Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Firebird by Jack McDevitt

Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath are back in another adventure, with a challenging mystery at its heart. The sister of the widow of a somewhat famous physicist, Chris Robin, shows up with a trove of Robin's possessions that she wishes Benedict to market for her. As Alex is well aware of the value of "buzz" in generating handsome returns for artifacts, antiques and memorabilia, he sets out to find out as much as he can about Robin's disappearance, and arranges to be interviewed in the media about the man's odd disappearance.

Robin had been investigating ghost ship sightings and starship disappearances for some time before he, himself, went missing. In fact, the night of his disappearance, he and his pilot friend, Cermak, had just returned from space, where they had been performing the fourth in a series of experiments with dilapidated space yachts, trying to recreate the conditions whereby the craft would disappear from normal space time and re-appear periodically.

An interesting side plot develops after Chase and Alex visit the planet of Villanueva, which was the site of a horrible disaster thousands of years before when the planet entered a dust cloud and most of its population perished, leaving behind only its AIs to run things. Some of the AIs have gone insane and are hostile to human beings now, attacking anyone who lands on the planet. But the duo discover an AI, who calls himself Charlie, that is not hostile - he only wants to escape his millenial prison - and spirit him away with them.

Charlie tells them that there are other AIs, or Betas, still left on the planet that are also not insanely hostile, and enlists them in his crusade, quickly conceived, to recruit humans to rescue the Betas from Villanueva. Alex takes this show on the road, too, and there's some interesting philosophical and societal debate about what makes a being "human", possessing a "soul" and deserving of rescue.

The rescue theme continues through the end of the book when Alex figures out what happened when Chris Robin disappeared, and mounts a mission to find his ship, the Firebird, when it enters our universe for a brief sojourn. McDevitt poses some good questions about what a life is really worth, in terms of financial, societal, and political costs. I'm really enjoying these little scifi-cloaked mysteries.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Prince of Chaos by Roger Zelazny

This is the final chapter in the saga of Amber, if you don't count several later books written by other authors, probably by permission of Zelazny's estate. Merlin learns that Swayvill has finally passed, and journeys back to the Courts of Chaos to join in the funeral proceedings. He finally gets the chance to interrogate his mother, Dara, and elder brother, Mandor, about some of the mysterious events surrounding him through the pentalogy.

It appears that Dara and Mandor may have been behind a number of the assassinations that have taken place in the Courts, all aimed at placing Merlin in the position of heir to the throne. They believe that both through their close connection to him, and through the use of some enchantments they've placed on a magical artifact left for him to find and wear, they will be able to control his actions and be the puppet masters in the realm.

In the meantime, the Logrus and the Pattern are both trying to get Merlin to choose sides in their eternal struggle. Merlin goes on some literal journeys as well as those of the more metaphoric type, trying to find out what's been going on, discover the whereabouts of his father, Corwin, and determine where he will stand and for what.

I've long whined about authors who, as they age, run out of new stories to tell, rehashing old characters and storylines without really telling a good tale. I'm afraid that this was penned at this point for Zelazny. A few puzzles are solved, but nothing of import is really resolved. Read it for completeness sake, but that's all.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Hard Magic by Larry Correia

I've really enjoyed Larry Correia's Monster Hunter series, and so I checked out the first book in his latest series, the Grimnoir Chronicles, at my local library. Correia's writing is still quite good, but I didn't enjoy this quite as much.

The action takes place, apparently, in an alternate history after the first World War. Sometime in the nineteenth century, people began to turn up with magical powers, allowing them to influence their environments, or their own bodies through an act of will. There are people who can influence the pull of gravity, call wind and fire, move objects through telekinesis, read minds, teleport, or influence others to do what they want through their "voice".

The protagonist of the book is Jake Sullivan, an ex-soldier who can alter gravity. After returning home from the war, he got into trouble by interfering with a sheriff who was abusing a young boy who also had shown some magic powers, crushing the sheriff into a bloody paste when Jake lost his temper. He ended up serving time in a federal penitentiary, but was released early for (mostly) good behavior and by agreeing to work for J. Edgar Hoover's Feds in capturing others who have used their powers to murder.

