Category Archives: space opera

Sky Hunter by Chris Reher is space opera that breaks no molds but is expertly crafted and well written

Review by: KEN KORCZAK

Hey if you are going to read space opera it might as well be really good space opera, and SKY HUNTER is some pretty darned good space opera.

It has all the elements you expect from the genre:

* Space ships, star fighters, alien planets, aliens, space stations, cool gadgets.

* Well-handled actions scenes.

* A crisp writing pace that moves smoothly through an expertly-crafted plot.

* Believable characters you will care about and whom you will cheer on.

* A deftly created background featuring planetary systems flung across the vast reaches of interstellar space.

I also give author CHRIS REHER vast credit for inserting a couple of plot twists I never expected. When you read as much space opera as I have over the past 40 years, that’s not easy to do. Furthermore, some of these turns make this book relevant to issues we are concerned about today. That adds immediacy and relevancy to the narrative.

One of the unexpected departures relates directly to a certain terrible situation which is an ongoing in our U.S. Military today (although the author is Canadian) – but I’ll say no more because I don’t want to issue a spoiler alert.

So Sky Hunter gets my top recommendation. I encourage all science fiction fans to jump on the entire series. It’s a well-written, professionally edited yarn more than worth your dime and time.

Now let’s have a discussion. Come on, folks, pull up a chair and let’s talk.

Sky Hunter is terrific space opera, but it breaks no molds. Even though it’s all put together well, the “parts” writer Chris Reher leverages are the standard “pre-packaged, off-the-shelf, one-size-fit-all” modules of science fiction.

What do I mean?

Well, there is almost no cutting-edge invention here. There is not a single prop in this book we haven’t seen before, and many times over. The main character, Nova Whiteside, is almost indistinguishable from, say, Kara Thrace (call-sign Starbuck) of Battlestar Galactica. Both are tough-as-nails female fighter pilots who grew up as army brats and are making a go of it in a testosterone-soaked man’s world.

The starfighting “Kites” that Whiteside flies are indistinguishable from the crafts used by Luke Skywalker or the crew of Battlestar Galactica, or any one of dozens of other books, movies or TV shows.

Chris Reher

There are space stations and “star gates” or interstellar “jump gates” that have been used over and over again in Star Trek, Star Wars, Stargate and other venues. On the surface of a dusty desert-like planet folks get around in “skimmers.” (Sounds familiar, right?)

The background features a federation of planets, just like the federation of Star Trek. There are rebels fighting the intergalactic empires that be. The aliens are barely alien at all and when they are, they’re like those you already know. For example, Reher’s “Caspians” are tall, fur-covered people with big feet – again, sound familiar? About the only thing that seems to separate the Centaurians from Earth humans is that they have remarkable blue eyes.

I mean, so what I’m saying here: This is genre space opera and it is really, really couched safely within the field. It doesn’t boldly go where a lot of other science fictions writers have gone before.

Don’t get me wrong — there’s nothing wrong with that!

This is the kind of science fiction I cut my teeth on when I was a teenager, and it lead me to a life-long love of the art. Later on the SF acolyte will discover works of amazing innovation and depth – such as a “Gateway” by Frederick Pohl or “Dune” by Frank Herbert or the 4-book-series “Planet of Adventure” by the mighty Jack Vance. (For my money the latter is the best space opera series of all time).

Sky Hunter continues a tradition of Top Gun space adventure that will bring new readers into the joys of the genre.

Your reviewer, Ken Korczak, is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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Free SF ebook “Creatures of the Abyss” by Murray Leinster is abysmal


Oh hey, let me tell you: CREATURES OF THE ABYSS by MURRARY LEINSTER is truly some putrid pulp. This novel by one of science fiction’s greatest masters is not as bad as it gets – it’s worse than “as bad as it gets.”

Even in a genre where high quality was not often a prerequisite, here is a piece of work that provides abundant ammunition for all those bookish snobs who relegate science fiction to “the urinal of literature.”

