Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Magic Casement, by Dave Duncan

A big shout out to Scott J Robinson fellow Mad Genius Club fan, for recommending Dave Duncan to me. And another big shout out for reminding me of that fact, BECAUSE I had absolutely no recollection of downloading the book. No, I do not drink, but I do occasionally sleep, and sometimes right before that, I do things. Not BAD things, but things like watch part of a movie, and then the next morning...what was I talking about? Did I say that out loud?

Once upon a time, there was a princess named Inos. She lived in a tiny little kingdom as the daughter and only child of the kindly king. She didn't like to dress up and have her hair done, but she loved riding her horse and digging for clams on the beach, and she played with the other children without regard for station in life.
Okay, did that sound even the LEAST bit pretentious or hoity toity? No, it just sounded like the start of a great story that you'd love to read for yourself, and then read to your children and grandchildren. And that's exactly the kind of story this is. I wish there were millions more just like it, because then we'd all be reading to our little ones, and Cartoon Network would go out of business....but maybe that's taking this too far.
There really is a princess, and she really is like what I said. But it's not all tomboy princesses. There are wizards and mages and sorcerers, and even gods and goddesses, and in this story, they intervene some of the time. And not all of those with magic powers are nice.
Man, I have GOT to stop writing like I'm talking to an eight year old.
It's just that the book is so well written, that an eight year old could be entertained by it, but it's deep enough that an adult can enjoy it as well. That's a special gift that Dave Duncan has, and evidently I DON'T have it, or I wouldn't have to stop writing so often and return to the adult world.
Okay, let me rip through this before I start getting all precious on you: The two main characters are Inos, the princess, and Rap, the nothing. At least, he is nothing to start with, just an orphan, but as it turns out, he's good with animals. And then the plot thickens.
The people in the kingdom are either imps or jotuns, and Inos comes from both lines. Their kingdom, although small, is critical to the well-balanced running of the rest of the world. Beside imps and jotuns, there are fauns (Rap is half faun, on his mother's side) and goblins, and maybe other types as well. Because they are in a key location, and because the king is getting old, the matter of Inos' future husband is a great concern. There is MUCH intrigue at this level.
Warning: this book is the first of a series, and you aren't going to want to stop with just one. That's okay for YOU, because you aren't reviewers, but if I indulge myself on nothing but Duncan for the next month, my influence will begin to fade, and my contribution to taking over the world and then leaving it ruthlessly alone will become insignificant. Oh, yes, it is a high and lonely road we reviewers have chosen. (Gives a deep sigh, and gazes into the distance. Sees no one watches. Finishes reviewing.)

Night Shifted, by Kate Paulk

What if vampires WEREN'T the creepy blood-lusting monsters Bram Stoker described? What if they were regular folks who had one bad date too many?
Well, that's what I found out when I was loaned this short story by my fellow Mad Genius Club fan The Real McChuck. Seems it's rather difficult to live a normal life in Houston if you are a regular guy, and a vampire. The benefits (including the speed and muscle power) just don't offset the hassles of trying to get a college schedule consisting of nothing but night classes meeting after dark. Frankly, as a person who scranched my way through taking night classes for three degrees at Georgia State University, I might recommend moving from Texas to Atlanta, but then again, it seems that everybody else in the country has already had that idea, to judge from the traffic, so I'm not going to offer that as career advice. Just, you know, you always have options, even if you are a vampire. Heck, I saw plenty of undergrad art students that might have been vampires, and this was as far back as 1977, when nobody was goth yet. I don't think any of the business students were vampires, although they were all night students, and I'm pretty sure the psych majors were mostly harmless. The school of journalism, though: well, all bets were off.
So, our hero, the hapless vampire and truly a nice person, by the way, does what the rest of us do: he gets a job to pay the bills. Mind you, he is somewhat restricted, because the daylight thing? It's a deal killer. Not to mention a vampire killer. Fortunately, he has a boss who will cover for him on those few days when sun intrudes on the graveyard shift in the job he finds to be most convenient: clerking in a convenience store. It's not all bad, if you don't mind working hard part of the time (and being bored out of your gourd, part of the time, but that doesn't enter into the story). There are some regular customers who make the store a part of their routine. And by the way, this is a true-to life description. I used to work the night shift at the Pig in Macon, and there were cops who would drop by nearly every night, which worked in my favor once when I got lost downtown and ran a red light while looking for a street I recognized.
But in the Houston convenience store on the night shift, it gets weird one night. Yeah, even more weird than a vampire ringing up slurpees. A pitiful, scrawny, frightened little snip of a girl walks through the front door and tries to kill the vampire, because, well, they are evil, ya know? Except this one isn't, so it's really good that the girl (going by the name of Anna, although it COULD be an alias, nobody checked her ID) is so marvelously ill informed about what kills vampires, and is pretty incompetent at what she does know. Really, the only thing she accomplishes is to make a mess.
And then the plot thickens...
It's a short, sweet little story, and well worth a buck for those of you who have one. Kate's humor shines in this one, and that's a really, really good thing. I happen to like warped, and this is just warped enough to make me smile. In my brain. I don't really smile with my face at anything, except my kids and especially my grandkids, or when I tell my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant foxy praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA a long involved explanation of something and then tell her I just made it up. That will, rarely, make my face smile. But Night Shifted definitely made my brain smile.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Space Between, Tribes of the Hakahei Book One, by Scott J Robinson

Well, if I'm not in Texas, I seem to be in Australia. At least, that is the impression I'm getting by the books I've been reading.
I have only JUST now gotten back into the swing of things of reviewing. For some bizarre reason, Pam Uphoff's "The Lawyers of Mars" took four days to read, which is longer than I spent reading "Gone With The Wind." That is NOT a criticism of Pam's work, by the way, I loved it. It's just that life, the universe, and everything seemed to conspire there for a bit to put me off schedule.
And after reading about Martian lawyers, I found myself with two books in my queue, and no idea of how I put them there. I'm sure I had a well thought out plan, and so far, it's looking like a good choice; just no memory of adding these two items.
However, I can at least identify the source of the book I'm reviewing today. Scott J Robinson, of Woodford, near Brisbane in Queensland, Australia, is a fan of The Mad Genius Club, as I am. However, Scott's also a writer, and evidently I glommed on to that fact and grabbed his book to read and review. I hope he doesn't mind.
I don't think he will, though, because he wrote a great book, and I'm going to tell you about it.
First, The Prologue. Skip it. Don't read it. It will confuse you twice, and the second confusion is the only one that's going to be cleared up in this book. I feel relatively certain that the first confusion will be cleared up in his later books, but it won't add ANYTHING (well, maybe a smidge) to the story, so: just skip The Prologue. My advice, take it or leave it.
So, start the book off by meeting Kim. She's irritating. She's irritating because she's usually right, and because she has a very low tolerance for fools. However, she is rather brilliant at grasping the key facts of a confusing situation, and getting things done, so there is that. Umm, she's a regular old Earth-type human by the way. Half Aussie, half American, and maybe that's why she is so irritating. Don't know; the only Aussies I've ever hung out with were magnificent in every way. I did know a New Zealander once who was a bit abrupt, but that might have been because I was 19 and a bit of a pain in the patoot at the time.
After you've met Kim, meet Meledrin. She's irritating, too. She's irritating because she is an elf, and has a deeply internalized belief in her own superiority, with respect to everyone else she comes in contact with AFTER she leaves her homeland. In her favor, though, she does condescend to treat her pet man with courtesy and respect, unlike her sister elves, and she has kept him around for 23 years when a year is the most that the other elves will spend on their dalliances. Perhaps related to this quirk in her character, she also is willing to take responsibility for Keeble, the one-handed dwarf, who has been exiled from his home to die. (Note: I don't know if his name is an intentional joke. In the states, Keebler is a company that makes cookies, and they used to run an ad campaign that claimed their cookies were made by elves in hollow trees. So, naming a dwarf Keeble is funny here. Is it funny Down Under?)
Keeble, the dwarf, isn't irritating. He is to Meledrin, but that's partly due to the fact that she has to be responsible for him, and partly due to the fact that she is contemptuous of all who aren't elves. To the rest of us, though, he's a nice guy, although a bit pathetic. All he wants to do is work, he can't keep a thought in his head, and he is great at what ever he does. I almost said "at whatever he sets his hand to," but then I'd have to explain that no pun was intended, and it's just not worth the effort.
And finally, there is Tuki, the giant. He's a bit irritating as well. It's mostly because he is so passive, due to being raised in a culture in which men can't make any decisions, but he also has what is a fatal flaw, at least for a Southern Redneck like myself: he won't eat bacon. Not only that, but he won't eat ANY meat. And he's really big, but he refuses to use his strength to get his way, and consequently gets the sand beat out of him by smaller people who mistake him for a troll. He's not a troll, by the way, he's a moai. (The Easter Island statues are also called moai, but if there is a tie-in, it doesn't happen in this novel.) He has found a crystal ball (his sweetie sent him after it) which acts as a...nah, not gonna tell you that.
So, four different kinds of people, each with a different skill set. First, they have to combat space bats. (The story reads a lot better than that.) Then they have to deal with organizational stodginess. And then other things happen, but I'm on a no-spoiler kick, so I'm not going to further divulge.
What I will do is tell you this: Scott is an excellent writer. No purple prose, no confusion, no dithering about; just good, straight forward writing. This is why I love indie publishing: phenomenal writers can get their work published without having to get sliced to pieces by corporations. Of course, I'd LOVE to see Scott's work become the next Game of Thrones, but actually, I don't think George RR's books had that much of an audience until HBO made a series with nekkid wimmin in it. Could be wrong, been wrong before. But I ain't wrong about this: The Space Between is worth your time.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Lawyers of Mars, by Pam Uphoff

