Monday, January 31, 2011

Short Takes

4/14/08 Started reading one of the books I got from my friend, Tim; Ordinary Heroes, by Scott Turow. May or may not review it, but it's a pretty good read so far - as can be expected from a writer of Turow's stature.

4/17/08 Finished reading Split Second, by Baldacci, in the afternoon, and began reading The Hour Game by him at bedtime. I'd figured out one of the twisty mysteries in Split Second pretty early in the book, and suspected who one of the bad guys was by about 2/3 of the way through, but it was a good read.

4/20/08 Finished reading The Hour Game by David Baldacci - pretty good - I had no clue who the bad guy(s) really were. Total surprise. Love that. Started reading Dynamite Alley by Klavan - pretty good so far.

4/21/08  Finished Dynamite Road and started Shotgun Alley, by Klavan. These recent reads are all from the box of books I got from Tim, free, so I can't make my usual determination of whether they're "worth" reading. Cheap entertainment.

The Hero by John Ringo and Michael Z. Williamson

The Hero (Posleen Wars Series #6)
I liked Michael Z. Williamson's first novel so well that I thought I'd check out something else by him. The only thing I had handy was this collaboration by Ringo and Williamson, so...

I was a bit disappointed. It's possibly my own fault. I stopped reading Ringo's Posleen war series after about the fourth book, and that was quite some time ago, so there was probably a lot of background information that would have made this book make far more sense to me.

There were probably many interesting things in this book about the nature of the Posleen, Aldenata, and Darhel races that avid readers of the series have been puzzling over for years, but they were pretty much lost on me.

Ringo and Williamson spend quite a bit of time building the characters on a special forces team, letting us get to know them, perhaps to empathize with them. The team is sent to a world where the Blobs (a new enemy, as far as I can tell) have an outpost. Previous teams have failed to come back with any information.

The team discovers an ancient ruin of the Aldenata civilization, with some sort of mysterious artifact, which they remove and take with them. They also find the Blob outpost, and it turns out to be a decoy. They begin to head back to their waiting ship to return to the home worlds, when one of their number, Dagger, betrays and kills most of them with a neural grenade, intending to steal the artifact for himself, as it's potentially worth a billion credits.

What the heck? Why did they give us all this information about characters who were merely going to be cannon fodder after a short portion of the book?

The one alien member of the team, who can sense emotions and sometimes thoughts, if they are intense enough, a Darhel named Tindal, realizes the attack is coming just in time to grab the artifact and run. Another member of the team, Ferret, reacts just enough to avoid being killed, though he is somewhat crippled by the neural damage to his legs. From that point forward, the three of them play a cat-and-mouse game on the route back to the rendezvous point.

Dagger wants the artifact for himself, Tindal wants to take it to his home planet, where it can be studied by his people, and Ferret just wants revenge for his fallen comrades. Aside from the tension of them stalking each other for the next 150 pages or so, there's not a lot of meat to this novel. There were some interesting "reveals", perhaps, about the Darhel race, for those who have been following the series more closely.

I don't think this was either author's best work.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Book Blogger Hop - January 28 to 31

Time for another Friday Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Jennifer at Crazy For Books.
Book Blogger Hop
This week's question:
"What book are you most looking forward to seeing published in 2011?  Why are you anticipating that book?"

It's really difficult to narrow it down to just one book, but if I had to choose between all the new releases, I believe I'd have to go with Ghost Story by Jim Butcher. The story arc of the Dresden Files took a very radical turn and left us all with a big cliffhanging mystery. Hopefully, Butcher will resolve this in Ghost Story.

Fate of Thorik by Anthony G. Wedgeworth

Fate of Thorik (Altered Creatures)I'm sorry, but I was unable to finish this book. I've been trying for over a month to get into it, and I only managed about 90 pages before sheer disinterest forced my hand. The book is targeted more for a juvenile/YA audience, and if something is in that genre, it's got to be truly spectacular to keep my interest.

I did chuckle a bit about the local wise man reciting "spiritual limericks". Might have to see if I can write some spiritual limericks on a Sunday morn.

I may try to hand this book and its sequels off to someone younger, to give it a fair read. Could be a guest post in it for some lucky teen.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Short Takes

3/5/08 Finished reading The Sapphire Rose last night. I think Eddings writing was already starting to go downhill at this point. He spent more than two books describing the quest to find the cure for Princess Ehlana, then Sparhawk travels halfway around the world and destroys a god in the last third of the third book. I'm sure I'll have to re-read the Elenium as well, as long as I'm on this Eddings kick, but I don't promise to enjoy it. The characters in this batch of books are all right, but they're not nearly as varied and well-developed as the ones in the Belgariad and Malloreon. Nowhere near as much witty repartee, either.

3/7/08 Finished reading Chesty Puller's bio, Marine. One of the most interesting quotes I saw was from Puller in 1952, saying "What the American people want to do is fight a war without getting hurt. You can't do that any more than you can go into a barroom brawl without getting hurt." Fifty five years ago, Puller saw the heart of the problem that we're dealing with today, trying to fight against Islamic terrorists.

Radical Son by David Horowitz

Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey
A while back, my mother turned me on to a website,, that she'd enjoyed browsing. It was the creation of David Horowitz, a former radical during the 60s and 70s, who now is somewhat of a conservative spokesman and debunker of liberal myths. After reading some of his columns, I decided to try his autobiography, Radical Son.

While his political writing is astute, I found his biographical style a bit tedious. For a man who lived abroad, was married and divorced three times, lived a life of radical activism for the New Left, and rubbed shoulders with major figures in radical circles, such as Huey Newton, Tom Hayden, and Jane Fonda, his tale is told with more attention to everyday events than momentous activities.

It was difficult to wade through the first two thirds of the book, just to arrive at the point where he began to entertain doubts about the goals of himself and other radicals. A close friend was executed by Black Panther leaders, and as he began to investigate the matter, he came to understand the problems inherent in pursuing the socialist dream.
If you're the perservering type, go ahead and read this one, to gain a greater understanding of the motives and methods of the Left Wing of politics. If not, just browse to his web site and check out his columns for a more concise summary.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Short Takes

1/17/08 Reading Karavans, the new novel by Jennifer Roberson (author of the Cheysuli and Tiger & Del series). It's a bit tough to get into so far - started off with too many POVs and doesn't seem to be eliminating them as quickly as I'd like. We'll see how it goes.

2/4/08 Got most of the way through Command Decision by Elizabeth Moon last night, and finished it off this morning. Leaves me slavering for Victory Conditions.

2/23/08 Started reading a book yesterday afternoon called Keeping Faith, written by a father/son combo, John and Frank Schaeffer. The son joined the Marines back in 99, and this is a journal of sorts of his journey through recruit training and the first year or so of his service. It was quite engrossing, and I made it a quick read by skimming past all the letters the father had written and the father's descriptions of his wife and his adjustments to being empty nesters and focused on reading the son's sections. (2/23/08)

Freehold by Michael Z. Williamson

FreeholdThis was Williamson's first book, and was also the first book I read by Williamson. If it had been the first book I read on my Nook, I'd have hit the trifecta. All that set aside, the first half of this book seemed like a serious homage to Heinlein, mixed with libertarian philosophy, set nicely in the story of a woman's adaptation to a totally new culture.

Freehold begins when Kendra Pacelli, an NCO in the UN Peace Force, is falsely implicated in an embezzlement scheme, and forced to flee Earth. She seeks asylum on Freehold, and finds a society vastly different from the one she's left behind.

