Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Widow's Web by Jennifer Estep

Gin Blanco is still dealing with the steady stream of thugs, mugs and wannabees (I'm minded of Hedley's hiring list in Blazing Saddles) who believe they have what it takes to take out the infamous Spider. She checks over her barbecue restaurant, The Port Pit, daily for traps before she opens up for her employees - oddly, though Estep spends some time at the beginning of the book describing this, we never do meet any of those employees, aside from Sophia, the Goth dwarf. But that turns out to be the least of her worries when her personal life and professional life finally face a challenge together.

Her boyfriend, Owen's ex-fiancee, Sarina, has returned to Ashland, and not only still has feelings for Owen, she behaves as if she never left, and thinks they can pick right up where they left off. To make matters worse, she's a strong water elemental who is bent on revenge against all of the folks who stood by and watched her father be murdered by Mab Monroe, many years ago. She has outlived three wealthy husbands in the meantime, hence the title of the book.

It appears that there was a time when Owen and his sister were homeless, and had a little Oliver Twist-ish gang of their own. Owen and his best friend, Phillip Kincaid, ran a burglary ring to support themselves and Owen's sister, Eva. On one of their expeditions to case a house before burglarizing it, Owen met Sarina, whose father Benedict was a minor crime boss, and they fell in love. After her father was killed, she moved in with Owen, Phil and Eva, and things were going well until Sarina turned out to be a sociopath, the gang broke up, and she left town suddenly, not to be seen until just now, after Mab Monroe's death has opened up new criminal opportunities.

Owen still has some feelings for Sarina (it wouldn't be a conflict otherwise, would it?), and doesn't believe she's truly evil. Phil and Eva know better, and after some convincing tell all to Gin. So Gin is in the precarious position of preventing Sarina from fulfilling her evil plans, without destroying her relationship with Owen by playing the jealous girlfriend.

I do love some of the descriptions of Gin's southern comfort food that she prepares when there's trouble brewing:

"Flour, fresh buttemilk, and just a pinch of sugar and salt went into my biscuit dough, while I put a cast-iron pan into the oven to heat the shortening I'd coated it with. Once the shortening was melted, I cut the biscuit dough into rounds, coated both sides with the liquefied shortening, arranged them in a pan, and then slid the whole thing into the oven to bake. I also fired some some salty country ham, using the grease and drippings that were left in the pan, along with some evaporated milk and a generous dash of black pepper, to make my gravy."

Oh yeah. The Spider rocks!

Monday, August 27, 2012

The War God's Own by David Weber

Saving us the details of a potentially tedious voyage, this book takes up the saga of Bahzell and Brandark again as they arrive at the port of Belhadan. They are greeted at the port by a knight probationer of the Order of Tomanak, Vaijon Amerhas of Amerhas, a remarkably conceited young nobleman, though he is a well-trained and formidable fighter. Vaijon has a difficult time believing that any hradani has been made a Champion of Tomanak, and expresses his displeasure through most of the pair's stay at the chapterhouse in Belhadan. Sir Charrow, head of the order, does not have a problem with Bahzell's elevation to Champion, though some others within the house to, but Bahzell squelches that problem at just the right time, and those who disagree with the War God's change of policy are roundly chastised. Tomanak also bears somewhat more personal tidings for Bahzell, telling him that at long last the Rage that has plagued his people has undergone a genetic change, and that those hradani who chose to control it, rather than to be controlled by it, will be able to do so.Bahzell also benefits from his visit by getting a thorough grounding on the background of the Order (as do we) from Sir Charrow.

When his task there is done, Bahzell and Brandark journey to the dwarven city of Axe Hallo, taking Vaijon along with them as the logical next step in his training as a knight. Upon arriving in Axe Hallow, they are greeting by their old acquaintance, Wencit of Rum, who escorts them to the Temple of Tomanak in the city, where they are introduced to the Knight-General of the Order, Sir Terrian, and also to Bahzell's fellow Champion, Lady Kaeritha, a human whose induction into the ranks of champions probably caused as much consternation as the hradani's own.

