Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Top 10 Characters I'd be BFFs With

I don't ordinarily do a lot of memes or lists, but I got a kick out of seeing this posting by Kelly A. at Fresh off the Shelf, so I thought I'd give it a go:
1. Aragorn
2. Prince Rhodar "Silk"
3. Peter Decker
4. Jack Reacher
5. Miles Vorkosigan
6. Michael Valentine Smith
7. Dominic Flandry
8. Vlad Taltos
9. Tarl Cabot
10. R. Daneel Olivaw

Ok, so there's no female characters in this list. I haven't remained married for 27 years by having a bunch of women as BFFs, ya know.

iCon: Steve Jobs: The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business by Jeffrey S. Young and William L. Simon

iCon Steve Jobs: The Greatest Second Act in the History of BusinessWow! With a title that long, there's not much room left for a review. This book was definitely not a puff piece written by Apple's PR flacks. I thought, at times, that Simon and Young might actually have an axe to grind against Jobs, as they were pretty brutal in their assessment of his character, personality, and ethics.

What was really interesting was the story of how Apple got started and eventually became the powerhouse it is today. The sheer boldness of Jobs' approach to getting the fledgling business its initial funding and bringing his product to market was definitely educational. The political machinations and backstabbing that took place as time went on was both interesting and disturbing.

There was a good bit of information about Pixar, its relationship with Disney, and the story of how they brought their first mega-hit, Toy Story, to theatres. Unfortunately, things bogged down a bit while the authors got sidetracked into lengthy discussions of internal politics at Disney, which I am sure are more thoroughly covered in Eisner's unauthorized biographies and other Magic Kingdom exposes.

Young and Simon also share the backstory on the creation of the iPod and its successors, which have once again catapulted Apple to the top of the business world. The tale of how Jobs got the music industry on board with his music downloading business model, iTunes, shows that he definitely has matured as a businessman over the years.

Anyway, if you're curious about Jobs, Apple, Pixar, etc. this is a pretty good read, except for some of the aforementioned wallowing in office politics that tend to slow things down. Maybe the authors were paid by the word for this one. If I find a tighter tale on the subject, I'll let you know.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sanctuaried, by Roger E. Hawkins, Ph.D.

Sanctuaried: The CEO Divining Rod
Dr. Hawkins was kind enough to send me a copy of his book, Sanctuaried, for review a few weeks ago. The title, Sanctuaried, refers to those corporate executivies who have made it to the rarified level of CEO within their company, or an equivalent level of responsibility. He does make it clear in the preface that a) this is not a book on leadership and b) this is not a self-help book. It is instead a study of the skills, experience, personalities and other traits that led to success for these individuals.

That said, it appears to be a very thorough study of what Hawkins calls SLEs, Significant Life Events, and how these events affected the individuals in the study throughout their lives, careers, and retirements, complete with charts, numerical analysis, and appendices. Unfortunately, from my point of view, it reads like a doctoral thesis (and probably was), and there wasn't much takeaway for the average joe out to improve his business and leadership skills.

Most of the SLEs that these executives said had affected them the most are the type of events that nearly all of us have had in our lives (if we live long enough), ranging from the death of a family member to marriages, having children, playing sports, having a mentor, serving in the military...you get the picture. I really didn't see any theme that tied it all together.

Ok if you're looking for a bare bones summary of how 30 men clawed their way to the top, stayed there or fell, and dealt with life after retirement.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday Follies #2

The cover art by Kelly Freas from my copy of Astounding Science Fiction September 1954 (British edition)

Stories inside:
Fighting Philosopher by E. B. Cole
Rite of Passage by  Chad Oliver
The Thousandth Year by Robert Abernathy
Marshmallow World by Joseph Whitehall
Age of Retirement by Hal Lynch

Washday Minus Zero by Wallace West
To Build a Robot Brain by Murray Leinster

Book Blogger Hop - November 26 to 29

Time for the Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Jennifer at Crazy for Books, once again.

Book Blogger Hop

Today's question:

"What is your favorite book cover?"

Oh, my. I don't really pay any attention to book covers, to tell you the truth. I'm strictly a title and content kind of guy - no artistic or esthetic sense whatsoever. As a group of covers goes, I like to look at the old Frazetta and Vallejo cover art on my old Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks. Hannes Bok did some great work, too.

Inside the Tornado by Geoffrey A. Moore

Inside the Tornado: Strategies for Developing, Leveraging, and Surviving Hypergrowth Markets (Collins Business Essentials)
Inside the Tornado was a book I picked out of a pile destined for the trash bin at work. (I feel like a "rescue" worker at the animal shelter sometimes) I took it to Portugal with me, but didn't get around to reading it there, as I was on the run from the moment we touched down, it seemed. Finally cracked it open a few weeks ago, and had mixed feelings about what I found there.

On the downside, it's horribly dated. This is a book about marketing strategy in the high tech business, and it was written in 1995. Unless Moore has issued a revised edition, with examples from companies that are major players in the market today, replacing the ones that have died a rapid death, the examples won't seem relevant. For example, he talks about the rosy future for a company developing and deploying inertial locator and tracking technology, and GPS has pretty well wiped out that market by now.

However, I worked in the high tech industry in that time period, and I could relate to some of what Moore shared in his book. Also, I think some of the principles still apply, so it wasn't altogether a waste of time to read, and I think marketers today could take them to heart.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Owlsight by Mercedes Lackey

Owlsight (Valdemar: Darian's Tale, Book 2)Owlsight, sequel to Owlflight, is a fair-to-middlin' piece of adolescent fantasy (no, no not that kind of adolescent fantasy!). We pick up the story of Damian a year or so after the last book and also weave in the tale of Keithra, a young healer in the village of Errold's Grove.

Once again, too much time has passed since I read the first book in the series, and it wasn't worth investing the time re-reading it to get the feeling for how this book fits into the larger tapestry of the Valdemar series, so I ended up reading this one in fits and starts. One of Lackey's problems in some of her recent fiction is the whole concept that all of the "good guys" in the story will somehow be reasonable and nice and live happily ever after, once their minor misunderstandings are out of the way. It seems as if, at one time, Lackey actually put together some really nasty villains in her novels and built characters with depth.

The more I read, however, the less I cared about how things turned out. The trials and tribulations of Damian's and Keithra's coming of age weren't all that exciting. I'll probably pick up the last book in this set, Owlknight, just to avoid a gap on the bookshelves, but I'll wait till it hits the used bookstores.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Extraordinary, Ordinary People by Condoleeza Rice

Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family
Every so often, and sometimes even by design, the sequence of books I'm reading takes on a theme. I saw Condi Rice on a talk show a few weeks ago, and liked the sound of her book, so I put in a hold request at the library. I recently posted over on Soon Remembered Tales about Juan Williams' book, Enough. A big part of that book was about the power of education, and how it can lift minorities from poverty. This theme is HUGE in Rice's autobiography.

