Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Infinity Bell by Devon Monk


Matilda and her co-conspirators are being hunted by nearly all the houses, from one end of the continent to the other. Her brother has concluded that the world as they know it is about to come to an end, and they must find their grandmother's diary which will give them the clues they need to travel back in time to the Wings of Mercury event, and re-ring the bell which created the Immortals. I got about  third of the way into this book and realized that, as I suspected by the end of House Immortal, I simply didn't care what happened any more.

Monk has written plenty of better stuff.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Summer Doldrums

I apologize for the lack of posting here. The summer's events and travels have really slowed down my reading. I have three (oops, four) books I'm working on semi-simultaneously, one of which I started over two weeks ago, but can't quite seem to finish any of them.

May have to come up with something new to talk about.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Tor Boycott

You can read all about the Tor Boycott here.

All I have to say at this point is, "I'm in."

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Grendel Affair by Lisa Shearin

So, Amazon kept displaying this book for me, based on other books I'd ordered, and being the cautiously frugal sort, I decided to check it out from the local library rather than spend my own dime. This was a pretty good yarn, with a few new twists on the monster hunter theme. Makenna Fraser is a former reporter for an Inquirer-like tabloid who has been recruited by SPI (Supernatural Protection and Investigation) as a seer - she can see beyond the illusions that supernatural creatures wear to pass in the human world.

When a man turns up dismembered in the office of a friend for whom she is doing the favor of capturing a preternatural pest, it is the beginning of a rather more dangerous adventure than any bit of investigative journalism. It turns out to be part of the opening salvo in a war between the supernaturals, including the head of SPI, who believe that they need to remain hidden from humanity, and those who believe they should take their rightful place at the top of the food chain, restoring their glory days when humans hid from the dark.

One of the interesting and unique things Shearin introduces in this novel is the appearance of a breeding pair of grendels, the beasts from the Beowulf saga, who are going to turn a New York Rockin' New Years Eve into a highly visible bloodbath if Agent Fraser and her partner, Ian, and the rest of SPI's heroes don't stop them. The only little quibble I have here is that Grendel was the name of the monster in the saga, and using the term as a generic description of the type is similar to using Pegasus to identify every winged horse in a D&D game.

Light, quick, entertaining read, with a good sense of humor. Might even have to pick up the sequel if the library ever buys a copy.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Angles of Attack by Marko Kloos

I felt almost like there was a missing short story in between the second and third novels in the Frontline series. At the beginning of my last review I mentioned how the Russians, Chinese and Ameriicans were still feuding despite the Lankies attacking all of Earth's colonies.This books jumps right into middle of a joint operation between the Eurasian forces allied with the Americans, fighting their common alien foe. Maybe I've forgotten something.

Anyway, the Earth forces out on ice planet Svalbard are soon approaching a time when they and the civilians on the planet will eat their way through all the supplies, and there has been no resupply or communication from Earth for a long time. So, a daring plan is hatched to run the Lankie blockade of the Solar System to make contact with the Earth forces and to see what can be done about relief. Our old comrades, Sergeants Grayson and Fallons, are along for the duration, and we get to live in interesting times along with them.

When they arrive, the situation is very strange. Mars has been overrun, and the forces orbiting Earth do not seem to trust the returnees, quarantining the and locking down their communications. Things come to a head when they take Andrew in for interrogation, leaving him in need of rescue by some of his bad companions - another day, another mutiny.

With the help of one of Andrew's new Russian friends, Dmitri, they escape the clutches of the powers on Earth (who turn out to be cowards fleeing the solar system) and re-run the blockade in reverse to report on the situation to the remainder of the fleet on Svalbard. After a deal of discussion, it's once more unto the breach for a second voyage back to the home system, where they make contact with the flight school on the Moon, where - Yay! - Andrew's fiancee, Hailey, is a flight instructor.

They "borrow" a bunch of fighter spacecraft and their student pilots and make tracks to attack a Lankie mothership which has made it all the way into Earth orbit. Great mayhem ensues.