At the end of the war, the Japanese formed an Imperium, ruled nominally by the emperor, but actually controlled by a magic user of immense powers, known as the Chairman. A group of westerners, also ex-military, headed by Blackjack Pershing, formed a secret society to oppose the Imperium, called The Grimnoir. Also at the end of the war, the Grimnoir made off with a highly destructive device invented by Nikolai Tesla (analogous to an atom bomb), and disassembled it, scattering the pieces around the world, kept safe by various members of their society. However, the Chairman's minions have finally uncovered the keepers of the pieces, and are methodically killing them and seizing the parts of the device, to be reassembled and used to destroy the West.

When Sullivan discovers that Hoover has been lying to him, and does not intend to honor their agreement to let him go free after a certain number of assignments, he "defects" to the Grimnoir. He and the other members try to keep the Imperium from getting control  of the device, and fight for truth, justice and the American Way.

This book contains a lot of action, some very interesting ideas about the use of magic powers, and a few good twisty plot bits. It has rather a comic book feel, however, and I never really got sucked in to caring about the characters. Fans of action heroes from the comic books might really like it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Magic Bleeds by Ilona Andrews

Interesting, though not particularly surprising, that the three books I've most recently been reading have "Magic" in the title; Magic on the Line, Magic Bleeds, and Hard Magic. Magic Bleeds is the fourth in the Kate Daniels series.

The "romance" between Curran and Kate has hit a rocky patch, due to a misunderstanding about their last "date", when Kate believes Curran stood her up, while Curran thinks Kate ran away. He was late due to having been injured, and she was gone when he arrived. Of course, they snipe back and forth over the phone for several days in this novel before actually getting together and talking it out, while we readers are thinking, "For Pete's sake, just get over it!" Well, when they do, fireworks result, and Andrews finally succumbs to the need for a fairly graphic sex scene, after admirable restraint through the first three books on Kate's part. We'll see if it comes to permeate the series over time, or not.

Someone or some thing has attacked various high visibility targets in the Pack, the People and the mercenary Guild, leaving behind virulently infected bodies. As a probationary worker for the Order, Kate is tasked with investigating the situation. She comes to discover that a long-forgotten deity from Babylonian times, Erra, is the culprit. Erra is accompanied by seven demigod types: Tremor, Darkness, Deluge, Beast, Torch, Gale and Venom, who are undead controlled by Erra, each with very specific magic powers. Kate and her allies must face each of them in turn and destroy them in order to destroy Erra.

It turns out that there's a family connection here for Kate, which precipitates and interesting scene where Erra, who turns out to be Roland's (Kate's biological father) sister, sits down to a tense tea in Kate's apartment. Near immortal, amazingly arrogant, and horrendously powerful, Kate's auntie will be a major challenge.

The theme continues of Kate slowly learning to trust her lover, Curran, and the rest of her friends, and revealing the secret of her origin to some of them. It may be her downfall in the end, or it may be her salvation.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Knight of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

Merlin confers with Jasra and Mandor after the assault on the Keep and finds out quite a bit more about what's been going on behind the scenes all these years. A rather fun scene takes place when Mandor is revealed to be a specialist in the sorcery of haute cuisine - he conjures up a wonderful meal on a veranda overlooking one of the realms at the Keep. It turns out that Jasra was responsible for training Merlin's ex, Julia, in the art of sorcery, and that Julia's natural talent caught her by surprise, leaving her as a coat rack.

Julia has allied with Merlin's brother, Jurt, who has had homicidal intentions towards Merlin for a long time, but which have gotten more intense recently as the struggle for succession in the Courts of Chaos has heated up due to the frailty of Sawall, Duke of Chaos. Julia and Jurt have performed a ritual which gives him amazing powers, that Brand (Jasra's husband of sorts) underwent long ago, explaining his near invincibility in the first Amber series at last.

We got set up by Zelazny in the previous book for a shaggy dog type of pun or two here. The chaos demon that serially possesses people near Merlin, the ty'iga, turns out to be named for a specific purpose - so that Merlin can shout, "Hold that ty'iga" at one point and then shortly later, to have to choose between the lady or ty'iga. Groan.

