Saturday, August 31, 2019

2019 Dragon Award Finalist, Best Fantasy: "Spinning Silver"

There are MUCH better reviews of this book out there! I do not believe that there are any BETTER books in this category. Just as good? Sure. But, not better.

And, for those of you running an ad blocker, here's the GORGEOUS cover image:

Is that not a GORGEOUS cover image?

For the condensed version of this review, go to Goodreads. It's also posted on Amazon.

Greetings to all my internet friends and neighbors, and for those of you who are counting down with me to the Dragon Awards, IT’S THE LAST REVIEW! (even if it is a bit of a cheat...sorry.) And to any of my family checking in, okay, NOW you can ask. Please, though: one at a time?

First: what an absolutely GORGEOUS cover!

I suppose there have been others as aware, maybe even MORE aware, of the ticking clock than I have been over the past 25 days. There are people who have had some REALLY important things going on in their lives, and I think it’s worth remembering. While I have been gnawing my leg off to get out of the trap of having to read works nominated for an award (O, woe is me!), other people have awaited the results of medical tests, legal decisions, college admissions, bank loans; all KINDS of things. Right now, in fact, my oldest grandson and his beloved are wondering if they are going to have this baby today, or next week, or what.

So, put in perspective, this has been zip.

Still, it HAS been the defining feature of my August. And, at this very moment, it’s 4:25 PM Eastern, and the voting closes in 7 hours and 34 minutes, and: I’m done.

Sort of.

You see, I’ve got my grandson Tre sitting next to me, and we are eating peanuts so we can spoil our appetites. And, my daughters Carmen and Jennifer just came into town from Washington, D.C., and my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, have MISSED them.

In other words, I have other reasons, beside the deadline, to want this review posted.

And so, I resorted to an ANCIENT reading trick I used last WELL more than a half century ago: after reading enough of the book to find out what the story was going to be, I, um, well, you see…
I skipped to the end, and read the last chapters so I could see how it was going to come out.

There, I said it.

I really just needed to know if the beauty and skill of the first quarter of the book was going to be sustained. I was hoping that would be the case, that the promise of a good story would be delivered on. And it WAS!! I’m not going to spoil it for you, but in this case, what begins well, ends well.

I also grabbed up my resource lists, and I ripped through them to see what Respected Others, and Disrespected Others, had to say about the book. I needed confirmation, you see. And, what I found was that the people who have a good head on their shoulders consistently raved about how lovely this was; the idiots foamed at the mouth. And both of those are ringing endorsements.

So, here we go:

Miryem’s father is a moneylender, and he’s not very good at it. You could call it soft-hearted, if you wanted to, I suppose. However, I spent a LOT of time in sales and marketing, and I’d have to say the guy just isn’t a very good closer. You HAVE to be able to ask for your money.

Particularly when you are a Jew, and most professions are closed off to you; and there is a need for cash, and the Gentiles are prohibited by church law from loaning money at interest.

But, whether soft-hearted, soft-headed, or just not cut out for the job, he can’t get it done. So, Miryem, seeing her mother sick from too much cold and no food, gets the job done. And, it turns out that she’s good at it.

Wanda’s farmer is a drunkard. He borrowed money from the moneylender to get medicine for his sick wife, drank and gambled most of it up, and what he had left wasn’t enough to help. So, she died, along with the newborn babe, and was buried under the white tree. This did NOT improve things for Wanda and her two little brothers; they were just BARELY scraping by, until Miryem shows up to demand repayment of the loan. When she sees they really have no means to repay, she instructs Wanda’s father that she’ll accept a half-day of labor from Wanda in exchange for a half-penny reduction of the amount he owes. Although it is not readily apparent, this deal DELIGHTS Wanda, who will escape beatings from her drunken father, as well as get fed at least one good meal per day, as well as what she can forage from the stale bread for the chickens. As time goes by, Wanda makes a way to earn money for herself, and for her brother as well.

Irinuska’s father is a nobleman. Having married once for love, and then lost her in childbirth, he is resolved not to love again, so Irinushka has a permanent last place, after the step-mother with the huge dowry, and the two tiny step-brothers. She can benefit him in no way, until he is presented with a chance to marry her off to the insane tsar.

I read enough to know that this is an EXCELLENT story, and well-told. I read enough to know that the author has the skill to make a situation look like one thing, only to discover that it’s something else entirely. I read enough to know that this book will NOT be a DNF (Did Not Finish), but a NFY (Not Finished Yet).

Alas, I DO have this deadline. And, in the faint hope that this last review will be of a benefit, I submit it to you, as is.

As for The Question: Is “Spinning Silver” a worthy choice for the 2019 Dragon Award in the category of Best Fantasy Novel?

My opinion: Oh, heck yeah. In fact, the fairy-tale aspect (the story is, I believe, derived from the Rumplestiltskin story) makes this the most charming of the lot. I don’t know if that’s what YOU are looking for in a fantasy; in fact, I don’t know if that makes it a better contender for the award. However, it really is a strong contender.

Peace be on your household.

2019 Dragon Award Finalist, Best Fantasy Novel: "Foundryside"

And, for those of you running an ad blocker, here's the cover image:

An abbreviated review can be found on Goodreads, which has already posted. I’ll also submit the review to Amazon, and will include that link when it posts.

Greetings to all my internet friends and neighbors, and for those of you who are counting down with me to the Dragon Awards, TODAY’S THE LAST DAY TO VOTE! I’d give you the voting link, but if you didn’t register, it’s too late. Sorry.   And to any of my family checking in, I know you are inclined to party like it’s 1999 on Labor Day. Write my phone number on your arm in something that doesn’t dissolve in BBQ sauce, in case you need me to go your bail.

This is the third of four books I’m reading in the dead tree version. Wow, am I having to make some adjustments! I DO like to read in bed, but my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, doesn’t like the light on while she is sleeping. So, I’m using this headlight I picked up at Harbor Freight. Amazon has one very much like it, but if you get one, be sure it has a LOW setting for reading, as well as the super high beam for hunting rabid raccoons at midnight. A strobe setting can be useful, too. My preferences is for one that runs off batteries, but they have rechargeable lights as well.

“Foundryside” is an amazingly smooth read. I’ve noticed an uncomfortable tendency to dump bizarre place and people names at the beginning of some fantasy books; it seems the author must IMMEDIATELY establish that this isn’t taking place in mundane land, and they don’t quite trust the “FANTASY” tags on the cover to get the point across. If they also toss in an info dump about how magic works, it makes it worse; and, if they haven’t gotten all of the tendencies to purple prose yet hammered out of their system, it can be just as close to unreadable as you can get.

None of that here. Bennett does an excellent job of showing, not telling. It’s only after he has established that protagonist Sancia feels the walls, and gets a complete understanding of their environment from that, and that use of that power makes the scar on her head burn, that he tells us why that’s the case. It works well.