I'm not so certain now that this is going to end as a trilogy. It appears Kloos has left room for a sequel or two. I look forward to finding out.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Pocket Apocalypse by Seanan McGuire

It seems like a mistake to call this book Urban Fantasy, since it takes place for the most part in the Outback - not the popular restaurant, either. When the Thirty Six Society, a group of cryptozoologists down under, encounter their first werewolf infestation their leader Riley reaches out to his daughter, Shelby Tanner, and she drags Alex out of his comfort zone at the zoo to help contain the outbreak, all the way across the ocean.

Incidentally, this gives him an opportunity to get to know the family that he's probably going to be a part of someday, when he and Shelby finally tie the knot. Unfortunately, they're not particularly happy to see him, for various reasons, and his time there is fraught with the difficulties of Meet the Parents, as well as using his experience with North American lycanthropes to help them kill or cure the local ones.

He actually gets along better with the local Incryptid population than the humans, which works out well when he is able to enlist their help dealing with the werewolves. Alex turns up some new and startling facts about werewolves that his family did not know, or perhaps simply chose not to relate, which complicate matters.

One little plot piece that I didn't think was all that great was when the main villain of the story tries to "talk Alex to death" much like the Bond villains. Just do what you're gonna do already, buddy. No wonder your side always loses.

A fun little story. Wonder if the POV is going to shift to another sibling now. Maybe even one of Shelby's.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

By the People by Charles Murray

 I'm a big Charles Murray fan, but this one was a little disappointing to me. The first third of the book describes some of the problems he perceives with the out of control growth of government interference in the lives of U.S. citizens, but I thought his prescription for dealing with the regulatory state and perhaps rolling back some of its excesses was a little lame. The last third of the book simply seems to be a rehash of some of the research he's described in other works, such as Coming Apart.

I was surprised to see here that "The American Bar Association's Canons of Professional Ethics explicitly forbade 'stirring up litigation, directly or through agents.'" at one point in time. I can barely remember a time without ambulance chasers and other leeches.

Evidently, at one point in time the purpose of tort law was simply to "make whole" some person who had been harmed by the negligence of another. If no negligence was involved, no compensation was owed. Such cases were few. In 1944, there was a California Supreme Court decision which set the precedent for the situation we have today involving strict liability - a defendant can be forced to pay damages even if no negligence occurred. And the floodgates were opened to all the frivolous and damaging lawsuits of the last half century.

In the matter of the Executive Branch choosing which of Congress' laws to enforce,

"Presidents have been pushing against the limits on their powers since George Washington, and that tendency has increased as the limits on government have loosened over the last seventy years...a broad range of constitutional scholars agree that President Obama's unilateral actions (on changing the provisions of the Affordable Care Act and selectively enforcing immigration laws) are not the thin edge of a wedge. He is merely pounding an existing wedge deeper into constitutional limits on presidential power."

Perhaps the most damning chapter in this book is the one titled A Systematically Corrupt Political System.

"..today's political process has produced politicians who, while keeping within the law, do things that are operationally indistinguishable from the way Third World kleptocrats operate."

Think about these identifying factors.

In a corrupt system:

  • Government Service is a Way to Get Rich
  • You Pay for Access to the Authorities
  • Officials Shake Down Businesses
  • Public Officials Shower Their Friends with Gifts
  • Bribes Produce Results Independently of Political Principle

Think about it a bit.

One of the examples that got me a little hot,

"...the Wireless Tax Fairness Act was expected to come to a vote in the fall of 2011. It was supported by the cell-phone industry, had broad bipartisan support, and was certain to pass. But for months House Speaker John Boehner did not bring the bill to the floor for a vote. FinbVerizon sent checks to members of Congress, both Democrat and Republican."

It's called "tollbooth" charges by author P.eter Schweizer.

Murray's fundamental theory of political corruption.

"Corruption in the political process varies directly with the number and value of things that politicians have to sell."

and his fundamental theory of democratic politics,

"People who receive government benefits tend to vote for people who support those benefits."

This applies equally to middle class Social Security recipients, welfare mothers, farmers with sugar subsidies, and multi-billion dollar defense contractors.