Condoleeza Rice was raised in a black home in Birmingham, Alabama during some of the worst civil rights abuses and strongly racist environment that this country has ever seen, since the abolition of slavery. Yet her extended family managed to succeed and live a middle class lifestyle from shortly after the Civil War ended through the power of education, basically. Her grandparents did everything they could to learn to read and write (which was forbidden to blacks under slavery), and get high school and college educations. On both her mother's and father's sides of the family, they produced preachers and teachers, mostly, and some of them like her father, did both.

Condi's folks knew that education was the key to advancement in America, and they pounded that idea home, not only in her upbringing, but with every young person they interacted with. Her father, John Rice, considered himself an education evangelist, fully sold out to the gospel of higher education. Her mother, Anna, was also a teacher, and spent her entire life encouraging the children in her classrooms to go on to college. There are a couple of anecdotes in this book about Condi's grandfather actually driving cross country to bring back a straying relative and enroll them in college.

Condi began her college education as a music performance major, but realized after a while that that wasn't anything she could see herself doing as a long term career, so she switched to political science and international relations, eventually winning her degree at Denver University. Later, she got her masters and doctoral degrees, and went on to serve as a national security advisor in the first and second Bush administrations, as well as Secretary of State. Ms. Rice was, in my opinion, driven to succeed, by the high expectations and strong work ethic her family taught.

She openly admits that a certain amount of the opportunities she was given were a result of affirmative action, but if she hadn't been willing and able and prepared to do the work "twice as well as a white person", she would never have attained the level of success which she has.

Condi did a lot of work with minority students in Palo Alto after she left the first Bush White House. One approach that had a lot of success was in pairing young blacks with successful blacks in college or faculty positions - mentorships. The president of Stanford worried that she was setting up a miniature "segregated" academic system. Condi writes, "Ironically, that was exactly what I was doing - trying to reproduce elements of my segregated childhood, when teachers did no worry about being called racists for their high expectations and "no victims" approach."

I find it interesting or ironic, myself, that blacks actually did a better job of educating themselves, and succeeding in America, prior to segregation, in some senses. This happened even in the face of horrible discrimination, and appalling lack of funding and supplies. I think the two main reasons for this are that they were usually taught by fellow blacks, who had a vested interest, and a very strong desire, to see their children and their people get the best possible education - teachers like Condi's family, and they had a positive attitude towards education reinforced by families that believed strongly that with hard work and a good education, blacks could truly attain the American Dream.

A great read, all the way around.  

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

On Basilisk Station by David Weber

On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington)Here is the book where the whole Honor Harrington saga begins. We first meet Honor as she assumes command of HMS Fearless, a refitted cruiser in the Royal Manticoran Navy which is testing new weapons design in mock battles. When Honor and her ship fail to live up to the expectations of the admirals in the R&D ministry, they are sent in disgrace to the backwater planet of Medusa and Basilisk Station.

The commander of Basilisk station is a political hack named Pavel Young, who has a score to settle with Honor from their days at the academy together. He takes the opportunity to set her up for failure by leaving the entire system under her command, woefully undermannned. However, he hasn't reckoned on Honor's determination to do the job, whatever it takes.

Under a series of incompentent commanders, Medusa and Basilisk Station have become a haven for smugglers and a center for subversive activities of the People's Republic of Haven, Manticore's enemies. Honor's creative use of the technology and personnel at her disposal soon brings smuggling activities to a crashing halt, earning her the enmity of powerful merchant princes whose ships are carrying contraband.

The PRH's tactics prove a little tougher to unravel and thwart, however. There's plenty of tricks, traps, and interesting twists that set the stage for all the Honor novels to follow.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Children No More by Mark L. Van Name

Children No More (Jon and Lobo)They say to be careful what you ask for. I'd hoped in my last review that Jon & Lobo would someday take a job they walked into with eyes wide open, not having to be tricked into it. Got it in Children No More. Jon is hired by an old mercenary buddy, Lim, to rescue a group of child soldiers from the rebels controlling them on the planet Tumani. The only wrinkle at the beginning is that Maggie, from an earlier book, is part of a group funding the rescue, because one of the children is a descendent of PinklePonker.

The original operation goes smoothly, and Lim's people begin to try to re-educate the boys, who have been addicted to drugs by their captors, and have been brutalized to make them vicious fighters. As we might expect from Jon's history, the double-cross comes shortly thereafter when the local politicians renege on their promise to let the child soldiers be helped and adopted by families, finding a political use for them, instead. When you get swindled, how else do you get your revenge except by swindling right back? Jon calls his buddy, Jack, and things go a little twisty.

This book is filled with flashbacks to Jon's childhood, and we really learn a whole lot more about his history. We get to know his old friend, Benny, who trained Jon to fight after he was dumped on a planet for undesirables, and who was also part of the nanomachine expirement. This back story really fleshes out Jon's motivations for helping Lim far beyond his original contract. Nothing terribly complex or thought provoking, unless you use this book as a jumping off point for learning more about the cause of rescuing child soldiers. Van Name mentions in his afterword that there are around 300,000 children being exploited as soldiers worldwide today.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Press Release - What So Proudly We Hailed by James Howard

I haven't read this one yet, but have requested a review copy.

Charleston, SC - November 15, 2010 - Imagine what would happen if eighty percent of the United States were without power for three or four months. All banking and commercial transfers locked up; funds inaccessible. Wholesale and retail distribution shut down; no computers to manage sales. Passenger and freight lines grind to a halt; no electricity for the fuel pumps. No cell phone or landline service; systems down indefinitely. And the worst aspect of all; a total breakdown of law and order.

This is the setting of What So Proudly We Hailed. The unthinkable has happened; a limited nuclear missile strike has destroyed the power grid beyond any immediate repair. The protagonist, Jason Ribault, sensing the societal breakdown to come, flees with his family in an old cabin cruiser to wait out the worst of the chaos behind the deserted barrier islands of the South Carolina coast. There they listen to unfolding events on a short-wave radio, not the least of which concerns a hostile political influence seeking to seize control of a nation struggling to right itself once again. 

Pursued by their own immediate dangers, the family is pushed farther and farther into the desolate salt marshes where they find other families in hiding. Eventually, anxious to unite with a family member in danger, they turn back into the chaos, to see the full extent of what has happened to the America they knew.

Electric with page-turning suspense, What So Proudly We Hailed is an eye-opening book every American must read.

About the book:
What So Proudly We Hailed by James Howard
ISBN: 978-1453672433
Publisher: CreateSpace
Date of publish: July 2, 2010
Pages: 280
S.R.P.: $12.00

About the author:
James Howard is a veteran of the US Navy's nuclear weapons program. He has also spent twenty years working in heavy industry, including electrical power generation and distribution, and knows much about our nation's power grid. These experiences, combined with his study of Bible prophesy, world history, and Islam, make him uniquely qualified to write this novel.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Follies #1

The cover art by Edward Valigursky from my copy of Amazing Stories, June 1958

Stories inside:
Today is Forever by Oscar Friend
Red Moon Rising by Robert Bloch
Mayhem Enslaved by C. H. Thomas
Space is for Suckers by P. F. Costello
Prophecy, Inc. by Roger Phillips
Daddy Fix? by Al Sevcik

Book Blogger Hop - November 19 to 22

It's Friday, and time for the Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Jennifer at Crazy for Books.
Book Blogger Hop
Today's question:
"Since Thanksgiving is coming up next week, let's use this week's Hop to share what we are most thankful for and what our holiday traditions are!"

