Tuesday, August 15, 2017

There Must Be Fifty Ways to Kill Your Planet



If you just want the abbreviated Amazon review, click here

However, if you don't read the rest of the blog post, you'll miss the song.
If you were looking for a post on our experience at the Steppenwolf concert, I haven't finished processing that one yet. It will come, I feel certain. Be patient. Or something.
For a guy who reads as much as I do, I often astound myself with my profound ignorance of certain aspects of modern culture. I haven't watched television in years, ditto with following sports teams. I don't listen to popular music, which I sometimes regret, as it means that I miss the nuances when Post-Modern Jukebox brings out a new song.

And, I haven't purchased a comic book since around 1964.

I do know that there were some plots developed, and I saw the original Superman and Spiderman and Batman movies, as well as a very few of slightly more recent films. I am utterly without a clue as to current plots, and I just don't want to watch any more Batman vs Superman, or Captain America vs Iron Man, or any of the other stuff. It's a deliberate choice; no one is advising me to do this.

HOWEVER!!!!

When I started to read "Time Loop," by Pam Uphoff, I was at first convinced that I had missed a delightful adventure series, which was being re-invented on my Kindle app. I even Googled the name of the main character (Dr. Sturm/Storm), only to find there wasn't much of a match-up with any of the characters in an existing story arc. Hating to show my ignorance, I even contacted the author, and asked if this was, in fact, a re-telling of a comic book series.

It isn't!

She just made it up, which makes it all that much better. Perhaps someone will read the book and make a series of graphic novels and movies and action figures; they certainly lend themselves to such treatment.

"No," she said, "these are really mine. I had fun coming up with different ways to destroy the Earth."

I suggested that I was tempted to do a riff on "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover;" her response was to point out that it wouldn't scan.

Challenge accepted.

"The problem is making it all scan," she said to me
"It's to hard to make a rhyme for killing off humanity."
"I accept the challenge," I responded to her with glee,
"There must be fifty ways to kill your planet."


You just SMOD attack, Jack 
Make the sun go crazy, Maizie
Just uplift a cat, Matt
And set off a spree.

Use a great big laser, Frazier
Just drop a big KEW, Lou,
Kill 'em off with a virus, Cyrus
And let grey goo free.

Now, Rhymin' Simon does it much better than that, but I'm taller.  And I believe it just might put a smile on the face of one or two of you who share a love of good music and good books.

Here's the balance of the review, and this is the part already int eh Amazon reviews:

I obtained this book through the Kindle Unlimited program.

Papa Pat Rambles contains additional material, including the lyrics to the song. At least, part of it.
Despite the plot and the super-hero names, "Time Loop" has nothing to do with a comic book series.
Semi-Mad Scientist Dr. Sturm shows up in a time machine, nestled into the airframe of a space shuttle, and attempts to stop the Earth from being destroyed. However, no matter how many times he kills off the people who appear to have the most to do with the destruction, when the clock rolls around to 2200 AD, everybody dies.

More or less by accident, he accumulates a crew. They replace the originals, who were also Semi-Mad Scientists who started the program of destruction deferral with him.

Interesting concept: Since the purpose of the travel is to have an effect on Earth, It is convenient to have the Earth be in roughly the same place, every time the ship makes a jump. This means it's a lot easier, and presumably more energy efficient, to catch up with the Earth at the same point in its' orbit around the sun. (The movement of the sun through the galaxy and the galaxy through the universe are mentioned as well, but they aren't really plot points.) That means that it's relatively easy to go from January 1, 2010, to January 1, 1950, for example, but not so easy to go from January 1 to July 1. 

Different positions in the orbit, right?

Here's how to deal with the Grandfather Paradox: HA HA HA HA HA! NOT TELLING!

Get this one, you won't regret it! 

Peace be on your household.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You



To skip directly to the Amazon review, click here. If you find the review 'Helpful' you can click the appropriate button. It won't cost you a cent.

There is something strangely satisfying about listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, BB King, and other guitar greats tear it up while reading the Bible and reviewing science fiction. I would encourage anyone to try it at least once.

The Bible part is the opening chapter of the book of Job. In case you aren't familiar with the story, it starts with a description of one of the ancients, who was a really good guy and happened to be rich. He was rich in sheep, oxen, camels, and donkeys, as well as servants to take care of them, and he had a large and loving family as well. Being rich didn't mess with his personality, though, and that's important. Please be clear on this: he didn't do anything wrong to deserve what was about to happen to him.

You know how in all the stories, things happen in threes? Well, this one doesn't follow the pattern; it's really a 'four plus two.'  I don't know any other stories that use this format, which suggests to me that I had better pay attention, because that alone makes this story special.

