Showing posts with label Book Review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Book Review. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Audio Book Review - History of the Alphabet by Kevin Stroud

Title: History of the Alphabet
Author: Kevin Stroud
Presentor: Kevin Stroud
Year: 2013
Duration: 4 hours, 49 minutes
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kevin Stroud is the host of The History of English Podcast. In this audio-only title, he presents the fascinating History of the Alphabet. 

The Alphabet has only been created once. And with this remarkable innovation, we have connected the English language to ancient languages. In this audiobook, Mr. Stroud traces the Alphabet from Egyptian hieroglyphs to Phenicia through Greece and Rome to us. 

Ever wonder why C can be pronounced as S or K?  Why not K and S and no C? And what about Q? What's up with that? Well, Mr. Stroud answers those questions in a fascinating study of how the alphabet came to English. I wish I could sum it up so succinctly but his explanation is excellent and informative. While this journey began in his History of English podcast, he takes on a journey through the history of all the letters of the Alphabet and even explains the ampersand. (Hint, it's badly rendered French.) 

You can download each letter for $0.99 but you are far better off ordering the whole Album. For some reason, this is considered a musical offering. I don't know why, but give it a try. 

For those of you who have a Youtube Music subscription, this one is offered for free with your subscription.



Give it a try. It's a great exploration of our language through the letters we use.  

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Book Review - Inhibitor Phase by Alastair Reynolds

Title: Inhibitor Phase
Author: Alastair Reynolds
Year: 2021
Pages: 496 pages
Print Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Audible Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Inhibitor Phase is Alastair Reynolds' fourth book in the Revelation Space saga. The war against the Inhibitors was not going well, leaving humanity with two options, fight and die or run and hide. We meet Miguel de Ruyter, a failed politician of the Hollow Sun. Miguel's days are numbered, he self-selected for a diabolical one-way mission. 

Hollow Sun is one of the last bastions of humanity as the Inhibitors have hunted down and destroyed all human habitats. To protect their home, to protect one of the last outposts of mankind, Miguel must destroy a light hugger loaded with sleeping humans. Hollow Sun has no capacity for more people, they are just barely holding on. As the ship goes down, Miguel suffers a bout of compassion and picks up a lifeboat. 

And the trap is sprung. Join Miguel on a grand adventure to destroy the Inhibitors hunting mankind across all of Revelation Space. 

This particular story plays fast and loose with the timeline of the prior 3 books, something that the author mentions in the introduction. Rather than a completion of the other three books, this is a mythological tale where some logic has to be put aside to tell. 

You can try a search for it on Abebooks. Inhibitor Phase by Alastair Reynolds on Abebooks.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Book Review - Aurora Rising (The Prefect) by Alastair Reynolds

Title: Aurora Rising (aka The Prefect) 
Author: Alastair Reynolds
Year: 2007
Pages: 428 pages
Print Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Audible Rating: N/A 

Welcome to the Glitter Band, a series of thousands of orbital habits around Epsilon Eridani. In the Revelation Space series, the planet Yellowstone is the starting point or key place for every novel. In the Prefect series, Alastair Reynolds skews the perspective by focusing on the myriad habitats orbiting the star and police force named the Panoply that is charged with keeping them safe. 

In the Prefect or Aurora Rising, as the title was renamed a few years back, Prefect Tom Dreyfus begins his quest to maintain the safety of the Glitter Band's rights by investigating polling fraud. The situation was more dire than Dreyfus understood as the investigation sparks to mass murder to cover up something entirely different. Dreyfus assembles a team of Prefects to get to the bottom of these heinous crimes. 

Dreyfus and the other officers from the Panoply have to dig deep to figure out what is happening and then how to resolve the situation. The novel dives and swoops through twists and turns, keeping the reader on the edge of their seats and flipping pages. It's very hard to set down. 

This is one part thriller, one part detective novel, and a third-part science fiction story. Reynolds does all three very well as he often investigates the consequences of the technology he uses while being very careful to create plausible limitations to that technology. There is a smorgasbord of wild and insane technology in these books, all operating together to create the 'verse where these characters live. The result is a very "lived in" feel to the characters' world which is reminiscent of Firefly and Serenity as opposed to Star Wars or Star Trek. 

This is a two-book series, Aurora Rising and Elysium Fire which runs alongside the rest of the Revelation Space novels. It's interesting because Reynolds loves a cast of thousands in his books and you can't help but notice when the characters reference each other. Oddly, there is no requirement to read those other books. But you should. 

The Revelation Space series verges on diamond-hard science fiction, where faster than light travel does not exist. I like it, but sometimes the whole thing can jump to body horror or technophobia as some of the threats enter the realm of "what would happen if you stuck an atom bomb in your eye" or "stepped into a running jet engine". Actually, both happen more than once... Crazy. 

You can search for it on Abebooks. 

Aurora Rising (The Prefect) by Alastair Reynolds on AbeBooks.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Book Review - Sanctuary by Lynn Abbey

Title: Sanctuary
Author: Lynn Abbey
Year: 2003
Pages: 480 pages
Print Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Audible Rating: N/A 

Ah, the little disappointments of eBooks and companies reselling products. I had purchased this book with the expectation that it was an Omnibus Edition of The Thieves World collection sold in the 80s. It is not and I was massively confused as I expected to settle in with a tried and true collection of short stores set in the city of Sanctuary. 

Adding to my confusion, this novel is marketed as having three books: Return To The City That Would Not Die!, Return To Thieves' World! and Return To Sanctuary!. All with exclamation points. Structurally, the novel is a single book and it's not really clear if this was ever serialized or three different books. G-- damn Marketroids screwing a good thing up. 

