The Star Justice Series, by Michael-Scott Earle – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

The Star Justice series

Eye of the Tiger: A Paranormal Space Opera Adventure, by Michael-Scott Earle
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, April 2017, trade paperback, $15.99 (439 pages), Kindle $2.99.

Space Witch: A Paranormal Space Opera Adventure, by Michael-Scott Earle
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, May 2017, trade paperback, $15.99 (424 pages), Kindle $2.99.

Zeta Hack: A Paranormal Space Opera Adventure, by Michael-Scott Earle
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, June 2017, trade paperback, $16.99 (605 pages), Kindle $2.99.

Binary Pair: A Paranormal Space Opera Adventure, by Michael-Scott Earle
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, July 2017, trade paperback, $16.99 (568 pages), Kindle $4.99.

Burning Bright: A Paranormal Space Opera Adventure, by Michael-Scott Earle
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, August 2017, trade paperback, $16.99 (519 pages), Kindle $4.99.

These books should be readable quickly. The pages are in LARGE type. At an estimate, they contain only half or less of the wordage of most books; so I would guess that the 439 pages of Eye of the Tiger would be only about 220 pages in most books.

The five Star Justice novels are space opera s-f, not anthro animal fiction, but the main protagonist is a bioengineered seven-foot-tall were-tiger super-warrior. Amazon’s blurb is, “Star Justice is less military space opera and more of a ‘band of misfits in space’. Think Serenity, Farscape, Guardians of the Galaxy, Mass Effect, Cowboy Bebop, and Outlaw Star. If you liked those stories, you’ll love Star Justice.” That’s an American futuristic movie and a TV series, a Marvel superhero comic book (and the movies based on it), a video game, and two Japanese anime TV series. Guardians of the Galaxy and Outlaw Star have anthro animal characters among their “band of misfits in space”, and Cowboy Bebop has Ein, the corgi data dog. Readers certainly know what they’re getting into.

The setting is over 3,000 years in the future. Humanity has settled the galaxy. Civilization ranges from urbanized planets mostly controlled by megacorporations, to frontier worlds. The megacorporations engage in warlike rivalry with each other. Each of the five novels has a different setting – Mad Scientists’ lair, Western, urban crime – but each is in its own way a “wretched hive of scum and villainy” (Star Wars™) that the heroes have to escape.

Eye of the Tiger begins with one corporation’s airplane approaching its target. The plane carries a command staff about to launch into a mission with 31 enslaved prisoners. The prisoners are all criminals bioengineered to become tiger-men super-soldiers. One of them, “Adam”, so named because he is the first experimental super-soldier to survive the process, is the narrator. He hates his sadistic controllers.

“‘Adam, Adam, Adam,’ he [a scientist-controller] sighed. ‘Oh sorry, I mean Subject Two. This is your thirty-first sortie. I just can’t seem to kill you. Whatever shall I do? Oh, I know. You have point. Shotgun, pistol, knife, and how about a smoke grenade? That should do you fine.’” (Eye of the Tiger, pgs. 9-10)

Adam is the leader of the 31 super-soldiers, all bioengineered to turn into tiger-man killers, controlled by explosive collars to blow their heads off if they disobey. The point man, the team leader, is invariably the first to be killed.

“My muscles began to enlarge. They twisted, thrashed, and tried to leap from my skeleton, but my skin kept them from escaping as agony poured through my blood. The pain of my transformation also brought a feeling of euphoria. Unlimited strength seemed to fill my arms, legs, and chest. It felt as if I could bend the shotgun into a 90-degree angle, but I kept my desires in check.

I’d need the gun if I planned to stay alive.

I didn’t see the fur, but I felt it explode from my skin and fill the remaining spaces between the armor. My jaw widened with my skull, ad my old teeth were forced out of my gums by six centimeter long fangs. I never had access to a mirror, but I knew what the other prisoners looked like when they changed their forms, and could guess what I looked like:

A walking tiger in black carbon plated military armor.” (pgs. 13-14)

The team’s mission is to parachute onto a heavily-defended enemy laboratory, fight their way inside, and steal “‘a biosample contained within the labs there. Once it has been retrieved, you will rendezvous back on the top of the roof where this aircraft will pull a fly-by pick up. Eliminate all resistance to your mission.’” (p. 12)

The “biosample” turns out to be a vampiric beautiful nude woman with glowing red eyes, floating in a liquid-filled transparent tube. The woman is telepathic and telekinetic. She calls mentally to Adam to free her, telekinetically removing the explosive collar from his neck.

They escape together amid lots of gunfights, explosions, gore, and thousands of innocent bystanders killed. Since “Adam” is a pseudonym because he was the first tiger-man, she adopts the name “Eve” because she’s similarly the first of her kind.