First, I must offer my profound apology for going so long between book reviews. This was totally a function of life as we know it, a buzzing, incessant turbulence of irritations and stimuli, separated only by the blessed surcease of sleep.
There, I've used my quota of purple prose, now I can get to work.
I've been squeezing in reads of The Lawyers of Mars in between other things, and that's not entirely a bad thing. This is one of the books that I have had mutually contradictory thoughts about. On the one hand, I wanted to read read read fast so I can find out how the plot resolves. On the other hand, it is SO well written that I wanted it to go on forever. So, I indulged Hand Two for several days, and today I finally indulged Hand One. And the Gripping Hand is this is a funny, engaging book that keeps you on your toes throughout.
Xaero is the hero. She's a lizard, and a lawyer. You are hooked already, aren't you? You never expected lizard, lawyer, and hero all to be used in the same sentence, and yet, there you go! She's a she, but it's complicated, and I absolutely refuse to diagram out why that is true, because it will ruin the fun for you.
Her law firm doesn't do criminal law, but they have taken on one case, and stuck her with it. Her client is a nasty piece of work, and just as soon as she gets him off, she gets stuck with an even nastier client. And from there, we move into the intrigue of the first novella...
Office politics. Gender politics. Even political politics; not to mention raquetball playing plants and attempts to blow up the ecosystem. Xaero can handle them all, and she always has a knife, which is VERY important to her future.
Here's one of the greatest aspect of Pam's writing: she doesn't tell, she shows; and she doesn't show it all at once, either. There is a LOT to be shown, from the physical descriptions of the Martians, to the ecosystem, even the measures of time and distance. I found myself being swept up by the story, with a little question in my mind about (whatever) and then she does a reveal in a page or so, and the story doesn't suffer at all! In fact, She gives you enough of the differences, and there are enough similarities, that you can read the story without any sense of discontinuity at all.
Another thing: the book is about Lawyers. Says so right in the title. I'm not a lawyer, don't play one on TV, and I didn't sleep in a Holiday Inn last night, BUT I did expect to have to use my secret weapon. My gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant foxy praying black grandmother of Woodstock GA, is a legal parapro, and I was fully prepared to have to ask her to translate some lawyer-speak for me. DID NOT HAVE TO DO THAT! Although some of the scenes take place in court, and there are legal proceedings, it was never so advanced that I lost track of the story. I think people in the legal profession will be amused at some of the banter, but it was amusing to me as well.
Now, I have recently been admonished for including a spoiler (it was a mistake, honest) so I'm not going to divulge much more. I will say that the book consists of three novellas: The Lawyers of Mars; Martian Times; Martians in Space (aka M-A-ARTIAANS IN SP_A_A_ACE!!!) and you may draw your own conclusions from the titles. Each novella could be a stand-alone, but the characters carry over, and they really are too god a mix to split up.
And I will leave you with this final bit of wisdom: How do you hug a Martian? VERY carefully, no kidding, I mean it. Do it VERY CAREFULLY!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Hi-Point 4595: A possible alternative to the 12 gauge for home defense

I haven't finished my current book, Lawyers on Mars, so here's my first gun review.

It's almost a universal consensus: the absolute best home defense is a shotgun. NOT, by the way, the double barrel type mentioned by a certain elected official, but a standard pump action, such as the Mossberg 500 held by my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant foxy praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA. A double barrel is much better than a rock, but it's only got two shells, and then a slow reload. A standard pump will give you more than twice as many shots, even if you elect to keep the chamber empty in order to manifest that intimidating racking sound to warn off the bad guys.

But a shotgun doesn't have to be your ONLY option. If you live in a house with more than one level, as we do, you might want to keep the shotgun on one level (the bedroom, for example) and then have your alternative ready on another (the man cave, perhaps). And, while there are a number of good alternatives, I suggest you consider a pistol caliber rifle in .45 ACP, in particular, the Hi Point 4595.

Hi-Points are the best firearm value around, and they are made in America. My first big caliber pistol purchase was a Hi-Point, the JHP in .45 ACP, and it's as rugged an item as you'll find anywhere. It took any ammo, never failed, and was, and still is, extremely accurate. As soon as I saw the price, my mouth got dry, because I could afford it and I wanted it bad! It's been more than 10 years since I bought it, so memory is off, but I know I paid less than $150 brand new. I bought both of my sons a Hi-Point, and they have them to this day.
However, it's not a lightweight pistol, at 35 ounces. That's not a problem for me, and in fact I like the way the pistol absorbs recoil, but it is heavy for Vanessa, who is small, with small hands.
However, the rifle version, at 7 pounds, is quite manageable for her, and if you are a big person and want to show off, you can fire it one-handed. I don't recommend that, but you could do it.
The standard peep sights are excellent, even for guys like me with aging eyes. The rifle shoots better than I do, giving me nice tight groups at the indoor range where I go for target practice. I haven't tried it at longer distances, but the rifle will do its' job every time.
The standard Hi-Point magazine holds 9 rounds, and I would absolutely recommend that for home defense you keep it with the chamber loaded, giving you 10 booms before having to reload. If it takes more than 10 rounds for you to clear your home, you are living in the wrong neighborhood, and possibly in the wrong country.
The 4595 lists for $330. I paid less than that for both of mine; the first I bought new when they came out with the .45 version, and the second cost me $225 second-hand. For Hi-Point, second hand is no problem, because they have a lifetime, no questions asked full warranty. At that price, you can afford to keep one in the truck, one in the office; you get the idea.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Deadly Farce, by Jennifer McAndrews

I received a loaner copy of this book for review from The Real McChuck, a fellow Mad Genius Club fan, and a friend of the author's husband. I specifically asked to borrow this book, because I've reviewed nothing but F&SF for so long, I wanted to try my hand on something else.
(Ummm...now that I think about it, I realize that the wicked, wicked authors at MGC made me read some other stuff as well, notably Farmhands by Liliana Begley (Cedar Sanderson's pen name), but I still love them.)
Here's the plot: Lorraine, or Rainny to her friends, works security for a firm in New Jersey. She's relatively new to the company, and so she's the one who gets sent to guard museums, warehouses, and porch swings in the pale moonlight, while her more senior colleagues get the prestige jobs as body guards for Very Important People. This changes when Shepard, an old friend from WAY back, now a major movie star, calls her and asks if she come to a movie set in Atlantic City and keep him from getting killed. It seems when they were in school together, he was a shrimp, and she rather accidently stepped in a few times to protect him, so now he has an image of her as a super hero.
Major characters are:
Lorraine, the hero. She is a TRULY nice person. In fact, she's so nice, that her friends take advantage of her good nature, and often will get her to do something she doesn't really want to do. On the other hand, she refuses to get pushed around by people who aren't her friends, which includes most of the other people in the book.
Barb, Lorraine's buddy. She is a high school teacher, and since the action takes place in the summer, she's on vacation and is available to act as a sort of side-kick. She's the person Lorraine goes to when she needs information on what's happening in Movie Land. Barb knows the players, and what she doesn't know, she will research. The down side to Barb is that she is fascinated by the actors.
Shepard, the movie star and Lorraine's friend from way back. He thinks someone is trying to kill him, so he wants her protection, but he is rather a bit of a spoiled brat. In fact, there were moments when I rather hoped that he WOULD get killed, because he acts like such a jerk to those around him. He won't give Lorraine all the information she needs, won't cooperate with her instructions on keeping safe, and seems oblivious to the fact that his problems come directly or indirectly from his own actions. The only sympathetic aspect to the guy, in fact, is that Lorraine likes him.
Eddy, another movie star, friends with Shepard and Lorraine's secret weakness. He is an astoundingly nice person, despite being an actor. Seems like a Bruce Willis to me, but that's not based on any physical description, just the impact he has on Lorraine.
Assorted crazy Hollywood types. There are bullying directors, wacko actresses, and an occasional hint of agents.
Decent, hard working support staff. These tend to be likable people, not caught up in the fame game, who are getting the job done in spite of rain, snow, sleet, gloom of night, or crazy wacko Personalities.
The characters are very well done. The mystery is well-written, and I didn't know whodunnit until the reveal scene. Interestingly, there's no gun play, and Lorraine bemoans the fact that state law prohibits her from carrying.
I took longer to read this than I usually do, because of circumstances. That was not a bad thing, at all. It spread the experience out longer. However, I have a feeling that this is a book that could very easily deprive you of some sleep, if you start it too late in the evening. It's worth staying up past midnight, though. And do try not to do that if you have work in the morning, okay?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Folk Songs for Solar Sailors, by Leslie Fish and the Dehorn Crew

