Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez

The Automatic DetectiveThe title of this book caught my eye and I just had to check it out. Overall, it has a vaguely comic book feel to the storyline, while attempting to imitate a hard-boiled detective novel. Mack Megaton the robot lives in Empire City, a metropolis which is filled with robots, mutants, and putatively normal humans. He's trying to obtain his citizenship, as he has in the past demonstrated some qualities, such as a sense of ethics, that set him apart from your run of the mill drone.

When a four-armed mutant threatens his next door neighbors, one of whom is a cute little girl with psi powers, April, Mack steps in to thwart him. Unfortunately, when the mutant and/or his allies return and kidnap the entire family, Mack is left with only a cryptic note from April, saying "Find Us". Though he's just a robot cab driver, something moves him to help, and he begins to work, with the help of some old friends, such as detective Sanchez on the police force, and his fellow cab driver the gorilla Jung, and some new friends he makes along the way, like the lovely Lucia - a bit of a mad robotic genius who takes a shine to Mack.

After beating his way through a series of low-level "hoods", Mack finally figures out that there's something toxic at the core of Empire City - more toxic than the waste dumps which make certain neighborhoods much more interesting. The aliens have invaded, adding their own flavor to the Empire stew, and their plans for April's family don't agree with Mack's digestion at all.

This was an amusing book, didn't take itself too seriously. I can't tell if it's a stand-alone, or tied into some of Martinez' other novels, but if I find something else by him, I wouldn't be adverse to picking it up for a try.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Moonshine by Rob Thurman

Moonshine (Cal Leandros, Book 2)
Moonshine is the 2nd book in the Cal Leandros series. It continues along darkly, as might be expected. Cal and Nik are recruited by a Kin (werewolf) boss, Cerberus, to infiltrate the hangout of a rival boss, Boaz, allegedly to gather information. It doesn't take long, however, before it becomes obvious that something more devious is in play. Cal and Nik are unable to make a graceful exit from Boaz's headquarters, and mayhem ensues.

Shortly after that, Georgie the psychic from the ice cream parlor, whom Cal is beginning to realize he may have a crush on, is kidnapped. When Cal and Nik begin to poke their noses into that, they find that Cerberus is in possession of an artifact that a nasty character named Caleb wants, and he is holding Georgie hostage until Nik and Cal are able to steal it for him.

When they are finally able to steal the artifact, an Auphe shows up and steals it from our thieves. Cal and Nik thought all the Auphe were gone after their showdown  in the first book, but it turns out that there are still a few hanging around, causing trouble. Through their connections in the supernatural community they discover that there is another identical artifact that may be held by a group of gypsies - the same tribe that their mother once belonged to, and they set off on a road trip from hell to acquire it.

Still dark, action-packed, and creative, this continues to be amusing.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Book Blogger Hop May 27 to 30

Time for the Book Blogger Hop hosted by Crazy for Books.
Book Blogger Hop

Today's question:

"What book-to-movie adaption have you most liked?  Which have you disliked?"

I may take some heat for this from the Tolkien purists, but I really enjoyed the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Granted, after each viewing, I ranted to my wife about all of the details that they got wrong, especially when they didn't have to, most egregious of which was their portrayal of Faramir as being nearly as corruptible as his brother, but over all I thought it was very well done and captured the spirit, if not the letter, of the books.

Special Operations by Oliver North

American Heroes in Special OperationsThere often seems to be a certain coincidence between what I'm reading and things that pop up in current events. While I was in the middle of this book about the Navy Seals and other Special Forces, the news came over the wires that Seal Team 6 had taken out Osama bin Laden. The other thing that happened was the commisioning of the Navy ship named after Medal of Honor recipient Michael W. Murphy. Maybe I need to read a book about how an economy was saved, next.

I've been rather fond of Ollie North since the days of the Iran Contra hearings, when I heard him being questioned by members of Congress. One of them asked him, "Why did you shred those documents?" His reply was something on the lines of, "Listen, I didn't go out and buy a shredder for myself. The government bought the shredder and put it in my office. It was part of my job to shred confidential documents." with and undertone of "You moron!" Can't recall the name of his autobiography, but I read it back when it hit paperback, and enjoyed it.

