Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Echoes of Honor by David Weber

Echoes of Honor (Honor Harrington Series, Book 8)
I waited for this book to hit paperback for a long time, and was just mildly disappointed when it did. I'm not partial to the whole plot mechanism of jumping back and forth between characters and POVs, as you may have gathered from some of my other reviews. Weber spends, IMHO, far too much time on developing the action in areas other than those that our heroine, Honor, is directly involved with.

However, as with all of Weber's stories, it is well written and fairly rapidly paced. As you may or may not recall, through having read earlier Honor novels, Honor narrowly escaped being executed by the Peep department of State Security and is stranded with some of her loyal crew on the prison planet of Hell (or Hades) in the novel just prior to Echoes. Weber picks up the story line perhaps a couple of weeks later. The Peeps, as a propaganda ploy, broadcast a faked version of Honor's execution across the galaxy, discouraging some of the Manticoran Alliance's allies and enraging others.

Also, due to some bold new strategies on the part of the new head of the Peep department of War, the conflict begins to go quite badly for the RMN and allied fleets. In the meantime, Honor and her crew are busy conquering the prison planet and liberating the POWs as well as the Peeps' political prisoners held there. Did you expect anything less from Admiral Harrington?

Stay tuned for the next installment. Bottom line - all the Honor Harrington novels are worth waiting for, but not worth paying hardcover prices.

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Monday, August 30, 2010

In Praise of Nepotism by Adam Bellow

In Praise of Nepotism : A Natural HistoryIn a blurb on the back of this book, John Patrick Diggins, Distinguished Professor of History at The City University of New York, says, "I read In Praise of Nepotism straight through in about a day and a half." I must confess, it's taking me more like a month and a half to finish it. This is not "fluff". Bellow really digs into history to lay out some (some? more like ALL!) of the nepotistic heritage of mankind and a few other species, besides.

For example, mole rats are, according to Bellow, "the world's most nepotistic animal". Their reproductive strategy is almost the same as an ant colony. Only one female in a colony is allowed to bear young, while all the others work as if they were drones digging burrows, gathering food, and starting new colonies. This is the only mammal that behaves in this fashion.

A more recent champion of nepotism is Greek prime minister Andreas Panadreou. After running an anti-corruption campaign, he appointed his wife, a thirty eight year old former flight attendant, chief policy advisor. His son was appointed deputy foreign minister, his wife's cousin deputy culture minister, and his personal physician minister of health.

Bellow takes us back to the Chou dynasty of China and mentions an odd and disturbing practice. During a famine in 593 B.C., the citizens of Sung were reduced to eating their children. "Because they couldn't bear to eat their own, however, they exchanged children with their neighbors before killing them." Huh? In latter day China, the Communist Party had denounced nepotism and hoped to end the practice, but most (over five thousand) of the recent  communist leadership got their positions in the government due to family connections. Bellow asks, "If even the Chinese Communists couldn't get rid of it, what realistic hope have we of doing so?"

He also uses the Bible to illustrate nepotism in history. He claims that much of the Old Testament is a series of "nepotistic parables that explore different aspects of Jewish family dynamics." I'd never looked at it in that light before, but it's substantially correct. Oddly enough, the New Testament Christian church under Saint Augustine, opposed the practice of adoption. Wow! Isn't the Catholic Church heavily involved in adoptions now? The basis for this seemed to be that leaving one's property to an adopted heir was an attempt to cheat God of what was rightfully his - read The Church's - money.

Eventually Bellow moves to the New World, after brief (who am I kidding?) stops in Africa, India, Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. As a shout out to my mother-in-law and sister-in-law, whom I know have read it, he references Albion's Seed in describing the four different migrations from the British Isles between 1629 and 1675. Each of these migrations brought with it a distinct culture, and a distinct style of nepotism. These differences, claims Bellow, would eventually lead to irreconcilable differences culminating in the Civil War.

Bellow also discusses our founding fathers, such as Jefferson, Washington, Adams and Hamilton, in terms of their nepotistic tendencies and strategies. Jefferson's administration, compared to the previous two, had the fewest nepotistic ties. However, once a representative of a family got appointed to a government position, it ended up as an inheritance to be passed along to other members of the family.