Leinster has been dead for almost 40 years, but I feel like I should conduct a séance so that I can demand back from his soul the hours I spent dragging my eyes across this work of fiction, which not so much qualifies as writing, but as a bizarre waste container for writing.

What I mean is: This book stinks. It’s depressing that a man who spent his entire life writing as much as he could and selling everything he produced to dozens of top-line publishers should have such bland contempt for his own craft, and his readers.

Pulp fiction writers were famous for cranking out “one-run-only-through-the-typewriter” schlock, but in this case, Leinster evinces an “I’m-on-automatic-pilot-cranking-out-crap” sense of entitlement that displays scorn for his readers, and who knows, perhaps a dollop of self-loathing thrown in.

Life is strange. There is great beauty in our world, blissful works of art, soaring achievements in literature, but sometimes, when you least expect it, you step in a pile of shit.

Ken Korczak is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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Free science fiction Kindle book: Forbidden the Stars by Valmore Daniels is an enjoyable read with a few problems, but who cares? It’s fun.

Review by: KEN KORCZAK

Hey, I’m an equal opportunity book reviewer. I read a lot of high class literature and an equal amount of low-brow schlock. And you know what’s interesting? I find that either category can be highly entertaining, or a depressing drag.

Upon reading FORBIDDEN THE STARS I found myself enjoying a light-weight heap of pure science fiction fun. I was joyfully carried away by this fast-pace romp across the solar system. However, after I finished the last page, all of the things that are wrong with the book began to gnaw at my critical mind, and I began to feel dirty inside.

It’s a strange feeling. It’s like, “Well, I really enjoyed that, but I shouldn’t have.” But that’s ridiculous. If a writer can provide you with a few hours of enjoyment, why raise a stink? Why pick it apart? If you enjoy it – it’s mission accomplished.

But seriously, I think there is more right with this book than wrong. First the good:

1. Pacing: Despite the droopy opening chapters, author VALMORE DANIELS quickly hits his stride, gets his plot in gear and this book takes off like an interstellar spaceship. Things start happening, cliff hangers get hung, problems are presented, characters strive to overcome them, and we cheer them on.

2. Good science: One of the biggest problems with most science fiction books today is that few writers are trying, or even making the merest pretense of providing some solid plausibility by including some speculative background science – speculative science that is grounded in real science.

Good “hard science fiction” should have a certain techno-geek element, and Daniels delivers that in spades. His theoretical description of a new element that can deliver faster-than-light travel is super wonky, technical, yet believable. He gets high marks on this from me. I like it when science fiction writers make an effort.

3. Plot: The plot is intricate, yet hangs together with ease. I like a complex plot, which is nevertheless easy to follow. While Daniels’ plot is highly derivative – meaning it’s not all that original — it is well-executed.

4. Science-fictiony feel: Can is say, “science-fictiony?” Well, I just did. But you know what I mean. Those of us who dig science fiction love getting immersed in that feeling of being in a futuristic world of space ships that are flitting out and about among the planets of the solar system. There’s cool gadgetry, robotics and all that. Boffo!

Now let’s talk about the bad:

1. Characters: The characters in this book are as thin as hydrogen gas. With the slight exception of the pivotal character, young Alex Manez, the rest of the characters are bland cookie cutters that lack depth. What depth they do have is generated by one big cliché after another.

2. Unfinished business: There is a major plot element in this book that absolutely inexplicably gets left hanging. I can’t describe it because it would require a “spoiler warning.” So let me put the issue behind behind by asking this question:

“Hey, Valmore Daniels! What in the Sam hell happened to Chow Yin! I mean, seriously, what happened to him, Dude?”

There, it felt good to get that off my chest.

3. Plot: Hey, wait a minute. Didn’t I include “plot” as one of the good aspects? Yes, but I am also going to complain mightily here that the plot is highly, highly derivative. Anyone who has ever one of Ben Bova’s “Tour of the Solar System” series of books – will find this book a weak imitation of the masterful Bova style and his conception of a near-future universe where space travel is robust and developing.

