Monday, March 31, 2014

Around the Web

A book review of Marko Kloos' Terms of Enlistment on Marooned

Night Broken by Patricia Briggs

I knew this novel was going to be too short when I saw the page count (250) on my Nook as the story began. Ah well, I suppose it was exactly the number of words that needed to be written to tell the tale that must be told.

Mercy gets an unpleasant surprise when Adam's ex-wife, Christy, is fleeing from a former lover turned violent stalker and calls Adam for help. His sense of responsibility for his "pack" as alpha wolf forces him to let her seek refuge in the home which now belongs to him and Mercy. You can probably see that this is going to lead to fireworks, perhaps literal, from the moment it begins.

But Christy's stalker turns out to be far more dangerous than anticipated, and we get the first indication when the townhouse where she lived burns to the ground, killing four innocent bystanders.

About this time, one of the elven Grey Lords shows up at Adam and Mercy's, looking for his father's walking stick, which Mercy gave to Coyote to keep, after she used it to kill the river monster a couple of books ago. He threatens all sorts of dire consequences, oh so politely, as the fae are known to do things, if she fails to turn it over within a week.

Mercy begins trying to get in touch with Coyote - not something any sane person wants to do - and ends up in jail. Well, not that way, but she visits a "half-brother" of hers, Gary LaughingDog, where he's being held for stealing a police car and a case of expensive scotch, and asks him if he knows how to contact Coyote. Shortly after her visit, Gary has a vision of disaster unfolding and breaks out of lockup to warn Mercy, Adam and the pack.

When Christy's stalker turns up at Mercy's garage and demands that she be given back to him, our favorite shape shifter finds out that he's not even close to being human, and is an immensely powerful bad guy - Guayota. With a little help from Adam and Tad (half fae son of the Dark Smith), she manages to drive him off and kill one of his minions, but it's obvious to all concerned that they're going to have to deal with him more permanently at some point.

All of which, of course, leads up to a big battle scene at the end of the book, and some new possibilities forming for the overall plot arc.

Too short. More, please, for Mercy's sake!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Hard as Nails by Dan Simmons

Simmons doesn't waste much time getting Joe Kurtz into trouble. It starts off innocently enough, with a visit to his PO, Peg O'Toole, but soon descends into madness when they are both attacked in the parking garage at her offices by a pair of gunmen, who leave Kurtz in the hospital with a bleeding head wound and Peg in a coma. Joe's enemies start piling on the minute he wakes up in the hospital, with a smack upside the head by O'Toole's wheelchair-bound uncle, a war hero who blames Kurtz for her being attacked, and being interrogated by a pair of detectives, one of whom used to be his close friend, and sometime lover, Rigby King.

Then, there's a whole slew of the usual suspects who may be ready to take Kurtz out of the picture, including Angelina Farino and Toma Gonzaga, heads of the local crime families, who may or may not have hired the legendary assassin, the Dane, to fix Joe's wagon permanently. Big Bore Redhawk, whom Kurtz embarrassed in Hard Freeze, a mysterious killer known as The Dodger, and maybe even a Yemeni terrorist or two are all gunning for him, plus a couple of folks we don't even suspect at first.

The whole mess centers around a battle for control of the heroin trade, and Kurtz ends up playing middleman in the final "negotiations". Some of it was quite predictable. I think I've just read too many stories - I know when a tried and true plot device is being pulled out of the cupboard and dusted off one more time. Plenty of violence and twisty plottings, some backstory on Kurtz' life in an orphanage, and just a hint of Joe beginning to trust at least a few folks in the world.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Sometime during the night, this blog hit 100,000 page views. If they weren't all from Russian spambots, it would be almost impressive.

Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines

This has a hint of flavor similar to Heinlein's last couple of novels, The Number of the Beast, and To Sail Beyond the Sunset. Not from the standpoint of being stylistically like Heinlein, but from the philosophical writing idea that characters and objects in novels are part of a separate, perhaps parallel, reality to our own. At the end of Heinlein's career, he seemed almost to be thumbing his nose at his critics and saying, "Look, I can do whatever I want to with the characters I created, and if I want to have them all show up at a cosmic family reunion and love fest, I will, drat you!"