Sancia is an approximately teen-age guttersnipe thief girl, who is proficient in the use of her ability to ‘hear’ and understand physical structures, small enough to fit in tiny places/openings, and strong enough to handle the necessary acrobatics to climb roofs, etc. She is NO Mary Sue, though. Her ability to hear the floors, walls, etc, talking to her also means that she can’t tolerate much touching her skin; it produces a sensory overload. She can’t even eat meat, or drink water, because she identifies so strongly with what it is and where it’s been. Plain rice, some beans from time to time, and weak cane wine is all she can tolerate. She even hates to have to put on new clothing, because she has to adapt to what the new cloth has experienced.

She has a plan, though: she has heard that there are criminal-element docs, who can free her of the gift/curse via an expensive surgery. So, she partners with former upper-class fixer Sark. He identifies worthy objects; she steals them; they split the take.

And the take on this last job is an unbelievable amount, enough to get repaired, and to escape the wicked city of Tevanne.

Actually, the city isn’t THAT wicked. It’s just horribly constructed around the use of magic. From the scraps of a prior civilization, a few magical concepts have been recovered or rediscovered. By means of scriving cryptic symbols on an object, it can be made to perform simple acts, or to have certain characteristics. Until fairly recently, though, it was to cumbersome for most uses; if you tried to scrive all the desired characteristics on the head of an axe, you’d run out of room. However, a discovery in some ancient ruins showed how all the needed traits could be linked into a single scriving, which would be small enough to fit. That condensation of instructions can be compounded further, and via a series of links and instructions, entire construction industries can be built.

If you have ever done any programming, this will sound VERY familiar to you.

It’s not the magic itself that is horrible; it’s the uses it’s been put to. All of the power is concentrated into a very few merchant houses, and they seem to spend as much time protecting their privilege and limiting access to their processes as they spend making shoes, or building boats, or whatever. Industrial espionage is a significant part of their business practice, and while they HAVE managed to come together and ban certain extremely dangerous magical uses, there is no thought of establishing anything that looks like an authority over their individual practices.

And that leaves no one with the authority, and perhaps not the inclination, to look out for the welfare of those who don’t fit into the institutional structure of the merchant houses. As a result, you have lovely, clean, well-lighted dwellings for the merchants and agents of each house, all enclosed in impenetrable walls with gates and guards to keep other merchants of other houses out. And as for the refuse, nobody cares. They can live or die as they see fit, as long as they don’t intrude on the business and well-being of the merchants. If that happens, doom comes, in the form of well-armed and armored troops with magical weapons and some pretty lethal non-magical weapons as well. They kill or capture the offenders, and those who die may be the most favored. Convicted offenders (and they are ALWAYS convicted) are punished by having magical wire loops placed around various appendages; the loops then contract, slowly, until the appendage is amputated. Sometimes, this results in death; other times, in crippling. The merchants don’t really care, except for the value of the punishment as a source of entertainment.

In the midst of this lawless depravity, Captain Gregor Dandolo cuts a solitary figure. A war veteran who has seen horrible things, he resolves to bring order to the city, and he starts by cleaning up the waterfront. He hires guards to watch over the area, and they eliminate the theft and trafficking taking place, until thuggery departs.

Which makes the waterfront a safe place to store things. And one particular thing, from this safe location, is what Sancia must steal in order to earn her monster, life-changing paycheck.

And, she steals it!

The object she steals is contained inside a simple wooden box; she has to preserve it for three days, before she can meet up with Sark, and make the transfer. However, her escape plan got a little too enthusiastic, and instead of just causing a distraction, she burns the whole waterfront. She fears that the enraged Captain Dandolo will be hot on her trail, and she needs to have some way to stay safe, yet retain possession of whatever is in the box. So, she opens the box, and finds a gold key.

And discovers the key can talk to her, and hear her thoughts. It’s a unique key, that can open any lock, and detect scrived objects from a distance. In the hands of a merchant house, they could have immediate access to the secrets of all the other houses; nothing would be safe.

And, THEN, it gets weird.

This is a very well-written book, with lots of flashy, bang bang boom boom bits of violent conflict tossed in to keep the characters motivated. The villains are boo-hiss dastardly. The heroes are sufficiently flawed to make them lovable. The logic behind the magic only requires the SLIGHTEST bit of suspension of belief, because it’s clear that it takes a good bit of organization and skill to make the devices work as intended. If a world is posed in which any dope can do any magic, it just doesn’t play, because there’s no realistic conflict possible. Here, magic is a resource, and access to it can be controlled similarly to access to energy, food, and so on.

As for The Question: Is “Foundryside” a worthy choice for the 2019 Dragon Award in the category of  Best Fantasy Novel?

My opinion: Out of the five books I’ve reviewed in this category, two of them are non-starters. One, “Deep Roots” by Ruthanna Emrys, I exclude because it appropriately belongs in the horror category. And I exclude “The Raven Tower” by Ann Leckie because of the virulent attacks on the entire Dragon Award process, and the community, by the community she has chosen to affiliate with. If it were not for that, exemplified by the specious inclusion of a shibboleth, I’d consider it. But I think it’s a horse race between “House of Assassins,”  by Larry Correia, “Lies Sleeping” by Ben Aaronovitch, and “Foundryside.” I think it’s going to come down to the size of individual fan bases, and personal preferences.

So, yes, this one is a worthy contender.

Peace be on your household.

Friday, August 30, 2019

2019 Dragon Award Finalist, Best Fantasy Novel: "The Raven Tower"

And, for those of you running an ad blocker, here's the cover image:

For an abbreviated review, please check out my post on Goodreads. It will also be on Amazon.

Greetings to all my internet friends and neighbors, and for those of you who are counting down with me to the Dragon Awards, it is GOING to be a horse race! After this, I have but TWO (2) books to read and review! And to any of my family checking in, remember today is RED Friday. RED: Remember Everyone Deployed. So, wear something red today.

I'm going to tackle a subject in this blog post that has been bothering me. I'll keep it off the two condensed book reviews that I do, but THIS is my blog, and I get to say stuff. I'll also put it toward the END of this blog post, because I think for some, it's going to be off-putting.

Maybe not most who read my blog posts, though. Who knows? I certainly don't know who reads my blog posts, unless they leave a comment, and not always then.

This is my 21st book review in the series, and the second in the dead tree version. This one actually is the hard back, with dust jacket. See my comments from yesterday about dead trees costing less than electrons.