There's a pretty good chapter towards the end of the book about the government shakedown of big businesses in the practice of levying large fines in negotiated "sealed", or secret settlements.

"If the government has been behaving with integrity in this process, and exposure of the sealed settlements would reveal that the companies have behaved badly enough to warrant their multibillion-dollar settlements, then corporations have no choice but to start behaving better. (this is the Progressive position on corporations js) But if it is the government that has been behaving badly, selectively choosing what regulations to enforce against whom so as to yield a large cash windfall (my naturally suspicious libertarian bent makes me believe this more likely js), corporate America will have to start asking itself whether it can coexist peacefully with the regulatory state."

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Calvanni by Chris McMahon

Sorry folks, just couldn't get into this one, and put it down after a while. Another one where I just didn't give a hoot about any of the characters after having met them.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Every so often I get all weepy and sentimental about my old favorite authors and stories, and have to drag their dusty spines off the shelves to re-read. That, after all, is why I acquired such a huge collection; you never know what the mood will strike you to read at 3 AM on a sleepless night.

So, I cracked the figurative cover on the first book in the Harry Dresden series the other night, and got to spend a bit of time with a very old friend.

One of the first things I noticed was how many things the writers, producers and casting agents of the short-lived TV series The Dresden Files got wrong. This may be why it wasn't supported by fans and renewed for a second season on the Sci Fi Channel, though I thought it was delightful in its own right, and would have been a touch anticlimactic if it had simply followed the story line of the novels slavishly.

Harry's detective friend, Karen Murphy, is described in the book as a blonde, not the brunette played by Valerie Cruz. Harry drives a blue, battered Volkswagen, not a Land Rover. Morgan is not an enigmatic and intelligent black man, he's a dull Scottish thug in the books.

Storm Front introduces us to most of the important characters in Butcher's Chicago, including Gentleman Johnny Marcone, the ruthless yet charming ruler of the mundane underworld, Detective Carmichael, Murphy's skeptical sidekick, ace investigative reporter Susan, the pizza-loving faery, Toot, neutral (like the Swiss) bar proprietor MacAnally, and the beautiful yet deadly vampire, Bianca, who runs the elegant brothel, the Velvet Room.

 Note, in the TV series, Harry and Bianca were once romantically involved, in the books Harry discovers Bianca's true form early in the game, and is never fooled by her semblance of humanity after that.

One point of congruence is that in both the novels and the show Harry is on probation with the White Council, wizardry's governing body, for the murder - or self defense killing - of his uncle, Justin Mornay, a black wizard if ever there was one.

Plot summary - People are being murdered with black magic in Chicago. Murphy asks for Harry's help to investigate, but both she and Morgan, as the White Council's representative are not certain that Harry himself isn't the perpetrator. He's also been hired to find a woman's missing husband, and the two cases rapidly become intertwined and knotty.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Forge a New Blade by Peter Grant

 In Forge a New Blade, Grant continues the story of how the Laredo government in exile finds a way to drive the occupying Bactrian forces from their planet. President Pro Tem, Dave, gets introduced to our old friend Steve Maxwell, of the Lancastrian fleet, who has been recruited into the branch responsible for plausibly deniable operations, it appears. The Lancastrians want Laredo to form and possibly lead a coalition of small colonies against the forces of piracy and annexation, like the Bactrians,

One of the themes that the author explores in this book is that of  bad guys who aren't necessarily bad, from an omniscient POV. In this case, the original hawkish coalition which invaded Laredo and perpetrated war crimes and other atrocities on its populace are the true villains - unrepentant - while the new ruler of Bactria, having succeeded his father to the uneasy throne, would like to withdraw his forces from the occupation, but is hamstrung by needing to appease the nobles and military leaders who began the  invasion to increase their own power. If he comes out and opposes them directly, he risks losing the throne, and incidentally, his life.

So, there's some great plotting and scheming going on on Bactria, while the rebellion simmers on Laredo and other parts of the galaxy. You find yourself hoping that somehow, some way, President Dave and Satrap Rostom could just get together for a few drinks and figure out a way to thwart the crazed plans of the rich and powerful, but it'd be a short story in that case.

