Friday, May 31, 2013

May Winds Down

Things continue to be slow as far as reading and reviewing books goes. I spent the long weekend in the mountains, for the most part, and had only taken one book along, Kitty Rocks the House, which I finished the first night. I rummaged through the shelves at the cabin, and found a collection of Frank Herbert's short stories and essays from the early 80s, called Eye, which was interesting, but dated, being populated with Cold War spy stories and other paranoia. Had to reluctantly put that one back on the shelf when I left, so didn't finish it - maybe on my next visit.

Next, I overnighted at my parents' house, and found a collection of Essays, On Stories, by C.S. Lewis. I was minded once again of just how brilliant the man was - it's not the sort of thing one simply breezes through cheerily and without deep contemplation. Again, I had to leave my bookmark a couple of dozen pages in, and hope to return someday.

I leave you with a link to a book review by Andrew Klavan and some book-sparked meditations by J. Christian Adams.

I may have something new to say by Monday. Have a wonderful weekend!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Kitty Rocks the House by Carrie Vaughn

 Dear Lord, is is just that I've read far too much of this stuff, are are there only a limited number of writer's methods to set up certain situations. This installment of Kitty's adventures just seemed really predictable to me, for some reason.

After a meeting with a powerful vampire who is considering an alliance with Rick (the Master of Denver) and Kitty (who may possibly be the Regina Luparum), a lone werewolf, Darren (Any relation to Samantha's husband from Bewitched?...sorry, my brain goes off on odd tangents once in a while) shows up in Denver and tells Kitty he's tired of being lonely and wants to join her pack, though he's not very submissive about it. Anyone with half a brain can tell this is just going to be trouble, and she should boot him right back out of town, but instead she decides to give him a chance, ignores all the early warning signs, and ends up in a battle for control of the pack, before sending him...ahem...packing.

One of the themes/conflicts in the novel was about how Kitty wasn't spending enough time with the members of her pack, perhaps taking too much of a hands-off approach instead of being involved in their lives, what with her recent history of traveling all over the place either doing publicity for her show, or dealing with supernatural community issues in other cities, plus being involved in the whole Long Game conflict against the followers of Dux Bellorum, or Roman, the millennia-old vampire who wants to rule the world, with humans merely fodder, and werewolves merely servants. Hmm, seems like a recurring theme there with the last novel I reviewed - humans as food. I wonder if the whole scenario wasn't suggested to Vaughn by some feedback from a fan who just wondered what in the world is going on with the pack back home while Kitty is traveling, or how things might begin to fall apart when the alpha is absent.

The other odd thing that happens starts out in a surprising manner (at least I don't recall reading about the idea before), when a powerful yet mild-mannered vampire shows up in Denver, and asks Kitty to be introduced to Rick. Rick's original name was Ricardo, and he was one of the Spanish conquistadors who came to the New World five hundred years ago, a loyal son of the Catholic Church. When it turns out that the vampire, Columban, is actually an undead priest, known to the Vatican, it rocks his world. While he has tried to keep his faith through the centuries, despite the common consensus that vampires and werewolves are spawn of the devil, and damned to Hell for all eternity, it has been very hard for him, trying in an almost Hippocratic sense to "do no harm". Columban wants Rick to join him and his brethren - there are more vampire priests? - which would probably be a bad thing, leaving Kitty without her strongest ally in the city, and the vampires in Denver master-less.

The oddly obvious thing to me in this plotline is that while Columban is holed up in a deconsecrated (though why it had to be deconsecrated, given that the Vatican sanctions his existence, I couldn't say) cathedral, he has written symbols and runes on the outside of the church, and cast a circle of protection (my M:TG history comes through) around the building. Kitty and Ben's friend, the ex-bounty hunter possessed by the spirit of a witch, Cormac, tries to lure the vampire out of hiding by messing around with the wards. They all spend a lot of time wondering what in the world Columban could be afraid of that he would have to ward so powerfully against it. When they finally find out, catastrophically, it's like "well, duh." I'll leave it unstated, no need for true spoilers here.