I've not read this author, Ann Leckie, before. I am aware that she hit the science fiction field big time not too long ago: she was awarded the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Arthur C. Clarke awards for her first novel “Ancillary Justice.” The cover of the version I saw has a picture that's probably little space-ships shooting a big spaceship, so that's good; exploding spaceships and/or pirates improve just about ant story. I read that part of the book's impact had something to do with the use of pronouns. Why pronouns should be an issue, I'm not sure, but there you have it.

I'm pretty sure I have never read a book with this POV before. It's that of a (seemingly) objective observer, who happens to be focused on one particular character, by the name of Eolo, a riding companion of Mawat, who is a person of importance.

Over the course of some flash-back reveals, we learn that the POV character is, most likely, a rock. Furthermore, the rock is sentient; and, eventually, we discover that the rock is a god. However, it's rather hard at the beginning to determine exactly what that means, other than 'sentient rock who can observe things.' The reveal progresses, and we learn that people have taught the rock language, and that their offerings provide the rock with power.

Without exception, the following applies to all gods, although it's mostly the rock who is used to introduce us to the rules.

Power and language are, evidently, two facets of the same item for a sentient rock, and THAT is a really interesting concept to dwell on. Deny a person the ability to communicate; how much power can they be said to have?

I love it when the boundary rules of a story are spelled out, and Leckie does a great job of doing that via the rock's self-examination. The CORE rule is that all utterances must be the truth. That happens to have a significance in this universe that the same statement does not have in ours; in THIS universe, if the rock says it, then it HAS to be true, even if the universe itself has to change to make it so. If one of the gods voices an impossibility, then they have to pay the price. Therefore, the rock has to be very careful what it says; there is no such thing as a word spoken without consequence.

A permutation of the rule: the rock can report what someone else told it without being responsible for the truthfulness of the statement. In such cases, the expected form is to say “ Here is a story someone told me,” or words to that effect. Also an implied result: it's better for the rock to speak generally, rather than specifically.

That last is a particularly elegant rule, as it covers all of the cryptic prophecies given in stories about magic, ever.

The rules for the rock are essential for the plot development. Also essential for the plot development is the otherwise merely-very-interesting memories the rock discloses. The time it sat on the floor of the ocean; trilobites and bony fish; glaciers, which recede, leaving it on top of the hill; dinosaurs; meteorites; people, who brought it offerings, and taught it language. Fortunately for the rock, it experiences the passage of time differently than we puny people do, else I fear it would have experienced some huge amounts of boredom along the way.

It would be POSSIBLE, perhaps, to strip out all of the plot pertaining to the gods, and still have a reasonably interesting story. It wouldn't be nearly as interesting, though, as it would just deal with humans striving for power. Removing the gods, here's what it looks like: Mawat's father was the Human-in-Charge, and his term and life were at an end. We encounter him in the first scene about to enter the city, expecting to have to take over. Instead, he finds his uncle on the throne. Power struggles ensue.

Yup, that is the making of a fairly good story, but not that distinctive. It's been done, at least in Hamlet form, many times. It's the addition of the actions, and inactions, of the rock and other gods that sets this apart.

Well, that, and the unusual point of view. I'm reminded of the “little did he know” interplay in the movie “Stranger Than Fiction,” with Emma Thompson, as the author, and Will Ferrell, as her character.  It's not so much a god perspective, as it is an author perspective. I do understand that some found it tiresome, but I thought it made for a nice change-up. I doubt I'd like a DIET of that, mind you, but it was rather fun.

Then again, I also enjoyed the trilobite story, and from what I've read, some people didn't, at all. I wonder about their commitment to science fiction; if you don't enjoy a good trilobite reference, how can you be claim to be a fan? Well, never mind. Not my circus, not my monkeys.

So, my opinion is : Mostly favorable, except for one troubling feature which will ONLY be dealt with in my blog post, at the VERY END, except for my sign-off, and not at all in my Goodreads and Amazon reviews.

As for The Question: Is  a worthy choice for the 2019 Dragon Award in the category of  Best Fantasy Novel?

My opinion: No. There is one troubling element that just reeks to me, which I will now explain to the best of my ability, and in the most accurate, least offensive language I can use.


I have already commented on the strangeness I found with the finalists for 2019, compared to 2018. The preponderance of trad pub books, at the expense of indie and small house publishers, is a troubling development. The exultation from previously unknown-to-me sources that at last the Dragons were gone “mainstream,” I found to be deeply disturbing.

Now, with some of the books coming from the trad pub area, I had no problem with including them among the finalists; even those with only a few reviews might very well had some cult followers that championed their choice. Yay, freedom!

However, it was with the reading of “The Raven Tower” that I finally identified a theme that I'd noticed earlier, ad that had distorted some of the books: the determined focus on non-binary sexuality in humans.

In previous works, it was just an aggravation. The catastrophe that is “The Light Brigade” seemed to take great satisfaction in refusing to provide the gender of the POV character. However, with all else that is wrong with that book, no point in emphasizing any particular deficit. Similarly, “A Memory Called Empire” was so severely flawed by the purple prose and the excessive, dragging length that the intrusion of same-sex intimacy between the protagonist and her companions really didn't enter into the review at all. The real offense in “The Calculated Stars” was gender-based (men are exploitative/repressive), but not sexual in nature. And, in “Black Chamber,” it's the pan-sexuality, not the homosexuality, that is the turn-off.

But in “The Raven Tower?” The author can only wait until page four before she introduces non-binary sexuality. And, although it is briefly mentioned a few more times, IT NEVER MATTERS TO THE STORY. So, why include it?

I do not know. In this respect, I resemble the rock, in the book. I don't know what's going on inside people's heads; I can only know what I see, what they tell me. And what they are telling me is that they have a great deal to say about non-binary sexuality. More than I have ever heard, in fact, in any other context. Save one.

Starting in the eighth grade, and lasting for about a year, that seemed to be the only source of derision available to boys. According to the vile little creatures, everything was 'queer, queer, queer.' It was the sure way to isolate a target, to make them an object of contempt: tell a 'joke,' and make them the subject.

In retrospect, it's pretty clear that this was about power, and not about sexuality, per se.  There were a few boys with effeminate mannerisms, and for whatever reason, they never seemed to catch the abuse that was heaped on others. This was the form that bullying took; later, as a middle school counselor, we learned to call it by the name of sexual harassment, but that wasn't a term we had heard of in 1966.

And the behavior of the wannabe thugs in a tough all-boys school seems to be echoed in the behavior of writers of books I have reviewed over the course of the last month. The hostility between those writers and publishers previously OUTSIDE the works considered for the Dragons, and those who have been Dragon contenders since the beginning, is well documented. The DragonCon group have been called just about every name by the WorldCon group except Larry, Brad, Sarah, and Kate.  Instead: fascist, racist, sexist, patriarchist, cis-normative, white, Mormon, male.

