Friday, April 29, 2011

Book Blogger Hop - April 29 to May 2

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

Book Blogger Hop

This week's question:
"Summer is coming quickly - what 2011 summer release are you are most looking forward to?"

I've been waiting for Ghost Story by Jim Butcher, ever since Harry Dresden took a bullet in Changes. Pre-buzz doesn't seem to indicate that it's going to answer the question of where this series is going, or if it is going, long term, but I love The Dresden Files.

Masques by Patricia Briggs

MasquesI believe that Masques was Briggs first novel, and evidently it was adequate to get her published, so she could follow up eventually with Mercy Thompson and friends. This book is mostly just classic fantasy, complete with an evil wizard, a plucky female lead, and her faithful shapeshifting wolf companion.

Aralorn, runaway daughter of a minor noble, is a shapeshifter and a spy for Ren, the spymaster of Sianim. Her assignment is to find out what she can at the court of the ae'Magi (archmage) Geoffrey, a well-beloved man who seems to have the magical situation in the land well under control. While she is there, she finds that Geoffrey is not the angelic figure he pretends to be, but that he is guilty of using black magic, fueled by pain, blood and death, to consolidate his power and influence.

There is a branch of the royal family that is immune to magic whom he is unable to influence with his charismatic spells, and Aralorn makes contact with the heir of that family, Myr, while she is spying at the court of the ae'Magi. When Geoffrey plots to capture or kill Myr, Aralorn goes AWOL from her next assignment to join his loyalists hiding in the mountains where Geoffrey's magic doesn't reach.

Sometime much earlier, Aralorn rescued a wolf from a pit trap who was actually a shapeshifter. Wolf has been her somewhat constant companion ever since, and he also is part of the resistance to the ae'Magi. Wolf has a more personal reason, though, as he is really Cain, the ae'Magi's son, who fled after being accused of working black magic. He had actually done so, under his father's tutelage, but had come to regret his evil ways and fled from his father's control.

The quest is relatively straightforward - kill Geoffrey and free the kingdom from his evil. The main problem with this novel, in my opinion, is that Geoffrey suffers from the same conceit as the Bond villains, he wants to gloat over his victims rather than just killing them quickly. This gives Aralorn just enough opportunities to escape him so that she can defeat him in the end. A good first effort by Briggs, but she's written much better.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Vitals by Greg Bear


Review written 2003
This novel left me with a sense of deja vu. Actually it didn't "leave me" so much as the impression snuck up on me as I was reading, and continued to the end and beyond. I kept wondering if I hadn't read this novel before, and just forgotten it. Given the large volume of SF I devour, it's certainly possible.

However, the most likely explanation is that this book is nearly a re-make of one of Bear's first writings, Blood Music. I can't really recall any of the details of the earlier book, but my general recollection is that the cells or mitochondria in our bloodstreams were "singing" to us, and if we just tuned in and listened to them, we'd be able to take the next evolutionary step to some sort of communal consciousness.

Anyway, Vitals is a story about two brothers, Hal and Rob Cousins, who are scientists working in the area of life extension. While on a deep sea voyage to obtain samples of primitive organisms near volcanic vents in the ocean, things begin to go mysteriously wrong for Hal. He is attacked by the driver of the sub, and strange things happen on the vessel above the waves, as well. In the wake of this event, his funding is cut, he becomes subject to more personal assaults, and his sanity is called into question.

His brother was murdered at approximately the same time, and as Hal begins to dig into material his brother had arranged to end up in his hands, he becomes involved in a conspiracy which began in Stalinist Russia. Russian biologists working with the bacteria in stromatolites (primitive fossil-like organisms) from Lake Baikal created a mind control technique which they tested on prisoners destined for the gulags. After Stalin's fall from power, the head scientist reached an accommodation with Western intelligence agencies, and a huge shadowy organization has controlled the minds of key people and thugs worldwide ever since.

Where it gets weird, tho, is that these people are actually being controlled at a far more powerful level by the bacteria themselves. It seems that the bacteria have had a worldwide conspiracy to keep the human race dying young (thereby providing fodder for more bacteria) all along. Hal and his fellow scientists who are trying to find the fountain of youth are interfering with their plan, and must be stopped at all costs.

So, as far as weird science goes, this is a provocative, thought inspiring novel. As far as the plot, character development and final resolution are concerned, I was confused and disappointed throughout. I've read quite a few of Bear's novels over the years, and enjoyed them. This is probably not his best effort.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Citadel by John Ringo

Citadel: Troy Rising IICitadel is the second book in Ringo's Troy Rising series, and in a way it breaks the mold set in the first. Most of Live Free or Die takes place from the point of view of Tyler Vernon, the man who successfully opens up trade with the Glatun and organizes the Earth resistance to the Horvath. Now, Ringo introduces a couple of new characters so that we can get a better perspective of what's going on with the man-made planetoid, Troy, as construction on a war time footing predominates this book.

