Friday, July 30, 2010

Kitty Goes to Washington by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty Goes to Washington (Kitty Norville, Book 2)
This is the second book in Vaughn's series. Kitty has been called to testify before Congress on the subject of werewolves and vampires, so she heads to Washington, DC. When she gets there, the head of the local vampire family, Alette, makes her an offer of hospitality she "can't refuse", and Kitty makes Alette's mansion her home away from home on the Potomac.

Kitty also makes contact with the local lycanthrope community, who operate without a traditional pack structure, and becomes romantically involved with a Brazilian were-panther, Luis. She manages to do the touristy thing while she's there, despite her time commitment to the hearings.

She also manages to collect a few more friends, and maybe some enemies, too. Her old friend, vampire hunter Cormac, puts in an appearance, not exactly a cameo. There's an old Nazi werewolf named Fritz whose story she tries to unearth, a reporter from the tabloid Uncharted World, Roger Stockton, and a psychic, Jeffrey Miles, who befriend her.

There's a lot going on behind the scenes in Washington, as one might expect, and Kitty has some interesting adventures there. This is another amusing story, but without a lot of depth. Should keep you entertained when the mundane doings on Capitol Hill can't.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Metropolitan by Walter John Williams

MetropolitanI’ve always liked everything this man has written, and once again he’s crafted a good yarn. Every novel he’s written, with the exception of The Crown Jewels and House of Shards, has been set in a different universe. It’s gotta be tough to come up with these new , internally consistent worlds every time, but he does a darn good job of it. In Metropolitan, we have a tightly controlled bureaucratic city, with rigid social strata determined by wealth and power, and racial discrimination casually practiced by whatever tribe is on top of the heap at any given moment. Temporal and fiscal power is exercised by those who control the plasm, a geomantic energy siphoned from the earth through the foundations, walls, and ceilings of buildings in the metropolis. Plasm can be used as a healing tool, a weapon, or anything in between, channeled into any form by the will of those who can afford it. Our heroine, Aiah, is a minor functionary locked into her place in society by her race and poverty until she discovers an untapped well of plasm, then she gets to run with the big dogs in Williams’ tale of intrigue and adventure. Good stuff, Maynard.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Courage and Consequence by Karl Rove

Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the FightWhile Karl Rove is regarded by a certain band on the political spectrum as the Devil incarnate, I found his book to be a relatively straighforward series of reminiscences about his life and his involvement with Republican politics and the Bush administration. Rove wasn't born into a political family, he just developed a strong interest in the game while he was in college, and became active in the campus Republicans. His success in that arena eventually moved him on to bigger and better things, and he founded a successful business running political campaigns all over the country.

One interesting insight from Rove, "For incumbents, self-preservation is more important than maintaining their party's dominance." This plays out quite often in what used to be called gerrymandering, when counties or areas that vote for a particular party are moved to another congressional district, so as to increase the percentages in favor of the incumbent, at the expense of their party's fortunes in the rest of the state.

Democrats and their allies in the media have often identified the key elements of a "Rovian" campaign as being sneakiness, untraceability of dirty deeds, etc. In contrast, Rove identifies what he feels to be the eight elements of a true Rovian campaign: it must be centered on big ideas, pursue a theme that resonates with what voters know, be driven by historical data, use sophisticated modeling to identify supporters and match them with issues, understand that there are right and wrong ways to criticize an opponent, have a strategic plan and discipline, be volunteer-friendly, and collect vital knowledge, volunteers and money for the candidate. Sounds like a mission statement (more long-winded than most) for a successful business - which Rove had.

As you might imagine, a huge portion of the book is devoted to Rove's involvement with George W. Bush, from his gubenatorial campaign through the first six years of his presidency. Rove says that Governor Bush believed that "education is to a state government what defense is to the federal government: its first responsibility." His No Child Left Behind policy was intended to help the states to do a better job, though its implementation seems to have ruffled a lot of feathers. The major complaint (and I heard it from my teacher friends, too) was that the law forced educators to "teach to the test". If the test is one that accurately measures knowledge of the basics, then I don't understand the problem. There's enough time for fuzzy knowledge when you get to college. If you can't read, write, or perform simple mathematics, success in life is unlikely.

On the subject of "compassionate conservativism", which I've heard of, of course, but never really had explained, Rove says that when conservatives in the past have ignored the issues of poverty, education, health care and a secure retirement, it has left them to be addressed by liberals, often in ways that run counter to conservative values. He notes that most conservatives don't ignore these issues in their private lives, but instead contribute to charities, volunteer through their churches, and are involved in their communities in solving social problems.