And, in that context, it's very hard for me to attribute even neutral motives to what seems to be an artificial inclusion into the majority of the works I've reviewed. Instead, it sounds like this to my ears:

"We're going to speak of sexual deviance in an enlightened manner because it makes you uncomfortable, because you are all latent homosexuals, repressing your true feelings."

These are the tactics of bullies in all places, at all times.

Perhaps I am too sensitive about some things. It's just that I do not regard human sexuality as a spectator sport. I DO understand that there are some forms of literature that require, or rather, that audiences expect, to have sexual activity involved. Hooray for choices! I am accustomed to skip over certain passages in the works of some of my favorite authors; for example, in the “Ghost” series by John Ringo. But, in those cases, it's a matter of taste, and the explicit sexual scenes were part of the character arc of the protagonist.

But today, there was absolutely nothing contributed to the story by making a point that the character was a non-binary human. I can't read that as other than politicizing, or weaponizing, sexuality. And I find that despicable.

I warned you it was going to be a rant.

Peace be on your household.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

2019 Dragon Award Finalist, Best Alt History: "Black Chamber"

For those of you with an ad blocker, here's a pic:

For a condensed version of this review, check out my Goodreads post. I'll also submit the shorter version to Amazon.

Greetings to all my internet friends and neighbors, and for those of you who are counting down with me to the Dragon Awards, after this one gets posted, there are only THREE BOOKS LEFT, and 2.1692261574 days left before the midnight deadline. And to any of my family checking in, THANK YOU for the recipe for the Alfredo sauce! It was just as easy as you said, and it was a BIG hit!

This was the very first book review of a book I didn't read in the Kindle version. For this book, and the next three I'm reviewing, the  paperback was cheaper than the e-book. That makes ZERO sense to me.

Out of the 24 books in the four categories I'm reviewing, one was too expensive in ANY format. The people who make the decisions for that book decided that the value of that particular book was at least $15; I disagree. Isn't America GREAT? We get to disagree on the value of a thing! But at least, that makes SENSE. Pricing an e-book higher than a physical copy? I don't get it.

S. M. Stirling has co-written some of the books that helped me hang on, during that long, bleak period when it seemed NOTHING was being written that I liked to read. In fact, it was with the discovery of some books he co-wrote with Jerry Pournelle and David Drake that I discovered there was something new going on, and that all science fiction was no longer incoherent snapping at our own flesh. Thus, I am pre-disposed to look favorably on something he writes, although I couldn't really say he is well-represented in my library. I'm not sure of the reasons why.

At any rate, I was glad to see his name as one of the authors with a book among the finalists for the 2019 Dragon Awards. The category makes a lot of sense to me as well; even though I think I only read one of the volumes, his “Draka” series was Alternate History, so I knew he had some experience with it.

Refreshingly for a book in this category, we are immediately informed of the point of deviation from out timeline. It takes place on May 25, 1912, when incumbent president William Howard Taft dies of a heart attack, leaving the Republican field open to challenger Roosevelt. In our timeline, Taft lived to run, and Roosevelt took 27% of the vote, which allowed Democrat Woodrow Wilson to be elected. This was the highest turn-out ever for any third-party candidate for the presidency, a result even the more remarkable in light of the assassination attempt on Roosevelt in October, when he took a  single .38 Special to the chest, and still gave the intended speech that evening.

With the progressive Roosevelt at the helm, US foreign policy was more assertive. The border raids in Mexico by bandit Pancho Villa were met with a full invasion, instead of the milder and ineffective punitive raids ordered by Wilson. As a result, Mexico loses sovereignty and becomes a protectorate of the US.

A survivor of the revolutionary banditry associated with the Mexican revolution, Luz O'Malley Arostegui joins an American special operatives group, known as the Black Chamber. Operatives are given training to engage in counter-intelligence work, and she is chosen to impersonate an Irish-Mexican-American (is that too many adjectives?) named Elisa Carmody de Soto-Dominguez, who has been captured while engaging in terrorist activities, and has probably died under interrogation. Fortunately, Luz bears some characteristics in common with Carmody.

Using that identity, and traveling in the guise of a wealthy socialite, Luz boards an airship to Europe, knowing only that she is to meet with a German agent on the trip, and the code name he is using.

And here, regrettably, we start running into some profound Mary-Sue territory, and whatever the male equivalent is called. And we never exit the territory, either.

Luz is the perfect example of female pulchritude, disguising a first-class brain (yawn), and furthermore, is skilled in all forms of combat, armed, unarmed, and stark naked. And her German agent is the perfect example of masculinity, disguising a first-class brain (another yawn) and is also, etc.

So, naturally, they start having sex with each other immediately, while on the airship.

I am SO tired of having to hear about other people's sex lives, and their sexual prowess, and their sexual preferences. I do understand that there are segments of the population that really enjoy that sort of thing. When I first discovered the original James Bond books, as they were still being written, I also took great interest in reading that sort of thing. However, I was 12 years old at the time. (WRONG!) 
Heck, yeah, reading about passionate kisses and embraces was exciting, because I was 12 years old at the time! ( Nope, that's not true. I just checked the dates, and I started reading them in 1963, when I was 10 years old. Sorry! )

Honestly, I'm asking myself now: is this book aimed at 12 year old boys? Because the plot is rather simplistic, in precisely the way that the 12 year old boy inside my brain likes them. The team Luz is a part of ALWAYS prevails, often at great peril, without sustaining any severe injuries. And they are always heroic beyond belief. And they are always lucky beyond belief.

Even the book points this out, as more than one observer says that if they had been told this by anyone else, they wouldn't believe it. And, as I reflect, I don't believe it, either.
If this IS a book aimed at 12-year-olds, well, shame on you. If not, could we PLEASE have more realistic characters next time? I really don't WANT the protagonist to be such a sex bomb that every male and female has uncontrollable lust for her, and when one male character doesn't,  she immediately concludes that he is gay, and outs him to his co-conspirators, as a clever part of her plan.

A small, insignificant, and perhaps mistaken point, concerning the use of the Thompson sub-machine gun in 1916.

First, I get it: this is alternate history. Second, this is alternate history with Teddy Roosevelt as the sitting president, and he is mobilizing the country for war in a way that Woodrow Wilson didn't. However, in OUR timeline, the Thompson wasn't even a thought problem until 1915, and it took until 1917 that a design was produced, with the first models not coming off the line before the war was over in 1918. However, in the novel, it's been in production long enough for the first design flaws to be rectified, and for enough production to be diverted from America to the Germans, that the raiders are equipped with them.

And Luz is highly proficient with one, as well. Sigh. Mary Sue.

Okay, that's not a deal-killer for me. I am willing to accept the idea that under Roosevelt, the design happens much earlier, and that it's Springfield Armory that produces them, and not Auto-Ordnance.