This book is based on a television series that Fox News aired and that North hosted a while back, which I never seemed to be tuned in at the right time to watch. It contains interesting information about the makeup of our Special Operations forces, the training that each type receives, and the types of missions that they're generally called to execute. There are stories of their heroism mostly in Afghanistan and Iraq, and probably a merely a small fraction of the heroics that have happened, but these, at least, have been declassified.

This, for me, was not a book I was able to just pick up and breeze through in one sitting. I took it in bits and pieces, as the stories of these men and their selfless sacrifice for their fellow soldiers and others left me in literal tears at times, and I had to walk away. Of course, the story of Seal Team 10, which I hope to read more about in Marcus Lutrell's book, Lone Survivor, one of these days, was featured, as were tales of the Rangers, Marine Force Recon, the Night Stalkers, Delta Force and DEA FAST teams.

I highly recommend this one.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ill Wind by Rachel Caine

Ill Wind (Weather Warden, Book 1)
Book One of this series certainly starts out fast and furious - literally. Joanne Baldwin is a Weather Warden, capable of influencing either by calming or inflaming, a storm, and she's on the run for murder of a fellow warden, actually her supervisor, Bad Bob Biringanine. The weather wardens are jointly responsible for keeping the hurricanes, tornadoes and whatnot from destroying too many human lives and property, as it turns out that storms actually have some sort of consciousness, and are extremely malevolent.

The same thing is true with earthquakes and wildfires, and there are also Earth and Fire wardens who are tasked with keeping those under control, too. Very powerful wardens are assigned a djinn, and elemental creature who is able to multiply and focus the power of the warden when dealing with particularly powerful and tricky natural disasters.

Joanne owns a classic Mustang named Delilah, and we get to travel headlong across country with her as she tries to find her few allies to help her avoid being executed (or worse) for the murder of Bad Bob, and to rid herself of the demon mark inside her. The mark is the whole reason she killed Bob in the first place, and though it may have some effect on her powers, its influence is evil over the long term, and she really needs to exorcise it.

This is an interesting road trip, and perhaps a great beginning for a series, but after some of the special effects in Ill Wind, I just have to wonder how Caine can top the over-the-top weather action.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Spoken from the Heart by Laura Bush

Spoken from the HeartI really do enjoy reading the occasion recent political biography, and this was not the exception to the rule. My only problem is that former First Lady Laura Bush is just too darned nice. She seemed to find it extraordinarily difficult to say an unkind word about anyone, except perhaps Saddam Hussein and one particularly nasty reporter, who wrote the story he'd determined to write no matter what she said during the interview.

She really sounds just like your favorite second grade teacher ever, which is unsurprising, given that she worked as a schoolteacher and school librarian long before she met and married George. She really seems to be one of those people who aren't much affected by being in a position of power and influence, other than to use that power to try to better the lives of others, in her case mostly the plights of women without rights, illiteracy around the world, AIDs victims in Africa, and education and opportunity for neglected urban children.

Once the book moves from the early chapters about growing up in Midland, Texas, into her husband's political campaigns for governor of Texas and the U.S. presidency, it really turns into a whirlwind tour. Either Mrs. Bush was an extremely thorough diarist or she had great people on her staff to record every little detail of her schedule and travels. She talks about meeting with world leaders, both at home and abroad, and the conversations with a widely diverse group of "first ladies" on nearly every continent.

She's extremely well read - again, she was a librarian - and had a great appreciation for arts and culture, not just American, but everything she encountered in her travels. She worked with other leaders around the world to promote cultural exchanges and encourage literary festivals and gatherings of artists and authors, in every possible venue.

Some obligatory quotes about books:

"And she (Laura's mother) read to me, her voice weaving its spells of character, plot, and place, until I too yearned to decipher the fine black letters printed on the page. Once I did, I read with my friends, swapping well-thumbed copies of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, and Nancy Drew..."

"Our country's authors have helped forge the American identity, create its memory, and define and reinforce our national consciousness...Books have done what humans rarely do, convince us to put down the remote control."

And for you Idahoans out there:

"Bamiyan (Afghanistan) has for years been a rich potato-growing region. But local farmers now (due to lack of electricity) had no storage facilities for their crops...Then an Idaho potato farmer recalled how his own grandparents had stored their potatoes, in a simple dugout cellar. He taught Afghan farmers to do the same."

I found this to be an enjoyable read, filled with rich detail and uplifting stories.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Wolf Star by R. M. Meluch

Wolf Star: Tour of the Merrimack #2
Review written 2006

Wolf Star is the 2nd in a series called Tour of the Merrimack; the first one was The Myriad. I read it a month or so ago. Meluch hasn't written any SF in perhaps fifteen years, but returns to the field now.