In Libriomancer, the protagonist, Isaac Vainio belongs to an order called the Porters, founded by Gutenberg himself, which consists mainly of magic users who can draw upon the reality created by the masses of readers of a given story, and pull from its pages pretty much any useful thing they desire, given some intrinsic limits on their power versus the potency of the objects. One of the fun things, from a long time fantasy and science fiction reader's point of view, with this book is recognizing the novels he refers to, which inspires a brief nostalgic moment or two along the way. Probably some of what Hines is going for here.

Isaac works as a librarian (good choice for a libriomancer). The backstory here is that he was training for fieldwork with the Porters and crossed some vaguely defined line within the organization, and has been exiled to a research-only role. When a trio of vampires shows up to attack him and trash the library, Isaac is forced into a more active role investigating why the undead have instigated a war with the Porters...or have they? He's helped in his journey by the surprisingly extant Ponce de Leon, a disgraced Porter, and Lena, a displaced dryad who has the hots for Isaac. As the story moves along, Hines, through Isaac's bumbling efforts, gets to explore the possibilities of libriomancy as Isaac tries things he's too ignorant to know he can't or shouldn't.

I've only read one other book by Hines, the first in a dungeon crawl series, though I have a couple of his paperbacks in my TBR pile, awaiting the acquisition of the first novel in the series before I start. Cleverness and light humour seem to be the key element in his writing, and this one managed to amuse me for a few hours, with a reasonably engaging hero. I've got the sequel on hold at the local library. We'll see how the series shapes up.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Myth of America's Decline by Josef Joffe

 For a while now, whenever I hear someone preaching a doom and gloom scenario, like the collapse of the economy, the total system crash of computers worldwide, or the disaster of global climate change, my first response is to try to figure out what they're selling. Hang on to your pocket books, folks, the hucksters are after your gold once again. If you hike to the headwaters of the source of the rumors of the dollar swirling 'round the drain, you'll usually find a hedge fund manager or a gold brokerage. When Y2K was the scare du jour, I'm pretty certain the generator salesmen were making out like bandits, and when I look at the carbon crazies' agenda, I see the sale of indulgences which rival the excesses of the early Popes, or heavy investments in "green" tech.

Josef Joffe does a great job of cataloging decades of pessimistic prophesies which our aspiring or existing leaders shouted from the rooftops in order to get our attention, our votes, or our cash. I had little yellow stickers all over the place, marking relevant passages, and it's tough to capture more than a taste of it here.

However, most of you can remember some of the scenarios we allegedly faced, even when they have directly contradicted one another from decade to decade.

"in the 1980s...following a nuclear exchange, a smoke- and particle-laden atmosphere would thrust the world into a new ice age. As of the 1990s...having unleashed the fossil-fueled fire of industry, they were now reaping global warming."

I remember, of course, when Russia was getting the lead over us in the Arms Race, and they were going to be able to counter our massive nuclear arsenal at will, and overwhelm Europe with their communist regime. Then, Japan was going gangbusters, and was buying real estate, banks, and other businesses right and left, and we were soon to be overtaken by Empire of the Rising Sun. Then, when Europe finally united and created a new global currency - the Euro - the demise of the almighty dollar was at hand.

"To praise others is to prod America. Russia, Europe, Japan, et al. will overtake us, unless we labor hard to change our self-inflicted destiny. The basic diagnosis remains constant; only the prescription will vary according to the ideological preferences of the seer...dramatization and exaggeration, fibbing or even outright falsehood, are all part and parcel of the prophecy."

It was rather interesting to note this little tidbit about all the Cassandras:

"...psychologist Philip Tetlock, after a an exhaustive review of 82,000 predictions by 284 policy experts over twenty years...performed worse than if they had blindly pulled their forecasts out of a hat...'These experts never lose their reputations, or their jobs, just  because long shots are their business'..."

The reality of the situation is that the United States has gained such a lead on the competition that catching up is a gargantuan task, and not as likely to happen as quickly as our detractors would hope. The data on GDP of the top world's economies shows that the grand total of ALL of  Brazil, Russia, China, India and Japan's combined economies to equal that of the United States.