Here are the four: One after another, four servants arrive and tell him everything he has is gone. The first servant arrives to tell him raiders took his oxen and donkeys; the second tells him fire from heaven wiped out his sheep; the third tells him a different group of raiders stole his camels; the last of the four tells him all of his children are dead. Each one ends his report with: "and I alone escaped to tell you."

There's more to come, by the way; it's four plus two. Job gets sick, and his wife repudiates him; those are the two.

Warning: I am about to distort the meaning of the message radically.

Today, and every day, I have alone escaped to tell you. What does that mean?

Well, first of all, it means that despite all of the company I've had along my journey, I'm the only one who is left to tell you. Some have passed, others have moved, some are still in my life but at a greater distance. In any event, if you want to hear my message, I'm the only one who can tell it.

Second (and this is the tricky part), I'm the one who determines what the message is. Yeah, that's different.

See, the servants in Job's story were just reporting what had happened. They weren't providing any interpretation at all. But that really isn't a story, is it? Any more than the lyrics by themselves are a song. The interpretation of events: that's what matters. And I'm the only one who can create the meaning for my story.

So, think about that. You are the only one who can tell your story; you are the only one who can decide what your story means.

At least, that's the insight I have at this particular moment.

Now, as far as I can tell, NONE of this has anything to do with David Burkhead's story. A Google search for 'Live to Tell" results in a bunch of hits for a Madonna song; while I greatly appreciate Burkhead's work, I don't love it so much that I'm going to listen to Madonna to see if that is his inspiration. I sincerely hope not; he strikes me as the sort of gent who has better musical taste, but we've never had the occasion to raise the topic.

His story (the short story, not his life story) concerns a certain Sergeant Yamada, who is a solidly messed up individual, due to having been a prisoner of war of an alien species.

They are not nice people.

In fact, they use prisoners as game animals, and hunt them with primitive weapons.

And now, their warship has overtaken the hospital ship that is evacuating Yamada and other wounded back to safety. It's a sure bet that they are going to take everyone aboard as a prisoner.

This isn't so much a story of vengeance as a blurry path of redemption. Yamada is still having active flashbacks at the beginning of the story, due to his experiences, and it's a combination of his training and determination, plus the requisite opportunity, that allow him to leave the protective & reactive mode.

It's a good read, and it's well worth your time. The writing is tight, the characters are real, and the monsters are appropriately monstrous. Plenty of action, and there is enough narrative that we have no problem understanding what is going on inside Yamada's head.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Peace be on your house.


Monday, August 7, 2017

The Golden Horde, by Chris Kennedy



If you just want the condensed review on Amazon, click here

As a matter of fact, click there anyway, and mark my review 'Helpful' (if you find it so). I'm working on three fronts now: this blog, Amazon reviews, and Goodreads reviews. The only one that matters for the authors (except in terms of exposure) is the Amazon review, and for reasons I can't go into right now, but have explained elsewhere, 'Helpful' clicks have the best potential for translating into money for the people doing the creative work.

It's been a month since the worlds of the Four Horsemen exploded into my reading sphere. It was the launch of  "A Fistful of Credits" at LibertyCon (which I was able to not attend, for the nth year in a row) that got my attention, and I reviewed it here on July 7.

And I was in love.

I should say, rather, that the love I already had, for military sci-fi, had found an additional object of affection. I had some prior reviewing commitments, but I immediately added "The Revelations Cycle" (for such is the name of the Horsemen series) to the queue. It SEEMS as though I've been entirely immersed in Horse product ever since, but actually, Dear Readers, that has not been the case. I just went back and counted, and discovered that since that review of FOC, I reviewed nine works by seven different authors. They were GOOD books too, although perhaps not in the transcendent sense that Theresa is a GOOD girl.

However, it's extremely rare for me to review multiple works out of the same series in a short period of time.
I can only think of one other time I've done that, and that was when I read David Pascoe's Volumes 2 - 6 of "Tales of the Unquiet Gods" from July 2 - July 4, 2015, but those were short stories/ chapters issued later as a single book. It's well worth your time, by the way.

The reason is that there are a LOT of great authors out there, writing a LOT of great books, and it's aggravating to me that they get lost in the crowd. So, I rarely review more than two in a row from the same series or author. Except with this series: With this review, I will have done seven works in the past month. Five are novels, reviewed here and on Amazon and Goodreads; the other two are short stories, which I have submitted to Tightbeam, the National Fantasy Fan Federation ezine.

It's been GREAT! And I'm given to understand that more is on the way.