While in underground metropolis of the dwarves, Bahzell once again meets up with the merchant, Kilthandarknarthas, who escorts him one day to an impressive weapons and armor manufacturing plant. There he explains that the Empire of the Axe has determined to support his father's bid to unite the clans of hradani under one rule, and that he will supply Bahnak's men with the best equipment, at a reasonable cost, with the expectation that the peace he will impose will be good for trade and prosperity. Bahzell agrees to take the message back to Hurgrum to deliver to his father.

After arriving in Hurgrum, it becomes obvious to Bahzell and his companions that something must be done to root out and destroy the worship of Sharna in Navahk. They mount a dangerous expedition in the dead of winter to attack the temple in that land and kill or capture the Scorpion God's followers. They run into more of a battle than planned when a centipede demon is raised against them, but together the two Champions and the young knight, Vaijon, are able to prevail. A huge diplomatic furor arises upon their return, and in the resolution of that affair, Tomanak creates the first chapter of his order that has ever existed on the Wind Plains.

The Order's troops remain behind to guard the women and children when Bahnak finally departs to force a reckoning with Churnazh. A foolish young warden of the Sothoii, horse lords from the upper plains who have a traditional emnity with the hradani (Bahzell's clan is called the Horse Stealers, after all), decides this is the perfect time to invade, and the handful of Order troops are called on to stop the incursion. The cavalry arrives in the nick of time, and it appears that Bahzell will be off to visit Balthar, home city of Baron Tellian of the Sothoii, probably to build even more alliances for his father. Looking forward to Wind Rider's Oath to find out what happens next.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Oath of Swords by David Weber

I began reading War Maid's Choice and soon realized that it had been far too long since I read the other books; I was lost. It's understandable, as I first read Oath of Swords when it came out in 1995, and the others as they each arrived.

Bahzell Banahkson is a prince of Hurgrum and a member of the hradani race. The hradani don't really equate to one of the traditional fantasy races. In Weber's world of Norfressa, they were either created or genetically altered during the Wizard Wars about twelve hundred years before this story takes place, and they seem to have two main characteristics; they're physically imposing humanoids, and they're subject to The Rage, a berserk state of mind that can come on without warning - very useful in battle, but the other races fear them for their savagery during the wars. They also have foxlike ears. Oooh, halflings have horns!

The story begins shortly after Bahzell's father, leader of the Horse Stealers Clan, has conquered a number of other hradani tribes and is carefully consolidating his power. He seems to be a somewhat enlightened ruler for a hradani. Bahzell is a hostage to the temporary peace in the kingdom of Navahk, ruled by Churnazh. Bahzell discovers Churnazh's son, Crown Prince Harnak, raping and beating a servant girl one night, and in a fit of righteous anger beats Harnark nearly to death, rescues the girl and flees the city, knowing that no matter how justified his actions, it cannot end well for him there.

Thus begins a long and epic journey for Bahzell, who has been chosen to be a Champion of Tomanak, the War God of Light and Justice. He is opposed by the dark god, Sharna, patron of assassins, who "coincidentally" is worshipped by Harnak.

I didn't realize it back in 1995, but as we are all now well aware, Weber loves to set up great long sweeping plot arcs in his stories, and we see the elements all begin to fall into place here.

When Bahzell flees Navahk, he is joined by a would-be bard, Brandark, a Bloody Sword clan hradani whose playing skills are marvelous, but who can't carry a tune in a bucket. The banter between these two throughout the novel is quite amusing, and it covers their strong friendship for one another quite nicely. The troubles with other humans in the first part of their journey establishes nicely for us the environment of ingrained suspicion and hatred the hradani are met with by the other races.

The pair end up joining a caravan in the Duchy of Esgan as guards, where they meet the dwarf chieftain and merchant Kilthandahknarthos - Kilthan. They serve honorably on this mission, and create lasting friendships with Kilthan and his guard captains, which sets up some alliances in later books nicely. They are attacked by bands of "dog brothers" or assassins regularly along the way, who have been set on Bahzell's trail by the servants of Sharna, though it takes him a while to figure out it's him they're after.