The Freeholders are definitely free market capitalists, with a touch of that old frontier spirit. The government on the planet is minimal, limiting itself to providing a military defense force, and some essential police and court services. Everything else is taken care of by contract between individuals, the courts resolve disputes about the contracts. The citizens of Freehold are also what we'd consider to be strongly in favor of 2nd Amendment rights, and nearly all of them go about their day carrying a firearm.

There are no social services to speak of, if one doesn't work, one doesn't eat. This is where the "frontier" mentality kicks in, though. When there is an accident or disaster, or when someone really needs help, friends, neighbors and strangers will jump right in to help. Social mores seem to be libertarian, in that whatever people want to do in the privacy of their own homes is basically ignored, and no intoxicants seem to be outlawed; Kendra runs afoul of a hallucenogenic cocktail when she's out on the town one night.

Kendra doesn't have enough money to pay for passage to Freehold from Earth, so she enters an indentured servitude contract. The contract is not particularly onerous, and even at semi-skilled wages, she should be able to buy herself out of it in just a few years. She takes a job right away doing landscaping work in one of the "public" parks on Freehold, which is actually more of a cooperative venture - the park is maintained and sustained by fees charged to vendors and groups renting space in it, and is a very popular gathering place for locals on days off and holidays.

Kendra is befriended by her neighbor, Rob, and he shows her the ropes on this new world. She also becomes friends with Marta, who has her own escort service. The three of them eventually become a menage a trois, but none of the sex is highly graphic, by today's literary standards.

Kendra's job ends when economic changes force the park to lay off some of its workers, and she decides to join the Freehold military. There's a pretty long segment in the middle of the book detailing her basic and advanced training that will seem all too familiar to anyone who's been in the military or even watched movies about basic training. Kendra makes the transition from a peacekeeper to a soldier.

So, there's a lot of not-so-subtle political commentary in this book, with its comparisons between Earth and Freehold, which I found interesting.

In the second half of the book, the UN trumps up some excuses to invade Freehold, to impose the Earth style of government on the poor, beknighted savages. Things get serious and bloody in a big hurry. Kendra, Marta and Rob, who is a pilot, end up in different areas fighting the UN forces, and don't know anything about the others' fates until very near the end of the book.

This was a great first novel by Mr. Williamson, and I believe I've got a bit of catching up to do on the rest of his stuff.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Short Takes

10/28/07 Reading Glen Cook's new series, Tyranny of the Night. Slow to get into it, but it's getting more interesting.

11/2/07 Finished the Glen Cook book. More to come in that series, but I'll wait till they're cheap, probably.

1/3/08 I'm either reading or re-reading The Viscount of Adrilankha series by Brust. I had a copy of the middle book in the library, and just picked up the 1st and 3rd the other day, so I decided to start with the first one and work my way into it. I vaguely remember having read it before. I think Brust could have cut the volume of these books in half if he'd left off with the droll dialogue, which grows a bit tiresome after having seen the same turns of phrase for about the seventeenth time. Looks like he's coming out with a new book in the Vlad Taltos series this spring, so that's exciting.

1/16/08 Finished reading Sethra Lavode (#3 in Viscount of Adrilankha by Brust) last night. Everything wrapped up quite nicely in the end. Provides a bit of insight into later events. Morrolan is way cooler than we ever see him being in the Vlad books.

The Garrett Files by Glen Cook

(Review written March 2000)
In its day, the Science Fiction Book Club published some great omnibus editions of authors' series. I loaned one out to a friend, who never seemed to find the time to read it, and when I got it back, I figured it was time for a re-read, anyway. The Garrett Files is one of those omnibi, containing Sweet Silver Blues, Bitter Gold Hearts and Cold Copper Tears by Glen Cook.
Well, I like a good detective yarn, and when it's a fantasy detective yarn it just gets better. Cook has provided a series of six or seven novels about the cynical PI, Garrett, which I've really enjoyed over the years. Each one of the novels works as a stand-alone, though it does help to read them from the beginning, just to get a feel for all of the supporting players and "what has gone before." Each of the novels has the name of a metal or alloy in its title, so they're pretty easy to pick out from the rest of his books.
In Sweet Silver Blues, Garrett is hired by the father of a deceased army buddy to find the woman whom his friend has named heir to a rather sizable fortune in silver. Of course, other members of the family who stand to inherit if she's not found try to interfere, and he meets resistance from a group of ex-soldiers who helped his old buddy acquire the silver by somewhat dubious means. His search takes him back to the scene of his war experiences, where things get really interesting.
In Bitter Gold Hearts, Garrett must unravel the twisted schemes surrounding the kidnapping of a sorceress' heir. His usual style is to just keep bulling his way through all obstacles, falling for a woman or two and quaffing a few beers along the way. His tenacity is about all that saves him in the midst of treachery by conspirators in the kidnapping plot.
In Cold Copper Tears, a long forgotten acquaintance retains Garrett to find out who's been stalking her. She's gotten herself in the middle of a religious dispute over church relics, and it rapidly turns deadly. Garrett must solve the mystery, battle natural and supernatural enemies, and rescue a few damsels along the way to get to the end of this one.
There's nothing deep or meaningful about these stories, aside from a minor bit of social satire and hardnosed philosophy along the way. They're just good for a couple hours amusement on a cold steel night.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Short Takes

9/21/07 Finished reading Through the Looking Glass, by Ringo, the other night. It was ok, but not spectacular. Started reading Medalon by Jennifer Fallon. It's the first in a trilogy, I think loosely tied in to other stuff she's written, so I may end up picking up some more stuff by her. Enjoyable, though derivative. I recognize some thefts from Eddings, in particular.

10/2/07 I'm re-reading, twenty years later, the Paksennarion stuff by Elizabeth Moon. I'd forgotten how good it was.

10/22/07 Re-reading the Vatta's War stuff by Moon. She's so good.

Torch of Freedom by David Weber

Torch of Freedom (Honor Harrington Series)
This was the first book I got to read on my new Nook, so I'm not sure whether it seemed a little slow at the beginning because I was still getting used to the e-reader or whether it was a true perception of the pace of the tale. I'd missed this one somehow when it came out, and when I read Mission of Honor, there were some events from Torch that were referenced, so I had to go back and catch up.

As you might guess from the title, most of the story has to do with events surrounding the new star kingdom of Torch, which was wrested from Manpower's control by former slaves, and now is ruled by Anton Zilwicki's daughter, Berry. Manpower has gathered a fleet of former Havenite state security fugitives and is getting ready to attack the planet, and massacre its populace. Much of the novel bounces around between the various forces in play, setting up the final battle scene.

There is a major plot line involving Victor Cachat and Zilwicki's infiltration of the Mesan home world, to try to gather information and figure out what's really going on behind the scenes with Manpower and Mesa. If you've already read Mission of Honor, you know the outcome of that. If not, I won't spoil anything for you.

There's only one brief cameo appearance by Honor Harrington in this book, when Cachat and Zilwicki meet with her to tell her what they believe is happening. All of the other Manticoran characters we've come to know and love remain mostly off stage, as well. A good read, and now I feel like I'm up to speed once more.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Short Takes

8/17/07 I finished Bujold's latest in the afternoon (in the Sharing Knife series), Legacy. It was delicious.

8/21/07 Been re-reading the old Blood Lines, Blood Pact, etc. series by Tanya Huff. It's been fifteen years or so, so it's all new to me now. Pretty fair stuff. Need to hit a couple of the used bookstores and see if I can find #s five and six in the series, as I sorta tapered off of her stuff for a while in the collection.

8/23/07 Reading Quantico, by Greg Bear. It's classified as SF, but is really more of a very near future scenario with terrorists. If Michael Crichton had written it, they would have just called it a thriller.