I am thankful that I live in the United States of America, the greatest place in the world, yet I have the freedom to travel to other countries, to enjoy their cultures, and to meet people.
I am thankful for a wonderful wife and two great adult children, and for great neighbors and a host of friends, both online and in the "real" world.
I am thankful for good health, a roof over my head, and productive work to do.
Most of all I am thankful for my savior, Jesus Christ, and what he did for me on the cross.

Dark Moon Defender by Sharon Shinn

Dark Moon Defender is the third in the Twelve Houses books by Shinn. As I read this series, it seems to me that they fall somewhere between the "buddy movie" and the "questing fellowship". The band of characters established in the first couple of books just float in and out of this one, as needed. The main focus is on Justin, a King's Rider with a rough past. He was the illegitimate son of a prostitute, lived as a thief on the streets, but met his match when he tried to rob Tayse, a King's Rider. Tayse saw something in young Justin and recruited him to the Riders, and now Justin is fiercely loyal to the Riders, King Baryn, but mostly Tayse. "If he ever had to chose between saving the king's life or saving Tayse's, he would save the king's, but only because it was what Tayse would expect of him."

Justin is sent on a clandestine mission to the town of Neft, which is close to the Shrine of the Pale Mother, where Coralinda Gisseltesse runs a cult which persecutes and kills any mystics it finds. Coralinda is also suspected of plotting rebellion against King Baryn with her brother, Halchon, so Justin's instructions are to keep an eye on things and report back any suspicious behavior.

One night, Justin saves a young initiate of the cult from being assaulted by a drunken thug, and finds himself inexplicably drawn to her. He begins to meet with her, telling himself that it's another way to gather information about Coralinda's plots, but it's obvious there's a bit of romance in the air.

The girl, Ellynor, is a member of one of the Lirren clans, who was sent to accompany her cousin, Rosurie, to the shrine, where her family hopes to keep Rosurie out of trouble, sending her away from a boy from a clan unallied with her own (shades of Hatfield and McCoy here). It's become apparent to Ellynor, though, that girls who come to the shrine are not allowed to leave later. What's not so apparent to her, but is apparent to anyone who's been following the series, is that the gift of healing that she has naturally, and some of her other abilities, mark her as a mystic. It's only a matter of time before someone in the cult figures it out and she is exposed, probably to be burned at the stake for her "crimes."

So, we have an undercover King's Rider who falls in love with a feisty, naive mystic. What could possibly go wrong? Shinn tells a great tale, as always, and I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Thirteenth House by Sharon Shinn

The Thirteenth House (The Twelve Houses, Book 2)
This book is a sequel to Mystic and Rider, which was a pretty fun read. This reminds me why I've enjoyed having my own personal massive library for so long. Books in a series end up getting put in the library, and when new one comes out, I can re-read the earlier ones to get back up to speed before I start the fresh novel. Unfortunately, this novel had no "what has gone before" section, so I was wondering throughout just who all these peeps were.

Despite that, it was a fun novel. We have a kingdom with a young female heir, and everyone is involved in political maneuvering to be ready for the old king to die, so they can grab all the power possible. The king has appointed a regent, and the beginning of the story is about his rescue from kidnappers by a group of mystics and a king's rider (see previous title). This group is more or less protegees of the earlier group, but they seem to work well together, in this and other escapades throughout.

Nothing really earth-shattering happens, as far as the entire kingdom is concerned, in this sequel to M&R, but we discover more information about the powers of the mystics, some of the factional struggles become clearer, and there's an awful lot of schemes and assassination attempts made on the regent and the princess, which are thwarted quite nicely by our little group.

So, it's a bit of mindless entertainment, which is not exactly what we've come to expect from Shinn. She always tells a good story, but usually there's some sort of deeper meaning and more poignant internal struggles for her characters. Read the first one in the series, then this one, and you'll be amused for an evening or two. Or, you can wait till the series is complete and do them all in one fell swoop.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games: Book 1
I've been hearing great things about Suzanne Collins' trilogy for a long time. My daughter, who is not a big SF fan, read and enjoyed it, and her brother-in-law loved it, and loaned me the books. While they were sitting on my nightstand, my wife read and loved the first two, and my neighbor's wife called and asked to borrow the second book, having finished the first late one night. So, it was with a considerable sense of anticipation that I picked up The Hunger Games, and began to read.

It's been a long time since I read any post-apocalyptic fiction, as it went out of fashion in the 80s, when the threat of nuclear war finally fell off our national mental radar. The Hunger Games appears to be set in a post-U.S. world, where the country is now divided into 12 districts, under the control of a central government. It used to be 13, but the 13th rebelled a while back, and was utterly annihilated. I wondered a bit at the choice of 13 districts, whether it was modeled on the original 13 colonies, was picked as an unlucky number, or had something to do with the number at the Last Supper, with the 13th being the betrayer.

Life is not uniformly good in the twelve districts, as some have more resources than others, and as part of their "contract" with the government, each district must pay a "tribute" of two children, chosen by lottery, each year for The Hunger Games. The Hunger Games are what I thought the tv show, Survivor, was going to be more like when I heard the concept, except that in the games, the last person surviving wins, and anything, including murder, is encouraged.

Katniss lives in the twelfth district, a poor area, and has spent much of her childhood hunting and scavenging to help feed her baby sister and utterly clueless mother. She's good with a snare and a bow, and has spent a lot of time in the wild areas near her home. When her sister's name is drawn in the lottery to participate in the slaughter, Katniss volunteers to go in her place.

In my opinion, there's really nothing surprising in this book. Katniss' trials in the games are well-written and convey her sense of desperation and fear, but the outcome is never really in doubt. There's a bit of the David and Goliath thing going, as she's a little scrawny and underfed due to her history, while the tributes from the more prosperous districts are bigger, stronger, faster, and have spent their lives training to fight. We all love to see an underdog win, and perhaps that's the appeal of this book.

There are, however, some political rumblings scattered throughout the book that bode well for the next couple of sequels. Not everyone is happy with the way the government is running things, and I think it likely that Katniss may become either a symbol or a leader for a revolution. We'll see how Collins handles it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mystic and Rider by Sharon Shinn

Mystic and Rider (The Twelve Houses, Book 1)
When I picked up a copy of The Thirteenth House, by Shinn, I just had to go back and re-read the first book in the series to refresh my memory of "that which has gone before." I enjoyed it nearly as much as the first time around (perhaps it's a short term memory loss thing).

In Mystic, we have a group of people - Tayse, a senior King's Rider, Justin, a novice Rider, Senneth, a powerful mystic, Kirra, a shape-shifting mystic, and Donnal, another shape-shifter - who have been sent on a mission by King Baryn to investigate rumors of dissent in the southern provinces. Early in their journey, they acquire another companion, Cammon, whom they rescue from a somewhat abusive state of domestic servitude, and who turns out to be a sensitive type of mystic; he can sense the thoughts and intentions of those around him.