The story takes place in a future where the colonies of Earth are split into two opposing empires. One is led by the United States, and the second by Rome. It appears that, over the centuries after the fall of the Roman empire, the leaders had merely gone underground, awaiting their opportunity to restore its glory. When mankind spread to the stars, the underground Romans rebelled and established their empire anew.

The Merrimack, led by Captain John Farragut, is on a mission to find and destroy the catapult, the Romans' interstellar travel device, which can shift entire fleets from one point in their empire to its deep space frontier. They are ambushed, infiltrated, have their IFF codes broken, their weapons systems locked down by Roman subterfuge, and yet, somehow, manage to prevail.

After a second mission to smash the catapult by a larger portion of the US fleet is partially successful, the Merrimack finds a destroyed Roman fleet and investigates, to find and face a terrible enemy - The Hive. The Hive is a vaguely insectoid colony which travels through deep space, eating all organic matter which it finds. In The Myriad, the Roman Empire and the US were united in facing the threat represented by these aliens, but a deus ex machina ending involving time travel through a wormhole left the story in a situation where The Hive had not yet been encountered (read that book for the details). So, in this sequel, it is the Romans who discover and are brought to their knees by the Hive first, and must reluctantly offer their US enemies Pax, in order that humankind band together to face the external threat.

These stories are pretty quick reads, full of swashbuckling adventure and larger than life heroes. Unfortunately, Meluch doesn't quite seem to be able to resolve plots any more without some sort of improbable finale. I'd have to consult the library and re-read some of her older stuff to see if was a problem back then, too. Fun stuff, but I think I'd wait till the whole series is out before reading them, if I were you.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Shout Out

I just wanted to mention something I found encouraging the other day. I was browsing at Baen Books, and they appear to be about the only folks on the web, as opposed to Barnes & Noble and Amazon, who actually discount their ebooks for sale to a price that seems to reflect that there are no printing or shipping costs associated with them. If you like Baen's stable of authors, I'd definitely recommend buying their ebooks directly from Baen.

Time Travelers Never Die by Jack McDevitt

Time Travelers Never DieJack McDevitt has provided some pretty good space opera type science fiction books over the years, and I've enjoyed reading them. This one is a little more near-future, and rehashes a few of the old time travel ideas. A physicist named Michael Shelbourne disappears, and his lawyer gives his son, Shel, an envelope containing instructions for such circumstances. He is told to go to a storage locker and destroy the devices inside of it. If he did, it would have made the story much shorter.

They turn out to be time travel devices, and Shel begins to experiment with them, eventually going back in time a few weeks to talk with his father before his disappearance, and finding out that there are several big events in history that Michael wants to visit. So Shel and his friend Dave begin traveling through time and space, trying to determine why his father went missing.

There was no new ground covered in this book. No paradoxes are allowed, and though the pair have more adventures than Bill and Ted of movie fame, none of them are particularly interesting. McDevitt introduces a love triangle in the early going, but even that doesn't spice up the action very much. McDevitt is a good writer, but his time travel debut falls flat.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Book Blogger Hop May 20 to 23

Time for another Book Blogger Hop from Crazy for Books.

Book Blogger Hop

Today's question:

"If you were given the chance to spend one day in a fictional world (from a book), which book would it be from and what would that place be?"

You know, that's a real poser. Could you bring working artifacts back? If so, I'd have to head for someplaced highly technical. Go to the world of Gibson's Neuromancer and get some memory implants, or head to Tertius from Heinlein's Time Enough for Love and get rejuvenation treatments, or Gould's Jumper or Anderson's The Man Who Folded Himself to pick up a time travel belt.

If not, then I'd probably slide to the fantasy side and spend a day in Lothlorien or Rivendell from Tolkien, Shangri La from Lost Horizon by Hilton, or The Emerald City from Baum's Oz books. Just for sheer relaxation.

A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire

A Local Habitation (October Daye, Book 2)
A Local Habitation is the second in the October Daye series, and has been sitting on my bedroom shelf for months, awaiting my acquisition of the first novel, Rosemary and Rue. Now I gotta go find the third one, drat it! Anyway, this one turns out to be a mystery of the Orient Express sort, wherein all of the suspects in a murder are employees of the same company, and the challenge for us - and Toby - is figuring out who and why. I actually had the main "who" of "dunnit" fame pegged from the start, but there were a few twists that kept it interesting right up till the last few pages.