I hate doing taxes, and so I don't. Eventually, though, that bites me on the keester, like last summer when the IRS got tired of me, and took a ferocious bite out my paycheck for four months. I couldn't complain, really, I did it to myself.
So, with another tax deadline approaching, and my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant foxy praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, was getting progressively more antsy. She didn't get ugly about it, mind you; it's just that she doesn't have the ability to ignore things the way I do. So, to please her, I decided it was time to get the job done. Our church is built around the small group ministry, and at our last home group meeting, I asked the group to expect me to file at least one of the three years I was ignoring. So, I waited until the last day, and went for it. I downloaded the software from TaxACT ( a great package, if you do your own) and sat down to sort through three years of un-opened mail from the IRS.
But I needed something to help me along.
Leslie Fish.
It's the sheer beauty of her burn-it-to-the-ground attitude that called to me. The juxtaposition of the Lady Fish and the IRS has its' own dynamic tension; it's like eating a deep-fried tuna salad sandwich with raspberry preserves. And it got me through the initial rough spots, I was in the groove, and I finished 2012, 2013, and 2014. Took me about six solid hours.
And in the background, I got to listen to the smooth harmonies, and the lead singing of the Lady Fish, alternating with Mary Frohmann, and the haunting flute melodies.
I suppose my favorite song (at the moment) is Wobblies From Space. The liner note says it's a tribute to Joe Vlad, the oldest member of the Industrial Workers of the World. In the song, he organizes the crew of an un-specified spacecraft (probably the Enterprise) with humor and enthusiasm. I was fortunate to be raised in a union home, and hearing the old man telling of organizing the cows and leading them out on strike reminds me of a particular meal in Miami, listening to my dad discuss negotiating strategy with his old buddy Jimmy.
I was pleasantly surprised to find one particular song included. Yes, it's THAT song, the one that can get you stoned (I'm told) if you request it at a filk singing. I've also heard that the Lady herself refuses to include it in any of her song sets, and on the one occasion I mentioned it to her, her immediate response was GRRR! and I was glad there was about 2500 miles of country separating her fingers from my throat. Yes, I'm talking about BANNED FROM ARGO, that delightful banjo rendition celebrating a particular shore leave by the Enterprise where things got a bit active.
I suppose, since this is allegedly a review of the CD, that I should mention that the songs were released way back in the day when music came on flat vinyl, and you played them by jabbing the disk with a sharp object and rotating it. In 1976, the first 11 songs came out in the album "Folk Songs for Folks Who Ain't Even Been Yet," and the next year, the remaining eleven came out on "Solar Sailors." I can't resist the next pun, and I'm truly sorry for it: this was a labor-intensive production. All of the musicians and production crew are members of the union, and proud of it.
Flipping through: there's a love song here written by Leslie Fish. It's the perspective of Nurse Chapel, who has had cow eyes for Spock since the beginning. There's a song about a spaceship propelled by beer. And there is The Engineer's Hymn, rendered in a distinctly Scottish accent.
Okay, it's getting late, and we are baby-sitting, so there are three or four other kiddos running through the house, and my back hurts from sitting in this chair all day. I'm going to go tend to the pain, and assist Vanessa in entertaining our guests. If you have the opportunity to do so, make a $50 contribution to Leslie's endangered species planting, and she'll send you an autographed copy of this CD (or another one, I suppose, if you prefer) and you'll be a part of her project. It's a worthwhile endeavor.

No review, just bread, gold, the missing knife, and Texas

First, the reason you will get no review from me today: I am going to work on income taxes. Well, on year, at least. See, there are THREE years I haven't done, and it was making my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant foxy praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA a bit nervous. More than a bit, actually. So, two weeks ago, I asked my church home group to hold me accountable for filing at least on years' worth of taxes by the time of our next meeting, which is tomorrow. Yes, I did put it off the the last day. I have ADD, and that's how I roll. So, after I finish breakfast, which I am eating while I type, I'm going to devote the necessary time to do taxes. It will be a piece of cake. I don't like cake.
What about the bread? the gold? and the missing knife?
Well those are all sorta related to the breakfast. On Thursday, Vanessa and I took me to get a haircut. (begin RABBIT TRAIL) It was my third haircut in the past seven months; the one before that was three years ago. Getting haircuts seems to me to be an appalling waste of time, but Vanessa had sweetly hinted that it was time (and I mean that: she is amazingly sweet to me), and I don't grow my hair for me, I do it for her. I frankly don't give a rat's patoot about the way I look. "I don't mind it, because I'm behind it. It's the ones in front that get the jar." But Deb, of Hair By The Square in Marietta, gives a great haircut, and is a delightful person, and is the aunt through her sister Jenny of DJ & Kenzie Clark, the oldest and best friends of my oldest biological child, Sergeant Eli Jordan Patterson, A Btry, 1/214 FA, Georgia National Guard, who will finally, after cycling between military hospitals and Army red tape, be getting his discharge. It's been nearly two years since the rocket attack at Shindan Air Base smashed him into a concrete wall, gifting him with a traumatic brain injury and tearing his knee to bits. The US Army is fantastic in its' primary mission, which is blowing stuff up and killing people, but not so great (now) at taking care of its' people who are damaged and no longer combat effective. I thank God, literally, for the Wounded Warrior program, and the SHARE program at the Shepherd Center. Bernie Marcus, the Home Depot guy, gave them a million bucks seed money, and it's almost entirely a private project; the feds give them a paltry sum. (end RABBIT TRAIL)
After the cut, we had lunch at the Marietta Fish Market, $6.95 each for fish, shrimp, scallops, potato, AND THIS MAGNIFICENT HOMEMADE BREAD!!!!!!!!!!! We slammed the bread down while it was still hot from the oven, and frankly, if they had just brought me more bread, I would have been content. So when the sweet lady in business clothes stopped by the table to take the empty bread basket, I told her of our fond affection for the bread, and we chatted a bit (she was at least the manager, if not the owner). And, before we left, with leftovers I might add, she dropped off a bag at our table. I later discovered it contained not ONE but TWO loaves of the delicious bread. So yesterday morning, while meditating on rejoicing in our tribulations, and before going to walk in the pool at Gold's Gym, Vanessa and I breakfasted on the first fantastic loaf of bread, lightly toasted and lightly spread with butter. Leaving one loaf for breakfast this morning.
And when I looked at the loaf of bread, sitting in pristine loveliness, I realized I Liked bread better than taxes.
And generalizing from there, I realized I liked bread better than gold. (begin RABBIT TRAIL)Now, I don't actually HAVE any gold. I do have some silver in the form of Peace Dollars I have accumulated over the past several years. I like them for what they symbolize, not so much for what they are worth in the bullion market, and I have given both of my motorcycle riding sons at least one silver dollar each. We always carry a silver dollar when we ride; it's an Allman Brothers Midnight Rider thing, and we ARE from Georgia, after all. (end RABBIT TRAIL)
See, apart from some the beauty of the metal, and uses in electronics, gold (and silver) are really only good for one thing: buying bread. Back in my days of rebellion (from around 1969-1973) I was a believer in the saying "Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope." There is a core truth there, and if you substitute the word 'bread' for the word 'dope', then that's what I was thinking this morning. Now, it is true that my feelings toward gold were somewhat negatively impacted by the fact that I'm going to have to devote some unpaid hours as Uncle Sam's accountant today, but even when my blood is not stirred by such feelings, I'm gonna hold on to this truth. Do I have food, shelter, and clothing for today, for me and those I'm responsible for? Then it's enough. Everything else is gravy, and as long as They don't actually put me in jail, I care not for the IRS.
About that missing knife.
Remember the ADD thing? Well, when I walked into the kitchen this morning at around 7AM, the bread knife was sitting by the bread, patiently waiting. By the time I got my coffee, water, bacon, eggs, and sausage, the knife was gone. No one else, other than SugarBelly, my fat black Manx, was awake in the house, and she has no thumbs. So, the conclusion is that I did something with that knife. (I TOLD you that I have ADD, but you didn't believe me.) The knife is not in the sink, not on the table, not on the counter, not in the freezer with the coffee, not in the refrigerator with the refrigerator stuff, and not in my man cave. Doubtless, in the next twenty four hours, I will discover it when I sit on it.
Or maybe SugarBelly can grow thumbs when she wants to, and I will never see the knife again.
So, that deals with no review, bread, gold, and the missing knife, leaving only Texas.
I've lived there twice. First, in 1959, when my dad (a commercial pilot) was stationed in San Antonio briefly, long enough for me to start first grade at Sunset Hills Elementary School. The second time was in 1972, when I was in the Army, stationed at Ft Sam Houston for medic training. I haven't been back since 1983. Those memories tickle me when Texas comes up, and I've been tickled a lot lately by authors. Sometimes it seems that ALL of them live in Texas, or came from Texas. Has Texas become the cultural center of the universe?
Maybe so. Utah has a lot of writers, too, though, so I'm not getting a tattoo yet.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Curse of Arianrhod, by Michael Hooten