The "Golden Horde" features another great mecha battle scene (taken from the book, by the way) by Brenda Mihalko and Ricky Ryan. I was not familiar with their work prior to starting the series, but the art and lettering has been great, and the consistent approach means you can recognize a book from the series without question.

The basic storyline is that the aliens landed on Earth, once Voyager 1 left the solar system, since that qualified us as an interstellar species. They had huge technological advances to sell us; unfortunately, apart from some raw materials, we had nothing they were interested in. However, through an unfortunate series of events, they discovered we could fight, and that turned out to be a rare trait in the Galactic Union.

The fix was in at the start, though. In addition to dumping their rubbish on Earth buyers, the initiation into the Mercenary Guild turned out to be particularly brutal. Of the 100 mercenary and military groups who went out first (known as the Alpha Contracts), only four came back. Each one of these happened to feature the image of a horse on their battle regalia, so they collectively became known as the Four Horsemen: Cartwright's Cavaliers, Asbaran Solutions, the Winged Hussars, and the Golden Horde.

Recently, each one has faced some pretty tough luck. But, as the saying goes: once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, the third time is enemy action. Since the Golden Horde is the FOURTH occurrence, there can be no doubt about the malevolence.

All of the Four Horsemen have some unusual ways of accomplishing missions, but the Golden Horde is just downright...weird. Their tradition demands that they be lead by a matriarch, who receives a vision on her deathbed, which she passes on to her successor. These visions are treated with utmost sincerity by the leadership, and their fervor communicates itself to the cadre and the troops.

The transmission of believe is facilitated by two things: the troops are recruited from orphanages, so the Horde becomes their new family, even giving them new names; and each troop is given cybernetic upgrades, so they can link with each other and their equipment through electronic telepathy.

The close-knit nature of internal relationships is contrasted with the distance the Horde keeps from everyone else. Although they will ally with other mercenary groups, they take special care to make sure they have complete control over all modifications of their equipment. They employ the best hackers in the universe to refine and protect their operating systems, and that's been working well for them.

Until they get struck with their own version of the Summerkorn Blues. He has been trained in logistics, and initially just got off track because he couldn't see the forest for the trees; he's dither on submitting the moist precise report possible, until it was too late for it to make a difference. Cashiered from each of the other Horsemen, he is, somewhat inexplicably, hired to fill a critical spot in the Horde's supply team. And here, his desire to make up for his previous errors results in the greatest threat to the human race being unleashed.

Those spunky Earthmen: will they manage to muddle through? Tune in next week!

Actually, it seems as if I heard somewhere that there IS something coming out on August 10, but don't quote me on that. However, DO quote me on this: it's a most excellent series, a most excellent book, and it has some of the most interesting characters and monsters I've seen all week.

Final note: thank you, to all who sent well-wishes to us for our anniversary. It blessed our hearts.

Peace be on your household.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

I will NOT share space with Four Horsemen today!

Today is the sixth anniversary of the day that Vanessa and I were united in Holy Matrimony.


We eloped. 

The email I sent out to close friends and family said:
Unless you are very prompt about checking your email, by the time you read this, we will be married. It's scheduled as a stealth event (no invites, etc) just after the 5:00 PM service at Liberty Church.
Vanessa and Pat 
The reason for the elopement?

Except for our church family, and one or two of our bio-family, we were catching great big gobs of resistance, and some astounding roadblocks. I think most of it was well-intentioned; people didn't want us to 'rush into things.' They didn't want us to have to face the rigors of living as a mixed race couple in the south. There were some SERIOUS questions about my health, and my ability to provide proper parenting to Kenneth and Alicia, who, at ages 6 & 5, were starting first grade and kindergarten. Yeah, got that; we had spent a LOT of time working on those issues, and if we didn't have answers at that point, we at least understood that we were going to have to come up with them in the course of things.

Some of the objections weren't well-intentioned at all, and those we just disregarded. With regret, often, because they came from people we loved, but we were mature adults (58 & 51), and we realized the futility of trying to please people who weren't interested in being pleased except on their own terms.

Wanna know a secret?

I've saved every bit of correspondence Vanessa and I have ever had with each other, from the very first contact on Christian Mingle, the internet dating site where we met. For an anniversary present (first? second? we don't recall) I printed it all out, and gave it to her, sorted and boxed up.

And, in the process of looking for a wedding picture to include, I happened to read some of the last exchanges before the wedding.

I had forgotten the rather frantic negotiations that took place in the days immediately preceding the wedding. I had forgotten just how desolate I was, BECAUSE we had actually scheduled the wedding for July 9, we had some almost unbelievable family/friend induced drama in the two weeks leading up to the wedding, and I finally called it off with just days to go.

It kicked the guts right out of both of us.