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

The Well of Ascension (Mistborn, Book 2)This book is the second in his Mistborn trilogy, and remains a bit dark and, well, misty. Elend has been elected as king of Luthandel, and has been trying to restore order while ensuring that the skaa now have the same rights as all others. He and Vin are still not quite sure where they're going in their relationship, so their discoveries and growth in that area make a nice counterpoint to the suspense of the main plot.

As the novel begins, Elend's father's army has arrived at the city, demanding his surrender. Elend's half-brother Zane, whom he has never heard of, is a Mistborn, like Vin. He is also quite mad, and begins to play cat-and-mouse games with Vin in and around the city, sparring with her with their allomantic talents, and playing games of betrayal with his father, Straff, as well.

A second army also arrives to besiege the city, which belongs to Lord Cett. Lord Cett's daughter, Allriane, appears in the city, appearing to be a young woman infatuated with former Crew member, Breeze, but perhaps she's more devious and intelligent than she lets on, and she could be a spy for her father.

Finally, a third army arrives, composed of ruthless and barbaric koloss, loosely controlled by Elend's old friend, Jastes. With all three of these armies in place, Elend and his advisors attempt to play them off against each other and delay the inevitable invasion and sacking of the city. When the Assembly decides to depose Elend in the middle of the crisis, things get really complicated.

So, there's plenty of interesting things going on in this novel. One of the minor plot lines which actually may be more important than it first appears is that of Sazed, the Terrisman ferruchemist and his countrywoman, Tindwyl's search for answers as to the true location of the Well of Ascension and the origin and nature of The Deepness which threatened the land before the Lord Ruler's rise to power. They fear that killing the Lord Ruler has released this menace once again.

Vin, throughout the novel, learns more about allomancy, and picks up some skills, quite by accident, that she hadn't possessed before, and starts to understand quite a bit more about the miscellaneous powers the Lord Ruler held before she killed him. Tindwyl takes charge of Elend's kingly education, and he learns how to be more assertive, more confident and more the type of king that he believes that Luthandel needs in these perilous times.

There's a writing technicque I don't know the name of, where each chapter or section in a book is headed with an aphorism, or contains a snippet of a diary, or a bit of fictional history. Sanderson has used this tactic in both of the Mistborn novels so far, and I'm sad to say I just blew past those tidbits in the first novel. In this one, I noticed fairly rapidly that they contained "clues" to some of the mysteries that Sazed, Tindwyl, and Vin are trying to unravel throughout the book, and actually paid attention this time.

I noticed another interesting bit in the book. Sanderson comes up with a very nice way to describe a scene, untraditionally, when he has Sazed exploring a building where the Steel Inquisitors gathered. Instead of using the third person, he has Sazed narrating his discoveries as he goes along, dictating them to be recorded by one of his metalminds, for posterity. A nice little twist.

There was a point early in the book when Vin was thinking about members of Kelsier's crew, and she muses, "People were just too complex to reduce to single personality traits." I think Sanderson takes this dictum to heart, or begins to, in this novel, as he works to create more depth for the characters he created in Mistborn. Very nice.

One interesting political statement from Tindwyl, "...I still do not believe that your duty is to do as the people wish. Your duty is to lead as best you can, following the dictates of your conscience." At first, it would appear to be a warning against mob rule and unfettered democracy, but it also might encourage, in the wrong sort of leader, a dangerous arrogance. Talk amongst yourselves.

This trilogy is definitely growing more interesting, and I look forward to digging into the final volume. However, I'm holding off for a bit. This one was a bit like a really good meal, it takes a bit of time to digest before you're hungry for another.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Short Takes

7/15/07 Reading Mistborn, by someone or other (Brandon Sanderson). It's semi-amusing.

7/26/07 Finished reading the new Harry Potter novel, Deathly Hallows. Yes, it was well-written, though I got a little tired of Harry's internal anguish over everything. Get over it and grow up.

8/16/07 Finished Territory, by Emma Bull, which was strangely fascinating, yet ultimately disappointing.

The Search of Mavin Manyshaped by Sheri S. Tepper

The Search of Mavin Manyshaped
(Review written 1996)
In The Search of Mavin Manyshaped, Tepper pretty much wraps up the story of Mavin and the Wizard Himaggery. As agreed upon in Song, Mavin has been traveling the world for twenty seasons, and now is returning to Pfarb Durim to meet with Himaggery, who may or may not be her one true love. She arrives in town to find that the wizard has stood her up, but not of his own choice.
A messenger from Seer Windlow comes to share the information that Himaggery has disappeared while investigating ancient ruins and legends, and no one has been able to find him for seven years. Mavin sets out to find him, and along the way confronts old enemies, allies with old and new friends, and leaps evil wizards in a single bound.
Ultimately, she rescues Himaggery and they live together for a time. Mavin discovers that they are two utterly different types of people, and her free spirit won't allow her to stay with him. She is pregnant with his child, and leaves him without ever telling him about this or why she is leaving. I hate this kind of stuff. Foolish tragedy caused by failure to communicate.
It's been so long since I read the True Game trilogy that I've forgotten whether all this has any bearing on what happens there, but it seems to me that the hero of that trilogy might be Mavin and H's child, fostered out shortly after birth. It would seem to make some sort of sense out of things if that was the case. I'll have to re-read them some day and get back to you.
Anyway the story about Himaggery's rescue mostly seemed like some sort of filler to make everything work out in the end for them to be tragically separated, so I wasn't all that thrilled with this book. If you've been following the series, then you've got to read it for completion, but if you're already bored with things, then don't bother.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Short Takes

5/17/07 Finished reading Heinlein's Expanded Universe, a collection of short stories and essays. I'd forgotten just how much of my own life philosophy was absorbed from reading Heinlein.

5/20/07 Finished reading Triplanetary, by Doc Smith. I was gonna try to read the whole Lensman series, but now I'm not so sure it's worth my time.

5/23/07 Started re-reading Stranger in a Strange Land the other night. Did I mention how much I love Heinlein?

Flashes from the Other World by Julie Ann Weinstein

Flashes from the Other World
So, there's evidently a genre of fiction with which I was previously unacquainted, flash fiction. Wikipedia says, "Flash fiction is a style of fictional literature or fiction of extreme brevity. There is no widely accepted definition of the length of the category. Some self-described markets for flash fiction impose caps as low as three-hundred, while others consider stories as long as one-thousand words to be flash fiction." Now, this seems to me very much like the kind of thing I used to do when I'd immediately jot down the contents of a dream, or have a little scene go through my head, years ago, and have to write a quick blurb just to get it out of my brain, but evidently there's an entire body of this type of literature out there. Who knew?

Ms. Weinstein's book is a collection of her flash fiction, and was kind enough to send me a copy of it for review. I'd requested it not really paying attention to the genre, which really isn't my cup of tea. I did, however, find some of the ideas in the book entertaining, such as one story about a woman without children who adopts a doll, and takes it on all sorts of outings, snapping photos which she then sends off to her family. They all think she's crazy.

I could see, though, that perhaps those of us who have children or pets that we bombard our acquaintances and family with photos of, Xmas brag letters about, and so forth might evoke this sort of response or retaliation from the less fortunate. Made me think, anyhow.

One story that struck me as quite topical was the account of a woman who was labeled a criminal for excessive consumption of carbohydrates. The Food Police are watching you. The final lines from that one just cracked me up. "I break open the French bread and bite into it, ignoring the gun shots. One bullet hits the ceiling light. It breaks. Glass shatters. I continue chewing the bread and break open a bag of Cheetos. It rips in half. I throw it high in the air, the same with the next bag, and the next. It's raining Cheetos when they take me away."