I'm going to start light, and then I'm going to get heavy; probably as heavy as I have gotten in reviewing.
Here's the light part: thus far, in reviewing Michael Hooten's Bardic Tales, I have managed to avoid hard names. Cricket's Song was easy; I just called him Cricket. And I discovered just now that when I reviewed Bard Without A Star that I wrote the review without once using the main character's name, or any character's name actually. That's because they've got these long consonant-ridden names like Cwddngkrg Twndfrgkn of Lndgdwnggth, and I'm a redneck. Bubba, Bill Andy, Ruby Jo, and Beulah; those are all family names. Those I can do. I've avoided the tough stuff, but I can't do it any longer. Here are the main three characters: Gwydion, the Bard; Llews, his son; Arianrhod, Llews' mother. There, I got that out, and I wish that I could say with certainty that I spelled them correctly, but if not, your spell check will be returned uncashed.
Now for the tough stuff.
In A Bard Without A Star, Gwydion begins by being a rather shallow young man, and he harbors a long time fascination/infatuation with Arianrhod. She won't give him the time of day, which initially is a pretty good choice, since he's the sort of lad who needs to buy a watch and be responsible for time-telling himself. However, Gwydion is given many challenges, and he grows into them, and receives a great deal of power, which he uses responsibly. His infatuation for Arianrhod remains, however, and when he finally is given the opportunity, he confesses his love for her, and wins her body, if not her heart. The heart question remains unanswered, because immediately after they bed each other, he is called away by circumstances he cannot control. It is years before he is able to return to Arianrhod, and when he does, he finds that she hates him. They conceived a son on their single night together, and Arianrhod chose to interpret his absence as rejection, and to reject their child as a means of gaining vengeance. She not only refused to have anything to do with their son, she refused to allow anyone else to care for him, either (not everyone is compliant to her demand).
Despite that, he is a sweet-natured child. When circumstances finally permit it, and Gwydion returns, he takes the boy into his care. Arianrhod responds by cursing the boy, denying him a name until she gives him one. This is more than merely the lack of a name, however; in the curse is the power to render him invisible, unnoticed by those around him. Gwydion alone can see him, and that requires significant concentration on his part.
The story continues; there are numerous adventures and significant plot points. However, the aching core of the book is this: the vicious rejection of an innocent boy by his mother. It remains; even when Gwydion is able to trick her into removing the consequences of the curse, that's a technical point. She immediately places another curse on Llews, because her heart is still set on rejection.
I'm a father of three grown children. I know the importance of the relationship between a father and a son and between a father and a daughter. In this latter portion of my life, my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant foxy praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA and I are raising another young boy and girl, and I know that they love me and need me. But the one they turn to when they skin a knee, either literally or figuratively? It's always Vanessa, their mom. The very concept of a mother vindictively rejecting her child, and persisting in that rejection, is a perversion of all that is best, and all that is natural.
And so, this story, even though it is filled with little victories, is fundamentally a tragedy. It's as if all the nurturing care Arianrhod should have lavished on her son has instead been given to the bitterness in her heart. That has become her child, instead of the son she carried and gave birth to.
For every child rejected by a mother, I weep.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Man Who Was A Santa Claus, by Walter Daniels

If you are not going to use the link, but want to read the book, search for it with the title, not the author name. Reason: it's listed as being by Wzlter Daniels. Now, frankly, I think Wzlter is a very nice name, and when it comes to brand differentiation, you can't go wrong with a Z. But, YMMV.

Joe loves kids. He always has. He has none of his own, but he has a reputation of being the go-to guy for stories among his nieces and nephews.
He's a nice guy, but circumstances haven't been nice to him. Cars like to hit him, and he is now mostly confined to a wheelchair. So, when he gets a phone call asking him if he'd like to have some seasonal employment, his initial reaction is to say 'Bye-Bye!' and hang up the phone.
He doesn't, of course, and you know who was on the phone, because the title of the book, right? It was Santa, the REAL Santa, the current Santa, and he's looking for someone to help spread Christmas around to children who need it.
What do they need at Christmas? Same thing you and I do. What they need is to be loved; to be reassured that love is real, and that love conquers all. It does, you know; and it might just take a crippled Santa to really be able to understand that. Sure, there are perfect bicycles in the story, and reindeer blowing snot on rude children (always a favorite) but no amount of toys, either kid toys or grown-up toys, will ever be able to work the magic in the life of a child, or an adult, that love works.
Here's a truth: there doesn't have to be an actual Saint Nicholas coming down the chimney for the love part to work out. And the people who give and receive love don't have to be in perfect physical health for it to mean something.
So, Joe gets to distribute some special Santa goodness. It's not because he was sprinkled with fairy dust (although there is magic involved); it's because of who he was, before he ever answered the phone.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Jinxers, by Sabrina Chase

I'm 61. Do I qualify as a Young Adult? Well, based on my reaction to Jinxers, I'd have to say yes.
Jin is a street rat, fighting for survival in a bitterly cold winter in a city of Thama. (I'm thinking London-ish, but YMMV.) He's cold and hungry, and he lost his shelter in a fire. He's on the run from thugs, who think he might have stolen gold from his deceased benefactor; actually, he thinks he stole the gold as well, but the truth is that he took it to the undertaker to pay for a decent burial. It's a neat little plot point, which keeps him on the edge, regardless of the other circumstances.
While searching through the ruins of a burned out building for something he can swap for another day of life, he finds...
Okay, I promise this won't be a very long rabbit trail. When I was around 10, marbles suddenly emerged as a wonderful thing for boys to have. Nobody that I knew ever played with them like Tom Sawyer, but we collected them and swapped them. Some of them were incredibly beautiful.

...a glowing glass sphere, and when he takes it in his hand, a door to another world opens up, and he falls through, and he is WARM! Hot, actually, because he's in a sandy desert (I'm thinking generic Middle East, but again, YMMV) and before long, he passes out...
...only to awake in an underground cavern, where he is cared for by a woman and her daughter, both of whom are "swathed in fabric from head to foot."
And his adventures begin...
...I appear to be fascinated by the use of ellipses in this review...
There comes a point in every good book where you find you are captured. After that point, there is NOTHING you can do, because the author OWNS your attention. I'm guessing what all authors strive for is an opening sentence that accomplishes the capture: Call me Ishmael; "TOM! YOU, TOM!";Louis Wu was under the wire. Those are classic, and there are certainly others which may be your personal favorite, and I hope not to insult you by leaving them out. You may, if you wish, append them to this review by way of adding a comment. However, the point at which Sabrina owned MY attention was when I read the title of Chapter 2, which is: “More Lost Than Usual.”
Is that not beautiful?
"More Lost Than Usual." That would make a good bumper sticker, wouldn't it?
Jin and Zinde ( the daughter swathed in cloth) and Moro (the son of the well digger) conspire to free the village of Gilbadeh from the grim predations of The Repressive Exploiters, in the process discovering allies and enemies, some more incredibly beautiful marbles, umm, I mean glowing spheres, and bounce from world to world in the process. If you think that rips the beauty from the story, it does. The ferocity of Zinde, who craves any reason to use her father's sword, and the snarky comments of Moro must really be read to be appreciated. I'm leaving out the contributions of the adults almost entirely, because the story isn't about them. It's also really not about the ability of Jin to manipulate the marbles to open the portals, although that is an essential plot point; those with that ability are referred to as Jinxers, hence the name of the book. What makes the book satisfying, other than the excellent writing, is that Jin finds freedom from his demons of guilt, and finds family and purpose as well.
I hope this isn't going to be a stand-alone book. The characters are engaging, and there remains a great deal of injustice to be relieved, but there are ethical issues with that, as well. I'd like to see how those resolve, so:

Please, Sabrina, may we have some more?

The Ugly Knight, By Elizabeth A. Lightfoot

This is such a pleasant, pleasant book! There is a lightness in the way it is written, that even in the scenes where Korton (The Ugly Knight) and Elzi (his resolute love interest) face the Ultimate Evil, it's almost...peaceful. There is one exception, which I'll get to later.
I THINK that the reason the book is so pleasant has to do with the nature of Korton. He is an unassuming young man, the son and grandson of a tailor, so he doesn't have snooty attitudes to get over before he becomes likable. He succeeds in his difficult apprenticeship process because he works hard. He gets up early. He takes care of his own horse. And while he does not have the raw, natural talent of Jelan, a senior squire who befriends him, he just keeps practicing and hammering away until, pretty much to everyone's surprise, he finishes early and with greater skills than any of his peers.
It's true character, not just a role that he is playing. On his first quest, to kill a dragon, he takes the time to befriend an aged house servant. Because this is a book, of course, it MUST be shown that his easy-going relationships with servants produce unexpected rewards, but honestly folks: he's not doing it for that reason. He's just a nice guy. And he meets a nice girl, and good things happen: they become friends, and eventually fall in love.
Now, the girl (Elzi) is an orphan, taken in during a time of troubles, and put to work in the castle to earn her keep under the tutelage of the aged house servant mentioned earlier. She is one tough cookie. She takes care of him after he returns, with a badly burned arm, from killing the dragon, and crochets while doing it. He takes her crocheting, drops the needles, and then they engage in mock sword fights with the crochet needles. And giggle. (Yup, that's true love on the way.) When he recovers, he uses his carpentry skills to carve a couple of wooden swords, and teaches Elzi how to fight. And because she can use a sword, she absolutely refuses to let him go off and do dangerous stuff while she waits back at the cottage, stirring leeks and lentils. It's a good thing, too, because she just happens to have....nah, not gonna tell you that part.
Okay, you remember I said there is one exception to the peaceful feeling in reading of his adventures? It relates, surprisingly, to Jelan, the senior squire who befriended him. There is a creepiness to the interactions. Don't know how she does it, but it's there. And that's one of the several points at which future books ( and PLEASE let there be future books) can extend and expand.
A point worth mentioning: there are two Amazon authors named Elizabeth Lightfoot. You want the one with the middle initial A. Got that? Elizabeth A. Lightfoot wrote "The Ugly Knight." The OTHER Elizabeth Lightfoot wrote a book about First Lady Michelle Obama. And if you are crass enough to try to make a joke about ugly, shame on you. Shame, shame, shame on you!