So, while no real progress is made in the Long Game war, there's a few new alliances made, old alliances perhaps lost, and potential allies still unswayed. Sounds like the next novel will be out fairly soon.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Shadows of Falling Night by S. M. Stirling

 This third installment in the Shadowspawn series doesn't seem to quite have the (pardon the expression) bite of the first one. It's as if Stirling has gotten everyone hooked on the series, and now can settle in to make it as long as possible, selling more books along the way. I remember something similar happening with the Left Behind series towards the end, when one day's worth of events would fill and entire volume, putting us no closer to the resolution of Revelations.

The Shadow Council is on the move, coalescing to a gathering in Tblisi, where they will vote on which option to take with regards to "thinning the herd" of humans; EMP to destroy technology, or plague to kill the masses without spoiling the fruits of industry. Harvey Ledbetter, of the Brotherhood, is also moving towards that dark reunion, with a nuclear weapon in his back pocket, figuratively speaking. He hopes to detonate it near the conference, killing a large portion of the Shadowspawn and making the Brotherhood's overall mission of defeating the remainder much simpler.

Adrienne Breze wants Harvey to succeed in his plot for her own reasons. If the old discorporeal leaders are killed by the radiation from the nuclear blast, she can assume leadership of the council and have her own reign of terror when she releases the plague. Adrian Breze and his wife, Ellen, are trying to foil both Harvey and Adrienne's schemes, while behaving reasonably politely towards the rest of his relatives. Adrienne's minions attempt to kidnap back hers and Adrian's children, which prompts a nightmare flight by Eric (the former detective), Peter (former renfield and physicist who has discovered a way to mask humans from the power wielded by the Shadowspawn), and Chiba (peasant girl who wants vengeance on Adrienne) across the face of Europe, trying to reunite the children with their father before another assassin gets to them first.

Some good twisty plot elements and a very surprising ending which should twist things in an interesting direction in the next book, which I trust will be forthcoming when Stirling needs some more money.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Take the Star Road

Peter Grant, of Bayou Renaissance Man, has written his first science fiction novel, and I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by it. Sarah Hoyt's blurb says, "evocative of Heinlein" and I have to agree that it reminds me a bit of some of his earlier young adult novels, both in theme and execution, such as Between Planets, The Star Beast, or Starman Jones, perhaps, but also is full of technical details in a manner reminiscent of Allen Steele's Clarke County, Space or Orbital Decay.

Steve Maxwell, the young protagonist, seems to be one of those folks who can fall in a pile of crap and come out smelling like a rose. The story begins when he and his employer are attacked by several members of a criminal tong, and Steve disables several of them quickly with his martial arts skills, which he acquired while defending himself from bullies in the orphanage where he was left after the death of his parents. Though he has only been doing temp work, his employer is grateful enough for Steve's help that he gives him a full time job as a server in his tavern, and sets him up with a meeting with the bosun's mate of a space ship when the opportunity arises, so that Steve can fulfill his dream of being a spacer, himself.

From that point, things proceed somewhat inexorably, given Steve's good character and strong work ethic, as he learns new skills and is rapidly promoted. Grant uses Steve's innocent eager questions as springboards for a metric ton of exposition about everything from the way space ships make their way through hyperspace to the traditions of the space navy and the history of Earth and its colonies. It works, but occasionally I was left wishing for a little less explanation and a touch more action.

It wasn't a page-turner, which kept me up past my bedtime, but it was a good solid read for a couple evenings' entertainment, and I'd certainly pick up the sequel, when Grant gets around to publishing it. Any and all sex and violence were strictly PG rated, and the lessons that Steve and readers of the book will learn are those of the traditional American mom and apple pie variety.

You can get a second opinion on the book from Brigid at Home on the Range, if you like.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Written in Red by Anne Bishop

 The mind is the first thing to go, I guess. I cannot for the life of me remember where I found a review of this book that intrigued me so much I had to put it on hold at the library. Thanks, whomever. This is the most completely fresh take on the whole vampires, werewolves and things that go bump in the night that I've seen in ages.