Still, in the end, the deal is killed. It's the combination of the Mary Sue nature of just about ALL of the characters, plus the pan-sexuality being trotted out all the time, that closes the door on this one.. It's really too bad, because I loved the concept.

As for The Question: Is “Black Chamber” a worthy choice for the 2019 Dragon Award in the category of Best Alternate History?

My opinion: no, for the reasons cited. It's a great concept, and yes, Taft was morbidly obese, and might very well have had a heart attack; and, if so, Roosevelt MIGHT have gotten the nomination. I'd like to believe he would have done all of the other wonderful things ascribed to him, and I enjoyed reading the what-ifs. I just needed a more realistic protagonist, and I DO wish we could permit everyone, even fictional characters, the right to privacy concerning who sticks what where.

Peace be on your household.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Dragon Award Finalist, Best Fantasy (HAH!): "Deep Roots"

Just two of my blessed grandsons: Joshua and Isaac
No pics of evil book!

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I'll explain why in a second.

Greetings, friends and neighbors out there in Internet Land! And for those of you who came here to see because of the Dragon Awards reviews, sorry/not sorry. You ain't getting one in this. And to any family members peeking in, yes, I AM stopping this, before I have to go buy a dog to sleep with me tonight.

The book in question is "Deep Roots," by a person allegedly named  Ruthanna Emrys. I say 'allegedly named' because "Emrys" means "Immortal One" and is a title given to Merlin, and it just seems like the sort of pen-name a person writing ":Deep Roots" would find appealing. It doesn't matter, though.

What DOES matter, to me, is that this book was nominated for the Dragon Award in the 'Fantasy' category. It ain't fantasy. It's horror.

I want NOTHING to do with horror. Ever.

It has to do with lost monster people out of Innsmouth, which is a setting described by that most nasty person with the gigantic jaw, Mr. Howard Phillips Lovecraft.  As a person who actively avoids horror, the name "Innsmouth" didn't ring any bells, but then I encountered a reference to the two languages of "Enochian and R’lyehn."

Even a person who AVOIDS exposure is likely to have encountered those terms.

So, I did a quick scan of prior reviews, and discovered that this is a thoughtful piece about who the monsters really are.

If anyone wishes to paddle about in that pond, they are free to do so.

Not me, though. I don't read horror books, I don't watch horror movies,and I don't permit those in my house. It's a mental health issue. My adult bio-sons think my exclusions are silly, because I can watch folks getting shot without qualms, but draw the line at spooky stuff. That's okay; it's my line to draw.

And I don't watch just ANY folks getting shot: no women, no kids, no animals (except Ol' Yeller, still cry at that; and Bambi's mama).
No porn.
No horror.

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

(Edited to add:)

Special shout out to Jamie Ibson, for reminding me always to say:

Peace be on your household.

2019 Dragon Award Finalist, Best Mil SF: "Sons of the Lion"

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If you want to trim out (most) of the extraneous stuff, and just read a book review, you can go to Goodreads, which has already posted. The abbreviated review is also on Amazon. And you can vote on the Amazon review, as well, and if my review, or this book, touches your heart, I hope you will find it helpful.

Greetings to all my internet friends and neighbors, and for those of you who came here for the Dragon Award finalist review, here's the second and long-awaited review of one I have been cherishing since the beginning.  And for those family members who are wondering what in the heck is going on: this one, my sweet loves, is written with all of you in mind.

I need to get some personal stuff out of the way first.

Most of my family is half-Nigerian, via a smooth-talking man who came to the United States to get rich via various schemes. He was eventually deported, but that did not, and can not, and should not separate all the blood and cultural connections to the home country.
I am a born-on-a-dirt-road redneck, I have been FORCED to attend to some issues because of my love for and responsibility to my family. It has been my task to help those who wish to discover the connection, in such a way that they are not scarred by it. I have not had the luxury of ignoring things taking place in the continent of Africa; I have family living there.

And here some of them are:
This is my son Matthew on the left,
with his stepmother, bio-father, and little sister

And the two drop-dead gorgeous ladies on the left
are my daughters Tobhiyah and Jennifer,
with bio-father, stepmother, auntie, and sister.

Do you see why this book resonates with me?
Yes, it is primarily a good, old-fashioned, shoot-em up exploding spaceship story. Yahoo!
However, it is set in Western Africa, mostly in Liberia, and the poverty, corruption, cynicism, beauty, and steadfastness of that area are treated seriously in this book. It doesn't fall off the cliff of white guilt on the one hand, nor does it fall off the cliff of blaming everything on incompetent savages on the other side. I found it to speak the truth, based on my own personal experience and research.

Furthermore, the love of country, expressed primarily through the unmitigated patriotism of the protagonist, makes this book a special gift to me. Others may have a different experience. I challenge the reader who is inclined to blow off the book's serious examination of  a complicated situation to speak to primary sources, and to listen, listen, listen. Just as the author did: he listened.

And now, to the book.

We start with some insights into the Veetanho family structure, which pretty much makes most Human families look like paradise. Males are useless, except for breeding, after which they are murdered. Sterile females become something akin to sadistic harem mistresses, with the sole, declared intent to make life for those under their care to be the very worst imaginable. And it appears to me, that withing the creche, there is ONE dominant Alpha, and everyone else serves as prey, to be tormented to no end, other than to reinforce to the Alpha that they are truly the Alpha. I may have missed some subtleties, but that description hits the high points.
So: no wonder Peepo is a psycho. It's what she was TRAINED to be.

One who has (somehow) managed to break the mold a bit is Thorpi. A biological female, she passes herself off as a male; and how she got away with THAT, I don't know. She has found a valuable place as Logistics Officer with the Kakata Korps, a merc company based out of Monrovia, Liberia, and has totally escaped the demands of Veetanho society.

Until they want her back.

Senior members of her family have noted her place, and decide to use her influence with the Kakata Korps to persuade them to take on the role of enforcers for the Mercenary Guild, and then to serve as their agent-in-place. It's a tough position for her, because her loyaties are torn so severly.

The enforcement role is plausible on the surface for commanding officer Colonel Mulbah Luo, because Kakata Korps was NOT in the inner circles of the mercs, didn't know what was happening with the Four Horsemen, and they came back from a mission to find that there is an apparent rebellion against the Galactic Union. They are tasked to bring the remaining rebels to heel.

It's a nasty job, but on paper, it seems appropriate. There are, after all, records showing all the broken rules the Four Horsemen left in their wake as they abandoned Earth. It's a trap, of course, but it s baited with some sweet, sweet cheese. If the Kakata Korps takes the legal contracts given to them by General Peepo's faction, they will be rewarded with enough money to buy the best equipment first, and promises of influence a little bit later.