From the beginning of our courtship, we had been seeking (and receiving) counsel. We studied books together, listened to teaching tapes, and followed carefully the program of study prescribed to us by our pastor. So, when the wheels came off, we didn't have to work hard to find help & bring them up to speed. Even so, it was crushing to both of us.

I felt like I was going to die, but was afraid I wasn't.

We took a break from each other, and continued to work with our pastor (and our APPROPRIATE friends), for a month.

I've looked at some of our writings from that period, and it would just break your heart, IF you didn't know that the story has a happy ending.

The ONLY good part about it is that it makes me truly grateful for today. Because  we DID resolve those catastrophic issues, and we DID agree to continue to work with each other, and with informed counsel when needed, it's amazing how far we have come together.

I remember that guy, I remember his pain, and the thing that touches me the most is how little hope he had for the future. Can't blame him, really; this is a guy who lost his health, his career, and then his family, all in the space of a few weeks. He sat in a chair for three years, and about all he could do was breathe in, and breathe out. And, when he had the energy, when he breathed out, he said the prayer: "Jesus, save."

That's all he could do.

So, he was used to failure; he was used to enduring. He wasn't used to joy. So, when the light dawned, in the person of this wonderful, radiant, godly woman, it was a new experience. And when it collapsed, he returned to his chair.

"Jesus, save." Because he had no hope now, and not much experience of hope from the past to draw on.

Here's the deal: Sometimes we change because we feel the heat, not because we see the light. So, the last thing that guy wrote, six years ago, was this: "I can't stand the thought of living in the dark any more."

And he went on, and got stronger, and he became me. I walk without a cane, today, and I've lost 40 pounds of belly fat, and I exercise regularly, and I make it to church on time, every week.

And now you know why I refer to Vanessa as

My gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA.



Peace be on your household.
 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The LawDog Files, by D. LawDog (& Keyboard Blues)



To read the somewhat condensed Amazon review, click here.

How far do you go before you replace your keyboard? I've had this one, a Logitech Wireless K520, for quite some time. The letters are starting to wear off. The letter 'A' is just a blank key, and others are not far behind. One of the keys on the number pad is completely gone; the thing just popped off one time when I knocked the keyboard off the desk. It didn't really bother me, since I didn't ever use that key. I'm not even sure what it is. It's between the '/' key and the '-' key. Probably the '*', which I rarely use, and when I do, I just use 'Shift8.'

But recently, I've been having other problems. It's a wireless, and I thought it might be the batteries, but they check out fine, and a replacement didn't make any changes. It's likely cat hair, since SugarBelly refuses to modify her behavior of sleeping on me, regardless of whatever else I have in my lap at the time. Twice recently, I've had bizarre events happen; the most recent was an attack of the letter 'k,' all across the screen. Fortunately, I noticed it right away, and it responded to a sound trouncing. But, I fear, It's time to go after another keyboard. I think I'll get this one:


It allegedly will work with the same dongle my trackball uses.
Sigh.

I am almost positive that my first contact with the LawDog came from Peter Grant's blog, the Bayou Renaissance Man.

I am similarly under the strong impression that said introduction came in form of a squee.

And thus, I have a bit of cognitive dissonance I must overcome, because to the best of my knowledge, Peter Grant has never been known to squee.

Maybe it was in the comments section. Maybe it was a guest post. Maybe it was Dorothy.

Maybe I'm mistaken.

But I don't think so.

At any rate, the squee was to the effect that the LawDog had agreed to write a book, or was going to re-activate his blog, or was within driving distance, or was going to be at a convention, or some combination of all the above. At any rate, the news prompted a squee. Who it was who squeed, doesn't really matter anymore, because I arrived at SqueeSource.

If not quite of the same status as an imprimatur, a Foreword written by Larry Corriea has at least symbolic value to the hordes who shamble after him, holding out cash and begging for something else to read. In this case, though, it serves to tie in the current work with an experience that many of us (at least those of a certain level of maturity of years) have shared: finding a bright ray of light in the early days of what has become the Internet. Long before pictures of cats were available, text-based bulletin boards gradually evolved into text based fora, where grim knowledge was exchanged, along with the occasional insult. LawDog injected some humor into the wasteland, and thus won a following. (Note: I am a member of that same forum, dating from about 10 years after LawDog started posting. Sigh. Had I only started earlier, who knows? Perhaps I would now own a mountain.)

The stories are a selection of the material LawDog has posted over the last 20 years. Prior to each story, he provides some of the background material that lead up to the post. For those of us who LOVE back story, this is exactly the sort of icing on the cake that makes us feel like we are part of the inner circle.

