Wesley Britton's Blog

May 10, 2021

Book Review: A Child of the Federation by Fabrice Stephan

A Child of the Federation (Human Star Pilots Book 4)
Fabrice Stephan
ISBN: 9798700286237
Published February 2nd 2021

Reviewed by: Dr. Wesley Britton

While I sometimes feel like I’m drowning in an overwhelming flood of new novels in science-fiction, I am often surprised how impressive so many new efforts are. That’s especially true when authors present universes and multi-verses painted on wide and deep canvases full of ideas that are tantalizing, if not always easily comprehensible. In other words, impressive doesn’t always mean engaging.

One problem reviewing such sagas is trying to squeeze a useful summary into one or two paragraphs. It’s possible to list some of the major plot points, spell out the major conflicts and main players, but does that tell readers much about the spirit and flavor of the books?

In this case, that’s even more tricky as I’m jumping into the “Human Star Pilots” epic four books into the series. Before A Child of the Federation, Stephan gave us Human Star Pilot: Human Star Pilots Book 1, Interstellar Star Pilot: Human Star Pilots Book 2, and Space Station Acheron: Human Star Pilots Book 3. And I’ve read none of them.

Over the four tomes so far, the universe Stephan created is so vast, ageless, and sprawling, odds are few readers will quickly wrap their minds around what is involved, no matter in which book they first jump into the saga. It’s a story with many plots and sub-plots. The main rudder for the fourth novel is the main character of the forty year old star pilot, Isara. As a “child of the Federation,” she knows next to nothing about who she is until a surprising journey of self-discovery takes her back to the planet of her origins, Filb, the planet which witnessed a horrible ecological catastrophe. She is more special than she knows, even moreso than being one of only six pilots capable of surviving the training of managing hyperspace jumps learned from a borrowed Alien technology. That means she has to live with nanobots in her body that keep her alive during warp jumps.

To describe a few things about the Federation, it’s worth noting this isn’t a Federation Gene Roddenberry would recognize: it’s mainly an economic confederacy of which earth is a relative newcomer. Also facing ecological disaster, earth needs the technology of ancient aliens who apparently no longer exist. The interplay between members of the Federation and the levels of political maneuvering are, well, confusing. While Stephan is masterful at world-building, the further away the story moves away from Isara’s personal evolution, the more lost in the trees I got.

So my final reaction to the book is that it’s a challenge worth exploring if you really like complex universe building, multiple story-lines, very dense back-stories, and occasional memorable scenes in between all the description of a universe easy to get lost in. And, no doubt, more to come.

This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on May 10, 2021:

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Published on May 10, 2021 11:30 Tags: ecological-disasters, intersteller-spaceships, science-fiction, space-opera

May 3, 2021

Book Review: The Boys Next Door: A Novel About the Beatles by Dan Greenberger

The Boys Next Door: A novel about the Beatles
Dan Greenberger
Publisher : Appian Way Press (July 18, 2020)
ISBN: 979-865570

Reviewed by: Dr. Wesley Britton

It’s been a very long time since I’ve had so much fun reading a book, and this time around that happened for a variety of reasons.

First was the setting of Hamburg, Germany in 1960 when the Beatles—then John, Paul, George, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best—were in residence at Bruno Koschmider’s rough and hard-edged nightclub, the Kaiserkeller. Any Beatle fan will recognize the cornucopia of the details of Beatle lore Greenberger incorporates into his fictional autobiography of Columbia University student and poet Alan Levy after he takes up quarters in the room next to the Beatles above the gritty Bambi Kino theatre.

At first, levy dislikes the musicians next door as they are loud and keep him awake while he is a guest student at a Hamburg university. He doesn’t like rock and roll. He’s an intellectual snob who becomes beguiled by photographer Astrid Kirchherr who slowly draws Levy into the Beatles orbit as he fantasizes about her while she is moving closer and closer to a relationship with Stuart Sutcliffe, much to Levy’s distress.