When talking about Bush's selection of a running mate, Rove compares the vetting process candidates had to endure to "a proctology exam."

I hadn't realized that, before Bush's faith-based initiative, religious charities were actually unable to pursue federal grant money. I thought that most of them chose not to, rather than submit to the government's intrusion into their business. But the approximately $20 billion in grant money had been limited to secular charities before, to satisfy the "separation of church and state" liberal meme.

Roughly connected to a topic from my review of Superfreakonomics, it's interesting that, "By 2006, only one industrialized economy grew its GDP and at the same time reduced its absolute level of greenhouse gas emissions: The United States." Even after rejecting the Kyoto treaty, the Bush administration allocated $22 billion to climate change technology and research...more money than the rest of the world, combined.

Rove spends a little time talking about the near collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, which pretty well destroyed the housing market. While the Bush administration warned of troubles in those GSEs, and pushed for more regulation (contrary to popular narrative), Democrats in Congress filibustered legislation that would have reduced the magnitude of the problem. "Among those Democrats who backed the filibuster and opposed reform was the freshman senator from Illinois, Barack Obama. He was the third-largest recipient of campaign gifts from Fannie and Freddie employees in 2004."

On Katrina, Rove goes into the behind the scenes negotiations that may have been key in the delay in getting effective relief to New Orleans. As it turns out, by law, the federal government can only send in troops under two circumstances; when the state governor requests it, or if the president declares the region to be in a "state of insurrection." Governor Blanco didn't request federal intervention for days, and Bush was understandably reluctant to exercise the second option. Later on, when Bush appropriated $60 billion in disaster relief, Governor Blanco requested that a half billion of it be spent on a tourism advertising campaign. Really?

This book is definitely a good retrospective for you political junkies. I thought when I read the title that Rove was referring to himself, but it becomes clear in the afterword that it was George W. Bush whom he regarded as a man who always acted on the courage of his convictions, and whose presidency had consequence.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dragon, by Steven Brust

Dragon (Vlad)
I've been following the Vlad Taltos series, by Brust, for quite some time now, and I usually grab his latest novel off the shelf as soon as it hits the local stores. Dragon, which fits somewhere between Phoenix and Yendi, I think, is just out in paperback, so I bought it, then held off until I had some time to savor the entire experience in one fell swoop.

This is a good story which fills in some of the missing details from the rest of the series, such as how Vlad goes to work as Morrolan's security consultant, and how Aliera acquires the great weapon Pathfinder. We also learn a little more about Dragaeran Dragon clan (maybe it's more appropriate to call them a race) ideals and motivations.

There's plenty of action, tho of a different kind than we've grown to love Vlad for. In order to accomplish his mission, he joins an army as a foot soldier, and we see how he fares in straightforward combat, rather than his usual sneaky style. There's plenty of sarcastic dialogue and monologue from Vlad and Loish (his jhereg familiar), and a few interesting twists and turns to the plot.

However, I think Brust over-uses the device of bouncing around between times and events in Vlad's life in this one. It worked really well in Jhereg and Phoenix, but not so well in this one. Often, he switched right in the middle of a paragraph, which was disconcerting, to say the least.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Live Free or Die by John Ringo

Live Free or Die (Troy Rising)
The first novel in Ringo's Troy Rising series is just chock full of big ideas. In the near future, an alien race installs a gate to other worlds at the outskirts of the solar system, and humans are afforded the opportunity to explore the galaxy without the downside of relativistic effects. On the other hand, our solar system is now open to all comers, and it doesn't take long before the bad guys show up.

The Horvath, for no readily explained reason, are militaristic and expansionist, and they quickly seize control of Earth by dropping large rocks on several major cities, and threatening to do the same to others if humans don't give them want they want - heavy metals. It seems the gold standard still reigns in outer space, in a manner of speaking.

There is, however, a race of friendly-er aliens called the Glatun, who have a society based in a large part on trade. They show up to trade with Earth for anything that's left over after the Horvath take their tribute. Most of what we have to trade is quite primitive by their standards, so we don't have a lot of leverage in negotiations.

But Tyler Vernon, a jack of all trades, discovers fortuitously that maple syrup is an extremely intoxicating, nearly addictive substance for the Glatun, and begins a covert trade with them. After he trades a pickup truck load of 55 gallon drums to them for a large quantity of extremely advanced computer circuitry, which he then sells to technology firms around the world, he becomes wealthy enough to corner the market in maple syrup, triggering a standoff with the Horvath, who decide that it should all belong to them, as Earth's rightful masters. The Glatun decide to intervene, to keep the maple syrup flowing, and the Horvath's perceived power over Earth diminishes somewhat.

