Monday, July 31, 2017

Reviews Is Migratory! And Middle School Chaos

For those of a certain degree of maturity, the talents of Johnny Hart in the comic "B.C." were a great source of humor. There was a running joke about nearly everything, but the one referenced is the set of clam jokes. Any time a clam manifested an unusual trait, some loud mouthed denizen would announce it to the world with great volume and pitiful grammar.

First, I think, was "CLAMS GOT LEGS!" Later, after a group of clams were discovered walking off into the distance, it was "CLAMS IS MIGRATORY!" Hence, the title of the review.

Well, I'm no Johnny Hart, and daly, I have no clams. However, I do have reviews. And, happily, it appears that I am able to copy them from Amazon to Goodreads. I did a trial run this weekend of eight reviews, and nothing blew up. However, I don't know whether the reviews exist where anyone who looks at the book can find them, or do they just show up on my profile. I also don't know how to add a title to the reviews; other reviews have them, but I haven't found the magic button.

I'll be MOSTLY making the reviews/clams migrate, although I also have a completed book to review, and another I'm reading, so I can experience some task variety.

Asd along those lines, I just went through what I believe was my 19th middle school orientation. All but the last two, admittedly, were from the other side, since I was a middle school counselor from 1991 to 2007, but it's the same chaos.

Dang it, I wish people knew how to walk in the halls, and how not to block a door.

But, I was able to buy almost all the school supplies for 6th grade Alicia and 7th grade Kenneth in one VERY quick trip to Publix and one slightly longer trip to Walmart, with no lines to stand in.

I also used the opportunity to train Kenneth in greeting adults. Firm handshake, "Hi, Mrs Cthulu, I'm Kenneth Emiohe, and I'm in your third period reading class." I finally gave up on the firm handshake; the best I could get was gelatinous. We will work on it. He's only 12, after all, and he's not used to being treated with respect.

I wonder how many of the teachers I'll be on speaking terms with in May?

Peace be on your household, especially those of you beginning the school year.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Asbaran Solutions, by Chris Kennedy, and the Border of Insanity

The condensed Amazon review may be found here, for those who wish to avoid commentary.

Said commentary, however, will of necessity be non-specific. There are too many stories which are not mine to tell, but I do want to talk about what I'm calling, for the lack of a better term, the Border of Insanity.

My undergraduate degree is psychology, and I have two graduate degrees in counselling, but when it comes to my definition of insanity, I rely on my personal experience of listening to the accumulated wisdom of recovering alcoholics over the past 29 years.  There are really two statements of the definition:

1. Doing the same thing, and expecting a different result. This is the one I hear quoted the most, even outside the meeting rooms. I heard it last from the lips of a wise non-alcoholic, while standing in his driveway yesterday. It's a great statement, with plenty of practical applications. That's probably why it has such broad distribution. However, it's the other definition I'm thinking about this morning.

2. Believing something is true, when it's not; or, believing something isn't true, when it is.

Maybe it's due to my own neuro-chemical-behavioral makeup, but I tend to see both of these statements as being primarily errors of logic, not of emotions or senses. However, rational thinking can be highly impacted by both of those, so it's not a philosophically pure process.

To illustrate, let me use the most drastic situation I had to face as a counselor: suicide.

The nutshell truth we bandied about was "suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem." It's so succinct that it tends to trivialize the issue. That's because, for the person contemplating suicide, the problem doesn't seem temporary at all. The overwhelming majority of the cases I had to deal with were triggered by the ending, or the anticipated ending, of a love affair. For the person involved, this did NOT seem to be a temporary problem; from their perspective, life was over, they would never be happy again, and everything was either meaningless or painful, and they saw no end to it.

They were standing at the Border of Insanity.

Now, as long as they were on the GOOD side of the border, counselling was helpful. They were being seduced by the false belief "If I die, it will solve all problems." As long as they hadn't given themselves over to that particular insanity, they were able to see the horrible impact that their death would have on other people. They could see that they had recovered from a similar situation in the past. Depending on the beliefs of the individual, there were appeals to their spiritual beliefs as well. And even if they themselves couldn't see a future, if they still had trust in others, they could rely on the fact that others believed in a future, and that could carry them through.

However, if they had crossed over the Border, and they were determined to carry out suicide,  the only fix was to have them committed to a mental health facility where they could be placed under constant observation, and provided the necessary interventions until they were stabilized. I spent the last half of my career working mostly with teens, and that population tends to act impulsively, rather than with a carefully thought-out plan, and they tend to rebound rather quickly.  

That's not the only country across the Border of Insanity, just the most lethal. I think it's far more common to encounter someone who is holding on to the idea that if they just give this failed money-making scheme a little more effort, it will work this time. Or, if they allow this abuser to come back in the home once more, this time it will be different. If they prevent this person from facing the consequences of their behavior just once more, they won't do it again.

It's easy to see the mistake, as long as you yourself aren't the one standing at the Border. But nobody ever said, "I think I'll take a stroll to the Border of Insanity today, just to take a look at the lovely scenery." They had good reasons for everything they did.

Which is why you may expect some difficulty to arise when you attempt to intervene. It is HARD for someone standing on the edge to give up their hope that it's going to be different, this time. However, with appropriate support, they may be able to accept the truth.

By the way: if you find yourself getting involved in these dramas a lot, take a look at where you are standing. It's likely you, yourself, are very close to the Border.

And that brings us to the Asbaran Solution.

So I almost forgot, I DID remember in time! Mad props to the people who did the cover, Brenda Mihalko and Ricky Ryan. Great spooky mecha art, and a design that fits in with the rest of the series.

Nigel Shirazi has spent his recent life hating his name. He hates his first name because it has become a personal acronym for repeated failure: "Never Is Good Enough: Loser." When taunted, he lashes out, and lands in trouble, sometimes in jail, and the cycle is then repeated elsewhere.

He hates his last name because it means that he is an unwanted member of the family that owns Asbaran, one of the Four Horsemen, the mercenary companies who survived the initial rounds of contract warfare when the Earth was admitted to the Galactic Union, with nothing to offer in exchange for economy-wrecking technology except fighters.

And Nigel doesn't want to be a mercenary. Nobody else wants Nigel to be a mercenary, either. He gets paid off to be a dilettante, a remittance man, someone who will stay away and not bother the important people who are carrying on the important business.

And then a bad thing happens.

Several bad things, in fact. All of the male senior members of the Shirazi are killed, the single surviving female is captured, and some strange events in the trading of securities and equipment have resulted in the company going bankrupt.

There is no alternative but to bring Nigel the Loser out of the junkyard, and put him in charge. He immediately dashes to the Border of Insanity, a place he has lived most of his life, and resolves to use the limited resources remaining to Asbaran to complete the same mission that has crushed everyone else.

There's something bizarre going on, though. It doesn't make sense that Asbaran would have been offered the mission in the first place. It's a garrison mission; go here, take up positions, and defend it, until a specified time. That's NOT what Asbaran does; they are an assault company. Drop in, kill things, then go away to the next mission. There's something funny about this, and it isn't Monty Python.

Excellent book. Lots of exploding spaceships. Lots of room for character growth. Lots of  Red Shirts. Lots of Bad Guys getting their just desserts. Buy it!

Peace be on your household.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Cartwright's Cavaliers, by Mark Wandrey

The condensed Amazon version of this review  may be found here.

I keep a list around here somewhere about things I just don't understand. The first four, of course, are found in Proverbs 30:

    19The way of an eagle in the sky,
            The way of a serpent on a rock,
            The way of a ship in the middle of the sea,
            And the way of a man with a maid.

Other items include WHY my fat black Manx cat SugarBelly INSISTS on sitting on my hands when I'm trying to use the keyboard; why I am the only person in the house who can put water in the water jug and re-fill the ice cube trays; and why did I allow myself to be persuaded to buy such an expensive iPhone and  iPad when I don't want to use any of those fabulous functions.

Well, there is another thing I don't understand: 

How is it that this book came out last December without me noticing it?