This book, which shares the title of the 1982 Omnibus edition is a newer novel by Lynn Abbey. 
In this story, we follow the adventures of Molin Torchholder as he literally passes the torch to a new generation of characters. This treatment was excellently handled as the new generation of characters are not simply derivative of old characters. They are couched in the term of the old Thieves World characters without actually being those people in a renewed form. They are markedly different even if they aspire to be as famous as the prior generation of anti-heroes. 

You would think that Molin would be a bad character to lead the next generation of scum in the city of Sanctuary. And to an extent that would be correct. However, as a survivor and an archpriest to the deposed and hidden god, Vashanka it made a lot of sense. He survives by pigheaded stubbornness, who else could live this long? 

The book has many callbacks to the original series, answering many questions while leaving some unanswered. While I was supremely disappointed that this was not the omnibus edition I was looking for, I found it an excellent read. I believe that this novel could be an excellent launching point if one as never read a Thieves World book before, as the callbacks and setting both come across as epic worldbuilding, invoking age and mystery for the reader.  

If you prefer a physical copies, check out Sanctuary by Lynn Abbey on Abebooks. This link will take you to a search page with different offerings at prices you can afford. 

I will be searching for those original omnibus editions, so stay tuned for more from Sanctuary and Thieves World. 

Sunday, January 9, 2022

New Reviews - Five Books

Last year, I managed more than 52 reviews. Most of them were sci-fi-themed as I reviewed a ton of Helen Mary Hoover books. Technically, she is a young adult author but also ticks off the science fiction and young women coming of age in bleak future tropes. I love them. I hope to finish up the last of her books this year. 

I've got a great start this year, having tackled 5 books in 15 days. Well, 5 novels anyway. I read a few more than that if you include gamebooks or science lectures. Back in 2016, I graduated with my Bachelor's in History. I would typically read a book a week per class. Each 16 week semester I would chew through 45+ books, not counting textbooks or articles, or other reading materials. Two or 3 books a week is a nice slow pace for me. It makes the content easy to digest.  

All but one of these are classics, being over 20 years old and must-reads for the science-fiction or fantasy buff. The odd man out is Inhibitor Phase by Alastair Reynolds as it was published in 2021. 

My intention with this post was to have all 5 reviews done before posting. But that turned out to be more time-consuming than I anticipated. As I post more reviews, I will add more links. Additionally, I would like to rework the top page bar at the top of my blog to break down reviews into categories, so that Traveller Fans don't have to pick through fantasy books and vice versa. 

As a part of the digestion portion of these readings, I also plan to have a post about science fiction weapons that are terrifying. Niven, Pournelle, and Reynolds have stuff in their books that is absolutely insane and somewhat based on reality. 

In addition to all of this, I also have several new sources for books. I have my favorite two or three local bookshops, but those aren't available online. Abebooks is an excellent resource. I will be sharing each of these with you as a part of the review process. 

Book Review - The Winds of Gath by E. C. Tubbs

Title: The Winds of Gath
Author: E. C. Tubbs
Year: 1982
Pages: 192 pages
Print Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Audible Rating: N/A 

The Winds of Gath is a curious story that was suggested to me by SAFCO podcast. This is the first in a series describing Earl Dumarest journey back home to Earth. Being born on Earth, Earl is the only person who knows it is real, everyone else believes it's a myth. 

E. C. Tubbs spends a lot of pages describing the titular planet of Gath, the winds, and the society that Earl must navigate to get home. By way of explanation, Earl was presented as a youthful 30-something, somewhat unaware of the nature of the worlds he navigates. From the text, it is very obvious that the Traveller game has roots here. The older age of the protagonists, the technologies, skills available and the progression Earl follows to the conclusion all harken back to the aesthetics of Traveller. 

What I find interesting is the obvious comparison to the book, The Grapes of Wrath. The hard-luck freedom gained by Earl and Tom Joad in the opening of each book is similar. Their exploration of their immediate situation leads to a journey full of adventure, disappointment, and mediocrity. Both stories end with a brutal fight against the powers that be, Tom beating a deputy and Earl beating a battle-trained prince. Where Tom's story ends, Earl's continues in a series of 32 other books. Welcome to the Dumarest Saga. 

Obviously, where Tom was a Christ analog, Earl is not. All three take the role of teacher at various points, but Earl's situation is wildly different as this is a story of belief as opposed to one of leadership in belief and love.  

I find this story to be very creative and appealing. However, I think that Earl and Tubbs come into their own in future titles, as the point of this story is less the journey and more the miles. 

As always, I suggest that you look for this title in your local book store. However, if it is not available you can check out AbeBooks.com for a copy. Click here to search for The Winds of Gath by E. C. Tubbs. All clicks and purchases provide remuneration to support this site

Book Review - Swords and Deviltry by Fritz Leiber

Title: Swords and Deviltry: The Adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser
Author: Fritz Leiber
Narrator: Jonathan Davis, Neil Gaiman (introduction only)
Year: 1970
Pages: 254 pages
Print Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Audible Rating: 5 of 5

In 2022, I would like to add a lot more fantasy to my collection of book reviews. Today, I look at a classic by Fritz Leiber.

Swords and Deviltry tells the story of The Gray Mouser and Fafhrd's first meeting in 4 short stories that Leiber weaves together into an excellent novel. 

If you have never read Fritz Leiber, his prose is clean, poetic, and fine. This is the perfect book to listen to via Audible as Jonathan Davis's voice is amazing. At the outset, I had my doubts because the book has an introduction by Neil Gaiman, whose voice sounds like golden whiskey to me. Davis sounds plain by comparison, but his care and tone with the characters is perfect. Davis does not do "voices" for different characters, but his style of slightly changing his voice while adding subtle tones conveys so much. 