Toby is recruited by Duke Sylvester to go check up on his niece, January O'Leary (odd coincidence with the month names there), in Fremont, CA, where there is a desmene of the fae that serves as a buffer zone between two kingdoms nominally at peace. He hasn't been able to contact her in some time, and is getting a bit concerned. He sends along one of his squires, Quentin, whether to learn the knightly trade or just to keep an eye on Toby isn't exactly clear, but Toby does take the young elf under her wing as far as the investigation is concerned.

Totally out of the blue - NOT - Jan has a high-tech computer company in Fremont which has been doing some development of electronic gadgets, like cell phones, which will actually work in Faerie lands. When a dryads' grove nearby was denuded, demolished and bulldozed, she managed to "save" one of the dryads by downloading its essence into a server (computer) with some very special circuitry, and has adopted the dryad, April (another month name?) as her own heir.

When Toby and Quentin arrive, there have already been three murders, all contact with the rest of the elven world has been cut off, and the killer is not through yet. As the cast of characters drop like flies, it's up to Toby and Quentin, the only two we can trust, to figure it all out, report back to the Duke, and prevent a war from breaking out when Jan's buffer zone, the County of Tamed Lightning, is destroyed.

Again, though sorely tempted, Toby doesn't indulge in pages and pages of graphic sex, though the violence was quite well done. The reader gets to learn some new things about the world McGuire has created, and it should provide some more entertaining installments.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter by Laurell K. Hamilton

Guilty PleasuresThe Laughing Corpse (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, Book 2)

Since my other review today was short, here's a little something extra from the archives.
 
Review written October 1999
 
Every once in a while, I take a bit of advice from the clerk at a bookstore. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. In the case of the Anita Blake series, by Laurel K. Hamilton, I'm glad I did.
 
Gotta warn ya right up front, though, that these books are not for the squeamish. I won't say that there's grue just for the sake of gratuitous violence, but there is plenty of blood to satisfy the hard-core vampire fanz. I wouldn't recommend these books to my teenage daughter, but for the mature reader, they're darned good.
The series starts with Guilty Pleasures, winds through about six others, then (currently) ends with Blue Moon. This is another one of those series where I get the feeling I may have missed some early adventures in the pulp magazines, as there's some history that the heroine reflects upon every so often that must have a good story behind it. Or, it could be just like Zelazny's works, where he always wrote a few "out-takes" that rounded out the character, just to satisfy himself, then never published them. If you hear that they exist and where they are, let me know.
 
Circus of the Damned (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter)The stories all take place in an alternate reality St. Louis, where the creatures of horror flick and legend are "alive" and well. There are vampires, zombies, ghouls, ghosts and werecreatures galore, and they all seem to have found their niche in society. I'm thinking all through this series that there's a touch of social commentary on racial and sexual prejudices and intolerance fairly well disguised throughout Hamilton's writings. One of the main characters, Richard, is a werewolf - and he, like most of his fellow weres, lives in constant fear of being "outed" and losing his job as a junior high school teacher. People in the books also fear contracting lycanthropy through being wounded by or having sex with were-critters.
 
The Lunatic Cafe (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter)The heroine, Anita Blake, is a zombie raiser by trade, who just happens to also have a talent for killing vampires. She's a licensed executioner for the state, brought in as part of a special police task force whenever the supernatural is involved. Hamilton gives us just enough information about her world throughout to keep things interesting and as each novel unfolds, we learn something new about the creatures and customs of her world.
 
Burnt Offerings (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, Book 7)If I was in the mood for it, I suppose I could toss off a bunch of philosophical stuff about the metaphors, conscious and un, that Hamilton makes use of to paint a picture of a world not so far removed from our own. Suffice it to say that they're present and accounted for, and whether you're looking for a set of novels to keep you entertained with some intense dark fantasy, or for something a little deeper, it's there.
The Killing Dance (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, Book 6)Our heroine, Anita, also goes through a lot of character growth and change, and develops her skills and necromantic powers along the way. She makes new friends and acquaintances and loses some - violently - along the way. There's a ton of unresolved sexual tension throughout the series as a menage à trois develops between Anita, the master vampire of the city, Jean-Claude, and her furry beau, Richard (ooh, strange coincidence - as I was writing this line, a frenchman named Jean-Claude walked past my desk).
 
