Friday, December 31, 2010

Friday Follies #7

Cover of A Fighting Man of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs - Ace Books ca 1960 - Cover Art by Roy Krenkel

Top Ten of 2010

Seems to be a meme going around, can't pinpoint an origin, but I thought I'd participate in naming the top ten reads of 2010. Most of them are actually series that I discovered or that were published in 2010, with the few single book exceptions being a couple of non-fiction works and one fiction work that caused me to do some serious thinking.

1. The Last Centurion by John Ringo
2. Old Man's War series by John Scalzi
3. The Imager Portfolio series by L.E. Modesitt
4. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson
5. Namaah's Kiss and Namaah's Curse series by Jacqueline Carey
6. The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss
7. Elemental Assassin series by Jennifer Estep
8. Allie Beckstrom series by Devon Monk
9. Felix Castor series by Mike Carey
10. Warded Man series by Peter V. Brett

Given that this list represents perhaps 25 books from the 197 that I read this year, even a representation in the bottom of this list means that I think very highly of the book or series.

Dead Men's Boots by Mike Carey

Dead Men's Boots
I was really surprised to see another Felix Castor novel out so quickly from Mike Carey, and when I was searching Amazon for the title, I saw a fourth installment in the offing. Good news. Dead Men's boots takes place a few months after Vicious Circle. After the events of that book, nefarious forces are trying to get Fix's friend, Rafi, and his demonic rider moved out of the sanitarium into a supernatural research facility, where they can do nasty things to him/them. So, there's a subplot throughout the book of Fix and Pen showing up in court trying to get that action blocked. Pen's not exactly speaking with Fix at this point, but she does have to put up with him to help keep Rafi out of Professor Jenna-Jane Mulbridges icy clutches.

The action actually begins at the funeral of a fellow exorcist, John Gittings, who has just nibbled on the business end of a shotgun. Gitttings' widow, Carla, asks Fix to come home with her after the funeral for emotional support, but it turns out that she has an ulterior motive...John has gone "geist" and is tearing up their apartment. Fix plays a special little lullaby on his tin whistle to give both the ghost and Carla some rest, and then, of course, gets roped into taking over some of John's unfinished business. John had gone schizophrenic near the end, and his notes on the exorcism he'd been working are even more cryptic than the Da Vinci Code.

Shortly after that, Fix is contacted by the wife of a man who has just been jailed for the gruesome murder of another man. No surprises, she believes he's innocent, even though he was caught with the victim's blood all over him, and left behind matching DNA evidence at the scene. Fix promises to look into things for her, and we have a third plot thread. His old buddy on the police force, Gary Coldwood, is the lead investigator on the case, so he pays him a visit. It turns out that his former exorcist's apprentice, the succubus Juliet was called in to "read" the scene, so he has a chat with her, as well. Together, they visit the killer in prison and find that he is being possessed by the ghost of a female serial killer, which technically might make him innocent, even though his hands committed the crime.

One great line from early in the book, "But then Juliet Salazar never did hold with cheap sentiment. In fact, she probably didn't have any to sell even at the market price."

As usual, Fix bulls his way through these cases, getting into and out of hot water along the way. He very nearly is killed in a falling elevator, gets run off the road by Satanists, has a knifepoint deposition by an evil lawyer, gets slapped silly by a succubus, is shredded a touch by a loup-garou, but eventually survives to save the night from the evil dead. Can't wait for  the next sequel.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Dracula Tape by Fred Saberhagen

The Dracula Tape(written in August 1995)
Just finished re-reading Fred Saberhagen's The Dracula Tape. Much ado has been made recently over Anne Rice's innovative approach to the vampire as protagonist, but I recall several short stories that predated her Interview and this book, copyright 1975, not only was printed earlier, but also features the definitive vampiric hero, Count Vlad Dracula himself. It is a retelling, from Vlad's POV, of the classic novel by Bram Stoker that started it all back in 1897.

The premise is that a cassette tape is found in the back seat of a vehicle abandoned in a snowstorm by a young couple whose last name is Harker. On the tape, the voice of the dread Count sets the record straight regarding the events recorded by Bram Stoker. The young couple are the direct descendents of his beloved Mina, who married Jonathan Harker, as serious Dracula students will recall.

According to Dracula, the horrifying events that drove Jonathan Harker to a nervous breakdown on his visit to Dracula's castle in Bulgaria, were merely a series of misunderstandings. The whispered tauntings of Dracula's female vampiric companions were due to his preoccupation with business matters involved in purchasing property in England, which kept him from exercising more control over their rather sadistic playfulness.

The cries of a child from a burlap sack were actually those of a young pig that, after being drained of blood for Vlad and the ladies, went to provide Harker himself with roast pork during his stay. The mother who cried out to Dracula to return her child to her was merely appealing to him as lord of the manor for help, and after he sent his servants to find the missing child and return it, she didn't come around to wail her gratitude.

Yes, he was having an affair with Lucy, and later Mina, and during the course of their lovemaking he sipped of their blood, but he maintains that neither was drained to the point of danger. What self respecting vampire, (or any other parasite) survives over the long term by killing its host? He characterizes Van Helsing as an egomaniacal bumbler, who causes Lucy's death by transfusing her with the blood of four different people, ten years before the concept of blood typing was known. She died because her body rejected the alien blood types they kept pumping into her veins. She wasn't really ill in the first place, merely lovesick and tired from being kept up all night at amorous play.

The Count goes on to describe the way that he, with the consent and cooperation of his beloved Mina, set the stage for a final encounter with Van Helsing wherein the foolish doctor and his lackeys are convinced that Dracula has been vanquished forever. After all, mortal lives are short and he can wait for Mina to join him in undeath one day.

I re-read this one because I had run into an old friend from my thespian days, a drama professor in my hometown, who had recently directed a Halloween production of Dracula. I told her that she ought to read Saberhagen's version of the tale, and then spent a year or so looking for a copy to send her, as I couldn't bear to part with my own. Anyway, now that I've done this review, I can mail her a copy, which may place an interesting interpretation on her next production of the play. (By the way, Stephanie, if you read this, you could ask your Mom if she still has the book, and I'd be happy to pick it up next time I'm in Lewiston.)

This book by Saberhagen is the start of a series about Count Vlad Dracula, which is continued in The Holmes Dracula File, An Old Friend of the Family, Thorn, A Matter of Taste, and A Question of Time. It seems there is another out on the new bookstore shelves, but I can't recall the name of it right now. He also wrote The Frankenstein Papers, which is the same sort of deal with Shelley's novel, but I didn't find it nearly so entertaining.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tranquility Initiative by Joan Meijer

Tranquility InitiativeI received this book for review a few weeks ago, and read through it the last couple of days. In this novel, the United States is involved in another one of those "unwinnable" wars in Astrakhan, a breakaway Soviet Islamic country. President Anderson is facing a difficult re-election campaign, and meets with his advisors to come up with a strategy for getting the troops out with a victory. One of the advisors suggests the Tranquility Initiative, which the president approves without getting any details. As it turns out, the Tranquility Initiative is the use of germ warfare, the release of a weaponized pulmonary anthrax strain to devastate the enemy.