Another great bit of military SF from Peter Grant. Can't wait for the sequel, or a new Maxwell Saga book.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris

On another recent road trip, my wife picked out this book by Charlaine Harris which we had both read before - a number of years ago when it first came out, so it wouldn't be completely familiar, but at least would provide some entertainment by an author we enjoy.

One of the things we noticed was that it seemed to take a long long time to get from one chapter to then next. I think we had nearly four hours of listening, and were only up to about Chapter 7 of the novel. Being read to really slows things down. Another thing we noticed was the preponderance of "bodice-ripping" romance that I'd never paid much attention to while reading Harris' Sookie stories before. Do we ordinarily just zoom through that while we're reading, getting to the action/adventure of the story?

We ran out of time on our trip just about the point where the action seemed to shift into gear, as Sookie travels to New Orleans with Mr. Cataliades (the demon lawyer) and Bill (her former lover) to go through the house which used to belong to her cousin Hadley (a murdered vampire), and from which  task forces unknown seem to be trying to stop her. As usual, multiple plot lines keep things interesting.

May have to re-read this series from the beginning some day.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Procedure Change

I've noticed, while looking at older posts, that the Amazon links which I used to display the cover art of books I reviewed, seem to be either expiring - displaying nothing, or being redirected - displaying something entirely different from what they did when I published the reviews.

For the moment, I think I'm going to simply quit including the cover art/links. I never get any commission from Amazon associates' program for people buying books there after following my links, anyway, so that's one less task to get done when I'm writing a review. If there's any popular demand for cover art, I can scan the front of the book on my flatbed scanner and post them.

Friday, May 29, 2015

House Immortal by Devon Monk

 I'm not sure what to think of this start to a new series. On the one hand, Devon Monk always writes some pretty good fiction. On the other, I didn't really get hooked on any of the characters enough to make me care what happens to them, though some of the ideas Monk explores in this book were just good enough that I finished it, and may pick up the sequel at the library.

On a steampunk-ish future Earth control of all resources has been distributed between twelve Houses (Why does it have to be twelve? Is that a genre specified number?)  Those who do not belong to one of the major 11 houses, who are trying to remain independent are part of House Brown, and are constantly under threat of being wiped out by the other houses.

A couple of centuries before this series begins, there was a group of people who were subjected to some supernatural event called The Wings of Mercury, which killed nearly the entire population, except for twelve "immortals", who seem to be indestructible. After a war in the recent past, when House Brown came into being, the immortals all took service with the houses, bound into essential slavery in exchange for the rest of the houses allowing the rebels of House Brown to survive.

The protagonist in this little tale, Matilda, may turn out to be the thirteenth immortal. She was created, it seems, by her brother, who is a genius in the art of stitching living beings together (there seems to be some overlap with ideas from Monk's other steampunk series). Her father and mother were both killed by House White for illegal medical experimentation, but so far the houses have found her brother useful. At present, however, he is being held captive by Orange in a plot to give the head of Orange immortality. When one of the immortals from House Silver shows up on the scene, badly wounded, it triggers a series of events that will draw Matilda into deeper conflict and entangle her in the inter-House plotting and jostling for power.

One good little exchange of dialog,
"Feng Shui."
"Is it contagious?"
"Hardly anyone gets it."

The jury is still out. I'll put the second book on hold at the library and see if it goes anywhere fun.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Monster Hunter International

If you have never read the Monster Hunter novels, today is a fantastic opportunity to get started. The Kindle edition is free on Amazon!

Cross Fire by James Patterson

 This was a really quick read. In fact, I started it as I got on the plane in Washington, D.C., and finished it about an hour and a half out of Boise. I'm fairly certain I've read a few of the Alex Cross series in the past, given to my by my late bibliophile friend, Tim G., in one of his library clearing binges. But I certainly haven't kept up to date with the series, and the many loves of Alex Cross, so it was a bit like jumping into the middle in some ways, when Alex proposes to Bree, whom he's been seeing for a few novels, I guess, and his old archenemy Kyle Craig returns...I have no recollection of this villain. Oh well, it still reads quite well, and nothing is lost by not knowing the backstory as long as you understand that Alex is a mega-smart detective, and there are bad guys about.

