Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Infinity Bell by Devon Monk


Matilda and her co-conspirators are being hunted by nearly all the houses, from one end of the continent to the other. Her brother has concluded that the world as they know it is about to come to an end, and they must find their grandmother's diary which will give them the clues they need to travel back in time to the Wings of Mercury event, and re-ring the bell which created the Immortals. I got about  third of the way into this book and realized that, as I suspected by the end of House Immortal, I simply didn't care what happened any more.

Monk has written plenty of better stuff.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Summer Doldrums

I apologize for the lack of posting here. The summer's events and travels have really slowed down my reading. I have three (oops, four) books I'm working on semi-simultaneously, one of which I started over two weeks ago, but can't quite seem to finish any of them.

May have to come up with something new to talk about.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Tor Boycott

You can read all about the Tor Boycott here.

All I have to say at this point is, "I'm in."

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Grendel Affair by Lisa Shearin

So, Amazon kept displaying this book for me, based on other books I'd ordered, and being the cautiously frugal sort, I decided to check it out from the local library rather than spend my own dime. This was a pretty good yarn, with a few new twists on the monster hunter theme. Makenna Fraser is a former reporter for an Inquirer-like tabloid who has been recruited by SPI (Supernatural Protection and Investigation) as a seer - she can see beyond the illusions that supernatural creatures wear to pass in the human world.

When a man turns up dismembered in the office of a friend for whom she is doing the favor of capturing a preternatural pest, it is the beginning of a rather more dangerous adventure than any bit of investigative journalism. It turns out to be part of the opening salvo in a war between the supernaturals, including the head of SPI, who believe that they need to remain hidden from humanity, and those who believe they should take their rightful place at the top of the food chain, restoring their glory days when humans hid from the dark.

One of the interesting and unique things Shearin introduces in this novel is the appearance of a breeding pair of grendels, the beasts from the Beowulf saga, who are going to turn a New York Rockin' New Years Eve into a highly visible bloodbath if Agent Fraser and her partner, Ian, and the rest of SPI's heroes don't stop them. The only little quibble I have here is that Grendel was the name of the monster in the saga, and using the term as a generic description of the type is similar to using Pegasus to identify every winged horse in a D&D game.

Light, quick, entertaining read, with a good sense of humor. Might even have to pick up the sequel if the library ever buys a copy.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Angles of Attack by Marko Kloos

I felt almost like there was a missing short story in between the second and third novels in the Frontline series. At the beginning of my last review I mentioned how the Russians, Chinese and Ameriicans were still feuding despite the Lankies attacking all of Earth's colonies.This books jumps right into middle of a joint operation between the Eurasian forces allied with the Americans, fighting their common alien foe. Maybe I've forgotten something.

Anyway, the Earth forces out on ice planet Svalbard are soon approaching a time when they and the civilians on the planet will eat their way through all the supplies, and there has been no resupply or communication from Earth for a long time. So, a daring plan is hatched to run the Lankie blockade of the Solar System to make contact with the Earth forces and to see what can be done about relief. Our old comrades, Sergeants Grayson and Fallons, are along for the duration, and we get to live in interesting times along with them.

When they arrive, the situation is very strange. Mars has been overrun, and the forces orbiting Earth do not seem to trust the returnees, quarantining the and locking down their communications. Things come to a head when they take Andrew in for interrogation, leaving him in need of rescue by some of his bad companions - another day, another mutiny.

With the help of one of Andrew's new Russian friends, Dmitri, they escape the clutches of the powers on Earth (who turn out to be cowards fleeing the solar system) and re-run the blockade in reverse to report on the situation to the remainder of the fleet on Svalbard. After a deal of discussion, it's once more unto the breach for a second voyage back to the home system, where they make contact with the flight school on the Moon, where - Yay! - Andrew's fiancee, Hailey, is a flight instructor.

They "borrow" a bunch of fighter spacecraft and their student pilots and make tracks to attack a Lankie mothership which has made it all the way into Earth orbit. Great mayhem ensues.

I'm not so certain now that this is going to end as a trilogy. It appears Kloos has left room for a sequel or two. I look forward to finding out.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Pocket Apocalypse by Seanan McGuire

It seems like a mistake to call this book Urban Fantasy, since it takes place for the most part in the Outback - not the popular restaurant, either. When the Thirty Six Society, a group of cryptozoologists down under, encounter their first werewolf infestation their leader Riley reaches out to his daughter, Shelby Tanner, and she drags Alex out of his comfort zone at the zoo to help contain the outbreak, all the way across the ocean.

