Monday, July 30, 2012

Judgement at Proteus by Timothy Zahn

So we finally come to the last romp for Frank Compton and his trusty sidekick, Bayta. They deliver Terese to the Filaelian Assembly's Kuzyatru Station, where she is to be treated for a genetic disease that endangers her and her unborn child. When they arrive, Frank is arrested under suspicion of the murder of six Fillies, who were indwelt by the Modhri and who died in a gunfight with police. While he is standing trial, he must also try to unravel the tangled web the Shonkla-raa have woven, and determine which of the Fillies are actually genetically modified enemies.

The plot is extremely complex, and alliances shift rapidly between Frank and his erstwhile enemies among the Modhri, who now want to enlist him to destroy the Sonkla-raa, who want only to return to their rightful place as galactic overlords. Every time they corner Frank and his friends, he must come up with another tightly held plot to defeat them. Zahn definitely has a twisty mind.

The only downside to this novel is that it proceeds at a breakneck pace for two thirds of the book, then really gets hectic, as Zahn wraps up the final installment in the series in what probably should have been two novels. Good fun, and I wonder what Zahn will come up with next.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Triggers by Robert J. Sawyer

So, there was an idea which began, perhaps, with Greg Bear (at least for me, it may have been written about before his novel, Blood Music), which became a popular theme or gimmick in science fiction, called the Singularity. It generally refers to an event which totally changes the human race, most often for the better, or greater good. There are several endings used by authors which irritate me: the deus ex machina, the "then I woke up", and the Singularity Event. I just feel it's a lazy way to end a novel for which you have come up with no reasonable ending, or of which you've grown tired writing. Unfortunately, Sawyer picks a Singularity to end what up to that point had been an interesting novel, exploring a cool pseudo scientific premise.  Maybe if I was one of the cool kids, the "in" crowd, I'd have been able to read the title and know that Triggers somehow refers to triggering a singularity event...I dunno.

The scenario is in the near future U.S., where terrorist strikes continue to devastate our cities. The latest threat is a type of bomb which vaporizes a relatively small area, and also emits an EMP which temporarily takes down all electrical and electronic systems in the area. It has been used on several cities, and the President and his military advisors have put together a counterstrike which will wipe a certain terror-supporting nation entirely off the map, to let the terrorists know that we are finally getting serious. While the President is making a speech, a rogue element within the Secret Service puts together an assassination attempt, combined with a bomb strike.

The President is rushed immediately to a DC area hospital and goes into surgery to repair bleeding in his pericardium. Coincidentally, at the same time one floor away, a researcher is applying a new type of memory triggering device to a patient of his who has experienced PSTD flashbacks so severe that they are destroying his life. When a the EMP pulse from a bomb which destroys the White House surges through the hospital, a very strange thing happens - people within a fifteen yard radius of the operating room are suddenly given access to the memories of one other person - in a sort of daisy chain - who is also in that area.

The primary Secret Service agent on site is concerned with the national security implications of some unknown person having access to all the President's memories, so a fair amount of time is spent trying to figure out who has whose memories, sorting all that out. Then, the really interesting things, in my opinion, take place, as Sawyer explores some of the possibilities inherent in being able to share another person's memories.

A romantic attachment develops between one couple, and their sex life is made far more intense by one person being able to see and feel what the other is feeling. In another pairing, race reconciliation happens when a black man is able to experience the lifelong soft bigotry of an elderly Southern woman. A physician is able to see in the memories of one of his nurses all the spousal abuse and the substance addiction she's suffering, and offer her a way out. The soldier who is suffering from PTSD is able to force the President to see all of the horrible things he witnessed in Iraq, and for the first time in recent history the leader of the free world really understands the results ordering his forces to war. There are some other interesting examples, but these and the others were making this a really good story.

Then, the Singularity occurs and we have whirled peas and love forever. Ack!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross

This iteration of the Laundry Files takes us back to when Bob goes on his first field assignment, and meets Mo, his future wife. It's probably in chronological sequence if I'd read it when it was published, but somehow or other I missed it the first time around. Bob gets sent to the United States to help repatriate a British scientist who is working for a university, and who has strayed into some sensitive areas with her research.