The advisor, Donald Finnegan, is also a member of a secret group called Medici, whose members all belonged to a Special Forces squad in the Gulf War that participated in a massacre of a civilian village - and liked it a little too much. They formed a shadowy group within our government after the war to do whatever it took to defeat America's enemies, and they all wear special rings. I thought this group seemed just a little too stereotypically "baby killer" to be believable, but it works to drive the plot along.

The bombs containing the anthrax are delivered to a base in Turkey, and the mission is flown to deliver them to Astrakhan. Unfortunately for the pilots on that mission, Billy Williams, one of them recognizes the bombs for what they are as they're being loaded. His father and grandfather were bioweapons researchers working at Ft. Detrick, and he even has a model one of these bombs he used to play with as a child; they look exactly like red, white and blue bowling pins. Now that he knows, the Medici obviously have to kill him, and a fighter jet follows the bomber, blowing it out of the sky after it has delivered the payload, very effectively silencing a potential whistle blower. In a massive display of overkill, the Medici also blow up the barracks at the military base, killing all potential witnesses to the departure of the bomber.

What no one realizes in time, however, is that spies on the base managed to sneak away a pair of the bombs, delivering them eventually to the Astrakhan rebels. They don't know exactly what they have, but they know they're bombs, so they send a terrorist team into the United States to set off the bombs there in revenge for what the Americans have done to their country. The terrorists are a bit inept, and while disassembling one of the bombs, they release the anthrax bacteria in the heart of New York City, infecting themselves and dozens of other people.

From this point onwards, it's a race against time for the authorities and medical experts to diagnose the disease, figure out that it's a bioweapon, and locate and stop the terrorists before they can detonate the second bomb over a wider area, creating a devastating epidemic.

One of the main characters in the book is Cassandra Williams, sister of Billy, who is a doctor with the CDC, originally sent to study the anthrax outbreak in Astrakhan, who has returned to the U.S. just in time for the New York City incident. She is extraordinarily competent and serendipitously gorgeous, and she is doggedly tenacious in interviewing the victims to discover the origin of the disease. While she is doing this, Medici is trying to cover their tracks, killing off anyone who might talk about the Tranquility initiative, or be able to identify this particular strain of anthrax as having come from U.S. biolabs, which includes Cassandra's father.

Overall, this was a pretty good read, if you suspend your disbelief enough to credit the whole conspiracy theory idea of the secret military organization willing to murder its own troops and its own citizens to destroy the enemies of the U.S. and keep things quiet. It had some likeable heroes, good action sequences, and a really good "reveal" at the end.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Color of Distance by Amy Thomson

The Color of Distance
Amy Thomson, author of Virtual Girl, has written an interesting tale of alien contact. A biologist exploring a new world, Juna, is stranded alone on a planet whose air is so loaded with spores, pollen, molds and biological organisms that humans without isolation suits die very rapidly when exposed to its atmosphere. The natives of the planet, however, are naturally advanced in biomanipulation techniques and alter her body and biochemistry so that she can survive unshielded.
Thomson does a really nice job of creating a totally alien culture, its mores and perspectives. Juna is alternately fascinated and repelled by their culture, but must learn to live within it after the Survey ship leaves the planet without her. Through her experiences, we learn gradually all about the alien Tendu, from their reproductive cycle to their political structure. While technically totally unsophisticated, their civilization, as it turns out, predates human civilization.
The only flaw in this novel, from my point of view, is that none of the potential conflicts that Thomson creates ever rise to the level of intensity where we might really get concerned, or even sympathize. The interactions between the Tendu and Juna, between Tendu and Tendu, and between Tendu culture and the returning Survey ship crew are just far too civilized all the way around. Even human to human relationships don't go smoothly - why would we expect alien first contact to do so?
Worth reading - but don't pay full retail.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Voyage of the Dawn Treader

So, I really don't do movie reviews on this blog, mostly because I don't get out and see very many of them, especially when they're newly released, so it would be a very short blog, if that was what I did here. However, since Voyage of the Dawn Treader was actually a book adaptation in the first place, I thought I'd make a bit of an exception.

I was stunned, absolutely stunned, when I walked out of the theater yesterday. I don't believe I've ever seen anything else they botched quite as badly, and for no apparent reason, adding and subtracting things helter skelter from the story that C.S. Lewis told so well. Let me say up front that the animation and action in this movie were totally awesome - but we've come to expect that sort of thing from movies today. The one other thing that was really well done was the casting/portrayal of Eustace. He really nailed the whiny, priggish twit.

Possible spoilers follow (though how anything in a movie adaptation of a well-known and beloved children's book can come as a spoiler baffles me...exactly the problem).

The first major plot deviation comes when Caspian's ship arrives at the Lonely Isles. The islands have been taken over by the slavers - reasonably close to the book version - and Caspian, Lucy, Edmund and Eustace are captured, then subequently rescued by Drinian and the men. One minor flaw - they anchor the ship in the harbor in the first place, so how in the world are the slavers surprised to see them arrive in force for the rescue later?

Then, they introduce the major plot deviation that screws up the entire movie from that point forward. Some of the townsfolk, rather than being sold into slavery, are being sacrificed to a mysterious green mist that appears in the harbor, whisking them away. The mist used to take ships and crews, so it's better to just sacrifice a boatload of innocents. So, it's not simply enough for Caspian and our heroes to rid the isles of the institution of slavery, they've got to be motivated to do so by a bigger evil to fight? And then, one of the husbands of a woman who was a recent sacrifice volunteers to join Caspian's crew to seek out the home of the evil green mist. Ok so far, but shortly after that we find his daughter stowed away on the Dawn Treader. Why, oh why? Is it that Lucy is not a sympathetic enough character and that we have to add a little girl for her to comfort and recite pointless homilies to?

Dang, it's all getting mixed up and out of sequence for me now, kinda like the whole stupid movie.

Anyway, they arrive at Coriakin's island, Lucy is kidnapped by the Dufflepuds and sent into the mansion to recite the spell which makes the invisible visible. They change the nature of the incidental spell that she recites, when she gives in to the temptation to eavesdrop on her friends (in the book) and make it a spell that shows her the beauty she desires (which may be mentioned in the book, too), which of course turns out to have some deep seated roots in her jealousy of Susan. Lots of little cute stuff from their interactions in the book with the Dufflepuds was cut, but Lucy ends up taking a page out of the spell book which contains the beauty spell, and it figures largely in the story, for her, after that point.

Coriakin tells them they must seek the isle of Ramandu, and place the magic swords that belonged to the Seven Lords on Aslan's table there in order to destroy the evil green mist. He also tells them they will all be tempted by the things they desire along the way. Magic Swords??? Really?