The plot centers around Kyle's plans for vengeance on Alex for putting him in prison some unknown number of plots ago, and how he assumes the identity of an undercover FBI agent who is returning from the field after years away in order to get close to Alex on a convenient cross-jurisdictional investigation, as Alex is now working for the DC Metro PD. Hey, maybe Murphy's Law knows him!

A pair of snipers who are at least marginally more competent than the last batch to ravage Washington have decided to begin eliminating the "foxes in the henhouse" in the U.S, such as congresscritters who are in bed with the banking industry, corrupt businessmen, and activist federal judges. The bad guys masquerade as homeless men in order to wander around the city without being noticed, and get away with several major assassinations, ratcheting up the pressure on Alex and his team, which includes his masquerading nemesis, Kyle.

There's also a side plot where homeless men are being murdered and mutilated by a paranoid schizophrenic mathematics professor, which provides a bit of entertainment along the way.

After building the tension for hundreds of pages, it all comes to an abrupt climax far to easily resolved.

A good airplane book.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Last Chance Millionaire by Douglas R. Andrew

 Andrew starts with a good discussion of the basics, such as compound interest vs. simple interest, and the different types of tax-advantaged retirement accounts most Americans use, as well as knocking down a few myths about Social Security. If you need the primer, this is some good foundational material. 

He dropped hints along the way which led me to believe that he's going to propose something similar to the universal/whole life insurance policy-based juggling act proposed in Dan Thompson's book which I reviewed back in 2010.

One serious issue I have with some of his basic information is that its underlying assumptions about returns are flawed. Dave Ramsey does the same thing, telling his viewers that it's possible to earn a steady 12% return in the right mutual funds year to year. That's simply not true, I'm afraid. Thompson talks about making huge equity gains in the real estate market, which you can tap into by refinancing your home and using the money to invest (something I heard about years ago, called the Smith Maneuver), but this book was published in 2007 - just before the big real estate bubble burst. If your investment time horizon is long enough, returns in the stock and real estate markets are positive - over the LONG haul. Timing those markets can be a real, pardon the phrase - bear.

Reading on through. my surmises turn out to be correct. Andrew recommends purchasing a "properly structured investment grade life insurance policy", and basically funding the policy to the maximum allowed by tax law, in order to get a guaranteed tax-free return on your retirement funds. If it meets federal guidelines for insurance policies, then you can withdraw the proceeds tax-free up to the point where you've withdrawn the equivalent of your "basis", I believe, after which you can take out loans against the principal and, in theory, still pass on the full face value of the policy to your heirs when you pass on.

Though it goes against the whole "buy term and invest the difference" motto I've used for several deccades now in my own investing, I thought it might be worth taking a peek...until I discovered that the whole book is simply a referral to his own firm, and that the only other firms he recommends must be affiliated with him and "properly trained" to set up these types of contracts. In fact, you can't even get a list of the names of these firms without going through his agents, it appears.

Just another well-disguised sales pitch, sold as a book.

Ah well.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Dark Heir by Faith Hunter

 Drat! I was really hoping that my review of the previous novel in Jane's story would have contained enough information that I didn't feel like this one was gonna be full of spoilers, but it was not meant to be. 

There is a major emergency at vamp HQ when an ancient vampire (probably the one of the first created, if vamp legends are correct) whom Leo has been holding captive, is helped to escape by traitors within Leo's clan. When Jane attempts to stop him, he blasts her with a massively powerful spell which puts her out of business for a while, and also leaves her with a semipermanent connection to him through her link to the evil artifact, the blood diamond.

The vamp leaves a trail of bodies across the city of New Orleans, including a massacre in a night club which riles up the local populace and police. To some extent, this plays into Jane's hands, as she feels responsible for a) not having killed him upon discovery, and failing to stop his escape, and b) failing to kill the traitorous vampiress who freed the monster when she had the chance a few books back.