When they leave the caravan, Bahzell once again gets himself and Brandark in trouble in the city of Riverside when he defends a woman, Zarantha from being raped - this is getting to be a habit. The woman turns out to be the daughter of Duke Jashan, and needs the help of the pair to return to her homeland. We begin to see the gods' hands in all of this...or maybe it's the author. Again, we get the setup for alliances down the road. Bahzell definitely go above and beyond the call of duty to escort her, then rescue her from evil wizards when she is kidnapped from an inn on the road.

Bahzell is a reluctant hero, and fights against becoming the Champion for most of the book, but when it becomes apparent that he won't be able to do what comes naturally to him - fighting evil whenever it appears - without Tomanak's supernatural aid, he succumbs to the inevitable and is given some special powers and a nifty sword, too. Bahzell and Brandark meet up with the centuries old legendary wizard, Wencit of Rum, while they're on Zarantha's trail, and Wencit deals neatly with the evil wizards, while B&B handle the mere forty or so mundane thugs.

The final encounter which may create an alliance takes place at the end of the novel, when Bahzell impresses a group of halfling sailors and their captain, and he and Brandark sail off into the sunset, ready for the next installment in the story.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Seawitch by Kat Richardson

Greywalker Harper Blaine has been hired by an insurance company to investigate the unexpected reappearance of a yacht which has been missing for twenty seven years, to see if fraud might be involved, though the claim was paid long ago. Of course, things begin to get weird rapidly, when she and Dective Rey Solis step aboard the boat, it's obvious to her Grey-tuned senses that the boat is haunted, and that some sort of magic ritual was performed there. The Guardian Beast gets involved, as well, and demands that she free the ghosts trapped aboard.

Richardson introduces some new paranormal elements in this story, notably the merfolk and the dobhar-chu, shapeshifting giant otters out of Irish legend. The investigation proceeds methodically at first, interviewing stale witnesses and trying to get more background on the owner and passengers of the yacht, who never did return to port. Complicating matters, her boyfriend Quinton's father appears on the scene to try to convince him to join him in some nefarious investigations of paranormal creatures.

Harper, Quinton and Rey, aided by an aging would-be pirate, must sail into dangerous waters to put this tale to rest. They battle a conjured storm, monstrous illusions, and the Sea Witch herself at the end. Lots of local color makes this one a great adventure, somewhat different in tone than earlier books in the series.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Totally off Topic

I saw this little story once a long time ago, and as a former Baptist, it just cracked me up, so having found it again on another blog, I ganked it:
I was walking across a bridge one sunny day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump. I ran over and said: 'Stop. Don't do it.'
'Why shouldn't I?' he asked.
'Well, there's so much to live for!'
'Like what?'
'Are you religious?'
He said: 'Yes.'
I said. 'Me too. Are you Christian or Buddhist?'
'Me too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?''
'Me too. Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?'
'Wow. Me too. Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?'
'Baptist Church of God.'
'Me too. Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you reformed Baptist Church of God?'
'Reformed Baptist Church of God.'
'Me too. Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?'
He said: 'Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915.'
I said: "Die, heretic scum," and pushed him off the bridge.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Abundance by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler

Peter Diamandis is the CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation and Singularity University, and appears to strongly believe that the future is going to be more abundant than most of us believe. He cites the exponential growth in technology as the primary factor in promoting abundance in the areas of Energy, Education, Health Care and Freedom around the globe. He may very well be right, and he certainly offers some well-researched and thought out points in support of his opinions.

According to the authors,

"Today Americans living below the poverty line have electricity, water, flushing toilets, and a refrigerator; 95 percent have a television; 88 percent have a telephone; 71 percent have a car; and 70 percent even have air hundred years ago men like Henry Ford and Cornelius Vanderbilt were among the richest on the planet, but they enjoyed few of these luxuries."

The challenge is to bring the developing nations' people up to similar living standards, while not destroying the planet in the process. The authors believe that finding a way to feed the hungry, provide the poor with energy, clean water and air, and access to health care, is entirely within our reach. Personally, I think that the biggest stumbling blocks to this may be political, as we've seen with all sorts of "top-down" aid programs from the developed nation. Far too much of the help we've sent merely ends up further lining the pockets of dictators and thugs around the world, and seldom enriches those we mean to help.