This novel does a really good job of introducing us to about half of the provinces of Gillengaria, King Baryn's realm. As the group prepares to deal with each ruler, or marlord, there's a good bit of dialogue discussing their character, strengths and weaknesses, political leanings, and so forth. Also, during one long night around the fire, we get to hear the back story for each of the companions. Tayse is the quintessential military brat; his father was a Rider, and his grandfather before him. Justin grew up as a street urchin, but was recruited by Tayse after Justin attempted to rob him, and now is fiercely loyal to Tayse and the King's Riders for giving him a home and family, of sorts.

Senneth was born to a noble house, but was disowned by her father and spent years wandering alone through Gillengaria and surrounding regions before she was recruited by the King to use her mystic powers on his behalf, and spy for him, as well. Kirra is also a noble, but her father was more tolerant of her mystical abilities, and raised her in an atmosphere of love and support. Donnal is the son of a poacher living on Kirra's father's lands, who was brought to the estate to train with Kirra in the mystic arts. Cammon is an orphan, and finds in this odd group a sense of belonging he's never had before.

This series isn't as intensely emotional and powerful as her earlier Samaria books, but the political intrigue pretty well makes up for it. The villains, as well, have believable motivations and back stories. If I got into them in any depth, I'd have to give a spoiler alert, so I won't. The primary villains are a brother and sister, Halchon and Coralinda Gisseltesse. Halchon's need for power and influence lead him to begin his plotting to depose the king, and could embroil Gillengaria in a civil war. Coralinda is a religious fanatic, leader of the Sisters of the Pale Mother, and her self-proclaimed mission is to rid the land of all mystics, whom she believes are evil personified.

Mystic and Rider is a great yarn, and a great beginning to another well-written series by Shinn. It's out in paperback now, so pick it up and enjoy.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Side Jobs by Jim Butcher

Side Jobs: Stories From the Dresden Files
One thing that irritates me is when an author repackages previous works and the publisher markets them very slickly as new. I've only been bitten a couple of times, because I've read so much SF that I nearly always have to read a bit of a "new" book out at the store to make sure that I haven't read it before. I managed to avoid buying the repackaged Vorkosigan adventures like Young Miles; Miles, Microbes and Mayhem, etc. With Side Jobs, I only got burned a little bit. I very seldom buy theme anthologies, as it seems to me they often package one or two good stories by recognized authors with a bunch of drivel by newbies or second-raters. I recently picked up a copy of Mean Streets, which contained The Warrior - a story that appears again in this collection by Butcher. So, all but one of a dozen or so were new to me.

If you're a big Dresden fan, you'll probably do the same thing I did (and at least one other fan I know), which is to read the last story in the book first. It's called Aftermath, and it's told from Karrin Murphy's point of view, taking place in the hours after Harry's disappearance/death? at the conclusion of Changes. While it reveals nothing new about Harry's fate (oops, spoiler, sorta), it does teach us some new things about Karrin and Harry's other friends.

The stories are varied, in length and theme. Some are whimsical, light numbers, and others are darker and more revealing. Even Butcher's very first Dresden story, never before published, and which he decries as being unpolished and amateurish, is worth reading. In these "out-takes" we learn a lot more about Billy and his werewolves, Karrin Murphy, Harry's brother Thomas, and his apprentice, Molly.

McAnnally and his beer are featured in a couple of the stories. In one, a grendelkin makes off with a keg of beer from a brewers' competition, as well as a sacrificial virgin. We get to know Gard, Marcone's Valkyrie, quite a bit better in this tale. In the other, worshipers of forgotten gods add a little extra magical kick to a few cases of Mac's, and try to get a little Bacchanalian revel going at a Bulls game. Harry manages to save the fair maiden and kick some dragon-ish tail - just another day's work.

If you've been following these stories about Harry from other editors' releases, you might not want to spend the money on this one. But if you haven't paid for the anthologies, then this is a good bit of Dresden apocrypha for your collection.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Book Blogger Hop - November 12 to 15

Time for the Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Jennifer at Crazy for Books.

Book Blogger Hop

The question today is:
"If you find a book that looks interesting but is part of a series, do you always start with the first title?"
My answer:
I always start with the first book. I can't stand coming in on the middle of a story. Sometimes this means it's a long time before I can read an existing series, while I locate and acquire each of the books.

Fleet of Worlds by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner

Fleet of Worlds
It's been a long time since I read any of Larry Niven's books. I have volume upon volume on the shelves, but the last few years most of what he's written hasn't been all that great, even though he pairs up with different writers to try new things. That said, this one was actually not too bad. Not a classic, but readable and somewhat interesting.

The book opens with a ramship from Earth finding a roving ice world out in the middle of nowhere, galactically speaking. When they send a radio signal to the world to contact anything that might be living there, they are attacked by monstrous robots, scene over.

We cut to several hundred years later, on a scout ship crewed by Colonists, humans who are the descendants of the humans on the ramship, raised in ignorance of their true history, and owned by Citizens, the Puppeteers from the Tales of Known Space stories by Niven. The Puppeteers discovered that the Galactic Core was exploding, and would eradicate all life near their home worlds, so they used highly advanced technology to send their homeworld and colonies on a long journey to escape the catastrophe. When they were contacted by humans, at first, they captured their vessel to prevent them from reporting back to Earth on the location of the Puppeteer home world. Their treatment of the passengers and their descendents all logically follow from that.

The crew of the scout ship, Kirsten, Omar and Eric, and Citizen Nessus are on a mission to assess the planetary systems in the path of the migration, to see if any pose a danger now or in the future to the Citizen home worlds, the Fleet of Worlds. Kirsten discovers some odd things on the mission, that lead her to believe that she and her fellow Colonists have been lied to about their past, and most of the book details the crew's efforts to find out the truth.

One minor flaw in the book, if I remember my earlier Niven: When Beowulf Shafer is hired to investigate what could possibly have penetrated an impenetrable General Products hull, manufactured by the Puppeteers, he discovers that it was the tides from a black hole. The Puppeteers never conceived of tidal forces when they created the hulls because their home world had no moons, therefore no tides. In FoW, one scene clearly describes the tides on one of the worlds, caused by the combination of the other worlds' gravitational forces. Just a niggling inconsistency for me.

Over all, not a bad book to while away these chilly fall evenings.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Now Appearing

Check out my guest post on Erica's blog, Soon Remembered Tales.


Melusine by Sarah Monette

MelusineWow, this was some really dark fantasy. I nearly hated it, but I couldn't really put it down. I still am not sure I entirely understand the setting of the novel; it's like some huge decadent and decaying empire, with history and political wrangling merely hinted at in tantalizing morsels scattered within the story. The action begins in the city of Melusine, ruled by a lord protector whose court appears to be an ad hoc group of wizards (called hocuses) and assorted nobles.