The European vampires are still scheduled for a visit, and killing the ancient one, who has been merely presumed missing for a couple of centuries, would cause serious international consequences, if word got out. The witches are still scheduled for a conclave with the leaders of the Mithrans, as well, and these events could affect that rapprochement, too.

Jane must use all of her allies to defeat this ancient monster, including the leader of the witches in New Orleans, Lachish, and her friend Molly, the werewolf Brute, a whole host of Leo's scions, and her lover, Bruiser. The main things that happen here, from a plot arc standpoint, are that she finally embraces her nature as Warrior Woman, who must fight evil for a cause, while allowing the monsters a chance at redemption when possible, and finally accepting the fact that she's accumulated a bit of "family" in Eli and Alex Younger. She also manages to collect a couple of new magical artifacts along the way.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Mini Meet

Traveling seems, for me, to put a serious dent in my blogging output, unless of course I can blog about travel, or perhaps take the time to blog about blogging. This post does both. 

I've always wanted to attend one of the blog meets that I read about in other folks' blogs, but it seems that the concentration of bloggers out in the Northwest is a little thin, and perhaps they're just not as sociable as the bloggers back East and down South, so most days it's a little hard for me to travel to one. 

But when I got the opportunity to fly to Virginia to visit my son's family, especially my five-week-old granddaughter, I mentioned to Murphy's Law that I was going to be in the area, and he was kind enough to invite me out a hidden bunker in an undisclosed location...

Not really, just a private gun club near a small town in West Virginia, to wound a few targets with him,  Proud Hilllbilly and their friend Bruce.

Not only did he give me a couple pointers that may improve my shooting markedly, but we had a bit of time to grab a burger and brew at a local joint called Glory Days that prepared the juiciest medium rare burger I've had in a while, and to shoot the breeze for a while with a couple of my favorite bloggers, and their friend Bruce (When are you gonna start blogging, Bruce?)

One thing that didn't even cross my mind until I crossed the Shenandoah River on my way back towards Quantico was to take some pictures of the area. I felt like I'd inadvertently driven right into a John Denver song, as I passed through horse farms and what seemed like an endless stream of wineries, old stone houses and lovely vistas. I really need to convince my wife we need to take a winery tour out there so I can get some pictures when I'm not focused on following the GPS' twisted directions. 

Besides, I need to return ProudHillbilly's spare magazine I forgot I stuffed in my cargo pockets.

Friday, May 15, 2015

How to Live on Mars by Robert Zubrin

 I've read a few books written by expats, telling others how to live successfully in a foreign land, so I can be pretty sure that it's true that this is the most useless book for expats I've ever seen. Not because it contains inaccurate information. No, quite the contrary. It's perfectly accurate, but it's Mars! You can try to be a stranger in a strange land if you like, but it will be a very long time before you can book passage there.

Like most attempts at humor, I think Zubrin finds it difficult to maintain the level of levity past the few chapters, and the book devolves into a much more serious discussion of how to obtain oxygen, water and other resources from the Martian environment, the most versatile type of transportation, habitat, and power supply, and other survival issues.

He draws on a wealth of knowledge which I believe he has obtained as a scientist working for NASA, and pokes a bit of sarcastic fun at bureaucracies along the way. I'll probably pick up one of his more serious works about space faring and planet settling one of these days before the Martian cruise lines start running.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Long Time Until Now by Michael Z. Williamson

Williamson takes a break from his Freehold and mercenary stories here to play around in the time travel genre. While he is quite capable of spinning an interesting read out of nothing, while his characters attempt to build a civilization in the Stone Age. I'm not certain he's really brought anything new to the genre that hasn't previously been offered by Twain's Connecticut Yankee, Frankowski's Conrad, Flint's Ring of Fire, and Weber's Safehold stories.

A U.S. military convoy in Afghanistan bumps into some sort of temporal anomaly and are transported into Paleolithic times, where they must attempt to stay alive and preserve what civilization and technology they have brought with them.