While he is there, she is kidnapped by Mukhabarat agents led by a possessed human with a German accent. Bob, being the impulsive sort that he is, tries to rescue her from the kidnappers, with the not exactly unexpected (from our POV) result of getting bonked on the head and put out of business until the whole rescue has run its course. When he returns to jolly old England, his boss, Angleton, briefs him in on some top secret material that indicates that some necromancers of the Third Reich are not as dead as previously supposed, and are perhaps hiding out in a pocket universe.

Mo, who has made it back to England as well, and who is rooming with Bob and his other roommates, Pinky and the Brain, is used as a stalking goat to lure the bad guys out of hiding. When she is kidnapped again, Bob and the Laundry swat team head off through a gate to a dying universe to fight the Nazis and other evil creatures.

There's a bonus story in this book about one of Bob's other adventures wherein he investigates the mystery of the concrete cows.

All in all, a fun read as expected from Stross.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Mistakes Were Made by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

Aside from the obligatory opening and closing criticisms of President George W. Bush to establish their liberal and professional bona fides, the authors have written a very interesting book about "Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts." One of the the things they talk about is confirmation bias - holding on to memories and "facts" that reinforce our beliefs, whether they be scientific, political, religious, or relational, and throwing away those that do not fit the jigsaw puzzle of our world view. I notice this all the time on social media sites and blogs - people tend to ignore things that contradict their point of view, often employing complex mental and logical gymnastics to do so.

Evidently we all tell ourselves little lies that keep us from acknowledging that we make bad decisions, or have behaved badly, in order to keep our self image intact as smart and good people. There are people, however, who do just the opposite, when they have low self esteem, and are unable to acknowledge to themselves the good things which they have done.

"This is why they seem so stubborn to friends and family members who try to cheer them up.  'Look, you just won the Pulitzer Prize for literature! Doesn't that mean you're good?' 'Yeah, it's nice, but just a fluke. I'll never be able to write another word, you'll see.'"

It's a bit scary to realize that our memories are often faulty, even before the effects of aging take their toll. A story told in the book...
"illustrates three very important things about memory: how disorienting it is to realize that a vivid memory, one full of emotion and detail, is indisputably wrong; that even being absolutely positively sure that a memore is accurate does not mean that it is; and how errors in memory support our current feelings and beliefs."

I've recently had some of my own recollections of my childhood called into question, when my parents denied certain events having ever happened - and it makes me doubt far too many of my other memories.

The authors spend several chapters on wrongful convictions and the criminal justice system, from discussing the prosecutorial bias that has sent a far greater number of innocent people to prison than you might have ever imagined, to tearing apart the interrogation techniques widely used by police departments that produce an amazing amount of fabricated confessions.

They also have a quite insightful chapter or three on relationships, especially marriage. In a marriage, it seems, we have the tendency to either file away events and memories as reinforcing the belief that our spouses are bad people and ever hurtful thing they do just adds to that idea, or that they are good people, and we file away all the good things they do, ignoring the hurtful ones, or just dealing with the act itself quickly and moving on. There was an interesting statistic about that:

"Successful couples have a ratio of five times as many positive interactions (such as expressions of love, affection, and humor) to negative ones (such as expressions of annoyance and complaints). It doesn't matter if the couple is emotionally volatile, quarreling eleven times a day, or emotionally placid, quarreling once a decade, it is the ratio that matters....If the ratio is five to one or better, any dissonance that arises is generally reduced in a positive direction...When the positive-negative ratio has shifted in favor of those negative feelings, however, couples resolve dissonance caused by the same events in a way that increases their alienation from one another."

Ok, so this bit of information reinforces my confirmation bias - I've believed for a long time that showing my wife a great deal of respect, being affectionate often, and trying to show her that she's appreciated has overcome what a pain in the rear I often am to live with. Gotta maintain that five to one ratio, now that I know the exact numbers I need.

Another bit of bias I had confirmed was in this passage,

"Those who travel the route of shame and blame...As the new story takes shape, with husband and wife rehearsing it privately or with sympathetic friends, the partners become blind to each other's good qualities..."