Another bit that I rather liked was, "Mom called it gross and Dad didn't say anything, anything at all. Not even when the pile of gum wads in the corner of my room attracted life forms and Mom insisted I throw it out." If you've ever cleaned a teenager's room, you can relate to this.

As I said, not my ordinary fare, but if you like the odd bit of flash fiction, you may find it tasty.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Short Takes

4/3/07 Finished reading a couple of Joel C. Rosenberg novels, somewhat along the lines of current events in the Middle East, with a slant reminiscent of the Left Behind series. Wasn't what I was expecting, and the action stuff was pretty unrealistic - the hero and heroine end up nearly dying of gunshot wounds in every book - I'm thinkin' they're not likely to recover from multiple wounds as quickly as the books would have it...anyway.

Reading a strange fantasy detective novel right now that's part of a series, the Inspector Chen stuff  - Chinese mythology linked.

4/6/07 Read a book, My Year inside Radical Islam,  by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, which was a little anticlimactic, but interesting.

4/7/07 Finished Snake Agent, the Inspector Chen novel, by Liz Williams, last night. A bit surreal, but amusing and clever. Finished Sword Maker, by Roberson, this morning. A good re-read, as expected.

The Flight of Mavin Manyshaped by Sheri S. Tepper

The Flight of Mavin Manyshaped (Book 2)
(Review written 1996 )
In The Flight of Mavin Manyshaped, Mavin is in search of her sister Handbright, who took the form of a great white bird near the beginning of Song of MM and flew away from Danderbat keep. She comes to the land of the Chasm, where an interesting community has evolved, living on bridges and platforms. The arrival of Mavin's sister has been taken by these people to be a sign from the Boundless, and Mavin must cope with some rather unexpected events.
Tepper has created in this book an interesting caste-ridden society, with its own power plays and intrigues, and managed to weave it into the world of the True Game rather well. I think she's solved a dilemma that is probably quite common to writers, "What do you do with a new idea when you've got readers clamoring for the same old world and characters?". SST just files off the square corners to fit the new world into a round hole in the old one, and lets it be "discovered" by a familiar face. It works, too.
Near the top of this society she's created are the hereditary Bridgers, those whose skills open up new territory for the people of the Chasm. Over hundreds of years, they've created seven cities there, from the broken bridge at the top to the lost bridge near the bottom. There are three Bridger families in the chasm, and one of them is willing to go to any lengths to be the most powerful, including murder.
When Mavin's sister becomes pregnant by the priest of the Birder caste who has been set to care for her, the resulting disruption allows the nasty Bander family to take advantage of the unrest to make a power play. Also, at this time, there have been several incursions from some slimy beasties from way down in the bottom of the chasm, so Mavin and her allies set off for the bottom to: a. evade the Banders. b. destroy the beasties. c. defuse the religious controversy generated by Handbright's pregnancy.
Their journey to the bottom, and the interesting things they find along the way, make this one an even better read than Song, I think. The tale is told for a while from some other points of view than Mavin's, and Tepper does a pretty good job of creating a new and weird society, warts and all. Again, a nice light fantasy novel providing a good evening's read.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Short Takes

2/21/07 Finished reading Crichton's Next - interesting stuff.

3/14/07 Just finished reading Elantris, by Brian Sanderson - entertaining, but not engrossing. He's got another novel out I'll have to pick up. Also reading The Pentagon's New Map,  by Thomas P.M. Barnett, which is quite interesting.

Poppy Done to Death by Charlaine Harris

Poppy Done to Death (Aurora Teagarden Mysteries, Book 8)
I picked this book up from the library at the same time as its predecessor, Last Scene Alive. There's a family dinner scene in LSA where we meet some of Roe's relatives for the first time, and it mentions her sister-in-law, Poppy. I immediately had an "Aha!" moment - this girl is toast for Thanksgiving.

Sure enough, Poppy is about to be inducted into the group, Uppity Women, in Lawrencetown, a signal honor. On the day of the ceremony, however, she is a no-show. When Roe and her other sister-in-law, Melinda go over to her house to berate her, they find her dead in her kitchen, stabbed to death.

We quickly find out that there are plenty of suspects for Poppy's popping, mostly jealous wives of all the men she's slept with. She and her husband, John David, seem to have an open marriage, and despite outward appearances, she never really settled down after marriage and childbirth from her wild teens. One of the men she has slept with is the chief of police, Arthur, which has the effect of making him rather ineffectual for this investigation, so (are you surprised?) Roe turns out to be the only person capable of solving this mystery.

And on the subject of repeating themes in my reading lately, I mentioned in my review of Kitty and the Silver Bullet about women who are clueless about the fact that they are pregnant. Here we go again. Aurora starts experiencing some symptoms like being tired a lot, gaining a bit of weight, having sore breasts...and has no idea that she's pregnant till Melinda brings it up. Huh? Maybe it's not so much the experiencing of the symptoms, as the way that authors mention the symptoms that makes me aware they're pregnant long before they "get it."

If you've been following Aurora's adventures at all, you'll probably love this one, too.

One great quote for you fellow booklovers:
"...I gathered, that the day he touched books voluntarily was a day that should be marked on the calendar. I supressed a sigh. It was hard to believe a brother of mine wasn't a reader. I had never been able to figure out what non-readers did. Maybe, during Phillip's stay, I'd find out."

Friday, January 14, 2011

Short Takes

2/8/07 Picked up a new book, Jennifer Morgue, by Charles Stross, author of the Hidden Family series. It's a really amusing read. He's got a lovely twisted wit. Some of the things he says about corporate customs, computer geekiness, etc. are just hilarious. There's a short story about the same protagonist in the back of the book that's got a really fun take on MUDs and RPGs.

2/9/07 Read Card's new novel, Empire, yesterday. Pretty much up to his usual standards, but the ending seemed a little lame.

Book Blogger Hop - January 14 to 17

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

Today's question:
"Why do you read the genre that you do? What draws you to it?"

I got hooked on science fiction and fantasy many years ago, and probably continue to read it out of habit. I do read other things when they pique my interest. I suppose what draws me to SF and Fantasy is its endless possibilities. When it's good, it expands your mind.

Last Scene Alive by Charlaine Harris

Last Scene Alive: An Aurora Teagarden MysteryI was going through my online journal the other day, pulling out things I'd written about books I was reading, and found the following entry from February 8, 2009,  "From Charlaine Harris, A Fool and His Honey, the latest Aurora Teagarden mystery - very upsetting." The only thing I could recall about what upset me was that Harris had killed off Aurora's husband or boyfriend, but couldn't remember the details. When I ran across the next novel in the series at the library, well...

This one picks up about six months later, while Aurora is still grieving for her dead husband, Martin, and living in a great pile of a house all by herself, aside from Madeleine the cat, that is. She is about to be jolted out of her dolorous rut, however, by the arrival in town of the film crew working on a tv miniseries adaptation of her ex-boyfriend, Robin Crusoe's novel about murder and mayhem in Lawrencetown.

If you've read any of this series, you know of course that there will be a murder pretty soon, and when the star actress of the series turns up dead in her dressing room, Aurora can't help but butt in. There's some interesting twists in that the victim turns out to have possibly been murdered three times, first by drugging, next by smothering, and finally whacked in the head with her Emmy statuette, so it's possible that more than one person had something to do with it.

What's more interesting to me about this novel is that it falls into a common theme I'm noticing this fall/winter of being a transitional novel. The first one that I remember reading was Changes, by Butcher. One might have guessed from the title that it was going to be a big transition in the Harry Dresden series, and all of us fans are sitting around wondering what direction that transition is really going to take, and the only hint we've had is from the short story Aftermath, in Side Jobs.