The United States far outweighs all the rest in its sheer military power and tonnage, especially that which can be projected over global distances. In combat-capable aircraft, we have 3591, with the next closest contender being China, with 2004 (2012 statistics), in naval aviation, we have 1,429 to China's 311, In tankers and transport aircraft, we have 1,318 with the next closest being all of NATO Europe at 411, with china falling to a distant 5th with 77. The only statistic in which the U.S. "loses" is total number of men under military arms, where China has us doubled.

So, if it comes to a land war on the Asian mainland, we may have some issues. (Shades of Princess Bride!)

Joffe coins a phrase (or perhaps files off the serial numbers on it) for the type of economic growth which has been seen in the past in Japan and other Asian nations, which China is now pursuing - "modernitarianism". This is a combination of rapid modernization, industrially and technologically, with the full planning, backing and control of the state government. When combined with a ready supply of cheap labor which can be easily encouraged to move from the countryside to the cities where the industries are located, it can produce amazing double-digit returns for some period of time, but eventually runs afoul of its inherent limitations, compared to free market capitalism.

"The stronger the state's grip, the more vulnerable the economy to political shocks."

"Once the long run irons out the cyclical kinks, it spells out an enduring message: There is no endless double-digit growth in economic history; what goes up, eventually comes down to 'normal.' other country has escaped from this history since the Industrial Revolution..."

"Unconventional ideas and intellectual risk taking grow not out of the Politburo but from below. The government can shower money on the chosen, funding particle accelerators and space exploration (Green Power?). Yet the hardware will grind and grate without the right 'software', call it 'culture of freedom' or 'intellectual anarchy'."

This is not to say that what we've seen in the past in the West is unrestricted free market capitalism (I'm not sure we've really ever had that, despite the anti-monopoly propaganda resulting from the Gilded Age and the Robber Barons).

"Yet Asia by no means has a historical monopoly on this type of Asian values (corruption and cronyism). Indeed, lavish rent seeking, as granted by the state to favored groups, has worked its insidious ways in the West, as well. The two rapid risers of the late nineteenth century - the United States and Imperial Germany - enjoyed myriad kindness as from the cornucopia of the state, be they monopolies, cartels, franchises, subsidies, import barriers, or the suppression of labor unrest...the magnificent success story of the West unfolded behind the high walls of the nation-state, with the quite visible hand of the government bestowing succor and privilege. China didn't invent this model."

One of the most oft-repeated messages of doom is that the United States educational system has fallen far behind that of the rest of the world, and that our children have become woefully underprepared for life in college and beyond.

"A recent classic reads, 'Last year, more than 600,000 engineers graduated from institutions of higher education in China. In India, the figure was 350,000. In America, it was about 70,000'...Unsurprisingly, the alarm went hand in glove with a call for a lot more federal aid to engineering education."

China's "engineers" would be considered technicians in the United States. Our engineering schools are, in all reality, far better than most of their foreign competitors.

Our Federal government gives $36 billion annually to universities just for science and engineering programs. That budget dwarfs those of Europe and Asia.

Joffe pens, "Doom determines the national interest and then opens the national purse."

I'm seeing a version of this in my home state of Idaho right now. There's a constant barrage of commercials and advertisements in the media, telling us what a horrible job we're doing educating our children, and claiming that some unbelievably high percentage of our children cannot perform at grade level in reading, writing and 'rithmetic. I the true purpose of all of this propaganda is to get us all to vote for higher school levies and to lobby our state legislators to pass higher budgets for higher education... and lower education, for that matter.

I have to wonder how our terrible, horrible, no good, very bad school system here managed to send my daughter off to university to graduate in three years with a bachelors degree in mathematics (she wanted to be a math teacher until she sat through her first education class and couldn't stomach the nonsense they were spouting), and equipped one of her classmates with a full ride scholarship to Yale, another a music performance scholarship to USC, just to mention a few.