The Horvath were smacked around pretty hard at the end of LFoD, and are most likely off licking their wounds somewhere, but the Rangora empire which gave the Horvath most of the fleet that Troy wiped out have decided that the Terrans must be dealt with sooner than later, so their punitive fleet, more modern and powerful than the Horvath's, is on the way. Ringo also introduces a couple of characters on the Rangora side of things, so that we can see what their high command is thinking, as each of a series of space battles falls into place.

On the military side of things, we get Engineering Apprentice Dana Parker, a bright young woman who is part of the space navy. Fresh out of the academy, she experiences a crash course (sometimes literally) in maintaining and repairing the space vehicles used by the fleet, and as a coxswain, or pilot. On the civilian side, there's Butch Allen, a member of a poor family with fourteen children, who takes the opportunity to go to Troy as an apprentice welder. He survives the hazing rituals of the existing crew and the rigors of training and working in microgravity and hard vacuum, to become an integral part of the construction and later salvage operations as succeeding fleets sent by the Rangora are reduced to their component pieces and used by the Earth fleet for their needs.

The Rangoran characters are possibly the best of a bad lot. Most of the high command consistently underestimate the fighting ability and technological level of Earth, but Major To'Jopeviq and his political officer, Lieutenant Jith Beor, are prone to a more realistic assessment of the odds. This puts them at odds with most of their colleagues and superiors, but in the end they are justified in a Pyrrhic fashion.

Most hard science fiction and military buffs will probably really enjoy this novel, as it explores the possibilities of applying new technology to an old endeavor. I know I did. Waiting eagerly for Troy Rising III.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Unhinged by Michelle Malkin

Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild

Review written 2005

Just finished (did you know that the book review heading on my old web site was called "Just finished...," because I almost always started my review with those words?) reading Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild, which, depending on your political persuasion, is either an extremely biased rant against the forces of Liberal reason and rationality, or an objective look at the excesses of the "barking moonbats" of the Leftist horde, or maybe just a bit of both.

What it is, is a pretty well documented book about a number of instances of extreme insensitivity, race baiting, ad hominem attacks, and even criminal behavior by spokesman, self-appointed or otherwise, of the Liberal Left. Malkin explores PEST, Post Election Selection Trauma, which apparently severely affected many of those who campaigned for or voted for John Kerry in the 2004 Presidential race, incapacitating them for days, weeks or months after his loss to Bush. She explores some of the liberal conspiracy theories, such as believing that the CIA blew up the World Trade Center towers, that the capture of Saddam Hussein was staged at an opportune moment; he'd been in custody for months previously, or that Bush has secret plans for a military draft.

She talks about liberals' failure to support our troops during the War on Terror and the War in Iraq, their attacks on campus recruiters and recruiting stations, and their abusive behavior towards war veterans and their families. She talks about college environments which condone and even encourage viewpoints such as Ward Churchill's, that the people who worked in the WTC deserved what happened to them, for their complicity in the military industrial complex's bid for world domination (Gosh, some people never really grew out of the sixties, did they?).

She spends some time discussing the rabid anti-Bush sentiment of many of the entertainers in Hollywood. Given the total fantasy of the world these people generally live in, who relies on them for any kind of reality check, anyway? (digression here - I was watching an Oprah-clone talk show one day, and the topic was successful relationships. The host had three guests (models and actresses - C or D list, I can't really say) who were there to give us their sage advice. The first one says something along the lines of "I've always been single," the second says her longest relationship was 1-1/2 years, and the third was married for several years and got divorced. My first and last thought - I turned to another channel at that point - was "why in the world would you ask one of these people how to sustain a long term monogamous relationship?" If I want to know how, I'll ask one of my acquaintances who have been married for 20, 50, or 65 years. - end digression).

Malkin also has a chapter filled with the venomous attacks upon her personally from liberals who have taken great offense to the opinions she expresses on her blog, and/or the columns she writes for conservative web sites, and/or the bloviating she gets to do on Fox News, especially The O'Reilly Factor. If you're at all sensitive or easily offended by foul language, I suggest you skip this chapter, or perhaps use a black magic marker to clean it up a bit. The rest of the chapter is the same sort of thing that she's collected from other web sites, posted by people who disagreed with some poor conservative schmuck.

Ok, so I was shocked and appalled by the obscene personal attacks on Mrs. Malkin. I, personally, wouldn't dream of talking to my worst enemy in the world that way, even if they'd spoken to me in that fashion first. However, from my surfing excursions, I've noticed that this stuff is pretty common on political blogs -- why, I can't imagine, as it doesn't further rational discourse in any way, shape or form. Perhaps I'll even receive some of it for posting this review.