As soon as they are safe, Adam turns back to human:

“I had never maintained my half-tiger form for this long, and I felt my hunger gnaw through my stomach like a disease. The starvation made my anger spiral to a slight insanity, and I couldn’t help from growling every time I breathed in the stench of the sewer that covered us. The feline part of my soul wanted to clean myself up, but we didn’t have time for such activities, and that also made me angry.” (p. 75)

For most of The Eye of the Tiger, Adam is in human form, but it can be argued that he is always a tiger disguised as a human:

“The technology inside of me was new. The powers the experiments gave me made me superhuman. Even when I wasn’t in my half-tiger form, I was still many times faster, stronger, and more aware than [I had] been before my change. The world was alive with colors, scents, sounds, and raw emotion. I could sense all of it as it flew by me. It had taken a while for me to get used to myself after the final phase of their experiments. I was probably more animal than human. Unless one considered humans to be animals, then I was probably more tiger than man. More monster than thinking creature.

More hunter than prey.” (p. 149)

While they are temporarily relaxing in a cheap motel room, Adam ponders on what they have become and what they can do for the rest of their lives. (He doesn’t even know what planet his corporation has brought him to. Eve tells him they are on the primary world in the Trappist-1 system, forty light-years from the Sol system.) Eve proposes that they stay together:

“‘There are many like us,’ she said. The woman had been drying off her hair, but she seemed to be done, and she set the wet towel down on the couch next to her.

‘Like us?’

‘Some exactly like us. Some like us in the sense that they are being used as weapons. They are prisoners, and forced to fight in an endless battle between the mega corporations, governments, and militaries of our galaxy.’” (pgs. 98-99)

In a later firefight, while Adam is still in his human form, Z, a snarky super-computer hacker (incidentally a teenage beautiful blonde – that’s Adam and Z on the cover of Zeta Hack), asks:

“‘How are you still walking? You’ve got a fucking bloody hole the size of my palm on your back,’ she asked as she bent to grab one of the long guns.

‘I’m hard to kill.’” (p. 177)

Between the action scenes, Adam gets introspective about what has been done to him:

“Once my eyes had been brown with a few flecks of green in them. Now they were a strange goldish-yellow. The pupil was still round, but as I stared at myself [in a mirror], I willed my vision to begin to shift, and I saw the black circle in the middle of my iris begin to elongate. I shook my head and then rubbed the bridge of my nose before looking in the mirror again.

How long would I live?

Even if we didn’t get captured or shot full of holes trying to escape this planet, I’d been re-created and mutated with the DNA. Had they just used tigers? Or did they use other creatures as well? I didn’t know exactly what they did to me, but I didn’t imagine it had done any favors for my longevity. I might only have a few Earth months left. I didn’t recall them injecting me with drugs to keep me living, but that didn’t mean my body wouldn’t fray at the edges and come apart when the alien DNA battled against my human parts.” (pgs. 209-210)

Eve and Adam need to get off-planet and preferably out-system. Their plan, with Z’s help, is to compel the president of weapons design and manufacturing of the Elaka Nota Corporation (the megacorp that controls the world they are on, and that experimented on Eve) to take them to the megacorp’s private spaceport facility and steal a starship with warp drive. Z is reluctant to join them:

“‘Are you two just going to eat me after I help you? I don’t know what kind of crazy shit you both are into. That guy turned into a fucking walking tiger with big ass teeth. You have crazy red eyes and just admitted you are a vampire. How do I know you won’t just suck all the blood out of me and then feed me to your boyfriend when all this is over? You’re hot and all, but I’d like to keep my blood where it is, thanks.’” (pgs. 214-215)

Z does join them, fortunately since she gets the best lines:

“‘Yesterday I was figuring out how to spend all the money you were going to pay me. I was going to buy a cat. Ha. I really like them. I found this one with tiger stripes. I’ve always had a thing for the old Earth cats. Now I’m about to steal one of Elaka Nota’s hyperdrive ships with a man who is a giant walking tiger. This is the weirdest sex dream I’ve ever had.’” (p. 348)

They find, with maximum drama and violence, a strange starship at the Elaka Nota spaceport. They assume it’s an experimental model (with warpdrive, hyperdrive, and folding drive), but what it really is is revealed later. They escape to the nearest inhabited solar system, Gliese 876, in the ship that they name Persephone:

“‘Thank you! I’m going to engage the warpdrive. Partially because it sounds cool, and partially because I’m scared shitless of using the fold –’” (pg. 376)

Eye of the Tiger (cover by Alejandro Gonzalez Agudelo) includes almost nonstop graphic military action:

“My bullet entered him at the pelvis, ripped up through his stomach, under his ribcage, into his heart, through his lungs, and then exited at the top of his shoulder.” (p. 257)

And military humor:

“I moved back to the sewer hole, jumped down, set our gear bags over my shoulder, and then climbed back up to the alley.