Ok, so I can understand the mechanics of making Deathwater Island (where they find the pool that turns everything to gold) and Dragon Island (where Eustace is changed into a dragon) into the same place. In the interests of time, they sacrificed the rather important issue of Eustace falling asleep atop a dragon's hoard, thinking dragon-ish thoughts, causing him to become the dragon. They did include scenes of Reepicheep comforting Eustace, but it was a little rushed, and in the book developed over the course of the rest of the journey.

When they arrive at Ramandu's island, they find the remainder of the Lords sleeping at the stone table, no problem, and we do see the White Witch's knife laying there, but when Ramandu's daughter explains things, there's no mention of them taking up the knife when they fought, which would have been a simple enough thing to throw into the dialog, rather than some of the meaningless blather that follows. They place six of the seven swords on the table, but the last sword is still up for grabs. For some reason, Ramandu, the retired star, never makes an appearance, and they make his daughter the star, instead. We can see that Caspian is a bit captivated by her, which would tie into his motivations for staying behind at the end of the movie, but they left that bit out, as well.

So, the Island where Dreams Come True gets converted into the place where the evil green mists have their lair. Caspian and his trusty crew sail there, rescue Lord Rhoop, battle a shape-shifting sea serpent, and end up triumphing over evil. So, the sea serpent in the book was just a sea serpent, a little daft, and the crew basically outwitted it and sailed away. But the filmmakers must have decided that the potential visuals in having Eustace as a dragon to battle with the sea serpent were far too tempting, even though Eustace basically gets his ass kicked, and then gets stabbed by Rhoop with the last of the magic swords.

Eustace flees to a nearby sandspit, encounters Aslan there and is de-dragonified (like that word?), then magically transported back to Ramandu's Island, where he battles the green mist tendrils briefly before placing the sword on the table, breaking the spells, and saving the day. Where in the world did this all come from?

The rest of the movie more or less finishes things off, with Reepicheep and the heroes sailing to see the end of the world, Caspian turning back, and the English trio getting returned home. There was a totally gratuitous mention of Jill Pole at the end of the movie, which made little sense other than to telegraph the fact that they intend to make The Silver Chair into a movie, as well.

What a horrible travesty of a film.

What So Proudly We Hailed by James Howard

What So Proudly We HailedRecently I received a review copy of this book from Mr. Howard, and last night after dinner I picked it up to read. Couldn't really put it down until I finished it, right around bedtime. A quick and interesting read.

This novel is set in the very near future, in an America which I'm sure you'll all recognize. A man and his son are out getting some school supplies from the grocery store in a small coastal town in South Carolina when they see a mysterious contrail, possibly from a missile, light up the sky. When they get home and turn on the radio, they find out that the U.S. has been attacked by nuclear missiles.

The targets turn out to be the crucial nodes in the electrical power grid across the country, or at least those that can be reached from a sub in the Gulf of Mexico with intermediate range missiles. The perpetrators are the North Koreans, using an old surplused Yankee class Russian submarine (bought it at a yard sale? LOL. Not really, just the way my mind works sometimes). When I read that bit, I flashed back to reading a book called Blind Man's Bluff, about the cat-and-mouse games the U.S. and U.S.S.R. used to play with each other under the seas during the Cold War.

The father, Jason, realizes very quickly that things could get ugly very fast. Much of the social fabric that knits our nation together in times of disaster or war has unraveled over the years, as the entitlement mentality has spread, and the mob has become addicted to the bread and circuses of the modern media. He gathers up all the supplies he can get quickly and locally, and evacuates his family from the area on a 26 foot cabin cruiser he's been restoring. They "hide out" in the maze of the barrier islands, keeping track of events on the mainland by short wave radio.

The first bit of this book reminds me a bit of Farnham's Freehold, by Heinlein. Jason is the only one in his family who immediately reacts to the danger of social disintegration that is bound to follow, and some of his family refuse to leave with him. There's also the addition of a non-family member to the party, his daughter's friend, Julie, and there's at least the potential for a love triangle to develop there, as it did between Hugh Farnham and Barbara in that novel.

However, Jason is a Christian man and faithful husband, and when Julie pushes for a physical relationship with him, he relies on self-control and the power of prayer to resist. Refreshing, in a way, not to see people leaping into bed headlong in all the books I read. There was a bit of this scene that just didn't ring quite right. It's hard to believe that Jason, who has two grown children and one teenager, had never been faced with this type of situation before, in fact he seemed quite surprised by it. I think most Christian men have faced down these sort of issues more than once in the course of a two decade marriage. But that's a minor quibble.

The overall theme and plot of the book also resembles the Left Behind series by Lahaye and Jenkins, in that Jason's family and other christians are struck by the similarity of world events as they begin to unfold, and the Biblical prophecies concerning the end times. I gotta guess that Mr. Howard is a post-Trib Rapture believer, as there was no evidence of anyone vanishing from the christian communities before the persecution of christians starts.

Predictably (at least to anyone paying attention), multiple groups, from the radical Islamists, to the Chinese, to the militias, the politicians and petty tyrants, take advantage of the disarray and disaster to pursue their own agendas. A self-proclaimed Mahdi arises in the Middle East, and much of Europe bows to his demands, and even the Vatican begins negotiating with him. The novel leaves things dangling a bit at the end, and I have to wonder if Mr. Howard has more in store for us with a series here. Great stuff from a new author, without any graphic sex and violence, just a scary scenario to consider.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Friday Follies #6

Cover from When the Green Star Calls by Lin Carter, Daw SF 1973 - Art by Luis Dominguez

Blood Maidens by Barbara Hambly

Blood Maidens
I've been reading Barbara Hambly's books for a good many years now. She took a hiatus from writing fantasy novels a while back, and started writing historical fiction with her Benjamin January series, which had its share of magical mystical facets, but wasn't strictly fantasy. She also began the Don Simon Ysidro series, which was also historical fiction, but involving vampires this time. This is the third in that series, which begins with Those Who Hunt the Night and Traveling with the Dead. Hambly dropped the series in 1988, and I was quite surprised and delighted to see it continued 22 years later. This series is set around the turn of the 20th century, and Hambly has done a beautiful job of researching and describing the historical setting.

James Asher and his lovely wife, Lydia, are back in this book. Asher has quit the British secret service, and is living the happily married life of a professor. He is contacted in his dreams, though, by Don Simon Ysidro, an ancient Spanish vampire, and asked (coerced) into journeying with him to Petersburg in Russia to investigate a potentially dangerous connection between vampires and the Kaiser's intelligence services. It is rumored that they are researching a way to make vampires able to endure sunlight, which would make them, with their other powers against mankind, the perfect spies and assassins.

So Asher travels with the Don to the heart of Russia, where he still maintains a few friendships with some of his espionage contacts, and tries to track down the connection. Along the way, he is constantly under threat by the vampire masters of the city of Petersburg, and also the vampires that "live" in other cities in Europe where he and Ysidro pursue the trail. His wife, Lydia, is a researcher of blood and serum disorders, and eventually she also travels to Petersburg to make connections with other doctors and scientists there. She, as might be expected, ends up in grave and deadly danger from which Asher and his vampire ally, Don Simon, must rescue her.