Painstaking research, broadening the definition of nepotism, and mining history have allowed Bellow to produce a definitive text on the subject. Maybe nepotism had something to do with it, though. Wasn't his father Saul Bellow? I think his talent stands on its own, but it might have gotten a nudge or two from Poppa somewhere along the line to get him noticed and published. I'm just sayin'.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Book Blogger Hop - Aug 27-31

Book Blogger Hop
It's friday again, and time for the Book Blogger Hop at Crazy for Books.
This week's question is "Do you have a rating system for your reviews, and if so, what is it and why?"
I don't have a rating system, though I've thought about using one. It would have to be something extremely complex to fully capture how I feel about each book, and I'd just rather share my feelings and thoughts about them than try to measure all that.

Imager's Intrigue by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

Imager's Intrigue: The Third Book of the Imager Portfolio
Modesitt has, over the years, delivered a strong and steady performance with his novels. Up until the Recluce saga got completely out of hand, I kept up with it, but I'm probably a dozen books behind now. In the Imager Portfolio series, he's come up with an interesting blend of a world at the beginning of its industrial revolution, yet still possessed of magic in the agency of the Collegium, a group of people called Imagers. The Imagers are people who can use their minds and the energy of the world around them to visualize and create matter - more or less out of thin air.

The hero of this saga is Rhenn, a young imager who has attained high status due to his ability rather rapidly. Imager's Intrigue, third in the series, takes place about three years after Imager's Challenge. Rhenn and his wife, Seliora, now have a three-year-old daughter, Diestrya whom they both dote on, and both her charm and her challenges are matter of factly laid bare throughout the book. Modesitt (so far) doesn't take the cheap shot of putting Diestrya into danger, and forcing Rhenn to act precipitously, as some other authors might. Rhenn can be precipitous enough just on his own!

Rhenn is serving as a captain of the third district of the city patrollers, as he did in the previous novel, and his area is a bit more peaceful than the rest of the city, due to his unorthodox style of dealing with the gangs, or taudis, in the district. But someone is introducing a stronger strain of an addictive herb called elveweed into the city, and it's causing an increased number of overdoses among its users, so Rhenn begins to investigate things to try and find out who is importing it, and why.

At the same time, there is a sudden outbreak of sabotage and suspicious explosions in the manufacturing facilities and grain storage areas of the city, and Rhenn suspects that the Ferrans, who are in an undeclared war with his country, Solidar, are to blame somehow. When a mortar attack on the Collegium kills the head of the organization and its head of security, Rhenn's mentor, Rhenn is promoted and must take responsibility for finding the killers.

The entire book proceeds slowly, methodically, and in a matter of fact tone from setup to resolution. It's vintage Modesitt, really. One little thing that's irritating, though, is his habit of having Rhenn, in the middle of a conversation, think to himself, "I suddenly understood why it was that...." and then not tell us what he suddenly understood. We have to wait until sometime later in the book, when Rhenn acts on his conclusions, to deduce what he had. Modesitt also likes to just leave some little mysteries unresolved, even when the book is resolved, which is really more in accordance with reality than what passes for mysteries and their solutions these days.

If you haven't read any of this series, get started with Imager, and read them all. You won't be sorry.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Abuse of Power by Nancy Taylor Rosenberg

Abuse of Power
I wonder if Nancy Taylor is related to Joel, the author the Guardians of the Flame series? No matter.

For some reason, this novel turned into a real page-turner for me. Began reading it about 8:30 at night, and didn't close the book until I finished it around 11:30. The first 4/5 of the book was fast-paced, well-written and kept getting me more and more angry at the villains of the piece. The last 1/5 of the book, however, Rosenberg must have run out of inspiration and decided to just wrap things up quickly, so I was rather disappointed in the way things all turned out.

One flaw in the novel for me was the underlying assumption that there's an epidemic of corruption in police forces around the U.S. Of course, since the whole plot of the novel hinges on what happens to Officer Rachel Simmons when she violates the code of silence that police officers maintain, I can understand why the premise is here, but...

The plot, in brief: Rachel contaminates evidence in an armed robbery investigation, panics and another officer covers for her. That officer uses the incident to blackmail her into attending a Tailhook-style beach party, where he and other officers drug her into unconsciousness and abuse her sexually. Shortly after that, she witnesses that officer using an innocent bystander as a human shield in a gun battle and decides to blow the whistle. The officers in the squadroom retaliate against her, and things just keep getting worse from there.