Some other groups get displaced from their own timelines into the area and the story, as well, including a Roman legions which gives them a great deal of trouble before being cowed into a reluctant cooperation. Does this story by any chance tie into one of the Misplaced Legion stories by Turtledove?

There was a point, at the end of the book, when I thought the entire story was a "shaggy dog" for the entire purpose of making fun of the bureaucracy (such as the EPA) response to people who return from time travel to the past, like, "please fill out this form telling us how many endangered species members you killed while you were there." Pretty much all of the species from the Paleolithic era would now be extinct, so everything they killed was "endangered".

One of the things this book does is to experiment in multi-POV like crazy, and it somehow oddly works. After a short time to establish the setting and story line, Williamson jumps from one character to another, multiple times within a chapter.

If you enjoy reading about the types of workarounds they figured out to achieve a level of technology that provided at least a few of the comforts of home, with only sticks and rocks on hand to begin with, you'll probably enjoy this one. It's also good to be reminded every once in a while just how "nasty brutish and short" our lives would be without modern medicine, hygiene, agriculture, domesticated animals, and so forth. The good old days weren't all that good, merely old, after all.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Vision in Silver by Anne Bishop

 How often do you find yourself reading a book which is told from the "monsters" point of view so skillfully that you find yourself rooting against the humans. Or, in this case, the humans who want to drive the Others, the terra indigene from the continent.

The core plot in this book revolves around the sudden appearance of Monty's daughter, Lizzie, by herself on a train from the city where she has lived with her mother, Elayne, since Monty moved to Lakeside. Elayne has had a falling out with her boyfriend, one of the leaders of the Humans First and Last movement, after catching him sleeping around, but is killed when she tries to leave town with evidence of some of the bad things he has been up to. His partners in crime believe that Lizzie has or knows something that will implicate them,and so they try several times to take her back.

The cassandra sangues, having been forced out of the "homes" where they once were exploited, are having a difficult time surviving in the outside world. Some of them are simply giving up, others getting hit by cars, and even those who reach the few refuges which the Others have established are often overwhelmed by their new lives and end up killing themselves. Meg and her friends begin to try to put together an "Idiot's Guide" to caring for the prophetesses to distribute to the new caretakers.

There are, of course, some good veiled political and social issues in this book. The human media spouts the propaganda that Humans First spokespeople feed it without questioning, and it is relentlessly Other-phobic, while on the other hand Orwellian in its assumptions that only the human government can properly care for the poor, disadvantaged and mentally unstable cassandras, these "troubled children".

The battle lines are rapidly being drawn as Humans First - supporting businesses refuse to hire or to do business with the humans who do business with or associate with the Others. There are secret handshakes and special identifying pins that the HFL'ers wear. Simon Wolfgard begins to prepare living arrangements for some of "his" humans who are being ostracized and harassed.

The humans, for the most part, are still far too unaware, despite recent events, that the Others with whom they interact are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the ancient powers that truly rule the Earth, and who can wipe out humanity in the blink of an eye, should they choose to end the experiment.

Another great book in Bishop's series. Looks like there's a fifth one in the works, too. This should be fun!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Born in Blood by Kate Paulk

With all due respect to Kate Paulk, who is really quite a good writer, this book was a bit of a ripoff. After reading Impaler, I wanted to read the prequel, which surely would tell the tale of how Vlad ended up as a blood-drinker, and explain the source of his malady. So I bought Born in Blood, which covers the time period when Vlad and his brother were hostages to his father's good behavior in the court of the sultan Murad.

First, the "book" turns out to be only 44 pages long, in Kindle format. Second, the book begs all of the important questions and just jumps in at the point when Vlad first reaches his breaking point and displays inhuman strength and appetites. Third, it ends at the death of his father, so we don't get to see any of the story from the point when he is set free, albeit as a commander in the Sultan's army, to the point when he is able to return to his homeland, marry, sire children, etc.