Some interesting plot twists make this a fun one, and I hope we can see more of Asher and his lovely lady - sooner, this time.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump by Harry S. Turtledove

The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump
I'd been searching the used book stores here in town, trying to find the next book in the Videssos Cycle, by Turtledove, and had little success. Actually, none whatsoever. So, when I saw a standalone novel by Turtledove that I figured I could read without feeling too guilty, I grabbed it.
The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump is just pure fun. If you like puns and figuring out twisted references in a slightly skewed reality, this book is for you. The underlying assumption of this novel is that magic has taken the place of technology in the world from the very beginning, in an astonishing case of societal and political parallel evolution.
There are telephones that are powered by an imp at each end, sending their messages through the Other Side. There are flyways (freeways) in A.C. (Angel City, the analog of Los Angeles) clogged with magic carpets at rush hour. All medicine is performed by magic potions and healing spirits. Water elementals keep A.C. green via acqueducts from the mountains, Poseidon handles wastewater processing, and most of the gods, demons and other mythological creatures are alive and well.
I think it was Clarke's Law that stated that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable in its effects from magic. Well, Turtledove's corollary to that law would seem to be that sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology in its effects, both good and bad. In The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump, we get to learn quite a lot about the side effects of powerful spells used in advanced magical technology.
Inspector Fisher of the EPA (Environmental Perfection Agency) gets a tip from a friend in high places that there may be something dangerous leaking from a containment facility in the Saint Ferdinand Valley north of A.C. During the course of his investigation, things begin to heat up rapidly.
This is a pretty good yarn, especially if you're into deciphering subtle - and sometimes unsubtle - plays upon words.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Gilded Latten Bones by Glen Cook

Gilded Latten Bones: A Garrett, P.I., Novel
I find it really hard to believe I haven't written any reviews of earlier books in Cook's Garrett series, as I've read and enjoyed them all. Cook also has written the Black Company series, which was great. He's working on a new one, Instrumentalities of Night, which I haven't gotten too far into.

Garrett is a self-styled private investigator, in the fantasy city of Tun Faire, who has always tended to just blunder about, getting into altercations with the lawless and lawmakers alike, until he finally accomplishes his goal. Most of the stories aren't exactly locked door mysteries, where we have all the clues in the early going, and try to figure out who the culprit is. No, we are left to stagger along with Garrett as he bulls his way to some answers.

Garrett's on-again off-again romance with the inimitable redhead, Tinnie Tate, has been a fixture in the last half dozen novels, and at the end of the book before Bones they move in together. This is where we find Garrett, ensconced in semi-blissful domesticity, and utterly oblivious to the undercurrents he usually swims in around the city. His reverie is disturbed by the arrival of Belinda Contague, boss of the local underworld, who enlists him to watch over his old friend Morley Dotes, a dark elf, who has nearly been killed by person or persons unknown. Tinnie is not happy about Garrett's return to his old circle of friends, but someone is out to finish the job of murdering Morley, and Garrett is ready to knock some heads around to prevent it.

Garrett's been out of the game for a while, so he's pretty rusty, and when Morley's hiding place is uncovered, he decides the safest place to be is back at his old house on Macunado Street. The genius ratgirl, Pular Singe, has been living there and minding Garrett's business affairs for him, and Dean, his servant, is still in residence, though he's getting a bit long in the tooth. The Dead Man is also still firmly in place in his refrigerated room.

The Dead Man is a Loghyr, a member of an ancient race whose spirits do not depart immediately when they are killed, but hang around the body until the body itself completely deteriorates. They are possessed of extraordinary telepathic powers, which Garrett has used often in the past to interrogate reluctant witnesses and even unwitting allies.

Life has gone on without him while he's been dallying with Tinnie, and he finds himself not exactly in control at the old homestead. Instead of actively running around town like a bull in a china shop this time, Garrett gets to play spider in the web, waiting for his friends, informants, and others to drop by the house as he pieces together the information that allows him to finally figure out who attacked Morley, and why.

This book is like a big family reunion of all the folks Garrett has been involved with in previous books - those that are still alive, anyway. I don't think Cook is too motivated to write this little mysteries right now with other projects going on, so it's not quite as sarcastic as the usual fare. We'll have to see if he gets back to his usual form when the next one comes out.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Press Release - State of Mind by Sven Michael Davison

I've not yet read this one, just got the press release. A review copy has been requested, and I'll let you know how it is.
New sci-fi cyber-fiction thriller: State of Mind

LOS ANGELES – Dec 14, 2010 -  Not many people are brave enough or crazy enough to want to be among the first to have the equivalent of a GPS, smart phone, and computer rolled into the form of a microchip embedded in their brains.

Is this a near future world or simply the work of a clever writer? Author Sven Michael Davison, one of the rising young Turks of cyber-fiction literature, has written a new novel, to be published in March 2011, which imagines a time where a P-Chip, as he has named it, has the capabilities to change who we are.
State of Mind, set in Los Angeles in 2030, is a gritty tech-noir that examines the loss of freedom in a city that has been the setting for some classic post-industrial dystopias.  Jake Travissi, the unlikely hero of the story is, after botching the arrest of the son of the governor, banned from the police force and then wins a rare second chance.  The price: volunteer to have a computer chip implanted in his body and join the Homeland Security experimental enhanced unit.

Davison wrestles with many of the most compelling themes of cyberpunk genre today: a
near future world where the daily events of life are played out in a space where the
boundaries between the virtual world and the real world have dissolved.

About the book:
State of Mind by Sven Michael Davison
ISBN: 978-0-9666149-2-3
Publisher: Bedouin Press
Date of publish: March 2011
Pages: 400
S.R.P.: $25.95

About the author:
Sven has worked as a trailer copywriter at Paramount Pictures and a staff screenwriter for
several other smaller production companies.  He was head of 20th Century Fox’s World
Wide Home Entertainment Content and Production Department for ten years.  When not
writing he consults for entertainment technology companies.  This is his second novel.
Film options are currently being shopped and a graphic novel version of State of Mind is
being readied for July Comicon in San Diego.

The Apocalypse Troll by David Weber

The Apocalypse Troll
I'm really not sure where Weber was going with this novel. The premise is that the human race is at war with the Kangas (an illogically homicidal bunch of aliens) at some point in the future. A human space navy task force catches a Kanga force making a hyperspace jump back through time to attack the Earth before humans reach space. The two forces arrive in the early 21st century, battle to near mutual destruction in the skies over the Atlantic Ocean, involving a United States wet navy task force in the showdown.
The sole surviving member of the time traveling human force, Ludmilla Leonovna, is rescued from her escape pod at sea by Richard Anton, a retired commander of Navy Seals, and the sole surviving member of the Kanga's attack force, a cyborg known as a Troll, goes to ground in Antartica. The rest of the novel deals with Dick and Milla's trials in getting the armed forces and governments of Earth to understand and believe the threat posed by the cyborg and, eventually, in defeating the cyborg before it can destroy mankind.
It seems as if Weber has blended some elements from earlier novels (notably, the Mutineers' Moon series) with some of the fast-paced militant fiction style that he's developed writing the Honor Harrington novels, and just tossed off something to satiate his ravenous fans while he writes the next HH installment. There's nothing new here. It was well-written, as we've come to expect from Weber, so it provides a few hours of enjoyment on a cold winter night. I wish he'd have spent the effort on a new novel in one of his existing series, tho.