I started out fishing for books to read in the Mad Genius Club a few years back. I decided I was going to review the books written by all of the authors I found there. At first, it was just my intent to include those who were writing the columns, but I quickly added those who participated in the discussions to my to-be-read-and-reviewed list. And then, at some point, I discovered Sarah's Diner. And I adopted THAT as the source of my reading list.

And, inadvertently,  I stopped making sure I was reading MGC on a regular basis. I've fixed that, now, by the way, by subscribing, but I hadn't realized just how far I had slipped until the other day when I realized there was an entire series of Alma Boykin's that had escaped me. I'm fixing that, too.

But what STARTED it all was my review of "A Fistful of Credits, " launched at LibertyCon, just one hundred miles from my non-attending location. I devoured it with a passion, gobbled two of the prequel stories available online, and demanded MORE! Which resulted in the discovery of "The Winged Hussars;" which lead me to the brutal fact that the series had started in December, and I hadn't noticed.

I have NO excuse for that.

But, I did have a remedy! I got both of the previous works, and I read THIS one pretty much simultaneously with the first Alma Boykin series book I'd missed (you understand, I must have multiple books due to existing in multiple places, right?), enjoyed it IMMENSELY, and have already begun the second book in the series. When I finish that, I will return to finish 'The Winged Hussars,' and then pound on the table for more.

And I'm going to try to get Tightbeam to accept reviews of the two prequel stories. After I write them, of course.

But, that's all background. Here's where the review starts:

Shortly before the time the story begins, the aliens landed. We discovered they had a LOT of things that they wanted, but we didn't have much to give them in return. It was a bad thing.

Then, we found out that fighting was a rare skill, and various alien groups would happily hire humans to break things and kill people. Unfortunately, most of the jobs were sucker bets, and only FOUR of the first 100 groups of human mercenaries returned. It happened that all of them featured a horse on their insignia, so the groups became known as the Four Horsemen.

The greatest of these groups was Cartwright's Cavaliers. Through luck, hard work, luck, integrity, and luck, they became a dominant force in the industry. Thaddeus Cartwright was the commander of one of the grandest enterprises in human history, until his luck ran out, leaving elementary school-aged son Jim as the heir.

For reasons not clear to me, Jim's mother set out on a course that destroyed the mercenary company. Assets were squandered, contracts entered into without regard to profitability, and by the time young Jin turned 18, his inheritance was worth less than zero. A considerate judge allowed him a trifle which would keep him from starving for a bit.

If that weren't enough, Jim was NOT qualified for the life of a mercenary. To be blunt, he was obese, and rather uncoordinated as well. He had covertly had brain implants installed, so knowledge was easier for him to acquire, but he knew that without experience, he was pretty much good at turning pizza into solid waste, and that was it.

He needed a break, and after all the bashing he took as the lawyers broke his father's company to shreds, he really deserved one, as well. When the opportunity essentially dropped out of the sky on him, he was ready.

What follkows is some great scenes of exploding spaceships against the background of character development. Maybe it's the other way around, but it doesn't matter; the elements of  smashing great adventure are all there. Detractors may whine at the failure to consider horticulture as an acceptable alternative for an obese teen, or the appalling assumption that under-utilized humans will turn to crime, or the tendency of volcanos to erupt at inconvenient moments, but these are merely the quibbles of people who haven't gotten a nice nap recently. For everyone else, this is a great place to start reading the adventures of the  Four Horsemen.

Peace be on your household.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Cat Among Dragons, by Alma T C Boykin, and Series Immersion

If you JUST want to read the Amazon review, with none of the trimmings, click here.

So, this morning I hopped out of bed at 4:00 AM, and drove our daughter Liz to the hospital, where she will shortly present us with grandchild number 12; BUT this one is a girl! We only have two other girl grandchildren, the delightful Vanessa Nicole, age 16, and precious Alicia Ann, age 11. In case you don't want to do the math, that means we have 9 grandsons, ranging from Esan at 18 to Isaac at 5 months.

I like 'em all.

In fact, I like them so much that there are three of them currently living at my house (four when the little girl comes home), and in a few minutes, my daughter who lives in Screven, in south east Georgia, will be dropping by with three year old Josh and the aforementioned 5 month old Isaac, for an all-too-brief visit. I bought donuts.
Are they not lovely? Designed to appeal to the palate of grandchildren.

And I made sausage and cheese biscuits.

Designed to appeal to the palate of adults.

And then, as adults and children were negotiating conversation space while wiping powdered sugar and or mustard from the lips, I fell asleep. And then Trey fell asleep, and then my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, fell asleep. In a home which is shortly going to receive a newborn, naps are a desirable commodity.

So, when I woke up, much too early, and placed the donuts into storage, I kept it quiet. They can sleep; I have a blog/review to write.

I've mentioned before that military sci-fi has been my clear favorite, at least since I discovered a frayed copy of 'Starship Troopers' in the day room of "C" Company, 2nd Battalion, while undergoing medic training at Ft. Sam Houston in 1972 -73. And so, with delight, I discovered  that , introduced at LibertyCon (which I didn't attend), was that outstanding bit of art known as "Fistful of Credits." I reviewed it here on Amazon, and blogged about it here, taking an extended and expanded view of one of the stories here.

And after that, I immediately read and enjoyed toy stories in the universe, which provide some back story; and THEN I got word of Mark Wandrey's release of "The Winged Hussars," which I obtained and began to devour, and THAT lead me to the discovery that the series goes back at least two more books which are already in print, and new ones are on the way.

Good news, and bad news.

Good news: I have a LOT more to read & review!

Bad news: I owe reviews to other authors.

Although I usually get one book at a time from a particular author, there are those times when I'll get several books sent my way. When that is the case, I try to be fair in my rotation. I have no research data to support my actions, but I do believe that there are advantages to alternate the authors I review. And maybe that's a discussion for  another time.

So, although when I am in top form, I can read and review one book per day, sometimes I'll sit on a review for a while. Sometimes it's because of a rotation issue, sometimes I'm just backlogged, and sometimes it's because I discover I've messed up.

And that's the case here.I have two books which are a part of a series. One is "Winged Hussars" by Mark Wandrey; the other is "Clawing Back From Chaos," by Alma T C Boykin. Both are the most recently released book in their respective series, and in both cases, I discovered I had not been paying proper attention, because I had read NOTHING in either series. Yes, I have read and reviewed other works by Boykin, but not the Cat Among Dragons series. I am in the process of rectifying that, and as a part of that process, I will be reviewing "A Very UnCONventional Christmas," by Stephanie Osborn, and "Minutegirls," by George Phillies, both of which were provided to me in exchange for a fair review some time back.

But the crisis was precipitated by my realization that I was having a great deal of time following along with the #9 book in the series, "Clawing Back From Chaos.". That's when I discovered I was going to have to go back to the beginning. THAT'S one briar patch I will GLADLY be thrown into.

The Cat, Rada Ni Drako,  doesn't want to be among Dragons. In fact, she would prefer to be left along. However, that option is not open to her, because the Traders, which represent half of her genetic inheritance, treat her as an abomination in the very best of times. Later, the situation escalates, and an open contract is placed on her. Anyone who captures her will be able to use the reward money to live the rest of their lives in luxury.

She goes into hiding, taking the most uninteresting job she can think of: doing the laundry in a licensed brothel, under the bland name of Brownie. Even this hideaway is denied her, however, when one of the administrators seeks to place her in the bed of a disreputable type with political power. She flees, to the only place where her skills might win her the courtesy of isolation: a mercenary guild.

She has training to supplement her superior reflexes, and is quite deadly in hand-to-hand combat of almost any type. Her mixed-race heritage has provided her with some rudimentary ability to detect others by their thoughts, and in some cases, to take control of them. This makes her an excellent training officer.

Meanwhile, and clue the Traders have that she is still alive sends them into a frenzy, and they escalate their offers for her. She is forced to leave job after job until...

...until I can't tell you any more, because of spoilers.