So, as we learned in the previous book that the Pattern is actually sentient, we might surmise that the Logrus (Chaos' version of the Pattern) is also sentient. It appears that they have been in a large scale conflict for ages, and they force Merlin to participate in one of their battles for dominance. He is spirited away to a place or state of being where none of his magic works, the Trumps are dead, and he can't manipulate shadows. There he faces a number of challenges and opponents. Some of these creatures are Pattern-ghosts or Logrus-ghosts.

Whenever a person walks the Pattern (or Logrus) they are "recorded", and can later be reproduced by the Pattern or Logrus, in the same state they were the day they finished walking. So, Merlin is visited by Deirdre, slain by Brand in The Courts of Chaos, Oberon, dead in the same book, an earlier copy of his brother Jurt, his father Corwin (who may not actually be a ghost), Dworkin (thought to be dead) and several others on his quest. Merlin refuses steadfastly to take sides in the conflict, but is tricked into mostly championing the cause of the Pattern.

This one gets pretty surreal for a while before dropping back into a more "normal" narrative. Eventually we get back to the main story, find out what Luke and Dalt have been up to, and solve a few more mysteries.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Magic on the Line by Devon Monk

The seventh in the Allie Beckstrom series, Magic on the Line seems like a transitional novel, part of a longer volume marking the change in leadership of the Authority from the old guard to the young turks, perhaps. After the battle with Leander and Isabelle and their minions at the Life Well, Allie's convalescence is cut short by her interview with Bartholomew Wray, the outsider who has been placed in charge of the Authority after the crisis. Wray and his cronies rub Allie the wrong way from the beginning, seeming to be more interested in a political coverup than actually getting to the bottom of the problem and protecting the public from the evildoers.

At the end of Wray's "investigation", his hand-picked team is primarily put in charge in Portland, and the former leaders are Closed (have their magical memories and abilities wiped), including Shamus' mother, Maeve, plus most of the magic users from Seattle who had come to help out the Portland Authority during the recent magic storm and resulting crises. Zayvion, of course, was forced to Close them, and he goes into a guilt-ridden funk for a time, which Allie has to work through with him.

The Veiled are now infected with a magical plague, and when one is able to escape from the wells where they have been confined, they infect the living with the disease, causing a horrible death among magic users, and merely flu-like symptoms among normals. Allie's friend and fellow Hound, Davy Silvers is bitten and infected by one, and a great deal of the time in this story is spent dealing with his illness, while trying to understand how it is spreading and how it may be stopped.

Allie is still possessed by her dad's ghost, but they seem to have worked their way to an uneasy yet handy alliance - he always seems to come up with some magical tidbit or contact she needs when the going gets rough. Allie, herself, becomes violently ill whenever she works any significant magic, though for some reason she really doesn't do a lot of investigation into why that might be. Stone, the gargoyle, also seems to be stricken with an odd malady, but Allie isn't all that curious about that situation, either. I think Monk was just overwhelmed with all the necessary plot elements to move the story in the direction it's going, and didn't have enough room in the paperback format to deal with all of it in Magic on the Line. The way the book winds things up makes it obvious that resolution on these and other issues will take some time.

Allie and her friends must rebel against the authority of the new Authority in order to save the city from the plague and malicious magic. We've seen this coming for a while now, as the old ways of doing business were getting a bit raveled around the edges. For the preternatural branch of the police to deal with some of the new threats, they're going to need to know more about magic than they've been allowed, and for Allie's Hounds to help her avoid getting killed, she's going to have to clue them in on reality, plus she's going to have to stop keeping secrets from her best friend, Nola, or lose that relationship. Change is in the wind.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Steelhead Drift Fishing by Bill Luch

This book turned up in a box of books my mother gave me a while back. I'm getting ready to go steelhead fishing this weekend, so I thought I'd read it and pick up a few tips. The book is slightly dated, having been penned in 1976, but still contains some useful information for the intrepid fisherman. One example of how old it is is that Luch talks about carbon fiber graphite rods as being the next big thing.

Luch includes a number of diagrams showing how each area of a "drift" where steelhead and salmon may be caught should be fished, and how the fish use those areas to hide and rest on their journey back to their spawning grounds. He also describes the behavioral differences between summer and winter runs of fish, and share some tips on recognizing a bite in a drift that I think might make me a bit better at landing more fish.