Monday, December 20, 2010

New Deal or Raw Deal by Burton Folsom, Jr.

New Deal or Raw Deal?: How FDR's Economic Legacy Has Damaged America
I learned a heck of a lot that I must have missed in school about the Great Depression and Roosevelt's New Deal in this book. Folsom doesn't paint a very rosy picture of the president and his cabinet, who implemented some of the greatest social and political changes ever to hit the United States.

He goes into Roosevelt's personal history before he entered politics. Roosevelt had not had much success in his business ventures, seeming to always back the wrong horse. "...he assumed airplanes were only a passing fad, and he invested in a line of airships, called dirigibles, to fly from New York to Chicago." I can sympathize, I couldn't figure out why anyone in their right mind would want to buy a cell phone, back when they first came out.

Roosevelt surrounded himself with academics, with little practical economic or business experience. "Roosevelt regularly hosted a group of professors from Columbia University - they became his 'Brain Trust' - and they presented Roosevelt with a variety of ideas fashionable in academic circles."

There apparently were some very corrupt practices during that time period (as opposed to now?). When Hoover supported the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in distributing over 1.5 billion dollars to failing banks and industries, the businesses close to the Hoover administration were often the first to get the federal dollars.

The Agricultural Adjustment Act came about at this time. It paid subsidies to farmers who would agree NOT to grow certain crops - even as people in the country were standing in bread and soup lines, in order to bolster the price of exports. Farmers gamed the system, by leaving the required amount of acreage fallow, choosing the acreage that produced poorly anyway. Of if a particular crop was controlled, they'd produce excessively in another crop, which would then end up on the subsidy list the following year. In 1935, the United States ended up for nearly the first time in its histroy as a net food-importing nation.

Some of the first minimum wage laws were definitely the result of political corruption. The textile industry in the South produced a high quality product at a low cost due to low wages in the area. Northern politicians in Massachusetts led the fight in Congress to establish a minimum wage that would destroy the southern mills' competitive edge. Some of the rhetoric seems familiar, "...Congress couldn't make a man worth a certain amount by making it illegal to pay him any less. Instead, the man would end up unemployed." Interestingly enough, passage of minimum wage laws in Washington DC in 1938 resulted in massive layoffs of maids and unskilled workers by local hotels. But the politicians pressed on.

Roosevelt railed against "big business" and instituted confiscatory tax policies against the wealthy. In 1941, in addition to the already high tax rates in place from the New Deal, he proposed a 99.5% tax rate on all income over $100,000. When his budget director wondered why, Roosevelt said, "Why not? None of us is ever going to make $100,000 a year." Does this way of thinking sound at all familiar?

Roosevelt used the IRS as a  personal weapon against those who opposed him. I thought Tricky Dick Nixon had started that, but obviously not. He had political opponents, such as Huey Long (a corrupt politician himself) investigated for tax evasion after Long opposed his New Deal programs. Long said of the NRA, "Every fault of socialism is found in this bill, without one of its virtues." He refused money from the Public Works Administration for his state, which actually turned out for the best for the poeple of Lousiana, as the states that did benefit from PWA actually saw less economic development during that time than states that hadn't. Roosevelt also went after William Randolph Hearst and his newspapers, but was unable to find any evidence against him. He had Father Charles Couglin investigated, as well, for denouncing Roosevelt and his policies. Other political enemies also felt the might of the IRS.

Roosevelt in 1944 created an Economic Bill of Rights (I think our politicians today somehow mistake it for the original Bill) that included, "the right to a useful and remunerative job...the right of every family to a decent home...the right to a good education." Wow! The mind boggles at the programs our government has put in place over the years to enforce these "rights."

So, what are the lasting effects of the New Deal, eighty years later? Minimum wage laws were first passed in the New Deal Years. Social security started. The Wagner Act created the labor unions' devastating hold on many industries. Farm subsidies came into play, and are still being paid today. Aid to Families with Dependent Children was a welfare program that had its roots in that era, and grew throughout the years until 1996, when it was reformed, somewhat. The Smoot Hawley tariff worsened our trade relations, and we're still fighting those effects with new treaties, such as NAFTA. The Federal Reserve took us off the gold standard and sent us on a number of inflative spirals. The FDIC put taxpayers on the hook for banks' foolish behaviors. Income taxes became more progressive under FDR, and have been a bone of contention between the major parties ever since.

An informative, interesting, very readable book.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Follies #5

Cover Art from Lord of Thunder by Andre Norton, Ace Books 1962 - Artist Alex Schombert

Book Blogger Hop December 17 to 20

It's time for the Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Jennifer at Crazy for Books.

Book Blogger Hop
Today's question:

"What do you consider the most important in a story: the plot or the characters?"

That's a crazy question. They are both equally important to a book. The best plot in the world won't be worth reading if the characters are all flat and unsympathetic, and even marvelous characters can't really save a flawed or pointless plot. That said, I tend to focus more on strong characterizations, and most of my favorite series' have well developed characters, not stereotypes or cardboard cutouts.

Magic at the Gate by Devon Monk

Magic at the Gate: An Allie Beckstrom Novel
There are just some things that just go directly to the pleasure center of the brain, such as that first plunge into the hot tub on a snowy winter evening, or the first gulp of Gatorade after a strenuous workout on the racquetball court. Getting to finally crack the covers on my new copy of Magic at the Gate, the latest in the Allie Beckstrom series, was one of those things.

The story picks up right where Magic on the Storm left us hanging on the edge of the cliff, with Allie stepping through the gate into Death, trying to rescue her lover, Zayvion's soul. Most days, the living can't, this side of the gate, but Allie is fortunate in two ways. First, she's accompanied by Stone, her "pet" gargoyle, and by touching him constantly, she can actually breath the air in Death, for a time. Second, her father's spirit lives inside of her head, and he is also able to lend her some of his power to survive on the other side.

Her journey, while strange, is fairly uneventful until she reaches the place where Zayvion's soul is held in chains by Mikhail, a dead magician, while a crowd of the Veiled, other dead magic users, feeds on his energy. There are plots afoot, which her father has been a part of, on this side of the gate, too, as even the dead seem to have an agenda, including a return to power in the land of the living...Portland. Make what you will of that.

Allie is able to bargain with Mikhail to take Z's soul back, but she has to pay a steep price to do so. I kept thinking Monk was going to pull a trick out of ancient mythology, and let Allie lose the soul forever because she looked back at the wrong moment, but tradition was not satisfied. After getting Zayvion's soul back in his body, he still is in a coma, which allows the author some time to let Allie get to know the survivors of the battle during the wild magic storm a bit better, and to begin to work with them to deal with the latest threats to the city.