An interesting bit of information they relate, that I'd never heard of before is called Dunbar's number. Dunbar is an evolutionary anthropologist who examined historical trends and discovered that people tend to self-organize in groups of 150. Dunbar discovered that while we may have thousands of connections with other people, the upper limit of those with whom we are able to meaningfully interact is 150; that's the maximum amount of interpersonal relationships our our brains can process.

"Gossip, in its earliest forms, contained information that was critical to survival because, in clans of 150, what happened to anyone had a direct impact on everyone. But this backfires today. The reason we care so much about what happens to the likes of Lady Gaga is not because her shenanigans will ever impact our lives; rather because our brain doesn't realize there's a difference between rock stars we know about and relatives we know."

Wow! Do you think that spending all of our time watching reality shows and infotainment on TV keeps us from fully developing our relationships with people who are actually part of our lives?

Diamandis and Kotler spend some time debunking various doom and gloom scenarios that we've all worried about.

"Acid rain was the first sign that the facts were not matching the fanfare. Once considered our planet's most dire environmental threat, acid rain develops because burning fossil fuels releases sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere...In 1982 Canada's minister of the environment, John Roberts, summed up what many were thinking, telling Time magazine, 'Acid rain is one of the most devastating forms of pollution imaginable, an insidious malaria of the biosphere.'...But a few decades passed, and he realized that nothing of the sort was happening...the eco-apocalypse predicted in the 1970s never did arise."

A good measure of how much things in general are improving as technology increases is the amount of time spent acquiring the basic necessities of life, as well as a few more advanced resources.

"A rural peasant woman in Malawi spends 35 percent of her time farming food, 33 percent cooking and cleaning, 17 percent fetching clean drinking water, and 5 percent collecting firewood. This leaves only 10 percent of her day for anything else, including finding gainful employment needed to pull her off of this treadmill. Because of all this (science writer) Ridley feels that the best definition of prosperity is simply 'saved time'."

Today, in developed nations, a half second of work at an average wage will give you one hour of light. With a kerosene lamp near the turn of the century, it would have required 15 minutes work. At the turn of the previous century a tallow candle that provided an hour's light would cost six hours work, and 17 centuries BC an hour's light from a sesame oil lamp, fifty hours. Transportation is another example of saved time. In the 1800s the trip from Boston to Chicago took two weeks and cost a month's wages. Now the same trip can be made in two hours and costs a day's wage.

Even if you think things are bad in the developing world, they have some encouraging statistics. In 1995 India only had 4.5 million middle class households, but by 2009, it had 29.4 million. The number of people living on less than a dollar a day has been cut in half since the 1950s. At that rate of decline in the amount of abject poverty, Ridley projects that "absolute poverty" could hit zero percent by 2035.

If you're of the Malthusian bent, however, you may worry that when people in the developing world become more prosperous, at the rate that they reproduce, they will soon consume all of the world's resources, and we will face another catastrophe. Infant mortality rates are extremely high in the developing world, so people simply have more children. If we improve health care, provide clean water and clean air (hundreds of thousands die from breathing wood smoke used to heat their homes and cook each year), it would seem that they will soon breed out of control. But studies show that when mortality rates decrease, so do the reproduction rates. As people live longer lives, they have smaller families, nearly everywhere studied.

There's some great information, also, in this book about various initiatives, not usually initiated or supported by governments, but by private individuals, to provide clean water, cheap energy, and modern health care to the developing world at an affordable cost.

Also, to some extent, simple greed is making the businesses of the world take notice of what the authors call BoP, or Bottom of the Pyramid, consumers. While the majority of BoP consumers live on less than $2 a day, there are approximately 4 billion of them. That's a pretty significant market. Enterprising companies are finding ways to empower these BoP consumers to produce goods and services, thus bettering their lot in life. A researcher studying this phenomenon writes:

"If we stop thinking of the poor as victims or as a burden and start recognizing them as resilient and creative entrepeneurs and value-conscious cosnumers, a whole new world of opportunity will open up."

Many companies around the world are already finding creative ways to lift these people out of poverty. There are also major efforts under way to provide clean drinking water, cheap and abundant energy, and educational opportunities to areas that have lacked these necessities.