To be as objective as possible here, there's a ton of invective being tossed back and forth in the political arena these days, both online and offline, that falls far beyond the pale of what not so long ago was considered common courtesy. I'm not even talking dirty politics, here, but rather the vicious attacks - verbal and/or physical - which evoke  Wrestlemania far more than boxing by Queensbury rules.
All in all, a quick and entertaining, and sometimes maddening, read.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tiassa by Steven Brust

Tiassa (Vlad)
I was actually quite surprised to find this out so quickly at my local library. I've been a huge Brust fan for years, and have avidly followed, read, and re-read his Taltos series, so I was thrilled to find Tiassa, the thirteenth book in the series. I'm guessing there will be 17or 18 by the time it's all finished, mimicking the Cycle and accounting for all of the houses, with the addition of the book titled Taltos a while back.

Tiassa is structured a little differently. No surprises there, Brust likes to mess with conventions a bit when it comes to story lines. It begins with a scene between Vlad and Sethra LaVode, where he shows her a silver sculpture of a tiassa which is the focus of the entire story, being rumored to have mystical powers, though its powers turn out in the end to have nothing to do with what is commonly known. Then the story hops back in time to shortly after Vlad and Cawti met (and she tried to assassinate him), when he gets involved in an elaborate con with the participation of the Viscount of Adrilankha, which ends up with Khaavren (of Phoenix Guards and elsewhere fame) owing Vlad a favor.

The story continues to bounce around, and Brust very skillfully weaves timelines and characters from all of his novels together for the first time here. It was quite entertaining to see the contrast between the parts of the tale told in Vlad's "voice" and those in the style of "Khaavren" and his friends. Then, when Vlad and Khaavren are actually on stage together, the banter and verbal sparring are a thing of beauty to behold. Parvi the historian puts in an appearance, as well, giving Brust the chance to elucidate a bit on the notions of storytelling and history.

Unfortunately, it had been too long since I read the last installment of Vlad, so I'm going to have to go back and revisit it, just so I understand the reasoning behind the ending of this book. Might not be a bad idea, if you've got copies of Dzur, Iorich and Jhegaala laying about the house, to give them a glance before you pick this one up. My only other worry is that Brust may be finally going into a Heinlein-esque senile phase, where the desire to throw all of his characters from all of his stories into the crockpot leaves us all with indigestion. Only time will tell.

Mailbox Monday

Rosemary and Rue (October Daye, Book 1)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Magic on the Hunt by Devon Monk

Magic on the Hunt (Allie Beckstrom, Book 6)
I had to grab a copy of Magic on the Hunt as soon as it came out, so I could find out what Allie and her allies were up to. The situation in magical Portland is still very unsettled, though the corporate Veiled have been imprisoned, as well as the beast-man Greyson. But it appears that Leander has managed to slip from the land of Death into the mundane world, and his megalomania can't mean anything good is going to happen.

It seems, in this book, that all of the "adult" members of the Authority have their own plots and power plays going on, while only Allie and the younger generation actually have the best interests of Portland and its residents at heart. Allie is still inhabited by the spirit of her dead father, which turns out to be a good thing several times through this installment, beginning when she and Zayvion are attacked at her apartment. Zayvion is knocked unconscious and Allie is immobilized by magic, as Dane, a close ally of Sethra (kidnapped head of the Authority), and his thugs interrogate her. But Dad's magic is somehow able to penetrate those bindings and the bad guys are temporarily driven off.

Throughout the book, Allie, Zayvion, Shamus and Terric repeatedly disobey or ignore orders from on high, and keep going from frying pan to fire in their efforts to stop Leander and find out what's really going on in the war of the wells. Making things more complicated, Allie's best friend Nola shows up in town, dragging Cody along, and she intends to move to the city permanently, so she can be closer to her boyfriend, head of the supernatural task force in the Portland police. Allie tries to protect her from the effects of the war, but Nola's a big girl, and resents Allie's interference.

Nothing really new or surprising develops with Allie and Zayvion's relationship, aside from some magical bits towards the end of the book. There are some good plot surprises that caught me napping, as far as the whole plot/counterplot thing. The only disappointment for me was that the ending seemed to leave us in another unresolved situation, leaving us waiting for the next sequel. I know that Monk has a story to tell and it's going to take a lot more pages to get to the end of it, but maybe just once we could get a longer "super-sized" book for our money.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Wizard of London by Mercedes Lackey

The Wizard of London (Elemental Masters, Book 4)
After reading about a quarter way through this book, I realized it was actually book #4 in a series called The Elemental Masters. Now, this is pretty good, since I never got much of a feeling that I had missed "what has gone before," and was able to enjoy it as a stand-alone novel. I'll probably pick up the earlier books in the series at the library one of these days, just to catch up on things.

I do, however, remember now why I quit reading Lackey's books a few years ago. She had reached that point in an author's career where, in my opinion, she had nothing really new to say. I first noticed this phenomenon in the works of Heinlein about five years before his death, and later in the works of Eddings, which up to that point had been delightful.

The story is about a young girl, Sarah, whose parents are missionaries in Africa. For her safety, they send her home to England to a boarding school run by Isabelle Harton and her husband, Frederick. Many boarding schools are horrible places, run by misers and bullies, but this one is full of loving care, and has the added benefit of helping psychically gifted youngsters learn to use and control their talents. Isabelle and Frederick, and several of their staff, are Warriors of the Light, and when they manifest their avatars, do battle with the forces of darkness wherever they are found.