Dozens of the magic storage disks that her father invented were stolen by the folks who betrayed the Council during the battle, and someone has been using them to give the Veiled an energy source that makes them able to manifest more solidly on this side of the gate, and to work magic here, as well. Gates are opening up all over town, and the remaining good guys are being run ragged trying to close them down before creepy crawlie nasties get through.

Lots of great action, a few good reveals, and plenty of conflicts left to resolve, mysteries to solve. My only gripe is that it was over too soon.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sword Sworn by Jenifer Roberson

Sword-Sworn (Tiger and Del)I waited for the final book in the saga of Tiger and Del for ages. I'm glad that Roberson finally had a chance to write the "final" tale in their story. There's only a couple of problems with the tale, from my point of view.

The first, of course, is that it took so stinkin' long to reach me that I'd nearly totally forgotten "all that has gone before," and Roberson only provides that recap in bits and pieces, scattered throughout the book. Without going back and re-reading Sword Born (not exactly an onerous task, anyway), and some of the other books in the series, I was temporarily disoriented, much as the SandTiger after a bota of aqivi.

Anyway, we pick up the tale of Tiger and Del as they're returning once more to the Southland from Skandic, where Del has found out who his mother was, learned some things about his heritage, and lost his pinkie fingers on both hands. The last time Tiger was in the South, however, he renounced his sword dancer's oaths, and is not only persona non grata, but fair game for any sword dancer who feels like killing him. Thereby, as they say, dangles the tail.

One of the side effects of what has happened to Del in Skandic is that he has begun to dream of a dead woman, who tells him to find her and "pick up the sword." The sword in question, of course, is his jivatma, Boreal, which he left buried in a cave after wrestling with a couple of sorcers, back in a previous installment.
So Del and Tiger travel about the South, encountering old friends and old enemies, making new friends and new enemies, and generally having a heck of a good, sword-dancing time. Some of the plot devices are fairly predictable early in the game, but it was still an enjoyable read.

The second problem I had with the book was how it all wrapped up far too neatly in about the last twenty pages. All problems solved, and they look like they're going to live happily ever after in near paradise. I know you wanted to wrap up their story and never return, Jenifer, but you really didn't HAVE to leave your devoted fans with no loose threads to worry at, did you?

All things considered, I loved it, and I highly recommend the novel and the series.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Murder by Another Name by Jo Stone

Murder by Another Name
I recently received a review copy of Jo Stone's new book, and had a few thoughts to share. This novel predominantly follows the story of a lawsuit brought by Janet Stephenson, lawyer for plaintiffs Pam and Larry Lawson, against PolySurgical Specialties, or PSS, claiming damages for adverse effects suffered due to Pam receiving breast implants manufactured by them which had not been adequately tested by the FDA. In a parallel story line, there is an ongoing grand jury investigation into the death of Sherri Barker, a sales rep of sorts for PSS, who was murdered by car bomb after delivering documents incriminating to PSS to Pam's doctor, Dan MacNamara.

The story of Pam and her lawsuit is compelling, and I believe Mrs. Stone has brought a great deal of the expertise she gained as a lawyer pursuing similar claims into play to provide a high level of detail on the issue of breast implants and the complications that arise from them. I really felt moved by the Lawsons' plight in this book, and really wanted them to be granted justice from the "evil" corporation. Stone also writes in great and loving detail about the process of a civil trial, and it was interesting to see how that differs from TV's portrayal of lawyers and the law.

One thing that was a little disappointing was that the villains in this piece were brought to justice far more quickly than I thought would happen. It might have been a more effective thriller if they'd remained at large, and dangerous, for a bit longer. It would have kept some of the protagonists looking over their shoulders, waiting for the hammer to fall, if the killers had remained at large. Also, it seemed like the killers weren't all that bright. I expected more cleverness from fictional killers, I guess, though my friends who are cops tell me that most criminals aren't all that bright, and get caught by making stupid mistakes. Perhaps Mrs. Stone's experience as a lawyer kept her a little too close to reality on this one.

The only other flaw in the novel was that it could have benefited from better editing, resulting in more rapid pacing and flow. Some of the scenes where, for example, a group of lawyers meets after a day in court, to rehash their day, could have been eliminated, most likely, without hurting things at all. Hey, it ain't Grisham at his finest, but Jo Stone is definitely an author to keep an eye on!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Just One Thing edited by John Mauldin

Just One Thing: Twelve of the World's Best Investors Reveal the One Strategy You Can't Overlook
Just One Thing: Twelve of the World's Best Investors Reveal the ONE Strategy You Can't Overlook, looked like it ought to be a really good investment guide. I remember a book I bought a number of years ago called The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need. It was really quite good, and I learned a lot. Just One Thing should have been called The Only Investment Guide You'll Regret Buying.

That said, good thing I just borrowed it from the public library, eh? The first chapter of the book, by a sage investor named Andy Kessler, contained a bit of good advice about the general philosophy of investing that I hadn't previously considered, "let your winners run and cut your losers." I've always sold my winners too soon and hung onto my losers with a death grip.

Then next ten chapters were filled with charts and graphs and psychobabble, economic theory and libertarian philosophy. Arggh. I didn't take away anything from them. The final chapter had some pretty good information about where we've come from and where we may be going, in a macroeconomic sense. Taken from sources like Toffler's Third Wave and sounding a bit like Naisbitt's Megatrends, this was a good reminder of what to look for in our investments for the future. Something called the "Millenium Wave" is on the way, as demographics change, borders fall, nanotech and biotech hit the markets, and our classical energy sources go by the wayside.

When I got done reading that chapter, I thought, "well, that was finally something worth reading." Then, I closed the book, looked at the front page, and realized that the editor of the book and the author of the final piece were one and the same. So, I figure the guy must have had this long essay he wanted to get published, and managed to get some other investment gurus to contribute some of their more obscure (dare I say useless?) writings to the project, so it would be fat enough to fill a book. That's my theory and I'm stickin' to it.

Don't bother.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games)
At long last, I've finished the Hunger Games trilogy. At the end of catching Fire, Katniss is rescued from the Quell by the rebels in District 13, and we find her adjusting to her new life and role there in Mockingjay. District 13 has survived in part by becoming very regimented and militaristic. Each citizen there has a schedule printed on their wrist each morning by the master computer program, and they must follow it, or risk censure and punishment. Katniss has been given a lot of leeway at first because of her celebrity status and obvious mental issues after her ordeal, but soon she will be expected to toe the line and make herself useful to the rebel cause again.

Peeta, unfortunately, was left behind when Katniss was rescued, and he has been tortured and brainwashed by the government in the Capitol. He retains enough of his sanity to sneak a message to District 13 about an impending bombing during one of President Snow's propaganda broadcasts, though the rest of the things he is forced to say get him labeled a traitor by the rebels. Katniss eventually decides to step up and assume her role as the Mockingjay, the symbol of the rebellion, and one of her conditions for doing so is that Peeta will be spared, if ever he is rescued or captured. Most of Katniss' other allies within the Capitol have been tortured and executed, but she is determined not to lose Peeta.