One point that Luch stresses several times is how silly it is to spend a lot of time dealing with snags - when your gear hooks into an obstruction on the bottom of the stream. I have to admit I'm guilty of perhaps spending a bit too much time trying to salvage fifty cents worth of hook and sinker, or even a three dollar lure, when my time on the river productively fishing is worth far more than that. I've never been guilty, however, of one sin he describes - splashing through the water and scaring off all the fish to retrieve a snagged lure.

Most of the focus in this book is on fishing from the bank, or with waders on. I've done most of my fishing from drift boats, and Luch only briefly talks about that subject, mostly from the point of view of safe boat handling tactics. I think some of the information still will apply, however.

A quick, informative read.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Sign of Chaos by Roger Zelazny

 Merlin manages to escape from the hallucinogenic world created by Luke, using the Vorpal Blade to get by the Jabberwock (yes, Zelazny steals from Carrol here), though it helps when a Fire Angel (chaos creature) shows up on his trail and the two beasts fight one another. He contacts his aunt Fiona and his older brother, Mandor, and Trumps away from it all. 

Returning to Amber, Merlin works out a way to free Luke's mother, Jasra, from the coat rack curse, and makes plans to use her freedom as a bargaining chip when Luke finally recovers from his far-out trip. A delegate from the kingdom of Begma arrives in town with his daughters, and he is importuned into entertaining one of them, Coral, showing her around town at first. She expresses a desire to see the famous Pattern of Amber, and surprises Merlin by stepping onto the Pattern and walking it successfully. It turns out that Oberon had an affair with her mother, and she (like so many others) bears the bastard blood of Amber in her veins. She uses the Pattern to transport herself elsewhere, leaving Merlin in a bit of a quandry as to what to tell her father.

Zelazny begins to play around with the question here, "What if the Pattern is actually sentient, not just an artifact as we thought in the first five books in the series?" This, of course, leads to some very strange happenings as we progress.

Later, Coral's sister Nayda approaches Merlin, ostensibly to find out what's become of her sister, but it becomes apparent quite soon that she has some other motives, far deeper. When Mandor meets Nayda, he recognizes her as being possessed by a ti'yiga, a chaos demon which can take over human's bodies for a time, and we finally get to know what's been going on with Merlin's odd encounters with people who know far more about his business than they should, and who seem to have a strong urge to protect him from danger. When he checks up on them later, they've usually suffered a form of amnesia covering the time of the encounter. Someone has placed a geas on the ti'yiga to watch over Merlin, and it's been tracking him through Shadow ever since.

The mercenary Dalt appears on the scene and demands that Luke and Jasra be surrendered to him. To avoid a battle between Benedict's forces and Dalt's, Luke challenges Dalt to hand-to-hand combat, with the loser to become the prisoner of the winner. Dalt wins, and disappears with Luke for parts unknown. After that, Merlin frees Jasra and works out an alliance with her to assault the Keep of Four Worlds, freeing it from Mask's domination - at the end learning the identity of Mask and also of another source of some clumsy attacks on his person.

Good fun, still twisty.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Wise Man's Fear is like some great heavy beast, black and furry, that comes and sits on your chest to wake you in the middle of a moonless night. And it is literally heavy; at nearly one thousand pages the hardback copy is hard to hold in one hand while you're up way past your bedtime trying to finish it. Rothfuss has definitely written a worthy sequel to his first book in the Kingkiller Chronicles, Name of the Wind.

The subtitle is "The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day Two", and Rothfuss plays an interesting game with the reader of spending one day in the life of the innkeeper, Kote, as he relates the story of many days in the life of Kvothe, the young arcanist. Troubles are brewing in the world, and we get the sense that understanding Kvothe's story and his quest to learn of the Chandrian and the Amyr may bring the story to a point of resolution, with a great evil destroyed.

Kvothe is finally allowed to study Naming with Master Elodin, along with some other students. Knowing the name of a thing allows control over it for an arcanist, similar to Naming as found in LeGuin's Earthsea books. Kvothe has been occasionally successful in naming the Wind, but he finds that study with Elodin is still more elusive a practice.