Isabelle also rescues a street waif named Nan, who possesses psychic ability, and a considerable portion of the book details her integration (a la Eliza Doolittle) into the school. Sarah and Nan, of course, become the best of friends, and eventually fall into some misadventures discovering and defeating, with the help of the Warriors, several evil minions.

Ok, here's a couple of things I consider to be the downside to this book. First, Lackey seems to have fallen into that same rut which Heinlein fell into in his latter days, that all of the good guys in the books are simply "too good to be true." When most of the surrounding culture is horribly prejudiced against the foreign, they are not only tolerant, but embrace other cultures. Three of the "servants" in the school are a Sikh, a Gurkha, and a Moslem (they also are extremely wise and filled with the spirit of brotherhood).

While the majority of the marriages in their culture are arranged, political and loveless, Isabelle and Frederick's union is blissful, loving and *gasp* enjoys the "carnal" relations. In the household and school, disputes are always rationally discussed, children are lovingly disciplined in creative ways (rather than resorting to crude corporal measures), students and servants cheerfully do their cetera, et cetera, et-freakin' cetera. The word that came to mind when I was considering the characters in this book (and upon reflection, in Lackey's recent works) was "insipid."

In the plot, the tension slowly (agonizingly so) builds. There is a certain nobleman, David Alderscroft, who was a former beau of Isabelle's, winkled away from her in the past by Cordelia, the ice princess incarnate. Cordelia, not so surprisingly, has an ancient evil ally, some sort of ice dragon locked in a glacier, and appears to have a goal of -dare I say it - world domination. Over the course of the book, her plot slowly works its way to fruition. David has been influenced over the years to go along with her scheme, by appealing to his sense that aristocrats surely must know best how to govern the masses. However, at the climactic moment, when good and evil must surely battle, our intrepid heroes manage to TALK THE ENEMY INTO GIVING UP! Is that exciting, or what? Of course, the enemy was merely duped in the first place so, of course, love is all you really need. Why can't we all just get along?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Trick of the Light by Rob Thurman

Trick of the Light (Trickster, Book 1)
Rob Thurman is perhaps better known for her (yes, Rob is short for Robyn) Cal Leandros series, but I haven't been able to locate a cheap copy of the first book in that series, so I had to give her Trickster series a try first. This book brings a little different cast of characters than the bread and butter elf, vampire and werewolf fare, with a little homemade jam of angels and demons instead.

Trixa Ixtomi is a bar owner in Las Vegas, who seems to have a part time hobby of burning down nightclubs near the Strip which belong to demons. Her chief bartender Leo, is a native american of indeterminate tribe - and he can get really rude with the tourist who ask him his Indian name - whose history with Trixa goes back a long time. They have a mascot at the bar, Lenore, a male! raven who quotes Poe and others freely.

Trixa has a tendency to take in strays, it appears, and she has a particular soft spot for a pair of runaways named Griffin and Zeke. Griffin is an empath, and Zeke is a telepath, but also a sociopath, whose notions of right and wrong are so black and white that Griffin has to keep an eye on him at all times, lest he execute all thieves, rapists, and molesters on sight. All of the cast of characters are pretty good with guns and knives, and ready to mix it up with the demons which infest sin city in a heartbeat.

Trixa's brother was murdered by a demon some years ago when they lived in Hawaii, and she has spent the intervening time trying to find out which one is guilty of the crime. She has heard a rumor about an artifact called the Light of Life, which has immense power and which the legions of both Heaven and Hell desire go gain control of. She believes she can find it, and trade it to whichever side hands over her brother's killer.

This one's got some really interesting characters, great plot twists that I never saw coming, and has a great treasure hunt motif. I just have to wonder what Ms. Thurman is going to do in the next book to top this one.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tangled Threads by Jennifer Estep

Tangled ThreadsMs. Estep was kind enough to send me an advance copy of the fourth book in her Elemental Assassin series to review, so I'm here to give you the early buzz on Tangled Threads.

Gin Blanco's arch-enemy, Mab Monroe, has hired another professional assassin, from a family of assassins (Like the Flying Wallendas?) to kill The Spider. The assassin is also a woman, called LaFleur, and uses a variant on air elemental skills, electrocution, as well as her formidable physical skills, to make her kills. Gin is investigating one of Mab's drug dealing minions down by the docks when the first trap is set, but her gut instinct tells her there's something wrong with the setup, and she witnesses LaFleur murder the hapless fool who is bait for the snare.

So now Gin and her friends must figure out how to take down LaFleur before she kills Gin. Gin begins to investigate, and finds out that one of the bartenders at Northern Exposure, Vinnie, an immigrant from the Soviet bloc, has been passing information along to Monroe. Monroe kidnaps his daughter, and Gin's need to save the innocent complicates things further.