There's still some unresolved tension in the air about whether Katniss will decide she loves Gale or Peeta more, and she agonizes over her every decision concerning them through much of the novel. I'm not real fond of whiny little protagonists, and her angst nearly pushes me into hoping that Collins will simply kill her off in the end.

There's an underlying theme in this novel regarding terrorism vs. freedom fighting. Some of the tactics proposed by the people in District 13 command and weapons development are ripped directly from Al Qaeda, making you wonder who the good guys are in Mockingjay. We already know that the Capitol doesn't hesitate to sacrifice children to maintain its rule, so there really aren't any surprises there.

Without spoiling anything, I think that Collins does a nice job of avoiding the usual cast of characters roundup - the "where are they now" - by the simple expedient of killing off just about everyone that we've come to know through the trilogy. Not much of a happily ever after, but after Catching Fire, we pretty well should have abandoned that hope. This trilogy provides a good YA read, and people who aren't normally into apocalyptic science fiction may like it, too.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Book Blogger Hop December 10 to 13

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

Today's question: "What is the thing you like most about reading book blogs? Is it the reviews, author guest posts, articles, giveaways, or something else entirely?"

My answer: It's all about the books. I like to find out about new authors, new books by old authors, and what people think about them. I don't participate in giveaways, teasers, or any of that. Once and a while, I enjoy reading an author interview.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Follies #4

The cover art by Wally Wood of Galaxy Science Fiction from October 1959.

Stories inside:
Someone to Watch Over Me by Christopher Grimm
A Death in the House by Clifford D. Simak
Silence by John Brunner
Way Up Yonder by Charles Satterfield
Last of the Morticians by E. C. Tubb
King of the Planet by Wilson Tucker
True Self by Elisabeth Mann Borgese

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games)
So, all is not peaches and cream, sweetness and light for Katniss and Peeta as they return to District 12, victors in the Hunger Games (subtitle: There's no such thing as happily ever after?). Though they are given beautiful homes to live in, and their families are taken care of, they're not content, and neither are all of the districts. It seems that Katniss unwittingly became a symbol for those who chafe under the rule of the Capitol, and the unrest is beginning.

President Snow pays her a visit to warn her that she mustn't encourage the rebels in any way, threatening harm to her family and her...maybe boyfriend...Gale. When the rebels don't settle down, despite her best efforts to calm things - she's really clueless, and it turns out that her handlers are in cahoots with the rebels, themselves - Snow gets really nasty.

Every twenty five years, there is a special Hunger Games event, called The Quell (from quelling the rebellion?). This time it is announced that the games will be played by previous victors, one male, one female, from each district. Since Katniss is the only living female victor from district 12, guess who gets to play? Snow can arrange to kill off Katniss in the games and deprive the rebels of their mascot. I wonder why the danger of creating a motivational martyr doesn't occur to him?

So, once more unto the breach, dear friends, for Katniss and Peeta. But they're not alone this time, and have acquired some unlikely allies with interesting skills among the other former victors. Things don't work out exactly as Snow had hoped, and when it's over, he's got an all out war on his hands.

Ok, this is a fast and amusing read, but not terribly deep.

Some things that bother me a bit have to do with the world-building Collins has done, or not done, in this series. The whole setup with the Capitol dominating all of the districts through threat of violence, and keeping them all starving, despite the obviously high tech gadgets, medicine and so forth available within the story (convenient to the story line), just doesn't make sense from an economic point of view. It has a bit of a gulag-like tone. I'm not sure just how you sustain a level of industry and high tech seventy five years after a rebellion that gives the people in the capitol access to synthetic limbs indistinguishable from the real thing, regeneration of tissue from wounds, force fields, the ability to manipulate the environment within the Arena to the extent of having a volcano wipe out a group of tributes, not to mention genetic engineering, all sustained on the backs of low tech slave labor.

Read the books, but keep your critical functions turned down.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sten by Allan Cole and Chris Bunch

Some collaborators together produce a synergy resulting in something far better than any one of them could do singly. Such is the case with Cole & Bunch, who have been collaborating on books, screenplays and all sorts of other things for a good many years, now. A few years back, they split up and began to write on their own - pity. Nothing they've written since approaches their early works together, though the Seer King, Demon King, Warrior King trilogy by Bunch is showing some promise.

The story of Sten begins on Vulcan, an orbiting manufacturing complex where migrant workers (Migs) labor under horrible conditions for a pay scale which makes them, in effect, indentured servants. The hero of our story, Sten, loses his family in a deep space accident and is graciously allowed to take over his father's job as well as his father's debts by the company which runs the orbital.

Sten figures out that the game is rigged (shades of Tennessee Ernie Ford's Sixteen Tons) and lashes out against the company that has total control over the lives of all the Migs. He joins a ragtag group of rebels hiding in disused corridors and warehouses, but this ultimately proves futile, until he meets an undercover agent of the Eternal Emperor, who has grown curious about some strange happenings in and around Vulcan. The agent, Ian Mahoney of the special forces group, Mantis, recruits Sten to help him investigate the de facto ruler of Vulcan, Baron Thoreson.

The mission goes awry, as such things often do, and Mahoney extracts himself and Sten from Vulcan, dragooning Sten into his Majesty's Imperial Guards - whereby hangs a tale or seven in the series that Cole & Bunch ultimately write.

Sten (the novel and the character) are full of smart-ass comments, fast-paced action, and some often amusing social commentary. I'd highly recommend picking up this book and any others in the series you stumble across.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
When my cousin Mary recommended this book to me I didn't realize that I'd read one of Roach's earlier books - Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers. It was quite interesting, and so was this book about astronauts and space travel. Roach has produced a great resource for those of us who grew up obsessed with the Space Race, filled with all kinds of off-beat, interesting tidbits about topics that never saw print in the old media, probably for good reason.

Roach got the opportunity to interview astronauts, NASA researchers, and other pioneers in the field, asking them questions they probably weren't expecting. She spent time in remote Canada, riding with the teams testing new designs for Mars rovers, went for a parabolic flight to experience zero gravity, and got very closely acquainted with zero G toilets. Did you know there are people whose job is to create simulated "human fecal matter"?

Some sections of this book, like the one on excreting in space, probably shouldn't be read while trying to eat lunch. In fact, the one detailing how researchers prepared some of the meals that astronauts were to consume on the moon missions and at the space station might make you lose your appetite, as well, though for different reasons.

There's a very interesting section on motion sickness research that I found very informative. It may not keep you from losing your lunch when you lose gravity, but at least you'll know why you're grabbing for that sick bag. The chapter on zero G sex was quite thoroughly researched, but don't go getting any ideas - Roach could neither confirm nor deny rumors that anyone has attempted it.