Listen, I think competent teachers can do a lot of good, but the most reliable predictor I've seen in my admittedly unscientific study of educational outcomes is the extent of parental involvement, encouragement, and support in that endeavor. Over and over again, I used to see the same group of several dozen parents at youth football, city soccer league, orchestra concerts, choir rehearsals, PTA events, school open houses, recitals, and so on ad nauseum. We weren't all rich, and some were definitely barely hanging on to the middle class, but we all cared, we all sacrificed, and we all spent whatever time it took to make sure our kids were getting everything they could out of their education.

Screw the fancy buildings and landscaping. Screw the computer labs. Screw the sports complexes, community centers, free school lunches, and teacher in-service days. None of that crap matters. Get the parents involved, make them responsible, and you'll see more success out of our schools. All the programs and educational theories in the world don't keep kids from failing. Families do.

If you think that  America is losing its edge, its competitive spirit, and its position as a leader in innovation:

"Today, the top three software companies in the world are American, so are eight of the top ten. Of the ten fastest-growing, six are American. There are no Chinese or Indian outfits in this lineup...There is no Chinese company among the top 100."

If you think all the smart folks coming here from overseas are heading back home with their newfound knowledge:

Of foreigners granted Ph.D.'s, 92% of Chinese recipients opted to stay in the U.S. after graduation, and 81% of Indians did the same. We are not suffering a brain drain, actually, we appear to be importing highly skilled, intelligent people.

So listen, folks, next time you hear how bad things are, and there's lots of shrieking how, "somebody's got to fix this"...check your pocketbooks. Someone is probably trying to sell you a bill of goods. America still Rocks!

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Undead Pool by Kim Harrison

 I really feel like I need to put together a plot synopsis, complete with spoilers, for this book, as a number of important things happen, I believe, for the future of The Hollows series. Rachel has been working security for Trent, while Quen is away guarding the girls at Ellasbeth's in San Francisco. The elven community is evidently not terribly happy about Trent's involvement with a daywalking demon, and this causes a great deal of the plot conflict.

Strange, powerful waves of wild magic begin to flow across Cincinnati, causing spells cast while they are in motion to behave erratically and usually destructively. Something about the magic is also putting the master, undead, vampires into a deep slumber, and their living minions are getting out of control, attacking humans indiscriminately. When Rachel and Trent investigate, they discover that the source of the wild magic seems to be Rachel's new ley line, and the waves are somehow following her in her travels around the city. But Rachel is not the person responsible for causing them, and as the surrounding city turns chaotic, she and her allies are forced to deal with the mess when the authorities are nearly powerless.

On the personal side, the growing attraction between Trent and Rachel is driving them both about half crazy, as they pretend it doesn't exist, for the sake of politics and "the children." Bis, the gargoyle, is growing larger and more skilled in riding the ley lines, Jenks' children are growing up and moving on, Ivy is trying to free her lover, Nina, from her possession by a powerful master vampire, Felix. And Newt, the insane elder stateswoman among demons, appears to be a little more savvy about the realities of the situation than anyone has previously given her credit for.

We get up close and personal with elven theology, when the leaders of the religion show up to confront Trent and ostensibly to help the FIB and IS get to the bottom of the wild magic attack on the city. We get to know the leader of the Free Vampires all too well, as he is involved right up to his bloodshot eyeballs.

To keep the vampires from dying, and the city from being destroyed, Rachel bites off far more power than she can chew, becomes all too closely acquainted with the Elvish Goddess, and risks ending up as nuts as Newt. She and Trent finally succumb to the inevitable, and suffer the consequences of angering the elven council, and the things Rachel must do to win permanently destroy her relationship with Algliarept, her demon mentor.

Seems like there's still some room to run in this series. Harrison still writes an entertaining yarn.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Way to Wealth by Benjamin Franklin

It's amazing how many of the principles that personal finance bloggers are using today are the same ones put forth by Poor Richard over two centuries ago. Of course, they showed up in The Richest Man in Babylon a while back, too...but that was actually not written during Nebuchadnezzar's reign, you know.

A great quote:

'Friends,' says he, 'the taxes are indeed very heavy; and, if those laid on by the government were the only ones we had to pay, we might more easily discharge them; but we have many others, and much more grievous to some of us. We are taxed twice as much by our idleness, three times as much by our pride, and four times as much by our folly; and from these taxes the commissioners cannot ease or deliver us by allowing an abatement.'