Felix, one of the primary protagonists in the novel, is a hocus and a member of the court. He has a quite scandalous past, which no one at court is aware of, and when tidbits are let drop, his life begins to unravel. He has a huge fight with his lover, stomps off and gets involved with his old teacher, Malkar, who uses him in a diabolical bit of conjuring which destroys the Virtu, a magical ward of sorts that protects the fortress of Mirador in the city of Melusine.

The other protagonist, Mildmay, is a cat burglar, who lives in Melusine, far away from the grandeur of the court. He gets hired by a woman to steal some jewelry from a former lover, gets involved with her, and when the city begins to self-destruct in the wake of the Virtu's destruction, she is murdered and he becomes a fugitive.

The consequences to Felix of the ritual Malkar uses is that he loses his magical powers, is branded a traitor, and goes (as far as anyone can tell) stark raving mad. The protector's counselors have him committed to an asylum for a time, and the passages describing his hallucinations and other symptoms of madness are quite vivid.

The pov switches back and forth from Felix to Mildmay and vice-versa rapidly, and it's sometimes tough to know who's telling the tale, if you're not paying attention. Despite my usual dislike of multiple povs, this worked quite well as done by Monette, and I got caught up with actually caring what happens to them.

This one was like a good cup of coffee, dark and rich.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Kiss of Shadows by Laurell K. Hamilton

A Kiss of Shadows (Meredith Gentry, Book 1)I got motivated to re-read A Kiss of Shadows the other day. This is the first book in the Merry Gentry urban fantasy series by Hamilton, author of the popular Anita Blake books. Merry is actually Meredith nic Essus, a princess of the Unseelie court of the fey, who has been hiding amongst the humans in Los Angeles ever since she left the court three years before when she feared that the next assassination attempt (disguised as a duel) by her cousin, son of the Queen of Air and Darkness, Cel, would succeed.

The fey have been living somewhat openly in the United States since Thomas Jefferson offered them a home, fleeing persecution in Europe. They had to give up many of their powers as a condition of immigration, and they are also subject to some stringent laws about what they may and may not do. No more kidnapping underage humans as pets, or allowing humans to worship them as gods, and they are not allowed to use magic to influence humans in any way, other than to use their glamours to mask their unworldly beauty, so humans don't become elf-struck.

As the novel begins, Merry, working as a private investigator, discovers that one of the fey has been gathering worshipers among the humans. She goes undercover to try to find out what's going on, and is very nearly raped by one of the followers who doses her with Bronwyn's Tears - sort of a supernatural date rape drug. She kills him in self defense, with the help of some mysterious external agency.

Soon, she finds her self-imposed exile crumbling when Sholto, Lord of the Sluagh (the court of supernatural beings too deformed or depraved for even the Unseelie fey to welcome), arrives with his minions in LA to hunt her down. It turns out that Queen Andais has requested her presence back at court, and Sholto is merely the bearer of bad tidings. Doyle, the Queen's Darkness, has also been sent to find her, and he gets mixed up in the struggle as Merry resists being taken home. One of Sholto's consorts attempts to murder Merry, and she comes belatedly into her first fey Power, the Hand of Flesh, with which she can turn a fey into a nasty little ball of flesh, trapped in amorphous-ness forever.

Doyle gains Merry's trust and returns with her to her aunt's court, where she encounters all the intrigue and backstabbing she's come to expect, but some pleasant surprises, as well.

Like all of Hamilton's more recent novels, this one is packed with graphic sex and violence, so if that turns you off, I recommend avoiding the series. Hamilton has gone beyond the point of Paranormal Romance into Paranormal Porn, I believe. I wonder at times if she's done this intentionally to increase her reader base - sorta like those bloggers who gratuitously include beefcake and cheesecake pix on their sites - so as to be financially freed to explore some of her deeper themes and plots.

This novel really sets the scene quite well for the series to follow. I really love the way she fleshes out the major characters. Queen Andais is delightfully amoral and ruthless. Sholto's deformities have made him a dreadfully insecure King of the damned. Doyle is a truly honorable chief of the Queen's Guards, who is conflicted as he sees the court and its power decay and decline. One of his sidekicks, known as The Killing Frost, begins as strikingly beautiful and arrogant, but some cracks begin to appear in his armor over the course of the book. Rhys was once a death god, who lost many of his powers and all of his followers when the fey came to America, who loves film noir and Bogart.

Hamilton always twists a good yarn, especially in the early going in her series.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Press Release - The Tranquility Initiative by Joan Meijer

I just received this press release. I haven't read the book, yet, though I've asked for a review copy. I'll let you know how it is as soon as I have.

Palmdale, CA - Nov 8, 2010 - Author Joan Meijer announces the release of her latest work, The Tranquillity Initiative .

The Tranquillity Initiative is a medical thriller about an anthrax attack on New York City.  It is a book that is so in tune with current events that author Joan Meijer had to rewrite significant parts of it as the present kept catching up and passing her fiction.

Starting with a President who is caught in an unpopular war during a re-election campaign, the action of this story moves the reader through authorization of the use of illegal anthrax weaponry on another country, weapons stolen from our overseas bases and returned to the United States through a customs that was not warned about the danger because of the fear that the Administration might be found to have engaged in illegal use of germ warfare.  As Bob Woodward discussed in Obama's Wars, the military has taken over this Administration and tactics that were frowned upon overseas have come back to haunt us.

Two bombs are smuggled into New York City. One is opened and, when no explosives are found inside them, the terrorists make the connection to a debilitating outbreak of pulmonary anthrax that has brought their home country Astrakhan to its knees.  They release the contents of the bomb into Times Square precipitating an outbreak of this rare disease in the thousands.

In the remainder of the story Doctor Cassandra Williams and Senator Richland Powell, Junior Senator from New York work to identify the epicenter of the epidemic that has struck the city in order to find clues that can identify where it was released so they can stop the aerial deployment of the second bomb from one of New York's historic skyscrapers.  That release would bring New York to its knees, resulting in the deaths of millions and the mayhem that would follow.  Even as Williams and Powell struggle to locate and stop the terrorists, a cadre of ex-military attempt to kill Cassandra, and her anthrax specialist father Doctor Stuart Williams, in order to prevent them from identifying the bacilli as made in America and bringing down the Administration which is their power base.

About the book:
The Tranquillity Initiative by Joan Meijer
ISBN: 978-1609114336
Publisher: Eloquent Books
Date of publish: August 15, 2010
Pages: 308
S.R.P.: $15.95

About the author:
Joan Meijer is the co-author with Suzy Prudden of the best selling "MetaFitness: Your Thoughts Taking Shape" and 15 other books including "Date Rape: It's Not Your Fault." The Tranquillity Initiative is her second novel.   She lives with her family in Palmdale, California.

Masters of Cardalba Series by Tom Deitz

Every so often, I am moved to pick up the works of a new (to me) author when my old favorites aren't producing new works fast enough to keep up with my appetites. Tom Deitz has been writing fantasy for a few years now, but I just bought his trilogy about the Masters of Cardalba, and read the first one, Soulsmith. It was a pleasant surprise.