LaFleur is, if not romantically, sexually involved with one of Mab's lieutenants whose son Gin killed in an earlier book, and he convinces the assassin to kill Gin Blanco, the restaurant owner, as well, only on the grounds that she had a run-in with his son earlier in which he lost face. So Gin is a target for two reasons, though none of the bad guys knows she is The Spider. Mab also has reasons to want Gin's sister, the policewoman, dead, and Gin also needs to find a way to protect her baby sister, Bria.

Gin's relationship with Owen Grayson goes through some evolution in this volume. It becomes apparent to her eventually that he's not put off by her alter ego and is more than eager to help in her crusade against the Monroe mob. We see some hope that Gin might once again feel loved and part of a "family" again.

One of the things I wondered about while reading this book was exactly how Gin gets trained in her elemental magic. In one scene, she creates some delicate lockpicks out of ice, but most of the time she just uses the brute force approach or creates knives out of ice. There's a bit where an ice elemental bartender at Northern Aggression creates the entire bar setup out of ice, and keeps it maintained with his magic. It seems like Gin might have wanted to consult with him for some tips. She doesn't seem to spend time with any ice elementals, at least as it's mentioned in the books, and I just wonder how she could go about perfecting her skills.

In fact, none of the elementals in these books really seem to do a whole lot more with their magic than create some huge blast of power to battle with other elementals, or temporarily raise the power to intimidate someone. One exception is Gin's friend, the dwarven healer, who seems to be able to do quite delicate healing and cosmetic surgery with her power. Shouldn't Gin spend more time with her, at least understanding the principles of control, even if it's a different element? All Jo-Jo seems to say to her is basically, "you are strong in the Force, young Skywalker".

Another thing that I thought was odd was that Gin has, throughout the books, used her stone elemental power to check her surroundings for evil intent. Even when she enters her own home, she checks the stones, and is able to determine that no one has come around while she's gone with an intent to do her harm. But at one point in the book, when she checks the pavement around her restaurant, the Pork Pit, she detects no bad vibes. A little later on, we discover that the assassin, LaFleur, had been around to check the place out. Why couldn't Gin detect that?

Overall, a great book, and I'm hoping to see the next book, Spider's Revenge, soon

Monday, April 18, 2011

Carnifex by Tom Kratman

Carnifex takes up the action right where A Desert Called Peace leaves off, on the planet of Terra Nova. The initial campaigns of the Legions put together by Patricio Carrera (nee Patrick Hennessey) and his colleagues have wound down, and the FSC has tried to mothball them. So, when the time comes that they need to be called back to service, Carrera/Hennessey makes the politicians who fired him in the first place pay through the nose to hire his men.

In the meantime, Carrera and the boys have been building an even more formidable force than before, including the beginnings of a fleet of ships, including a small aircraft carrier, and their first job is to tackle the piracy which is crippling shipping for the FSC and its allies. Then their army is hired to take care of the Salafists who have retreated to a mountainous and tribe-infested area of the planet (sounds like Afghanistan).

After Mr. Kratman was kind enough to comment on my post about the first book in this series, A Desert Called Peace, I feel moved to discuss some of the deeper issues raised in reading his books.

The main protagonist, Patrick Hennessy, enters into this endeavor motivated mostly by vengeance, needing to make the terrorists pay in blood for the death of his family. In the journey, however, we do see some other aspects of Hennessy, such as his intense loyalty towards his men. He'll spare nothing, not even his own health, wealth or sanity, in order to make sure that they get the best training and equipment possible to wage this war. In the beginning, they have little, but after a time, they are the most effective fighting force on the planet. He also endures the dilemma that all commanders face, of sending troops off into situations where they are all likely to be killed, in order to achieve a strategic objective, and this responsibility ages and saddens him, but not past his ability to do what he must.

There's a point in the books when Hennessy, seeing that the opposing forces are not treating prisoners humanely, makes a public statement to the media and to his foes that if they will abide by the rules of war, his troops will continue to treat prisoners well, allow battlefield surrenders, and so forth. But if the Salafists will not abide by the rules, then his forces will be released to be as brutal as necessary to win. This policy appeared to work in the book. It raises some moral questions, though, and one wonders if in lowering our standards to those our enemies follow, we might not become too much like them to bear.

The Legion also maintains a very secretive on-the-water "intelligence gathering' operation. Captured terrorists are both physically and psychologically tortured until they give up the information needed to thwart their organization's ongoing plans. We've just been through a huge public debate on torture in this country, so I've considered it a bit. My gut level reaction is that, if the lives of my family or friends were at stake, and time was short to find out how to stop an impending attack, my first instinct would be to use whatever means necessary to stop it. The needs of the many, or the innocent, outweigh the cost of brutalizing someone who means them harm. Does it make it moral, however?