The very first story he posted, sometime in the late 1990s, had a drunken, lovestruck armadillo as a main character. What makes the story stand out, however, is not the armadillo, but LawDog's ability with language to poke fun at himself. He describes hanging upside down in a thorny hedge, while fellow LEOs and other emergency service people are standing around, helpless with laughter, in such a way that we are brought into the event. With talent like this, and material to work with with, failure to amuse was NOT an option.

LawDog kills Santa Claus. He falls on the ice, and uses that as a tool to catch a miscreant. He introduces us to characters we NEVER hope to meet in person, including various members of Big Mama's family.  He also gives us insight into the times when the solution to a crime problem DOESN'T involve an arrest, and the times when sitting in silence is the very best choice that can be made.

It's the latter, I believe, that keep the LawDog from that edge of cynicism about the human condition that grinds so many cops into the ground. If you want a beautiful picture of human compassion, then read "Going Home," a story about his search for an elderly man missing from a nursing home.

He gives us delicate and tasteful advice: "If you’re going to Say It With Saliva in Texas, make sure your boyfriend can take a whuppin’."

He describes the brilliance and utter stupidity of inmates, who publish their crimes  on social media, and who are able to recognize legitimacy of reports based on they type of language and ink used.

And, of course, the should-be-deservedly-so famous story of the Pink Gorilla Suit. It's so famous, it's INFAMOUS. Like El Guapo.

Be sure of this: unless you are ill, incarcerated, or have very little sense of humor (poor soul), you will find something to love in the LawDog Files.

And on August 10, the LawDog's African stories will be available on Amazon. You can pre-order it here:



Peace be on your house.

Friday, August 4, 2017

When Good Authors Get Bad Reviews: Cedar Sanderson's "Snow In Her Eyes"



If you want to read the concise Amazon review, and avoid the chest-beating, click here.

In the 1994 movie "Leon: The Professional," one of hitman's rules is : No women, no kids.

Now, one day I was thinking: 'Hey, maybe it would be nice if I had some ethics or something.' I really didn't want to take a class, or have to read some philosophy book, or anything like that, BUT it just so happens that I HAD seen that movie.

'Wow,' I thought, 'this is going to be EASY! Leon's already done the heavy lifting for me. I'll just use his approach.'

And that's what I did.

Actually, I have adopted it not so much as my ethics (or whatever), but as a sort-of guide to which books to read or movies to watch. It chops some of my options pretty severely from time to time; a couple of months ago, I was looking for an action flick, and the description of about six of them in a row were 'Bubba was finished being a cop/criminal/international spy until they murdered/raped/kidnapped his wife/kid/family. Now he's after revenge.'

So, that night, I read a book instead.

Actually, there are  few other things I don't do.

One of them is horror, particularly slasher stuff. That's not ethical, it's good old fashioned scaredy pants fraidy cat stuff. I don't like being scared, I don't like having things jump out at me, and so there are huge areas of modern culture that I have missed on purpose.

I also don't care for porn, and that extends to sexually explicit scenes in otherwise good books. I skip over those parts, and enjoy the rest of the story. My reason for that is a bit more personal; I prefer my physical intimacy to be participatory, and I ALSO prefer the images in my head not to be of some actress who doesn't know or care that I exist. Yes, I am aware that there are a lot of beautiful women in the world. Only one of them is mine, and that is more than sufficient, thank you very much. I've got the best one, anyway.

My standard approach to books that deal with the above areas is to ignore them. I only work for myself; there is no one who tells me I have to review certain books. I only read what I want to read; that's why, if you look at my reviews, you will find that the vast majority award 4 or 5 stars. I have been chastised for this in the past; some people have accused me of pandering to authors, others have told me I was an easy grader.

Well, bite me.

When I select the food I'm going to eat for lunch, I'm going to get what I want. I do the same thing with the books I read. If you read my reviews, I think you'll agree that they aren't the review equivalent of elevator music: "Good read. Loved it. Can't wait for sequel." Nope, that's not the kind of review I write. I pick something I think I will like, and then I try to get everything out of it that the author put in. Every once in a while, I'll get something out that the author didn't intend, but it's usually in one of my areas of prior ignorance. For example, I reviewed a book some months ago in which the protagonist was asexual. I know NOTHING of that, and so I assumed that a particular act of physical intimacy was highly aversive to her. The author kindly informed me that wasn't the case, merely slightly uncomfortable; my interpretation made it a better story, though. (I think.)

If that is the case, why am I reviewing a book that I gave one star?

Part of is is because of the limitations of the Amazon rating system. If you look at what the ratings mean:
1 star: I hated it.
2 stars: I didn't like it.
3 stars: It was okay. (Amazon says this is a negative review, which makes no sense to me.)
4 stars: I liked it.
5 stars: I loved it.