The main storyline of the tale is Levy’s journey of self-discovery in a city that gives his New York innocence a serious trouncing. The seedy Reeperbahn is a lively district largely populated by Strippers, transvestites, prostitutes, thugs, and a few arty types like Astrid Kirchherr. One of the strengths of the book is Greenberger’s gift for description as he vividly takes readers to the city and the KaiserKeller while painting the spirit of the times and the flavor of the distinctive Reeperbahn.

Another entertaining element to The Boys Next Door is Greenberger’s clever slices of humor that will get you laughing out loud. Two examples: early on, Levey spends time in a library where he finds the sounds of popping gum from someone in the next cubicle a welcome relief from hours of listening to the Beatles pounding out “Money.” Later on, he masturbates to a photo of himself taken by Kirchherr. Throughout, we get tiny bits of Beatle humor when Greenberger tosses in little bits like a refrain of “You have found her, now go and get her,” referring to the alluring photographer but all readers are likely to know how that line would later play in Beatle history. Or when Levy takes up the guitar and jams with the group on a rooftop which ends with Levy saying, “I hope I passed the audition.” Again, what Beatle fan wouldn’t know how this foreshadows the rooftop concert in Let It Be.

Yes, we get enough character development of each of the Beatles to see them as the historical figures we all know and love. We meet the musicians just as Levy does through the interactions between Levy and the band members which are doled out in bits and pieces as the story progresses, layering in the group, their live performances, their Hamburg circle, their changing relationships, especially regarding Sutcliffe and Best, and more and more, the cranky neighbor living next door.

Putting the band aside, the transformation of Alan Levy takes many surprising twists and turns and makes this more than a typical coming-of-age tale. To say more would verge on providing spoilers; suffice it to say, you won’t expect what happens and, for the most part, you’ll be happy to see a would-be poet’s growing depth as a person and an artist.

In short, you don’t have to be a Beatle fan to enjoy The Boys Next Door and might find yourself hoping Greenberger will provide us further adventures of Alan Levy, Beatles in his future or no. I give this book six stars out of five . . .

This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on May 3, 2021:

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April 20, 2021

March 5, 2021

Podcasts and Sci-Fi panels

Wes Britton joined fellow sci-fi authors Andy Zackk and Bill McCormick along with host Phoebe Darqueling at a LitCon panel on WorldBuilding on March 5. The FB link to the recording, available throughout this weekend, is at:


Next week, we’ll have a YouTube link available for future listening. Of special interest: during the conversation, you can witness Wes talking while his recliner disintegrates from under him! Some unexpected comic relief-

While I’m here, here’s the link to Wes Britton’s interview with Joshua Pantalleresco’s “Just Joshing” Podcast:

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Published on March 05, 2021 19:55 Tags: andy-zach, bill-mccormick, science-fiction, world-building

February 11, 2021

Book Review: Swords, Starships and Superheroes –

Swords, Starships and Superheroes –
From Star Trek to Xena to Hercules: A TV Writer’s Life Scripting the Stories of Heroes
Paul Robert Coyle
Foreword by Steven L. Sears
ASIN : B08M953MG2
Publisher : Jacobs/Brown Press (October 28, 2020)


I've read enough entertainment insider memoirs to know most fit into one of two categories. The first includes reminiscences by performers, writers, directors or other well-known participants from movies, television, or other performing arts whose names are all it takes to stir up reader interest. The second are autobiographies by participants who aren't especially famous in their own right. But they've had to good fortune to work on projects with large fan bases. Their memoirs appeal to the sorts of fans hungry for behind-the-scenes tidbits from insiders from stuntmen to scriptwriters to visual graphics -designers.

Paul Robert Coyle's Swords, Starships and Superheroes clearly falls into the second category. True, he's had his brushes with fame by appearing at fan conventions for devotees of, in particular, the cult hits, Zena: Warrior Princess and Hercules, The Legendary Journeys.

