings together all stories from 1, 2, plus characters from Europe and Panama)

Getting into the Lore… a teeny bit

No, I’m not going to pontificate about lore.

I did want to say that, after reading Arthas: Rise of the Lich King (during that whole contest thing for the book release, remember?) it inspired us to go seek out more of the books.

Cassie and I both read and enjoyed the Arthas book. This is kind of amazing, since Cassie, as a rule, does not like fantasy novels. I can’t speak for her, and maybe she’ll let us know what encouraged her to read it, but she did tell me she enjoyed it.

She enjoyed it enough that she tried to find Christie Golden’s other Warcraft novels through our local library system.

It took some cross-library requests to get it, but we got Rise of the Horde through the inter-library transfer system, and bought Lord of the Clans at a local used bookstore, along with (since what the hell, we were there anyway) The Last Guardian and Beyond the Dark Portal.

Edit… the spoiler section talks about a book due this month that, apparently, I am totally wrong about as to what the subject matter is and such. Can’t update it with good info yet, so just follow the link and check out the comments. There is no way for me to track down the truth, and figure out what book is about Varian Wrynn and what the Ashbringer graphic novel is about. Working Bear is working as intended.

Spoiler alert!
The collected graphic novel of the King of Stormwind comics, World of Warcraft: Ashbringer is due out later this month, and I’m hoping to get a look at that, because I’d like to see how they resolved “The King is Missing, Oh Noes!” quest chain from Alliance side into “The King is Back and Cranky!” that we see from doing the Dragonblight quest chain tand storming Undercity with the King, and being pissy with Thrall.
Spoilers over

Anyway… so we got these books, and Cassie read the Rise of the Horde, followed by Lord of the Clans, and then said I should get busy with them, that they’re very good.

I have been reading the Ian Rankin “Inspector Rebus” novels from 1 to whatever based on the recommendation of our friend Daak, so I’ve been distracted (I’m on The Black Book now, with four more in the series lined up on the table at home) but I took time out to read those two Warcraft books, plus The Last Guardian since I lived for so long in Karazhan that I wanted to read about it a bit.

I don’t know what Cassie’s thoughts on them are, but I have to say that I loved both books about the Horde. The Rise of the Horde was, obviously, a little richer in the lore of the Orcs, not surprising considering how many years of development passed between the two books, but Lord of the Clans kicked ass too.

Makes me want to run Escape from Durnhold again for old times’ sake.

I don’t know how many of you out there have read the books that have come out, but if you haven’t… I suggest you give them a try. They really are very good, and they tie into our game play events really nicely.

It does add an extra dimension to the game when you know so much more about the world and the people in it.

Hopefully Cassie will have the time to mention her thoughts about them as someone that only plays the game and doesn’t usually (okay, ever) read fantasy novels.

And let me know if you enjoyed these books too, or if they inspired your creation of a guild or changed how you did quests. I’m curious, because I can see how, if you played on the Horde side, these books could inspire all kinds of fun RP events and activities to flourish!

The BBB Arthas book contest – the winners announced!

The decisions were difficult to make. I want to be very clear about this. We received a lot of great entries, and every single one of them was very well written, and in almost all cases it was easy to tell that a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm, and a lot of your personal thoughts and imagination were caught up into your stories.

In choosing the winners of the contest, we tried to pick the stories that we loved the most that embraced and ran with the concept of bringing your own character into a personal moment with Arthas, as we defined in the original post.

There were a great many stories that were extremely well written and imaginative, that we felt were great… but just did not fulfill that one rule, that it be about you interacting directly with Arthas.

In the end, however, we could not simply disregard every entry because they chose to write about or around arthas rather than face to face. It was also about imagination, after all.

So we chose four winners from the group that wrote a story of their character directly interacting with Arthas, and one winner that wrote an extremely imaginative story weaving their in game activities with the recent patch shenanigans, into a story where the presence of Arthas was there, but there had been no true interaction between them.

So here we go, the list of winners who will be receiving a book. Over the course of the weekend, I will be sharing those stories with you, one story per post. I think their work deserves it.

A huge thank you to everyone that entered. I only wish I could give every one of you a book, because you far surpassed my wildest dreams with your creativity, your ingenuity, and your passion.

In no particular order the winners are –

Malphailuron of Eredar (also known as Warriorpanda) with a story about the desire of preventing the evil that would be the Lich King… tempered with a love and trust in the faithfulness of the Light.

Hannelore with a story that, while short, invested an incredible amount of emotional power, of passion and dread into her brief encounter with the Lich King that made me want to see a lot more of her adventures.

Cowsareus of the Twilight Hammer EU, who wrote a stirring story of a Druid seeking to work in the way of nature, preparing for a future spring right at the start of the most brutal winter.

Kraggette of Anvilmar with a story of intrigue and betrayal on the very eve of war against the Banshee Queen.

And, last but not least, Ærynn Lómëhtar with the entry that, as I said, may not have quite fulfilled the concept of a face to face encounter with Arthas… but was our choice to represent all those that went nuts with great stories that just didn’t follow the rules.

Congratulations to all of you, and to everyone that wrote such stirring stories.

All of the entries will eventually be posted in an archived format later, so that all of them can be enjoyed as they should. Just because these five were the winners in no way means the other stories were bad. Far from it. Some of them were just incredibly wonderful, including the POEtic efforts of Krizzlybear, and the explosive fun of Honorshammer. Those stories certainly should NOT just vanish into the darkness.

But in the meantime, the winning five will be here on the blog this weekend!

Grats!