I've seen it often in the disintegration of a marriage, especially when the "sympathetic friend" is a member of the opposite sex, who may have an unacknowledged motive for breaking up the couple. Even same sex friends may have ulterior motives, especially if they're enjoying the freedom of a single lifestyle, or have marriage troubles of their own. You gotta be careful who you confide in.

One rather scary bit,

"Dona actually took the confirmation bias further than most spouses do: She told Pines that whenever her husband made her feel depressed and upset, she wrote it down in a 'hate book.' Her hate book gave her all the evidence she needed to justify her decision to divorce."

While most of us don't have an actual hard bound hate book lying around, we often keep a mental list of all the wrongs done us, don't we. This is so in conflict with the Christian concept of forgiveness and remembering sins no more.

An interesting cultural difference, that may explain some things about the failure of our educational system these days,

"The researchers alsofound that American parents, teachers, and children were far more likely than their Japanese and Chinese counterparts to believe that mathematical ability is innate; if you have it, you don't have to work hard, and if you don't have it, there's no point in trying. In contrast, most Asians regard math success, like achievement in any other domain, as a matter of persistence and plain hard work. Of course you will make mistakes as you go along; that's how you learn and improve. It doesn't mean you are stupid."

Very is most of this book.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross

Stross is back with more interesting action in the latest adventure of Bob Howard, Laundry civil servant without peer. A group of American evangelicals have gotten their hands on some very obscure scripture, which makes the Revelation of St. John the Divine look like a walk in the park, part of which is The Apocalypse Codex. It contains instructions on how to summon dark beings from another world to invade Earth, under the guise of hastening the return of Jesus Christ to establish his millenial kingdom.

Stross has created an intriguing cosmology for this series. In his reality, there are no benevolent gods or God, and those who think so have been seriously deluded. The universe is populated for the most part with incredibly malevolent and powerful beings from other dimensions (think Lovecraft, mostly) whose greatest desire is to conquer and/or consume all beings on our planet. All that stands between them and us are agencies like the British Laundry and the U.S. Black Chamber (aka Nazgul). It's possible Strauss will introduce us to the Russian, Chinese or other versions at some point in the series.

Bob has been identified for the fast track to management, and gets sent on that most dangerous of assignments - a team building middle management training course! After surviving that by the skin of his teeth, he is given an assignment to manage and monitor a couple of External Assets, or contractors, witch Persephone Hazard and her sidekick Johnny. Their assignment is to investigate and possibly eliminate an evangelist with the Golden Promise Ministries, Ray Schiller, who is attempting to suborn officials at high levels within the British government. They travel to Denver, Colorado, where his ministry has its headquarters, and all sorts of interesting mayhem ensues.

Lots of good political and magical intrigue and a nice setup to Bob's next adventure.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Rising Thunder by David Weber

It seems as if there's a particular recognizable formula to the recent Honorverse stories by Weber. He hops around from one location to another, eavesdropping on the conversations between influential people in the Solarian League, the People's Republic of Haven, the Beowulf system, the Maya sector, and the Star Empire, and begins to build up the tension towards the big space battle that is to happen at the end of the book. In this case, the Sollies have sent a massive fleet of over four hundred ships of the wall to attack what they believe is a Manticore defenseless in the wake of the Yakawa?? attack from the previous novel. In fact, when I began reading a description of the climactic battle at about the midpoint of the book, I became confused, wondering why Weber had bumped up the timetable - but was relieved to discover that it was, after all, only a simulation being run by Honor and her cohorts.

After so many years of reading the Honor Harrington novels, it may be time for me to put some of the fan sites on my favorites bar - I think I'm beginning to need a scorecard to keep track of the players. When there is some mention of Honor's father grieving over the deaths from the Mesan strike on Manticore's home system, I couldn't for the life of me remember who in his family had been killed. I can't really expect Weber to refresh my memory every time, either - the "what has gone before" would be encyclopedic at this point.