Beautifully written; excellent & complex characters, who are forced to make changes because of the things that happen to them, which gives us the means of seeing what drives character growth. Strange, powerful, secretive forces in the background, doing for others, for unknown reasons of their own. Conflicting rules of societies, which may no longer have any survival value.

And here's what I loved: I enjoyed these characters so much, that I often found myself wondering which book I was reading. I interrupted my reading of the Four Horsemen to return to this series, but some of the events could have been taking place just a few planets over from the other series. Boykin writes fight scenes so well; I loved her tales of Elizabeth and her killer mule Snowy in the Colplatschki Chronicles.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Sarah Hoyt, It's a Blast from the Past!

Right before I went to bed last night, I happened to be flipping through old blog posts. I found a post about rising above toxic parenting practices, prompted by a post Sarah had written about her trip to Portugal in 'According to Hoyt,' almost exactly a year ago. Then I posted in the 'Sarah's Diner' Facebook page, and asked others about their practices:

If you journal or blog, do you ever go back and see what you wrote a long time ago? And if so, does it make you laugh, or cry, or both?
Different points of view emerged. Some did, most didn't. Sarah said she didn't, because there was so much! And I get that, with an ink-soaked writer: You are so busy cranking out new content, there's not much opportunity to review.

And yet...

...and yet there have been times in which reading my old writings has been profoundly revealing. I remember reading, a year after they were written, the 1979 New Year's resolutions written when I was a poverty-stricken seminary student & beleaguered youth minister, and realizing they'd come true: I was no longer in poverty, because I had left the ministry, and was working in what would become my first career.

Sometime in 1988, a casual search of my closet discovered something I'd written the year before about my despair of ever being able to control my drinking. I was in the first year of sobriety when I found it, and I remember the deep sense of gratitude, and relief, that came over me when I realized I wasn't dragging that chain around any more. It's now been 29 years, 6 months, and 25 days since my last drink, and some of those 10,798 days have been doozies, but I am still grateful and relieved.

And on a slightly different note, there was a discussion in the Mad Genius Club some years back, cautioning writers not to burn their earlier attempts at writing. It was through that discussion that I discovered my true calling, which is to be a book reviewer, not a book writer. I talked about this in my blog post "The Bonfire Also Illuminates."

And so, I wonder. Sarah is right about the VOLUME of writing that some of us generate; but in that volume there are snippets, scenes where the adult female has a mid-life crisis on an airplane, and emerges with the understanding that she is "an American, born tragically abroad." That's an insight worth re-visiting.

Not going to go too far with it. I plan on looking ahead, reading the books, and writing the reviews. But, just as I take a break from time to time to re-read Heinlein (or Freer, Ringo, Kratman, & Drake), every great once in a while, I'll read some Patterson, too. Like to see if the boy has grown any.

Peace be on your household.

Monday, July 24, 2017

It's Been Difficult, But Well Worth It

Beloved, and all the rest who read:

These past two weeks have been difficult for me. I got very little reading done, and essentially no writing.  I had two MAJOR projects going; both of them were in the class of  "Major Life Events."

Both of them were EXTREMELY time-sensitive, with hard and fast drop-dead dates.

Both of them required me to be dependent on other people, NONE of whom had nearly as much invested in the projects as I do.

Both involved a significant degree of travel, for me as well as for other people. (I don't like travel.)

And, as you well know, there are some things that just can't be put on hold, no matter HOW many important projects are pending. People and pets still have to be fed. Babies have to be changed. Some minimal amount of laundry still has to be done. Toddlers require active supervision, or they will break themselves. Even WITH active supervision, SOMETHING is going to get broken.

But, as of today, projects are completed and were a resounding success.

Will my life return to normal? 

Are you kidding? Here's the outlook for the week:

1. Sometime in the next 48 hours, our youngest daughter (who lives with us) is going to present us with a granddaughter, who is grandchild number 12, and the first girl in 11 years. It will be a big and joyous event.

2. Our next youngest daughter will be trekking through with her two boys, ages 3 years & 5 months, while husband Sam is getting some company training. They live five hours away, so we don't get to see them often, so it's a big & joyous event.

3. One week from today, Alicia and Kenneth will each be given their walk-through of their middle school classes, and the next day, Tuesday August 1, the school year starts. It will be a big and joyous event; if not for them, it will be for me.

4. If my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, does NOT quit her job SOON (like, yesterday would have been good), I may have to go into downtown Atlanta and chew through the cabling connecting her office building to the grid. I need new teeth anyway, and there are so many lawyers in Atlanta, one building full of them won't be missed.

That's a lot of stuff, but actually, for the Patterson Household, that IS normal, sort of. Lots of family things, all important, some of it fairly difficult. Hopefully not as difficult as the concentrated effort of the last two weeks, but, here's my take-away:

1. It takes effort to produce beauty, and
2. It's worth it.

Beauty is found, mostly, in relationships. Relationships (and I mean HEALTHY relationships) convert the energy you put into them into joy, and intimacy, and understanding, and acceptance.
Frequently difficult, true. But it's well worth it.

Peace be on your household.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Straight Outta Tombstone

The link to my Amazon review will be found HERE,  and I made this editorial change at 1:13 AM Wednesday.

I got my copy from Baen, but you can get it from Amazon if you click the picture link .

Okay, we need to talk about the cover. It's by Dominic Harman, and I've seen his work before, BUT:

It's never sold me a book before.

As a matter of fact, I can't think of a time as an adult when artwork has ever sold me a book. Maybe when I was a kid, browsing the paperbacks on sale at Dorsey's Pharmacy in Macon, but even then, I'd mostly buy because it was by Ian Fleming. Yes, I was reading James Bond in the sixth grade. What's the problem?

But, the zombie cowboy with a pair of ...(stop right there.)

A pair of WHAT?

Six guns? Revolvers? Cowboy pistols?

No, those are sho 'nuff Colt Single Action Army. I hate it when authors make gun mistakes, and I LOVE it when they get it right. And I REALLY love it when the artists get it right. Listen: I just pulled one of MY Single Action Army Model 1873 revolvers out of the gun cabinet to verify. Dominic nailed it! He got the grip right, he shows the groove on top of the chamber because there are no rear sights on SAA, and in the gun held in the zombie's left hand, you can even make out the loading gate.

And before some smarty-pants critiques trigger discipline, these are SINGLE ACTION revolvers. It makes NO difference that the trigger finger of BOTH hands is in contact with a trigger, because the firearm in his left hand has the hammer down. It will NOT fire, until he points it at you, pulls back the hammer, and applies a certain amount of pressure to the bang switch, see?

So I'll SEE yer Four Rules of Gun Safety, and RAISE you a ZOMBIE COWBOY, okay?

And yes, the end of that barrel has a bore size perhaps best described as ...prodigious.
Because that's what a .45 Colt (or .44-40 WCF) looks like when it's in yer face, pilgrim. My pair are chambered in .357, and THAT'S enough to make ya whimper.

Sigh. I now leave off discussion of the cover art, which in my opinion is THE best story in the book, to consider the words which are written down. All of them, in some way or another, deal with CTOW,  Creepy Things Out West. There really isn't a 'best one!' story in this collection, in my opinion. Many different styles, of course, but even Waffle House has more than one item on the menu.

Not that I ever need to use the menu at Waffle House, but it's nice to have choices.

BUBBA SHACKLEFORD’S PROFESSIONAL MONSTER KILLERS by Larry Correia. Ever since Owen got to throw his boss out of the window, his fans have been clamoring for more. And, by going into the past, we can get a LOT more Monster Hunter stories. Some things stay the same: not all monsters are evil; chicks with guns are WAY cool; and NOBODY ever said “Dang, why did I bring all this ammunition?” Oh, yeah, and the government is mental.

TROUBLE IN AN HOURGLASS by Jody Lynn Nye. Well, her name isn't REALLY trouble. Beauty may, perhaps, be only skin deep, but mischief goes right down to the bone. Mom tends bar with a shotgun, daddy builds time machines in the shed.