Remember..."God helps those that help themselves." Franklin

On the first of Franklin's virtues, Diligent Work,

"Sloth makes all things difficult...and...early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."

I rather like,

"Diligence is the mother of good luck, and God gives all things to industry..."

Another Franklin classic,

"Never leave that till to-morrow, which you can do to-day."

And perhaps more pointedly,

"Many, without labour, would live by their wits only, but they break for want of stock;"

Coming unarmed to a battle of wits, I see. LOL.

Ever hear a businessman say that if you want the job done right, you've got to do it yourself? Franklin says,

"If you would have a faithful servant, and one that you like,—serve yourself."

After hard work, Franklin's next recommended virtue is Frugality.

"If you would be wealthy, think of saving, as well as of getting."

"Beware of little expences;(sic) 'A small leak will sink a great ship', Poor Richard says."

"Many a one, for the sake of finery on the back, have gone with a hungry belly, and half starved their families."

Wow, does that make you think of some folks running up the credit cards or what?

"If you would know the value of money, go and try to borrow some; for he that goes a borrowing, goes a sorrowing," says Franklin's alter ego, and, "Lying rides upon Debt's back."

A short work, readily available for download from Project Gutenberg, and well worth perusing. Far cheaper than Dave Ramsey's seminars.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Hard Freeze by Dan Simmons

I feel almost like I'm detecting a formula here - Put Joe Kurtz up against at least two or three people or groups of people who want to kill him, and revel in the ensuing chaos. Things haven't settled down all that much since we last saw Joe, but he and his secretary, Arlene, are running a very successful internet business that finds high school sweethearts, and Arlene would like to expand into online wedding planning. Since their office building is being torn down by the city, she wants Joe to take some time to hunt up a new space for their business, and for him to find $35K to get things up and running.

In the meantime, Little Skag has decided to have Joe killed, and set some stupid and predictable killers on his trail, a trio known in Attica as The Three Stooges. Joe's number one informant, the homeless professor known as Pruno, sets Joe up to meet with John Frears, a man who is trying to find the former colleague of his, presumed dead, who tortured, raped and killed his teenaged daughter, and whom he recently saw alive and well in a nearby airport. The deceased Don Farino's daughter, Angelina, recently returned from Italy, wants to use Kurtz to help her eliminate a rival crime family from the picture. Kurtz also has some issues with Donnie, the man who got custody of his daughter, Rachel, after her mother was murdered and he went to prison for twelve years for the revenge killings of the perpetrators. Not to be forgotten, a corrupt cop named Brubaker has decided that Kurtz was responsible for the death of his former partner, also a corrupt cop, and is out for his own pound of flesh.

So, things get very complicated, very quickly, and it takes a lot of violence on Joe's part before he can keep his appointment with Arlene to go office hunting. Kurtz' unique combination of the direct approach and the subtle scheme make this an interesting and worthy sequel to Hard Case.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Around the Web

Borepatch has a book review up today.

One Smart Cookie by Debbi Fields

 When Debbi Fields was growing up, she had the feeling that all of her siblings were more special, more skilled, than she was, and it left her wanting to accomplish something that was truly her own. She had an underlying need to be a people pleaser, and she spent hours perfecting her own chocolate chip cookie recipe. As a young married woman, she would hand them out at social events to her husband, Randy's business associates, and eventually the crazy idea was born that maybe other people would pay good money to enjoy her cookies.

It wasn't easy, and convincing the bankers to loan them the money for Debbi's dream was tough, but she opened her first store in a shopping mall in Palo Alto in 1977 and her business eventually grew beyond her wildest dreams.

At one of Randy's meetings, she relates a story about a group of business executives who had asked ahead of time if Debbi was going to bake cookies for their meeting.

"Who better to ask? So I said to them, 'What would you think about my starting a business to sell these cookies to the public?'
'Bad idea,' they said, their mouths full of cookies, what had been a plateful only minutes earlier now reduced to crumbs they were artfully dabbing up with genteel thumbs. 'Never work,' they said. 'Forget it.'"