Slow Train to Arcturus, by Eric Flint and Dave Freer

In the coolest science fiction, you get to play around with the powers and the limits of the gadgets. You get to undertake incredible missions, and discuss the impact on the travelers as well as those left behind. An finally, for me at least, the real story is about how the author makes people come alive, and observes them being human. And Eric and Dave have done all this, and given us a great swashbucking adventure at 0,3 lights, even throwing in aliens, one of whom has a much worse case of PMS than humans will ever, ever experience.
Somewhere I've got a copy of the ideas Larry Niven came up with for space ship worlds. The form of the ship in Slow Train offers a lot of advantages over some of those ideas, at least in the sense that it doesn't require technology that we just don't have yet. What we have is a series of nickel iron asteroids, heated in a solar mirror and expanded by water flashing into steam. Build the habitats separate them from each other, and populate each one with a group that doesn't want to live on earth any more, for whatever reason. Launch them outbound, and every time you get to a star with a Goldilocks zone, you drop off a bead. Never slow down, so you aren't wasting 70% of your fuel in braking and recovering lost momentum. That's most of the science part, but to emphasize the difficulties that took the colonists out bound in the first -place, an alien race with interstellar capability in decline spots the train, and decides to make rendezvous. Since the bead they land on first contains cannibalistic whack jobs with explosives, things don't go well.
Kretz, the central alien, discovers he has to pass through several more habitats to be rescued, and to effect rescue of his partner. He accumulates a following, as he passes through a zero-tech farming habitat, a Naked Dominatrix habitat, a jungle primitive habitat with a kick, the habitat where people fly (and are engineers) and finally, to a Great Leader habitat,

There is plenty of humor available here, beginning with the fact that the aliens themselves were required to be misfits before they could handle the stresses of a long space voyage. There is a standard language of the alien joke, where Kretz meets Howard, then thinks all humans are called Howard. Differences of sexual dimorphism bring some embarrassing moments, as does priggery and pomposity. Throughout, though, the issue of 'who is the real alien' shifts, each time Kretz and crew enter a new habitat. And when faced with survival, those pre-disposed to learning eventually accept the most divergent.
Those who don't pretty much get blasted between the eyes.
And IF a great story, which this is, HAS to have a message, that's it. But the message never gets in the way of the writing, nor the story.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Paddavissie, by Dave Freer

5.0 out of 5 stars
"I couldn't be a fisherman when I wanted to be, and become a kid again when it was too hard."
March 17, 2015
By Pat Patterson (Woodstock, Georgia, USA)
This review is from: Paddavissie (Kindle Edition)

Lot of talk recently about the wisdom of 'write what you know.' I guess that sounds best to me when I read something that just absolutely rankles, and it seems to occur most with gun issues. However, I'm not of the extreme camp, that believes that you can ONLY write about your own experiences; that may go with the turf, given that I'm primarily from a sci-fi background.
( By the way, "Nightfall" is usually regarded as one of the very best short stories ever written, but there is no way that the orbits can be worked out. It's written as if the suns orbit the planet.)
HOWEVER!!!!!!!!!! When an author DOES write from their own experience, the results can make your eyes water. And that's what happens here. When Little Abie, the Paddavissie (tadpole) of the title, talks about the dangers of getting caught up in the long-line hooks, it makes my belly muscles clench. When he talks of his love of the sea, and his family heritage of being fishermen, the pride comes through.
It's an excellent story about the transition from boy to man. I might have my 10 year old Kenneth read it, but it works just fine for a 61 year old as well.

Sweet Alice, a Shifters' Short Story, by Sarah A. Hoyt

Even though "Sweet Alice" is included in the Bonus Content section of "Crawling Between Heaven and Earth," it's also offered as a separate transaction on Amazon, and that's how I got it. So, I'll give it a review of its' own.

My first introduction to Sarah Hoyt was "Draw One In The Dark," which I picked up on Baen,com. I don't remember if I got it when it was part of the Baen Free Library or not, but it was there and still is, and whether the first taste was free or not, I got hooked enough on the stories of the Athens Diner to read all of them. Sweet Alice is the back story of one of the main characters (or should I say 'mane characters') in the series, Police Officer Rafiel Trall, of the Goldport Police Department.
He's a shape-shifter. A lion. And when we meet him, he is in that form, and he wants to ...snuggle...with the main character, Kyrie, who also happens to be a shape-shifter (a panther). Despite the intense chemistry between the two of them, they never hook up. Some of that is due to Kyrie's attraction to Tom, a shape-shifting dragon, and former drug addict (and unfortunately in real life, sometimes good girls really do like bad boys, but it works out okay in the story), but partly because Rafiel just doesn't try to push the relationship. He's got some problems with commitment.
And the story of Sweet Alice explains that. She was his high school sweetheart, but he never told her he was a lion.
And I'm not going to tell you not one single thing else about the story. Get Sweet Alice by it's lonesome, or get Crawling Between Heaven and Earth, and find out yourself.
You will be glad you did.

Whom the Gods Love, by Sarah A. Hoyt

Perhaps it's only in the nature of young teens to really, passionately long for the things in science fiction to become real. I wanted a burner SO BAD when I was raking leaves (age 12), so bad I could taste it. And I remember saying at the dinner table, at around the same age, "We've GOT to solve the mystery of anti-gravity!" Some of that lingered on until my freshman year of college, which was when I first read "Stranger in A Strange Land," but a year later it was gone. I read "Starship Troopers" for the first time while I was in my Army medic training at Ft. Sam, and I remember thinking how cool it would be to be a part of the Mobile Infantry, but I didn't crave it the way I had, even the year before. As I think about that, it makes me realize that for me at least, the first year of college was just an extension of childhood. I don't know if that's true in every case, but for me, at age 18 in 1971, it was true.
I still love science fiction. But now when I read it, I've got a critic somewhere in the process that keeps me grounded. I read a story on the meat grown in vats, and I think "Nope, not gonna happen," because I've read the story of the chicken heart, and it ain't real. If I think about it, I notice that there are no bathrooms on the Millennium Falcon. And it really doesn't hurt the story.
But here's the thing: I think that there may be a really nice reason why some of the high tech techniques are NEVER going to come about, and that's because if they did, we do vicious, arrogant, cruel things with the technology that this story describes. I love technology, would be dead without it, in fact, and it is making the balance of my life pleasant, stimulating, and long, rather than nasty, brutish, and short.
But you just KNOW that if the technology of cloning humans, becoming a part of a virtual net, and the other techs described in this novella were available, there would absolutely be someone who would screw it up, and use it to torture humans for their pleasure.
It's a cautionary tale, I suppose, but it's still a good story.

Crawling Between Heaven and Earth, by Sarah A. Hoyt

Sarah went into the hospital yesterday, for what she assures us will be a relatively minor procedure, but everybody wanted to Do Something. I said that before, but I still feel that way. Or should it be, I still feel That Way? Not sure how New Yorker style cuteness translates for Georgia rednecks.
Any way, I decided to review the last few items of hers that were available to me on Amazon's Kindle Unlimited. So, I checked out Crawling Between Heaven and Earth, a collection of short stories, Whom The Gods Love, a novella, and Sweet Alice: A Shifter's Short Story. As it happens, Sweet Alice is contained in the Crawling collection (an added value), but I will review it in a separate posting.