As mentioned before, this "novel" is 4 stories assembled in novel form. They were originally separate short stories for magazines. I have provided the date of publication next to each one: 

  • Opening Introduction/Credits read by Neil Gaiman. 
  • "Induction" (1957)
  • "The Snow Women" (1970)
  • "The Unholy Grail" (1962)
  • "Ill Met in Lankhmar" (1970)

Induction was the primer on the world of Nehwon and was only about 300 words long. It wasn't really necessary to include it, but Leiber was building epic characters so the magical world of Nehwon needed to be set. 

The Snow Women dealt with Fafhrd's family issues and lovers. Fafhrd leaves his lover Mara behind to adventure south the sultry actress Vlana. Fafhrd danced delicately between the two women and the magic, onuses, and curses sent by his mother and her coven. Davis, the Audible narrator really shines in this presentation, giving voice to both Vlana and Mara. His tone and tempo convey a sense of drive and passion in these characters. You can almost hear blushing, eye-rolling, and pursed lips in his delivery. This was very important to the presentation of Fafhrd, who has what could be described as a feminine voice himself. At no point is this confusing to the listener. On paper, in prose, these characters are driven and strong, no doubt about it. Both renditions were excellent but I was surprised at Davis's performance in the audio version. 

In the 3rd story, we meet Mouse as the apprentice of the magician Glavas Rho. Mouse is torn between what type of magic he wanted to pursue. Mouse, as read by Davis becomes stronger and more solid as the performance and story progress, which seems to have been the intent of Leiber writing of him. Sure, but not cocky, determined at first and later driven describes Mouse's transformation. And what a transformation it is. His hand was forced as the Duke slew Glavas Rho while capturing the poor Mouse. As a captive, he discovered the Duke's daughter, Ivrian was also an apprentice to Glavas Rho. Using her as a conduit, he escaped torture by casting the darkest black magic at the Duke. 

And finally, in Ill Met in Lankhmar, the Gray Mouser and Fafhrd bushwacked a pair the thieves on their way to the fence some items at the guild house. Realizing they are kindred, the two adventurers join forces to infiltrate the thieves guild. Unfortunately, their loves pay for their daring and are killed, setting the Gray Mouser and Fafhrd on a path of vengeance and adventure. 

This collection was the very start of the duo that really shaped sword and sorcery fiction. Six more books followed these first adventures.  

I cannot suggest Swords and Deviltry enough. I would hope that the book is available at your local book store, but if it isn't click the link to search AbeBooks.com.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Book Review - Footfall by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven


Title: Footfall
Author: Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven
Audible Narrator: MacLeod Andrews
Year: 1985
Pages: 495 pages
Print Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Audible Rating: 4 of 5 stars

I explored two different versions of this title: the ebook and the Audible version. Both have their flaws, but of the two I found the ebook superior until the final 100 hundred pages where the Audible book is by far superior. Niven 'n Pournelle are a dynamic duo, the authors of dozens of books together. And they fit together nicely as it is difficult to sense a shift of voice that can happen with two authors. However, this is a weakly told story with many flaws. 

I find Footfall difficult to review as it doesn't really fit with my reading habits. It's iron-hard science fiction in the guise of a summer blockbuster. It's tough on the reader. Back in 1985, I am sure that it was groundbreaking but over the years, 75 to 85% of the book is dated to the point of being trite. The ebook edition leads with a cast of characters that is longer than the chapters of books I have read. The Audible version experiences many near-failures with trying to render an alien language which makes the narrator sound like he is having a stroke. It really wasn't Andrews' fault, it was the story. 

In order to get through the review, I will ignore the flaws and get right to the 5 W's and H questions. In 1995, the Soviet Union is winning the Space Race and the Americans are deeply concerned as a mysterious spacecraft is spotted near Saturn. As the craft approaches Earth, a cast of easily a hundred characters in the United States and the Soviet Union band together to welcome our first contact aliens, the Fithp. 

Niven and Pournelle flesh out these aliens to an insane degree. They have a language, a homeworld, a collection of technology, and psychology. They are elephant-like creatures with superior firepower and a herd mentality. The authors hang out the lampshade on war-like, herd animals right at the outset and screw in a strobe light so the reader never forgets it.

First contact goes as well as you can expect, with a human delegation on the Soviet space station taken captive as all infrastructure for communication and war-making was bombarded from orbit. Much of the American countryside was laid to waste and the story shifts from the East and West coasts to the heartland states. 

As the human captives were interrogated, the reader and the humans learned more about the Fithp than the Fithp learned about humans. As I said, the lampshade non-preditors having war machines was unavoidable. Back on Earth, President Coffey moved his office and command to the Cheyenne Mountain Complex. The best and brightest minds were assembled like the Avengers, everyone from scientists and military men to the Secret Service and sci-fi authors who are thinly veiled analogs of real-world authors, including Niven and Pournelle themselves. The best and the brightest were able to probe the Fithp's motives and limits to come up with several plans to fight back, which climaxes in the titular Footfall, an asteroid dropped into the Indian Ocean. The devastation was incredible. It neutralized every force except for a couple of small rag-tag bands in the United States and U.S.S.R. 