‘Z, can you see?’

‘Oh sure, looks like black with darker spots of black on a burning black background of blackness.’” (p. 260)

Space Witch, Book 2 (cover also by Alejandro Gonzalez Agudelo), turns from futuristic mad scientists’ lair into a mostly space Western:

“‘What code did your starship’s computer give our little rock?’ the man asked as soon as he leaned on the railing of his balcony.

‘Gliese 876-C-ii,’ I said.

‘Ha! We like to call this place Greenpeace. You came to us in our dry season.’” (Space Witch, p. 49)

“It looked like a classic western type bar. One of those watering holes I recalled from the old movies with a pair of wooden double doors, dozens of dusty seats and sticky beer tables, a broken down jukebox in a corner, and inhabitants that looked like they had worked way too hard for way too many hours. There were about half a dozen men in the room, but only two of them looked up when Eve, Z, and I stepped into the tavern.” (p. 6)

But the characters stay true to space opera:

“The four men turned and set their hands on their laser pistols. I looked past them to study the woman closer. She wore a cowboy hat with a wide brim that hid her hair. The woman may have once been beautiful, but half of her face was made mostly of metal, and her left eye shone with a yellow laser glow. It was almost as if she wore a mask of polished steel shaped into the form of the rest of her face.

‘I’m not looking for trouble, Cynthia,’ John said as his hand rested on his pistol.” (p. 16)

Adam, Eve, and Z find themselves on Greenpeace in the midst of a range war between two powerful, corrupt ranchers, Wayne Sampson and Cynthia Jayhee, for control of the whole planet moon. Also, both are involved in helping a revolution on nearby (just 90,000 light-years away) Gliese 876-B-iv between its all-controlling, evil Alloprize Corporation and that world’s rebel fighters, the Children of Rah, the miners of its valuable rhodium, vital for starship engines. Both ranchers try to hire the trio to deliver food and medical supplies to Jatal Coorhar’s freedom fighters there. Somebody keeps trying to bushwhack Adam, Eve, and Z, and they don’t know which of the players is double-crossing them. Plus, they get their first eerie clues that the Persephone is something more than just an experimental starship:

“A shiver ran down my spine, and I turned to look across the launch platform. It felt as if someone were watching me again, but there was no one else here but me.

‘Persephone?’ I felt like an idiot for whispering the ship’s name, but Eve’s words were leaking into my beliefs. I was a weretiger, Eve was a vampire. None of these things should be possible, but here we were. Was our ship alive? I would have never believed it possible, but perhaps Elaka Nota had put an artificial intelligence on board.” (p. 127)

The last half of Space Witch takes place on Gliese 876-B-iv, where Adam, Eve, and Z help Jatal’s miners against the Alloprize Corp. Saying how it ends would be a spoiler.

Zeta Hack, Book 3 (cover by Boris Nikolic) sees Adam, Eve, and Z, on Persephone, arriving at the huge Queen’s Hat Station, a massive space station shaped like a giant Mexican sombrero, to sell a cargo of rhodium so they can buy food and hire a pilot, navigator, and other key crew – they’re exhausted from flying Persephone with only three people.  They don’t expect any trouble at Queen’s Hat because its administration is militantly peaceful:

“‘Sounds good, Persephone. If you are looking to trade rhodium, there is no docking fee, but the harbor clerk will inspect your wares as soon as you exit onto our platform. We’ve got a no firearms policy in the station. If we catch a gun on you, we’ll throw you in prison for a few weeks. If you kill anyone on the station, we’ll throw you out the airlock. I’m forwarding you the bylaws attachment. There are more details of our policies in there.’” (Zeta Hack, p. 7)

But Zeta Hack’s theme is urban crime & warfare. They have hardly gotten into the space station when they are involved in a bank robbery with multiple deaths. Adam is forced to kill the robbers in self-defense. The station’s District B “Tight Uniform Bitch” police commissioner (a beautiful chain-smoking redhead) offers to let them go if Adam and Z will unofficially rid the district of its organized crime bosses within a week. Eve is held as a hostage. Otherwise all three will be spaced.

Suave gambling palaces, corrupt police, white slavery, bloody gang warfare, a killer android that masturbates, two million unsuspecting victims, unexpected allies, and an invading megacorp fleet. More is learned about Persephone and Eve:

“Then Eve discovered the scientists who controlled her experiments created other subjects.   While less powerful than she, they showed more promise of becoming easier to manage weapons. It was important to Eve that we get a crew, no, a small army, and then hit back at Elaka Nota so the sisters she had met could be saved.” (p. 14)

Persephone is revealed to be, not an Elaka Nota experimental starship, but a mysterious starship of unknown origin discovered by the megacorp drifting empty in deep space.