Here's where an understanding of some of the basics of African politics is helpful. In almost every case, the borders that define African countries were drawn up by EUROPEAN nations at the Berlin Conference of 1885. The reasoning had NOTHING to do with the political, religious, or cultural affiliations of the Africans, and everything to do with carving up land for colonialism without causing conflict for the Europeans.  From the beginning, the tribal structures extant were ignored, with the result that life-long enemies were thrust together and told to stop fighting. Not effective. Still causing problems TODAY, and so, into the future of the 4HU. 

Despite the mess, Col Luo LOVES his country, and hates the turmoil that the impoverishment resulting from hi-tech only available from the Galactics has brought to the people of Africa. So, the temptation he cannot resist: he is promised influence, if not actual dominion, over most of West Africa. It's not in him to turn down the chance to bring order to a region that has been unable to provide peace and a decent standard of living to its' people, despite abundant resources.

Of course, this brings him into conflict with the graft-collecting bureaucracy, and he anticipates having to stage a coup. However, a reform candidate has just been elected to the Office of the President in Liberia, a man with the same dreams for the future.

Now, ALL of that is the background. From here, you get into the exploding spaceships, which manifest in various ways. In addition to the allegedly 'rogue' merc units General Peepo sends him after, there are numerous psycho warlords who collect the very finest filth by the power of intimidation, forced drug addiction, and child enslavement. Think they can co-exist with the virtue Col Luo is attempting to bring?

And now, for The Question: Is "Sons of the Lion" a worthy candidate for the 2019 Dragon Award in the category of Best Military Science Fiction?

My wife is the most beautiful woman in the world. Do you think that I could be an impartial judge of a beauty contest if she were in it? Not a chance. She would win, hands down, if it were up to me. The same principle applies here. There is no way, given what this book means to me personally, that I can give an unbiased opinion. 

I regret that the publisher has two candidates in this category. It would be better for them if there were six, or only one, because that way, the vote-splitting wouldn't happen, and the excellence that they have come to represent in the field could be given proper recognition. 

And personally, it doesn't matter to me anyway. I know what this book means, and awards and honors have zero impact on that. For the author, I hope the proper accolades come in the form of green pieces of paper, with a preponderance of Mr. Franklin's picture (although President Grant is rather comely as well, if of smaller stature). 

Peace be on your household.

2019 Dragon Award Finalist, Best Fantasy: "Lies Sleeping"

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If you want to trim out (most) of the extraneous stuff, and just read a book review, you can go to Goodreads, which has already posted. I'll also post the abbreviated review on Amazon.

Greetings to all my internet friends and neighbors, and for those of you who came here for the Dragon Award finalist review, a delightful Wednesday is in store for you, because within a VERY short time, you are going to get two, that's right, friends, I said TWO, blog post/review treatments of two very different, but quite lovely books! There are now 3.6311019676 days left before voting closes at midnight on August 31; or, at least that was the case when I opened my spreadsheet a moment ago.  And for those family members who are gazing at the screen: I hate to complain, but I DO wish we could have had pizza, split pea soup with ham, and/or BBQ chicken w/rice, etc,  for breakfast every once in a while.

As things stand, I have read and reviewed all five of the Finalist entries for the Best Science Fiction Novel (excluded one, too pricey); read all six of the Military Sci Fi entries, reviewing five, and holding the last to review today; read and reviewed five of the six Finalists for the Alternate History Award; and left almost untouched the Fantasy entries, with but a single read and review. I'll do the second book in this post, but the extreme disparity between category coverage clarified for me a personal preference: I avoid reading Fantasy.

I don't LIKE it; I find it too pretentious. There are exceptions, certainly. I THINK that one of the reason I liked The Hobbit and the rest of the Lord of the Rings saga (except for the Silmarillion) is because they are written as history, and the narrative really doesn't make too many intrusions into goofy-king-and-queen-land. The Silmarillion, on the other hand, HAS no narrative that extends beyond the short sections, and is slap-full of  visits to goofy-king-and-queen-land. I have never yet had any success at completing any sizable portion of it before lapsing into a coma. A pleasant (for me) note: Peter Grant, the protagonist of this novel, agrees with my opinion on "The Silmarillion."
This is not the Peter Grant who writes British gay sex farce, and not the Peter Grant who just published

The first book I am reviewing today is a series book, as are the vast majority of the books I've read thus far in the Dragon Award series. I've discussed the issue of series vs stand-alone books before, but not really applied it particularly to the Fantasy category. So, let me dispose of that right now. Yes, it can be significant, in a tightly-written series. I think we would all agree that opening the Foundation series by reading of the Mule is going to leave a great amount of the story un-Founded (see what I did there?), and you really have to know about Hari Seldon first. Others, and I'm thinking specifically of two of the current entries in the military science fiction, really triumph as stand-alone novels, because their stories are almost entirely self-contained. Yes, you may WANT to go back and pick up earlier entries, but you don't HAVE to.

But fantasy doesn't necessarily require access to the prequels. Part of that, assuredly, is my personal prejudice; I disregard the significance of fantasy because I'm a snob. But another part is that in fantasy, it's a given that the rules of physics don't really apply, so if a grnknyr wedferets, you just pick up the meaning from the context, and drive on. You don't really have to know that in 2026, a hyperwave bypass was constructed, requiring the destruction off Earth. And {khwo*fyj&rmaj that grynknyr, anyway. 

The last large portion of affection I had for fantasy took a massive hit when I got to the end of “A Dance With Dragons,” the fifth book in the “Song of Fire and Ice” series, popularly referred to as “Game of Thrones,” and discovered that not only were we not at the end of the series, but that new plot lines were opening, and that there was no projected timeline for the future volumes, and NO END WAS IN SIGHT. I'll not sully the lines of this post by relaying to you the thoughts I had at that point.

“Lies Sleeping," by Ben Aaronovitch, is Book 7 in the “Rivers of London” series. I found it both delightful, and, for the most part, quite coherent. The POV character is Peter Grant, although it took me quite a few pages before I harvested that bit of info from the book. He is a member of a London-based police unit, which works exclusively on cases in which criminals use magic to commit their crimes. He himself has magic powers, although some members of his unit do not, and a few others are more powerful.

The current target of their investigations is one Martin Chorley, a bad, wicked, and proficient wielder of magic they have associated with a number of prior crimes. He appears to be using former members of an Oxford College club called the “Little Crocodiles,” a group of posh individuals who enjoyed the play of dabbling in magic. Some of them were strictly in it for the amusement and affiliation, while others were attuned to the actual working of magic. It is the latter group that Chorley has selected to run errands for him.