Incidentally, this gives him an opportunity to get to know the family that he's probably going to be a part of someday, when he and Shelby finally tie the knot. Unfortunately, they're not particularly happy to see him, for various reasons, and his time there is fraught with the difficulties of Meet the Parents, as well as using his experience with North American lycanthropes to help them kill or cure the local ones.

He actually gets along better with the local Incryptid population than the humans, which works out well when he is able to enlist their help dealing with the werewolves. Alex turns up some new and startling facts about werewolves that his family did not know, or perhaps simply chose not to relate, which complicate matters.

One little plot piece that I didn't think was all that great was when the main villain of the story tries to "talk Alex to death" much like the Bond villains. Just do what you're gonna do already, buddy. No wonder your side always loses.

A fun little story. Wonder if the POV is going to shift to another sibling now. Maybe even one of Shelby's.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

By the People by Charles Murray

 I'm a big Charles Murray fan, but this one was a little disappointing to me. The first third of the book describes some of the problems he perceives with the out of control growth of government interference in the lives of U.S. citizens, but I thought his prescription for dealing with the regulatory state and perhaps rolling back some of its excesses was a little lame. The last third of the book simply seems to be a rehash of some of the research he's described in other works, such as Coming Apart.

I was surprised to see here that "The American Bar Association's Canons of Professional Ethics explicitly forbade 'stirring up litigation, directly or through agents.'" at one point in time. I can barely remember a time without ambulance chasers and other leeches.

Evidently, at one point in time the purpose of tort law was simply to "make whole" some person who had been harmed by the negligence of another. If no negligence was involved, no compensation was owed. Such cases were few. In 1944, there was a California Supreme Court decision which set the precedent for the situation we have today involving strict liability - a defendant can be forced to pay damages even if no negligence occurred. And the floodgates were opened to all the frivolous and damaging lawsuits of the last half century.

In the matter of the Executive Branch choosing which of Congress' laws to enforce,

"Presidents have been pushing against the limits on their powers since George Washington, and that tendency has increased as the limits on government have loosened over the last seventy years...a broad range of constitutional scholars agree that President Obama's unilateral actions (on changing the provisions of the Affordable Care Act and selectively enforcing immigration laws) are not the thin edge of a wedge. He is merely pounding an existing wedge deeper into constitutional limits on presidential power."

Perhaps the most damning chapter in this book is the one titled A Systematically Corrupt Political System.

"..today's political process has produced politicians who, while keeping within the law, do things that are operationally indistinguishable from the way Third World kleptocrats operate."

Think about these identifying factors.

In a corrupt system:

  • Government Service is a Way to Get Rich
  • You Pay for Access to the Authorities
  • Officials Shake Down Businesses
  • Public Officials Shower Their Friends with Gifts
  • Bribes Produce Results Independently of Political Principle

Think about it a bit.

One of the examples that got me a little hot,

"...the Wireless Tax Fairness Act was expected to come to a vote in the fall of 2011. It was supported by the cell-phone industry, had broad bipartisan support, and was certain to pass. But for months House Speaker John Boehner did not bring the bill to the floor for a vote. FinbVerizon sent checks to members of Congress, both Democrat and Republican."

It's called "tollbooth" charges by author P.eter Schweizer.

Murray's fundamental theory of political corruption.

"Corruption in the political process varies directly with the number and value of things that politicians have to sell."

and his fundamental theory of democratic politics,

"People who receive government benefits tend to vote for people who support those benefits."

This applies equally to middle class Social Security recipients, welfare mothers, farmers with sugar subsidies, and multi-billion dollar defense contractors.

There's a pretty good chapter towards the end of the book about the government shakedown of big businesses in the practice of levying large fines in negotiated "sealed", or secret settlements.

"If the government has been behaving with integrity in this process, and exposure of the sealed settlements would reveal that the companies have behaved badly enough to warrant their multibillion-dollar settlements, then corporations have no choice but to start behaving better. (this is the Progressive position on corporations js) But if it is the government that has been behaving badly, selectively choosing what regulations to enforce against whom so as to yield a large cash windfall (my naturally suspicious libertarian bent makes me believe this more likely js), corporate America will have to start asking itself whether it can coexist peacefully with the regulatory state."

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Calvanni by Chris McMahon

Sorry folks, just couldn't get into this one, and put it down after a while. Another one where I just didn't give a hoot about any of the characters after having met them.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Every so often I get all weepy and sentimental about my old favorite authors and stories, and have to drag their dusty spines off the shelves to re-read. That, after all, is why I acquired such a huge collection; you never know what the mood will strike you to read at 3 AM on a sleepless night.

So, I cracked the figurative cover on the first book in the Harry Dresden series the other night, and got to spend a bit of time with a very old friend.