Crawling Between Heaven and Earth opens with Sarah telling us how the book came about, and how it came to be presented in it's current form. The intro is worth reading for anyone who is a fan of Sarah's, but beyond that, anyone who is interested in becoming a writer. Beside the main intro, she provides us with a brief story introduction, and these are SIGNIFICANT added value.
Here's what you get in the way of stories: Elvis, ethics of the Civil War in America, a nightmare story of the re-living of the Minotaur myth, an Oscar Wilde inspired vampire story, a real heart breaker about the tragic life of purpose grown sex slaves, the alternative universe version of Tiananmen Square, the misery of a well-bred woman living at the capricious mercy of history, a dragon love story, a ghost story, more heart-breaking nightmares of the future, Shakespeare's brother, and a preview of the misery in the society of A Few Good Men.
I look at the list, and decide that I have done the equivalent of describing the human body as being mostly water and the universe as mostly hydrogen.
It is a wonderful thing that she can write so well about such dis-similar topics. It is a much more wonderful thing that we FINALLY have access to it, because to hear it talk about it, most of these stories sat mouldering in a drawer for years, and the only result for the longest time was that every time a magazine bought a story, it promptly went out of business (it was the Oscar Wilde-inspired story, just so you'll know).
Here's what I think would be the best and highest use for Crawling Between Heaven and Earth: the text for a writers' workshop, held in a retreat site along the Appalachian trail. Each day would begin with Sarah, and any necessary additional voices, reading aloud one of the stories. She then would answer questions, with rude people being swatted the first time, pummeled the second time, and defenestrated upon the third offense. After the Q&A, budding writers return to their room, write a story inspired by the current work, which they then present at an evening meeting which goes on until everyone is given the chance to give and receive commentary. Next day, the next story, until they are finished. That's two weeks worth. Sarah gets a million dollars, and sets the terms for what other consultation she provides.
Anybody else on board with that?

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Big Ship and the Wise Old Owl, by Sarah A. Hoyt

As a sign of my gratitude for the many hours spent in Sarah's Virtual Diner, sipping the excellent coffee and losing my cares in the company of the regulars, I am marking the eve of Sarah's surgery by tasting some of her fantastic literary dishes. You could do worse.

5.0 out of 5 stars
Little people, doing little things, and that's what makes it all go.
March 15, 2015

I don't remember the first story I read about traveling arcologies. I don't know if the term 'Universe Ships' covers the entire genre. The Big Ship is of the type in which everybody is awake all for the entire voyage, making it a multi-generation ship. In other stories, nobody is awake, the people and animals are all in what used to be called 'suspended animation', but seems now to be known as 'cold sleep.' And sometimes there is a caretaker crew. Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle use the caretaker crew to take over the ship and force a loss of status on the sleepers in last least two books: humans on Plateau in "A Gift From Earth" and the Fithp, elevated elephants in "Footfall."
And that's what is happening in "TBSATWOO." However, the designers of the ship had a safety plan.
Which was revealed in the form of nursery rhymes.
There is a really interesting little bit here given to us by the linguist: nursery rhymes are there to teach us IMPORTANT THINGS NOT TO BE FORGOTTEN! But...why? Surely the people running the ship will do the right thing, Won't they?
Has a bureaucracy EVER given up power?
So, a computer repairman (Ciar), a linguist (Ennio), and a mechanic (Nia) find themselves in the unique set of circumstances that allows them to make the transfer possible without riots.They each have a small part to play; they aren't the MAIN forces; but without them doing the next right thing, people could very easily panic, and maybe the ship doesn't complete the mission. Little people, doing little things, and that's what makes it all go.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A Bard Without A Star, by Michael Hooten

5.0 out of 5 stars
No power without responsibility, no love without committment.
March 15, 2015
By Pat Patterson (Woodstock, Georgia, USA)
This review is from: A Bard Without a Star (Kindle Edition)

I don't suppose there ever was a little boy anywhere who didn't wish he had some kind of special powers. Michael Hooten's Bardic Tales give full expression to that desire for special power, and do not fail to warn that with special power comes special responsibility.
"A Bard Without A Star" is set in the world of "Cricket's Song," and predates those events by about 200 years. The players are different, but the music and the magic are the same, and remain beautiful.
As I was reading the book, I saw many of the same themes as in "Cricket's Son," so many that at one point I wondered if this was a re-telling of that story from a different perspective. It's not, in the literal sense; these are different people, there are differences in relationships, but the beauty, and the struggles, are so very similar?
So: does this make this a redundant story? Only if you believe that you can only kiss your love one time, and that covers it. If you are satisfied with having your cat come sit on your arm and go to sleep just once; if you only want to have breakfast with your grandson just once; if going to church and singing praises to God one time is enough for you, then I suppose that this is a redundant book. Otherwise, no; it's a sweet re-experience of warmth, affection, delight, and renewal.
Make no mistake about it: Michael Hooten, known to the Mad Genius Club as gnardopolo, is in love with his work. He paints pictures with his words, and they are just as beautiful, and just as original, as any story can possibly be. Love does not change; it has many faces, but once you've been loved, you will recognize it.
Michael Hooten loves his work. I hope that you will as well. I certainly do.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Explorers (Wine of the Gods #4) by Pam Uphoff

See, this is what happens when I don't get requests to review. I run home to Pam. In the last 24 hours, I've read Mall Santa and now Explorers and unless I change course, I'm going to read something else she wrote. THERE ARE WORSE FATES!

5.0 out of 5 stars
Any sufficiently closed mind cannot distinguish magic from technology.
March 13, 2015
By Pat Patterson (Woodstock, Georgia, USA)
This review is from: Explorers (Wine of the Gods Book 4) (Kindle Edition)

A L-O-N-G time ago, some parents on Earth had their children's genes engineered to provide them with superior abilities. It didn't turn out well, because non-modified people were jealous/suspicious/paranoid. So the Earth powers put the superiors in concentration camps, then used them to open up doorways to parallel universes, and finally deported them all. The superiors developed in isolation. And that's all you HAVE to know of the backstory to #4, although you'll be missing a bet if you don't read 1-3, because they are great. In this volume, Earth, still a mean nasty force to be reckoned with, makes contact for the first time with the world of the superiors.
The problem with writing about super-people is coming up with meaningful limits for their powers. Otherwise, you wind up with "And they went POOF, and all the bad stuff went away." That's a cool story for three year olds, but not for anybody else, because who can relate to that? So, how do you create good limits?
Well, here's one: a man is in love with a woman, but he's too shy to even TOUCH her, much less speak to her of love. Now it's a reasonable position, because she's a witch, witches don't get married, and she could blast him to smithereens, even if she didn't want to. And here's another: A woman has power to do exciting things, but when she does, lightning strikes (literal lightning). She hasn't learned proper control.
And there is drama playing among the Earth people, as well. The leader of the visiting group has seen what happens when a planet gets crushed for profit, doesn't like it, but if he protests too loudly, he gets taken off the project. That would remove his chances to influence policy. And he also has to deal with office politics, back-stabbing, and incompetent peers.
It's a great adventure story. I love books with rotten villains and really nice good guys, IF the bad guys and the good guys both get what's coming to them. This is one of those books!

Mall Santa, by Pam Uphoff

With the review of Cedar's "Dragon Noir," I am facing an empty book review queue. So, last night, I figured I'd toss out something short and sweet, with this little item.
It was SO sweet, that I read it to my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant foxy praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA. She loved it, even though she is not a science fiction person.
When I finished the story, she said, "Was that Jesus?"
"No, it was Eldon."
She thought for a minute, then said "That ought to be a Hallmark movie."
I agreed.
Make it so, please!

5.0 out of 5 stars
Alien Santa Christmas Magic
March 12, 2015
Pat Patterson (Woodstock, Georgia, USA)
This review is from: Mall Santa (Kindle Edition)
It doesn't have to be Christmas to enjoy a good Christmas story. This is exactly the kind of story that kept me reading past bedtime, and as such, it has a special place in my storage banks. Back then, technology WAS magic. This sweet little story may become a Christmas tradition.
Eldon the alien (you don't need backstory to appreciate this little tale) gets dumped into a shopping mall at Christmas time. Almost out of money, because it's not his timeline, he takes a job as a Mall Santa, and from his bag brings magic healing wine and magic healing puppies. When he encounters adversity, he stuffs in in a zip-lock time freezer bag. But even the adversaries get let out at the end.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Dragon Noir by Cedar Sanderson

"Riding a charging rhino doesn't get any easier the second time."

And it is PRECISELY sentences like that which make it possible to write this review.
I received a pre-publication copy for review, which lets me in on the plot while the rest of you have to wait, which is a benefit, but on the down side, I have to be PARTICULARLY sensitive about spoilers.
But with Cedar's work, that's not going to be particularly difficult. What makes her writing stand out isn't the surprise when the Death Star explodes, because who knew Luke could do that with the Force, right? Yes, there are battles, both great and small. That's not a spoiler. Yes, here are creepy places with creepy villains which have to be, uh....crept through. And that's not a spoiler either. I promise you: you will get your adventure fix.
But with Cedar's writing, you don't have to wait until 'THE END' in order to enjoy yourself. It occurs to me as I write this that Cedar enjoys cooking, and so I have a nice little illustration of that ready for you. My gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant foxy praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, also enjoys cooking. And on the way to the final product (which at the moment is a chocolate cake made with coconut oil), there are all sorts of delightful moments involving sights, sounds, smells and tastes.
So it is with Cedar's writing. You get the throw-away humor of lines like riding a charging rhino. That's a great line, and it's not a spoiler, so there. You have no idea who is riding the rhino, you don't know the circumstances, and so it's not a spoiler. But it's still funny.
There are some very moving, may I even say heart-warming scenes as well. I had planned to include one in particular of them, but then I realized that there is no way to do that without revealing one of the major plot elements. So never mind. But how about this:

“She always had a garden.” He told me gruffly. “I used to tease her about her weeds, but it was pretty, and smelled good. I didn’t mind it.”