4.The title: “Forbidden the Stars?” Man, that’s corny!

But – let’s just admit it — this is a terrific read that delivered a neutron-star-load of fun and entertainment for me. I loved it. Get a copy, kick back and enjoy the interplanetary ride!

(NOTE: As of this writing, this book was being offered on as a free Kindle selection HERE).

Ken Korczak is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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Free Science Fiction ebook: “The Memory of Mars” by Raymond F. Jones is a long short story that rises above the space opera of the early 1960s


Imagine this: You first met your wife way back in grade school, in the third grade. You grew up together in a small town. You were high school sweethearts, then married and shared years of a happy life. Your wife is suddenly seriously injured in a car accident. The surgeons in the operating room are shocked to discover that she is not a human being. Inside, they find no heart, lungs, stomach, but a mass of weird green organs — she’s an alien.

Sound like a sizzling scenario for a great science fiction yarn? It is, and RAYMOND F. JONES takes a great idea and leads his readers through a confounding mystery that will have you turning the pages, believe me.

THE MEMORY OF MARS (CLICK TO GET FREE) is an example of early 1960s pulp science fiction that rises above the standard space opera schlock that filled many of these publications, in this case, the December 1961 issue of Amazing Stories.

This story preceded by five years Philip K. Dick’s masterful short story, “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Both stories bear a similar premise – a man who is struggling with real or unreal bizarre memories of events that occurred on a vacation to Mars – that may or may not have happened!

In the hands of Philip Dick the story is a bona fide work of genius. In the case of The Memory of Mars and author Raymond Jones, the story is good – but, well it doesn’t rise to that exulted level.

Although The Memory of Mars is a terrific piece it falters badly in the denouement. It almost seems like the author realized that he had written himself into a corner by spinning an extremely cunning tale.

Thus, to resolve the mystery of the story – he punts. He opts for a standard plot gimmick – he introduces a new character near the end of the story who conveniently steps in to explain everything. For me, it was a letdown.

Instead of the hero using his intelligence, bravery and cleverness to wrench a solution to his problem through intense action, everything is finally handed to him on a plate. Furthermore, part of the explanation – of how his wife could be an alien and why he has strange memories — is a science fiction cliché – I won’t tell you what it is because I don’t want to spoil the ending for you.

Certainly some may disagree with how I feel about the ending, and there is an additional final twist that is wonderful. The Memory of Mars is an example of sci-fi pulp that rises well above the standard of the genre. It’s more than worth your time and a read.

Ken Korczak is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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Free science fiction ebook “And Then The Town Took Off” by Richard Wilson is barely entertaining, thin on plot, but may amuse some readers


Sometimes when I read a science fiction novel I think about what Kurt Vonnegut said: “Science fiction is the urinal of literature.”

That’s the vibe I got about half-way through AND THEN THE TOWN TOOK OFF by RICHARD WILSON. It was issued as one-side of an Ace Double in 1960. Back then a writer could submit a manuscript that was little more than farcical drivel, get it published, earn a few hundred dollars and gain traction in the writing business.

Richard Wilson did – gain some traction, that is — he later won one of science fiction’s highest honors, The Nebula Award. He also was nominated for the supreme SF honor, the Hugo.

I bet he didn’t get many accolades for this yarn even though it has an intriguing premise: A small town of 3,000 people in Ohio suddenly finds itself uprooted from the earth and levitating high into the earth’s atmosphere.

Yet, this is far from an original idea at the time. James Blish had already published at least two of his “Cities in Flight” novels by the late 1950s, and Wilson seems to have merely commandeered the same idea and played his version for laughs, whereas Blish’s books were hard science fiction – and with a lot of technical scientific speculation to boot.

I’ve already hinted at the major problem with And Then The Town Took Off – there’s a premise, but little in the way of plot. Rather, the novel plays out as a series of zany reactions by the resident of Superior, Ohio, to their extraordinary situation. When it finally comes time to explain how the town was levitated, we don’t even get treated to the thrill of the characters taking action to solve their own mystery. The ‘Big Reveal‘ about why everything is happening is not clever either.