Hmmm...the premise...The Others were on the Earth long before humans came on the scene, and for the most part humans were merely prey, but their rapid breeding and technology kept them around long enough to colonize the new world, where they found a whole new batch. The telling of the tale of the colonization and negotiations sounds very similar to what happened with the native Americans here, except that in this case the indians were not overwhelmed by the invaders, and turned out to be very shrewd negotiators, as well as having supernatural powers. I'm not quite sure, given the dynamics of the situation, how we got from point A to the setting of the story, which has telephones and automobiles and modern weaponry in the cities, while still being threatened constantly by what might happen if the humans irritate The Others, who actually include elementals capable of drowning a city or burying your civilization under a glacier, but if we just wave a magic wand over the whole history and logic thing and accept the situation as presented, it gets pretty cool.

Meg Corbyn (not her real name, she really only has a number designation) is a cassandra sangue - blood prophet. She, and other girls like her, are kept as property of very wealthy patrons who ration out their prophecies to those who can pay for them. Every prophecy is created by cutting a portion of the cassandra's skin somewhere, and eventually when all the untouched skin is used up, so is the prophetess. The public believes they are pampered servants, but they are actually abused slaves, and Meg risks her life one day by escaping from her compound and running away into a snowstorm. As her strength and hope begin to flag, she arrives at Lakeside Courtyard, a colony of The Others, and is rescued from the storm by their Wolf leader, Simon Wolfgard, and given the job of Liason between the nearby humans and the supernatural community, mostly to spite the other applicant for the job, Asia, who has been trying to worm her way into Simon's bedroom, and whom he just doesn't quite trust for some unknown reason.

Though her only knowledge of the world outside of the compound comes from books and other lessons she has been taught - just enough to let her interpret what she sees in her visions - Meg turns out to be a very conscientious and thorough Liason. Her primary duty is to receive shipments from human suppliers, and mail from the outside world, sort it, and make sure it gets to the right "people" within the Courtyard.

At the same time, there's a new sheriff in town. Lieutenant James Crispin "Monty" Montgomery has been run out of his last job for allowing a young Wolf girl to kill and eat the pedophile who had been holding her captive, after Monty handcuffed the pervert. The Humans First folks made life difficult for him, his fiancee broke up with him, and kept custody of their daughter. It did, however, make him nearly perfect for a job that opened up in Lakeside Courtyard, enforcing laws on the human side, and making sure the humans don't run afoul of The Others more immediate methods of justice.

In addition to getting used to their new surroundings, developing relationships and understanding their place among the Others, and learning new jobs, Meg and Monty must also deal with outside forces that threaten to destroy what they have. Meg's controller has hired mercenaries to recover his "property", Humans First fanatics are scheming to start a war between the races, and others with merely mercantile motives are snooping about for more information on the Others. Good, semi-twisty intrigue, the threat of violence and mayhem, and some slightly different protagonists make this a really good read. Hope Bishop writes a few more in this world.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Imperial Stars by E.E. "Doc" Smith and Stephen Goldin

A fair amount of time ago (pre-Amazon), I was reading and collecting the Family d'Alembert series written by "Doc" Smith (edited and finished by Goldin and published by his wife after his passing, I believe), and eventually just lost track of the progress of the series, so I missed the last few, which I didn't find out until I was playing around on Goodreads a month or so ago. I got lucky and found a source for a bunch of old SF ebooks, and all of the series was there, as well as his Lensman and Galactic Patrol stuff, which I've had in paperback for years. So, after so much time has passed, one can't just jump in at the end of the series and read the last ones, and I had to start at the beginning, with Imperial Stars.

It's difficult to say, at this point, so far removed from the time in which it was written, but there may be a bit more than just a bit of satire in this story, containing elements of the Bond mythos, some very broad space opera, and a pair of heroes who are trapeze artists from a long line of circus folks. Here in book 1, the Empire is threatened by the plotting of a pretender to the throne, the bastard cousin of the current Emperor Stanley. The bastard has possession of a patent acknowledging his parentage and nobility, and many good secret agents in the SOTE (Service of the Empire) have died trying to recover the document. At last, the Head of SOTE is down to his ultimate weapon, Jules and Yvette d'Alembert, performers in galaxy-renowned Circus of the Galaxy, where for generations the top agents of SOTE have trained in secret.