Key points in the macro action, however, include Zilwicki's and Cachat's return with evidence of the Mesan long term plotting, President Pritchard and Empress Elizabeth's historic peace agreement and mutual defense treaty, which triggers a massive alliance between Manticore's formerly lukewarm allies and the long term loyal partners. Views of the Mesan side of things are sparse, aside from some scenes giving us the foreboding that they're ready to set the next portion of their evil plot moving forward, and it may involve even more casualties than have already happened.  The Solarian League may end up with a constitutional crisis, to accompany the economic devastation that is set in play by Manticore's boycott of their shipping, and takeover of jump termini.

Weber said, a few books back, that things were going to get much worse before they got better in the Honorverse, and there are some aspects of the situation which are at long last getting better - I hope things get no worse in the next novel.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Great Beginnings

I was thinking about what it is about some stories that catches my interest right away, why others leave me wondering why I'm bothering to read them, after far too many pages.

You gotta have a "hook", a "gimmick" or some sort of spectacular beginning to a story to catch my eye, make me care, get me thinking.

Some examples (anyone who can tell me which books they're all from has my utmost respect as a fellow connoisseur of SF and Fantasy):

"I heard the mailman approach my office door, half an hour earlier than usual. He didn't sound right. His footsteps fell more heavily, jauntily, and he whistled. A new guy. He whistled his way to my office door, then fell silent for a moment. Then he laughed."

I just have to know why the mailman laughed, don't you?

"Death came silently to the Row."

Eek! Are we in for a story about assassins? What's the Row? Who dies, and how?

"It was starting to end, after what seemed most of eternity to me. I attempted to wriggle my toes, succeeded. I was sprawled there in a hospital bed and my legs were done up in plaster casts, but they were still mine. I squeezed my eyes and opened them, three times. The room grew steady. Where the hell was I?"

Waking up in a hospital bed with both legs in a cast, no memory of what has gone before...there's gotta be a good story here.

"There is a similarity, if I may be permitted an excursion into tenuous metaphor, between the feel of a chilly breeze and the feel of a knife's blade, as either is laid across the back of the neck. I can call up memories of both, if I work at it."

Nothing else needs be said. This is a nearly perfect hook.

"His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god. He preferred to drop the Maha- and the -atman, however, and called himself Sam. He never claimed to be a god. But then, he never claimed not to be a god."


"I know a place where there is no smog and no parking problem and no population Cold War and no H-bombs and no television Summit Conferences, no Foreign Aid, no hidden taxes - no income tax. The climate is the sort that Florida and California claim (and neither has), the land is lovely, the people are friendly and hospitable to strangers, the women are beautiful and amazingly anxious to please - I could go back. I could-"

I wanna go there, too! Please, take me with you!

Nearly every book I've ever loved has hooked me within the first page, and often with the first paragraph. If you're an author, you've got a very short time to make a first impression - make it count! Tell me something I've never heard, show me a land I've never seen, turn a phrase that makes me laugh, boggle my mind with a puzzle, grab me by the throat and make me enjoy your book, darn it!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris

In Deadlocked, Harris once again skillfully weaves several plot conflicts together that Sookie must navigate without getting herself of any of her friends into more trouble than they already have. At the same time, various more mundane events proceed relatively smoothly, such as Tara and JB's baby's arrival, her brother, Jason's engagement, and Sookie's mental transition from employee to part owner of Merlotte's bar. Harris does a good job of reminding us all that in the midst of crises, life proceeds apace all around us.

The vampire King of Louisiana, Felipe de Castro, has arrived in Bon Temps ostensibly to get to the bottom of the disappearance of his lieutenant, whom Sookie and her allies disposed of in the last adventure. There are undertones, however, that indicate that Felipe knew what Victor was up to all along, and manipulated matters so that his ambitious ally would be destroyed when he crossed Eric, who is a much stronger vampire than indicated by his relatively humble position in the heirarchy.

The first big wrinkle in the fabric shows up at a party hosted by Eric when a blood donor is mysteriously murdered shortly after being kicked out of the house when Sookie arrives unexpectedly to catch Eric in the bedroom, drinking the girl's blood. Sookie and Bill have to figure out who actually killed the girl so that the human police's suspicions are directed away from Eric.