Also, Adam’s and Z’s being forced to work closely together complicates their personal relationship:

“My feelings for the snarky hacker were growing stronger, but my love for Eve hadn’t faded. How could I have feelings for two women who were so different? What the hell was I going to do? What would I tell Eve?” (p. 345)

In Binary Pair, Book 4 (cover by ImGuss), a mysterious message sends Persephone, Adam, Eve, Z, and their two unusual new crewmates, engineers Paula and Kasta (that’s Paula and Kasta – or maybe Kasta and Paula – with Adam on the cover) to the other side of the galaxy and System Y-114a, a.k.a. Uraniel. They find an apparently pristine world full of abandoned cities with all their people in deep underground bunkers, thousands of raptor-like killer robots that attack all people on the surface every day at dawn and dusk, and a fleet of Lith Dae warships filled with space marines circling Uraniel.

Captain Renalta and Commander Tunar-Roz claim Uraniel is Lith Dae’s colony planet, and the robot drones are their technology gone wrong. They offer to hire the Persephone to help them correct the robots’ programming. Adam and the women learn that Lith Dae is trying to enslave Uraniel’s people, and plans to seize Persephone as soon as Adam & crew reprogram the drones. More importantly is why they were summoned to Uraniel:

By the stars, Adam, the crust of this planet is filled with unearthed technology of an ancient and powerful race of humanoids. The wasps the people of Uraniel accidentally unleashed are just the tip of the iceberg. Lith Dae was able to recover a tiny portion of the technology, and they are using it to develop biological weapons they think will give them control over this part of the galaxy, maybe even the entire Milky Way.” (Binary Pair, p. 199)

Adam and the four women must outwit/defeat the entire Lith Dae fleet, and solve the problem of the ancient bird-drones to free Uraniel’s millions of true settlers. Binary Pair reveals Z’s real name.

Burning Bright, Book 5 (cover by Alejandro Gonzalez Agudelo again), begins:

“‘So, to summarize: there is a group of god-like vampire creatures that created the universe as some sort of galactic farm so that they can feed off of all life. Then they ate everything they could, planted new seeds of life in the universe, and went to sleep for a few billion years. Now they are waking up and are going to be hungry again?’” (Burning Bright, p. 7)

What more do you need to know?

A lot, because SURPRISE: Adam and his four women – yes, I know that’s a sexist phrase, but read this book and you’ll see how accurate it is – get immediately sidetracked on new adventures before they can begin to prepare a defense against the returning SAVOs (Superpowered Asshole Vampire Overlords). Burning Bright ends on a cliffhanger and a To Be Continued in Book 6, Prime Valkyrie. That’s a major spoiler, because as of this writing, Amazon is advertising Star Justice as a “5 Book Series”. But this is a review, and you deserve to know that you won’t get a clean conclusion from just these five books. They have been published one per month from April through August 2017, so presumably Book 6 will be out before this review is posted. (Postscript: It is; Book 6, Prime Valkyrie, in September.) (Postpostscript: So is Book 7, King Killer, out in October. Its blurb starts “Adam and his crew of beautiful women are together at last, but now they must circumnavigate the rite of passage that will most likely kill the weretiger captain.” It sounds like they’ve practically forgotten about the SAVOs that are coming to destroy the whole universe.)

I had better end this review here, or it will never get posted. Should you get into the series? Sure; for the first four books, at least. The Star Justice novels are space opera, not furry fiction, but Adam is a character who, when he is an anthro tiger, you will want to see in plenty of action. There is at least one scene of feral fury per book, not counting the times when Adam struggles with his tiger nature to keep from shifting. There are frankly more tiger scenes in the first books, because later on Adam becomes afraid of losing control of himself:

“It was getting harder to hold back my shifts, and I didn’t like the realization. I’d noticed a bit of it in Queen’s Hat. It had been too easy to shift, and it had been too hard to change back. I’d also stayed in my weretiger form for longer than I ever had, and the beast almost changed me into a full tiger.” (Binary Pair, p. 449)

Star Justice is superior space opera for the first four books. The plot details are well justified, and the action scenes are long and well choreographed. The sequence in Zeta Hack where Adam transforms into a tiger-warrior to singly take out a squad of thirty fully-armored riot police is over ten pages long. If you like “band of misfits in space” action-adventure, you can’t do any better than this.

However, by Burning Bright Earle has clearly begun padding the series, keeping it going past its natural conclusion; reaching for ever-more desperate battle action and hairbreadth escapes for Adam. Eve, Z, Paula, and Kasta devolve from strong individual characters into Adam’s Women, females who must be rescued; and a new, even more bad-ass Space Valkyrie is introduced to submit to Adam. Will Book 6 and Book 7 be the final volumes? Not if Earle can keep spinning Star Justice out for more.

Fred Patten

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