Bloody BonesEach novel reveals a new aspect of this alternate society. I hope I don't spoil anything for you when I say that we encounter nearly every kind of creature mentioned in dark tales at one time or another. Also, most of the villains are fully-fleshed personalities, with motivations that, tho possibly incomprehensible to us, are at least believable and well rationalized.
 
Blue Moon (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, Book 8)There's only a couple of flaws - first, I never get the feeling that her world is actually populated by any "normal" people, who go about their lives unaffected by the presence of legends. At least, we never meet any, jump in a taxi cab driven by one, or have our garbage taken away by another. Second, some of the conflicts that Hamilton sets up appear to have absolutely no solution - battles with invincible vampires, e.g. - but then resolve in the last ten pages quite handily.
 
I picked up Guilty Pleasures just to test the waters, then rushed out and bought the next two or three at a used book emporium nearby. Those two kept me awake a few nights, so I ended up paying full retail at an un-named book retailer for the rest. Now, I'm eagerly awaiting the next sequel. Heck of a state of affairs.

Web of Angels by John M. Ford

Review written March 2000
This book nearly made the "Couldn't Finish" list, I'm afraid, but it had been recommended to me by a friend, so I felt obligated to finish reading it. So far, Mr. Ford has two strikes on him. One more and he's out.
In Web of Angels, there are a lot of interesting ideas and bizarre characters, but I don't think the author knows exactly what to do with them. The book would occasionally aspire to moments of lucidity, but then by the end of the chapter, I'd be lost once more.
 
In brief, the story is about a young man who has a very rare talent for being able to manipulate the web of computer systems uniting the worlds of mankind. He is persecuted by the political leaders of that system merely for possessing that talent. After his lover is killed by watchdog programs within the web, he seeks answers and vengeance. Unfortunately, neither he nor we ever find any real answers - and his vengeance is Pyrrhic.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire

Rosemary and Rue (October Daye, Book 1)Finally broke down and bought a copy of the first book in the October Daye series at Hastings. This novel is very similar in theme to the Merry Gentry novels by Hamilton. October is a half elven private investigator who has done her best to avoid her elven relatives and home for quite a while, but takes the occasional case from a relative. While tracking her liege, Sylvester Torquill's brother, Simon, she is ambushed and transformed into an ornamental koi in a pond for the next fourteen years, causing her to abandon her human husband and daughter, Gilly, from whom she is still estranged.

Sometime after her return to bipedal form, she is pulled once again into immortal politics when Countess Winterrose is murdered, and leaves October "Toby" with one of the few clues to follow, a magical key, plus a geas-style curse that will not let her rest until she apprehends the culprit. So Toby must once more meet up with old allies and enemies to find out who would have the means, motive and opportunity to kill the Countess.

Aside from being set in San Francisco rather than L.A., Toby differs from Merry in that she doesn't feel the need to fall into bed with some random stud every twenty pages or so. Much easier not being a descendent of fertility goddesses, just a Daione Sidhe - one of those who are able to read memories in the blood of the dead. She's also not a royal, just a knight of the Sylvester's court, so she can act without much of what she does having political ramifications.

This first novel drags a bit at times, as McGuire takes the time to tell us what we need to know about some of the backstories of the major players, and I get the feeling there's an October Daye short story out there previously published that it wouldn't hurt to read to find out how she became a knight in the first place. Toby wants desperately just to be an ordinary private investigator, but keeps getting drafted to be a hero, instead.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Interludes

I may have mentioned at some time that I used to collect bookmarkers. Not cute little kittens and so forth, but whenever I found an interesting bookstore in my travels, I'd grab a bookmark if they were giving them away, and had them in a repurposed photo album for a long time. While rooting around in the dusty corners of my library, I found them just a bit ago, and thought I'd share them with you all. I don't know how many of them are still around, aside from a couple that will be obvious, but if you've been to one of them recently, feel free to chime in in the comments.