Vernon has a plan to rid Earth of its alien overlords, and he moves rapidly to secure an alliance with major Glatun trading concerns, and to buy more alien technology to build the military strength the Earth needs to confront the Horvath, and later their allies the Rangora. Along the way, Ringo introduces some novel approaches to asteroid mining, battlestation construction, terawatt lasers, and a host of other sci fi goodies.

The pace of the book is a little odd. Ringo spends a lot of time following some events in vivid detail, then jumps ahead weeks, months, or years at times to the next scene. Victories over the Horvath forces, in some cases, seem to come way too easily, but perhaps mankind is just assumed to be so warlike by nature that defeat is inconceivable.

Overall, it's entertaining, and a fun read. Looking forward to the next installment.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Frostbitten by Kelley Armstrong

I felt like I missed something when I began reading this book, because I don't recall when and where in the Women of the Otherworld series that Carl and Elena got married and had children. This story starts as Elena and Carl set out on a chase to find a mutt werewolf named Reese who fell in with bad companions and got blamed for the murder of several humans. Reese panics, and gets on a plane to Alaska, and our favorite werewolf couple are forced to follow.

Coincidentally, there have been a series of killings in the wilderness of Alaska that Jeremy, pack Alpha, wants them to look into while they're up north, so they're able to kill two wolves with one stone, so to speak. There are also a couple of ex-pack members living nearby, and Carl wants to meet with them, as they were close when he was younger.

Catching the mutt werewolf turns out to be the least complicated thing that the two must accomplish, and the situation gets far more dangerous as they encounter not only rogue werewolves, but mysterious powerful shapeshifters who have remained mostly undetected in the last American frontier for a long, long time.

Lots of good action and strong character development for Carl and Elena in this one, and things look to get even more interesting for them as the series continues.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Windmaster's Bane by Tom Dietz

Windmaster's Bane: Book One in The Tales of David Sullivan (Deitz, Tom. Tales of David Sullivan)This is a pretty fair novel of, well, not exactly urban, perhaps rural fantasy. The premise is that the Sidhe have been alive and well in Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains for centuries, and only those with the Sight have known of it. Such a person is young David Sullivan, who becomes aware of the existence of the Sidhe and finds himself a pawn in their games of power. But David is not utterly without power himself, and thereby hangs the tale. There are at least two factions of the elven kingdom, and the ones who wish to make war on the humans would like David killed or enslaved, while those who would have peace offer him their protection.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Executor by Jesse Kellerman Executor
I thought at first that perhaps Jesse Kellerman was the son of Jonathan and Faye, and would produce some excellent mysteries and thrillers, but I'm afraid he writes another genre altogether. My wife read it first and seemed to like it, so I gave him a shot. I have to say it's not exactly my cup of tea, but the writing itself shows major talent.
Kellerman tells the story of Joseph Geist, a PhD candidate in Philosophy at Harvard who is at an impasse in writing his dissertation, and seems to have stalled out in his life, as well. His girlfriend throws him out of her apartment and her life, and he's forced to find a new place to stay. He answers an ad in the student newspaper placed by someone who is looking for a "conversationalist", hoping to make a bit of money for rent.
And so begins his relationship with Alma Spielman, an elderly woman who suffers from neuralgia and loneliness. She was raised in Vienna as a child of a wealthy family, and pays Joseph quite generously to come by her house several times a week to keep her company and talk of philosophy or whatever crosses their minds.  After Joseph encounters problems with the roommates in his new place, Alma invites him to move in to her spare bedroom, and for a time there is a peaceful routine, punctuated by attacks of her illness, which worries Joseph.
Things get more complex when a ne'er-do-well nephew rolls into town and starts pestering Alma for money. Alma raised him as a child, and still loves him, so she's a soft touch when it comes to giving him money for his vices. Joseph resents this, but nothing can be done about it.
However, when Alma passes away suddenly, things get wild rapidly. She leaves the bulk of her estate to Joseph, and that portion which she leaves to the nephew is bound by some very particular conditions that must be fulfilled in order for him to claim it. I won't spoil the ending for you, you'll have to read it yourself if you really want to know, but I will say that the whole thing is very depressing, and not at all what I was expecting.
Kellerman is actually a noted young playwright, and it shows in the intensity of his writing, and the tortured nature of his characters. The protagonist, Joseph Geist, reminded me quite a bit at first of some other classic troubled and self-absorbed characters from authors I'd read, such as The Great Lorenzo from Double Star by Heinlein, and Kenneth Valentine from The Golden Globe by Varley, though his "maturation" process takes a very different twist than those characters.
One quote from the book that I really liked was "...a row of books is more than a compendium of information. It's a map of all the places your mind has been, a group of friends standing silently by to comfort you."