This book is a great read. We hear so little in the media about the good things going on around the world, that it's good to counter the constant negativity with some optimism once in a while.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Queen of Wands by John Ringo

I liked much of the same aspects of this story as the first novel about Barbara Everette, soccer mom turned supernatural warrior, and I disliked most of the same things, as well. Barb is the only member of the Foundation for Love and Universal Faith (FLUF) who is a born-again, bible thumping, fundamentalist Christian. The rest of the group who fight against the manifestations of evil worldwide are pagans. Ringo even gives Barb a monologue to spout as she and a group of special ops guys are spelunking on their way to destroy the Mother of All Evil about how anyone who truly loves his fellow man and opposes evil is not going to be rejected by the christian God, when all is said and done. The ecumenism is all very kumbaya, but doesn't really accurately reflect theology.

Barb discovers some new gifts in this novel - the ability to see the demons that infest much of the human population on Earth, and the ability to hear their voices, as well. This is balanced by being able to see angels, too. FLUF sends her to Chattanooga to combat an outbreak of madness that appears to be caused by the supernatural, and where her friend Janea, priestess of Freya, encountered something that left her basically in a coma. Barb, and her FBI sidekick must find out who the bad guys are, neutralize them, and figure out how to revive Janea, all without the general public becoming aware of Special Circumstances.

The book has three sections, with the first one being set in Chattanooga, then the middle section appears to take place at DragonCon, but which is actually a supernatural version of the convention, where gods, demigods, and random souls attend. Janea's spirit is sent there to work her way back to consciousness, through truly "finding herself".  The third section deals with a massive threat to the entire country by the Mother of All Evil, who is rapidly producing monster hordes to take over America and eventually overrun the world. The ending is a huge deus ex machina, which was sort of annoying.

I think that Ringo is tired of writing a heroine who doesn't have any sex scenes, as at the very end, Barbara catches her husband in bed with someone when she returns home. I guess this is going to make it all right for her to fool around? Maybe in Ringo's christianity.

Ringo tosses out a little in-joke about his Paladin of Shadows series at one point.

"Fortunately, theres a group of Asatru covering the Caucasus. Led by a demon-possessed former SEAL. Good story...I could write a book. Too tired."

This is a fun book, if you don't think about it too much.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Kitty Steals the Show by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty goes to London! Road trip!

Kitty has been invited to be the keynote speaker at the first international conference on Paranatural Studies, and she's having a very difficult time...writing her speech. She and Ben and Cormac fly first class to London, find lodging with a vampire, Ned, who was a contemporary of William Shakespeare, who is also an ally of the head of the vampire clan in Washington, D.C., Alette.

Kitty just can't help stirring up trouble at the conference, despite the risk of a riot taking place between those who love the paranaturals and those who think they're the devil's spawn - both groups are demonstrating in front of the conference. Dux Bellorum, aka Roman, is also in town, gathering allies in his coming war to dominate the planet. The evil Dr. Fleming will also put in an appearance, as he continues his plotting to experiment on lycanthropes.

Kitty makes the acquaintance and possibly the friendship of the head of all the werewolves in London, Caleb, and seems to earn the title of Queen of the Wolves that the vampires have sarcastically bestowed upon her. The ghost of Amelia, who's still hanging out in Cormac's body (with his consent) takes the group on a trip down memory lane as she introduces them to her old haunts and family ties.

When it's all said and done, nothing earth-shattering happens in this tenth novel in the series, but the scene is nearly set for the final confrontation with Roman and his allies, which I assume will be forthcoming soon.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Around the Web

A book review at The Caer.

Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane

I've had the Downside Ghosts series on my radar for a long time, and just recently got around to downloading a copy of the first book to my Nook. The premise seems new. All of the religions of the world were effectively debunked (at least those claiming knowledge of the afterlife) when suddenly all of the ghosts in the world showed up and killed millions of people. The new Church came into being when a group of magic users had and used their powers to re-bind the ghosts back where they belonged. Every so often there is a Festival, where a small portion of the ghost are released to spend time in the normal world for a short time, though they appear to be limited in the damage they can do.

Chess, or Cesaria, is a Debunker, an agent of the Church who is responsible for investigating any rogue ghosts, or at least claims of a haunting. When a family actually has a real ghost, the Church compensates them monetarily, so there is a strong motivation to fake a haunt, though the penalties are severe for getting caught, as well. Chess is trained to use rituals to dispatch the ghost or ghosts back where they belong.