In the United States, we have long had a mandate that the military forces of the country are ultimately under civilian control, with the President as our commander in chief. The Legion, in these books, is only nominally under civilian control, mostly from a payroll standpoint, though as time goes by Hennessy and his financial wizards come close to achieving financial independence as well. So, is the existence of a superior fighting force, abiding mostly by their own sense of honor and duty, a good thing to have lying around? In this story it may very well be. What responsibility should an army have to their civilian masters when those master become corrupt, incompetent and at times betray their own nation?

Other thoughts...

What happens when the standard of living in a country is so low that joining a mercenary force like the legion provides young men with the highest wages they could ever earn, better training than the could ever have hoped for, a guaranteed retirement and death benefit, and for the truly talented, paid scholarships? When you have such a flood of volunteers that you can pick just the best and the brightest for your troops?

At what point do you regard media workers who are ostensibly neutral or overtly hostile to your cause to be actual enemies? What level of cooperation with your armed enemies makes them fair targets? What about members of NGOs who are providing material aid? What level of retaliation is appropriate? Humiliation or discrediting them, taking them prisoner until the war is over, assassinating them?

If you like hard core war fiction, complete with rape, torture, assassination, violent combat, graphic sex, corruption, and twisty plots, traps and pitfalls, it's a great book. Kratman makes no bones about how he feels about those who view the world as they wish it could be, rather than accepting reality and dealing with treacherous terrorist forces accordingly.

Mailbox Monday

Nightlife (Cal Leandros, Book 1)
Moonshine (Cal Leandros, Book 2)
Madhouse (Cal Leandros, Book 3)
Roadkill: A Cal Leandros Novel 
The Automatic Detective
Ill Wind (Weather Warden, Book 1)

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Desert Called Peace by Tom Kratman

A Desert Called Peace (Baen Science Fiction)
This novel by Kratman barely qualifies as science fiction. I've mentioned before that in the realm of what's published these days as science fiction or fantasy, there are actually many books which are more realistically termed as Westerns or Romance or Detective novels, which only get called SF & F because they don't take place on modern day Earth. Kratman's book is really just Military fiction which happens to take place a century or so from now, though even the weaponry hasn't changed that much from what we have today - there's no disruptors, ray guns, stunners or particle beams, just plain old projectile weapons and some good old-fashioned nukes.

Most of the action takes place on Terra Nova (New Earth, right?) and seems to be a slightly altered version of recent events on our planet. A retired military man, Patrick Hennessey, loses his entire family when two airships deliberately crash into the skyscraper where his family's business offices are located, while his wife and children are visiting his uncle. Rather than burn to death in the resulting conflagration, they leap to their deaths as do many others. Hennessey attends their memorial service, then descends into an alcoholic grief-fueled stupor for several months, until some of his friends, former allies and enemies, come to him with a plan which will allow him to take his revenge on the terrorists who ruined his life.

Surprise! The terrorists are Salafi extremists, who have merely been a nuisance to the other cultural enclaves on Terra Nova up to this point. But someone behind the scenes is funding them and giving them strategies and intelligence information to carry out increasingly effective acts of terrorism. Hennessy and his friends begin to build a military force that can reach out to kill the Salafis in their homelands, and eventually are recruited as a mercenary force by the FSC, the most powerful nation on the planet, to do just that.

The main story line is interrupted fairly regularly with what might be termed flashbacks, showing how Terra Nova was discovered, then colonized by Earth. Most of the people who emigrated were either the best and brightest, or what the United Nations, which gained supreme power over Earth as time went by, considered troublemakers - often both. The United Nations, and Earth itself, are now stagnating, and are only able to make repairs to their aging space fleet by selling off Earth's art treasures to the Terra Novans, who have a robust economy, for the most part. The Admiral of the UN fleet in orbit about the planet, and his staff, are hopelessly decadent and corrupt, and are searching for a way to prevent the FSC and its allies from ever achieving space travel, so that they never are able to return to Earth, to dominate the world either militarily or economically.

Brutal violence, graphic sex, just the usual Baen blend these days. Aside from some interesting political musings well blended into the action, that might cast some light on what the author feels would be a more effective set of tactics to use against Islamic terrorism on our planet, it's just pure war porn.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Warrior King by Chris Bunch

The Warrior King

Review written March 2000

The long-awaited, thrilling conclusion to the saga of Damastes a Cimabue and the wizard Tenedos! This series, beginning with The Seer King, rolling right along with The Demon King, and (I assume), wrapping things up nicely with The Warrior King, has been a riotous romp from start to finish.