The fairies are restless, too. Claude's strip club seems to be staffed almost entirely by them, and he may be gathering them for purposes of his own. When he journeys with the fairy prince, Niall, back to the fae lands, Sookie's cousin Dermott is unable to keep them under control, and soon there are reports of strange animal killings in the nearby woods.

Sam's girlfriend, Janalyn, is jealous of Sookie, and keeps trying to find some way to discredit her with Sam. Since Janalyn is also the enforcer for Alcyde's pack, Sookie must take somewhat politcal approach to keeping her at bay.

And finally, the Queen of Louisiana's vampires pays Sookie a visit to tell her that she wants to take Eric as her consort, and that Eric's maker signed a contract allowing her to do so. This throws a huge monkey wrench in the middle of their relationship, and Sookie and Eric are forced to make choices about what they most truly love in the climax of this book.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fair Game by Patricia Briggs

The Marrock's enforcer, Charles, has begun to experience some serious problems because of the frequency with which he is being dispatched to execute werewolves who have committed crimes against normal humans since the weres have outed themselves. His wife, and pack Omega, is distraught, and appeals to Bran to do something about it. When a request from the FBI for help on a serial killer case comes to him, he hopes that sending Charles and Anna as consultants will at the very least distract his enforcer long enough for him to get a handle on his ghosts.

They journey to the East Coast and meet with representatives of the FBI, Homeland Security and a secretive government group known as Cantrip. They are briefed in on the killer's victims and methods, and soon suspect that he or she may have some supernatural aid, as werewolves are also being killed, and the most recent person kidnapped has Fae blood. Charles and Anna enlist the aid of the local pack, and consult with two of its most powerful witches to track the killer, who appears to be using black ritual magic to drain power from his victims.

A great deal of this novel is spent on Charles and Anna's relationship, their mystical bonds, and how Charles' guilt and perhaps even some actual haunting by the spirits of those he has slain is affecting him and the two of them. It also makes some progress in the overall plotting of Briggs' books in advancing the cooperation and communication between the human government agencies and the pack, and in a twist at the end introduces a new crisis between humans and Fae.

Fun reading, not terribly deep, with plenty of good action when the killer and minions are caught and battled.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Princeps by L.E. Modesitt

Princeps returns us to the story of Quaeryt, who has thwarted the plots in Tilbor, and been rewarded for his efforts by being made Princeps of the area, and being wed to the lovely Vaelora, sister of Lord Bhayar. Quaeryt may be the perfect match for the strong-willed and intellectual woman, and as the story begins they are settling well into domesticity and he is doing an admirable job of keeping the place running smoothly.

Unfortunately, this idyl cannot last, and Bhayar soon needs Quaeryt to uproot his life once again to travel to Extela, where a volcanic eruption has devastated the old capital of Telaryn, to assume temporarily the post of Governor. Quaeryt and a regiment of troops make the long journey, with his wife by his side, and try to restore the city to some semblance of order. The previous governor and many of the city officials were  corrupt, and so Quaeryt faces some special challenges in establishing the only kind of rule he can - a just and orderly one. He has some difficulties with various High Holder and merchant factors, but seems to be succeeding despite this, when Bhayar has a new job for him.

He is to leave the city to a replacement governor and join Bhayar's troops on the border, where he will train a squad of imagers in the unfamiliar task of sabotaging the war plans of the Bovarians, who are determined to invade Telaryn.

The book moves steadily through Quaeyt's personal growth, and begins to lay the foundation for the future of imagers that we saw in the first few books of the portfolio. A wry and pleasant, yet philosophical, tale.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Gun Games by Faye Kellerman

I always look forward to a new Decker/Lazarus novel by Kellerman. This novel just moves along steadily, much like an actual police investigation, and inexhorably towards its final destination, without too many surprises along the way, really.

When the mother of a good, but nerdy, student at an exclusive prep school who has committed suicide contacts Decker and asks him to dig deeper into her son's death, she provides just enough justification for him to open the investigation. The family has never had any firearms in the house, and no one knows how the boy, Gregory, got the stolen pistol he used to end his life. All of the physical evidence on the scene confirms that it was a suicide, but Decker agrees to give it a second look.