Note: By the time I got around to finishing this review, I had read the whole trilogy, so it became a bit difficult to say something inane like "I'm looking forward to the sequel", so I've decided to review them as a whole.

Soulsmith is the story of Ronny Dillon, a young man who has just lost everything that he loves, a promising swimming and diving competitor who destroys his kneecap in a 10 meter fall, and whose parents are killed in a freak automobile accident the same day. Ronny is sent to live with relatives in a remote small town in Georgia, where things begin to get a little strange.

Ronny's great uncle Matt is the Master of Cardalba, latest in a line of masters who have used their Luck, minor magical powers akin to ESP, to make the town and people surrounding their estate prosperous. The Masters have historically been benevolent, but Matt, the product of an incestuous relationship, has gone a little paranoiac and power-mad, and is bent on restoring his estate to its pre-Civil War glory, no matter what the cost. Ronny and his cousin, Lew, must battle against Matt and Anson, his renegade protege, to save themselves, and the town from dire consequences.

Soulsmith moves a bit slowly throughout, but has a lot of nifty plot twists good characterizations. One of the things I though was neat was that each initiate of the Luck has a Flaw, a sort of Achilles heel known only to three people which will kill them if it becomes necessary for the "good of the Land". Also, there's a wacky character called The Road Man who teaches Ronny about how to be a soulsmith, whose comic antics and philosophical musings provide a nice counterpoint to one another. Deitz also introduces a musical version of Tarot readings, called the mojo, wherein the first twelve songs heard on the radio after midnight determine the omens for that day.

Dreambuilder takes up about four years after Soulsmith, as Ronny is graduating from college. Lew has assumed the Mastership of Cardalba after their uncle Matt's death, and convinces Ronny that he really needs him to come home, as there's trouble brewing again. Ronny has a lot of bad memories of his hometown, and is reluctant to return, but the mojo finally convinces him that it's his duty to help.

Lew has grown tired of the responsibilities of the Mastership, and wants a sabbatical of sorts. He'd like Ronny to take over for him while he goes off to college somewhere, as the Masters are bound to the land while they hold the position, and cannot leave it for very long. Ronny is about to meet the woman of his dreams, an independent young art teacher named Brandy, who is building a castle on a hill called Brandy Hall (the Tolkien references are obvious and intentional).

Ronny is coerced, or perhaps seduced, into staying to help Brandy with the metalwork on her castle. There are, however, mysterious forces in motion and it seems the supernatural forces are trying to make Ronny a pawn in their game once again. There's some blatant use of Welsh mythology here, scenes from the Mabinogion, and Deitz makes sure in the characters' dialogue that we are all aware of his sources.

One minor flaw I noticed in the first two books is that Deitz sometimes uses references that will soon become dated. For example, rather than go to the trouble of describing Ronny's features, he says that he looks like Kevin Bacon. This kind of thing is a little distracting. I find myself stopping in the middle of the page to wonder "What the heck does Kevin Bacon look like?" He also mentions some character who looks a lot like Legolas the elf, only not quite as tall. This is really a vague description, as every reader of Tolkien is going to get a different impression, as have all of the artists who've done Tolkien calendars over the last twenty years. But I digress.

One of the themes that runs through these books is that Ronny seems only to get motivated to do anything remotely heroic when either the physical or emotional well-being of his most current love interest is threatened. There's a lot of romantic conflict in all of the books (speaking from hindsight), and I was really bothered by Brandy's infidelity to Ronny at one point in Dreambuilder. She's been represented all through the book as a person of great integrity and honesty, but I totally lost all respect for her after that. To be perfectly fair, Ronny does the same thing at one point in the final novel, Wordwright, so he's betrayed my trust in him as far as I'm concerned, too. He doesn't even have the excuse that he was seduced by a supernatural being, as Brandy was. Again, I digress, but I think one can make one's characters human without them being amoral or unethical. Might be just a personal bias of mine in this age of promiscuity, but I believe that trust and fidelity are essential characteristics in a fantasy hero. If you're just looking for a gratuitous sex scene or so to sell books, you should be writing romance novels.

In the final "electrifying conclusion", Wordwright, Lew goes off in search of his long lost sister, to offer her heirs the Mastership of Cardalba. It turns out that she's even more of a nutcase than old uncle Matt was, and she holds Lew captive and incommunicado, and plans to sacrifice him in order to gain his powers to add to hers. Ronny begins to be concerned for Lew after he's fallen out of touch, and after having a fight with Brandy, first moves out of her castle, then hits the road in search of Lew.

Again, there are supernatural forces on the loose at Cardalba, as well as the threat from the mad sister, to keep us guessing. Brandy is producing a play about the history of Welch county in order to bring some tourism to revitalize the economy, which has gone into a slump since Lew abdicated. The portions of the play, which Deitz shares with us, provide some good outtakes on the history of the Masters and how they came into their power and powers.

I feel like sometimes Deitz goes out of his way to belittle the intelligence of his readers. For instance, he mentions a character who is living backwards in time, and one of the other characters spouts "Oh, like Merlin?". It's a lot more fun to guess and puzzle over what's been lifted and had the serial numbers filed off in someone's work than to have it all explained to you. Perhaps Deitz feels he might be the first author ever accused of plagiarism in fantasy if he doesn't cite his references, I don't know.

Anyway, all's well as ends well, and this trilogy does turn out all right. I liked the books enough to go out and find some more of Deitz' stuff, which I'll get around to reviewing one day. In the midst of some minor technical difficulties, all three books held my attention and interest well enough to keep me up past my bedtime for several evenings. There's a kind of plot twist involving the real protagonist of the stories involved in the titles of the books that will only become clear when you've finished them all, so go for it!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Press Release - Murder by Another Name by Jo Stone

Just received this press release. Haven't read the book yet, but I've asked for a review copy. I'll give you the inside scoop later.

Author Jo Stone takes on the FDA and breast implant manufacturers in her new thriller as Janet Stephenson, Denver trial lawyer, dodges corporate intrigue, murderous lackeys and attempted cover up while she seeks justice for a client who is dying of cancer from her silicone breast implant.

Parker, CO - Nov 3, 2010 - Novelist Jo Stone announces the release of her new legal and medical thriller, Murder by Another Name. Crime and corporate intrigue propel this captivating murder mystery as noted trial lawyer Stone uses her experience trying silicone gel breast implant cases to provide palpable reality to her novel's courtroom suspense.

Pamela Lawson just wants her figure back after childbirth. A plastic surgeon and the industry spokesman for the new Mammselle foam coated implant, Dr. Dan MacNamara is sure the Mammselle implant is perfect for his patient, but neither he nor Pamela know that the manufacturer has concealed the results of secret internal studies that show all animals they tested have developed liver cancer.

Sherri Barker, a detail person for the manufacturer and Dr. MacNamara's mistress, has just delivered to MacNamara the details of these studies when she is killed by a car bomb, and soon Dr. MacNamara's life is also in danger from assassins hired by the silicone manufacturer and one of its corporate cohorts. Meanwhile a television reporter and an FDA investigator are preparing to air a special on the new implants.