Very quickly, we discover that whatever is taking place, it has lethal implications. As soon as members of the team enter the house of a former Little Crocodile, a gent named Richard Williams, a disturbance erupts. Peter and his partner Guleed emerge from their stake-out vehicle to see a woman burst through the tiles of the roof, blood smeared over her face. She leaps from the roof, and overpowers both of them, and makes her escape on foot. However, the blood on her face came from an attempt to kill Williams, by biting out his throat, and she missed.

The incapacitated Williams is hospitalized in a secure facility, with a machine-gun wielding police constable on the outside of his room, guarding the door.

The series title is “Rivers of London,” and whatever else that entails, we find that there are river gods and goddesses around. In fact, Peter is semi-keeping house with one of them, Beverly. They have the usual and customary physical relationship, but Beverly will manifest certain powers from time to time, from moving through rivers at will, to making some things happen quickly in the kitchen. Even so, she still exhibits normal concern for the well-being of her main squeeze, and he for her.

There is quite a bit of conventional detective work that has to be done in tracking down Martin Chorley. Quite a lot of it is boring, such as sitting in surveillance locations, interviewing witnesses, and the necessary but tedious filing of paperwork and attending meetings. Enough attention is given to these details that we are aware of them, but we aren't beaten to death by police procedural trivia.

That's not QUITE what my experience was with the magical / architectural trivia. As this was my first book in the series, and as a person who has spent a grand total (perhaps) of 72 hours in London, I found the descriptions of the history of some of the architecture to be other-than-illuminating. Now, SOME of this was necessary to the plot. However, other parts seemed solely designed to bewail the loss of a distinctive London-ness to the efforts of developers and financiers. There were also plenty of references to things that I'm sure would make sense to a person familiar with the London city streets, but which I found to be tedious.

Along those lines, the book was filled with I can only suppose to be specialized slang terms that I've never heard. For example, a police car goes on pursuit with blues and twos. From the context, I'd say flashing blue lights and a siren, but that's just a guess. There are other similar slang expressions that take a bit of thinking for this Redneck Biker, but it only slowed me down; it didn't take me out of the story.

A bit more problematic was the inclusion of untranslated Latin phrases. I had a half-year of Latin in 1966, and I was failing that. Fortunately, I discovered that there is an entire wiki, dedicated to the series, and a Google search for the Latin phrases yielded that site as the first result. The translations, and the context for the quote, were to be found there. While it was quite an interesting addition, I did not utilize the wiki further.

Some of the events are funny, although perhaps not so much to those involved, but the thoughts of the POV character were often extremely amusing. Tossed in at random were any number of pop-culture references, such as the running joke “and one hard-boiled egg” line from “A Night At The Opera.” Unfortunately there were some references that were clearly meant to be humorous that went over my head; I'm not British enough (or at all).

Finally, there were certain plot developments that DID require some knowledge of events from prior books in the series. Here are just two examples:

Occasionally, late at night, I wonder whether this is true of Mama Thames and whether, perhaps, her blessing can make an old man kick his heroin habit and take up his trumpet again. (Aaronovitch, Ben. Lies Sleeping (Rivers of London) (p. 80). DAW. Kindle Edition. )
The first time while I was buried underground, and later when Martin Chorley launched his abortive attack on Lady Ty. (Aaronovitch, Ben. Lies Sleeping (Rivers of London) (p. 134). DAW. Kindle Edition. )

I have no idea what these quotes are referencing, or even if they ARE referencing something in an earlier book, or, in the case of the first quote, it's simply a jazz-insider reference.

On the whole, though, it was a very enjoyable read. I think I would be MILDLY interested in pursuing the rest of the series, as long as it wasn't at the expense of my regular reading patterns.

And now for The Question: Is “Lies Sleeping” a worthy candidate for the 2019 Dragon Award in the Best Fantasy Novel category?

Dealing with the series vs stand-alone question first, I'd have to say that I didn't really suffer from coming into the series at this point. Yes, there were a few parts where I knew I'd missed something, but I had no trouble at all in grasping the overall story line.

With respect to the consideration of the other factors, I guess to comes down to what you want fantasy to do for you. I DID enjoy the story, and found myself looking forward to the next event; I liked the characters I was supposed to like, didn't like the bad guys, and felt appropriate ambivalent sympathy for those caught in the middle. It didn't INSPIRE me, though, which is something that I have enjoyed in some of the fantasy works I have read.

I have four more titles in this category to read, and here's what it comes down to for me: with respect to this year's award, it's too soon to make the call.

Peace be on your household.

Monday, August 26, 2019

2019 Dragon Award Finalist, Best Mil SF: "Uncompromising Honor"

For those with ad blockers, the cover:

If you want the condensed version of the review, you can find it on Goodreads. I'll post an Amazon review, as well.

Greetings to all my internet friends and neighbors, and for those of you who came here for the Dragon Award finalist review, I have no idea at this point how to write this review. There are now 5.2 6 days left before voting closes at midnight on August 31.  And for those family members who dropped in: does anyone have the recipe for Bessie's blackberry cobbler? I'd be happy just with the recipe for the crust, actually.

There are two books that I have deliberately put off reviewing in this series. The first of these is “Sons of the Lion” by Jason Cordova. I actually have already read and reviewed it, on July 8, but I haven't blogged on it because I loved it so much, that I wanted to hold on to it. That might not make sense to you, but it does to me.

The second book I deliberately postponed reading is “Uncompromising Honor,” by David Weber. That one I MOSTLY postponed because of the length. When I was doing my initial data collection for this series, I recorded a page length of 784, but just now I double-checked, and the figure I'm seeing is 961. I'm reading this on a Kindle, and for some reason, it won't give me page numbers, just location numbers. Either way, it's massive, and that's MOSTLY why I put that off until today. I have a second (small-ish) reason, but it's rather scary for me to admit it: I didn't like the last couple of Honor Harrington books I read.

That's certainly NOT the way I started out. I guess if there had been an “On Basilisk Station” party, I would have shown up with home-baked bread, fried chicken, and mashed potatoes for EVERYBODY! But, after failing to connect with recent works, I had an inkling...

This is reported to be the 19th Honor Harrington book. I haven't verified that count personally, so I don't know if it includes the delightful stories that feature other characters than Honor, but regardless, this is an overwhelmingly successful franchise. It was prompted by the actions of Jim Baen himself, and the author includes that particular reference in the Afterword, along with sly suggestions that there may be more on the way.

The cabal running the Solarian System have managed to move the entire polity from a stodgy keeper of intergalactic law, and the greatest economic power, to a huge, blind puppet in the hands of a few mean old men and women, determined to keep a firm grasp on power. All of the backbiting and political treachery we have seen in the past gets accelerated, without even lip service being paid to the military restraint of past centuries.

That doesn't mean that the Solarian Navy is now composed of dimwits and fools. There are plenty of competent officers and crew, and leadership roles are often filled with people who avoid unnecessary civilian casualties. However, the ranks of the Navy have been depleted to a significant extent by a one-sided battle that takes place before the book opens. Those that are left are hungry for revenge. And it's up to Manticore and her allies to stop them, regardless of the cost.