(By the way, I caught one mistake in this book. The suicide was committed with a pistol - mentioned several times - but when Decker's detectives revisit the scene later, the cleaning crew has already cleaned up the mess from - the shotgun blast. Where did Kellerman paste that bit of text from, I wonder?)

When a second student from the same school, Myra Gelb, also kills herself, and the pistol used turns out also to have been stolen a number of years earlier, Decker and his detectives Marge Dunn and Scott Oliver turn up the heat on the investigation a bit.

In a seemingly unrelated story, we get to follow Decker and Rina's fifteen year old foster son, Gabe, as he readies himself for study at either Harvard or Juilliard next year, and begins to audition for some summer jobs as a pianist. He meets a cute Persian Jewish girl, Yasmine, who is only fourteen, at a coffee shop, and she incites him to go to La Traviata with her, as she has somehow acquired two tickets, and none of her friends or family are really interested in opera - her very strict and traditional father has determined that she will be a doctor someday, and music is just foolishness. Of  course, the two become infatuated with one another, and carry on a texting love affair and clandestine trysts for weeks while Decker is busily investigating teen suicides.

Kellerman walks a fine line, politically speaking, on a couple of issues in this book, giving us some almost contradictory messages.

"Guns are bad, as they contribute to teen suicide."
"Guns are good, as they allow one of our heros to defend himself against a group of attackers."
"Bullying is a huge problem in our schools, and you should always report it to your teachers or principal."
"Teachers and the principal are totally ineffectual in countering bullying, and your best bet is to take matters into your own hands, or make some sort of accomodation with the bullies."

A fast, fun read.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Around the Web

A book review on Casey Research.

Fast and Furious by Katie Pavlich

Reading Fast and Furious, by Townhall editor Katie Pavlich, merely makes me furious, fast. It seems that at least one branch of our government, the ATF, decided to do something that is at best rather foolish, and at worst, criminal. They instructed gun shops near the southern border of this country to go ahead and make sales to "straw" purchasers, knowing that the ultimate buyers of those weapons were the Mexican drug cartels. Literally thousands of high powered "assault" type rifles were allowed to "walk" across the border by the ATF. When one of the guns turned up at the murder scene of a Border Patrol agent, things began to unravel rapidly.

The stated goal of this operation was to trace the guns to their destinations and to take down the networks of gun smuggling that were believed to exist, but it's possible that the true purpose was far more political, i.e., to demonstrate that it was far too easy to buy guns in the U.S. and then resell them to criminal purchasers in Mexico, so as to encourage ever more stringent gun control laws. At this point in time, Congress is about to hold a vote on whether to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for his failure to produce the documentation on Fast and Furious that they subpoenaed, and I seriously doubt whether we'll ever really know the truth about how high the blame goes for this seriously flawed and bungled operation.

"The idea of the operation, (ATF agent) Dodson was told, was to conduct surveillance on known straw purchasers for Mexican drug cartels. Dodson was not to interfere as they bought hundreds of high-powered rifles, including .50 caliber sniper rifles, AK-47s, .38 caliber revolvers and FN Five-sevN handguns. These guns would then be allowed to 'walk' across the border into Mexico, straight into the hands of ruthless criminals.
Agents like Dodson could follow suspects' cars, but never pull them over. The agents could watch known straw purchasers on video, they could use the phone to encourage gun shop employees to make sales, they could use wiretaps on cell phones..."

Since news of Fast and Furious became public, the ATF has done its best to silence and intimidate whistle blowers who objected to the operation while it was going on, and after it was shut down. At least two of the architects of the operation have been promoted, and one of them was conveniently sent to Iraq, making it a little difficult for Congress to interview him. There has been a coverup of massive proportions perpetrated by not only the ATF, but the FBI, Homeland Security, and the U.S. Department of Justice. Transcripts of Congressional questioning of Holder show a man issuing one set of denials after another, and when his protestations of ignorance and or innocence were disproved,  he merely fell back to a new position of denial, falsehood and obfuscation.