The Fithp had the upper hand but a herd mentality is difficult to shake off. On the Fithp homeworld, there was a technologically superior race that died out, leaving the Fithp all of their scientific knowledge. The knowledge that a band of exiled Fithp planned to use against the people of Earth. The Fithp, being herd creatures do not engage in battles to the death, they surrender if overwhelmed. They do not understand why humans continued to fight back. More importantly they, like the authors, do not understand how humans would suddenly band together against a common enemy and say, "F--- it, let's kill 'em all."

The story itself is a 2-star yarn. Where it shines is in the diversity of characters and the incredible feats of realistic science, all of which become apparent in the end. The last 100 or so pages of the book are pure awesomeness. I won't spoil it for you. 

But let me tell you about the hurdles that the final 100 pages had to overcome to drag this book from 2 stars to five. First, back in '85, the United States and the Soviet Union were super clear white hats and black hats. The Soviet characters actually age well, becoming more heroic than the author intended. They have a female cosmonaut, a handicapped astronaut and insisted on having a Keyan delegation member onboard the space station to meet the Fithp. They are smart, wise, and cunning. The Soviet cosmonauts come across as absolutely ruthless adversaries to the Fithp, as if the authors believed the reader would suddenly feel compassion for murderous aliens. They almost read as noble determinators. 

Illyana, the deputy officer on the Soviet space station highlights the second problem with the story, whacky scrabbled-egg misogyny engaged in by the authors and all of the male characters. Every woman in the novel as a vehicle for sexual use or a strange depreciation. Oddly, the story can't happen without these characters as they seem to be the prime movers for every plot point. It is the strange case of "Livia was a whore AND she did it". 

Livia cum filio suo Tiberio.

In case you don't get that reference, Livia was the wife of Caesar Augustus. In Roman history, women were tagged as either saintly women or as evil stepmothers. Livia strangely had both attributes as she wisely advised her husband until his death, but might have also murdered him for her son's benefit. There are T-shirts that read "Livia did it." The women in this book, despite being the prime movers of the story are not treated as kindly the Augusta. 

The degradation doesn't stop with the writing, in the Audible version all but two women are portrayed with a whining tone at all times, which makes it difficult to distinguish them. Only two (maybe, three) women don't have this attribute or characterization and are better for it, but they have little to do with the major plot points.  

I hate to say it, but the authors were confused about what the characters did and their importance. With a cast of 100, cutting off 50 female characters at the knees doesn't help with the confusion.

How can a book like this jump from 2 stars to five? The human response to the aliens and their ruthless methods of destruction and subjection of the threat. Earth fights back. And hard. This is no snub fighters against the Deathstar. It ends in a curb-stomping battle of diamond-hard science.

The Fithp have lasers and relativistic kinetic weapons. The humans have better. Gamma-ray laser and 2000 lbs. nuclear shells. And I haven't even told you the best part. I won't spoil it for you, read it yourself. All I can say is after I read the last quarter of the book I reread it. Then I switched to the Audible version because I couldn't believe what I heard. The Narrator who had been suffering through the first three-quarters of the book positively shone in the last quarter. It was amazing. 

Footfall may be available on AbeBooks.com. This affiliate link will take you to the appropriate AbeBooks search page. Books are sorted by title and lowest price. I find that AbeBooks is a great source for old paperbacks and hard-to-find books at a good price.  

Monday, November 22, 2021

The Minus Faction by Rick Wayne Review

Title: The Minus Faction
Author: Rick Wayne
Year: 2017
Pages: 782 pages
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

I hate superhero novelizations. These types of books try to take a comic book character from a visual form of media and place them in a verbal or textual world. The problem with that is the hero or heroes always escape back to the visual media. It's never good.  

So, why I am reviewing Rick Wayne's The Minus Faction? Because these superheroes were created in the form of a novel from the get-go. John Regent feels like a characterization in the novel. Mr. Wayne managed to fuse the superhero tropes with real-world speculative fiction to create a strong cast of characters in a series of stories. The characters and the threats seem real, the storytelling is as a work of fiction should be. 

The Minus Faction starts with John Regent, a grizzled veteran of many black operations. Disabled, he is pulled out of his former world of adventure and thrust into a wider, wilder world of fantastic threats. John is forced to come to terms with both his abilities and disabilities while fighting against forces he does not understand. 

Along the way, John picks up a collection of misfits that he must forge into a team worthy and able to take on the new arising threats to themselves and the world. Xana, Ian, and Wink join John Regent, each bringing a host of dissimilar powers and problems to the team, which makes John's life more challenging, not less. Xana is seeking her son, Ian is on the lamb from the government and Wink is... just Wink. As individuals, their powers are ill-suited to their personal tasks, but as a team, they can fulfill their goals and desires. Along with John, Xana, Ian, and Wink, a collection of secondary characters join the team to either assist or create new challenges for them. 

Mr. Wayne wrote this series in an episodic fashion in 7 books, which lent itself the escalation of challenges and the introduction of the four main characters in a believable and enjoyable fashion. In order, the episodes or novels are: 

Breakout
Crossfire
Meltdown
Blackout
Aftershock
Shockwave
Outbreak

This is how I became hooked on the series, through the episodic releases. However, by book three, Meltdown, I cut to the chase and picked up the Omnibus Edition which included all seven stories plus bonus features. Aside from the collection of these bonus features, the individual books are no different than the Omnibus. In fact, some of the bonus features appear in a slightly different form, which is neither intrusive nor disjointed. There is a soundtrack, fan art, and behind-the-scenes information on how this collection came to be plus links to Mr. Wanye's social media outlets. 

Mr. Wayne uses these bonus features to expand the world he has created, taking the reader on a journey that matches the adventures of John, Ian, Wink, and Xana. This is how new heroes are made in the 21st century. 