Chess is also a deeply flawed protagonist, which seems to work for this very dark world that Kane has created. She is an orphan from a series of very abusive foster homes who found her new home in the church, though she has never really bonded with any of her fellow workers there. She's also a severe drug addict, and spends most of the novel snorting or popping some substance.

When a very strong ghost appears on the scene, and her drug pusher wants her to banish it so that he can use the abandoned airport where the haunt appears to smuggle in more drugs, Chess gets in way over her head. That doesn't seem to stop her from trying, though she pursues a number of false leads on the way to finding out who is responsible for summoning the ghost.

The story, and its protagonist, are just intriguing enough that I will probably spring for the next novel in the series. Unfortunately, most of the mechanics of plotting appear to be the same as nearly all urban fantasy with a strong female lead these days - an abused woman with no friends or deep romantic attachments is forced to develop same.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews

So, this novel is a move to the POV of a secondary character in the Kate Daniels universe, Andrea, Kate's best friend, who is a former Knight of the Order, and a beastkin, often looked down upon by "normal" weres and plain vanilla humans. She is a partner in Kate's private investigations business, and gets the chance dropped in her lap to have her own adventure.

True to form with this series, an old god from a forgotten pantheon rears its ugly head, trying to gain power in the new world after the Change. This time around it's an Egyptian serpent god, and Andrea and her friends must ally with its enemy, another jackal-headed former god Anapa, or Anubis.  We get to know Roman, the Volhv (priest) of the Russian mythos gods, a bit better in this novel, which is fun. An evil priest, but really a nice guy, ya know?

Andrea is also having a relationship crisis, as she has been estranged from her lover, Raphael, who is alpha of the were hyena pack, the boudas. It was outside of her control, as she was arrested and interrogated by the Order when she revealed her furry nature, and she didn't dare to involve him in her troubles at that point - she left her best friend, Kate, ignorant of her situation, too, after all. There's some pretty good dialogue, and of course you know at some point they'll quit yelling at each other and have wild were-creature sex, after all.

The problem I had with this story is that I really couldn't tell, aside from some of the background, situational information shared about Andrea vs. Kate, any real difference between them, as far as the story line was concerned. Kate attacks and kills all the bad guys with magic; Andrea uses guns and bows and swords. They both have bad attitudes and trust issues with other people in their lives. They're both pair-bonded with a leader of a were pack. Neither has any respect for authority. Maybe I'm missing the subtleties, but there's not a lot to differentiate whether you're reading a Kate adventure or an Andi adventure. Both good mind candy to while away an hour or two, but...

One fun passage:

"Unlike several other Scandinavian organizations, the Norse Heritage wasn't interested in the preservation of Scandinavian culture. They were interested in perpetuating the Viking myth: they wore furs, braided their hair, waved around oversized weapons, started fights with wild abandon, and generally acted in a manner appropriate to people embracing the spirit of a pirating and pillaging barbarian horde. They took in anyone and everyone, regardless of ancestry and criminal history, as long as they demonstrated the 'Viking Spirit,' which apparently amounted to liking violent brawls and drinking lots and lots of beer."

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

If I was a bigger Burroughs fan, rather than merely a voracious reader over these many decades, I'd know which pulp magazine he serialized the John Carter tales for, probably Amazing Stories. If I cared enough, I could look it up. After reading enough of this story, you begin to detect the cliff hanger points where it probably was broken off until the next month.

Burroughs receives a mysterious message from his uncle, John Carter, and meets him at a hotel to get the latest account of life on Mars (ironically, I'm writing this a couple of days after the Curiosity landed on Mars). Carter is finally successful in achieving the proper spiritual or mental state which allows him to travel to Barsoom, and he hopes to be reunited with the beautiful Dejah Thoris once more.

Unfortunately for him, but perhaps good for Barsoom, he is transported to the area where travelers on their final pilgrimage to the Valley Dor, where they will meet their gods. He discovers his old friend, the green warrior Tars Tarkus there, and together they battle their way through the great white apes and carnivorous plant men to reach the lair of the Holy Therns, who take charge of (enslave) those of the lesser races that survive the journey.