The Book Gallery, Sparks NV
Powell's Books, Portland OR (by the way, I found an old Powells map, too)
The Book Shop, Longview WA
The Paperback Place, Boise ID
Chapter One, Ketchum ID
Parnassus Books, Boise ID
Boise Books & Search, Boise ID
Broadway Books & Comics, Boise ID
Chapter House Bookstore, Nampa ID
Main Street Bookcafe, Ketchum ID
Dreams Alive, McCall ID
Paperback Depot, Sparks NV
Paperback Exchange, Reno NV
Windmill Paperbacks, Boise ID
The Book Shelf, Boise ID
The Book Rack, Boise ID
Book & Game Company, Lewiston ID
Sandpiper Books, Long Beach WA
The Whale's Tale, Long Beach WA

Dang, I need to get out more!

Water Sleeps by Glen Cook

Water Sleeps: A Novel of the Black Company (Chronicle of the Black Company, Number 8)

Review written March 2000
Water Sleeps is the most recent addition to the saga of the Black Company. Personally, I think the early books in this series (The books of the North) were the best in the series, Cook is just coasting along on momentum now, it seems. One of the annoying things about the recent books in the series is that the point of view has switched from Croaker (the annalist of the Company we met in the first book) to Lady to Murgen and, in Water Sleeps, to Sleepy. (Those of you who have no clue who these people are need to read the rest of the series).
 
At the end of She is the Darkness, Cook left all of our old friends from the Black Company trapped by Soulcatcher on the plain of Glittering Stone, in some sort of suspended animation. Sleepy, a young woman who usually goes around disguised as a man, for various personal and military reasons, has inherited the job of Annalist and, by default, Captain in all but title. The remnants of the Black Company are in hiding and disgrace in Taglia, hunted by Soulcatcher, the Radisha Dra and Willow Swan's secret police.
 
The goals of the company are: to survive, to exact vengeance upon their betrayors, and to rescue their trapped leaders (the Captured) from beyond the Shadowgate.
 
The book moves along pretty slowly for the first two-thirds, as Sleepy and her companions connive and confuse their enemies in the city. When they finally leave the city to go after the key to open the Shadowgate, things begin to pick up a bit. During their attempt to rescue the Captured, we learn a great deal, finally, about the origins of the Black Company and the nature of the plain of Glittering Stone.
 
At the end, of course, Cook leaves all of their old nasty enemies alive and at large, so I've got to assume that we'll be seeing more of the Black Company in another novel or two before too very long. Hopefully, he'll stick with Sleepy, Murgen or one of the previously established annalists for a POV, instead of forcing us to make new acquaintances with each iteration.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Brute by Robert Coram

Brute: The Life of Victor Krulak, U.S. MarineBrute is the biography of Victor Krulak, a man who probably had just about as much influence on the forming of the modern Marine Corps as anyone I've ever heard of. Although it's his personal story, the meat of the book is really more about inter-service rivalries between the Army, Navy and the Corps, and how Krulak played an integral part in shaping that fight.

Coram spends what I felt was an inordinate amount of time talking about the conflict between Krulak's personal and professional integrity when it came to the Corps, and the fact that he spent his entire life also denying or trying to escape his Jewish heritage, which was not really all that surprising, given the amount of animosity that Jews attracted while he was growing up, attending the Naval Academy, and building his career. Krulak certainly had his fair share of other faults which are mentioned more sparingly.

Though he was not physically imposing, barely making the height and weight requirements to join the military, Victor Krulak eventually lived up to his ironically assigned nickname, Brute, in ways befitting an honorable, loyal, and determined military officer. He was quite fortunate in that he achieved some early close associations with powerful senior officers, who gave him glowing fitness reports and put him on the fast track for promotions. But unlike some others, his promotions were based on hard work and the willingness to take on any task and complete it, no matter what the cost.

While serving as a junior officer in China, he witnessed the Japanese invasion and occupation, and took made copious drawings and notes about the landing craft that they used which allowed men and equipment to get ashore rapidly. At the time, US forces had boats with high bows and deep keels for landing craft, and it was in the first place awkward for men to get out of the boat, and in the second place they had to remain so far offshore that men would be swimming to the beach, subject to enemy gunfire, rather than already being ashore and able to fight.

He sent dispatches to the Department of the Navy containing his reports, but they were consigned to a filing cabinet without anyone reviewing them at the time. Later on, when it became apparent that there was a strong possibility that we could end up at war in the Pacific, Krulak was working for a general officer tasked with revising amphibious assault doctrine, and Krulak dug out his old files and tried again to get the Navy to look at them. They were too hung up in their bureaucracy to change what they already had on the drawing board, so Krulak and his Marine superiors contacted a man named Higgins, who turned those drawings into the Higgins boats later used in WWII to great effect.