More recently, I read Kitty and the Silver Bullet, by Vaughn. There's a big transition that takes place there, too. Kitty finally is forced to quit running away, and has to confront her fears and her ex-pack, so she can return to her home town of Denver, spend more time with her family, and move on with her life.

Now, in Last Scene Alive, Roe must move past her grief, sell the house where she lived with Martin, find love again, and move on to the next phase. If I thought about it some more I could probably find a few more examples of transitional novels in a series from my recent reading, too. I always hope that when this happens, it will mean a new bit of excitement from the author, and a breath of spring for her readers.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Short Takes

2/7/06 Wow! I just got done reading Elizabeth Moon's The Speed of Dark. She's written some pretty good fantasy and science fiction over the years, but they've all been mostly mind candy; fun for a few hours' entertainment. This book is actually deep, exploring the human condition, made me think. How to describe it? It's a near future story about an autistic man who has received enough therapy to get him to the point where he's able to be reasonably self-sufficient. He and a group of similar folks have jobs which take advantage of their pattern recognition skills and provide them with a supportive environment. The fly in the ointment is a new manager who wants to take away all their "special" privileges and to coerce them into participating in a new treatment program which will supposedly make them "normal." The book at first had me thinking, “Flowers for Algernon”, but it wasn't just a remake of the old classic. A definite "must read.

6/15/06 Read Dave Barry's Money Secrets - which was hilarious.

The Song of Mavin Manyshaped by Sheri S. Tepper

Song Of Mavin Manyshaped
(Review written 1996 )
After many years away from the work of Sheri S. Tepper, I found some very nice paperback copies of "The story of the most famous shapeshifter of them all!" at the used bookstore a few weeks ago. I'd read Tepper's "True Game" trilogy back in the mid-eighties, and enjoyed it, but never got around to reading the Jinian or Mavin trilogies.
As you might have surmised, the tales of Mavin Manyshaped take place in the land of the True Game, where people are either born with Talent, and can become Rulers, Wizards, Necromancers, Dervishes, Healers, Armigers, Seers, Shifters or a number of other things, or they are born without Talent, and will only be Pawns. The trilogy, The Song of Mavin Manyshaped, The Flight of Mavin Manyshaped, and The Search of Mavin Manyshaped, take place before the events in the true game trilogy, and we get to learn a little more of the history of the characters we'd come to know in the world of the true game.
In The Song of MM, we enter the life of Mavin, a shifter of Danderbat keep. As a young teen, she is just beginning to display the shifter's talent of changing her body into nearly any form she desires, either fish or fowl, beast or plant. Due to a shortage of breeding females in the keep, any girls who manifest the Shifter gift are forced to mate with the Danderbat males until they have born three or four children. Only then are they allowed to leave the keep to pursue their own interests.
Mavin's older sister has been the only breeding age female left in the keep for several years. Barren, she has been forced to endure the attentions of all the keep's shifter males, who are eagerly awaiting the day when Mavin is officially named shifter and can join her sister in her "duties". Mavin has been kept ignorant of what being a shifter female really entails, and only through a chance bit of eavesdropping is she made aware of her fate.
Mavin has been given one of the most powerful shifter talents of all time, and when she learns what her sister has been going through all these years, she uses it to impose a fitting revenge on the brutal males, set her sister free, and escape from Danderbat keep with her younger brother, Mertyn. They travel to the city of Pfarb Durim, where Mertyn contracts the plague, and Mavin must brave the depths of Hell's Maw below the city to save him.
In the course of curing her brother's plague, she earns the friendship of the Seer Windlow, the Wizard Himaggery, and an entire tribe of Shadowpeople. She makes enemies of the Prince Valdon, the Demon Huld, and the Harpy Pantiquod. At the end, she and Himaggery realize that they may be in love, but she has not yet learned to be her own person, so they agree to meet again in Pfarb Durim in twenty years' time to see what may be.
All in all, an enjoyable read. Not especially deep or meaningful, but worth reading if you like light fantasy

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Short Takes

1/26/06 Started reading a new RM Meluch's (she hasn't published anything in close to twenty years, by my reckoning) The Myriad: Tour of the Merrimack #1. Pretty good generic space opera type stuff. Got about halfway thru it last night before bedtime.

1/27/06 Finished the Meluch book. Sorta a deus ex machina ending, which was a little irritating. Still reading The Anthrax Letters by Leonard Cole, and just started One Nation, Uninsured by Jill Quadagno. On the fiction side, reading a book called Healer, by an unknown. It's rather depressing.

Kitty and the Silver Bullet by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty and the Silver Bullet (Kitty Norville, Book 4)
Kitty and her pack member/boyfriend, Ben, are living in Pueblo when they get the call from Kitty's family. Her mother has a lump on her breast which may be cancerous, and Kitty decides she must return to Denver, despite the danger from her old pack alphas, Carl and Meg, to support her family at this time.

Coincidentally, Kitty turns out to be pregnant and suffers a miscarriage right as this is happening. This bit of subplot actually adds quite a bit of emotional impact to the book as a whole, but something about Kitty's cluelessness about the fact of her pregnancy in the first place didn't ring completely authentically to me. I mean, she's been having unprotected sex with Ben for how long? And when she starts feeling nauseous when she's ordinarily healthy as a, well, lycanthrope, that isn't her first thought? Minor was my first thought.

One of her old vampire friends, Rick, contacts her just before she leaves Pueblo and wants her to help him in his takeover of the city from its master vampire, Arturo. Though Kitty has a history with Arturo, and doesn't like him very much, she's unwilling to help at this time. She's still pretty much in run and hide mode after her bad experiences with the pack in Denver.

Kitty gets a call from an entertainer's agent, asking if she'd like to interview stage legend, Mercedes Cook, who has decided to "come out" as a vampire, and would like to do it on Kitty's radio show. This seems like a coincidence at the time, but it turns out that Ms. Cook is more devious than she seems at first, and stirs the pot quite handily in the vampire and were communities of Denver.

As you might expect, Kitty ends up getting dragged into the conflict, mostly against her will and better judgement. The entire novel, in my opinion, provides some much needed character development in the way of growing up and facing reality, that Kitty definitely needs. With the changing dynamics of this story arc, I'm most interested in seeing where the next novel takes us.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Short Takes

1/21/06 Book-wise, I finished Black, by Dekker (a bit inane), and am currently reading Runner, by Dietz and My FBI by Freeh.

1/24/06 Began reading Ghost, by John Ringo, and couldn't put it I didn't...till it was finished. Pretty good anti-terrorist rant, a la Tom Clancy. Brutal violence, brutal sex, not for the faint of heart.

The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey

(review written in 1996)
The Fire Rose (The Elemental Masters Fairy Tales)Just finished The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey, and found it to be worth the price; slightly more than a movie ticket these days. This is a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast theme that provided me with a couple of evening's entertainment. The tone of this novel is on more of an adult level than most of her fantasy novels, and certainly more adult than the Disney version of B&B.

The heroine is Rosalind Hawkins, a young scholar of medieval literature whose father has died and left her penniless. She is offered a position, ostensibly as a governess to the children of a reclusive rail baron , which removes her from her native Chicago to the wilds of the California coast near San Francisco. When she arrives, she finds out that there are no children, and that she has actually been recruited to assist the railroad magnate, Jason Cameron, in his research of medieval magical tomes.

She is not aware at first, however, that the reason of Cameron's reclusive habits is that he is a magician, a master of the elemental magic of fire, who has been changed into a half-human, half-beast by a spell which backfired. The plot of the story, of course, is her gradual discovery of who and what he is, and her coming to terms with his beastly nature.