Monday, October 25, 2021

Review - How to Make War By James F. Dunnigan

Title: How to Make War
Year: 1982, 1993, 2003
Author: James F. Dunnigan
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 257 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 Gold Stars

This review covers one of those things you know, but don't really know. How to Make War by Jim Dunnigan reads like an RPG. James Dunnigan is an author, a military-political analyst, a consultant, and a wargame designer. He designed games for Avalon Hill and founded Simulations Publications Inc.

Despite being both a gamer and historian myself, up until this review I believed that Jim and James Dunnigan were two different people. It explains a lot. 

How to Make War is not a gamebook but a guide to war. While the title is focused on current military affairs, each section is applicable to many different eras of warfare. The intent of the book is education, not practical military knowledge. A quick read-through will greatly enhance the reader's background knowledge of what it takes to produce a war, productive or otherwise. 

Structurally, the book's 29 chapters are divided into 8 parts. Each part covers one major aspect of warfare. In order, they are: 

  1. Ground Combat, 
  2. Air Operations, 
  3. Naval Operations, 
  4. Human Factors, 
  5. Special Weapons, 
  6. Warfare by the Numbers, 
  7. Moving the Goods, 
  8. and Tools of the Trade.
A lot has changed over the years, and the effect of these changes has yet to percolate down to the battlefield level. Mr. Dunnigan takes a shot at predictions of how new technology will change the battlefield while presenting data from past conflicts. Everything is incremental. 

Since the Big One and The Second Big One, wars have become smaller and more politically complex affairs without losing any of their characteristic violence and horror. What changes are the speed and sophistication of the destruction along with the long-lasting effects of these conflicts on humanity. Sadly, Mr. Dunnigan points out that many humans feel that the aversion to war is a lost opportunity to right some sort of wrong. 

While much of the book deals with the hardware of warfare, the important bits are political drives and logistics of the attempt to meet those drives with real-world resources. To paraphrase Mr. Dunnigan, "amateurs think of tactics while professionals think of logistics." Nothing plays out worse than declaring a goal that cannot be obtained. Don't make threats, make promises. 

Mr. Dunnigam walks through the lives of those who will fight and why in addition to the hardware they will use. Starting with the infantry in Part 1, the readers follow the cans and can'ts of each resource available to the would-be warmonger. Aircraft are quick; quicker than a ship but not as quick as a satellite. They land someplace between the two when it comes to delivering hardware, information, and personnel to the front. 

Human factors address by the book covers the reasons people will fight, their leadership, and the intelligence resources available to both. When humans are involved, Murphy's Law rears its ugly head, and whoever considers that fact first has more control over who will be victorious. Additionally, since virtually all armed forces will find themselves at peace most of the time, what do you do with them? 

One of the biggest challenges on the battlefield is the application or refusal to use so-called "special weapons". The chemical, biological, and nuclear crowdpleasers. Yes, they are the big stick but taking out whole environments for weeks, months, or decades at a time might not be the victory one craves. On a more limited front, other special weapons are used to wage war in space. Special forces engage in brief, limited-purpose engagements. Circling back like the last chapter, militaries are able to engage in activities that are just as hostile as any conflict without using arms. Relief operations are a standout feature quelling or fueling the desires of war in an enemy, as is training foreign troops and waving the flag. 

Part Six covers logistics and attrition. Or the real reasons no one attacks without good reason. Part Seven pairs nicely with Part Six as it covers the costs and ability to transport to the tools of war. The final part in this section covers tried and true weapons and considers the untried technology against what the future may bring. It's interesting to see the reality of logistics weighed against the speculation of what may come. 

I've noticed two knocks against this book from other reviews that I completely disagree with: the lack of sources and the American-centric reality it presents. 

This is not a textbook, it is a reflection of the lifetime of study. It's all right in the title "How to Make War". It is a study of why wars happen and why they often fail to result in positive outcomes for both winners and losers. Sources over reflections would make this a textbook. The tact of this book is how costly war is in every term; a textbook on that topic would cause the reader to utterly miss the point of the book. 

The second point, the American-centric aspect is merely a reflection of the United States Budget placing warfare over all other things. Yes, we win wars due to insane spending which has many obvious costs. No, those wars often don't benefit anyone long-term and often have disastrous consequences. Or more humorously, America winning a conflict simply allows the losing side access to Red Dawn on Netflix, resulting in a lot of non-English speakers leaving to say the word: "Wolverines!". And if you think about it, war is about as cute and cuddly as a wolverine in your pants. A circumstance Mr. Dunnigan covers completely. Don't mistake the numbers for the reality of the situation. 

5 gold stars of 5 stars. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Off the Shelf Review - Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

I am a huge fan of Andy Weir, author of the Martian. Project Hail Mary is an excellent science-themed page-turner. 

Title: Project Hail Mary
Year: 2021
Author: Andy Weir
Pages: 476 pages
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Meet male, caucasian astronaut. He's adrift in space, destination unknown, mission unknown, name unknown. Weir rapidly builds our hero up in just 2 chapters without annoying the reader with the fact that he has no name or purpose. He also threads the needle with the hero to prove he isn't a recast version of Mark Watney from The Martian. 

Our astronaut is quickly introduced to two different problems. One is immediate, an inflated catheter in his... ah... you know. And the second more distant, an infrared glow around Venus. (Hey, I didn't write it. Well, I did but...) The second becomes the major problem of the story, no matter how immediate the other problem would be. Something is drawing energy from the Sun to the orbit of Venus. The sun isn't dying but the dimming will kill every living thing on Earth. If anyone is to solve this problem, one hell of a Hail Mary is needed. 

