Friday, October 31, 2014

The Rods and the Axe by Tom Kratman

 Tom Kratman continues the ongoing saga of Carrera's war on Terra Nova here. There is a great deal of detail given relating to how his tercias continue to prepare and dig in for the anticipated attack from the Tauran Union and the Zhang Empire, some good political shenanigans, and some fun stuff from his "ministry of dirty tricks".

I've learned from watching BSU football games over the years that, even if you're known for having a lot of trick plays up your sleeve (like Carrera), you still have to have a good solid skill set of offensive and defensive strategies and tactics in order to win, and I think that the author is quite aware of that, while still providing enough exciting confusion and misdirection to keep the readers entertained.

Kratman may be the only author I can think of off of the top of my head in the military science fiction field, besides David Weber, who can pull off the massively multi-POV story well. I'm not terribly good at visualizing all of the locations on his world, or keeping track of all of the different officers and soldiers and government officials on the multi-front conflict, but he gives me just enough referents to keep moving along with it.

A good, solid step forward in the story line, which was only irritating in that it ended after four hundred pages or so with "To be continued..." Drat! I was really hoping to see the Zhang and Taurans brought to their knees at last.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Around the Web

A book review at Shiny Book Review. No surprises there, but it's very very snarky. Enjoy.

Mariner Valley by James Crawford

A while back I read, enjoyed and reviewed a novel for a new author. When he asked me to review his science fiction novel, it sounded like fun, so I had him ship me a copy, which I read while I was hanging out at my friend's mountain cabin, fishing for a few days.

Mariner Valley is a well-written tale with a classic story line. In fact, I'm fairly certain I've seen it in various incarnations a number of times, as a Western movie. A lawman from a frontier town is getting ready to move back to the big city, but when the daughter of local officials is raped and murdered, he is convinced to saddle up one last time to go hunt down the dirty rotten scoundrels who did the deed, then hightailed it for the border. He gathers up a posse and they ride out through the dust and the sandstorms and hostile conditions, encountering various obstacles along the way, until at last they catch up with the crooks and have a shootout.

Am I right?

Ok, so the small frontier town is on the planet Mars, and the lawman, Benjamin O'Ryan, is getting ready to return to Earth, when the powers that be beg him to take on the task of hunting down a gang of vicious criminals led by a man named Lansing. He gathers up a crew of auxiliary police force (deputies?) and a few regulars and they jump in rovers to chase after the gang, who are trying to reach Russian territory, where they believe they will be safe from prosecution.

There is just about the right amount of exposition about Mars, its moons, the environment on the surface so that it never bogs down, delivered by various methods, such as when one of the, er, posse members turns out to be an amateur astronomer and gives a short lecture in the midst of casual conversation, or when we learn all about the criminals in the gang when O'Ryan goes over their dossiers in a briefing with his people. There are a few other instances where the massive data dump is skillfully avoided, while giving us the information we need to believe we're along on this Martian expedition.

Some of Ben's crew have some authority issues, and one of them may be a secret drug addict, which could pose a security risk, and he stumbles into some extra complication when he and one of his deputies, Beth, manage to stumble into a relationship while on their mission. He also has to fight his people's and his own tendencies to take matters of vengeance into their own hands when they finally do catch up to the gang, as both we and they have been treated to further atrocities left behind by Lansing's men. There's even a good barroom brawl scene, just to add to the Western flavor.

A good read, a good first effort. Let's hope Mr. Crawford writes a few more, as I could definitely see a series in the works for Inspector O'Ryan.

Around the Web

A book review on Bookworm Room.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Monday, October 20, 2014

And Falling, Fly by Skyler White

 Dark dark dark. Those beings that we call vampires are fallen angels, who subsist on the blood and emotions of their victims, Olivia, the Angel of Desire, believes that the only way she can be restored to her former, unfallen, state is if a human actually loves her for herself, rather than being merely infatuated and "in lust" with her. Other vamps seem to revel in their fallen state, and have no need for redemption.

Dominic O'Shaugnessy is a brain chemistry researcher in California who may or may not be victim of a curse which forces him to be reincarnated endlessly, with full "flashback" memories of all of the wives and children he has had to bury over the centuries. The team for which he works is trying to find a way to biochemically remove specific memories for trauma victims, and he has a vested interest in the success of the project, so when a wealthy benefactor is willing to give him millions for his research so that he can remove the "false memories" leading to her goddaughter's obsession with vampirism, he leaps at the chance.