Denver trial lawyer Janet Stephenson must navigate the minefields of corporate machination and attempted murder while trying to bring a grand jury indictment against the manufacturer for her client Pamela Lawson, now awaiting a liver transplant for her liver cancer. The worlds of criminal and civil law merge within the thrilling legal twists and turns of the ensuing courtroom drama as Janet seeks justice for the lives lost or ruined by corporate greed.

About the book:
Murder by Another Name by Jo Stone
ISBN: 978-1-4327-6562-0
Publisher: Outskirts Press
Date of publish: Oct 30, 2010
S.R.P.: $25.95

About the author:
A native of Colorado, Jo Stone is an attorney who has tried many silicone gel breast implant cases and has been involved in all of the excitement surrounding the complicated preparation and trial of those cases. A wife and mother of four, Jo is also a college professor who has taught English Literature, Humanities, Business and Law courses throughout her legal career. Jo earned her BA and MA degrees in English literature and her Juris Doctorate at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Overthrowing Heaven by Mark L. Van Name

Overthrowing Heaven (Jon & Lobo)
I think the third book in this series is probably the weakest so far, unfortunately. It moves along very slowly, with a ton of setup and very little action until the end. The only thing that redeems this book at all is that we get a little more insight into Lobo's history, at last. It's still a bit of light amusement to while away the lonely hours, but that's about all.

There's a monster in Heaven. Jon and Lobo are recruited to kidnap a scientist who is performing nanotech experiments on abducted children, under the cover of creating fantastic animals out of history, myth and legend for a vast amusement park, Wonder Island, that seems to be like a combination Disney World and Jurassic Park.

There are some good lines here and there, mostly spoken by Lobo, such as,
"Lovely, aerial bodyguard duty. First I get to shop, and now I get to hover in case you overeat and need immediate relief for indigestion. I feel so fulfilled."

I liked this bit of commentary, too,
"What passed for news on Vonsoir was, as is typical of most worlds, a hash of local gossip, government-created flavorless gravy for the intellectually toothless, and the occasional drop of spice..."

One thing that I find slightly annoying about the series thus far is that Jon never seems to just be able to take on a straight job, rather than getting tricked into some mission he hadn't anticipated. Why can't some of his adventures be purposive, rather than being blown willy nilly by the winds of fate into these messes? He always seems to be just relaxing, doing nothing in particular, between jobs, when someone cons or tricks him into doing more than he intended.

Another thing that I'm not thrilled with is that Jon seldom seems to use his nanomachines to do anything worthwhile. He used them to disarm some incompentent thugs in the first book, but since then we haven't really seen any new capabilities from his nanos, and that's the sort of thing I'd like to see developed a little bit in each iteration. Van Name seems to use the excuse of "if I use them, someone might figure out what I am" over and over again, but there are surely ways to use them undetectably, right?

The third thing has to do with Jon's inability to actually have a normal human relationship. He's absolutely unable to ever trust anyone, make friends, be a lover. There was an interesting little triangle that began to develop between Jon and the two female characters in this novel, and between what appears to be his cluelessness (how can anyone who's 155 years old still be that clueless?), and his trust issues, it contributed nothing new to the plot, just tiresome filler material.

I've still got the next book in the series on hold at the local library, so I'll continue to read, but this one was a bit disappointing.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Random Musings

People often wonder how I find the time to read as many books as I do. Perhaps some of them assume that I have nothing better to do, or nothing else going on in my life. Well, the first is a value judgement, and no, there isn't too much I love to do better than reading, but the second assumption couldn't be further from the truth.

In fact, I do have a lot of things going on in my life, and I always have, to some extent or another. First, I have a full time job during the week. Second, I'm a homeowner, and I do 90% of my own maintenance and home improvements. I recently installed new vinyl windows in my old house, and I've always got at least a half dozen projects in the queue. This winter, I'll probably remodel my kitchen.

My wife and I both love to travel, so we often take off for the weekend on our motorcycles, or go fishing, camping, off to the mountains or beach with friends and family, and those travel days really cut down on my reading time.

So, the secret isn't that I have a lot more time available to read than anyone else, it's just that reading is a high priority bit of recreation and relaxation for me. It helps that I don't watch TV very often, just a few shows each week, like Big Bang Theory and Jeopardy. Rather than mindlessly channel-surfing, I'll just pick up a book. Also, if I wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep right away, I just pick up a book from the nightstand. I read at meals, in the bath, and whenever I need a break from things.

I can't really remember a time in my life when I didn't read. My mother read to me as a child, and taught me to read at a very young age. I think I read The Hobbit, by Tolkien, around age 8. I devoured books all through my growing years. I had to have a special dispensation from the library where I grew up, because children were only allowed to check out six books at a time, and with that limit, I had to return every few days to re-stock. When I was in the seventh grade, my English teacher gave five extra credit points for every book report we turned in. She had to stop me from turning them in after a couple of months, as I'd already maxed out the possible points for the entire semester's class.

There's an apocryphal story going around out there that my best friend and I used to go to the store and just read books from the paperback rack for free. In actuality, it only happened once. I had been buying something in the sporting goods section and he saw a book that looked good on a rack near the checkout line, The Man Who Folded Himself, by David Gerrold, and started reading the first chapter. When I got done in the checkout line, I came over to where he was, and he said, "this is pretty good", so I picked up another copy from the rack and started reading it. About an hour later, we both turned the final page of the book, looked at each other, and said, "That WAS good", put the books back on the rack and walked out of the store. I do own a copy of that book today, so don't worry, the author got paid.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Book Blogger Hop - November 5 to 8

Time for the Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Jennifer at Crazy for Books.
Book Blogger Hop

Today's Question:

What are your feelings on losing followers? Have you ever stopped following a blog?"

I think there's a difference between Blogger's definition of "follower" vs. the real-world one. I officially follow quite a few blogs via Blogger, but I don't put people on that list unless I really think I'll be interested in what they have to say over the long haul. I don't just follow people in order to get more followers, myself. If people really want to keep apprised of what I have to say, then they should follow my blog via Blogger.
I think the majority of the people who actually read my blog regularly are personal friends, who stop by to find out what I'm reading right now, and whether I liked the books.
I have dozens of blogs that I follow regularly that don't appear on my list here, but are bookmarked in my browser. When one of those folks fails to post a new entry for over thirty days, unless there's a good excuse, I remove them from my list and stop going there.
I hope people continue to find my posts interesting, and I'd hate to lose any readers, but if they're simply not interested in what I have to say, why would they waste their time here?

Twitter Tips, Trick, and Tweets by Paul McFedries

Twitter Tips, Tricks, and Tweets
You know, I've always been a little bit of a tech geek, but not to the point of always having to be the first to adopt a new gadget. In fact, I'm just so cheap that I seem to alway run behind the curve, buying a new piece of technology only after it gets down to commodity prices. So, sometimes it takes me a while to get around to figuring out how to use new tools, which makes the local library a great resource for me, as the "for Dummies" books tend to come out before I need to know about something. Such is the case with Twitter. In fact, I'm not certain I "get" the whole tweeting thing, but it's turned out to be a handy tool for me to use to post things to multiple social networks simultaneously.