Coyle's look back over his career includes quick discussions of his freelance scriptwriting for shows from The Streets of San Francisco to Superboy to various series in the Star Trek franchise. (Anyone remember Gerry Anderson's one season obscurity Space Precinct? I didn't). So there are chapters for Star Trek devotees to dive into, especially lovers of Deep Space Nine. But it's mainly aficionados of Xena and Hercules who are going to want to scoop up this major peek behind the curtains of these shows' productions.

For such fans, Coyle doesn't just share his own memories. True, we get a full accounting for his career as a script-writer as he spent many years as a free-lancer pitching stories before graduating to being a staff writer/ producer and going to fan conventions where he had to bite his tongue to not give away production secrets for Zena and Hercules. Beyond describing his duties and relationships with the writers and producers of these shows, Coyle gives us passages from scripts, sometimes two variants of script drafts, along with other production documents. He shares stories of things that might have been and of how problems were solved, notably how the writers and producers had to deal with the absence of Kevin Sorbo in the 4th and 5th seasons of Hercules due to the star's serious health concerns.

Of course, Coyle's book is akin to many like it, that is, sharing glimpses into the profession of TV script-writing with suggestions about the things other writers should do to succeed and, just as importantly, the things not to do. In short, this is the sort of book for a niche market--those into the productions Coyle was part of and those wanting to learn about the industry he has worked in for decades. It's all very readable and well told, as you'd expect from an inventive writer who's been drawing from his own creative well for many years now.

This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on Feb. 11, 2021:

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February 5, 2021

Christopher Plummer--CounterStrike

In few obits honoring the late, great Christopher Plummer, there are few mentions of his 1990-1993 Canadian/ French produced USA television series, Counterstrike.

In the series opener, after his wife is killed in a terrorist operation, international industrialist Alexander Addington (Plummer) assembled a private team of troubleshooters to help combat terrorism around the world. Headed by Peter Sinclair (Simon MacCorkindale), for 66 episodes, the team usually included one female French operative and one male American agent traveling together in a private jet connected to Addington via an internet link. The show could be considered something of a private enterprise version of the IMF from Mission: Impossible.

During its three-season run, the show was nominated for various Gemini awards including a 1992 nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Continuing Leading Dramatic Role for Christopher Plummer.

The title sequence for each episode included Plummer doing a dramatic reading of the show's motto: "We must fight evil, no matter where, no matter when, no matter what the cost":

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Published on February 05, 2021 20:39 Tags: action-adventure, spy-shows, television, terrorism

February 1, 2021

Dragon Rider Prophecy: A Journey Begins by Andrew Wichland

Dragon Rider Prophecy: A Journey Begins
Author: Andrew Wichland
Publisher : DragonStorm; 1st edition (December 1, 2020)
ISBN: 978-1-0879-2950-7

I wasn't too far into Andrew Wichland's fanciful Dragon Rider Prophecy: A Journey Begins before I realized I was reading a classic YA fantasy. For one matter, the twin protagonists, the brother and sister team of Logan and Johanna Walker, are teenagers involved in the sorts of activities typical of high school students, particularly playing hockey and studying for finals. But in much of the story, we see Logan and Johanna engaged in very special kinds of education. In a very imaginative cave setting, the twins' adoptive parents teach the twins about their inherent magical abilities as well as all manner of techniques in physical combat. Later, a tutor named Naomi joins the cast and begins to teach the teenagers how to cast powerful magical spells. Hmm, not really all that typical an upbringing after all. Instead, we learn the twins were born to fulfill prophecies in a non-earth magical realm, a familiar trope in many mythologies and sci-fi series ala Star Wars.