I won't give you any more details and spoil the story for you. I enjoyed it, and will probably pick up some more of Rosenberg's books to fill those lonely hours when I can't find a good sf novel.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Frommer's Lisbon day by day

Frommer's Lisbon Day by Day (Frommer's Day by Day - Pocket)
As a preface to this review, I'm going to natter on a bit about related issues. I usually have about ten days worth of reviews in the pipeline, scheduled to post, so I don't have to worry about taking a break for recreation interrupting the flow here. I've started to whittle that margin down lately for a couple of reasons. First, I picked up a couple of books that just bogged me down; the first because it's a very complex topic filled with historical detail, so it's just slow going, and the second was difficult to read for emotional reasons - I don't like depressing stories.

I'm hoping to get things back up to speed and ahead of the game again, as in a couple of weeks I'm taking a long awaited vacation to Europe with my wife. I'll attempt to schedule enough book review posts ahead of time to cover it, but I may also "hijack" my blog for a bit during that time to do some liveblogging on my travels, post some pix, etc. If anyone gets upset that I've compromised the purity of my mission here, I guess that's just life. I don't think it's worth my time to start another blog just for my unfortunately infrequent international travel - last time I was out of the States was in 1982.

A few years ago, our family hosted an exchange student from Portugal. He rapidly became just another one of my kids, and it was very difficult to let him go home when the time came. His Portugese family has been asking when we're going to come for a visit ever since, and a serendipitous set of circumstances has given us a sudden opportunity to go. Consequently, I've been burying myself in travel guides lately, which is another reason I'm falling behind on my fiction review blogging.

Lisbon day by day is a wonderful, concise, pocket guide to Lisbon and some of the surrounding areas. The authors have laid out "best of" itineraries for touring the city, based on the amount of time you have to spend, or on your interests. There are special tours for shopping, dining, art, architecture, history, and several other topics. It includes a full sized map of the city in the back of the book, mini-maps of the specific areas in the tours at the beginning of each section, sidebars about great "unknown" places to grab a cup of coffee or enjoy the view (like any of these are actually unknown now that Frommer's has written about them).

Plenty of good tips here, and I think I'm going to renew this at the library just before I leave and take it along with me. Frommer's publishes guides to other cities, as well, and if you're headed for parts unknown, you might want to pick on up and take it along.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold

Ethan of Athos
After turning a friend of mine on to the rest of the Vorkosigan saga, I decided to re-read them all, myself. After finishing the "core" novels, I figured I ought to read the peripheral ones, as well. Ethan of Athos is sort of a sidelight to the main storyline, about Dr. Ethan Urqhart, director of a reproductive center for a planet populated entirely by men.

We've all seen a number of SF novels about planets populated solely by women, and somehow are more comfortable with that concept than the all-male variety. Of course, the only way this works is because of the Galactic technology base of the uterine replicator. The replicators figure so prominently in Cordelia and Miles' stories, and Bujold seems to have explored the "what if?" implications of this technology on society, in the spirit of John W. Campbell's editorial tenure.

Bujold has previously explored the difference between cultures, such as Beta Colony, which heavily use replicators, and Barrayar, which didn't, as well as the cultural revolution occurring through the introduction of replicator technology after it's introduction on Barrayar. The replicators figure heavily in the life extension techniques available on Jackson's Whole (creating a clone and having your brain transplanted into it). In Ethan of Athos, she explores the idea of a monosexual culture which is allowed to survive over the long haul because of the availability of uterine replicators and cultured ovaries.

However, when our story begins, the viability of Athos is threatened by the slow deterioration of the ovarian cultures upon which the planet depends. The Council had ordered, from House Bharaputra on Jackson's Whole, 50 new ovarian cultures to replace the ones that were dying, but when the package arrives, it's filled with non-viable ovaries, from various sources, human and animal. Dr. Urquart - Ethan - is sent to investigate and to negotiate with some other commercial firm to buy more cultures, and to ensure their safe delivery this time.

Ethan, of course, has never been off planet (Athos is quite isolated, intentionally), and in the early part of the story is quite terrified by Galactic culture and the unknown, especially women, who are held to be the source of all evil in the Athosian religion. When he arrives on Kline Station he makes the acquaintance of Ellie Quinn, presently detached on leave from the Dendarii Mercenaries, or so she claims. There's a plot afoot, involving Cetagandan agents, and he lands right smack dab in the middle of things.