I suppose I'll have to pay for another installment of Paulk's books to find out...well, you know what Paul Harvey used to say.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Dark Lightning by John Varley

Looking over Varley's bibliography, I believe I have owned over 80% of what he has written and read all but two of his novels over the years. Surprising that I only have a couple of reviews up, but most of my reading took place long before I started this blog. Titan, of course, was a HUGE novel, back in 1979, and when he followed it up with Wizard and Demon in the same story line, I followed right along. So many great books.

Like many other authors, however, Varley is getting a bit long in the tooth, and doesn't seem to have anything truly groundbreaking to share these days. Dark Lightning is mostly more of the same in the Thunder and Lightning series, written in a definite homage to Heinlein - the twin girls' mother's name is Podkayne, for Pete's sake, and their father is Jubal. I mean, really?  The whole thing has the flavor of a Heinlein juvenile from the Golden Age (more or less), but it builds very very slowly before it finally gets interesting and adventurous, at which time the twins, Cassie and Polly (Cassandra and Pollyanna - which is a wonderful word play based on their predominant attitudes about life), display the usual hyper-skilled capabilities that Heinlein's female characters always used to, and double-handedly put down a mutiny on the spaceship headed off to colonize a New Earth.

Plenty of interesting speculations on the field of physics and the nature of dark matter create the "science" basis for this fiction. An amusing read, but definitely wait for the paperback.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Shifting Shadows by Patricia Briggs

 For a number of years now, we've all gotten to see things from Mercy Thompson's point of view, or even Charles and Anna's, in Briggs' world, but this collection of shorts gives us the opportunity to get to know some of her "minor" characters a bit better, too.

Briggs tells us the story of how Samuel and Ariana met and fell in love, which includes a good bit of backstory on the origins of the Marrock, as well. We get the tale of how a Chinese vampire rescues a fairy princess from a group of jealous rival lesser fae, and how a Chicago vampire learns to live with the ghost of the husband she slew when she first awoke, hungry and mindless.

We experience the meeting of Tom the werewolf and Moira the witch (does it seem like there's a lot of cross species mating going on these days?) and tag along as they rescue Tom's brother from Moira's father's coven. There is, of course, the obligatory Charles and Anna short, and a ghost-hunting tale about Mercy that takes place after Night Broken., plus out takes from that  story and Silver Borne.

There are others, too, all delightful, and easy to finish in delicious bites that won't keep you up all night trying to finish another Briggs novel.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Planet Run by Keith Laumer

 I have been reading Keith Laumer for just about as long as I can remember reading science fiction. This book has always been one of my favorites, so when I was packing up boxes of books to send to my library-owning partner, Larry, I held it back to savor one more time.

The setting: The planet Corazon, discovered decades ago, has been under quarantine until the present day, when the Planetary Survey has released it for a "Run". Every hornswoggling, backstabbing, swashbuckling son-of-a-gun in the Galaxy will be there to try to claim the best land for himself, or for the interests which he represents. Captain Henry, formerly of the Survey, was along on the voyage which discovered Corazon. He is now retired, living a life of ease on Aldorado, enjoying watching his great-granddaughter, Dulcie, grow into a young woman. It has long been rumored that he found a treasure trove of precious jewels on Corazon, bolstered by the fact that he occasionally sells a perfect specimen to finance his quiet life, and Dulcie has been seen wearing a necklace of precious stones on special occasions, not the sort of thing a retired spaceman could afford on his own.

Senator Bartholomew of Aldorado thinks he has the means to blackmail the captain into undertaking one last planet run, with the fact that Henry returned to the planet several times, illegally, the last time returning just barely too late to save his wife from a terminal illness the treatment for which the gemstones in his possession could have paid. But Henry turns the tables and puts his own twist on their agreement. Bartholomew's nephew, Larry, who has a bright future in Aldoradan politics, is a bit of a fop, but Dulcie is quite taken with him. Captain Henry decides he's either going to make a man out of the boy, or break him in the process, and tells Bartholomew that he'll undertake the run, if Larry goes along with him to help, and if the proceeds are split between Larry and Dulcie 50/50.

So Henry and Larry go off on one of the greatest adventures of all time, rootin' tootin' and shootin' their way through the claim-jumpin' lily-livered villains and varlets. It has a great surprise ending, too.