One of the first things I noticed was how many things the writers, producers and casting agents of the short-lived TV series The Dresden Files got wrong. This may be why it wasn't supported by fans and renewed for a second season on the Sci Fi Channel, though I thought it was delightful in its own right, and would have been a touch anticlimactic if it had simply followed the story line of the novels slavishly.

Harry's detective friend, Karen Murphy, is described in the book as a blonde, not the brunette played by Valerie Cruz. Harry drives a blue, battered Volkswagen, not a Land Rover. Morgan is not an enigmatic and intelligent black man, he's a dull Scottish thug in the books.

Storm Front introduces us to most of the important characters in Butcher's Chicago, including Gentleman Johnny Marcone, the ruthless yet charming ruler of the mundane underworld, Detective Carmichael, Murphy's skeptical sidekick, ace investigative reporter Susan, the pizza-loving faery, Toot, neutral (like the Swiss) bar proprietor MacAnally, and the beautiful yet deadly vampire, Bianca, who runs the elegant brothel, the Velvet Room.

 Note, in the TV series, Harry and Bianca were once romantically involved, in the books Harry discovers Bianca's true form early in the game, and is never fooled by her semblance of humanity after that.

One point of congruence is that in both the novels and the show Harry is on probation with the White Council, wizardry's governing body, for the murder - or self defense killing - of his uncle, Justin Mornay, a black wizard if ever there was one.

Plot summary - People are being murdered with black magic in Chicago. Murphy asks for Harry's help to investigate, but both she and Morgan, as the White Council's representative are not certain that Harry himself isn't the perpetrator. He's also been hired to find a woman's missing husband, and the two cases rapidly become intertwined and knotty.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Forge a New Blade by Peter Grant

 In Forge a New Blade, Grant continues the story of how the Laredo government in exile finds a way to drive the occupying Bactrian forces from their planet. President Pro Tem, Dave, gets introduced to our old friend Steve Maxwell, of the Lancastrian fleet, who has been recruited into the branch responsible for plausibly deniable operations, it appears. The Lancastrians want Laredo to form and possibly lead a coalition of small colonies against the forces of piracy and annexation, like the Bactrians,

One of the themes that the author explores in this book is that of  bad guys who aren't necessarily bad, from an omniscient POV. In this case, the original hawkish coalition which invaded Laredo and perpetrated war crimes and other atrocities on its populace are the true villains - unrepentant - while the new ruler of Bactria, having succeeded his father to the uneasy throne, would like to withdraw his forces from the occupation, but is hamstrung by needing to appease the nobles and military leaders who began the  invasion to increase their own power. If he comes out and opposes them directly, he risks losing the throne, and incidentally, his life.

So, there's some great plotting and scheming going on on Bactria, while the rebellion simmers on Laredo and other parts of the galaxy. You find yourself hoping that somehow, some way, President Dave and Satrap Rostom could just get together for a few drinks and figure out a way to thwart the crazed plans of the rich and powerful, but it'd be a short story in that case.

Another great bit of military SF from Peter Grant. Can't wait for the sequel, or a new Maxwell Saga book.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris

On another recent road trip, my wife picked out this book by Charlaine Harris which we had both read before - a number of years ago when it first came out, so it wouldn't be completely familiar, but at least would provide some entertainment by an author we enjoy.

One of the things we noticed was that it seemed to take a long long time to get from one chapter to then next. I think we had nearly four hours of listening, and were only up to about Chapter 7 of the novel. Being read to really slows things down. Another thing we noticed was the preponderance of "bodice-ripping" romance that I'd never paid much attention to while reading Harris' Sookie stories before. Do we ordinarily just zoom through that while we're reading, getting to the action/adventure of the story?

We ran out of time on our trip just about the point where the action seemed to shift into gear, as Sookie travels to New Orleans with Mr. Cataliades (the demon lawyer) and Bill (her former lover) to go through the house which used to belong to her cousin Hadley (a murdered vampire), and from which  task forces unknown seem to be trying to stop her. As usual, multiple plot lines keep things interesting.

May have to re-read this series from the beginning some day.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Procedure Change

I've noticed, while looking at older posts, that the Amazon links which I used to display the cover art of books I reviewed, seem to be either expiring - displaying nothing, or being redirected - displaying something entirely different from what they did when I published the reviews.

For the moment, I think I'm going to simply quit including the cover art/links. I never get any commission from Amazon associates' program for people buying books there after following my links, anyway, so that's one less task to get done when I'm writing a review. If there's any popular demand for cover art, I can scan the front of the book on my flatbed scanner and post them.