Here is our hero and his ship, the Hail Mary. Full of Dr. Grace. 

Weir likes solid science in his science fiction. He uses a couple of handwaves to get our hero into deep space. The major handwave is energy to mass ratios of fuel. Aside from that, I'm sure he took a couple of liberties with biology, but each choice was a smart, calculated one. In this novel, Grace and science are the heroes jointly. 

Weir uses Grace's memory loss as a convenient way to place him where he needs to be and then uses the resulting recovery of memory as excellently timed data dumps for the reader. It is used to great effect to expand the stage of the Hail Mary to a greater cast of characters than just Dr. Grace. The reader moves from the present to the past in a delicate dance of memory vs. discovery where Dr. Grace is first introduced to the world end cataclysm that he must prevent.  

And damn, some of these characters are excellent. Even magnificent. Eva Stratt is the quarterback of Earth's defenses. She is assigned the task of clearing the way for Project Hail Mary's success. Since success is not assured, Stratt operates on the principle that anything short of total annihilation is a path to success. Including a suicide mission to Tau Ceti to find out why this Earthly neighbor isn't dimming when all of the other stars are. And boy, is she a bastard. 

Many of the other characters are charming and likable, even when not compared to Stratt. But none are entirely squeaky clean. Weir builds a cast of believable characters, with very few unnecessary bit characters to muck up the works. Some of the characters are particularly odd, given that they want to go on a suicide mission. And some of that oddly is pretty shocking. But not terrible, in context.  

Dr. Grace encounters both wonders and surprises unimagined by the builders of the Hail Mary and each is used to excellent advantage to progress the story.

As a plot device, all of the science onboard the Hail Mary is off the shelf, except for the technology to place the crew in a coma long enough to survive the trip. That is the one point of failure on the mission. If the crew never emerges from the coma, the mission is a failure. Having no other option, that is deemed an acceptable risk. 

However, there is a sneaky backdoor point of technology failure introduced by the plot. First, none of the technology at Grace's disposal is any smarter than a laptop or more sophisticated than a college chemistry lab.  Dr. Grace isn't an astronaut. He doesn't do checklists or planning because he isn't trained to do so. And pays for it constantly. There is nothing there to warn him of the errors of his ways. 

While this would normally be a plot hole, the fact that Grace pays for his erratic and Rocky behavior every time builds tension and drama, all the way to the climax of the story. And it's a hell of an ending, which parallels Mark Waverly's transition from astronaut to teacher in the Martian.

While Project Hail Mary is a very different read from the Martian, the sense pedigree is there. 

I am slightly annoyed that I paid full price for this book at Barnes and Nobles, but it was a much needed date night.>

Or you can do what I did for Artemis and grab the Audible version. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Book Review - This Time of Darkness by H. M. Hoover


Title: This Time of Darkness
Author: H. M. Hoover
Year: 1980
Pages: 161 page booklets
Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Born in 1935 between Canton and Alliance, Helen Mary Hoover was the daughter of teachers and naturalists. Her ventures took her from sea to shining sea, from LA to NYC before she settle down in Northern Virginia to write. 

This Time of Darkness is yet another book which sits in the middle YA fiction. It was published in 1980. Of all of Ms. Hoover's books, this one withstands time perhaps because it follows a simple formula of place and becoming. 

Meet Amy and Axel, two 10 year old citizens the City. Or maybe they're 11. Doesn't matter, no one in the City cares for these children. In one moment, they make a choice to escape the City, to go outside. In the rain. The City is like Corrasant turned literally on its head. Amy and Axel must use all of their resources to escape. As they climb the ramps and prowl the halls and corridors looking for the tunnels that lead outdoors, they discover the many secrets about the City and themselves. 

They are pursued by the Authority, Crazies and secretive Watchers on their quest to escape this dysphoria life and explore the great Outdoors. 

This Time of Darkness is a dark, but quick read. As you can tell from the description, this tale could be a sourcebook for 1984 or the Paranoia RPG.  

Books by H. M. Hoover on AbeBooks.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Review - ORVIS by H. M. Hoover

Title: ORVIS
Author: H. M. Hoover
Year: 1987
Pages: 217
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

Meet Tabitha and Thadeus, the proud owners of a lost robot named ORVIS. Except no one wants to own the poor little 'bot. Toby (Tabitha) and Thad decide to escape their parents and school to assist ORVIS find a home for himself. In the end, they discover the meaning of home and having care. 

While ORVIS is in the guise of a children's book, the topics covered are far more adult than Hoover's previous works. ORVIS is a former military robot repurposed many times. His final order is to destroy himself. 

ORVIS is not your standard combat droid. He's been to Venus and back. Think about that for a moment. The surface of Venus is hell, but the titanic atmosphere and relatively non-existent rotation would make launching from the surface more hell than hell. He is an indestructible machine with orders to end itself. 

Toby is a young woman with terrible parents who want upend her whole life by sending her offworld, alone. Thadeus is an orphaned spacer who will loses all of his friends if Toby leaves the school. The school is home, even though it is like "Hogwarts Community College".  

The obviousness of these three coming together for a common purpose is clear from the start. But their adventure leads them into scenarios beyond their own purposes. It forces them to consider the purpose of any man, woman or machine. 

Set entirely on Earth, these other-worlders explore what it means to have value and purpose with different eyes. 

I believe that this will end my series of H. M. Hoover reviews. I plan to write a retrospective post of these books in the near future. 