WARNING: This series is not written for children. It contains scenes filled with graphic, gratuitous sex, violence and heretical thoughts!
On the other hand, the novels also contain some lessons on loyalty, patriotism, love, honor, duty and many of William Bennett's other virtues.
The Warrior King begins with the exiled Damastes being summoned to the capital of Nicias, ruled by the remnants of the Council of Ten. It seems that Tenedos, thought dead, has risen/returned to lead an army to attempt to reclaim his throne. The remaining councilors ask Damastes to lead the armies of Nicias against the ex-emperor. While he is considering this offer, one of his old enemies attempts to murder him, and in the resulting mayhem, Damastes escapes the palace and flees into the countryside.
Discovering some unlikely sources of aiding and abetting along the way, he makes his way to his family's estates in Cimabue, where he hopes merely to avoid all politics and war. Unfortunately for him, but fortunately for the readers, neither the emperor nor the council will leave him alone, so he raises an army to defend his beloved country against domestic and foreign aggressors.
The Warrior King zooms right along, with plenty of battles, covert actions, magic and mayhem, double-dealings, triple-crosses, thrills and surprises. I enjoyed it, and only regret that it may be the last book of this series.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wraith by Phaedra Weldon

Wraith (Zoe Martinique, Book 1)
This looked like an interesting new author to try out. It's the first book in the Zoe Martinique Investigation series. Weldon does something just a little different as far as contemporary urban fantasy goes. Zoe is a fledgling private investigator, who advertises on the Internet for her services, and who does her investigations by astral projection; she is able to leave her body for a few hours and spy on things going on in the world around her.

While snooping for a client on his dot-com employers to see if they intend to fire him, Zoe stumbles into something more serious going on nearby. Following her "nose" she witnesses a murder taking place. A Vin Diesel lookalike in a trench coat puts a bullet in the head of an oriental man, and then "eats" his soul. Zoe manages to escape by rapidly returning to her body, but not before the guy, whom she nicknames "TC", grabs her by the astral arm and leaves a black hand print, like a tattoo, around her forearm.

Zoe's mother is some sort of sensitive, and owns a shop in an old Victorian house in Atlanta which has a couple of resident gay ghosts, Tim and Steve. Rhonda, a friend of the family, is a bit of an expert in paranormal matters. Zoe tells them some of what happened to her, and even though they urge her to stay out of the matter, she can't help herself, and decides to go out of body again to find out what's happening after she sees more about Tanaka's murder in the news.

She finds her way to the murdered man's boss, Hirokumi's office, and eavesdrops on a meeting between him and the detective on the case, Lieutenant Frasier. Hirokumi is mixed up in the spooky aspects of the case, and attempts to warn Frasier away without coming right out and saying it was a supernatural being that killed his employee. Hirokumi's personal assistant, Mitsuri, is also more than she appears, and she detects Zoe's presence at the meeting, attempting to trap her astral projection within a charmed Chinese dragon. Zoe escapes again, narrowly.

Zoe finds herself attracted to young Lieutenant Frasier, and once again despite her family and friends' warnings, goes astral to snoop on the detective. She finds him in a bar talking with the bartender and listens in for a while, but suddenly discovers that her encounter with "TC" has given her a new ability, she becomes corporeal, even though her real body is back home. She has a short conversation with Frasier, but flees when he sees the "bruise" on her arm and thinks she's been battered and tries to suggest help.

This novel just goes on and on with twists and turns and unexpected guests, and Weldon really sets the scene for further adventures (looks like there's a couple out already) with Zoe. It's a bit dark, and Zoe's stubborness and tendency to bull on into things she should have avoided are a little trying at times, but I think the series will continue to be fun. They're definitely something different than the usual vampire, were, and fairy fare.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Trigger by Arthur C. Clarke and Michael Kube-McDowell

The Trigger
This book reminded me a bit of State of Fear, by Crichton, or perhaps some of the works of Richard North Patterson, in that it is extremely political. The issue explored in Trigger is gun control. Yet, it is still good science fiction, albeit very near future, because it explores the ramifications of discovering a device which causes nearly all explosives to detonate immediately when they enter the field generated by the device. Aside from a nod or two to particle physics in the first chapter or two, there's not a lot of technical information in this novel. 

Where things really take off is when the inventors of the device decide to get the government involved, and turn the prototype over to them. Clarke and McDowell explore pretty thoroughly what sort of strategy might make this technology available to cities and countries so that they can begin to alleviate the suffering caused by weapons in the hands of criminals, militants, and idiots.

One of the less controversial issues addressed by this device is that of "de-mining" places like Cambodia and the Balkans, where land mines have claimed far too many innocent lives. Just turn on The Trigger effect and move through a previously mined area, and the field detonates the mines safely while they are still a hundred meters or so away from the vehicle carrying the device.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, the bad guys in this novel are pretty stereotypical "gun nuts," i.e., people who belong to the NRA. The president of the NRA attempts to assassinate a senator who is in favor of widely distributing The Trigger. A Midwest militia captures the inventor of The Trigger and holds him hostage, demanding the secret code that will shut down the device when government troops come to take over (typical militia paranoid fantasy). 

I'm not absolutely certain that all of the statistics used to support the gun control/elimination argument in this book are accurate. I'd have to go check the statistical abstract of the US to get some real numbers. Even if they have been fudged for dramatic effect, it makes a pretty good case that something, somehow, must be done to stop the violence. I'm not entirely certain that disarmament is the answer, as mankind has been doing despicable things to one another for millennia, before the invention of gunpowder. Despite all this, The Trigger is a pretty good read, and gets your brain working.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Mailbox Monday

Magic on the Hunt (Allie Beckstrom, Book 6)
A brand new Allie Beckstrom!

