I first saw a blurb about A Thousand Bayonets on the Internet. Not many thrillers are set in the artificial concrete environment I live in, and I tried to request a copy from the local library system. It didn’t have a listing for A Thousand Bayonets or its author, Joel Mark Harris. So I sent him an email and said a novel set in Vancouver and written by a Vancouver author should be in the Vancouver library, and suggested he contact the acquisitions department.

I thought that would be the end of it. But it wasn’t. Joel Mark Harris replied, said I was right, and asked if I would like an autographed copy of A Thousand Bayonets. The obvious answer to that was: Yes.

An autographed copy landed in my mailbox a couple of days after the Easter holidays. At the time I didn’t know Joel Mark Harris had sent out 300 copies in Goodread’s Free Book program, or that he had a background in public relations. But that doesn’t matter. I regarded it as an act of goodwill. All he asked was that I like A Thousand Bayonets’s facebook page. This blog review was written of my own volition.

A Thousand Bayonets is a good thriller. Returning home from the war in Afghanistan, John Webster, investigative reporter, following up on a tip finds himself literally in the middle of an explosive crime scene. To the police and media, and John himself, it appears to be a gangland hit in a war between criminal gangs.

Despite haunting flashbacks from Afghanistan, a personal life in disarray, subpoenas from the police and threats on his life, John’s journalistic instincts, honed in war zones in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Congo, lead him – not unerringly – to the perpetrators, and help him survive his ordeals. Ordeals those same instincts are partially responsible for, by prompting him to take dangerous – some would say foolish – risks, often while drinking too much.

 The major characters in A Thousand Bayonets are believable and interesting, and Joel Mark Harris develops them skillfully. His narrative style is simple and direct, and there is enough action to keep the reader’s interest alive and thriving – and to make a movie. That is not coincidental. Joel Mark Harris is a screenwriter and producer, in addition to being a journalist and novelist.

Production is underway on the movie version of A Thousand Bayonets.  Joel Mark Harris's first production, Neutral Territory, has won 10 awards and 15 nominations from showings in 23 film festivals.

The trailer for the book (embedded below), radio and television interviews, photographs and a video about making the movie, and other good stuff can be found on A Thousand Bayonets' facebook page.
Finding interesting subjects for blogs can be difficult. A top ten list is hardly original, but I thought a list of stories from Daily Science Fiction might be interesting. Coming up with a top ten list was not all that easy, however, and my list is not authoritative or critical in the literary sense. I just wanted to point out a few stories I enjoyed reading.

The first two stories on the list, Epinikon and The Blue Room, really stand out in my memory. Beauty, Deconstructed was published more recently. For the rest I had to fumble through my list of “keepers,” the stories I’ve starred or put in separate files and folders (my system is still evolving). Putting those seven stories in preferential hierarchical order would be arbitrary and misleading, and not fair to the writers, so I didn’t do it.

When I subscribed to Daily Science Fiction I thought I was going to get sci-fi stories emailed to me on a daily basis. Turns out most of the stories in DSF are fantasy. Fantasy is popular these days, so I can’t blame the editors of DSF. In the past I scrupulously avoided reading fantasy (elves, dragons, unicorns, sorcerers and their ilk). But Guess What? The Blue Room is a fantasy story, and another story on my list is about a sorcerer.

Some types of science fiction stories interest me more than others, except for time travel stories, which I don’t read. If you’ve read one time loop story you’ve read them all. Guess What? One of the stories on the list is a time travel story.

If nothing else, subscribing to DSF has made me aware of the potential for finding good stories in genres I’ve overlooked in the past. That doesn’t mean I read a lot of fantasy and time travel stories now, my literary interests are eclectic and there isn’t enough time for it all (and I still don’t care much for elves, dragons, unicorns, and most sorcerers).

The last two stories on the list are flash fiction, and a couple of the others are short fiction (<2,000 words). Palindrome was actually published December 28, 2010, but I fudged the date because Palindrome is a clever piece of writing I wanted on my top ten list.

Click on the title to link to the stories, and explore DSF website over the holidays. It’s guilt free, as subscriptions to DSF are free.

  1. Epinikion                               Desmond Warzel
  2. The Blue Room                    Jason Sanford
  3. Beauty, Deconstructed    Adam Colston
          Starlight Cantata                Brian Lawrence Hurrel
          Palindrome                           Will Arthur
          Gathering Glory                  Steve Stanton
          And a Bottle of Rum          Melissa Mead
          Apology                                 Sam Feree
          Schroedinger's Outlaw     Mathew W. Baugh
          Safe Empathy                       Ken Liu

Children No More is the title of science fiction writer Mark L. Van Name’s fourth novel. But it is the first one I’ve seen, and it was an enjoyable read. I burned through it pretty quickly.

I don’t read a lot of military sci-fi, but I guess it is classifiable as military sci-fi. However, it approaches the genre from an entirely fresh, and more serious, point of view. The protagonist, Jon Moore, is a psychologically scarred professional soldier and mercenary, recruited by an old comrade in arms to help free 500 child soldiers from a rebel army. Liberating the child soldiers from the rebels is the first part of the story.

After vacillating, and against the wishes of the group dedicated to deprogramming the child soldiers and returning them to their families and civil society, Jon decides to stay and help in any way he can. His unstated reason for doing so is because he was a child soldier of sorts himself. That story forms a sub-plot told through interspersions within the main story arc, and it is a good story in its own right.

Some of the best parts of the novel revolve around the difficulty of deprogramming soldiers who do not think of themselves as children. Then Jon is forced to save the child soldiers from a politician scheming to use the children against the same rebels who captured them and turned them into soldiers in the first place. Jon’s plan for saving the children from that fate is highly entertaining.

But that is just a skeletal outline of the plot. Van Name provides a wealth of detail to put flesh on the characters and create an engrossing story, with multiple conflicts and personality clashes, and an engaging sub-plot.

Not the least of those relationships, though one with little conflict and good entertainment value, is his relationship with his powerful and sarcastic warship, Lobo. Naturally, Lobo is the most powerful AI in Jon’s society. (Aren’t they always?)

If I have one knock on the novel, it is that while it is a good story with a serious theme, the plight of the child soldiers did not really engage me on an emotional level. But, then, science fiction novels rarely do. It certainly is not because Van Name fails to treat his subject matter seriously or develop it fully. He does both. In fact, he is donating his proceeds from the novel to an NGO or charitable group rehabilitating child soldiers in the Congo. Maybe it is just one of things you can can’t really feel unless you’ve been through it yourself. In all other respects Children No More is a good novel, and should appeal to readers who do not normally read military sci-fi. Give it a try. 


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