Kvothe's enmity with the young noble, Ambrose, continues, and eventually his allies recommend that he take a term off from his studies and make himself scarce, so as to avoid having things come to a head and destroy his career completely, after he and his friends set fire to and burgle Ambrose's rooms at an inn. His sole friend in the nobility introduces him to a powerful nobleman, The Maer, in a city far from the University. The Maer has a task well suited for Kvothe to accomplish, he needs a poet and musician to help him woo the woman he wants to marry. When Kvothe arrives, though, he finds the situation far more complex, and is able to solve more than one problem for his patron.

Kvothe also finds his relationship with the girl he's been enthralled with for some time, Denna, elusive. She pops in and out of the story, as she often pops in and out of town, and takes up with a series of foolish young men, while maintaining what is probably an abusive relationship with her mysterious patron. I have a feeling that the patron, as well, will be key to the overall story, when Kvothe is able to find out who or what he is.

This book is just chock full of adventure, intrigue, and romance. I highly recommend you read this series.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn

I was a little irritated when I picked up Troubled Waters. I've been so looking forward to something new in the Twelve Houses series by her, and instead of taking me back there, she heads out to a whole new world.
On the positive side, Shinn's writing and imagination are so wonderful that she took me to a place full of enjoyment and wonder, as always.

Zoe Ardelay has lived in a small, remote village ever since her father was disgraced and exiled from his position in the king's court a decade ago. When her father dies, Zoe is surprised when an emissary from the capitol, Darien Serlast, arrives with a mission to return her to the king's court in Chialto, there to become his fifth bride. Griefstricken, Zoe makes no objection, and travels with Darien in the king's elaymotive, a recent mechanical innovation, much like a land train.

When their elaymotive pauses in the heart of Chialto, however, Zoe takes the opportunity to escape Darien's gentle and solicitive clutches, going into hiding with naught but her wits (and some gold pieces she had sewn into her scarf) and her memories of life in the city. She ends up with the rest of the homeless, vagrant population, on the banks of the river, Marisi, in a large semi-permanent encampment.

The population of Shinn's latest world is divided up into five main families, more or less corresponding with traditional elements, who each have their hereditary virtues and vices and sources of power. Zoe's dominating genes are coru - water/blood, while others have the character of elay - air/soul, hunti - wood/bone, sweela - fire/mind, and torz - earth/flesh. Each of the five families have a Prime, who is the embodiment of their powers, head of the family, and important member of the king's council.

Zoe, being coru, thrives in the riverside encampment, making friends, finding a job with a local cobbler's shop, and spending time in the local marketplace getting her bearings amidst the gossip and political maneuvering in Chialto. But the city is not always safe, and Zoe is chased by a group of young thugs one day, robbery and rape on their minds. When she is trapped against the edge of a canal, she leaps into the water, and the water embraces and protects her, whisking her under its surface to safety far down the banks. Curiously, she feels no need to breath while underwater, and when she finally surfaces she knows something unique has happened.

She visits the blind seer sisters in the marketplace, and - how surprising! - we learn that Zoe may just be the missing heir to the Lalindar family, who has been chosen from birth to be the Prime. Zoe first travels with friends to her grandmother's estate in the country, and is there recognized as the heir and Prime. Next she must enter the political arena, full of plots and conflict, in the capitol of Chialto - this time not as a penniless waif, but as a power in her own right.

Fun stuff, sympathetic characters, and we're left with a burning curiousity to see where else Shinn's imagination might take us next.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Blood of Amber by Roger Zelazny

In Blood of Amber, Merlin begins to acquire bits and pieces of the puzzle he's been assembling regarding who has been responsible for the attempts on his life on April 30 of each year, and probably more importantly, who is trying to kill him now. Flora is able to fill in a few details for him regarding Jasra and the kingdome of Kashfa.

Merlin returns to Julia's apartment to investigate more thoroughly and discovers a hidden portal that leads...somewhere. When he takes that path, he's challenged by a guardian who claims to be "torn from the pure primal Chaos", and both he and we are somewhat surprised when Merlin reveals that he is, himself, a Lord of Chaos. Once past the guardian, he finds his way to the Keep of Four Worlds, where the elemental realms of earth, air, fire and ice meet, and where sorcerors have battled for control of a fountain which contains the power of these four forces for centuries.