Jules and Yvette and their family come from the triple-gravity planet of DesPlaines, so they are far faster and stronger than ordinary humans, and their training has made them the most deadly creatures in the galaxy. They go undercover on several worlds to uncover the conspiracy and to foil the plots of the evil bastard, far too handily for serious fiction, but in an amusing and overblown and heroic fashion all the same. A fun little mindless tale that broke me out of my slump at last.

Around the Web

A book review from Carteach.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

It could be just me...

I'm beginning to wonder what's going on. I'm now into two more books, not even half way through, and just unmotivated to finish them. Between that and the craziness that comes with Summer, I fear that I may not actually finish another book for review till Fall.

Friday, May 3, 2013

From Bad to Worse

So, one of the reasons I began writing book reviews and eventually started this blog was so that I could let folks know about those Sturgeon's Law rejects before they invested either time or money in poorly written books. Unfortunately, I fell into the trap, myself, when I failed to consult this blog about an author whom I'd previously panned, before picking up another book he'd written. I could pretend that I was just giving the guy a second chance, but...that would be a lie. For some reason I remembered enjoying his work; must have confused him with someone else.

See my previous review of Lightpaths for all you really need to know about Hendrix, but I'll elaborate slightly here on his more recent disappointment, Better Angels. Hendrix' story is filled with the sort of things you'd find uttered in the dorm lounge of any generic college campus in America, fueled by the consumption of mind-altering substances, and passing for great discovered wisdom for its giggling sycophants. The premise seems to be that some ancient starfaring or galaxyfaring ark once seeded our planet with hallucinogenic mushrooms which would eventually bring on the singularity (a la Kurzweil) and reunite us with the truly enlightened center of the Universe. It is filled with caricatures of the Left's demons, such as big business, the shadow government and organized religion, rather than fully developed real heroes or villains. I kept hoping for the best, but had to give up at the end...of my patience, not the book.

Dang, three out of four books from my library trip, wasted time!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Consequences by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

So Scott Card, when he reviewed the Retrieval Artists series as a whole, said (or at least implied) that they didn't have to be read in any particular order; that they stood alone. That may very well be somewhat true, but without the background from at least the first novel, I think you'll be lost. In fact, when I read the third, Consequences, without reading the second, it left me wondering if I had perhaps missed some significant events in the lives of its main protagonists, who were introduced in The Disappeared, former detective turned Retrieval Artist Miles Flynn, and former detective turned assistant chief of police for Armstrong Dome (on the Moon), Noelle DeRicci. I had actually hoped to run onto a reasonably priced copy of the second book, Extremes, but never did, so I finally jumped into this one feet first.

If you've ever heard the line, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter", I think you've found the single foundation upon which the whole story is built. Representatives of the new government of Etae, who began as the rebel forces toppling the repressive and brutal government of the planet, have arrived at Armstrong Dome to begin meetings with the Assembly?? to determine whether they will be allowed to join this group of "civilized" worlds and races and enjoy the flow of foreign aid to their impoverished and starving citizens. Some of the diplomats arriving at the conference are strongly opposed to the Etaens recognition, while others are more sympathetic, hence plenty of room for some rather topical discussions about how former terrorists turned statespeople should be treated.

There are also dangerous enemies of the Etaens in the mix, people who, for various reasons, would rather see them dead than successful, and DeRicci's and Flynn's involvement begins when a trio of Flynn's former clients are murdered in a very odd fashion. DeRicci is made chief investigator on the case, and Flynn decides he needs to figure out what's going on both to protect himself and avenge the Disappeared who has been killed.

Multiple POVs, well handled, some good suspenseful mystery, a bit of danger, and some deeper political questions posed - if not answered. Rusch delivers a good tale once again.