He's picked up for interrogation by Ghem Colonel Millisore and Ghem Captain Rau, and when they find he has no useful knowledge for them after a seven hour chemical interrogation, they decide to dispose of him. Quinn intervenes at the last moment, killing their agent, and then uses Ethan as a stalking goat to draw out Millisore and his minions.

It seems that the Cetagandans were having some human genetic research done on Jackson's Whole. One of the results of that experiment, Terrance Cee, revolted against his "masters" and stashed the gene complexes in the shipment of ovaries bound for Athos.

The action and intrigue revolve around Ethan's, Quinn's, Terrance's and Millisore's search for the missing gene complexes.

The overall effect of the book is to round out some aspects of Galactic culture, flesh out some facets of Ellie Quinn's character, and bounce a few new cultural and philosophical ideas off of Bujold's reading audience. Bujold raises some interesting points about the hidden costs of childbearing and child rearing, that most Earthly cultures "write off" through the "free" labor of women and wives, but which must be strictly accounted for and paid for in a totally male society. Interesting and entertaining reading all the way round.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Mission of Honor by David Weber

Mission of Honor (Honor Harrington, Book 12)
Over the years, I've spent countless hours reading and sometimes re-reading David Weber's novels. I've been following the adventures of Honor Harrington from the beginning, and so I was eagerly awaiting this installment. I have to admit I somehow missed Torch of Freedom, so I wasn't completely up to date on happenings in the Honorverse, but even taking that into consideration, I wasn't as thrilled with this book as I had expected to be.

A great deal of the action takes place out at Spindle, where in a previous book, Admiral Michelle "Mike" Henke forced the surrender of a group of Solarian warships after destroying their flagship. Predictably, the Sollies decide to not let this provocation from a bunch of "neobarbs" stand, and send another fleet to teach the upstarts a lesson. As Star Empire fans might expect, Henke's small fleet totally wipes out the reprisal fleet, and the Solarians response is to escalate further with an undeclared declaration of war upon Manticore.

Meanwhile, back in the Empire, Honor has been sent as an ambassador plenipotentiary to the Peeps, to try to negotiate a peace treaty. Despite her previous experiences with the forces of Haven, she is bound by her sense of honor and her deep personal knowledge of the results of the carnage the war has wrought to negotiate fairly, and she even finds herself coming to like President Pritchard and Secretary of War Theisman. Of course, there are forces within the People's Republic Congress that are trying to wring all the personal advantage they can out of the negotiations, and so hammering out a treaty proceeds very slowly.

Unbeknownst to the Star Empire, but made transparent to the readers throughout the novel, the Mesans are planning a surprise attack on the war infrastructure of both Manticore and Grayson. We can see the hammer about to fall all along, and can only wonder if our friends will see the blow coming in time to do something about it.

Weber warned us in a preface a couple of novels ago that things were going to get much much worse before they got better for the Star Empire of Manticore, and he's certainly delivering on that promise. I just think the pacing of this one is much slower than the early novels that I really enjoyed, the action seems sparse, and WAY too much of the book is spent describing the political calculations and discussions by the Peeps, Manties, Sollies and Mesans. Maybe it's just giving us the background for what is yet to come, but I just didn't find it gripping. It is, however, a must-read in the series, for all you followers out there.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Book Blogger Hop - Aug 20-23

Book Blogger Hop
Check out this week's Book Blogger Hop at Crazy for Books. The question this week:

How many blogs do you follow?

Officially, I think I follow fifteen or twenty. I have many more than that that I actually check on a semi-regular basis, or have linked in my Favorites folder. My interests, like my reading, are quite eclectic.

Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb

Dragon Keeper (Rain Wilds Chronicles, Vol. 1)
Robin Hobb's novels tend to be a little difficult for me to read; in fact, I never did finish her Liveship Traders trilogy, just kept getting bogged down in depression halfway through The Mad Ship. The characters in her books just get totally run through the wringer, physically and emotionally. I did really enjoy her first trilogy, which begins with Assassin's Apprentice, but struggled with the rest.

Dragon Keeper, first in the Rain Wilds Chronicles, takes up, evidently, shortly after the Liveship Traders, and the characters from those books play cameo roles in this one. The dragons are finally hatching from their cocoons, but they turn out mostly to be stunted, deformed or mentally subpar, and the citizens of the Rain Wilds are bound by their agreement with the dragon, Tintaglia, to care for and feed them. This gets old pretty quickly for them, and they scheme to find a way to be rid of them without violating the letter of the contract.