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dance of Death, by P.N. Elrod

Dance of Death (Jonathan Barrett, Gentleman Vampire series)
Dance of Death, the fourth in P.N Elrod’s chronicles of Jonathan Barrett, is a ho-hum continuation of a series that started with great promise, but which will probably fade into mediocrity. The undead Jonathan Barrett and his “living only as sympathetic sidekick” relatives blunder their way through another couple of weeks of tawdry intrigue and gloomy adventure.

The enemies defeated in Death Masque rise again (though none so dramatically as Barrett) to cause him yet more trouble. We are also subjected too many times to scenes of Jonathan playing “horsey” with Richard, his bastard son by Clarinda, whom he now has been given to raise by Edmund, her oft-cuckolded husband, I suspect merely for the sole purpose of illustrating how deeply Jonathan loves the boy, so that we can sympathize with his deep spiritual anguish when the boy is kidnapped and held for ransom. Quite frankly, nothing we are shown about Richard’s character (spoiled little rich kid) through these expositions would have motivated me to dive into the ocean to save him from drowning.

We also finally see Barrett reunited with his lost vampiric love Nora. What a disappointment. Throughout the last couple of novels in the series, Elrod has raised the suspense level and dropped sinister hints regarding Nora’s disappearance, but when she comes back, it turns out she was with her aged aunt, taking the waters at Bath. Elrod breaks with vampirish lore in their reunion and allows the two to make love and to exchange blood, though the reunion could really have been made poignant and tragic by sticking to tradition and forcing them to settle for a passionate yet platonic eternity.

As always, Barrett keeps getting shot, stabbed, and clubbed into insensibility, then making a recovery after the villains have fled. No one ever seems to twig to the occult possibilities, possible because he predictably uses his hypnotic powers to erase suspicions. If I’d just seen someone shot or stabbed to death, who healed in the space of a few minutes, I think I’d protest rather loudly if his loyal cousin tried to take me in for a private conference. Feets, do your duty!

If you’ve been following the series, this one is worth the price in the used bookstores, but don’t blow full price for it, like I did.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

The Devil You Know by Mike Carey

The Devil You Know (Felix Castor)
This was the first novel I'd ever read by Mike Carey, and it may, indeed, be his first novel ever. Felix "Fix" Castor is a rather reluctant exorcist, having had some bad experiences in the past. He makes ends meet by doing the occasional odd job around London, and even the odd bit of magic at parties, most of which is standard sleight of hand, but every once in a while, when he's properly motivated, he adds a touch of the supernatural to his act.
Fix's last attempt at exorcism went very badly for a friend of his, Rafi. Rafi had been experimenting with summoning demons, and when he became possessed by one, Fix's effort to drive out the demon from his body ended up driving Rafi out, instead. On a visit to Rafi at the insane asylum, the demon (unimaginatively named "Asmodeus") tells Fix that he's about to accept a job that's going to kill him.
Fix is contacted after that by the director of the Bonnington Archive, who wants him to get rid of a ghost that's been haunting the archive for several months. Ghosts generally don't behave too badly, but this one seems to be seriously upset about something, and has actually injured one of the workers there. Fix tries his best to avoid taking the job, but some unfortunate events (not quite a series of them) and a desperate need for cash force his hand.
Now, after a brief bit of investigation, Fix could have just banished the ghost to wherever it was supposed to go when it died, but he begins to suspect there's more involved in this haunting than meets the eye, so he drags things out a bit and continues to investigate what's been happening at the archive to try to figure out why the ghost is haunting that location in the first place.
In so doing, he runs afoul of the seamier, seedier side of London. He's dragged to a meeting with the proprietor of a whorehouse, ostensibly to sweep it for ghosts, but actually more so the owner can take his measure. Fix suspects the man is somehow involved in what's going on at the archive, but can't quite make the connection.
Things get dicey for a bit, but it all falls out well in the end, at least for Fix and most of his friends. Interesting almost anti-hero, twisty plot, and a good bit of dark urban fantasy here, folks. Worth the read, and worth keeping an eye on Mr. Carey and his pal, Fix.

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