That's well written, evocative, and as close as I can get to giving you a taste of Cedar's work without spoiling your dinner.

This program has been temporarily interrupted...

...by life.
To be specific, by the medical aspects of life, which have been roughly intruding on my life for over 10 years now.
I have a chronic pain condition, due to the fact that somewhere in the distant past, I have a Neanderthal ancestor. That is discovered by running a rather rare blood test, called HLA-B27, and I was positive. That means I had a higher likelihood of developing ankylosing spondylitis, and I did; it means I am ALWAYS running high levels of inflammation, and I hurt. Mostly in my back, but all joints and even sometimes my eyes. I was diagnosed in May of 2005, and have been receiving treatment from the same clinic since them. We've used anti-inflammatories, surgery, electrostim, accupuncture, and narcotics. The last 10 years have not been nice.
Here's the deal: I determined to get off the amount of morphine I was on a few years ago (165 mg/day), and in order to make that happen, I tried the (at the time) super anti-inflammatory, meloxicam (Mobic). And it worked like a charm, for nearly a year, until the lower GI bleeding started. So, we started me on a new primary patch, Butrans, which is a weekly patch that does a reasonable job of managing the pain, without goofing my head. For breakthrough pain, I have hydrocodone I can take as needed, as many as three per day.
But I miss those days in which the anti-inflammatories got me by,
So I asked if we could try it again, and was given a scrip which had to be compounded in Alabama, and the deductible was $85. Too expensive.
But then...I found a box of Flector patches in the medicine cabinet! Flector is an anti-inflammatory, and after calling the pain clinic, I decided to give it a try. Placed the patch on my lower back, where most of the pain was.
And 12 hours later, my guts are in a turmoil, and I've got GI bleeding again. The bleeding is bad, but it's the horrid feeling in my belly that's the real problem.
So, quite a bit of my productive time has been unproductive. I've slept when I could, and was sad, because I really wanted this to work.
Listen: I am reading BEAUTIFUL work! I want to continue to read and read, and then write the review that is going to pop this new book to the top of Amazon's sales list, and I want to do it NOW!!!
But it looks as though it will be put off for another 24 hours. Hopefully, whatever it is that NSAIDS does to my GI tract will be healed by then.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Sky Suspended, by Laura Montgomery

I realized as I was waiting for this review to post on Amazon that if they mess up, I have to re-write the review. Maybe I'll publish it on here, first.

5.0 out of 5 stars
Tasty, filling, and packed fully of yummy nuggets!
March 10, 2015
By Pat Patterson (Woodstock, Georgia, USA)
This review is from: The Sky Suspended (Kindle Edition)

I've tried to come up with something to compare this book to, but all I get is 'fruitcake' and I am NOT going to go with fruitcake. I don't LIKE fruitcake, and I like this book.
If my big fat Manx cat SugarBelly will cooperate by staying off my left hand and not playing with the touchpad, I will explain the comparison. MOVE, SUGARBELLY! There, that's better.
You will find many little 'stop and look at me' moments, particularly in the beginning, that you probably are going to want to read the book a second time, just to appreciate the descriptions. For example, the book opens with the chase of a young man on the Washington Mall by two mounted police. The second policeman is described as 'a piebald on a piebald.' What? Does the second cop have some awful skin disease that is described rudely? Well, no. As we continue the read, we discover that genetic engineering is in common use, and that one of the options parents are choosing is for their children to have wildly colored skin. And that there has arisen a Department of Souls, to enforce regulations limiting the modifications to non-brain involvement. It is Washington, after all, and bureaucracy thrives in that environment.
The first Laura Montgomery book I read was 'Manx Prize,' and throughout I thought, this book was written by an engineer. Well, I was wrong, and if I had read this book first, I would have guessed correctly: this book is written by a lawyer. That presents us with many of the 'stop-and-look' moments (let's call them nuggets), because in the midst of a crowd event ( a spontaneous line forming), two main characters start talking about legal issues. It's funny enough to me, a non-lawyer type, but it's probably a great yock to lawyers, and it has the look of being fun to write.
When I first started reading Larry Niven in 1978, I was hooked immediately. He says that one of his techniques is to imagine 'ONE' technological change (for example, the transfer booth) and then extrapolate from there to write about the way it will impact society. You can find evidence of this approach (which is an EXCELLENT approach) in the way Laura writes about gene engineering. Not only do we have the Department of Souls, we have the case of Molly, a woman who was selected by her parents for longevity treatments. As an unintended consequence of the treatment, she has the appearance of a 12 year old girl. So, despite her brilliance and academic achievements, she can't get hired as a lawyer, and works as a reporter until such time as puberty hits.
Now, about that line: They have lined up for non-existent lottery tickets to select people to go on the next inter-stellar voyage. The first interstellar voyage is returning, and for me that presented a mystery I wanted SOLVED! I absolutely get that it was going to take months before ship arrived on earth, but I was willing to wait those months. Alas and alack.
Instead, there was a deeper mystery, which is : why has there been only one ship? Why isn't another ship being built RIGHT NOW? And there we have the central issue. And, as is appropriate for a lawyer-written book, the solution comes from the legal process. Watching the lawyers work through their various ethical dilemmas in order to solve the 'real' problem, as opposed to the client's problem, is rather fascinating. It's as if they have to out-think themselves in order to come to a result they can live with.
I have to make a comment about the cover art, which is beautiful. It's from a photograph taken by the author of her son from the Lincoln Memorial. It was set in it's final form by Phil Smith , who has also done covers for her other works.
Any incoherency in this review should not be attributed to Laura's work, but rather to the fact that my fat Manx cat SugarBelly would NOT leave me alone. She demanded to know why this book did't have Manx in the title, and when I told her it wasn't all about her, she turned her cat eyes on me and clearly told me I was speaking nonsense.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Trickster Noir, by Cedar Sanderson

5.0 out of 5 stars
Such a GREAT follow-up to the FIRST pixie book I really liked!
March 7, 2015

This review is from: Trickster Noir (Pixie for Hire Book 2) (Kindle Edition)
Full disclosure statement #1: I received the beta version of this ebook for review purposes. Full disclosure statement #2: I love reading Cedar Sanderson's work.
Trickster Noir takes place immediately after the events of Pixie Noir. It's been four months since I read Pixie Noir, so I did a quick re-read of Pixie to make sure I was up to speed. That may have been a mistake, in one respect: I found myself wishing I had re-read the entire book, just because this series is so much FUN!!!!! But I can re-read Pixie Noir at any time, and probably will.
So, Lom the Pixie Bounty Hunter is near dead, and his love Bella has power she hasn't learn how to handle, and there is Intrigue In Court. And prospective pixie mothers-in-law. The lady is TIRED! (Tired of playing the game, tired of (no, wait, that's Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles)). So, to rest, she gets...
...to go kill monsters.
And here's one of the reasons I really like Cedar's writing: her characters know how to Blow Stuff Up and Kill Monsters. She doesn't write like Larry Correia, but they've seen the same playbook, and she has Bella make use of BOTH her pixie skills AND her human skills to take care of business. A nest full of monsters that eat campers being the first order thereof. Fortunately, her sweetie-pie Lom, despite being bedridden, has an armory that Bela is able to access WHILE IN THE FIELD (!!!) so she can call them out of Underhill to the forest where they are needed, without having to carry them or being asked why they are packing a belt-fed grenade launcher. And there is a Nitro Express .600, which she wisely gives to someone else to fire.
Downside: Bella's backup gun is a .380. The manufacturer is not mentioned, but I do so hope that it's not the model I have, because the thing is so light-weight (at 8.3 ounces unloaded) that the recoil is painful. Maybe Bella has a Ruger or a Sig. It is a good piece for concealed carry/backup, though, and so is another example of the good attention to detail that makes Cedar's work so appealing.
Another thing I like about the series: Bella has great connections with her human relations, she likes pizza, and she is a trained EMT. So, when bad guys fight back, she's there with more than a poof -magic-spell-you-are-all-better, she knows how to stop bleeding, maintain the airway, and control for shock. James Bond never did SQUAT for that.
And I was taken back to 1973, to the barracks at 5th General Hospital in Bad Canstatt, Germany, which is where I first heard of Baba Yaga's chicken legged hut, from the Emerson Lake and Palmer album 'Pictures at an Exhibition.' Baba Yaga is a CREEPY figure, and Lom, Bella, and David the firebird get to fight her.
And the Muppets. Well, one of them. Beaker. That's what they name the dragon that almost kills them, but then becomes their friend. Is that not cool?
I've skipped over such a great deal, like the Herculean tasks set Lom by Bella's mentor. Which I should NOT do, because in the course of it, it taught me something I did not know: Winchester at one point put out a bolt-action .30-30. My .30-30 was lever action, which I bought because it's featured in the first gun battle in 1632, and I just never thought of it as a bolt action cartridge. But CEDAR knew!
And there is at least one more nook in the series. Are we happy? Yeah, we're happy!