Meanwhile, back in Bingtown, we get to know Alise, a rather plain young woman from a minor Trader family. She hasn't been fortunate in the looks department, and lacks for suitors until a wealthy young Trader approaches her about a marriage of convenience. If she will marry him and get his family to quit badgering him about producing an heir, she can live a life of ease, and have the funds she wants to acquire scrolls and other materials to further her studies of dragons and Elderlings.

While she seems to be clueless about it, it's fairly obvious to the reader that her new husband, Hest, a cold and manipulative fellow, prefers men for his sexual dalliances. In fact, his main lover is one of her childhood friends, Sedric, and when she demands to be allowed to travel to the Rain Wilds to study the newly hatched dragons, Hest sends Sedric to accompany and chaperone her.

Another major character in the book is Thymara, another girl with poor marriage prospects. She, like many of the Rain Wilds folk, had some major mutations at birth, and should have been left to die from exposure. Her father loved her too deeply to let her go, however, so she has grown up without status in the community and will never be allowed to marry and have children. When the Rain Wilds Council offers her a position helping the dragons to make their way to the fabled city of Kelsingra, which the dragons remember as a place of plenty, she jumps at the chance to make something useful of her life.

There are lots of different agendas and intrigues afoot in this book, and though it did take me a while to finish it, it doesn't seem as much of a downer as Hobb's earlier books. I'm definitely intrigued to know what the dragons will find when they reach Kelsingra, and wonder how Alise and Thymara will turn out when they've grown up.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

100 People Who Are Screwing Up America, by Bernard Goldberg

100 People Who Are Screwing Up America (And Al Franken Is #37)
Given the last couple of books by Goldberg, Bias and Arrogance, about mainstream media liberal bias and political backstabbing, the majority of the people listed in the top 100 don't come as any great surprise, if you've followed what passes for political discourse in the media these days. I was surprised, though, to see a token number of conservatives, such as Michael Savage and David Duke, on the list. When I read what he had to say about both of them, my initial shock wore off.

I suppose this list could serve as an America's Most Wanted for neo-cons. The people who, by virtue of their outright malice, stunning ignorance, or unwitting duplicity (can you tell by my choice of adjectives that I lean a little to the right, myself?), have done the most to drag down the American Dream and destroy the underpinnings of the American Way of Life.

I'm not gonna name a whole lot of names here. You'll have to read it for yourself to get those. I will name some groups:

Leaders and spokespersons of the DNC
Civil rights leaders who exploit racial "victimhood" for personal gain
Gangsta rap artists and their enablers
Producers of trash on tv
Businessmen whose greed destroys their companies, while leaving them with golden parachutes
Radical Feminists
Socialist and communist educators who stifle any dissent on campus
Rabble-rousers who incite hate crimes
Activist judges
Greedy malpractice lawyers
Babbling Celebrities

Did I miss anyone? Goldberg doesn't appear to, but he does ask for his readers to send him their own list of the people he's missed. Wouldn't want to make anyone feel left out, you know.

As I said, there were no great surprises here, but there were a few choice morsels - examples of liberal spokesbeings talking out of both sides of their mouths, that I really liked.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert A. Heinlein

Citizen of the Galaxy
It's not all that often that you can read a book as a young adult, again as an adult, and again as a middle-aged man and still enjoy it. Many of the books I read as a teenager seem not nearly as interesting now. Fortunately, Citizen of the Galaxy, and most everything else Heinlein wrote, stand the test of time.

Thorby is a slave, sold on the auction block on a planet in the Sargonese empire. His parents were killed by raiders when he was three years old, and he's been transferred from one abusive owner to the next his entire life. At the beginning of this book, he's just entering adolescence, and he is purchased by a beggar named Baslim the Cripple for a paltry sum. Old Baslim, however, turns out to be something more than a mere mendicant, and Thorby's life takes a sudden turn for the better with his new owner.

Baslim's not only teaches Thorby the trade of a beggar in the marketplace, but to read, write and speak several languages, perform mathematics, and to remember and report accurately everything he sees. It turns out that Baslim is actually a spy, reporting on the movements of ships engaged in the slave trade, which centers on Sargon. He has contacts among the Free Traders, who carry his reports back to Terra's X-Corps.