What makes the whole book fun, however, is that Rosalind herself has the potential to become a mage, a mistress of the elemental magic of air. Lackey treats us to a light dissertation on the workings of elemental magic, and the training and discipline of a proper magician's apprentice. There's some marvelous intrigue and conflict built into the story by her introduction of an evil rival fire mage, and untimely betrayal by Cameron's first apprentice.

I won't spoil it all for you by letting you know how it all turns out, but suffice it to say that Lackey provides a new twist at the end of an old, old story. I'll probably even read this one again after sufficient time has passed, or she's come up with some sort of sequel.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Short Takes

1/13/06 Last night, started reading The Hidden Family, by Stross, and didn't put it down till I finished, about three hours later. Kinda a cross between the Amber stuff and Connecticut Yankee.

1/19/06 Read a book my mom had given me, Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief, by Mason & Gruenfeld, which was quite engrossing. Stayed up till about midnight finishing it.

A Kiss Before the Apocalypse by Tom Sniegoski

A Kiss Before the Apocalypse: A Remy Chandler Novel
After reading Mr. Sniegoski's novella in the Side Jobs Collection, I was eager to check out his Remy Chandler books a bit more thoroughly, and when I found this one at one of my old haunts, a used book store, I snatched it up immediately. The author has gone a completely different direction from the run of the mill urban fantasy out there; no elves, vampires, or wizards, but a whole troupe (or would one call it a flight?) of angels, instead.

Remy Chandler - Sniegoski makes no bones about his tribute to Raymond Chandler, and Remy has a dog named Marlowe - is a cynical private eye, who spends much of his time on routine surveillances of cheating spouses. He's not human, though. He's actually an angel who has gone AWOL from the heavenly host, slumming amongst humans for a few millenia. When a stakeout goes horribly wrong, and his subject shoots his secretary and himself in a motel room, Remy is probably the only detective on Earth who can really understand what happens next - neither of the victims actually die. Their souls refuse to depart their bodies, and they are left in horrible anguish in a local hospital, along with what rapidly grows to be a horde of other victims in the same situation. The Angel of Death, Israfil, has apparently gone on holiday.

In a related side plot, the human woman whom Remy fell in love with and married, is dying of cancer in a nursing home. He visits her almost every day. The staff there think she's his mother, rather than his wife, as Remy never visibly ages, and looks the same as he did centuries ago when he descended to Earth and took human form. Remy must come to terms with losing her at some point, and when he is "hired" by a group of Seraphim to find the missing Israfil, it puts a personal twist on things; when Death returns, his beloved Madeline will likely depart.

One fun little quirk in the book is that Remy is able to converse in all of the languages of beasts and men. He has a lot of conversations with his black lab, Marlowe. Sniegoski spends some time and effort creating the dog's side of the conversation and, as a long time owner of a black lab, I can say that he flat nails it.

A somewhat dark, at times, yet poignant tale, creating a new urban reality that I really enjoyed. Gotta keep an eye out for the next installment.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Nook by Barnes & Noble

So, after much debate, I decided to finally make the transition from strictly paper books to the e-world. A good friend of mine had done a bit of research and settled on the Nook, so I decided to trust her instincts and go that direction, as well.

One reason I decided to go electronic was that I found it cumbersome to carry sufficient paper books with me while I was traveling abroad last fall. I took four novels and a couple of guidebooks with me, and it took up quite a bit of room in my suitcase. I'd rather travel light. The Nook, unaugmented with additional memory, is capable of carrrying 1500 books at once, so that should appease my travel needs quite well.

The second reason I decided to do it was economic. When new novels come out in series that I am following, the hardbacks are usually around $25. I can either wait for my library to get the book in and put myself on the waiting list, or wait for the paperback, if I don't want to spend that much money. Ebooks are quite a bit cheaper than hard copies, and I can get them immediately on the day they're released. In theory, anyway. I haven't yet bought an ebook for my reader, but I think I'm all set up to do it.

I got my Nook as a Christmas present, technically, but since I had to go with my wife to show her what to buy, exactly, I had access a little before then. So, I charged up the battery and loaded up a bunch of books from my Baen Free Library CDs, so the reader wouldn't be useless on Christmas morning, then gave it back to her to wrap and place under the tree.

The Nook takes a bit of getting used to, but I think I'm adjusting well. It's about the right size to hold in one hand for simple reading, and if you hold it just right, your thumb can read the page turning button, leaving your other hand free for food and beverages, if you're a mealtime reader. The page transitions are pretty quick, certainly comparable with my usual one-handed page turns with paper books. The font size is easily adjustable, but only the smallest size available actually fits an entire page on the screen at once, and that's just a bit of a strain for my old eyes, so one ends up hitting the page button twice as many times as for a regular book. Once you get the timing down, you can be reading the last sentence and hit the button, and move seamlessly to the next screen.

One downside to the Nook is that it isn't backlit. So, for low light conditions, or reading in the dark, you have to have a little clip-on booklight. Fortuitously, my son bought me one made especially for the Nook as a Christmas present. There's also a balance to be achieved between battery life and convenience. The Nook has a screen saver, "sleep" mode that turns on after a specified amount of time without any activity. If you tend to put a book down, wander off to brew a pot of coffee or let the cat in, the lower wait time settings will be annoying, as you'll have to "wake" your Nook every time you return. I think I finally settled on a 10 minute sleep mode wait time as optimal.

Battery life might turn out to be an issue. So far, after several hours of reading, the lowest I've gotten the batter level is 67%, so that's not too bad, but it might be a problem if I'm traveling for extended periods without access to an outlet or a USB port to charge it up with. The jury is still out on this one.
It's quite easy to "sideload" ebooks from your computer to your Nook. When plugged into the USB port, it behaves much like a thumb drive, and you simply drag and drop or copy and paste the files into the proper directory on the Nook drive, then "eject" the drive and you're up and running with all your new books. Occasioally, if I haven't immediately disconnected the drive from the computer, it's gotten a bit confused, and I had to re-plug and re-eject to get it to see the new acquisitions, but so far it hasn't really "lost" anything.
So far, I've loaded up about 400 books or stories on it, and haven't really impacted its total capacity. It's also possible to add a microSD card of up to 16 Gb, which takes the total to around 15,000 books possible. It could be a while before I need to expand.

One other issue, which I understand there are some hacks out there to solve, is that the Nook displays your entire library as a "flat" database. You get a long long list of book titles to scroll through to find your book, if you're just browsing to figure out what you want to read next. There is, however, a search feature that will find a particular title for you, and B&N just came out with the version 1.5 code for the Nook, which introduces the Shelves functionality, so you can put groups of books together on shelves, perhaps by category (I made mine Authors), so as to simplify the process of finding what you want. I'm not sure what the maximum number of shelves allowed is yet, but I'm sure I'll find out at some point.

I'll probably never get away from paper copies entirely, but I'm enjoying playing with my new toy, and hoping it does what I'd expected it would do for me.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Short Takes

12/9/05 Finished Rick Santorum's book, It takes a Family - excellent exposition of conservative thought, Zoomed through Let's Roll, by Lisa Beamer - inspiring tearjerker.

12/14/05 Finished Hopscotch, by Kevin Anderson - piece of drivel. The book by John Kessel (Good News from Outer Space) I couldn't even finish - worse drivel .

Friday Follies #8

Cover of Conan of Cimmeria by Robert E. Howard, Sphere Books 1976 - Art by Frank Frazetta

The Apostle by Brad Thor

The Apostle: A Thriller
Scott Harvath rides again. Though he's retired from the Secret Service after the new administraton has gutted the agency, in favor of inclusiveness, diversity and affirmative action, he still answers the call of country when a doctor, Julia Gallo, is kidnapped in Afghanistan. Stephanie Gallo, Julia's mother, a wealthy supporter of the current president, hires Scott to effect her rescue.