Also, during the Vietnam War, Krulak spent most of his time out in the countryside, visiting his troops and those of our allies, paying attention to what really was going on, rather than making his judgements from an armchair somewhere in the rear. He ended up writing a counterinsurgency manual that was mostly ignored, and the politicians ended up paying more attention to the media reports of a lost cause than what men like Krulak were reporting, so we pulled out. Interestingly enough, Krulak's manual was strikingly similar to the counterinsurgency policy put in place by General Petraeus thirty years later in Iraq.

A great book for military history buffs and Marine Corps fans alike, this was a good read about a very interesting fellow.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Discord's Apple by Carrie Vaughn

Discord's AppleI've really come to enjoy Vaughn's series about Kitty, and was hoping for something new and exciting here when I saw it at the library. The story begins when Evie Walker, a woman with no discernable magical talents, returns home to small town Colorado to take care of her father, who is possibly terminally ill. Things are just slightly different in her new world - it appears that there have been some successful terrorist attacks with weapons of mass destruction, and Evie's mother was killed a few years ago in one of them, leaving her and her father alone. The only effect this really has on the story is that a very light form of martial law is in effect around the country, and the police appear to have grown both checkpoint and power hungry, in some cases.

Evie notices some strange visitors at her father's house, and begins to find out a little bit about the mystery held there. It turns out that the gods didn't really just fade away because people stopped worshiping them, but that Zeus, fearing his rivals, called all of them to a meeting on Mount Olympus and destroyed the majority of them. There were a few left to wander the world, immortal. Prometheus, fearing what might happen if some of the more potent magic artifacts fell into the wrong hands, went around the world gathering them all into a bag of holding (you D&D fans remember how that works) and then giving them into the possession of one trustworthy but unremarkable family, to keep safe forever. The only time they've released any of them was when the enchantment surrounding the collection determined that the person who came looking for the artifact was pure of heart and all that sort of thing.

While Evie's dad is dying, some of the power hungry leftover immortals decide it would be a good time to try to get possession of the items, and this story is about Evie and a few of her friends resisting their wiles. Vaughn is a good writer, so the book is readable, but the premise is not exciting, the characters mostly unsympathetic, the new slant on old legends nothing to get excited about. I'd give it a pass, quite frankly.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

War of Honor by David Weber (Honor Harrington #10)

 

War of Honor (Honor Harrington Series, Book 10)
Review written 2003

I'm not particularly fond of novels written with too many shifts in point of
War of Honor is not as action-packed as most of the previous novels in the series, but rather tells the tale of the deadly political game behind the action. The Star Kingdom of Manticore and the empire formerly known as the People's Republic of Haven are in an uneasy truce as the story begins. The Havenites are desperately trying to restore a semblance of democracy to their formerly totalitarian government, and the story of the political struggle of President Esther McQueen and her ally, Defense Minister Thomas Theisman, with her Secretary of State, who desires power for himself, is the main focus of those scenes set in the Republic.

Theisman's people have labored hard in secret to restore technological and numerical parity with the Manticoran fleet, and they must decide exactly how to use their new ships and equipment. In the Star Kingdom, the North Hollow government and its liberal allies have been busy disassembling the machinery of war to support their domestic social and economic programs. Harrington and her allies have been rendered nearly powerless, and are further hindered, as the story develops, by orchestrated attacks on their personal and private reputations.

While the Star Kingdom focused on the war with the Peeps, the Andermani Empire has grown ambitious, and piracy in the Silesian Confederacy has gotten out of control. This one slowly builds to a burn. Duplicitous behavior by McQueen's Secretary of State derails the peace negotiations, and the fiscal policies of the Manticoran government erode its ability to defend itself, when the Havenites launch a preemptive strike. The book is quite long, around 800 pages, but should provide you with many hours of enjoyment, as the tension builds to a climax. The way it ends, I expect we'll be seeing more of Honor fairly soon.
view. Occasionally, however, I find one that is written well enough to keep my attention despite the changes. War of Honor, the latest in the Honor Harrington series, is one of those.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Dancing on the Head of a Pin by Thomas Sniegoski

Dancing on the Head of a Pin: A Remy Chandler Novel
With Madeline gone, Remy has very little left to enjoy in his life as a human. He's been ignoring his private investigation business, for the most part, and avoiding the few friends that he has. He and Marlowe are just getting by, tho Marlowe is probably getting over his grief more quickly.