When Baslim is captured for interrogation and executed, Thorby must get off planet to escape the same fate. He contacts one of the Free Traders, Captain Krausa of the Sisu, and Krausa not only smuggles him off planet, but, out of loyalty to Baslim, who rescued a ship of Traders captured by raiders long ago, adopts him as his foster son into the crew of his ship. A great deal of the novel is spent with Thorby as he becomes accustomed to his new family and his role in it.

If you've ever read Double Star by Heinlein, you are perhaps aware that Heinlein didn't think to highly of actors. One of the lines in Citizen reflects that, "Since Thorby had no talent, he became an actor". It made me chuckle, anyway.

Thorby's "real" family is eventually located, and he has to leave the Free Traders to first join the Terran space navy, and then to be reunited with his biological kin. In both of these places, he continues to work to fulfill his "Pop" Baslim's mission of eradicating slavery in the galaxy.

One of Heinlein's great gifts was the ability to teach moral principles in his novels, usually without being too heavy handed about it, or bogging down the story in any way. In this novel, he moves smoothly between Thorby's juvenile point of view, Baslim's cynical old man point of view, and Krausa's thoughts as master and commander of a trading vessel.

Heinlein also often anticipated technological advances in his books quite accurately. The one that stood out here was night vision goggles, used by the Sargon's police while hunting under the ruins for Baslim and Thorby. The book was written in 1957, so I think he was a few years ahead of the curve on that one.

Heinlein was also a master of character development. Thorby does a lot of growing up here, from a scared, abused child to a responsible yet still naive teen, to a young man who begins to realize that doing the right thing is not always easy, nor exciting, but often must be done to remain true to yourself and to those who have paved the way.

Just a note: The version of the book pictured here is a reprint of the title. The one I just re-read from my personal collection is the old Ace edition.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dune, the House Trilogy by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

You know, this group of books is way too much material to handle in a single review, but it would be even worse if I had to come up with separate reviews for Dune: House Harkonnen, Dune: House Atreides and Dune: House Corrino, so we'll just deal with it all as we may. Andy Rooney used to have a spiel for Sixty Minutes that began, "Didja ever wonder?" With that in mind:

Didja ever wonder how Jessica, the Bene Gesseret, ended up married to Duke Leto? Why Duncan Idaho and Gurney Halleck hated the Harkonnens so badly? Why everyone hated the Tleilaxu so much? What the heck, Kynes, the Imperial planetologist, was doing on Arrakis in the first place? How the Landsraad Council governed? What's the scoop with Beast Rabban and Feyd, and why was Baron Harkonnen such a fat pig?

Well, the answer to these and many other questions can be found by reading this trilogy, a set of prequels to Dune.

Quite some time ago, I read a book called The Garbage Chronicles, by Brian Herbert, and it WAS - garbage. So I was understandably reluctant to pick these up, but since I found copies of all three at the local library, I couldn't go too far wrong. Well, either time has honed Brian's skills, or the partnership with Anderson made him a more cogent and coherent storyteller, but this trilogy was quite engrossing.

Unfortunately, the amount of separate story lines that one has to follow through the books can make reading them frustrating at times, especially if, like me, you dislike jumping around from plot to plot and place to place. But, as the tension slowly builds throughout the series, each separate element adds the missing pieces to the puzzle, until you fully comprehend the situation extant in Dune.

Often brutal, highly imaginative, and good for both gasps and guffaws, I recommend these books highly.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Deception by Jonathan Kellerman

Deception: An Alex Delaware Novel (Alex Delaware Novels)
Kellerman, as we have come to expect, delivers a good, amusing read in Deception. Alex and Milo investigate the murder of a prep school teacher who has left a DVD behind accusing several members of the faculty of sexual harassment. The case has some delicate political implications because the chief of police's son is a student at the school, and any scandal there may affect his chances to get into Harvard, so the duo must tread carefully. As they start with the usual suspects and work their way through the less usual ones, things get twisty quickly, and the case never really untwists, it just becomes transparent at the end.

Kellerman does a good job of capturing the arrogance, smarminess and false intellectualism of the instructors at the prep school. When Milo is interviewing the staff there, he and Alex are fully aware of just how shallow these folks really are. There's a great scene where one of the instructors, unaware that Alex is a psychologist, attempts to baffle him with psycho-BS. I have to wonder how Kellerman really feels about the intellectual "elite" that our hallowed institutions of higher learning are turning out these days; is he serious, or just playing to the peanut gallery here?

Great characters, great dialogue, and a surprising ending make this a classic in the Alex Delaware series.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Library

By popular demand (well, at least one person asked for it), I'm going to put up some photos of my library here, for those of you who've never visited in person.