There are plenty of important points about customer service and business ethics one can learn from reading her book.

She worked at a Mervyn's as a teen, and was very well-liked and productive there. She says,
"At Mervyn's, I just kept pushing and striving, and they kept noticing. The more they acknowledged my efforts, the harder I tried to make things perfect. Some employees - I know from personal and sad experience - do not see the world in this way. I am making x amount per hour,  they figure, and therefore I will give them x percent of my effort. Why do people who think that way even bother to go to work in the first place?"

I always found that Debbi's philosophy of always working to make things better, of giving your entire effort, and not just the effort you feel your wage buys, to be very effective.

Like so many of us, Debbie was already experiencing, back in the 70s, the depersonalization of the shopping experience in the big box stores, and reminiscing fondly about spending time and money in an establishment where people really wanted to help you, and would likely know your name, and your family's history - not like the creepy big brother thing we've got going on now.

"...Randy's clients and my friends and both our families and lots of bankers were right in their belief that you didn't sell cookies in order to get rich. I didn't care about the money. It was an experience I wanted to create, some kind of gift to people - a lot of whom I felt were exactly like me, cheated of the emotional value of their money by big stores, fast food, systems without affection."

While still in her first location, Debby hired her first employee when she found someone at another business who "had a knack for engaging strangers in brief but delightful conversations".

"We had a terrific thing together, working side by side in the store. And as others joined us, they were brought into what amounted to a conspiracy to have a good time, to turn a job into play and make it at least a small joy to come to work every morning."

What a great corporate culture!

Debby relates to us a great governing principle, put simply, "The more we did for our customers, the more they did for us. I had always been taught that life was the other way around - that you had to make sure you got what was coming to you - but in practice the opposite was true."

In contrast to the way many franchises do business, Mrs. Fields doesn't just give employees the rote task of putting together a pre-portioned, bulk produced, assembly line style cookie.

"What we do is teach people all over the world, on four continents, how to be excellent, artful, instinctive bakers."

Her company's motto, "Good enough never is", encourages people to go above and beyond, to produce an excellent product, and never to settle for just good enough.

This book is chock full of not just chocolate chips, but tasty morsels of savvy business advice for anyone who really truly wants to chase their dreams of excellence.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

In the President's Secret Service by Ronald Kessler

 Ronald Kessler delivers a book about the inner workings of the Secret Service, dishes up some juicy presidential gossip, stale by this point, and delivers a few scathing criticisms of an organization which is responsible for keeping our democratically elected leaders alive. It's interesting that this book was written before the recent scandals involving parties and hookers and Secret Service agents on foreign assignment broke a couple of years ago. It just seems to me that in any organization, lack of good leadership and strong moral fiber leads to corruption, over and over again.

I'll not repeat all of the bad things that former agents related to Kessler about several former presidents and their family members, but none of them were all that shocking. Though serial womanizing would have taken some of them down to the dustbin of history if they had been caught at the time, we see in the light of Clinton's Lewinski scandal that such character defects are no longer even viewed by the public as detrimental to a president's reputation nor effectiveness.

One small bit I found interesting:

"While in office, Reagan never showed the effects of Alzheimer's disease, which ultimately led to his death. 'We had a hundred twenty agents on his detail, and he seemed to remember everyone's name,' (Agent) Smith says....But in March 1998, 'He would just stop in midsentence and forget what he was saying,' Chomicki recalls. 'Then he would just start a whole new story.'"

The Great Communicator falls.

And of minor personal interest:

Bush flew to a fundraiser in Boise, Idaho, and dined at the Charthouse in Garden City "on the banks of the Colorado River" Kessler writes.

LOL. Mr. Kessler needs a short geography lesson. Last time I checked the Colorado was not flowing through downtown Boise. The story of the Secret Service jumping two men in camo carrying guns on the banks of the Boise River didn't play out the way I expected. In Idaho, on that river, there are a lot of duck hunters, but the detainees had slightly more sinister motives, all unaware of the presence of the leader of the free world nearby.