Books by H. M. Hoover on AbeBooks.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

The Veldt by Ray Bradbury - Review

Title: The Veldt
Author: Ray Bradbury
Year: 1950
Pages: 17 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Here I am in the Wayback Machine. I love golden age sci-fi. Ray Bradbury was and still is one of the defining authors in this time period. 

I wouldn't normally review just one short story, but this short has appeared in dozens of collections. I first encountered it in audiotape form. One reader doing multiple voices. It was fascinating. 

This version is from the book, The Illustrated Man which is chocked full of golden age sci-fi, which is both amusing and terrifying.

The Veldt is a precursor to all of those Star Trek stories about the holodeck. A husband and wife buy a "the Happylife Home", a product that does everything for the inhabitants. The most important part was the nursery that displayed images on the walls for the amusement of children. The parents, George and Lydia soon discover how this can go awry when the children permanently set it for the African Veldt. Roars of lions flood the home. 

All 17 pages are predicated on self-sufficiency versus automation. When George and Lydia attempt to turn off the house to act for themselves and the betterment of their children, the outcome is tragic. 

You can view this one on youtube. This performance is totally low-fi and is my favorite. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Review - The Winds of Mars by H. M. Hoover

Title: The Winds of Mars
Author: H. M. Hoover
Year: 1995
Pages: 192* pages
Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mary Helen Hoover was born in 1935, in Ohio. Her family home's basement that was dug back when Thomas Jefferson was president. From that humble beginning, she hopped from Los Angeles to New York City to finally land in Virginia. From 1973 to 1995, she wrote 16 published books. 

Mary Helen Hoover moves closer to home in this novel. As the name says, it takes place on Mars. Additionally, the story seems to set itself in a reasonable close time period to now. Say 200-400 years in the future. 

Annalyn Court is the daughter of the President of Mars, a man she has never met. She has been raised to take her appointed place in the elite upper class of Martian citizens. The question is, does she want that? 

The answer is not very clear. Starting with Court's earliest memories and progressing into young womanhood, she carves a path against her planned fate. Adventure and horror await and she clashes those who would make the average Martian subservient to the immortal upper class. 

This is one of my least favorite of Hoover books. First, it delves into YA horror and shock. Second, it has slightly dated itself through no fault of Hoover's. The fact is, Mars is now well known territory and her outdated information is rather glaring. There are fights, gunfire and bombings which is atypical for Hoover but handled very well when compared to most YA books about war. People die. Important people die. It's rough for a Young Adult title but nothing compared to the crap that is put out today. 

All of this running against some very child-like scenarios and characters. One of the standout characters in the book has a punny name: Hector Protector. He is the droid bodyguard of Annalyn Court. Almost three decades ago, such things were probably innovative; but now "Hector Protect Her" doesn't stand the test of time. It seems like a very fairytale addition to a book about a young woman coming of age and into her own on her own. It doesn't make sense. 

I happen to love the character Hector, but my daughter declares that he sucked. If only he had his own book because he is conceptually interesting but misplaced in a story about a woman growing up. It cuts the ending off at the knees. 

It is a quick and enjoyable read. Books by H. M. Hoover on AbeBooks.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Review - The Rains of Eridan by H. M. Hoover

Title: The Rains of Eridan
Author: H. M. Hoover
Year: 1977
Pages: 292 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Eridan is an old world. Dry and slow under the heat of the little sun. Humanity reached out to it via their corporate sector explorers, founding three bases on the planet. As the story begins, a sort of madness takes them. The teams become obsessed with collecting strange crystals found out in the wilderness. 

Theodora (Theo) Leslie was equally obsessed, but with life not rock. As a biologist, she secreted herself away in the mountain wilds to explore and document all these new forms of life. 

Until death arrived. A mutiny broke out and the conspirators decided that Theo's forward base was a perfect place to dump the bodies. Theo rescues a young woman from the targeted kills and being a run for safety and sanity while searching for the cause of this plague of violence. 

The Rains of Eridan is a shift in focus for H. M. Hoover. These characters are heavily weaponized and Theo as an adult in charge of a young survivor introduces the maturity of love and compassion that does not come out in her other works. Hardly a romance novel, Hoover explores the different ways that people interact and come to care for one another on many different levels. The love story in this novel is multifaceted and pleasantly surprising. 

Of course, being who she is, Hoover only allows one love story to end within the pages of the book, allowing the others to persist in the reader's memories and questions. Many of her works seem to end before the end comes allowing the reader's imagination to take flight after the work is over. It's actually a wonderful thing to have open questions at the end of the reading.

The weaponization of the characters plays out in grim violence, which is delicately handled in this young adult book. The devices and scenarios are creatively but never come down to the insanity of technobabble. 

An artist like Hoover opens doors as the reader progresses through her works, but never opens the pandora's box of over the top creations.   



Books by H. M. Hoover on AbeBooks.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Review - The Lost Star by H. M. Hoover

Title: The Lost Star
Author: H. M. Hoover
Year: 1979
Pages: 160 pages
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

H. M. Hoover spent a lot of her time traveling from city to city in search of something. She apparently found it Virgina, where she settled down to write. Billed as a "young adult writer", her works are short and simple, and eye opening because they often feature worldviews and perspectives which could only those of a child. Exploration of the novel situations and realizations of discovery from the lens of the child's eye are her thing. 

Lian is a 15 year child of brilliant astronomers on expedition to Balthor. Her parents are researching a star projected to go nova, which gives Lian itchy feet. A voluntary supply run ends in a crash, and Lian finds herself in world much larger than she new existed. Rescued by archaeologists investigating ancient structures and strange creatures, Lian opens their eyes to incredible discoveries. 