THE BUFFALO HUNTERS by Sam Knight.  What do you get when you go hunting buffalo with a giant Russian count and his daughter? Well, you get buffalo, for one thing. Not much sport to it, but this sort of thing really happened. In this case, though, it's not the buffalo that are the biggest threat.

THE SIXTH WORLD by Robert E. Vardeman.  This story combines mad scientists, native spook stuff, and little grey men. The most sympathetic character gets killed first, but he was sort of a wimp.

EASY MONEY by Phil Foglio. Nasty, nasty man writes a story with a punchline at the end. It's a HECK of a good cowboy story, too.

THE WICKED WILD by Nicole Givens Kurtz. This could ALMOST not be a Wild West story, but it's the wicked ways of the Wild West that make the people possible. Umm, I didn't mean to do that much alliteration. Anyway, bad guys use to be able to get away with stuff until they got shot. Or something.

CHANCE CORRIGAN AND THE LORD OF THE UNDERWORLD by Michael A. Stackpole. Nicely steampunk in nature, a classic tale of the poor & downtrodden being taken advantsge of by the owners of the mine.

THE GREATEST GUNS IN THE GALAXY by Bryan Thomas Schmidt & Ken Scholes. After the Big Shoot-Out, there's always some kid who thinks he has to prove himself. Usually, the story ends with a pimply 15 year old staring up at a blue sky. Sometimes it ends in zombies. Or not.

DANCE OF BONES by Maurice Broaddus. When you take a man's money, you do the job he hired you to do. And if that means you have to do a little extra? Well, that's a risk you take.

DRY GULCH DRAGON by Sarah A. Hoyt. Would you want your sister to marry a dragon? There's really NOTHING I can say about that concept without the risk of offending a brother-in-law. Really. I've got some responses, but I think I may have gone a bit far already.

THE TREEFOLD PROBLEM by Alan Dean Foster. Mad Amos Malone and his trusty steed, Worthless, are not the sort you want to aggravate. Amos walks into a foreclosure situation, and, well, they just blow the competition away.

 FOUNTAINS OF BLOOD by David Lee Summers. It's rather a creepy title, but I don't know what I'd come up with to replace it. A hired gun goes beyond the necessary minimums to provide true service to the man who hired him; and there are vampires, and a bodacious lady marshal who rides a motorcycle called Wolf.

HIGH MIDNIGHT by Kevin J. Anderson. The Shamblin' Zombie Private Eye encounters the ethics of the Wild West through time travel. Sort of.

COYOTE by Naomi Brett Rourke. This particular story has just as much non-natural events as the others, but it reads truer. Some of the other stories NEED a volume like this in order to exist; this one doesn't. The story of the old man and his grand-daughter could appear anywhere from Boy's Life to Playboy to Good Housekeeping. Maybe not Popular Mechanics.

THE KEY by Peter J. Wacks. Sorry. Didn't get this one. It has lots of famous people in it, though. And there is whiskey involved.

A FISTFUL OF WARLOCKS by Jim Butcher. Everybody said Wyatt Earp was a tough lawman. He says, in this story, that he can't leave just because the bad guys want him to, or pretty soon everybody will be pushing him. Seems like a good philosophy for a Wild West lawman to have.

Peace be on your household.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Narwhals Ate Our Tomatoes Plants

For the past couple of years, we've done some minor experimenting with back-yard gardening. And, when I say 'we,' I mean my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA. My involvement has been limited to buying the wire cones at Home Depot.

The first two years, she just used these big honken planters on the back porch. I think she had two plants, and they kept us in an appropriate amount of home-grown tomatoes, and it was nice.

Then she got a bit ambitious, and dug out a garden area by the fence, with borders and tags. Didn't work. I know she had some other stuff in there beside the tomatoes, but I don't think anything bore fruit.

Here are two mistakes she didn't make, both of which I have seen happen.

Mistake 1: Failing to understand the process. A dear friend of mine wanted tomatoes one year. So...he planted tomato seeds. Fortunately, this act was reported by his wife to a person who Knows Things, and they brought out a flat of tomato seedlings, and stuck them in the ground the next day while my friend was at work.  Of course, this meant that my friend was temporarily struck dumb by the vision of seedlings rising several inches from the ground, whereas mere seeds had been planted only hours earlier. He wondered, briefly, if it might be a miracle. Actually, kindness often IS a miracle, so in that sense, he was correct.

Mistake 2. Failing to understand the productivity of a tomato plant. On Monday morning, Barry's buddy came into work, reporting he had spent the weekend setting out tomatoes. Anticipating gifts in the future, Barry asked him how many he set out. The answer: 100. Well, at least he got some good exercise out of it. Which probably included the next day going out and ripping out about 95 tomato plants.

This year, though, we will get no tomatoes, unless we buy them. The narwhals got ours. They use that beak to sense unattended tomato plants, and then they followed the trail all the way from the Arctic down to Savannah, where they hit the rivers and creeks. Unfortunately, we live only a mile away from Little River, so it was no great task for them to bore through the ground until they popped up next to our tomatoes.

I would not have grudged them a FEW tomatoes, but they prefer to slice them on the vine. That beak really is a multi-purpose device. Shredded the tomatoes, the plants, and even trimmed some of the surrounding grass.

I live not VERY far from the Center for Disease Control, so I called them and asked if this was common. They said it was because there is a certain amount of mole DNA in narwhals. It's because the common mosquito feasts on them both, and some exchange is inevitable. When conditions are right, the mole DNA can express itself in behavior of this type.

Nothing to worry about, really. They did caution me against harming the narwhals, because they might be endangered. That's okay, because I don't have any recipes for narwhal. If I want to keep them away, I have to hammer a stick in the ground, then drag a bit of corrugated tin (plastic will also work) over the top of the stick, which sets up vibrations in the ground, and warns them off. I decided not to do that this year.

Peace be on your household.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Correia X 2, I Feel Turrible, Charlie Mike

My Amazon review of the FIRST book may be read here.
My Amazon review of the SECOND book may be read here.

I have a VIOLENT reaction to that class of medications known as NSAIDS (non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs). Just the briefest touch turns my innards into thunderstorms.

It wasn't always this way. I was able to discontinue narcotics for my chronic pain for almost a year, with the use of a particularly powerful NSAID called meloxicam. It brought my pain level down to the point that I averaged a half tablet of hydrocodone a week; before that, I was taking 165 mg of morphine daily. It wasn't until my gut started bleeding that I gave up on the meloxicam; unfortunately, my sensitivity to ONE NSAID extended to ALL NSAIDS, so now I can't even take aspirin.

And that extends to topical applications as well. I have some tenderness in my bicep tendon caused by a brief attempt at lifting weights - 10 pounds only! - and my doc suggested I try this cream. Well, I did. I don't know if it helped my tendon any, but it sure has destroyed my innards.

Out of a sense of delicacy, I will not attempt to describe my symptoms. You might very well imagine a tuba concert, but I couldn't possibly comment on that.

Well, it keeps me from wasting my time with such stuff as exercise. We did make it to church this weekend, and I was challenged to keep a close rein on what I watched and read, but other than that, I've been invalided. It matters not; Charlie Mike (Continue the Mission).

And therefore, I found the chance to read a couple of Larry Correia books I haven't noticed before. The fact that any of those existed was a bit of a surprise to me. Of COURSE, I read Monster Hunters, and the Grimnoir series, and Dead Six, and Son of the Black Sword, but I didn't even know The Malcontents were a thing. Don't know how that got by me. PERHAPS it's because they were originally just for table-top gamers; the Privateer Press edition includes the models. I know nothing about that aspect of life, due to poor planning on my part as a youth; hence, my review covers only the stories.