All in all, an interesting viewpoint on one of our most important government agencies.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Streak

I want to apologize to those who come here looking strictly for my thoughts on fiction. This week, and part of the next appear to be coming up with non fiction. For some reason, it's been easier to finish those types of books for me than to slug my way through the latest novel, possibly because a couple of them turned out to be shorter than expected, but I should be back to an urban fantasy early next week.

Nikola Tesla by Sean Patrick

So, this book was not at all what I was expecting. I've been looking for a good biography of Tesla to enjoy for a while. He was an amazing man, responsible for many inventions, including A/C power generators, which we use today, and also somewhat of a mystery, as he is reputed to have invented some things that never saw the light of day again after his death, when his papers disappeared and/or were destroyed.

Instead, it contains a much abbreviated bio, sandwiched between Patrick's sales pitch for some other book he has written about how to harness your creativity and inner genius. I noticed he has some other purported biographies available on Amazon, which most likely are the same sort of thing. The most positive thing I can say about this book was that it was free.

Still searching for a good Tesla bio, for a reasonable fee.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Sword-Bound by Jennifer Roberson

 Eagerly anticipated, completely unexpected, so exciting to finally get a chance to read more adventures with Tiger & Del. I have often reflected on how, in order to catch and keep my interest, an author has to create characters that "hook" me right from the beginning, and it was that way for me with the SandTiger and Delilah long, long ago. I read Sword Dancer first and eagerly jumped upon subsequent books in the series as they came along, enjoying the reunion with old friends. I'm not entirely certain that someone trying to jump in on the seventh book in the series would immediately feel that sort of bond, so I'd recommend starting at the beginning, they're all in print on Amazon these days. I may have to go back and re-read and review them for the site at some point, too. One wouldn't have to twist my arm very hard to make me do so.

The Sandtiger has become "domesticated". He and Del have a permanent residence, where Tiger teaches sword dancing, without the oaths and formality which he was schooled in. He is still an outlaw, and any sword dancer can demand a dance to the death. It turns out that the tanzeer, Umit, has also placed a bounty on his head, and wants Tiger to come remove the spell he placed on the grimoire that Tiger traded for his son, Neesha. The problem is that Tiger gave up all his magic, poured it into his jivatma, and then broke and buried the sword, so he can't give Umit what he wants even should he want to - he doesn't.

When Tiger is made aware of his domesticity, he and Del and his son decide to go adventuring once more, leaving their daughter, Sula, in the loving care of their friends and neighbors, Amit and Lena.

On their journey, Tiger is constantly made to confront other sword dancers who are either lured by the possibility of defeating the legend, offended by his apostasy and willing to kill him, or hoping to capture him for Umit's bounty. He also has to confront something he hasn't had to deal with very often before, the aches and pains that come with old age, and the long recovery time for injuries, and he just can't handle the aquiva hangovers any more.

The three of them hire on as caravan guards for a while, to help pay for their journey to visit Neesha's mother and stepfather, who raise horses in the Borderlands between the deserts of the South and the Forests of the North. Neesha is a third level sword dancer, but he also struggles with a new experience, killing a man, when a battle with borjuni raiders turns deadly.

When they arrive at his family's, they find the house burned down, the horses missing, his stepfather unconscious from a head injury, his mother raped, and his sister kidnapped by the borjuni. So Tiger and Del take on a whole new mission, rescuing the damsel in distress, recovering the stolen horses, and killing the men who are responsible. Just another day in the life for these two, aside from a few odd wrinkles that keep things amusing. Tiger proves the old adage about age and treachery beating youth and skill most days.

This is a good return to the story, and best of all, Roberson says she's writing another already. I can't wait.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

To Sail a Darkling Sea by John Ringo

 I don't know what anyone else's beef with John Ringo is, but my major complaint is that reading his novels always leaves me short on sleep, after I keep pushing myself past my bedtime - they're just that much fun! Listen, there's nothing earthshattering in the second book in his Black Tide Rising series, it's mostly more of the same, focusing on the next steps in rescuing survivors of the zombie plague on the high seas, and sending the zombies themselves to Davy Jones' Locker (no, not the guy from the Partridge Family, kids).