Another fanciful trope in the story is the introduction of two jovial dragons, Phoenix and Pegasus. They are pretty much familiars, in the witchcraft sense of the term, to the twins. The dragons are spiritually bound to their respective humans, talk a lot, and serve as aerial steeds transporting Logan and Johanna wherever they need to go. I admit, Phoenix and Pegasus often seemed cartoonish window-dressing in the story without any real purpose and often contribute nothing to the action. For example, in one scene the twins get involved with some nasty pirates at sea and go to a lot of trouble to smuggle the dragons on ship and hide them in a large cargo hold. That's where the dragons stay until the twins defeat the baddies. Then everyone goes through another round of trouble to get the dragons off the ship, unseen and undiscovered by anyone on board. Why? I dunno. I have to say, the winged pair are very likeable and maybe that's the point. Some happy-go-lucky dragons aren't meant to be threatening fire-breathers but rather sympathetic talking pets.
That's until the final showdown with the evil Head Slayer, the man prepared to, well, to tell you would be a spoiler. After a series of very episodic and often unconnected adventures in the novel, the final sprawling battle is the best part of the book. In the final chapters, Wichland pulls out all the stops. He incorporates every element you might expect in a fantasy-oriented action adventure including sword and staff-fights, magical orbs, trolls, goblins, elves, a black sorceress, snapping fingers to spark fires . . . Everything except romance. I was sure when Naomi and then Salina Lightfoot the elf showed up, Logan might get a love interest. Nope.
Maybe in the sequel. It's obvious there will be at least one. Likely, many a younger reader will want to continue the journey with the Walker twins and their entourage. Have fun--fun is what it's all about . . .

This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on Feb. 1, 2021

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Published on February 01, 2021 09:27 Tags: fantasy, magic, swords-and-sorcery, young-adult-fiction

January 26, 2021

Book Review: Soul Seeker by Kaylin McFarren

Soul Seeker
Kaylin McFarren
Publisher : Creative Edge Publishing LLC (October 27, 2020)
Publication date : October 27, 2020


Looking at the table of contents for Kaylin McFarren's Soul Seeker (Gehenna Book 1), readers might anticipate a yarn that will unfold in two parts. However, by the time I reached the grand finale--more accurately the set-up for the second book in the saga--I felt like the tale was really three sections linked by the life of the title character, Lucifer's sometimes favorite soul catcher, Chrighton.

The first third of the book focuses on fallible humans like Benjamin Poe and his son whose lives are fatally menaced by a shadowy, mysterious figure. In this part of the story Chrighton is only occasionally center stage as he pulls the strings to lure his luckless prey to their doom. Then, the emphasis shifts to Chrighton himself.
In the second part of the book, his character is fleshed out in vivid detail. We see him interacting with Lucifer and other condemned denizens of hell. We meet Chrighton's mother and other demons and half-breeds (half-angel, half-demon) going back and forth between earth and hell. In this part of the book, McFarren modernizes Biblical mythology and portrays an underworld that's something of a Twenty-First Century reworking of John Milton's Pandemonium from Paradise Lost. McFarren's version is gritty and dark and happily doesn't feature one-dimensional immortal single-minded creatures hell-bent, as it were, on tormenting human souls. In fact, humans are essentially mere pawns in the push-and-pull between angels and demons.
Part three of the yarn is a multi-generational love story where we see Crighton, his angel "soul mate" Ariel, his parents, and other paranormal types developed in much more depth than is typical of such fantasies. McFarren's characters have complex backgrounds and have very personal inner conflicts and secrets. While there's no shortage of fantastic situations and events, Soul Seeker is a more earthy and, dare I say, realistic canvas than most readers might expect.
While the primary conflict is the old trope of good actors triumphing over evildoers , or at least softening them up, Soul Seeker isn't a morality play. It's not especially religious. There's lots in the latter third of the book showcasing how the hierarchy of angels is structured in heaven, but there's not one mention of God. There are many references to a future battle between the new rulers in hell and angel armies in a final showdown, which we can presume will be McFarren's take on Armageddon. But McFarren isn't preaching any kind of sermon about the wages of sin or mending our evil ways.
On one hand, the prime redeeming virtue McFarren's demons can display is the ability to sacrifice oneself to save a loved one. On the other hand, readers uneasy about graphic sex or violence aren't going to take to many scenes in Soul Seeker. For those who like horror and paranormal fantasy, Soul Seeker is pure entertainment with some extremely well-sketched characters we'll all want to see in the next volume. I'm ready for the next chapters. Sometimes there are bad guys who are fun to root for.