Into the Storm: I THOUGHT I was going to get a quick read, and then goodnight, with this book, because it only shows seven chapters in the Table of Contents. This is an artifact of reading e-Books. Unless you look at file size, and can do the conversion in your head, you have NO idea of length! Yes, there are only seven chapters, and only three of those are substantive, but these are some LONG chapters! They are so long that I got aggravated a couple of time with my reader. I'd accidently bump a control, and find myself at the top of the page, and then I have to swipe down for a minute to get back to where I left off. That's a function of big fingers, though, and should not be taken as a criticism of the book or my reader.
The setting is best described in terms of weaponry, since there isn't any period in our timeline in which these customs exist. Fighting is done with swords, spears, and other sharp, pointy things. The king can afford the latest technology, so he has knights armed with lightning swords. And the mechanized element is represented by the warjack, an iron monstrosity, powered by coal, operating on verbal orders. And there are magical elements around, as well. A man can still get his brains dashed out by a rock, though.
The commanding officer is one Lieutenant Madigan, who was disgraced and nearly executed for his actions in the last palace coup. Not being a whiner, he does NOT offer the defense that the atrocity that brought him low was actually the work of someone else; he is of the opinion that command takes responsibility.
Being at the top of everyone's scut list, he gets the very worst jobs that are available. In this case, he is ordered to form up the Sixth Platoon, consisting of the cast-offs of every other outfit, and turn them into a fighting unit.

Dirty Dozen, right?

But, training works, as it always does. He has a hard time bringing his troops into play, because nobody trusts them, and there is a good bit of personal animosity running around.
Lots of good fighting and blowing stuff up.

Into The Wild.  Book Two begins with the troopers under the command of Lt. Cleasby. Formerly a rule-bound fop, his time with the company has hardened him, and he has earned the respect of the men.
Very interesting scene at the beginning, when he meets up with the academic leading the team he will be protecting. It starts as the typical bosh of a bookworm attempting to bully the grunts, but just when that's so irritating that you want to fling the book, uummm, not going to tell you. Spoilers, you know.

It seems a  rare find has been unearthed way out in the wild, wild forest, and this team is going to fetch it. Ranged against them are the forces of the avaricious original finder of the the artifact, and a tribe of pagan heathen monster people. Victory conditions:  rescue the artifact, and get the scientific party and troops to safety.

Even if it's NOT Owen with his weapons, and even if you AREN'T a gamer, there's still plenty here for you to enjoy.

Peace be on your household.

Friday, July 7, 2017

A Closer Look at "Gilded Cage," by Kacey Ezell, and RED on Friday

This is going to be a shorter post than usual.

First, somehow, I forgot today is Friday. No excuse. Just forgot.

And along with that, I forgot it was therefore RED Friday. I always want to remember that, because it matters.

Right now, there are thousands of sons and daughters, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers who cannot be with the rest of their families on this summer day, because they are doing their part in the Armed Forces to keep us safe in our homes.

They are Deployed.

So: RED: Remember Everyone Deployed. Wear RED on Friday. Until they ALL come home.

And now, a CLOSER LOOK at "Gilded Cage," the creepiest story in the 'Fistful of Credits' anthology I reviewed this morning. There are others that deserve a closer look; in fact, I'd have to confess that they ALL deserve a closer. Particularly, not gonna go there. I was going to mention 'Legends' by Christopher Woods, but if I did, then I'd also mention...STOP THE MADNESS!

See, this is why I LOVE the short story form as a reader, but I hate it as a reviewer.  Whenever I review a collection of short stories, it almost always takes me longer to write the review than it does to read the stories. If you are a reviewer, you know what I'm talking about. Otherwise, you think I'm nuts. How hard is it to review a few thousand words?

So, I'm going to give you an AUTHENTIC review of 'Gilded Cage,' and let you see for yourself.

Here's what I wrote this morning:
This is, in my opinion, the CREEPIEST story in the book. The protagonist does all the wrong things for all the right reasons, and there is never any point at which a reasonable observer would shout "LOOK OUT! DON'T DO THAT!" It brings a different point of view to the understanding that humans have in the scheme of things in the new universe.
 And here's what I wanted to write:

"I've seen the needle and the damage done
A little part of it in everyone,
But every junkie's like the setting sun..."
(Neil Young, 1972)

It's only after several re-reads of the story that I confirm it: we don't even know the gender of the junkie in the alley until well into the story. That's significant; it's something she has forfeited, along with everything else, in exchange for the simplified life: she is only concerned about obtaining the next fix.

It's clear that she has long abandoned any pretense of respectability. She has exchanged access to her body for the chance of another hit.

Access to her body: normally, that's a euphemism for prostitution, but with two phrases, Ezell suggests it's something even worse.

I’d lost a lot of blood there at the end, when things had gotten really wild.
I crossed my arms over my chest, tucking my wasted hands underneath my armpits, letting them hide in the nest of rags that was all Ghat’s party guests had left of my clothing.

She reports these things as simple facts; there is no suggestion of outrage. She even considers herself lucky to have gotten the good stuff. You can't get a much better depiction of the depths of addiction, no matter how many words you use. I've read "Confessions of an English Opium Reader" and "The Naked Lunch" and "The Lost Weekend," among others.  You can use MORE words, describe MORE scenes, but those two sentences convey the message. The feather touch Ezell uses hits harder than a hammer would have.

Every junkie, every alcoholic has a story: "I used; I got high; I got in trouble." NOBODY sets out  in the hopes of winding up face down in the gutter some day. That's the tragedy of the filthy end our protagonist came to: she didn't PLAN for any of this to happen.  In fact, we discover that she is Doctor Susan Aloh, former Xenobiologist at the University of Texas, and that she was researching this particular drug, because of her interest in this particular race of aliens, and the pusher she bought her first hit from made her use it in his presence.

And she was immediately hooked, and within a couple of years, her professional life was just a memory. Every action she took, after that first taste of the drug, was infected by her sickness. She had lost the power of choice.

And that's not what makes this story the creepiest story in the book.

Here's the creepy part: the alien returns her to complete health, and then claims her as property.

Initially, when the deal is struck, she is impaired, chemically and physically. However,  when she wakes up on the alien ship, of sound mind and body, she is offered the choice again: she can become a pet, or she can die.

It's a trap without an exit.

And THAT'S what makes it the creepiest story in the book.

Peace be on your household.

A Fistful of Credits and Reading Problems

My Amazon review of the book can be found here.

I have reading problems.

That most definitely DOESN'T mean I have a problem trying to read, usually.
Sure, in the minute or so after I wake up in the morning, my eyes don't focus very well. So, when the first thing I do is reach for my tablet, I often can't focus on the text well enough to read what it says.

Mostly, however, I regard that as a feature, and not a bug. I use that interval to get out of bed. And one I am out of bed, I can do other things. Take a shower, etc. Go downstairs. Greet the cat. Whatever.

So, as I said, that's not what I refer to when I say I have reading problems.

The other day I mentioned getting into trouble in the second grade because I was so captivated by the book I was reading, that I didn't have a clue that reading time was over. And when the teacher finally broke through my concentration on the story of Old Yeller, it was only the first time of many that my immersion in text resulted in discontinuity with the rest of the universe.

Of course, since almost all of my internet friends are readers and writers, they understood, and many had had similar experiences. And I'm not sure if it's causation or merely correlation, but many of them also report that they have one or more cats who interfere with them currently, as they read or write.

I wish I could go back to 1961, and announce to Mrs. Bowlin: "One day, you will be replaced with a cat." There is a certain resonance to the idea: my old, fat, white female second grade teacher is now represented in my life by my old, fat, black Manx cat, SugarBelly. It's a pretty good trade-off, for me.

Now, my most recent discontinuity event was also my introduction into the universe of the Four Horsemen. If memory serves, when I was looking for material, I heard that 'Fistful of Credits' was introduced at LibertyCon, so I grabbed it up. The stories are perfect, the intro material needs some work (no, it doesn't), because the links to the two prelude stories don't work (this isn't true. See the comments for a retraction), and editor Chris Kennedy's publishing website is still printed in Latin with pictures of generic people smiling. (I just checked, and it's all functional now (Saturday at 8:17PM. This is the kind of stuff that happens to an early reviewer!)