The POV in this book bounces around a little bit, as we get to know a few new characters, but mostly remains focused on the Smith family, especially Faith, then Sophia, Captain Steve, and very little about Mom Stacey. The flotilla makes its way to the Canary Islands to avoid hurricane season in the Caribbean, and proceeds to liberate a number of boats, destroy massive zombie hordes, and rescue plague survivors. Once hurricane season is over, Smith plans to take the fleet back to Guantanamo and try to clear all zombies from the area, so he can take over the old U.S. Marine base facilities to try to manufacture vaccines for the plague.

He has the full backing, for what it's worth, of the remaining U.S. command authority holed up in the Rockies somewhere, and the full attention of the submarine crews in the Atlantic, who have so far been isolated from the mutated virus which caused the plague, and dare not leave their boats until a vaccine is widely available.

One of the points that Ringo seems to be making here is that there are some people who are simply natural born killers. They are simply not affected by the same sort of weakening emotions as other people, are somewhat sociopathic in certain areas, and are simply able to turn off their fear and wade right into battle. I think he gives the subject some play in the Paladin of Shadows series, as well. Faith is seriously a warrior woman, even at age 13, and her sister Sophia is not all that far behind. Both of the girls are given (earn, really) commissions as officers for the duration of the crisis, and have to learn the skills to lead others who aren't stone cold trigger tigers.

There are some frank discussions of rank and discipline issues regarding any armed forces, post-plague economics, and strategies and tactics for saving the world. We've seen some of this in the Troy Rising series, so this particular series is very much a wedding of two of Ringo's favorite themes.

Lots of battle, some serious partying, and mostly just good clean, though bloody fun!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Lines of Departure by Marko Kloos

 Now that the Earth is at war with the alien "Lankies" 80 foot tall quadrupeds who are stealing our terraformed planets and remodeling them to their liking, you would think that the Russians, Chinese and the North Americans would all decide it was time to get along and fight the common enemy, but you'd be wrong, if you're reading Lines of Departure, second in Kloos' series about Andrew Grayson and his friends.

It's said that life in the military is months and months of boredom punctuated by short periods of sheer terror. At least Kloos doesn't inflict on us the long, boring stretches, he merely references them in Andrew's occasional musings, and we don't get the blow by blow description of how he made each and every rank in the service, just a snapshot of each career decision.

In a way, it seems like Kloos has a checklist of all of the possible scenarios for interesting types of battles fought in the alternate future he's created. In this book, Andrew begins with a combat drop on New Wales, where he is responsible for calling in nuclear strikes on the Lankies' terraformers and settlements. After that mission ends well, for a change, he gets some leave time and spends part of it with his mother on Earth, where we get a brief glimpse of what life outside the welfare PRCs is like, at least, then he heads to the Moon Base where his girlfriend Halley is stationed as an instructor.

His next mission, which should be a cakewalk compared to fighting the giant aliens, is to destroy a Sino-Russian force guarding one of their colony worlds, so that the North American Union can take possession, is going so well that I was really starting to worry. Justifiably, as just as he and his allies are about to wrap things up, the aliens appear on the scene and manage to destroy most of the Earth fleet. Only by disobeying a direct order is Andrew able to get most of his platoon off planet, where they are aided and abetted by a spaceship captain who puts the safety of his men ahead of all else, and manages to get them a ride back to Earth despite long odds against them.

One always knows, when James Bond falls for one of the Bond Girls in the movies, that the poor dear is going to come to a bad end, usually. And one wonders, after Halley and Andrew decide to get married in six months, whether Andrew is going to be able to fulfill his promise to return to the Moon for his nuptials on time - the storytelling conventions would seem to be against it.

And, indeed, his next assignment takes him to a metaphorical Siberia, where Andrew and other troublemakers, including his old Staff Sergeant Fallon, are supposed to take control of a civilian research facility, while Earth locks down its FTL network to keep the Lankies away from the home system. Andrew just can't seem to stay out of trouble, though, and he and his old allies from the TA get up to more mischief that is really going to land him in hot water if he ever gets the chance to return home.

More good storytelling, wondering what the conclusion to the trilogy will bring.