House of Cards by C.E. Murphy

House of Cards
I reviewed the first book in this series, Heart of Stone a while back, and I said at the end that I wasn't all that motivated to rush right out and buy the rest of the series. I ran across the next two books at the library bookstore, though, and at $1.50 each, I just couldn't pass up adding them to the library. So, here's my thoughts on the second book.

Margrit "Grit" continues to get herself more deeply involved in the affairs of the Old Races, and actually accepts a job with the leader of the vampires, Eliseo Daisani, as his personal assistant, even though this move is strongly opposed by her family and friends. Her relationship with Alban Korund, the gargoyle, begins to get more serious, as well, though her human boyfriend, Tony, really wants to make things work out between them despite their stormy past.

The central story line here is about the Selkies. It was presumed by all of the rest of the races that the Selkies had died out centuries ago, when the last of their kind swam off into the ocean, never to be heard from again. It was a surprise to most of them when a Selkie and her infant daughter turned up in HoS, and they are truly shocked when a new leader of the Selkies, Kaimana Kaiiai, appears on the scene to reveal that the Selkies have merely been in hiding in the tropical isles, interbreeding with humans until their race once again has enough numbers to be a valid force.

He has come to petition the Quorum (council of the races) that the half-Selkies and above be considered as full members now. Margrit, as The Negotiator, is to have a place at the table when the races meet. There also appears to be some conflict between Janx, the Dragon Lord, and Daisani, who may be having one another's minions killed off one at a time. Margrit's former boss at Legal Aid becomes a casualty in the conflict. The next suspected target is Malik, a Djinn who has been one of Janx's lieutenants for a long time, and Alban is blackmailed into watching over him to keep him safe.

So, if you're already involved in the series, and really just have to know all of their secrets, this book will reveal some, and leave others hidden for the third book, I assume. The only other revelation in this book is the veil being removed (actually it's an evening gown) on the mechanics of making love to a flying gargoyle. Given that Margrit mentions at one point that his kisses taste of stone, one begins to wonder other things...well, "Grit" is her nickname, after all.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Oath of Fealty by Elizabeth Moon

Oath of Fealty
It's been far too long, but Moon has finally returned to the place some of us came to know and love her work, in the world of Paksennarion, Paladin of Gird. The early trilogy was just incredible, and Moon's voice has been sorely missed in the world of fantasy while she pursued her SF story line (those were good, too). Given the length of this re-debut, I thought perhaps it was going to be a one-shot deal, but after finishing it, I think it's just setting the stage for great things to come.

Moon also avoided one of my pet peeves, dropping back into a familiar story a hundred years later, with only brief mention of old friends, as she begins this story within days of the end of Oath of Gold. She skillfully weaves just enough of "what has gone before" into this tale to make it easy for new readers, who are not familiar with Pak and her friends, to feel comfortable with the background, but not more than would be irritating or repetitive for old fans. It felt just right to me, as it has been a couple of years since I re-read the earlier books, and with just a little prompting, I fell right into the world again.

Duke Kieri Phelan, having survived the Verrakai assassins' and Pargunese soldiers' attack, has arrived in Lyonya to take his place as its rightful long-lost king. In his stead, as leader of his mercenary soldiers, he has left Captain Arcolin, his faithful right hand, who may or may not be confirmed as Duke in his place, but who will do his best to keep his cohorts employed and fed, now that Kieri is gone for good.

In Tsaia, Prince Mikeli is attacked by another group of Verrakai assassins, wielding forbidden mage powers, but is rescued by his friends. He commands that the rest of the Verrakai clan be rounded up and arrested to stand trial, except for a disowned woman of the clan, Dorrin, who is also a captain in Kieri's mercenary force. He appoints her Duke of Verrakai and sends her to her ancestral home to tie up loose ends and destroy or remove whatever evil works of magic the family have set in place for their enemies.

Arcolin takes a cohort south for an employment contract in Cortes Vonja, where he and Phelan fought against evil sorcery and foreign invasion together. The peace they left behind has not held too well, and he begins by fighting brigands, but soon discovers that there is more beneath the surface in the southern provinces that may require some cleansing.

Paksennarion is still alive and well, spending some time in Lyonya at first, then moving on as the gods move require her as a paladin to do. I imagine she'll play a fair part in the story at some point, but for now she appears to be getting a bit of a breather after her arduous trials.

Moon moves smoothly between the story lines, setting the scene, in my opinion, for a whole new set of adventures in this well-beloved world. I found myself a bit teary-eyed at times as she manipulated her characters' emotions and mine. The only minor bit of irritation for me was that all of her heroes are just far too stinkin' competent and incorruptible to be true. I borrowed this from the library, but I'll have to purchase a copy for the collection soon.