Nice work on the cover! An appropriately mecha-looking suit with a pistol, and the titles are legible and don't obscure the background. The cover is attributed to Brenda Mihalko and Ricky Ryan; I'm not familiar with either of them, but they did good work here.

Fourteen stories. some of them by writers I've been following for a while, some new to me. All deal with human mercenaries in a universe dominated by other races. Some of them presuppose knowledge of the Four Horsemen universe, which I did not have; others could be stand-alone stories without reference to an outside context. NONE of them REQUIRE the reader to have experience with the earlier works, although they will certainly generate interest in most novices (like myself) to go back and read the foundation stories.

THE LAST ALPHA by Mark Wandrey. Zeke has a history in the earlier stories, and it's to provide some closure to that history that he appears on Earth in his old stomping grounds. This provides the best window on what has happened on Earth following First Contact.

BREACH OF CONTRACT by Terry Mixon. This story introduces us to the Peacemaker Guild, and the role they play in the complicated relationships between merchants and fighters. The contract MUST be treated with respect by all parties in order for the society to work; therefore, much effort is expended in disrespecting it. You can't always get justice. Sometime, you can get revenge.

PAINT THE SKY by Jason Cordova. Ideally, in a military organization, cooks and clerks are free to cook and clerk; artillery troopers fire from long distances, and medics load up with nothing but plasma, splints, and bandages. It rarely works that way in practice, and all too often, the guys who were only supposed to be operating a motor pool are memorialized by points of light in the night.

SURF AND TURF by Jon R. Osborne. Mercenaries make their home wherever they are, particularly when they have a history they want to forget. If they stay in one place long enough, the fights become personal, because they are now fighting for their homes. Everybody needs a home. Everybody needs family.

STAND ON IT by Kevin Ikenberry. An excellent story of layered betrayal by a relative newcomer. It's easy to forget just how worthless the rest of the universe thinks you are when you are fighting for your life, in all directions.

LOST AND FOUND by John Del Arroz. The most basic rule among mercenaries is : you must be loyal to your comrades. After that, loyalties to the paymaster and to citizens are negotiable.

GILDED CAGE by Kacey Ezell. This is, in my opinion, the CREEPIEST story in the book. The protagonist does all the wrong things for all the right reasons, and there is never any point at which a reasonable observer would shout "LOOK OUT! DON'T DO THAT!" It brings a different point of view to the understanding that humans have in the scheme of things in the new universe.

LEGENDS by Christopher Woods. A classic tale of the reluctant warrior, put into impossible situations by a fate that is at best indifferent, but usually hostile.

WITH THE EAGLES by Doug Dandridge. Okay, you want to talk about a hostile environment? THIS environment is worse than Australia. No kidding, WORSE than Australia! You only take a job like this because you have to. Try not to think of why no one else will do it.

DEAD OR ALIVE by PP Corcoran. The Peacemakers appear again, in an operation launched against those who would defy the mores of the collective, and those who support them. Hint: bad idea.

HIDE AND SEEK by Christopher Nuttall. SUCH a great dance between a spook, and administrator, and a government thug. Shows why the timid don't belong in a universe with sharp elbows.

INFORMATION OVERLOAD by Charity Ayres. Sigh. Sorry, I just didn't like this story. I thought too much of it took place in the undisclosed mental processes of the actors.

ENOUGH by Chris Kennedy. The unit is about to be eradicated. But WHY? There is NO hope without getting an answer to that question, and the new commander has to solve the problem as his men fight and die to give him time.

CASPER’S GHOST by Brad R. Torgersen. This story has some of the most vivid images in the book: armored humans, fighting a corrosive, super-hot environment, who are then attacked by what looks alarmingly like an allergic reaction by the planet.

The book was delicious for me to read, and I recommend it highly.

Peace be on your household.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Pushing the Limits With Amazon and Polly's Summer Vacation

Here's the link to my condensed review on Amazon.

I never set out to be a rebel.

Well, that's not EXACTLY true. As a matter of fact, once I found out that rebellion was possible, my path has bounced between rebellion and conformity in the same way that a ping-pong ball bounces for Forrest Gump.

Today, I take pride in my identity as a redneck biker, Life Member of the NRA, Southern Man of Scottish Heritage (Campbell Clan, if anybody is interested), born on a dirt road in Macon, GA.
Sounds pretty white and the slightest bit intimidating, don't it?

But I'm married to my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA. And we have CHOSEN to raise our beautiful mulatto grandchildren with the understanding that to a significant segment of the population, the amount of black blood in their veins is going to trump the white amount, and to be proud of who they are. And our social lives center on what is the most racially diverse church we can find. And I babysit my grandchildren every chance I get.
Does that hint that maybe I have rebelled against stereotypes, a little bit?

As soon as I graduated from high school, I moved out of my parents' house, enrolled in a LIBERAL liberal arts college, and spent the next year growing my hair, drinking, joining a fraternity, and scaring people with the amount of drugs I was taking.

After a year of THAT, I joined the Army to become a medic. I did well; got me a medal, a promotion to E-5, and was selected as Soldier of the Year for the United States Army, Europe in 1975.

Got out of the Army, stopped getting hair cuts, went back to college, got divorced, and started riding motorcycles.

The story goes on from there, but the cycles are established, right? Whether I set out to do it or not, there is a lot of rebel in me. I do my best to keep it from harming others; these days, I think it mostly manifests as my absolute refusal to get invested in politics, and my determination to answer a radical call to Christian discipleship.
While carrying a Browning Hi-Power.

All of that is to explain the context of this blog post, which will shortly contain a review of James Snover's latest book, "Polly's Summer Vacation At Excentrifugal Engineering," which you can get by clicking the link at the top of the page.

As I explained yesterday, I'm having some problems in deciding where & how to publish my book reviews. In the past, I write a book review, and then I post a reference link to the review on at least two Facebook pages: my own, and Sarah's Diner, which is a nest of indie writers, along with a few who have contracts with more-or-less (mostly less) traditional publishers. I also write this blog, in which I, Papa Pat, Ramble on about things that are important to me; sometimes, that includes books.

I need both venues. They are NOT identical, and they don't have the same intended audience,>...<
Did he say 'audience?' HA! He has an audience like the construction worker with the singing frog in the Bugs Bunny cartoon.
>...< and there are times when I have a blog post which is intensely personal, and has nothing to do with books.

So, here's what I'm going to TRY, and I actually started this yesterday. I'm going to TRY to get my Amazon book reviews to include a reference to my blog, on those occasions when the blog includes review material. It will be easy to include the link to the review in my blog to the Amazon review; I already did that at the top of the page. However, Amazon does NOT permit a link within a review to anything except to another product which may be purchased on Amazon. So, I'm just going to point out that an expanded review is available at Papa Pat Rambles, and not include the url.

In fact, I did a trial run of that last night, and it allowed the review to post. That may change; in fact, change is a guarantee with Amazon reviews, but unless they change the rules, I believe I can get away with this little rebellion.

And now for the actual review of  "Polly's Summer Vacation At Excentrifugal Engineering, " by James Snover, 2nd Edition. The Ill-Advised Publishing Company (Kindle Edition).

Polly Madison is a delightfully normal 13 year old genius.  She lives on an Earth that has lost its' collective mind, with every sort of political splinter faction running around to do things for the Good Of The People, because they alone know what that Good is.

The WILDEST card in this deck is Rex Mason, the head of Excentrifugal Engineering. He is a certified Mad Scientist, Life Member, with a Challenge Coin, who finds purpose in (umm, what's a good word: periodically? no; too conventional; intermittently? no, that implies a miss every now and then;) SPASMODICALLY saves the world, often by obliterating some part of it.

And Rex has chosen Polly as his very first Summer Intern!

So, she is overjoyed; her parents freak out.  She's too YOUNG! She's had too much DISAPPOINTMENT! She's a PARAPLEGIC!