White's prose is at times evocative, novel and creative.

"-but Adam's end-of-day reunion ritual dictates that we confess our grievances using the form of the employee's creed... I elect to berate The Client, the mysterious entity who pays our salaries and thus, in a market economy, is our superior and therefore, in American mythology, our inferior. Adam recites his day in the Idiot Boss variation..."

But....I just didn't quite frankly give a hoot about what happened to anyone in this book.

If you like it dark and twisted, give Skyler White a try.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Witchfinder by Sarah Hoyt

 Once again, I have nothing truly new to report on the subject of Sarah Hoyt's novels. Love the blog, just can't bring myself to like her novels. I try, I really do.

Witchfinder starts out to be a story about a Duke in the world of Avalon who travels between worlds to save the lives of witches in other worlds, who are often persecuted or killed outright. His job used to be an official one in the kingdom, but was outlawed recently, so he must do it in secret.

After that, it becomes a story about a lost princess, all kinds of improbable half breeds of fairies and humans, fairies and dragons, centaurs and humans, and a small group's insane ambition to rape multiple worlds of their magic, gold and power. All of the POV characters seem to do far too much soul-searching, and get teleported about madly while trying to get to the heart of the conspiracy, save the kingdom, and rescue the princess.

Once again, I had to force myself to push through to the end. Life is too short.

Ah well.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Moneyball by Michael Lewis

 Baseball is not a topic that interests me greatly. I don't play it, nor do I watch it on the Tube, and aside from the superstar celebrities of the sport that one can't help hearing about...on Jeopardy...I couldn't give you the name of a pro ball player if my life depended on it. However, Michael Lewis has a talent for making otherwise uninteresting or impenetrable topics come alive, as he has in several other works I've read, and they (the ubiquitous ones) made this book into a movie a while back, so I figured, "How bad could it be?"

After years of professional scouts determining who would be drafted to play professional ball, out of the hordes of high school and college players available, Oakland As manager Billy Beane finally decided to apply science and statistics to the process, and consistently produced a winning team on one of the lowest budgets in the league.

The way in which Lewis makes his writing more interesting than you'd think the subject would bear is in finding the backstories. He tells us about the baseball fanatics who first began to look at the statistics generated by major league ball and decide that something was missing, and that people who owned and managed teams were making decisions based on faulty assumptions, such as Bill James.

A quote from him I could relate to:
"I learned to write because I am one of those people who somehow cannot manage the common communications of smiles and gestures, but must use words to get across things that other people would never need to say."

Another fan who wrote about the hidden art of baseball was Pete Palmer:
"Managers tend to pick a strategy that is least likely to fail rather than pick a strategy that is most efficient. The pain of looking bad is worse than the gain of making the best move."

One of my OMG moments was when I read the following:

"Of course, no one in pro sports ever admits to quitting. But it was perfectly possible to abandon all hope of winning and at the same time show up every day for work to collect a paycheck. Professional sports had a word for this: "rebuilding." That's what half a dozen big league teams did more or less all the time."

Holy frijoles! My Broncos are in a "rebuilding" year.

As always, with a Lewis book, I learned something.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Fated by Benedict Jacka

 It was difficult for me, at first glance, to determine whether this is a ripoff of the Harry Dresden books by Butcher, or should be considered a tribute to them. So much of the big picture remains the same. Alex Verus is a diviner who runs a small arcana shop in London, and most of the mundane folks around him don't have any idea that magic exists, and would make fun of him for saying it did. There is a world-spanning magicians' Council, with Dark and Light mages. Verus was the apprentice of a Dark mage, but escaped that life, and is not well regarded by the Council; he's just a bit of a renegade, and his little respect for authority. He has an apprentice, Luna, whom he tries to protect by not telling her much about what's really going on.

Starting to sound familiar?

Diviners, as a branch of magicians, have the ability to find out nearly anything, with the right technique and effort. When a Precursor artifact is discovered, both the Dark and Light want to control it, but it has been locked away with some major defensive spells, and when all the other Diviners make themselves scarce, Verus is the default go-to guy for all the factions. He resists getting involved at first, but eventually he is made an offer he can't refuse, and ends up trying to play both ends against the middle, since he realizes that (as the adage goes) anyone who wants the sort of power that the artifact will grant really shouldn't have that much power in the first place.