You will notice that those ratings say nothing whatsoever about the artistry of the writing; the internal consistency of the story; plot development; originality; NOTHING at all about what I think really makes a book worth reading. It is an utterly subjective rating system, and I suppose the only kind that makes sense in the mass-market approach Amazon takes with the book reading public.

Now, that only explains the rating system, and not why I reviewed a book I gave 1 star to, and why I gave it one star.

Briefly:
1. I gave it one star, because in the first paragraph, the author kills off a baby girl. No women, no kids; one star.
2. I reviewed it because the author is Cedar Sanderson, and she is one of my favorite writers, and one of my favorite people as well. I couldn't NOT review it without my favoritism toward her and her work utterly destroying any credibility I have as a reviewer.  I gave Declan Finn, another favorite, a two-star review about a month ago for the same reason, and I wouldn't be able to face him if I were to give this book a pass.

Now, here comes the review of the book; this is the only part that will appear on Amazon and on Goodreads. Those of you who read my blog, therefore, have what Paul Harvey would have referred to as the rest of the story.

I obtained this book through the Kindle Unlimited program.
The starkly beautiful cover, also by Sanderson, shows the faint outline of a beautiful, big-eyed little girl, looking out in puzzlement from a frame of evergreens in the snow, an exquisitely drawn red snowflake and red spatters providing the hint of tragedy.

The first paragraph confirms it all.

Paranormal investigator Amaya is at the site of a multiple homicide, kneeling outside beside the frozen body of a three year old girl. The image of an unfrozen snowflake resting on the little girl's open eye is written with a pain-filled brutality; this is all there is left of the little girl, her life is no more, for reasons she would have been too young to understand.

The death is obviously caused by magic, because the cold is unnatural; there is no way the body of the little girl could have been frozen solid by the moderate temperatures at that time of year.

Inside the house are three other dead bodies. Two are the result of conventional forms of homicide, a man killed by a slashing attack,  and a woman dead by a shotgun blast. A second man is frozen solid, like the little girl, still holding the shotgun that took the life of the woman.

The investigation that follows is an elegant blend of paranormal investigation, logical puzzle-solving, and old-fashioned police work.  The clues to the crime are in plain sight; this isn't one of those mysteries where you have to know the thirty-seven varieties of English cigar ash in order to solve the problem. On my second read-through, I drew out a diagram of the relationships as I met the characters, and proved to myself that, yes, this WAS a fair mystery. It's just complex.

As is the case in real life, details exist that are neither red herrings, nor are they essential elements of the crime. Mixed in with those are some factors which DO have bearing on the story, but you don't know which is which.  Amaya's office is in a broom closet, because magic gives her migraines, and she wants to throw up in private. The head of the local witches' coven is Amaya's great aunt. The police chief hasn't learned how to eliminate paper from his paperwork. Amaya's left hand is prosthetic. She likes tea, because coffee is too bitter. All of the elements combine to describe the people and the environment, BUT this isn't one of those heavy-handed stories which only mentions the tsotchkes because one of them is missing/the murder weapon/a clue to the murderer. They just go into making an elegant tale.

As does her precise beauty of word choice. In one scene, she describes the effect of a defensive spell which is keeping her and her partner from approaching a house.

I could hear that he was talking, but the words were distant, almost music if a muted trombone were playing a solo.

I read that, and I've got the Miles Davis band playing in my head immediately.

Although this is a short piece, and there are no elements left hanging, there are plenty of details which tickle. For example, the professional status Amaya has as an official paranormal investigator is bothersome to some of the other law enforcement officers. For another, how did she come by a prosthetic arm? And why was her aunt only free from jail because of Amaya's sufferance? Sanderson does these things, though. About five years ago, she wrote a short work called 'Stargazer' which  DEMANDED one or more sequels, and so far, that hasn't happened. I believe that is something we are going to have to accept about Sanderson; she is always going to leave us wanting more.


Peace be on your household.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Memorials, and Winged Hussars by Mark Wandrey



If you just want to read the concise Amazon review, you can click here. 

This morning on my walk, I listened to a podcast discussing memorials, particularly statues. They started out by pondering the significance of statues, and decided that statues of living people were creepy. I'd be inclined to go along with that; I tend to associate statues of living people as being associated with repressive governments.

So, let's consider other forms of monuments. I happen to regard Mother Teresa as one of the greatest humanitarian figures of the 20th century. For years, I carried a medallion with the image of her face on it in my pocket, every day (and I'm not Catholic). She spent her life caring for the poor, and finally, got some recognition internationally. It didn't seem to change her much. I watched William F. Buckley, a devout Roman Catholic & conservative intellectual, interview her. He was hoping, I suppose, to elicit some sort of statement from her to the effect that there were economic solutions to the problems of the grinding poverty in Calcutta.

