Sunday, September 23, 2012

Stories To Paint By: The Destroyermen Series

Time for another installment in 'Stories to Paint by', where I review audio books I've been listening to while painting.  As always, I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum, hopefully nothing more than you'd get from the jacket of the book, though if there are possible spoilers beyond that I'll warn you. I tend to not even like movie previews because they give away far too much, so I won't do the same to others. What I will do is explain why I think the book is good or lacking, and why and in what ways you might enjoy it.  On we go!

I had intended to do this review after having finished the third book in the series, but I found I couldn't stop listening to them, and kept delaying the review for 'just one more book'.  The Destroyermen series by Taylor Anderson is an adventurous romp that is hard to set aside. If you're a fan of World War II, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Parallel Worlds or Alternate History, or like me, a fan of all of these genres, then it's easily worth a look.  This work falls into a sub-genre that is hard to define, since there are not a lot of stories like this.  Central to the concept is a group of people from our world find themselves back in time or to an earlier other-version of our world, and with greater technology and knowledge, but limited resources and numbers, must find a way to survive, thrive and 'save the day'.

The first series I read in this concept was 'The Lost Regiment' series, which I quite enjoyed, and I'd say this is better than that.  There is also the Philadelphia Experiment, but it is a much more limited vision than what Destroyermen achieves.  The last of this type that I have read is S.M. Sterling's Island in the Sea of Time series, which is an out and out masterpiece and my favorite series of this type, and one of my favorite series of any genre.  The Destroyermen however, while maybe not as good as Sterling's, is quite good and offers more variety of creatures and cultures, since the world in question is a parallel world, not our own world's past.

The Basics: 
In the early days of WWII in the Pacific, the crew of U.S.S. Walker, an aging destroyer, finds itself flung by a freak storm into a parallel Earth.  Everything they know is gone, except for the coastlines, and they are now aliens in this world.  Imagine if the asteroid that hit 65 million years ago had missed.  What would our world have been like?  The crew of the Walker are about to find out.

Peopled by raptor-like beings and a furry primate descended from Lemurs, the humans find themselves in the middle of a different war, one where they are now the pinnacle of military technology, instead of being out-gunned and out-classed as they had been.

Both on the large scale and the individual, the story does a great job exploring the issue of rising to meet the needs and expectations of the situation, regardless of how well prepared or fit for it they might previously have been considered.  The characters are memorable and well developed, especially for an adventure tale.
Unlike a lot of science fiction or fantastical adventure, it does not set a single-minded pace that ignores the 'why' questions.  There is a character who's role is to satisfy the reader's desire to know more about the world and people, which I was very grateful for.

The alien cultures are well considered and strike me as realistic.   With interesting implications about the influence of biology and evolution on developing culture, as well as cultural transmission and its effect, it again is more than just an action adventure, though there is plenty of action to be had. combat occurs both on sea & land, and despite the inhabitants of this world being more technologically limited, they have their own advantages, making them dangerous adversaries and welcome allies.

As the books go on new layers of complexity are added as more of the world comes into their awareness.
For me, this only increased my enjoyment of the books.

There are a couple areas that I had some minor problems with that I wish had been handled differently.
For one, the author repeats himself too often to remind readers of some of the character relationships and idiosyncrasies. After a few times hearing it, I have it, I don't need to be told the background of the inside joke, in full, for the fourth, fifth or more times.  A simple quick reminder might be good for readers who spend greater time between sessions of reading, but it was excessive in a couple cases.  That is an advantage of printed word over audio: it is much easier to scan your eye down, than to stop painting and hit fast forward, and possibly overshoot, then back again- no, just keep the brush in hand and wish the repeating didn't take so long.

Slight spoiler paragraph: 

The other issue is, in my opinion, the author gives too much credit to human adaptability and tolerance.  The story makes it clear that there is really only one member who has any advanced education, other than specialized in medical nursing. Yet the crew never seem to have a struggle with or adjustment period in accepting the Lemurian primates as people.  Considering the time period, and how most of America did not even accept evolution at the time (if they had any understanding of it at all) and with the prevalence of racism, the fact that they instantly accept the furry, short, tailed 'monkey-cats' as equal people is too laudable to be believed.  I think human better nature would get there eventually, but I think it would have been more realistic and more interesting for the story and character development to see this struggle and adjustment to their thinking.

/spoiler off. 

Audio content: The narrator does an excellent job.  He handles a variety of voices, even for different nationalities, genders and species, very well.  The voices for the two engineers, 'the mice', might be a bit over the top, but they are often comic relief, so it isn't unexpected. One of the better narrations I've listened to.

The audio books run on average between 16-18 hours, making them a bit shorter than my preference, but then, just load the next one!

For the Gamers: 
A treasure trove!  A great setting for an RPG as well as a variety of scales of miniature gaming.
How would a WWI Destroyer fare in a battle against a score of Age of Sail cannon-armed merchant men?
I don't know about you, but I'd like to try that out on the tabletop!
Or a dozen rifle armed sailors fighting in the jungle against raptors with swords!
A city of musket-armed non-human primates, backed up with mortars defending against an endless tide of dinosaurs with firebombs... too fun for sure!

If this series doesn't get your minis-gaming mind spinning you might be in a coma.


I have listened to the first 6 books, and eagerly anticipating starting the seventh, probably tomorrow.
You can find the list of books in their correct order here.

I give the series 4.5 out of 5 bottle of paint: Very enjoyable, you'll look forward to painting! 
A little bit slow near the first half of book 4, but very worth continuing because the story only gets more complex and entertaining. In fact, where the story has left off in book 6, I'm hoping for at least 10 books in the series. 

Happy story-time & painting everyone!


Heiki said...

Of this genre, you cannot forget this book:'s_Court

Laughing Ferret said...

Oh good point, I wasn't thinking that far back,yeah, Twain probably started the genre.

The Angry Lurker said...

Audiobooks are something I need to get back into as Ray natterings are at work boring the crackers out of me lately!

Scott said...

Hmmm, I had not considered audiobooks to listen to while painting but thats a good idea.

Paul of the Man Cave said...

I have enjoyed all your other recommendations and will follow this one up too - in fact I was looking at the books just last week!


Anne said...

I tried audiobooks a few years ago and couldn't adjust to them.

I listen to music or I have QI on in the background. Something about Stephen Fry saying Good evening, good evening, good evening relaxes me and lets me go into a good "painting space" in my head.

Laughing Ferret said...

Fran: but will he leave you in peace to listen or start making comments to the dialogue? ;)

Scott: I found them a real sanity saver. I listened to podcasts almost exclusively, and still listen to many, but I really enjoy an ongoing story.

Paul: I hope you'll like them if you give them a try- I thought of you while thinking of the review, you might appreciate it even more being in the Navy yourself. And since it takes place in your neck of the planet.

Anne: it took me a bit to adjust, but works great for me now. whatever works for you though is good :)

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