The Shattered Skies by J. Birmingham, a review

Hey guys, been a rough day around here. Eleven inches of snow last night, I spent all morning shoveling snow. Then I came in and finished The Shattered Skies by John Birmingham, the day before I had binged a bit while the snow fell. I tried to finish it in one day, but I kept falling into the trap of getting excited and skipping to see what happens next.

I didn’t want to do that with this book, it’s too good for careless reading. So, I forced myself to finish up today.

Glad I went through the extra effort, because:

BLUF: Better than Cruel Stars, which I five-starred.

Hold on. How do you get better than five stars.

It’s easy, you can’t. The Cruel Stars was an awesome book, great space opera played across a magnificent new universe and word canvas. However, I must say I always expect a bit of a let-down in the bridge novel of a trilogy because writing book number two is hard. I know this because I’m in the middle of penning a bridge novel myself, and I’ve done it a few times now.

Not easy to beat out book number one.

JB did it.

The Shattered Skies is brilliant, entertaining, and fast-moving. It was a real exercise in self-denial stopping last night, but I really didn’t want to squander the end of this book in a frenzy. I wanted to savor it.

I’m glad I did. This book pretty much kicked butts, and the ending was flawless, perfectly executed to keep you on the hook for book three, which hopefully is in the works already.

Let’s talk a little about The Shattered Skies, I wrote down a few impressions.

First, JB is a talented wordsmith. I love his turns of phrase. A few examples. “Strength foundry,” a space Nazi title for the lowly gym. This phrase: “…the second and a half needed to throw this whole potential fail cake into the oven and bake a delightful space Nazi smackdown.” “You’re missing one arm, half of your other hand, and you are riddled with holes.” “Fuckin’ flesh wound.” Shades of Monty Python. Hilarious. On point.

Second, JB showed his mastery of the form early with a seamless info dump as seen through the eyes of Captain Revell, a Sturm aide-de-camp and problem solver. Over on my patreon page I recently discussed how I’m not a big fan of long passages in continuation novels written strictly to bring the reader up to speed, well, JB does it here the right way. The standard-setting way. And oh by the way, he introduces us to a new character while doing so. (Claps.) Well done.

Finally, JB knows how to turn the screws on tension, and he can raise some decent laughs as well, especially with his Easter eggs, which range from Taylor Swift to Star Wars (“This is not the droid we’re looking for”). To touch back on tension, there is a long scene inside a moonlet which I felt and experienced as reminiscent of “Aliens.” The scene, which I will let you all discover, was profoundly eerie and claustrophobic.

And those examples were at the beginning of the book. I’ll leave the rest for you to discover and comment upon.

Suffice to say, JB hooked me in flawlessly and dragged me (or led me?) all the way to the conclusion.

Seriously, if you are a sci-fi fan you should read this.

I’d give this six stars, but that’ll break the meter.

Five Stars.

Go buy this book and blow off the snow shoveling. I wish I would have.


Writing, pondering upon.

Alright, readers.

This is how I do things. At least in terms of writing. First, I create an outline. Then, using the outline as a base, I create skeletal chapter Word documents. I organize them. Then, as I write, I make sure to post a few future chapters on my desktop ahead of the piece I am currently working on.

Why do I do this.

Because flow is important, structure. But what does posting a few future chapters have to do with flow?

Alright. I place them there for reference, and sometimes I have to go back and review past chapters before I can write. Everything has to tie in together, be a cohesive whole.

I’ve evolved this method over the years, partially from suggested reading, partially through observing the work of others and finally, through trial and error.

As you can see, I am currently crafting (stuck on) Chapter Fifteen of STORY2, my latest novel, the first one of which (The Storyteller’s Heaven) is available in RD form on my Patreon website.

“Stuck on” is kind of a big phrase, actually. I’m not stuck on Chapter Fifteen. I’ve simply been doing a lot of thinking about it. My chief beta mentioned that he felt as if the chapter before was a set-up (it was), so something has to happen in this chapter. Upon reflection, I realize that he was right, and I came up with a plot device for this particular scene.

But it must be written correctly. I will not release any spoilers out here, but I will say that what I’d like to convey with this chapter is loss, horror. Perhaps helplessness.

But I’m not entirely sure. So I’m thinking about it, then I’ll write it.

The process has been unusually long for this chapter, about a week.

But I’ll get there. I always do.

In other news, surely you know that John Birmingham has released a pretty awesome new space opera novel, The Shattered Skies. (Spoiler. Prob review it on this website soon) Well, there’s a good interview with JB out there, and he was kind enough to say cool things about my original trilogy in there. Check it out, both his latest and maybe my Valley trilogy, which was my first stab at this whole writing thing.


An aspiration

Alright guys, so as you know I’ve been pursuing my long neglected pursuit of playing the violin. Actually the fiddle, there is a major difference.

Look, I know I will never be awesome. I’d be happy really just to amuse my friends while hanging around on a lazy summer day, grilling steaks or something. You know, play a couple of good songs without sounding as if you’re killing a bag of cats. This. This is what I want. To enjoy life, to be a good friend, to share some decent moments with people I like and care about.

The war almost killed my desire to play. I felt as if my life wasn’t worth a nickel, so why should I mess around with an instrument? Bullets, MREs and cigarettes, that was my life, with a strong background odor of body funk and diesel oil.

So, the music died, just like my friend Clarence the fiddler. A real fiddler, an Appalachian prodigy.

Well, I discovered a violin on the internet that looked just like Clarence’s prized ancient fiddle, and I watched a demo video of it and it seemed to have the same rich tones (as far as my RPG blasted ears can tell, anyway).

I had to have it, cost be damned.

I reached out to the shop that makes them,, and they were very accommodating and cool with taking a close copy of an Italian master’s violin (a Maggini), and setting it up like Clarence did.

Like all good things, it took a couple of days to happen, and then they sent me this amazing approval video with some songs that I specified.

You want to talk about blown away by the results. It was as if Clarence was alive once more; the songs played on the video were magnificent.

And what an instrument! Holy cow. I will NEVER be able to play on its level!

But that’s OK. That why aspirations are just that; aspirations.

This spectacular violin will drive me to do better.

Much thanks to the good folks at!