I decided I ought to know a bit more about it, just in case there was something in its functionality that I should be using, so I went to the library looking for the "for Dummies" book, but it wasn't on the shelf, and I found Mr. McFedries' book instead. A rather significant portion of the book was actually taken up with account setup, which I'm not certain belongs in a Tips and Tricks type of book. I mean, if you can't figure out that much, you better start with the "total Idiots" book instead, right? However, the section about profiles got me motivated to at least change my background image to something custom, instead of the default color I picked back when I set up the account in the first place, so that was something.

I also found, in the section on mobile tweeting, just enough information to motivate me to get my cell phone number set up to tweet. Did that, tried it, confirmed that it worked, and probably won't use it again unless it's some sort of emergency when I really need to get a post out there and I have no access to the Net.

There's a lot of information in here about all sorts of web sites and applications that work with Twitter to perform various functions. Most of them I'll never need, but if you're interested in getting more out of Twitter, it would be a good idea to check them out. I'll probably end up setting up an account on Hootsuite, to help me schedule tweets ahead of time. I'm definitely in search of the automated life.

One small problem with the book is that I can tell it's already outdated. So, if you're thinking about using it, you might look for a more recent version, with updates to capture Twitters latest upgrades.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Enigma by Robert Harris

As I may or may not have previously mentioned, I do occasionally read something other than science fiction and fantasy. While in the midst of publishing doldrums, I'll pick up some sort of popular novel - in the spy, adventure, or mystery genres. Such a novel is Enigma, by Robert Harris. I've read one of his other novels, whose name I can't recall at the moment (Fatherland), and enjoyed it, so I thought I'd try another that my friend, Tim, recommended.

Enigma is a story about codebreakers during World War II in Great Britain. I'm not sure but what this qualifies as an alternate history novel - from what I remember, his other novel I read certainly did. Anyway, we pick up the story of a young mathematician in England's codebreaking corps, Tom Jericho, as he is recovering from a nervous breakdown suffered after breaking one of the German high command's toughest codes, Shark, which is encoded on the Enigma machines.

Through judicious use of some flashbacks, which don't distract from the main story line, we learn how Tom worked himself to the point of collapse breaking codes, then was driven over the edge by a love affair gone mysteriously wrong. He had become involved with Claire, a rather mysterious young woman who is a clerical worker in another area of the base where Tom and his colleagues work.

Tom's old boss recruits him once more, barely recovered from his breakdown, to help break a new variant of the Shark code, which has been switched by the high command either in response to the sinking of one too many german U-boats, or because a spy in the ointment has alerted them that the old code was broken. The breaking of Shark is given a new sense of urgency because the german U-boats are zeroing in on an American convoy carrying vital war materials.

Shortly after Tom returns to work, Claire disappears, and Tom alternates his time between working on the mystery of the new enigma cypher, and the mystery of Claire's disappearance.

Anyway, there are a number of interesting plot twists, tho I had the villain of the piece picked out rather early. The whole tone of the work is rather depressing, however, as Harris enshrouds the novel in a sense of stiff upper lip British fatalism, what?
Pick it up at the local bookstore or borrow it from a friend as you will, it should provide you with a couple of hours of enjoyment.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold

Cryoburn (The Vorkosigan Saga)
In her Miles Vorkosigan series, Bujold has often explored - in the Campbellian tradition - the effects of a particular piece of future technology or political philosophy on the human race. In Ethan of Athos, she shows us the societal effects of uterine replicator technology on a planet populated entirely by males. In Komarr, we see folks adapting to life in domes on a planet that is slowly being terraformed. In Cetaganda, we see the effects of long term genetic manipulation on the human race. In Diplomatic Immunity (and Falling Free, which is not part of this series, per se)  we see the how humans who have been adapted to free fall live, love and entertain themselves.

In Brothers in Arms, we find out how people on Earth have built tidal barriers to survive the slow rising of the seas. In Mirror Dance, on Jackson's Whole, we see what might happen on a world run entirely by unfettered corporate greed and criminal "Barons". In Memory, we explore the possibilities of human brain enhancement through cybernetic implants. And now, in Cryoburn, we look at what might happen when an entire society on the planet Kibou-daini takes advantage of cryogenic technology to postpone death.

Things start out innocently enough when Miles is sent by Gregor to a conference on cryogenic technology to investigate what the expansion of the cryo-corporations into the Empire might mean. As one might expect from all that has gone before, Miles just can't stay out of trouble, and is first kidnapped by a half-assed terrorist organization that wants to tear down the cryo corps hold on power, and, when he starts pursuing the threads of corruption after one of the cryo executives attempts to bribe him, he really stirs things up.

I'm afraid, after all of my eager anticipation of this book, that it's a little disappointing. First, this just doesn't seem to have the old "magic" that Bujold has always brought to Miles' madcap mishaps. There's really no sense of "out of the frying pan" in this book, and the people that Miles gathers around him in this book don't have that fully fleshed out feel of earlier sidekicks. Roic is still around, of course, and Lord Mark makes an appearance about two thirds of the way through, with Kareen in tow, but even the most developed characters in the book, like the waif Jin who rescues Miles and is rescued in return, are just missing that certain something. If you're a Vorkosigan fan, you're going to have to read it, because it is, after all, Bujold writing about Miles, and there are some key events, but don't expect too much, ok?

Maybe someone can clue me in if there's a short story I missed, but I always thought we'd see something thoroughly describing the passing of Sargent Taura in this latest novel, and Miles and Roic merely muse about the funeral, in passing.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

March to the Stars, by John Ringo and David Weber

March to the Stars (Prince Roger Series #3)
March to the Stars is the third in a series, beginning with March Upcountry and Marching to the Sea. The situation set up at the beginning of the series is that a spoiled young prince, heir tertiary to the throne of the Empire of Man (read galactic empire here), is marooned by sabotage on a primitive planet, and must fight his way across first a continent, then an ocean, to reach the spaceport, where he can presumably hijack a ship and return to the Empire.

Between Weber and Ringo, you have two of the most accomplished masters of combat SF alive today, and it shows in the military aspects of the story (as far as I can tell from my non-military background). The human aspects of the story are not as fully fleshed out. Prince Roger eventually makes the transition from spoiled rich kid to effective and respected field commander of the Imperial Marines stranded with him, and the dialog is pretty snappy, but there's not a lot of time spent by the characters in any meaningful thought or deeply conflicted reflection. It's pretty much guts, guns and glory all the way.

By the time March to the Stars begins, Roger's group of Imperial Marines has acquired a following of the native Mardukians, (four-armed slimy lizards), who may very well be the finest fighting force on the planet. They've made across the continent, and now are sailing in wind-powered ships across the ocean, to the continent where the spaceport is located. They get to fight sea monsters, pirates, and evil priests along the way.

It won't go down in the annals of classic literature, but it's a fast paced fun romp, if you like the militant brand of SF.