"No," she said. "It's only love."

He tried again, with a respectful restatement. She waited calmly and patiently for him to finish his question.

"No," she said. "It's only love."

She had no regard for the fact that she was being interviewed by a big shot on big shot TV. She looked as if she were waiting patiently for this to be over, so she could go back to her job of caring for children.

And on February 3, 1994, Mother Teresa was invited to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast. Who issued the invitation? The then President of the United States, Bill Clinton. At his side was his wife, Hillary, who even then was on the record for a national healthcare plan that would include abortion services.

And what did the little nun say?
Mother Teresa had said: “Please don’t kill the child. I want the child. Give me the child. I’m willing to accept any child who would be aborted and to give that child to a married couple who will love the child and be loved by the child.”
It was shocking. Contemporary reports have the Clintons & others sitting in stony-faced silence while the room applauded the nun who dared.

That is NOT the end of the story.

About a year and a half later, on June 19, 1995, the Mother Teresa Home for Infant Children was opened in Washington DC. Who provided the driving force to make it happen?

Hillary Clinton. Under relentless urging via letters and phone calls from Mother Teresa, she got the appropriate people to put their names on the appropriate papers, and the home became a reality.

But THAT is also not the end of the story.

Mother Teresa died in 1997; and, in 2002, the Home for Infant Children closed. I haven't been able to get a clear picture about the circumstances, or if there was a foundation or legacy that carried on that specific work.

So: does that mean there is no memorial to Mother Teresa, more specifically, to her courageous acts in challenging the mighty at the National Prayer Breakfast?

Well, I carry the memorial around with me. And you are reading this, so maybe you will be part of the memorial. And I think that's as good as it gets. If YOU don't think so, then take your kids to some historical site, whether it has a statue/marker or not, and see if being there is meaningful to them. Where I live, we've got LOTS of Civil War battlegrounds, some marked, others not. They only mean what what each individual wants them to mean, and no amount of concrete is going to change that. 

So: make your memorial: teach a kid to read. Take somebody to a movie. Babysit. Give a neighbor a pie you baked yourself. Let someone get ahead of you in the line in rush hour traffic. 

Figure it out.

And here's the review of "Winged Hussars," by Mark Wandrey:

I usually immediately forget the names of cover artists; however, having read multiple volumes in this series over the past month, I recognize the work of Brenda Mihalko and Ricky Ryan, and say : bravo! Even the choice of the font (looks like war metal) contributes to the picture. Author's name & book title are both easily read, and the mecha and armed furry critter are nicely framed.

When the aliens made contact, the earth was dismayed to discover that they really didn't have anything to trade in exchange for the advanced technology available through the Galactic Union. Fortunately, before we dwindled into insignificance, it was discovered that we could fight. Since this was a rare condition among the vast majority of the alien races, good mercenaries were always in demand. Details are, at this point, somewhat sketchy, but we DO know that there was skullduggery involved; of the 100 mercenary companies to head into space with a contracted mission, only four came back, Coincidentally, all four featured a horse on their unit flag, and thus began the story of the Four Horsemen.

The Winged Hussars had 'lucked' ( luck = preparation+opportunity) into an alien ship, and came home better prepared than they had been when they went out. Their missions were largely space-based, unlike the other three Horsemen, who tended to specialize in ground-based combat.

Alexis Cromwell commands the Winged Hussars, as well as their flagship, the EMS Pegasus, which is the ship recovered by the original contract team. It has unusual characteristics, which she is careful to hide from enemies. And allies. And crew. She's widely regarded as filthy rich, drop-dead gorgeous, and ruthless in business negotiations as well as in combat. Some of that is due to her secret weapon.
Rick Culper is a gentle giant. I KNOW THIS GUY, because I have a son just like him. He rarely has to resort to violence being somewhat physically overpowering. As a young boy, he befriended a pudgy klutz, just out of a desire to see fair treatment and stop a bully form getting his way; when he discovered this was the designated heir of the senior of the Four Horsemen, he figured he had found his place in life. He would become a mercenary, go to work for his buddy, go to exotic places, meet interesting beings, kill them, and get rich. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out that way. The nasty plot running in the background bankrupted the Cavaliers, and Rick had to go elsewhere.