The current ruler of the keep is likely to be Merlin's nemesis. Merlin observes an attempted invasion of the keep, in the company of a hermit named Dave (cue all manner of limericks here, and yes he lives in a cave). Dave is full of good gossip and Merlin finally learns about the tie between Jasra and Luke.

When Merlin returns to Amber, he gets a full debriefing from Random, who dispatches some emissaries to Kashfa and its surrounding kingdom. Merlin decides to go down into town from the castle to have a bite to eat, and when leaving the "fine dining" establishment, he is attacked by a group of thugs. He's succored by the armsment of Vinta Bayle, his uncle Caine's former paramour, and she whisks him away to her family estates to lie hidden for a while.

The tale in this tome continues twisty and entertaining. One thing that I didn't particularly like when I first read it was the section at the end of the book where Merlin gets caught up in a hallucenogenic world, complete with Cheshire Cat and Mad Hatter, via a trump contact with Luke, who has been doped up with some mind-bending concoction. It just didn't seem to fit all that well with the rest of the story. Upon further reflection, I decided that Zelazny was actually exploring the ramifications of the concept of Shadow. If Amberites (and Chaos Lords) have, as mentioned by Corwin in an earlier volume, the power to create shadows of their own imagining, what happens when their minds are altered? I still think, however, he could have come up with an original imagining, rather than borrowing from Carroll, but I suppose it was a familiar fantasy that we'd all recognize.

Friday, November 4, 2011

In Fire Forged by David Weber

In Fire Forged is the fifth in the shared world Honorverse anthologies subtitled Worlds of Honor. This one contains three substantial stories and one compendium of "factual" information about space armor.

The first story, Ruthless, by Jane Lindskold, tells the story of an attempt by some political enemies of the Winton royals to disgrace Crown Prince Michael. They arrange to have his friend, Judith's daughter, Ruth, kidnapped and then threaten to return her to her father on Masada. Judith was one of his wives who was rescued by Honor and her crew in one of the earlier novels dealing with the Grayson alliance, The Honor of the Queen.

In a manner eerily reminiscent of Harrington's usual tactics, Michael decides to head directly into danger with only his personal Armsmen to rescue the child. The chase is interesting, the final crisis short and not terribly bloody, and the end of the story is just flat anticlimactic. Perhaps Weber is reserving the writing of Judith and Michael's tale to himself, so that Lindskold couldn't do it justice.

Timothy Zahn of Cobra fame pens a story, An Act of War, that is as twisty as a snake. An apparent arms smuggler, Charles Dozewah, is captured by State Security on Haven, and has to improvise a plan to avoid being tortured and put to death by them for an earlier swindle in Peep territory. He proposes a plan to Oscar Saint Juste that will use a captured and rebuilt Manticoran battleship to convince the Andermani Empire to side with Haven rather than the Star Kingdom.

The plan begins to go astray when the captain of the false-flagged ship has some plans of his own, and tries to turn it from a suicide mission into one that he and his crew will survive. In the end, the plots of Saint Juste are foiled, by a bit of legerdemain of Charles' engineering, and his former allies - and the reader - are left wondering just what happened.

Weber contributes Let's Dance to this collection. The terrorist forces of the Audubon Ballroom, anti-Mesa and anti-slavery fanatics, are heavily involved here, thus the title, their battle cry. The story takes place prior to the first Honor novel, when she is captain of a patrol vessel in Silesian space, hunting for pirates and slavers. When Honor is made aware of a space station that is being used as a waypoint for the slave trade, she must decide between obeying orders and saving her career and doing the right thing by capturing the installation, freeing the slaves and prosecuting the slave traders.

Well, if you've read any of the Honor novels, you know what her answer is going to be, don't you? Her creative solution, allying with a large force of Audubon Ballroom soldiers, leaves us cheering for the underdog (Is Honor ever really the underdog, though? I'm betting with a proven winner).

A couple of good quotes:

"That's the true measure of an officer - of a human being. Right or wrong, popular or unpopular, he has to know where duty, moral responsibility, and legal accountability meet the honor of his uniform and the oath he swore to his monarch and his kingdom. When that time comes, an officer worthy of that uniform and that oath and that monarch makes the hard decision, in full awareness of its consequences, because if he doesn't make it, he fails all of them...and himself."