So John Carter and Tars Tarkus battle the white men of Mars, then they finally escape from that place and JC ends up captured by the black race, who prey on the therns and the other "lower" life forms. After escaping from there, hoping to be reunited with his love again, he has to battle ambition and treachery in the City of Helium.

As Emily Latella used to say, "it's just one thing after another."

Monday, August 6, 2012

Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston

I've always loved Card's works, thought lately it seems as if he's merely milking the Ender franchise for all it's worth. Can't blame him, really. It's made him a very commercially successful author, but it seems that he really has no other worthwhile stories to tell any more - it's vaguely reminiscent of all of the books of apocrypha that Christopher Tolkien put out using his father's notes.

None of the stories after Speaker for the Dead have really had that tense, or intense, gripping story that we found with Ender's Game, unfortunately. I thought perhaps that Earth Unaware, subtitled, "The First Formic War" would be more exciting than what he's produced lately, but it fell flat, too. For me, anyway.

The story takes place, for the most part, out in the Kuiper belt of the solar system, where a ship full of Spanish space miners, El Cavador, is the first to notice the approach of a massive alien spacecraft. Our prime protagonist is Victor Delgado, a precocious (are you seeing a repeated pattern here at all, folks?) teenager who is a whiz with mechanical and electrical gadgets. Victor makes the mistake of falling in love (tho he doesn't notice that he has) with his cousin on the ship. The miners practice a very strict exogamy, so she is transferred to a ship manned by Italians as soon as the ship's council becomes aware of the potential problem. (Are we stealing from Heinlein now, Scott? Read Citizen of the Galaxy, folks)

Some scout ships of the Formicans approach the Italian ships some days later, and end up destroying them all, leaving few survivors. This is probably the most intense portion of the book, as the crew of El Cavador conducts a massive search and rescue operation, and Victor hopes to find his love interest alive.

The whole scenario is also more complicated by the presence of a corporate mining concern's research vessel, the Makharu, in the area. They've invented what they're calling a glaser - gravity laser - which is designed to vaporize asteroids to make it easier to extract metals. The first tests are a success, but they decide to hijack El Cavador's claim to a larger rock to perform more testing, ending in the death of one of the Spanish ship's crew members, and setting up a possible confrontation between the captain of the ship, Lem and the independent miners, who could now blackmail him or ruin his father's company by lawsuit, if they didn't have  bigger, fry.

The whole story has a very juvenile centered tone. Card has always written pretty much G-rated novels. It's understandable to have Victor indulging in teen angst, but when 30 plus year old Lem does it, it's not really all that attractive. Looks like this one is setting up for a number of sequels - in fact the afterward spells it out. I'm not sure Card has done a good job of making me care about what happens to his new characters and the Earth, incidentally.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Way of the Wolf by E. E. Knight

I'm always looking for new authors and series to enjoy, so I picked up Book One of The Vampire Earth with a frisson of joy at my local library's bookstore. Knight was doing a fairly interesting job of telling the story of a future Earth overrun by psychic vampires and their sadistic minions, with the "resistance" taking the form of a ragtag army of American freedom fighters, hiding out in the woods, and then...

He lost me completely when he succumbed to a bunch of mystical bs about the transformation through "magic" of the main protagonist, David Valentine, into a Wolf Warrior, in touch with his pagan, animalistic roots in the dawn of history...yada yada. If you enjoy new agey claptrap, perhaps you can stomach it. I have better things to do...and read.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Around the Web

A book review on Get Rich Slowly

Existence by David Brin

I used to read Brin's works enthusiastically. His Uplift Wars series was awesome, and The Postman was a masterpiece of postapocalyptic fiction. I picked up Existence expecting more of the same, and for some reason it never quite clicked for me, so after about thirty pages I regretfully closed its pages.

He appeared to be going for the same effect as William Gibson, Neal Stephenson or Bruce Sterling's near future worlds have achieved, but he started skipping around from place to place and protagonist to protagonist willy nilly and lost me. Even the prospect of finding out more about the mysterious alien artifact couldn't save my interest.
Oh well.