Pixie Noir, By Cedar Sanderson

I've just read Trickster Noir, and will post that review, but I thought it best to first post my review about the first book in the series. This was posted on Amazon on November 7, 2014.
I'm a fan!

5.0 out of 5 stars
Rednecks really do love fairies; HONEST!
November 7, 2014

This review is from: Pixie Noir (Pixie for Hire Book 1) (Kindle Edition)
Look: I'm a Southern redneck, motorcycle riding, truck driving gun owning U. S. Army veteran. I read Kratman and Ringo and Correia and (now) Torgerson, and this fantasy pixie pink unicorn stuff: I just pass it by.
Boy, have I ever been an idiot.
Whattya want? Ya want action? You got it. The heroine shoots a troll three times in the back with .44 mag hollow points while the hero shoots him in the eye with her rifle.
Ya want mystery? How about waking up to find your true love has rescued you....or has she?
Ya want sports? Ummm, I don't remember any sports...
But intrigue, conflict, self-sacrifice, honor, courage, and yes, one dare say it, TRUE LOVE: Cedar got the job done.
Now, this does complicate my life. Because just as David Drake and Jerry Pournelle introduced me to to the concept of military sci-fi, Cedar has given me pixies with big honken guns. It appears I'm going to have to look at more places to pick books from, and I'll probably have to buy a peta-byte storage device to house my collection.
Mad geniuses rule the world!

The Chaplain's War, by Brad Torgerson

5.0 out of 5 stars
Finally an enlisted hero who isn't infantry, and a new BEM!
January 27, 2015

This review is from: The Chaplain's War (Kindle Edition)
There is enough action in the book to satisfy shoot-em-up fans (and I'm one of these) but where this book really excels is in character development.
Now, I confess to being a non-impartial reader, because of the selection of the main character. Harrison Barlow is an enlisted man, serving as a chaplain's assistant. I'm third generation in a four generation family of U S Army enlisted. The hero in most military fiction is either an officer, or in the infantry, and Harrison Barlow is neither. He's just a guy, doing his job the best he knows how to do. And, in fact, that's what most people in the military are: just ordinary people doing their jobs. They take care of the mules, load the ammo, make sure that the water is clean, and only sometimes are on the front lines with a rifle. So: this speaks to my personal experience and family history, and therefore, I'm inclined to regard it with favor. But there are only five stars to award, not ten, and so my prejudices have little effect on that rating.
Here's what is marvelous about The Chaplain's War: it is an ENTIRELY NEW take on the Bug Eyed Monster. Sure, the BEMs are evil, wicked, mean and nasty; wait, no, they aren't. Yes they do kill the humans, they have overwhelming technology, but they aren't evil. They are just alien. What makes this treatment different from all the other BEMs that have come before is the way that they have been changed by their technology. Now, maybe Brad had some sort of hippie-dippie idea of making this a metaphor for 21st century man blah blah blah, but IF so, he hides it very well. It's NOT just a twist on man's inhumanity to man, or whatever the latest schtick is; it's a real story about real people, and real aliens who are definitely NOT human, but aren't either superhuman nor subhuman. They are just alien.
Now, apart from that original take on the aliens, and tghe fact that the hero is an enlisted man in a non-combat role, there is nothing original, but that's not a deficit. Just because Heinlein wrote Starship Troopers, it doesn't mean Buettner shouldn't write Orphanage. Basic training is basic training, but the stories are just as individual as a fingerprint. Tell it a million times. Ten million.
I've heard that some people have objected to the story because it has religious content. Well, bite me. You can't posibly tell a meaningful story about real people under stress without talking about how many of them turn to God to find meaning. If they are arguing that sci-fi is supposed to be escapist, and therefore shouldn't carry over any religious themes, I would invite them to devise an escape kit that doesn't have any items from the current reality. Like food, water, flashlights, and a good knife; those are not things found in the world we are escaping into. They are what makes it possible for the escape to be survivable. Brad's not demanding that every story about BEMs include a religious theme, but he does have the right to put a religious theme into his own work. I enjoyed it and found it both believable and an essential part of the story. If you don't like it, then be sure not to use the Force, but don't talk badly of it, or Lord Vader may find your lack of faith...disturbing...

Friday, March 6, 2015

Cricket's Song, by Michael Hooten

5.0 out of 5 stars
“But you created it. It has to obey you.” “You obviously don’t have children.
Cricket's Song
March 6, 2015
By Pat Patterson (Woodstock, Georgia, USA)
This review is from: Cricket's Song (Kindle Edition)

This is a collection of all three Cricket books in one package, One of the differences between reading ebooks and reading dead tree books is that you can't tell by looking how big the book is; I was wondering why it was taking me so long to read Cricket's Song, but it turns out (I just checked) that it's approximately 356 pages. That is a lot of WONDERFUL STORYTELLING!!!!!!
You know the Jerry McGuire quote "You had me at hello?" Well, Cricket's Song had me in the very first scene. Cricket is an orphan, being raised by a small village. He has lots of questions, but nobody has much time to answer them, because they are farmers, and farmers work hard. The one person Cricket can count on to answer is an old man called Harper, who shows up in the village once a year. When he is six, Harper tells him a little about his mother and father, who died when he was born. Cricket cries, asking if he is truly alone.
The old man gathered the child in his arms and rocked him. “You’re not alone, Cricket. You have the whole dun for your family.” “It’s not the same ,” Cricket sobbed. “I want a mother and father of my own.”
“I know,” Harper said. “I understand.” Cricket sat silently, thinking hard. “My parents loved me, didn’t they?” he asked finally. “More than anything.” Cricket cried for a while then, the soft sobs of a child who hurts without quite understanding why. Harper rocked the boy, singing a lullaby from another, more distant childhood until he quieted. The old man thought he had fallen asleep, but the boy stirred and sai
d, “I love them, too.” Harper smiled in his beard, and kept up his rocking until the boy was truly asleep.
(Hooten, Michael A. (2014-09-24). Cricket's Song (Kindle Locations 45-53). . Kindle Edition. )

Is that not truly excellent story telling?
Cricket grows, and learns, and encounters official and unofficial hostility in his desire to become first a crossain and then a bard. He is drawn into discovering the magic behind the music, and maintains a pure spirit, even when the persecution includes a demonic attack on his life. He finds friendship and love, and experiences loneliness and heartbreak. In the end, his purity of heart wins him powerful allies, and ...
...This is sounding rather corny, isn't it? Well, it doesn't READ that way. The descriptions of Cricket's experiences, his encounters with the Faerie, are nothing but great narrative. Now, if you are looking for dark despair, and plots that end with the bad guys biting off the heads of children, you aren't going to find it here. This is a story of hope and maintaining loyalty to a code, even when others don't. If you have read "The Silver Chair" in the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, you will recognize Puddleglum's determination to live as a true Narnian, even if there isn't a Narnia, in Cricket's choice to live by the Bardic Code.
How good is this book? Well, it's good enough that I enjoyed it, even though I am more a Monster Hunter kind of guy.
And it's got it's funny spots, too, as my headline suggests.

Pi Day is just around the corner, and...

Pi Day is just around the corner, and it's making me think about God.
We get an approximation of Pi Day every year, on March 14. But this year, we get Pi Day of the Century, because we can express Pi all the way out to the second. Saturday a week from now, the clock will tick forward, and for one, glorious second, it will be 3.14.15 9:26:53 and that's all the pi we can ever reasonably hope for. Of course those who own a cesium clock can claim to have Pi nanoseconds, or something above that, but for humans to be aware of an experience, it has to last longer than that. We could go to tenths or hundredths of a second, but let's just be thankful that a watch with a sweep second hand can celebrate the event, shall we?
Of course, Pi is not primarily a number. It's a relationship between two of the most common art works kindergarteners draw: the line and the circle. Drop of water hits the ground, get a circle (with splashes). And the line drawn from one point of a circle through the center of the circle to the other side of the circle is the diameter of the circle. And the relationship between the circumference of the circle (which is the part you draw in kindergarten) to the diameter of the circle is Pi to 1. Usually, we say 3.14, or 3.1416, but on this Saturday, we can experience Pi all the way out to 3.141592653 and on the strength of that goodness, last until Pi Day of the century 2115, sustained all along the way by the approximations of March 14. It's enough, really.
Now, why does that make me think about God?
It's because Pi doesn't stop even after a trillion digits. It never stops, and it never repeats. Doesn't that strike you as...weird? Why should it be that such a simple relationship contains infinity? Circles with lines through them. Infinity. They really don't seem to go together.
Now, I do not claim to be either a mathematician nor a mystic. I stopped taking pure math after my second course in calculus, and all of the math I took after that in college and grad school was statistics, and nothing about statistics gives you an 'oh, wow' moment, unless you find someone who plays the lottery and expects to win. And I never took philosophy much beyond Socrates.
But there is something about all these circles around me, and the lines through them, and the relationship which goes on forever, and never repeats, that makes me wonder if this isn't a clue left to us by God, to say, 'Here is something you cannot comprehend, which is so simple that a child can construct it."
Cut a pancake in half. Experience infinity.