This is the entrance of the room, standing in the doorway, looking West. The upper left shelf starts with Donal Aamodt and the runs about to Robert E. Howard. The shelves at the far end are oversized and hardbound books from A to H (looks like Harry Harrison's Deathworld Trilogy down in the corner).
Starting with the latter part of the H section on the right, we come back to Jenifer Roberson, about to bite my right ankle.

Again, looking West, starting with Sax Rohmer on my upper left, we wend our way down to Roger Zelazny and Sara Zettel, followed by about half of the anthology collections, on the center shelf. The shelf just under the window is mostly comedy, things such as Doonesbury, P.G. Wodehouse, and M*A*S*H, as well as a complete James Bond collection, and a number of miscellaneous texts and tomes. The built-in shelves at the end contain the rest of the oversized and hardbounds, except for the overflow spilling onto the floor under the shelves on the right. The shelves on the right contain a couple hundred old Ace Doubles, and my collection of SF magazines from the 50s through the 90s.

Looking East, for a change, on the right are the shelves we could see in the previous picture, and on the left is the remainder of the paperback anthologies.
Any questions?

Blasphemy by Douglas Preston

I felt like I was perhaps missing something as I read this novel by Preston. The protagonist, Ford Wyman, has a past, referred to every so often, that felt like it must have been explored in a previous novel. I may have to search a bit to find out if he published one, perhaps in conjunction with Lincoln Child. The only solo novel mentioned by Preston was Tyrannosaur Canyon, so it may be told in that one.

Former CIA operative Ford Wyman has hung up his shingle as a private investigator recently, and he is contacted by a presidential aide to investigate strange doings at a new supercollider site in New Mexico. The supercollider, nicknamed Isabella by the scientists who built and operate it, should have come online and begun producing results, but there are evidently glitches in the software causing mysterious delays, and the Navajo tribe on whose land it was built are getting restless, as well.

Shortly after Wyman arrives on site, one of the scientists is either murdered or commits suicide, adding a level of complexity to his investigation. He also encounters Kate, an old lover from his college days, who is part of the project, and must try to build on their prior relationship to get information.

The Navajo tribe just fired the lobbyist in Washington, DC who helped get the project removed, and he decides to stir up the pot to get their business back by contacting the Reverend Don Spates, telling him that the purpose of the project is to disprove biblical Creation. Spates, whose popularity has been fading after being caught with two prostitutes recently, sees a golden opportunity to boost his tv ratings and raise more money by publicly denouncing Isabella to his audience.

The secret that the scientists are keeping to themselves is that when the supercollider is running at full power some sort of entity appears on the computer screens, claiming to be God. As Wyman and the scientists begin to ask questions, the answers are interesting. "God" claims that the universe is a vast experimental equation, playing out over time. The conflict between this information and the Christian worldview plays a major part in the unfolding drama.

Ok, so the idea that the universe is a huge mathematical construct is one that I discussed with my fellow college students more than thirty years ago in dorm bull sessions. Couldn't Preston have come up with something more unique for "God" to reveal? Also, Preston's depiction of the Christian response to scientific inquiry seemed a bit hackneyed and media-generated. An ok read, but nothing earth-shattering, really.

Book Blogger Hop

Book Blogger Hop
Check out this week's Book Blogger Hop at Crazy for Books. The question this week:
How many books do you have on your 'to be read shelf'?
I currently have six books on my dresser that are in the lineup. I use the public library for most of my reading these days, so I try not to get too deep a stack going. Of course, I have nearly that many books that I'm actually currently reading, as well: one science fiction novel, one non-fiction tome, and five travel guides.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Finder, by Emma Bull

Finder: A Novel of the Borderlands
This was definitely a top notch story. Some time ago, Shetterly and Bull and some of their friends created a shared world called the Borderlands, which I never did get around to picking up, though now that I mention it, I will have to do. This story takes place in the borderlands, and has a certain Michey Spillane tone that I loved. Finder, our hero, is a young human male with a talent for finding things. There’s a dangerous new designer drug in the Borderlands that those who become addicted to it think will turn them from human to elven, so that they can enter the realm of Faerie. The cops want Finder to help them catch the people behind the drug, and it gets wild and crazy from there. Most everything I’ve read by Shetterly or Bull I’ve enjoyed, and this was no exception.

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