Most of the action takes place in-country, but there is a side plot weaving in and out of the whole book regarding a Secret Service agent who overhears Stephanie Gallo threaten to blackmail President Aden. She can't let it go, and doggedly digs into the past, trying to understand what happened in the accidental death of a campaign aide.

Harvath contacts old friends from his Seal team days in Afghanistan, and they piece together a plan on the fly. First, to abduct a high value Al Qaeda target, Mustafa Khan, from an Afghan prison so they can trade him for Dr. Gallo. When they realize that it would be foolish to give Khan back to the Taliban, they decide to go after the Taliban leaders who hold the doctor, and make a trip into the rugged interior to attempt a rescue, instead. And that's when things really go pear-shaped.

As always, in Thor's books, there's plenty of action and adventure. The story's background also seems to be pretty well researched, with lots of details about Afghan and Pashtun culture and customs. Just good ole military action adventure fiction, with the return of Thor's favorite character. Fun stuff, but not a lot of thought provocation.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Short Takes

11/9/05 Read an autobio by Trent Lott, pretty interesting, tho he breezes through about four presidents he worked with pretty quickly, then spends a lot of time talking about how unfair things were getting forced out of the Majority Leader spot. Maybe true, but I'd like to have heard more about the earlier stuff.

12/6/05 I just finished reading the latest Honor Harrington novel, At Any Cost. Absolutely riveting page turner. Some loose ends wrapped up neatly, but new story lines appearing, as usual. This series could continue for quite a while, given Weber's age. I'm missing a couple of the peripheral novels, written in the Honorverse, so I'll have to correct that oversight one of these days, but I did get the chance to read them via the public library, so it's not urgent.

The Eternity Artifact by L.E. Modesitt

The Eternity Artifact
(This review was written in 2006)Unremarkable. In fact, this novel is so unremarkable that I've spent the last week, since I finished it, trying to think of some remarks to make about it. I've liked Modesitt for years, and it WAS readable, but I don't really think it's up to his usual entertaining standards.

It seems that in the depths of space an engineered planetoid has been discovered, of unimaginable antiquity. An expedition is mounted to investigate the body, and the city scale artifact upon it. Everything is quite mysterious, and people from all of the governments around the galaxy are are attempting to either control the alien technology that might be revealed there, or to destroy it so others won't be able to. Seems like I've seen this plot a half dozen times before.

Much of this novel, however, is thinly veiled historical, political and philosophical pedantry. One of the primary characters aboard the expedition is history professor Liam Fitzhugh. A key aspect of his characterization by Modesitt is his propensity for hiding his true feelings behind multi-syllabic utterances, and throughout the novel we are treated to his treatises on the aforementioned subjects.

Heinlein, in his middle years, was able to do this quite skillfully, still weaving an engrossing, captivating tale. In this novel, at least, Modesitt falls a bit short.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Short Takes

I was going through my journal a couple of weeks ago, and found some blurbs about books I was reading at various times, so I thought I'd share some of them, on a regular basis.

4/5/04 Finished Savage Nation, started on O'Reilly's book (probably Who's Looking out for You?). Savage is pretty savage, all right. Pulls no punches.
6/3/2004 Almost finished with this monster book about Iraq I'm reading, The threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq by Kenneth Pollack. Written (in 2002) by an analyst for military intelligence; quite thorough. Wonder if it's just a compilation of all the briefings he had to prepare for several administrations. Was written before we went to war with Iraq, laying out the case for invasion, basically. Those who are whining today should really read it, but probably won't. Published by the Council on Foreign Relations.

Mercury Falls by Robert Kroese

Mercury Falls
The author was kind enough to provide me with a copy of this book for review. Within a few short pages, I realized I was in for a fun ride. My only hope was that Kroese could keep up the comedic pace throughout.

Christine Temetri is a reporter working for Harry Giddings' flagship publication, The Banner, a religious news magazine. Her assignments are usually covering apocalyptic pronouncements from nutcase cultists, and the novel starts with her attending the scheduled "end of the world" somewhere in the hinterlands of Nevada. When, as we might expect, the end of the world fails to arrive, she heads back to her apartment in Glendale (CA not AZ), where she finds that it has been vandalized and set on fire. The vandal is a fallen angel, and things just go downhill from there.

After getting her breakfast nook carpet replaced with linoleum (by another fallen angel in disguise), which contains a pattern that creates an interplanar portal, she goes in to the office to deliver an ultimatum to her boss about all the pointless assignments he's been giving her. Seeming to concede, he sends her off to Israel, to cover the Olive Branch War, and interview the Israeli general, Isaakson. Just before an errant Syrian missile destroys the tent where the interview is taking place, Isaakson gives her a locked briefcase and tells her to take it to Mercury. When the missile lands, Isaakson is killed, and Christine wakes up in the hospital, with the briefcase nearby. As it turns out, it's one of the four attache cases of the Apocalypse, War.

Mercury turns out to be a fallen, or maybe just AWOL, angel, who really isn't all that excited about seeing the Apocalypse take place on schedule. Together he and Christine must puzzle out the assassination plots against the Antichrist, Karl Grissom, a 37 year old film school dropout who lives in Lodi with his mother, and save the world from immolation.

This book reminds me of Pratchett at his best, and Kroese does, indeed, manage to keep up the wit through most of the novel. If you like your religion straight, no chaser, you're probably going to find the whole thing enormously heretical, but I laughed most of the way through.

Some bits I found amusing:

From a footnote, "People of a 'scientific' bent have been known to ridicule those, like Harry, who believe unlikely notions such as the idea that the Universe was created in six days, and that the first human being was formed by God breathing into a lump of clay. I should be noted that the latest scientific theories entail that (1) all of the matter in the universe was once compressed into an area smaller than the point of a pin, and (2) life came about when a chance collision of molecules accidentally lined up three million nucleic acids in exactly the right order to form a self-replicating protein."

And when Christine is talking to Harry after finding a backwards swastika in ketchup on her kitchen floor,
"'Did you hear what I said?' Christine asked tersely. 'Dyslexic Nazis vandalized my condo.'
'Oh!' exclaimed Harry. 'I thought you said...' He trailed off as he realized that he had most likely misheard her again."

In a "helpful" explanation of multiple planes (dimensions),
"It might be more helpful to think of a plane as a sheet of paper that is rolled up as a cylinder, and then stretched out like a garden hose. And then, ah, tied up with several thousand other hoses, crushed flat again, crumpled up like a tissue, and then had holes punched in it at various places. And then the holes are filled with, oh, say, macaroni."

During a tour of the Infernal Plane,
"'Quite the operation you have here,' observed Christine.
'Nine hundred thousand Corruption Representatives,' said Nybbas proudly. 'The result of an eight-hundred year job retraining program. Most of these CRs were performing unskilled demonic activity only a few centuries ago,' he said, gesturing broadly."

Speaking of Lucifer's rival, Tiamat,
"He's had her doing his grunt work down there for the past two thousand years. Spreading plague, burning witches, breaking up Van Halen..."

And, finally,
"I think I've figured out a way for everyone to live happily ever after."
"Well, most almost everybody. And not so much happy as only mildly disgruntled."

