The Fall by R.J. Pineiro

Every now and then, I like to take a chance on a book that I haven’t heard anything about. I’ll admit that cover shopping can play a big part of this. It’s probably what made me pick up R. J. Piniero’s The Fall. That and the tagline that read something like: “A man takes a jump from a weather balloon only to end up on another Earth where he’s been dead for five years.” Ok, probably not the premise of high brow literature, but hey, it does sound like fun.

I don’t know if it’s me, but I keep pulling up parallel dimensional travel books a lot lately. It’s definitely in vogue right now. And where it used to be confined mainly to space stories involving intergalactic anomalies like ST:TNG’s “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” now it seems like they happen in science fiction more and more on Earth. This probably says something about how self-absorbed we are with ourselves, or maybe it’s just to tell stories that are relatable. Either way, the dimensional travel aspect of this book is fairly basic and is really just a so-so plot device to create tension.

Jack Taylor, ex-Navy SEAL, is one of those “I can do anything” military MacGyver supermen that parade through throw-away action novels. He’s got some relationship troubles (so he’s not actually Superman); but all in all, he does whatever he wants however he wants. When confronted with his alternate Earth, he’s momentarily confused that this America uses the metric system, but ultimately he adapts in about a half hour to his surroundings. His brilliant wife – who happens to be part hacker, part biker chick while actually the lead scientist on big NASA projects – has her own adventures against a power obsessed general who is basically a one man Illuminati. Together this typical American couple has to try to get Jack back to his own Earth and real timeline.

I know suspension of belief is necessary for the rollercoaster rides of today’s action genre, but even though I thought I was in with the “balloon jump” premise mentioned above, this cliché-ridden construct was ultimately too much schlock for me. I don’t want to impugn Clive Cussler by saying this is Clive Cussler-lite, but that’s what I felt while reading this. If unstoppable heroes in pseudo-science stories are what you’re looking for – and you don’t want to travel to Mars with John Carter – then The Fall is the book for you.

4 stars out of 10

photo: jamesbrittin.com

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Alone (The Second World War: Book 2) by Winston Churchill

The second volume in Winston Churchill’s history of World War II focuses on the time period after France had fallen to the German invasion until the entrance of the United States into the conflict. It was a hard time for the British people. Their nation was the only free European country actively opposing Hitler’s scheme of domination. For this, Germany turned its full strength upon the island and brought Britain to its darkest hour. This volume is a testimony to the unconquerable spirit the British had in the face of a merciless enemy.

In a few short years, Germany had gone from a struggling bankrupt nation into a war machine that controlled nearly half of all Europe. After all the missteps that the European leaders took – which Churchill relates in Milestones to Disaster – the British army finds themselves in Occupied France facing complete destruction. Alone begins with the account of the unbelievable escape accomplished at Dunkirk – the largest marine transportation event in the history of the world at that point. Thousands of ships, many civilian, saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of men.

After this miraculous feat of logistics and sheer will, Britain is isolated on their little island home. They know that Hitler will come to destroy his final opposition. Churchill, in amazing detail and frankness, reveals how England steeled themselves for the onslaught. Massive defense measures of every town went into action. Every port was mined and patrolled. Every able bodied citizen was assigned a war duty task such as fire watch, food supply, child care. The Royal Air Force was called upon to keep constant vigil in the air while the Royal Navy swept the seas and harbors. At no time has there been a country more single-minded in its effort for defense. The delightful shores of Albion became a bulwark.

Through this and the Battle of Britain to come, Churchill rallied the people with his speeches. Never for a minute was surrender considered an option. Optimism and perseverance was always the tone. The strength of this history is the resolve of the people of Britain to overcome. Hardships came in droves, but they survived. A fictional account would only ring hollow. This true story gives the reader iron in his spirit to face the evil of their own time.

In the end, we know they came through. With dreadful losses, England lasted until the world could rally. Their determination probably saved the future of freedom. You should read of the debt we owe to this brave people whose lives shone in what was “their finest hour.”

7.5 stars out of 10

photo: archives.gov  – London, 1940

14 by Peter Clines

Ok, so I’m a little late to the party, but I finally got here right?

14 by Peter Clines has been on the top of Top 10 Books lists (that I see) since it came out a couple years ago. Every time I’m looking for a new science fiction novel to read, it just waves its little hand and says, “Still here, pick me.” No, I’m looking for that “hidden” gem. If everyone likes it, it can’t be that good. Well after two years or so, I guess I can check out what all the fuss is about. Oh…the fuss is that this is a good book. It’s going on my top ten list – just a few years late.

The story starts innocently enough with Nate. He’s a regular guy that can’t find what to do with his life, has a crappy job, and is looking for cheaper rent. Someone recommends to him an older apartment building with too good to believe fixed prices. The place and the tenants seem nice enough at first blush – even if things do feel just a little odd. Well, after seeing that green cockroach, maybe things are more than a little strange. Some of the neighbors have noticed the “quirks” of the building. Nate assembles a small crew to discover what’s going on, but their amateur prying uncovers more than they bargain for.

The sheer genius of this book is its originality. The dialogue at the beginning is a little campy, but it grows on you. Something like – and this is intentional – a Scooby-Doo mystery. The reader wonders what they’ve gotten themselves into, but by the end, feel like they’re part of the gang. I thought at the start that I was getting a straight down the alley haunted house story. What I got in return was maybe the most original plot that I’ve read in the last 100 books or so. Science fiction is crowded with the same conceits: time travel, trans-dimensional travel, first contacts, interplanetary war. How ’bout something new? Now don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of the familiar in this book; where Peter Clines excels, is that he uses the old ideas with a fresh vision. And I’m thinking he may have the right kind of insight.

There will be no spoilers in this review besides what I’ve already said. (I’m already worried the black vans may pull up any second now.) Just read it. Don’t wait the years to try it. It’s fun. Let me know if it makes your top 10.

8.5 stars out of 10