And here, we cross over from the World of Reality into Fantasy Land. In this Fantasy Land, Rex is able to convince her parents that the very things that they are tossing up as obstacles are the reasons he has selected her for the program. Too young? Well, she won't have to unlearn a lot of things, because she is still gulping in great amounts of math and science and engineering. Too much disappointment? She will have no restrictions placed on what she can learn at E E. Paraplegic? That's PERFECT! She has had to adapt and overcome for her entire life, and THAT skill & attitude set is precisely what will make her a super-nova of success!
So why is this Fantasy Land and not World of Reality? I cheated. It's not a fantasy. Polly has real parents, and I've seen this kind, who are not blind to her impairment, and don't permit her to be blind to it as well, but who also love her so much that they never allow the impairment to destroy her spirit.
Yes, these are real people.

If you move in certain Mad Scientist circles, you will see that Polly's teachers and the staff of EE are all tuckerizations of that special crowd. It makes for a nice touch. These are real people, too.

And as to how Polly's summer works out, I cannot tell you without spoilers. I will tell you, however, that it involves a large musical instrument made out of depleted uranium, and the screwdriver blade of a multi-tool. It is not specified whether or not the multitool is a Leatherman, Victorinox, Gerber, or if it's a specialty that includes an AR wrench and EOD tools.

Peace be on your household.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Mostly for Authors and Fellow Reviewers: Amazon Rankings and Nasty Cowards

I'm at a bit of a turning point with my writing.
As things exist right now, I write two things: product reviews (mostly books), which are published on Amazon, and; blog posts like this one, in which I talk about pretty much what's on  my mind.

I started the blog first, following the  suggestions made by friends at church; however, that was fitful, at best. Then, three years ago tomorrow, I wrote my first book review.

That lead to joining the Kindle Unlimited program, and to date, I've written 434 Amazon reviews, almost all of them book reviews. It was good; I had fun with it. It also gave me a more productive role in the science fiction/fantasy writing community.

It also provided me with a way to stay loyal to my commitment to write. My reviews tend to be lengthy, and I was given the suggestion to condense my reviews, and expand my story-telling about my personal reaction to the book in my blog.

I did that for a while; but for whatever reason, I stopped; eventually, I went back to blogging about personal stuff, and writing reviews exclusively on Amazon.

But, Amazon got hinky.

The first thing I discovered was that Amazon had a rating system for reviewers.At the time of my first review, my rating was 14,000,000. I investigated to see they arrived at that number. Here's what Amazon said:
1. Review ranking is based on how FRESH your reviews are, and how HELPFUL the reviews are. A review written this week will have more of an impact than a review written a year ago. In addition, a review which is marked 'Helpful' by many members of the community will have a greater impact on your reviewer rating than a review which few or no members of the community mark 'Helpful'.

But, there is ABSOLUTELY no value to being one of the highest ranked reviewers, TO THE REVIEWER. No money, no prizes; your name goes on a list, if that's important.

On the OTHER hand, there IS a value associated with the review ranking for the AUTHOR (and that's all I'm concerning myself with here, since I really don't review much other than books). When the author puts a book on Amazon, they are assigned a ranking. One of the factors that go into determining the rating is REVIEWS, and reviews by a top ranked reviewer are more important that those of a low ranked reviewer.

Now, a few months ago, Amazon added an extra facet: reviews were filtered by whether or not they were Verified Purchases. When a customer viewed product reviews, ONLY 'Verified Purchases' were visible; to see ALL reviews, they had to make that selection in a click-box.

When asked, Amazon preserved silence on the matter.

I would have been just FINE with that, EXCEPT that almost all of my reviews were of books obtained through the Kindle Unlimited program, and KU books don't count as Verified Purchases. Literally, that is true; they are not purchases; on the other hand, I PAID Amazon for the privilege of reading those books, and many authors have stated that money from the KU program forms a sizeable fraction of their income.

And Amazon preserves silence on the matter.

And on other matters as well. Earlier statements from Amazon promised that review rankings would be re-computed every two or three days. However, beginning on or about May 5, the review rankings were frozen. Eventually, on or about June 5, the rankings went live again.

And Amazon preserves silence on this matter as well.

There exists a 'Top Reviewers Discussion Forum' on Amazon. It's harder to find than it used to be, but it's there. I spent a good bit of time, researching previous posts, to see if there was a secret being circulated there that would explain what's going on.


And then, naively, I posted a comment expressing my frustration at the events and asking others what they had done to handle the aggravation. I got back two or three (maybe four) very nice, appropriate responses, and an attack by a lurking forum coward.

It seems that there are persons who use the forum posts to identify reviewers, and then down-vote their reviews. They are recognizable by the pattern: they are only permitted to make three votes per day on any one person's reviews.

If I had hundreds of people following my reviews, I wouldn't notice a single downvote. But I don't. Most of my posts get one vote. Sometimes two; rarely more than that.  So, when the vote tallies for my most recent 10 reviews are all : 1 of 1 person liked this, 2 of 2 persons liked this...; and the the FOUR most recent reviews are : 1 of 2, 1 of 2. 2 of 3, and 2 of 4? Yeah, that's a different series. Maybe one of those votes is bona-fide. However, it's suspicious.

Bottom line: I don't want to get jerked around by Amazon stone-walling me, and I certainly don't won't put myself in the path of the nasty coward who runs out from beneath the bridge and flings a rotten egg at me.

I'm in indecision. I read works by SO MANY authors that deserve a much wider audience. It makes me want to spit when I see some of the works posted on Amazon, and there are less than 10 reviews written! Mostly, what I read is absolutely first class; in fact, I just quickly surveyed my last 50 books reviewed (since April 21, 2017) and there were exactly TWO stinkers. I feel it's my duty to the public to point out the stinkers, but it's also my duty to proclaim how great most of these books are.

So, DESPITE my disaffection with Amazon, I won't stop reviewing. I just need to figure out how to reach more people with these blog posts.

Peace be on your household.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Chicks and Balances, Esther Friesner, editor

I was in a bad mood the other day. I don't remember why; it may have been because many of my friends were having fun at LibertyCon 30, and I wasn't. Or it might have been because my youngest son is having car troubles, due to what I regard as a design flaw in 2004 Honda Civic ignitions. Maybe it was because I was hurting, physically. Not sure; doesn't really matter.

Because regardless of the cause, I had the solution: Esther Friesner.

Earlier in the week, I discovered that I had overlooked the most recent installment in the 'Chicks in Chainmail' series. I don't know how that happened; I've been a fan since I first discovered the books. If I'm not mistaken,  that would have been in April 2002, when I bought the Baen Bundle so I could get two John Ringo books, and 'Chicks and Chained Males' was included. After the first taste, I was hooked, and I THOUGHT I had bought every title since then. (I DO remember having to explain the concept to my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, shortly after she became my new bride; the cover art made her wonder a bit if I had lost my mind.)

So, I picked up this installment, and somewhere during 'Smackdown in WalMart,' whatever was bothering me had dropped into the background. I know it was this story, because the image of the flaming ninja rat was such a delight.

Admission: If there is anything particularly clever about the title, I missed it entirely. Yes, I am familiar with the phrase 'checks and balances,' but I didn't recognize any references to 'balance' in any of the stories.
Actually, now that I think of it, in Sarah Hoyt's "Calling the Mom Squad," the protagonist has to balance the demands of family vs warrior duty, and also has to balance on a robot horse while using a laser on a dragon, but that's all that comes to mind.

Maybe I should re-read and see if I missed something.

Nope, not going to do that. I wouldn't mind re-reading the stories again, but the truth is, I've got a LOT of great books in my to-be-read-and-reviewed queue, and I can't justify taking the time away from my untouched stack to pick up what I should have done in the first place.

It's not like I'm doing this for a grade, anyway. All I need to do is convince you to buy the book, and I don't need impeccable scholarship to make that happen. Here's what you need to know:

Lots of really tough women, frequently wearing outrageous costumes, train novices and princesses, use magic and good thinking to accomplish mighty tasks, make salacious comments, and don't put up with any crap from anybody. They also manage to be funny while doing so.