This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on Jan. 26, 2021:

This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on Jan. 26, 2021:
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Published on January 26, 2021 12:19 Tags: angels, demons, hell, religious-fiction, the-devil

December 25, 2020

""The Star" by Arthur C. Clarke

Two Christmas stories:

For about two decades, I worked nearly every weekend at NTRB (North Texas Radio for the Blind) in Dallas, Texas. From 3:45 till about 11:00, I set up and aired recorded readings from local newspapers, magazines, community events, and, on Saturday nights at 10:00, the "Mystery/ Sci-Fi" hour of short stories. Weird to say, our top rated show was the 15 minutes of the obituaries. If a volunteer didn't tape the obits, I'd be answering phone complaints and telling listeners I was as blind as they were and couldn't record the valuable intel myself.

Anyway, every Saturday just before Christmas, I played the same reading on the "Sci-Fi Hour" for all those years. It was a cassette with a reading of Arthur C. Clarke's "The Star." Since that was an annual thing, I have to call that a personal Christmas tradition that I'd forgotten about. Until now.

So I here share that tradition with you--an extremely powerful Christmas tale by a master:


Merry Christmas and to all a good night--
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Published on December 25, 2020 06:15 Tags: arthur-c-clarke, christmas, science-fiction

December 18, 2020

Book Review: Tales From The Pirate's Cove: Twelve tall tales of piracy and plunder

Tales From The Pirate's Cove: Twelve tall tales of piracy and plunder
Rob Edwards et al
August 14, 2020
Inklings Press (August 14, 2020

Whenever I review an anthology with contributions by a variety of writers, I usually fear I'm not going to be able to offer much in the way of overarching observations. The quality, styles, and approaches are usually uneven with some yarns appealing to me more than others.

But, in this case, I can indeed point out some aspects that do keep a sort of consistency bonding all these imaginative short stories. And I promise to do so without overmuch reliance on cliche's that seem irresistible when writing about pirates. For one thing, every story is at least partially set on one kind of ship or another; some are set on old-fashioned wooden sailing ships on earth's seven seas, some are spaceships voyaging out in the cosmos. Most pirates wield swords or other hand-held weapons making the frequent battle scenes bloody and deadly. In every case, readers should expect extremely surprising twists. After all, this is a sci-fi collection, not historical fiction.

For example, Lawrence Harding's “For Love of the Sea” is perhaps the most allegorical of the adventures with two leaders from two different species clashing over misunderstandings with ecological consequences. The trope of religious zealots in overkill mode is in "The Mouth of the Wicked" by Bob Finegold. We get time pirates in "Iris, Like the Song" by Jennifer Lee Rossman and "Lost Treasure" by Brian A. Harris where pirates not only steal precious moments but one entire year, namely 1998. Yep, an entire year.

Many stories are more horror than sci-fi like “Xibalba’s Curse” by Ricardo Victoria with a new take on menacing fogs or “The Black Spots” by Pat Woods in which pirates are infected by disease that turns them into deadly monsters. There are many chilling moments in Tom Jolly's “De Leon’s Fountain” where water has rejuvenation powers with frightening and almost Faustian results. I especially liked Leo McBride's “To the End of the World” with its demonic climax turning all romance stories on their heads.

To add a few more overall comments: it's hard to imagine any reader not finding at least one tale an entertaining read for the coming winter months and beyond. Most of us will find many more excursions into the weird a lot of fun. And every writer represented here knows what he or she is doing. The same can be said of Inklings Press which, once again, excels with another of their theme-based anthologies.

In short, Tales from the Pirate's Cove are well worth the deep dive into the strange, surprising, stunning, and startling. There, I knew I could do it. A review on pirate stories without a shiver me timbers, yo ho ho, pieces of eight, or "A-r-r-g!" Well, till the finish line . . .

This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on Dec. 18, 2020:

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Published on December 18, 2020 09:09 Tags: anthologies, fantasy, horror, pirates, sci-fi

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