"When that happens, when there's no choice but to kill evil, then kill it. It's your responsibility, your duty, and if you flinch, you fail - not just yourself, but everything important in your life. But if it must be done, if there truly is no choice, then do it because hou must, not because you want to, and never, ever exult in the doing. That's the price of your soul, Honor - the ability to do what has to be done without turning yourself int the very thing it is that you're fighting against."

This collection is worth reading for Weber alone.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fed Up! by Rick Perry

I don't know exactly when the custom of presidential candidates writing books about their lives or political philosophy began, but it seems to have grown rapidly. I decided to pick up Rick Perry's book after watching one of the debates, and I'll try to check out those of the other serious contenders in the primaries before the time to vote comes around. These things at least give you an idea of what the candidates believe in - whether that survives first contact with the politics of Washington have yet to be determined.

On the whole, Perry's political philosophy appears to be orthodox Conservative, with a heavy emphasis on the limited powers of the federal government as defined by the Constitution, and the importance of state's rights as granted in the Tenth Amendment. He quotes Madison from Federalist 45:

"The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the state governmentes are numerous and indefinite...The operations of the Federal Governmnet will be most extensive and important  in times of war and danger; those of the state governments, in times of peace and security."

He laments the out of control taxation levied by the federal government:

"This leads me to the great milestone on the road to serfdom: the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment. It gave Congress the authority to levy an income tax on American citizens and absolved the federal government from a previous requirement that any such taxes be returned to the states proportionally to their collection. This was the birth of wealth redistribution in the United States."

I've thought for some time that this is the crux of politically corrupting compromise between the states and Washington. Even when, recently, the governor and representatives of Idaho opposed and lamented the massive government spending in the Stimulus bills, they ended up fighting at the trough over the spoils, in order to make sure that some of the tax moneys collected ended up coming back to the citizens of Idaho, rather than ending up elsewhere. The same temptation exists for the private citizen as well. No matter how much you philosophically oppose the massive expansion of entitlement programs, when the time comes, you are pretty much forced by economics to sign up for Social Security and Medicare, and accept the largess of unemployment "insurance" when you lose your job. If the government offers amnesty for your student loan, or forces the bank to adjust your mortgage, you'd be a fool to refuse, even if you don't agree with the policy. The Feds have got us by the short hairs, folks.

Once the power to tax was firmly established, it rapidly got out of control.

"What was promised to be a tax that would affect only the wealthiest 3 to 5 percent of Americans is now paid by roughly half of the population. And while marginal tax rates ranged from 1 to 7 percent right after the amendment was ratified, today rates range from 10 to 35 percent and have been as high as 70 to 90 percent of income over the years. This is on top of entitlement taxes of more than 12 percent."

He attacks the constitutionality of the Obama Health Care plan from several angles.

Obama's appointment to head Medicare and Medicaid, Donald Berwick, has stated frankly,
"Any health care funding plan that is just, equitable, civilized, and humane must, must redistribute wealth from the richer among us to the poorer and the less fortunate. Excellent health care is by definition redistributional."
It seems to me that the model of health care that we've had in this country for a while was also redistributional, though it moved dollars from the more healthy, NOT wealthy, of us to the less healthy by standard actuarial methods. Any group of citizens approximately in the same economic boat (employer) could pool their resources through insurance premiums to alleviate risk for all.

Not to mention that insurance's true purpose is to cushion us in the case of catastrophic loss, not to cover every routine doctor visit or elective procedure. Expanding those portions of employees' health care plans over the years is one of the factors that has driven up costs significantly, as well as the administration of unnecessary diagnostic tests just to cover the doctors' and hospitals' rears in the event of medical malpractice suits.

On a totally different topic, that seems almost Kafka-esque, Perrry mentions that "President Obama's Quadrennial Defense Review, the periodic strategic plan for our national defense, devoted a full three pages to climate change, mentioning it more times than China, Russia, North Korea, or Iran." What's wrong with this picture?

Nothing surprising from Perry's book. It was pretty much what I'd expect to see from a professed Conservative governor. Given his coherence and eloquence in the book, however, I've been surprised to see how poorly he has been performing in the debates. If he could focus on conveying the same message to the public, he'd come off far better than he does by engaging in pointless personal attacks, or defending against same.