You won't find any deeply philosophical paragraphs here to make you want to stab yourself so you can stop reading. You also won't find any preaching of any political or ethical position.

It's just good stuff, IF you like reading adventure stories, by some of the best writers around. I'm HOPING that the series continues, even if there aren't any chick/check/chip puns left. Heck, call it Chicks and Chainmail Seven. It worked for Steppenwolf.

Peace be on your household.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Year's Best ? REALLY?

It took a LOT of reading before I discovered I was a military Science Fiction fan. Old Yeller and Sherlock Holmes captivated me, and the series of Tom Swift books had me reading with a flashlight under the covers until I fell asleep (or passed out from anoxia). My relatives knew that getting me books for Christmas was a safe bet; the glamor of board games or lawn darts was a close approximation to the excitement I felt from getting a hair brush or a pair of green and orange tube socks. But books? Yeah, books got my attention.
And then, sometime between November of 1972 and March of 1973, I found a battered copy of 'Starship Troopers' in the dayroom of Company Charlie Two of the Medical Corpsman Training Battalion at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and I was hooked.
A few years after that, I discovered Hammer's Slammers, and the adventures of John Christian Falkenberg, and I was committed forever. I doubt my own military experience had anything to do with it, at least not directly; after all, I served my time as a medic in Germany, where the biggest threat was getting a traffic ticket. Who knows?
Through the efforts of some SERIOUSLY determined (and sometime demented) writers, I have had my horizons broadened in recent years, as I began to writing book reviews regularly. Nowadays, you can read my reviews of books about psychic lawyers, wine-guzzling semi-divinities hopping universes, shape-shifting cops and diner owners, pixies, and even grizzled old policemen approaching retirement. But my heart belongs to military science fiction.
And that's why, when I discovered a slight gap in my reading program, I jumped on Baen's "The Year's Best Military and Adventure SF Volume 3, which is also available on Amazon at the link at the top of the blog. A little bonus comes with the book: you get to vote on the 'Best of' Award, which has a nice little cash prize attached, IF you get your vote in before August 31, 2017. DragonCon, you know.
And here's my main impression, after devouring the book (WHILE NOT ATTENDING LIBERTYCON):  1. it's been a sparse year for military science fiction, strongly coupled with 2. authors aren't putting out much short fiction any more.
That isn't to say this volume is a loser! It's not; there really are some really good stories here. But, Best of the Year? That's a reach.
Now, before I get into the specifics, let me back-peddle by saying that I understand that putting together a collection is a thankless job, and one I certainly wouldn't want to attempt, for ANY amount of money under, say, five million dollars. I have no academic or industry credentials as a critic. So, if you disagree with my evaluation, fine. I'm probably wrong, and you are probably right.
I don't even go to cons!
But, that remains my collective impression of the book; now, what about the stories?

David Drake, "Cadet Cruise." It's entirely credible to include this story in the 'Best of Year' collection, since it is a prequel to the phenomenal adventures of Daniel Leary. It demonstrates the talents the young midshipman had at winning over people, as well as making complicated plans work out. If it WEREN'T for that other body of work, it would still be a good story; but compare it to the visceral punch of 'Under the Hammer' or 'The Butcher's Bill'?' That may be an unfair comparison, but we ARE talking about a high bar, here: Best of the Year. Still, I absolutely will accept this as worthy of inclusion, as it's a great read.

William Ledbetter, "Tethers." It's bad enough when space is trying to kill you; when your partner is trying as well? That's just not fair. This is first class writing; my only caveat is that it is adventure, and not military sci-fi, but the title of the book includes both, so I guess that's no quibble at all.

Eric de Carlo, "Unlinkage." The story of a retired mind-controller of a Brute, Hulk-type human is an ugly read in that it is awfully dark, and presupposes an ugly future society. However, the story does stress the values of loyalty to companions, and that's always worth writing about. I can't quite make myself see it as Best of the Year, but I won't complain if others see it that way.

Kacey Ezell, "Not in Vain." This one has my unqualified support. It takes a team of high school cheerleaders and their coach, and puts them in impossible circumstances, and shows how they all rise above their personal interests to put the good of the team first, even BEYOND death. This is written to be a part of John Ringo's Black Tide Rising universe, but you need no knowledge of that storyline to appreciate this selection. (And yeah, not military, but veterans, okay?)

Adam Roberts, "Between Nine and Eleven." This story also gets my unqualified support for  a BOY inclusion. It takes the Campbell premise of 'as good as a man, but not a man' and gives it solid form. The story works both as a personal adventure and as a good 'theory/concept' story.

Jack Schouten, "Sephine and the Leviathan." I didn't like anything about this story except that it eventually was over. It took too long to figure out what the heck was going on, and who these people were, and frankly, it seemed too much like an exercise in Creative Writing, and not a story. Dreadfully sorry, and I'm sure I'll regret saying this, but I don't have the slightest clue as to how this was chosen for the book. My apologies for offending with my strongly worded opinion. I feel certain I am mistaken.

Michael Ezell, "The Good Food." A seemingly light-hearted story about a somewhat too-independent scout and his trusty dog, this quickly became a nightmare. It deserves access to the volume for the creepy factor alone. I hate these scary stories (but in a good way).

James Wesley Rogers, "If I could Give This Time Machine Zero Stars, I Would." This is probably the story I enjoyed reading the most. It pays homage to certain of the Golden Age time-travel stories, AND gives a hat tip to the reviewing system that takes up so much of my time, and it's funny. However!  I don't see it as being EITHER military OR adventure, and I don't know why it's here. It's a great story, though!

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, "Wise Child." I.m not sure, but I THINK this is also another great story that is included in the BOY collection because of the existing body of material in this particular universe. It's very nicely done; however, since I am NOT a close follower of the Liaden Universe, it was missing some of the essential punch to bring it to BOY status for me.

Michael Z Williamson, "Star Home." You don't HAVE to be a fan of the Freehold/Grainne universe to get the brooding, repressive feeling of the reach of the Earth empire. I am such a fan, and I know (sort of) what's going on behind the scenes, This is a great story, and it's definitely worth reading, but:
"I read 'Soft Casualty,' Star Home, and you are no 'Soft Casualty.'"

Robert Dawson, "The Art of Failure." The punchline comes at the very end of the story, and it's thrown away so beautifully, it's a work of art. I endorse inclusion, just for that reason alone (but the rest of the story is good as well),

Allen Stroud, "The Last Tank Commander." No question about it; this story of the ancient, decrepit, rebuilt corporal of tanks leading a bunch of babies into battle deserves a place in this volume.

Jay Werkheiser, "A Giant Leap." A young man falls off his aircraft into the poisonous atmosphere of Venus; his hated father maintains radio contact with him all the way down. Without more exposition of the prior relationship between father and son, the meaning of the final words loses power. And by the way: who in heck designs a system that lets people fall off an airship? Tether cable, anyone? It's an okay story, but I didn't like anyone in it.

David Adams, "The Immortals: Anchorage." The story is certainly powerful enough to warrant inclusion in a BOY collection. Besides the rock'em-sock'em action, there were some great insights into what the three main characters were about to make this a leading candidate.

Paul Di Filippo, "Backup Man." This read like a noir detective story, with the appropriate corporate betrayal included (I'm thinking "Chinatown"). Does that make it a BOY selection? I'm not sure. Considering that the goal is cow flop from a modified children's toy, it might make it in on points. I couldn't make the call.

If I have counted right, that's seven out of fifteen stories that I believe are Best of the Year quality. Seven more were at least good, if not excellent. I definitely think you should buy the book! It's got hours of reading enjoyment for you, and you just won't get that anywhere.

And as to which one to vote for to receive the plaque and $500 at DragonCon? For me, it's toss a coin, between  Kacey Ezell for 'Not in Vain' and Allen Stroud for 'The Last Tank Commander.' I may actually have to do that; I'm pretty sure I have a coin around here somewhere. If not, I'll figure something out. Don't forget: voting has to be done by August 31, 2017!

Peace Be on your household.