Instead, Wilson resorts to “magical explanations” thinly disguised as elements of science fiction, as in: The aliens did it. They can perform any miracle they want with super advanced science. Wilson and his editors felt no need to make it plausible. Furthermore, the aliens are meddling with earth’s cities for a reason that was already a hackneyed plot device by 1960 – their own planet was destroyed by a nova so they had to going roaming the stars to find a new home.

One positive aspect of the novel is Wilson’s talent at creating vivid, likable characters – something so many writers of today seem to have forgotten. For example, here is how Wilson introduces us to one of two potential love interests he supplies for his main character, Don Cort. He he first encounters her on a passenger train:

“The girl’s hair was a subtle red, but false. When Don had entered the club car he’d seen her hatless head from above and noticed that the hair along the part was dark. Her eyes had been on a book and Don had the opportunity for a brief study of her face. The cheeks were full and untouched by make-up. There were lines at the corners of her mouth which indicated a tendency to arrange her expression into disapproval. The lips were full, like the cheeks, but it was obvious that scarlet lipstick had contrived a mouth a trifle bigger than the one nature had given her.”

That’s pretty good – as is her name – Geneva “Jen” Jarvis.

Since this book is free – and short – I still say it is worth a read, if only for the delightful characters. Also, it gave me that certain happy nostalgic feeling for a simpler time when America was more uniformally prosperous and less complicated — back when a hack writer could sit down at a battered typewriter, clack out a one-draft space opera and sell it to a decent publisher.

Ken Korczak is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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“Resurrection” Is An Expertly-Crafted Novel That Breaks No New Ground, But Delivers Light Years of Terrific Science Fiction Entertainment


I am so pleased to announce that science fiction is not dead. With RESURRECTION, ARWEN ELYS DAYTON proves that it’s still possible to cobble together a modern-day space opera yarn that is fresh and entertaining — and does not insult one’s intelligence — despite not reaching too hard to deliver cutting-edge breakthroughs within the genre.

Look, let’s face it, this is a book that plays it safe. Here we will find absolutely nothing new in terms of science fiction innovation. All the long-ago-developed, standard “furniture pieces” of the Golden Age of science fiction are here:

* Faster-than-light spaceships

* Sub-light speed spaceships

* Sleep/stasis tanks for star travelers to hibernate within during long space journeys

* Domed cities on a planet destroyed by an all-out nuclear war

* Ray guns and stun weapons!

* Aliens who are decidedly humanoid

* Artificially intelligent computers that run space ships and talk casually to humans

* Genetic engineering

* Psychic powers

* Rival planets at war with each other …

This is all stuff the long-time science fiction reader has been living with for decades. An unkind reviewer (or maybe one who is in a foul mood) may proclaim that all of the above have become hackneyed cliché’s of the genre, and that the author did little creative work – but rather — plucked all the standard “sci-fi modules” off the dusty shelves and assembled them together in a new way to create an original book.

But, I’m not in a foul mood today, so rather, I am going to praise Resurrection as a well-crafted, well-paced, well-plotted science fiction offering with interesting characters whom the reader will care about as the heroes struggle to triumph over the mind-boggling challenges the Fates of the Science Fiction Universe have delivered to them.

I enjoyed Resurrection from first page to last. The problems presented are extreme, the conflicts bitter, the fighting/action scenes are skillfully handled, the futuristic background is well-conceived, the landscape of ancient Egypt is reincarnated believably — there is no part of this book that is not expertly executed and well-paced. Dayton must work extremely hard because she makes writing look easy – this is a book that flows along so smoothly it almost appears to have written itself.

Resurrection is precisely the kind of science fiction novel that needs to be regularly infused into the market to keep the genre alive and viable, and to keep those of us with an unlimited appetite for great science fiction reading, buying books and happy.

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