Of course, as is de rigeur in urban fantasy these days, he has to undergo some intense personal growth and deal with his memories of past traumas before he can move forward.

Looks like there are several more sequels available, so I'll have to throw them on the virtual TBR pile.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Blessing by Gary Smalley and John Trent

 Something I was reading must have pointed me to this book by Smalley and Trent. I've enjoyed reading Gary Smalley's books ever since I heard him speak at a Promise Keepers conference  a decade or so ago, but unfortunately this one was so dated that I had very few takeaways, and got about five or six chapters in before giving up on it as a waste of time for me at this point in my life.

Smalley and Trent begin with the concept of the biblical patriarchal blessing and stretch a point nearly to the point of breaking showing how children and adults are negatively affected by not being "blessed" by their parents and other loved ones.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

A PSA on Drug Expiration Dates

I've often wondered what, exactly, is supposed to happen to the chemical compounds in your prescription drugs or in those bottles of vitamins people are always telling you that you have to throw away on the expiration date. Unless they're a biological compound, or in a liquid suspension, which could possibly deteriorate, stable compounds don't simply disappear from a sealed plastic bottle, usually.

From a medical journal, I gank the following:

"It turns out that the expiration date on a drug does stand for something, but probably not what you think it does. Since a law was passed in 1979, drug manufacturers are required to stamp an expiration date on their products. This is the date at which the manufacturer can still guarantee the full potency and safety of the drug.

Most of what is known about drug expiration dates comes from a study conducted by the Food and Drug Administration at the request of the military. With a large and expensive stockpile of drugs, the military faced tossing out and replacing its drugs every few years. What they found from the study is 90% of more than 100 drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, were perfectly good to use even 15 years after the expiration date.

So the expiration date doesn't really indicate a point at which the medication is no longer effective or has become unsafe to use. Medical authorities state expired drugs are safe to take, even those that expired years ago. A rare exception to this may be tetracycline, but the report on this is controversial among researchers. It's true the effectiveness of a drug may decrease over time, but much of the original potency still remains even a decade after the expiration date. Excluding nitroglycerin, insulin, and liquid antibiotics, most medications are as long-lasting as the ones tested by the military. Placing a medication in a cool place, such as a refrigerator, will help a drug remain potent for many years."


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Revenant by Kat Richardson

 With this, the ninth in the Greywalker series, we suddenly find ourselves a long way afield with Harper Blaine when Quinton's father, James Purliss, turns up in the middle of a plot to gain supernatural power in Portugal. Harper calls upon the vampire, Carlos, for help in getting her out of the country without anyone who might be watching noticing that she's gone, and he has her shipped in a coffin to his family's home in Lisbon, in the heart of the Alfama district.

My surmise is that Richardson has recently enjoyed a trip to Portugal (it turns out in the afterwords that she planned it but had to cancel), and decided to make use of her research in this novel. My wife and I visited Portugal a couple of years ago, and so it's proven vastly entertaining as I read this novel to find myself recognizing and visualizing the places Harper and Quinton go, such as when they get on the train to Cascais, where we have family, and spent a great deal of our time, or talk about the castle of St. George, a lovely place to visit and picnic at the crown of a hill in Lisboa, or she mentions in passing the pilgrims crawling on their knees to the shrine in Fatima.

When Harper arrives, she finds out that Purliss has kidnapped his own granddaughter, Soraia, who has budding supernatural talents, and has given her to his allies, the bone mages, who are building a spell which will have apocalyptic results in Portugal, giving them vast power. Quinton, Harper, and Carlos must rescue the girl from the mages, and find a way to thwart their plans. When Carlos is nearly destroyed by the apprentice of an old enemy, one of the mages, Harper's desperate sacrifice to save his life leaves the two of them changed, perhaps in ways which will affect the path of the plot arc eventually.

A marvelous (hopefully temporary) finale to the Grewalker series.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Affinity Bridge by George Mann

 Trying to get a handle on this thing they call Steampunk. Most of it seems to run in the Victorian era, with odd technological upgrades, mixed with odd bits of the supernatural. I suppose it beats coming up with a truly new and exciting fantasy realm, just like urban fantasy, which tends to operate by weaving modernity with witches, werewolves and vampires going bump in the night. Not to be confused with Cyberpunk, which I read a lot of back in the day. Now, of course, many of those futures are coming true before our eyes.