As her discoveries mount, she enters a strange exchange with a machine-creature called The Counter and wild animals dubbed "Lumpies". The two are related. And her discoveries are all civilization altering, not just for humans but for other races on the expedition. Differences breed mistrust, but also kindness and compassion. 

Join Lian, Cuddles and Scotty on this wonderful adventure.

Books by H. M. Hoover on AbeBooks.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Book Review - Another Heaven, Another Earth by H. M. Hoover

Title: Another Heaven, Another Earth
Author: H. M. Hoover
Year: 1981
Pages: 224 pages
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mary Helen Hoover was born in 1935, in Ohio. Her family home's basement that was dug back when Thomas Jefferson was president. From that humble beginning, she hopped from Los Angeles to New York City to finally land in Virginia. From 1973 to 1995, she wrote 16 published books. 

Another Heaven, Another Earth takes place on Xilan, a planet far from Earth. The crew of the Kekelu find it to be an idyllic place for potential colonization. Except for one problem. The colonists of Xilan had been there for over 500 years. Alerted by The Cube, a centuries old device of unknown origin, the healer Gareth stumbles on to the Kekelu's survey teams throwing their corporate colony venture into chaos. 

The crew of the Kekule struggle to discover the source of Gareth's people, research their devolved technology and question how they came to be abandoned while fighting disease and infection brought on by this unusual first contact situation. 

Gareth's people are revolted by the spacemen's attitude of superiority and treatment of the "primitives", seeing themselves not being "devolved" but survivors and masters of their world. Families struggled against the challenges of a new world while retaining what knowledge they could of the past.   

Hoover pulls no punches with this classic story of first contact while successfully weaving a story that resists time by resisting the typical technobabble of the 1980s. Due to this lack of technobabble, aside from the one mention of film, the book avoids all the tropes that would date it. 

While written for the young adult audience, it is wonderful story for people of all ages. 

Books by H. M. Hoover on AbeBooks.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Raphael by R. A. MacAvoy

Title: Raphael
Author: R. A. MacAvoy
Year: 1984
Pages: 240 pages
Rating: 1 of 5 stars

This review is, unfortunately, by the numbers. 

Who is this author? R. A. MacAvoy is a wonderful science fiction and fantasy author, who by 1984 had 4 books in print. She is a careful researcher with excellent storytelling abilities. 

What is their idea? In this final chapter in Damiano's Lute trilogy, we follow the plight of Raphael as he wars with his brother Lucifer. 

How effectively does that person tell a story? Raphael is yet again a wonderfully well-researched historical fantasy novel set in 12th century Europe. This time, Raphael finds himself at Lucifer's mercy in Moorish Granada. Stripped of his angelic form and powers, he is sold in slavery where yet again, the growing cast of characters bring this story to a conclusion. 

What are the book's the strengths? The main strength of MacAvoy's writing is the careful research and blending of fantasy to bring her characters to life. The details of daily life in Granada are rich and engrossing while repellant as the main topic of this novel is slavery. Djoura was a fantastic addition to the story as both a powerful heroine and love interest to Raphael.  

What are the book's weaknesses?  Unfortunately, the book suffers from a lack of structure, where the established protagonists from Damiano and Damiano's Lute were secondary characters offered with zero development between the last installment and this one. Gaspare stands out as a very bad evolution from his prior self in other chapters of the story. 

Back in June of '85, White Dwarf Magazine offered the pronouncement that Raphael would be a Disneyfication of the series. While they probably hadn't read this particular book at the time, they weren't wrong. Many of the ideas of the series were heavily subverted by this installment and Raphael would have been much stronger had it been divorced from the rest of the series. 

What was particularly terrible was the Epilogue, which closed out the series perfectly. It was five-star writing tacked on to the end of a very slapdash work and accounts for much of Raphael's one-star rating. If the Epilogue had been tacked on either one of the prior books, on its strength alone, those titles would have been perfect. Even if MacAvoy simply copy-pasted it into each preceding piece. 

Sadly, the first 435 pages were not worthy of the last five pages. 

What made this ending so strong was the growth of Gaspare and the introduction of his family to the wild mix of history and fantasy. Viewed through a historical lens, many of the defining exploits of Damiano and his friends were mistakenly attributed to historical figures, which was an eye-opening insight into the depth of research and planning by MacAvoy. What should be a crowning achievement was twisted into a mere afterthought. 

One mourning star. 

You can search for Raphael on Abebooks.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Damiano's Lute by R. A. MacAvoy

Title: Damiano's Lute
Author: R. A. MacAvoy
Year: 1984
Pages: 254 pages
Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

In the second of three books, R. A. MacAvoy's Damiano's Lute expands in the concepts from the first book and we find our hero being chased northwards and west by Plague and the Devil. As a sequel, it breaks the mold that follow-ups are afterthoughts. It is well crafted as the first book, rich in detail and peril of the 12th century. 

From 1983 to 1984, MacAvoy had 4 books published, an incredible achievement. 

Damiano's Lute shifts the story's location west and north and elevates Damiano's love interest from an Italian fantasy woman to a much more mature woman of the North. As the story evolves, many historical details pop out and lock this work of fiction into real-world settings. In this edition, MacAvoy explores not just Damiano Delstrego, but his companions Gaspare and Saara, who expand from sidekick and antagonists to fully formed characters with their own purposes and drives to be twisted by The Devil. Every character presented has a purpose and drive within the story of Damiano's Lute. MacAvoy adds characters at a frantic pace, but never leaves them hanging. Each one is added to serve the story with a graceful economy. 

Damiano's Lute stands strong on its own, a worthy second part to the story.

You can search for Damiano's Lute on Abebooks.