Forgive my extensive quoting, but rest assured the whole book is filled with crazy stuff like these. I'm passing this copy on to selected friends to read next.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Enough by Juan Williams

Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America--and What We Can Do About It
(I wrote this review as a guest post for a friend's blog, and am re-posting it here)
Juan Williams has been in the news recently, with his firing by NPR, and so I decided I should probably read something he's written. The full title of this book is Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movement, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America - and What We Can Do About It. The entire book is more or less a riff on the themes that Bill Cosby raised in his controversial speech at Constitution Hall on the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision that forced integration of public schools in America.

Critics said that Cosby was beating up on poor black people, an easy target. But Williams, who interviewed the comedian extensively for his book,  says that Cosby's charge was that black cultural and political leaders have misinformed, mismanaged, and mis-educated by failing to tell black people about what it takes to get ahead in America: strong families, a good educations, and hard work, instead focusing the spotlight constantly on alleged systemic racism as the cause of all of the black poor's woes. Williams even suggests that it's in the best interests (especially financial) of these leaders to maintain the status quo, sacrificing the well being of those they claim to champion.

Williams, and Cosby, both believe that the behavior of many of the black poor today, disgraces and dishonors the sacrifices made by the generations of black civil rights leaders who fought for the freedom they enjoy today. The popular culture that embraces thuggish behavior, encourages indiscriminate sexual behavior and bearing children out of wedlock, and discourages blacks who try to graduate from high school and go on to college as "acting white", would be incomprehensible to those like Fredrick Douglas, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Dubois, Martin Luther King, and Rosa Parks.

Williams attacks the idea of reparations for slavery that has been floating around Congress for years now. He calls it a "flashy distraction" from the real work that must be done by black people to take advantages of all the opportunities in America. Like lottery winnings, the money would soon be spent, most likely frivolously, and things would continue as usual, but with whites, and the government, feeling that the "debt" had been paid and that no further effort would be needed to help the black poor.

In his speech, Cosby said "What the Hell good is Brown v Board of Education if nobody wants it?" Black people before, during, and after slavery had regarded education as their way out, a chance to succeed. " a thirty-year period, between 1880 and 1920, the percentage of black people who could read and write jumped from 30 percent to 70 percent. This ... took place despite a lack of schools, frequent denial of the right to for office, including seats on the school boards that controlled funding for black schools." In 2004 only 50 percent of black students who enter the ninth grade later graduated with a regular high school diploma. Only 43 percent of black males graduate. Even worse, the children coming out of many big-city schools are not ready to compete at the best colleges, as the quality of high school education there has declined. Cosby said in a column in the Los Angeles Times, "What we need now is parents sitting down with children, overseeing homework, sending children off to school in the morning, well-fed, clothed, rested, and ready to learn."

One quote from Williams that I found amusing. With respect to the reason a disproportionate amount of black males are prison. "The fashionable theory was that America's poor, disproportionately black and concentrated in big cities, did their drug deals and robberies on street corners where lazy, racist police had an easy time arresting them." I just get this mental picture of a couple of good ole boy cops, eating donuts in the squad car, and one says to the other, "Let's drive downtown and get our quota of arrests for this week - won't take us very long." Williams also mentions that the mayors of big cities "understand the utility of having an attractive black police chief to handle ... misconduct by officers (such as the cruel beating of Rodney King) or charges that police are inattentive to crime in black neighborhoods." Isn't it sad that appearances are all that really count? Williams believes that black Americans need to take up their own war on drugs and crime, which undermines the advances in racial justice and opportunities won by the civil rights movement,  as a matter of personal responsibility.

One minor inaccuracy, in my opinion, appears in this section. Williams repeats the slander that William Bennett said on his radio show that the crime rate in America could be reduced if all black babies were aborted. I believe Bennett was actually discussing a statement made by the authors of Freakonomics. The authors claimed as a result of their studies that the decrease in crime in the inner cities that was seen at a particular time came about as a result of Roe v. Wade. When abortion on demand became readily available after the Supreme Court decision, it reduced the number of children born significantly in the following decade. Most of those children would have been teenagers or young adults during the decade studied for its reduction in crime. Statistically, young males are more likely to commit crimes, and again, statistically, black males are more likely to be arrested for crimes, therefore the reduction in crime rates during that period could be attributed to the increase in abortions of inner city (black) babies.

Williams talks quite a bit about the effect of gangster rap music. He says that "it leaves young black people, especially poor kids searching for identity, with the poisonous idea that middle-class normalcy and achievement are 'white' while 'authentically black' behavior is tied to violence, illiteracy, and drug dealing." The misogynistic lyrics of rap music also destroy the self esteem of young black women, who are referred to often as "bitches and hos", and encourages them to believe that their only value is as sexual objects. "In the world of rap, only suckers believe that America is a land of opportunity..."

In Chapter 7, Williams gives a detailed history of what civil rights workers did after Brown to force the issues of integration in the public schools, and voting rights for blacks. Martin Luther King, in a speech in 1958, even criticized blacks for some of the same types of behavior that Cosby would criticize nearly fifty years later. He said that black crime rates were too high and that drinking too much and spending money on luxury items (can you say "bling"?) was wasting black potential for creating positive change, and he criticized sloppiness and personal hygiene. "Even the most poverty-stricken among us can purchase a ten-cent bar of soap. even the most uneducated among us can have high morals."

Williams and Cosby both believe that the poor black community cannot wait for the issues of systemic racism, which modern black leaders decry, to go away. It will be far too late for young blacks by then. The way out of poverty is available to all, and the formula is simple. It begins with finishing high school, though finishing college is better. Next, get a job and keep it. Third, get married after finishing school and getting a job. Finally, avoid having children until you are over 21 and married. This formula applies to black and white poor alike.

This is a great read, really. I felt in some ways like Williams was "preaching to the choir" with me as an audience, as I firmly believe in the value of a good education, a strong work ethic, and supportive family. I've seen friends and family struggle in their lives when any one of those foundations were not in place, and I've seen other people with those qualities present succeed like gangbusters.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Zero History by William Gibson

Zero HistoryIt's difficult, sometimes, to know what to say about Gibson's work. Since Neuromancer came out, over a quarter century ago, Gibson has introduced us to strange versions of a near future, highly imaginative, yet so closely linked to our own times that it is often difficult to tell the difference.

While reading his latest, Zero History, I sometimes found myself stopping and wondering, "Wait a second, does this bit of technology actually exist right now?" Some days, the line between fantasy and reality gets a little thin.

Gibson returns the characters Bigend, Milgrim and Hollis Henry to the big screen here. Hollis falls on hard times, due to a crash of her money market accounts (sound familiar?), and finds herself working for Bigend again, trying to discover the originators of some extremely rare and avant-garde clothing line, known as Gabriel Hounds. Milgrim has been rescued from his drug addiction by Bigend, and is also working for him, trying to gain entry into the lucrative military supply business.

There's not a whole lot of action and adventure in this plot, and it seems at times that the characters spend a great deal of time just wandering around London or Paris, looking at odd architecture, decor, or fashion, which Gibson describes in his inimitable way. Some of the supporting cast are more fun than the featured actors, such as the motorcycle courier, Fiona, who seems to have taken a shine to poor, clueless, Milgrim, and Hollis' bff, Heidi, who is absolutely deadly at dart games.

A couple of great quotes:

"Addictions, he thought,...started out like magical pets, pocket monsters. The did extraordinary tricks, showed you things you hadn't seen, were fun. But came, through some gradual dire alchemy, to make decisions for you. Eventually, they were making your most crucial life-decisions. And they were, his therapist in Basel had said, less intelligent than goldfish."

"I just emailed the number to someone, and they're tellling me the GPS is very amusing. Unless you've taken up marathon randomized teleportation."

And a final quote I know all you readers will love:

"Reading, his therapist had suggested, had likely been his first drug."