It's been said many times by supporters of NASA's mission that the benefits of the space program are everywhere, but reading this book will definitely give you a better sense of the "overlap" between space technology and gadgets we use every day in our homes, our hospitals or our leisure activities. One of the best quotes on that subject, "Yes, the money could be better spent on Earth. But would it? Since when has money saved by government red-lining been spent on education and cancer research. It is always squandered. Let's go squander some on Mars."

Roach's writing style is eminently readable, with wry humor and a mastery of transitions between subjects. All you space junkies out there have got to pick up a copy.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Rules of Engagement by Elizabeth Moon

Rules of Engagement
Elizabeth Moon is an author who has successfully managed the transition between being a noted fantasy author and being a noted science fiction author. She joins the ranks of what I consider to be the military sf cadre with her last several novels, the latest and greatest of which is Rules of Engagement. This book is the sequel to Once a Hero, which falls loosely into the same series as Sporting Chance, Hunting Party, etc.
This tale centers around the lives of two young women, Esmay Suiza and Brun Seira. Esmay is a career space navy officer, while Brun is a rather talented, though headstrong, scion of the idle rich. Actually calling all of them idle rich might be a little unfair, as many of their fortunes were acquired the hard way, and some do actually do a little work, in Moon's universe, anyway.
Esmay and Brun could probably learn to be friends, but a misunderstanding sets them at each other's throats. In a fairly predictable fashion, Brun is kidnapped by the space militia and Esmay is the only one who can possibly rescue her, against all odds.
Well, anything Moon writes is a pretty fun read, so I can't complain too much, but I really couldn't get myself too worked up over any of the conflicts in this novel. There was one interesting part, towards the end of the book, when one of the villains of the piece gets his comeuppance and in the process reveals more depth than we'd have ever expected given the characterization of most of the rest of the participants in this space soap opera. Interestingly enough, the only other character to show any real depth was a character "imported" from a previous novel.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Kitty Takes a Holiday by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty Takes a Holiday (Kitty Norville, Book 3)I had to wait a long time to read this, the third in the Kitty Norville series by Vaughn. I'd put it on hold at the library, and either I was a long way down the waiting list, or someone kept it checked out for ages. After her ordeal in Washington DC, Kitty goes the Walden's Pond route and retreats to the wilderness, a small town in New Mexico, where she can write the book she's contracted for without any distractions. Unfortunately, the peaceful setting doesn't really motivate her to write, and she's taken to shapeshifting into her wolf form and going for long runs in the moonlight.

Soon, though, her peace is shattered by the appearance of Cormac, the bounty hunter, and Ben, her lawyer. Ben was gravely wounded by a werewolf while helping Cormac on one of his hunts, and has contracted the lycanthropic disease. Most people don't handle the transition to the werewolf way of life well on their own, so Kitty must adopt Ben as "pack" and help him through it. To complicate matters, some of the locals aren't excited about having the infamous Kitty Norville, werewolf, in their community, and some person or persons unknown are leaving curse markers and other, bloodier souvenirs at Kitty's mountain hideaway.

The bumbling locals have little real knowledge of the curses they're stirring up, and manage to attract a darker, deeper horror to the area. Kitty, Cormac, and Ben must figure out who's playing with fire, disperse the curse, and battle the evil the fools have aroused. All of this while dealing with the new relationship forced on Kitty and Ben by his new nature, and his emotional turmoil as he adapts to the situation. We know sharks and lawyers have a lot in common, but what about werewolves?

Some new little southwestern twists on shapeshifter lore in this one. Kitty, I think, begins to grow up a little and quit feeling quite so sorry for herself, as she has ever since the attack that made her a werewolf. She also starts to get over the guilt she feels for the death of her friend, TJ, when she challenged the Denver pack leader. Looking forward to a new installment to see what Kitty does next.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Follies #3

The cover art by Hannes Bok on my copy of Fantasy Fiction magazine June 1953

Stories inside:
The Wall of Serpents by L. Sprague De Camp and Fletcher Pratt
Samsi by Peter Coccagna
Rachaela by Poul Anderson
The Weeblies by Algis Budrys
Emissary by Charles E. Fritch
The Cookie Lady by Philip K. Dick
Sylvia by Peter Phillips
More Spinned Against by John Wyndham

Children of Sun by R. B. Holbrook

Oracle's Legacy: Children of Sun
This book by Holbrook is the first in the Oracle's Legacy trilogy. I'm not a big fan of multiple POV novels, and this book has plenty of them, so that made it a little hard for me to enjoy.

There is, evidently, a secret society known as the Structure, which has been around for about eight thousand years, composed of seven Houses, which are each known for their style of energy manipulation, giving them special talents. The primary protagonist in this novel is Ollie (Olivia), a member of House Sun, which manipulates mental energy, known for scholars, telepaths and telekinetics. Ollie is the adopted daughter, one of eighteen children, of The Oracle, the person who nominally rules the entire Structure.

The cycle has turned, the time has come, and the portents are ripe for the Oracle to die or step down and be replaced by a new Oracle. As you might anticipate, the political maneuverings and outright power grabs have begun, and Ollie somehow seems to be the key to multiple Houses' and factions' plans to have one of their members take the position. Most of the factions seem to be trying to kill her off, for no apparent reason, but it does give Holbrook a chance to demonstrate some of Ollie's odder mental powers, which don't seem to fall within the normal repertoire of House Sun.

Ollie has a very odd, and sometimes incomprehensible, relationship with each and every one of her tribe of adopted siblings. Despite various flashbacks and dribbles of her past experiences that came along over the course of the novel, I never really felt like I understood why she was saying and doing half the things she did. Aside from a few of the younger siblings who appeared a bit more mellow and compassionate, I couldn't follow the motivations of most of her family.

Each of the members of a House has an identifying mark, or energy seal, distinctively shaped for that House. As the member proceeds along the path of "enlightenment" the seal grows to cover more of the skin. There are different levels of enlightenment, but all members of the structure are presumed to be more "enlightened" than ordinary humans. I had to wonder how a group of people who have been studying enlightenment for thousands of years could still be just as venal, corrupt, and greedy as ordinary humans, but I guess none of us outgrow original sin, eh?

There's a glossary of the Houses and terms in the front of the book, which you're definitely going to need to help you make sense of events as you read. This book was really very difficult to follow, with its POV jumps, characters whose motivations were never quite clear, and a very gradual dribbling out of important facts about the history of the Structure, the Houses, and the characters. Despite that, I grew rather fond of Ollie, her prickly demeanor and need to defend her family at all costs, and some of the applications of each House's powers were novel twists. I'll get round to finishing the trilogy eventually, and hopefully much which is dark will become light.

Book Blogger Hop December 3 to 6

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

Book Blogger Hop
Question for the week:
"What very popular and hyped book in the blogosphere did you NOT enjoy and how did you feel about posting your review?"

I generally don't read a lot of popular, hyped books in the first place. If I had to pick one that I read recently and didn't enjoy as much as the rest of the populace, I'd have to say Twilight by Stephanie Meyer.