When a Nomad, one of a group of angels who left Heaven voluntarily after Lucifer's war, turns up multilated in the hands of one of the Denizens, a group of "paroled" angels still doing penance on Earth after a stint in Hell, Remy gets the feeling that his life is about to get interesting once more. He visits the leaders of the Nomads to see if they might know what the Nomad was up to before he met his dismemberment and death, but they claim ignorance.

Shortly after that, Remy is contacted by a potential client who wants him to investigate the theft of some weapons from his extensive and expensive collection. Remy takes the job on a hunch and starts poking around. He consults his angelic friend, Francis, guardian of the gate between Hell and Earth, and finds out that the weapons may be The Pitiless, a set of weapons whose creation was inspired by angels, basically unstoppable, designed to kill over and over again.

More than one set of evil forces in the world are intent on getting their claws on  The Pitiless, and Remy is caught in the middle, trying to do the right thing, to prevent Heaven and Hell from going to war once more. Dark, brutal, somewhat depressing, but a good tale again from Sniegoski.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Worldwar: Tilting the Balance by Harry S. Turtledove

Tilting the Balance (Worldwar Series, Volume 2)Ok, so I wasn't all that enthused about the first book in this series by Turtledove, but the selection was slim at the library, and I'd kinda gotten caught up in a couple of the characters' stories, so I decided to keep on reading.

In this second book, The Race, a bunch of lizard men bent on conquering Earth, has been brought somewhat to a standstill by the unorthodox tactics of humans around the globe, and the advent of winter, which the cold-blooded lizzies can't tolerate as well as the mammals. The former Axis and Allies have managed to capture some of The Race's war machinery, and are trying to comprehend its technology - solid state circuitry, ceramic alloys, hydrogen fuel, and have also captured a sample of plutonium, from which the Germans, Russians, Americans and Japanese are feverishly trying to create an atomic bomb which they can use to stop the relentless lizards.

The lizards have another unforeseen problem in their conquest. Many of their males have become addicted to ginger. This earth spice has an effect similar to cocaine on their metabolism - a feeling of excitement, invincibility and euphoria. It is also immediately physically and psychologically addictive for them. Understandably, soldiers under the effects of ginger suffer from impaired judgement in combat, which isn't helping their cause.

Turtledove manages to kill off some of our favorite humans in this book, though I won't spoil it by telling you which ones. This book still leaps around the globe quickly, changing POV at will, but the sections are now longer, I think, possibly because he's managed to downsize the POV pool by attrition.
Anyway, a solid but uninspiring read.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Nightlife by Rob Thurman

Nightlife (Cal Leandros, Book 1)
I took advantage of the opportunity to grab books one through five of the Cal Leandros series by Thurman at one of my favorite bookstores the other day, so I thought I'd give the first one a try. This is some pretty dark stuff, not my usual light-hearted fare. Cal and his brother Nik have had a very dysfunctional childhood, with an alcoholic narcissistic mother, and left home to live on their own as soon as the older brother, Nik, was eighteen. Cal and Nik have different fathers, and Cal is a half breed between human and Auphe (elf).

The Auphe in this story are not the beautiful, pointy-eared, gauzy creatures of fairy tales, but ugly and evil creatures, who delight in pain, death and destruction. They ruled the Earth long before mankind came on the scene, but were crowded out by rapidly breeding humans, and their numbers have dwindled. One of their members somehow fathering Cal (Caliban) is part of a plan they have to regain control over the world, but it's a long way into the book before we find out the part Cal is supposed to play.

Cal and Nik live in New York City, and most of the action plays out in its mean streets. They have a friend of sorts, a boggle who lives in Central Park, eating muggers, and when they go used car shopping one day, they encounter Robin Goodfellow, or Puck, peddling fast and fashionable vehicles. He somewhat reluctantly becomes an ally in their investigation of the Auphe plot. There's also a nasty troll that lives under the Brooklyn Bridge whom they meet and interrogate.

The action drags for the first half of the book, but then gets wild and wooly after Cal is possessed by an evil spirit, a banshee of sorts, and forced to play his part in the Auphe's scheme. The person who recommended this series says that the first book is the one she rated the worst of all of them, so I'm looking forward to the second one, it should be really interesting.