A word about battles: Weber writes space battles with attention given to every detail. We know the classes of ships involved on both sides; their tonnage; their offensive capabilities, down to the last missile; we know how their defensive systems work together. We are given a look inside the mind of the commanders on both sides, and see their plans, and their counters to the actions of their opponents. And even though we root for the Star Kingdom of Manticore, for any given battle, we don't have a guarantee that the good guys are going to win, and the bad guys are going to lose. Hence, there is always a certain amount of on-the-edge-of-your-seat tension in a space battle.


I fear that here I must insert my opinion that this is a strength that has become a weakness. The first battle in the book just drags ON and on and on, page after page (and I could tell you how many pages, if it weren't fo the Kindle being stubborn) and it just got to be TOO technical for me.

Another sigh.

And the same thing is true of the non-battle scenes as well. Everything just drags in this book. The conspiracy-discovered scene. Feeding the children green peas. The discussion of the secret weapon.

I fully realize that in saying this, I am speaking against good sense. David Weber has pleased an untold number of readers with his descriptive powers. You can't argue with success! Well, I'm not really trying to argue; I'm just saying that for THIS reader, it's just too much. Maybe, if I were sent to a mountain cabin for a week, or a hermit, or incarcerated, I'd find myself pounding on a table with the handle of a broom, and screaming “MOAR! MOAR!”

But I suspect it's just a matter of taste.

And now, The Question: Is “Uncompromising Honor” a realistic candidate for the 2019 Dragon Award for Best Military Science Fiction?

I hope to kiss a duck, if it ain't. Weber has won this category TWICE. He has a HUGE fanbase. It's not my choice, both because of the personal tedium I experienced while reading, but also because it's an Honor Harrington novel.

Now, before you scalp me, let me explain that. I'm saying that's a deficit with this particular novel, because it really doesn't do enough with Honor Harrington. All of the character development has taken place in the existing work; I don't think her personality stamps this book in the same way that you'll find in the previous books in the series.

I'm just going to leave that here; make of it what you will. Know that I really, really DO know that I'm swimming upstream with this opinion. But, I've got to give you the best I have to offer, and this is it.

Peace be on your household.

2019 Dragon Award Finalist, Best Alternate History: "Unholy Land"

For those with ad blockers, here's a pic of the cover:

For a condensed version of this review, check out Goodreads. I'll also post a review on Amazon.

Greetings to all my internet friends and neighbors, and Happy Last Monday for those of you who came here for the Dragon Award finalist review! There are now 5.6 days left before voting closes at midnight on August 31. And for those family members who dropped in: do you suppose the Lone Star Brewery in San Antonio is still in business? And with all the Germans living nearby in New Braunfels, why don't they feature a German beer along with the American stuff? 

So, yesterday was Sunday, and while I WANTED to just kick back and do the sweet family things, like go to church together, eat a nice relaxing lunch, and then take a lovely nap, it didn't quite work out that way. We DID make it to church, though, so that's good. 

But, by the end of the sunlight, a time that's good just to hang out with my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, as she reads and I read, I was just the teeniest bit bushed. As a result, I didn't finish reading “Unholy Land” until this morning.

This is my first exposure to the author, and when I saw that the postulated an alternative Jewish homeland in Africa, instead of Israel, it raised my hackles. A number of the books I've read so far in this series fall into the “progressive” camp (I don't know what that means, but that's how they refer to themselves), and somehow, that camp seems to issue a lot of anti-Semitic proclamations. I wasn't ABOUT to sit through a rant espousing driving the Jews into the sea, so, I started cautiously. It turns out I had nothing to fear; at least, from that quarter. 

Here's the set-up: a plan to provide a safe haven for European Jews in Africa actually was fulfilled, in the early 1900s. As a result, the Nazi genocide didn't happen. Adolph Hitler was assassinated in 1948, but some form of a more beneficent National Socialism in Germany remained. The new land is called Palestina, located between Uganda and Kenya, with a border on Lake Victoria.

An ex-pat pulp mystery writer named Lior Tirosh decides to return to his homeland, perhaps to visit his perhaps-dying father, perhaps to seek healing from a yet-unspecified trauma. He encounters very tight security at the airport and elsewhere, and discovers a great wall being built for the protection of the country. Although the British had claimed ownership of the land, and had conferred the title onto the new state, the locals on the ground weren't consulted, and engaged in low-intensity conflict with the settlers from the beginning. Raids and bombings were becoming more frequent.

Tirosh begins to experience a growing sense of disconnectedness from his environment. His editor calls, and he doesn't recognize the sound of his cell phone. People stare at him when he finally takes the call, as if they had never seen a cell phone before, and at the end of the call, the text refers to the phone as a case for his eyeglasses.

An unexpected and seemingly utterly random attempt on his life goes wrong, when a childhood acquaintance breaks into his hotel room to greet and interrogate him, and passes the time away by drinking whiskey from the mini-bar in his room.

And right after that, the primary plot development becomes evident. Tirosh and others are in a multi-dimensional time flow, with parallel worlds slipping past each other, seemingly at random. Other characters also are slipping back and forth between the worlds; some are hunted and others the hunters.

It gets very confusing, particularly when the POV character shifts without notice. And that happens a lot.

The closest to a political statement comes as Tirosh contemplates the multiverse:

And you wonder what Jews are like when they are not defined by the great Holocaust that shaped them, the survivors, that formed of them creatures of power and guilt: more easy in their ways, perhaps, more comfortable in their skins, or perhaps just a nation as all other nations, with the same natural impulses to assert themselves, to be masters in their kingdoms.
Tidhar, Lavie. Unholy Land (pp. 215-216). Tachyon Publications. Kindle Edition. 

It's an INTERESTING read, but the promise of a straight-forward narrative I saw in the first part of the book essentially vanishes when the multi-verse plotline is introduced. It becomes more a book that you and your discussion group would want to read if you were interested on different perspectives on the continuing violence in the Middle East.

And now, The Question: Is “Unholy Land” a contender for the 2019 Dragon Award in the Best Alternate History Novel category?

I don't see how, for a couple of reasons. In the first place, there is no coherent plot, and nothing is explained satisfactorily, and nothing is resolved. There are too many partial players, and no POV unites the book. So, based on strength of story, “Unholy Land” is an also-ran.

In the second place, I don't know how a book with only 11 Amazon reviews makes the finalist list for a Dragon Award. The last book I reviewed had only 9 reviews, so it can happen. I don't know any of the stats on nominating frequencies, but it doesn't appear to me that the book has enough of a cult status to win on that basis, either.


Peace be on your household.