In The Affinity Bridge, there seems to be a plague of revenants bent on murder and cannibalism in Queen Victoria's London (which is oddly coincidental as the next book on my TBR pile is called Revenant). In the midst of the plague, Crown Investigator Sir Maurice Newbury and his assistant Veronica Hobbes become involved in investigating a series of murders by a glowing policeman in the White Chapel area of London, and the horrific crash of an airship which killed all on board, and which has political implications.

The plot, and the solving of the mysteries, is not really all that exciting, but there are some aspects of the book that might bode well for future plots. Veronica's sister, Amelia, is a psychic who can see visions of the future, but she has been locked in an asylum where they treat her for her seizures. Queen Victoria has been kept alive beyond her natural span of years by the machines created by Dr. Fabian, and he and his assistant, The Fixer, seem to have some interesting medical treatments up their sleeves. Newbury's friend, Scotland Yard detective Charles Bainbridge, demonstrates a nifty sword cane that works like a taser, so there may be some other cool inventions from the Victorian Q Branch, as well.

Not one of those "oh my gosh, I can't wait to read the next one", but probably worth following up on when things are slow on the TBR pile.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Islands of Rage and Hope by John Ringo

 Too much of the early going in Islands is devoted to the struggle Faith is having with acting as a Marine Lieutenant, being a 13 year old girl, mind you. Of course, after any marine sees her in battle, their respect for her borders on hero worship, so Ringo could have foregone all of this angst and moved the plot along a little more swiftly. The second flaw for me in this book was that the whole plot feels like a big wargame, "if we had to retake the entire world after a zombie apocalypse, where would be the best place to start, given the resources stipulated, etc." When the strategy gaming overwhelms the zombie killing, then you've really lost most of what holds my interest in this series. Third, for whatever reason, Ringo decided that the results of "what happens in the compartment..." would be a couple thousand pregnancies, and combined that with the statistics on pre-modern medicine mother and infant mortality, and devoted a big chunk of plot time to our heroes figuring out how to minimize the damages - the jury remains out at the end of the book.

That said, once things got rolling in the latter third of the book, there was plenty of whack-a-zombie for everyone. We finally get to find out who "Walker" was in his previous life, which is cool, too. I got to thinking about about Ringo's basic premises here, that there would be no land-based cities still active after a zombie plague, and while I get the idea of limiting the Vs in multi POV, here, I think it likely that there would be far more survivors in some of the rural areas, given their lesser dependency on technology in the first place, the lesser population density, and the fact that a ton of heartlanders have thousands of rounds of ammo for the guns to which they bitterly cling.

Anyway, I was glad I didn't pay over $20 to add this book to the collection, but borrowed it from the local library. I'm interested to see where the story goes next, but I hope it goes there without so much ado about nothing, this time.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Apollo's Outcasts by Allen Steele

 This book reads like a pastiche or homage to several of Heinlein's juvenile works, and a couple of his novels for adult readers, too, such as Between Planets, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and Thet Menace from Earth, right off the top of my head. Jamie, Melissa and Jan are the children of a scientific bureaucrat within the international space agency who signed a petition to keep the Helium 3 resources out of the greedy claws of the current Vice President of the United States. When the President dies suddenly, allegedly assassinated by PSU (Chinese) agents, and the VP takes power, he realizes that he is in danger, and that his children can be used as leverage against him, so he sends them off - to the Moon - for safety.

This is a heavily disguised blessing for Jamey, who was born on the Moon, but who has lived his life on earth up to the age of sixteen in a powered mobile (read wheelchair) since his bones and muscles are not strong enough to support him on Earth unassisted. So, though it is emotionally traumatic and all very suspenseful, Jamie really blossoms...or perhaps soars is a better term, when he arrives at the lunar colony of Apollo. Jamey's best friend, Logan, is also along for the ride, as are the two children of another family of scientists, , one of whom is developmentally disabled, which turns out to be a brilliant gadget whereby Steele can do some expository work, explaining simple things about the Moon and its colony. At the last minute, before they board their shuttle to the Moon, Jamey's older sister, Jan, is replaced by Hannah "Smith", who arrives suddenly in a limousine, accompanied by Men in Black. It's all very mysterious to Jamie, but not so much to the rest of us.

After that, it's all mostly a coming of age novel, set in lunar orbit, complete with bullies, teenage angst and know-it-all atttitude, and a tale of rebellion against tyranny where boy gets girl in the end.
A good, innocent read. Steele has written so many great books over the years, and this one adds to his legacy.