After his training, and before his first combat deployment, a bad thing happened. While hitching a ride on a freighter to a place he can get hired as a mercenary, Rick has to fight pirates, and suffers a pretty serious brain injury. Physically, he comes back, but he's lost a lot of his memory, and doesn't seem to be able to feel emotions, either. After he is patched up, mostly, he signs with the Winged Hussars, who are looking for people with his skill set. Umm..the shipboard marine skillset, not the brain-damaged skill set.

Other items of note:

1. Beside the standard, contract violence, some person or corporate entity has the agenda of destroying the Winged Hussars. This is absolutely forbidden by law and custom.

2. In Interlude sections, we get clues to what drives Captain Alexis.

3. Winged Hussars uses aliens as mercenaries in every position, including having them hold command over humans. Anyone who can't deal with that doesn't get accepted.

4. The aliens are treated as people, with complex motivations. The best example of this is the gigantic spider, Oort. Although her species is known for battle ferocity, including feeding on the bodies of the dead, Oort has had repeated near-death experiences, and it's caused her to attempt to determine The Meaning of Life. When not engaged in a duty assignment, she is reading books by some horrible 19th century German philosophers. Now, I have ATTEMPTED to read some of the works mentioned, and they are so impenetrable as to be frustrating. I think the only way to get through the works would be to have a time machine, go back to a beer hall, and demand that these people explain what they are talking about over beer and sausage. Even Soren Kierkegaard is impenetrable, even if you already know what he's going to say. Frankly, I think that class set back the study of the meaning of life by at least 200 years, by muddying the waters so badly. But, this is the sort of thing the spider reads right before going into combat.

So: great continuation of the storyline, great characters, great exploding spaceships.

BUY THE BOOK!

Peace be on your household.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Very UnCONventional Christmas, Stephanie Osborn



If you just want the condensed Amazon review, you can get it here.

Warning: rantish behavior follows!

Agent Echo doesn't like Christmas. I don't either.

He gives in a little, and I have as well, but when the kids are out of the house, I will NOT be doing anymore Christmas stuff. I'm delighted for you if you disagree, and I'm perfectly happy being called a grinch or scrooge.

I'm not going to divulge his reasons, because that's his story to tell. The reason I don't like it are numerous, but mostly because it has become such a hyped-up event that it can never live up to the promises of the Hallmark movies.

I don't like the Hallmark movies, either.

It gives me an opportunity to go to the Waffle House. I get to do that on Christmas and my birthday, without anybody giving me any grief about it. I go at other times as well; as often as possible, in fact. However, I look forward to Waffle House, and leaving a huge tip for the waitress, and that's about it.

In recent years, I have requested that anyone who wishes to provide me with a Christmas present should make a donation to a shelter, and I particularly like the City of Refuge in Atlanta, because they provide the total package.

Your mileage may vary.

But, here is the review of the book:

 The Division One Alpha Line is approaching Christmas, and there are some unusual circumstances.

One of the NON-unusual circumstances is the well-executed and witty cover, a comment I am inserting at this particular point because if i don't I'll forget it, and this whole word processing thing is just a fad. Why copy and paste to a better location, when it interrupts the flow of ideas? Or something. At any rate, the cover design is by one Darrell Osborn; I believe he and the author are known to take personal liberties with each other as a medium of exchange.

I hope you see what I did there, because that IS one of the unusual circumstances. Partly because Agents Echo and Omega are the top dogs in a pack of alphas, and perhaps for other reasons, there are nasty rumors floating around about the nature of their relationship. Since they both have history which prevents clear perception of relationship possibilities, they have not hurled themselves into each other's arms, and the filthy-minded simply refuse to believe that things are as they appear. She's gorgeous, they think, so he MUST be sleeping with her. And since he is sleeping with her, that MUST be the only reason she has the job.

Well, sorry to tell you nasty, nasty little creeps, but their relationship is held in check by the author.

So there.

In addition to the lies, rumors, and innuendo, Echo and Omega discover there has been a major security breach. Their first clue? Getting ambushed by children. Seems that the hottest toy this Christmas is a thinly-veiled Division One replica, with look-alike agent action figures, blasters, and so forth. And a movie is in production.

Oh, my! Who could be behind such a dastardly plan to expose the most secret of all secret agencies?

Yeah, well, the answer IS "bad guys," but I'm afraid I just can't get more specific than that.

Spoilers, ya know.

Nicely Tuckerized in the story are several figures who are Known Associates, and no damage is done to the reputation of any. Although: there is one scene in which the determination of one character to do a thorough job causes him to get repeatedly brain-bleached.

For the record, it takes place at a science fiction convention, which is the 'CON' hidden in the title. I've never attended one of those, but I have been to a large number of professional cons, and being brain-bleached is NOT, by far, the worst thing a behind-the-scenes person may expect.

Peace be on your household.