It's relation to an earlier program:

"Allowing guns to 'walk,' knowingly providing weapons to criminal suspects and attempting to trace them later, had bee tried by the Justice Department before, in 'Operation Wide Receiver' launched by the Bush administration in 2005 in close cooperation with the Mexican government. In that operation, straw purchasers were closely monitored in hopes that they might lead to others. Some were arrested before they crossed the border back into Mexico. The ones who crossed the border were to be arrested by the Mexican government. When it was discovered that at least four hundred guns were not recovered by authorities and lost in Mexico, the operation was terminated."

In contrast, Fast and Furious was run without telling the Mexican government anything about it. The guns were supposed to be traced, but thousands of them just disappeared, until some have been recovered at crime scenes. When the Mexican government complained about the U.S. knowingly putting its citizens in danger by supplying arms to the cartels, the State Department threatened to pull millions of dollars in funding away from Mexico, killing a program that works to reduce gang and cartel violence.

This book is a good source of background information on a scandal that the mainstream media has failed to cover or investigate properly, preferring to entertain us with "news" about Charlie Sheen, Brittany Spears and other celebrity train wrecks.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Kiss the Dead by Laurell K. Hamilton

This is the nineteenth book in the Anita Blake series, and it gets started off in a hurry - no foreplay. Anita is interrogating a new vampire in the police station, trying to discover the location of a fifteen year old girl that his band of "free" vamps have kidnapped and are about to turn. Things get out of hand, and end up in a brawl between the vamp, Anita, and the cops, including her old pals Zerbrowski and Dolph.

It seems, though, like Hamilton is getting away from the wild and crazy monster hunting action that got me hooked on this series in the beginning, and descending into too much PNR action. She spends far too many pages describing how each and every one of her lovers looks and acts, and what Anita loves about each of them in particular. There's even more of Anita's thoughts and emotions about ...eek...relationships. I'm fairly certain that we've seen a lot of the descriptive information before, and it seems vaguely like "cheating" to get the required number of pages to fill a novel, rather than writing a strong plot with great action sequences. Of course, whenever Anita isn't busy being all girly, there's too many pages of explanation about why she's, just "one of the guys" with all her cop buddies now, and how macho men from SWAT and the U.S. Marshalls service, and the RPIT all bond as manly men.

The descriptive, romance stuff just goes on and on for pages, I'm afraid, with a minimal number of pages devoted to taking on the bad guys, who are a group of vampires who want to remain free of the control wielded by master vampires - a nice idea in theory, but impractical and dangerous in reality. There are, I think, more pages devoted to the usual graphic sex scenes - I think Anita screws more monsters than she kills in this one.

Stick a fork in me, I'm done...paying for crappy novels by Hamilton.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Magic Without Mercy by Devon Monk

It's odd how my first impression of this book, upon reading its final passages last night, was that events were just stalled out. At the risk of giving away some spoilers, first, the magic plague that is killing people in Portland does not yet get cured, second, Allie's inability to use magic without becoming horribly ill is not solved, third, Isabel and Leander remain at large, trying for world domination. So, nothing happens, right?


While Allie and her friends are hiding out from the Authority, which has been taken over by the death magic user (and possible murderer of children) Jingo Jingo, they acquire one powerful ally in Roman, former keeper of the Gates, who trained Zayvion. He undertakes a mission to contact the Overseer (leader of the world's version of the Authority) to let her know what's happening in Portland, and tell her the truth about the plague. They also come up with a plan to take samples of all four types of magic from the wells, and have Dr. Collins (think of Hannibal Lecter with some of his figurative teeth pulled) analyze them to find out what's causing the infection and how to cure it.

They find that Davy, who has been suffering from the plague since its early days, has been changed somehow by Collins, into a being that is corporeal at some times, and ghostly at others, which isn't exactly a cure, but beats dying, perhaps. They are able to finally bring detective Paul Stotts aboard as their ally, and Zayvion and Victor restore some of his memories so that he'll believe what's going on in the city. Allie finds out that Stone, her pet gargoyle, is more important than she thought. Cody gets his memories restored, and his ghost is reunited with his body, giving him vast magical powers once again.

There are a number of other things that happen that would definitely be spoilers, so I won't relate them here. So, while the major plot elements and conflicts aren't resolved, and perhaps even escalate to the next level, lots of smaller events change the playing field quite a bit. Definitely looking forward to Monk's next book.