Friday, September 27, 2019

Completed Books, Awaiting Reviews

Greetings to all my internet friends and neighbors, and to all my family members who may have stumbled here, Bebe is now a great-great-grandmother! Aki Alexander Emiohe was born yesterday, the first great-grandchild for my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, and me.

Welcome, little one!

Now, to the matter at hand: I was slightly successful the other day in sneaking in a few words about Laura Montgomery's "Simple Service," although in no way could what I wrote be termed a proper review by Papa Pat. Still, you have to prime the pump.

That's a term that only a very few readers will understand. In the days before municipal water supplies existed, water came from a well, and the wells supplied that water via a hand pump. In order to create the needed suction, you poured a bucket of water down a pipe, and then pumped away. You always made sure the bucket was left filled after using the pump!

So, here are a few more buckets; these are books I have read, and am waiting to be able to review them. My hope is that by writing these thumbnails, I'll break through the block. If that doesn't work, it will at least make a down-payment on what I owe the writers for the work they put in.

"Simple Service," Laura Montgomery. Since I have already written a few lines about it here, I'll cut and paste and edit what I said about Laura Montgomery's excellent book "Simple Service: Martha's Sons, Book One." The series Montgomery has started is called "Martha's Sons." This Martha is a person of literature, living on a planet that was not what they were looking for, and thus designated as NWWWLF. She has multiple sons and daughters, and two of them in particular are the main characters of this compelling book, addressing themes of family loyalty and conflict, the difficulty of living on a planet which requires extensive terraforming, the tendency of oligarchies to resort to ever-more repressive measures to keep in power, all giving us a lovely, lovely back-story to her "Waking Late" series.

"Death's Talisman," J. F. Posthumus. She's not a bad person; not at ALL! In fact, she does her very best to rise above the wild oats sown during an admittedly wilder youth, when she was wont to smite her enemies. Now, she's with child, and she is discovering things about the baby daddy, and her mama is a bit of a nutter, and...goes on from there. I have no excuse for not reviewing this one earlier; I've had it at least since July 8.

"Star Marque Rising," Shami Stovall. I feel THE WORST about not getting this one reviewed earlier. Not only have I had a copy since last February (I think), the writer is fairly new to the scene, and deserved better treatment at my hands. The book is a glorious, exploding spaceships, evil empire space opera, with a bodacious twist: Stovall has incorporated The Prisoner's Dilemma into the writing, both literally as a drinking game the characters play, and as the primary framework for the story. I found it to be brilliant.

"The Replicant War," Chris Kennedy It COULD be argued that this is the last Dragon review, except I didn't review the entries for the category that included this as a finalist (Media Tie-In). Most, but not all, of the CKP books I've read are in a different storyline, featuring mechs and aliens; what sets this one apart is that gamer geeks discover that the hot new game they are playing is really happening. I don't think I qualify as a Gamer, but I do recognize the appeal of an immersive experience that takes you away from the demands of work and study.

"Gold on the Hoof," Peter Grant This is the third installment in the story of Walter Ames, a former Confederate soldier who heads west to make his fortune. Grant does a magnificent job of making the seemingly dull routine of building a transportation company, rebuilding rifles, and selling horses into something exciting. Of course, evil corrupt businessmen, liars, cheats, thieves, and thugs with guns have something to say about how things are done as well.

"Bob's Saucer Repair," Jerry Boyd Mild-mannered Bob finds intergalactic love, and a chance to make a few bucks, when his mechanical skills allow him to get a discombobulated spaceship working again. This is PRIMARILY told humorously, but there is sufficient intrigue and gun-play to raise it far, as in WAY, WAY far, above the level of a 1960's Disney movie.

"Operation Flash, Episode 2: Hinges of Fate," Nitay Arbel. One of the MANY attempts on Hitler's life succeeds in this timeline, and Germans are given the chance to redeem Germany before the Allies do it for them. I was stationed in Germany from March of 1973 to September of 1975, and visited some of the places discussed in the book. The book does two things for me: it refreshes the horror I experienced when touring the museum located at the site of the concentration camp at Dachau, near Munich, reminding me of the evil of the murder factories put in place as a policy matter; it also reminds me that there were a significant fraction of decent Germans who resisted. I personally served with a former Wehrmacht soldier, Herr Gerhard Schroff, and a former Luftwaffe clerk, Frau Elsie Geist. Neither had been Nazis.

Small rant, by me. I also spent time in East Berlin, administered by our former allies in that conflict. In 1975, it was VERY easy to see the iron fist, because the velvet glove was awfully threadbare.  Yes, evil exists, and it must be resisted by people of conscience.
It's too easy to think "I never would have supported such an obviously wicked government!" Before we get TOO self-righteous, though, remember, among others, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney. They died, because they were working to make it possible that babies like my new great-grandson would be able to vote one day.
June, 1964
This was not NATIONAL policy; it was, however, an act supported by local policy.
Just something to keep in mind.

Okay, those seven books are those I have read, but not been able to review, from authors who have entrusted me with their works. In addition to those, I've also re-read some Heinlein, who I tend to go to when I need inspiration, and so on. Besides these, there are at least that many which are in the queue to be read, that I haven't gotten to yet. I will.

Peace be on your household.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Hymn to Physical Pain: Rudyard Kipling, 1932

Greetings to all my internet friends and neighbors,  and welcome to my attempt to get SOMETHING, ANYTHING, in print.  And for any of my family checking in, this is a story you have not heard, although the subject will be familiar to you.

I've just finished Laura Montgomery's excellent book "Simple Service: Martha's Sons, Book One." I'd like to review it for you, but alas, I have found that attempting to review ANY of the several books I've read immediately results in a bad outcome for me. It seems that an even greater burden comes upon me at the moment I open the word processor, trivializing the writing of reviews, and I can't proceed. It's just writer's block, I know, and it will pass. It has always done so in the past.

But: here's the progression I followed: the series Montgomery has started is called "Martha's Sons." This Martha is a person of literature, living on a planet that was not what they were looking for, and thus designated as NWWWLF. She has multiple sons and daughters, and two of them in particular are the main characters of this compelling book, addressing themes of family loyalty and conflict, the difficulty of living on a planet which requires extensive terraforming, the tendency of oligarchies to resort to ever-more repressive measures to keep in power, all giving us a lovely, lovely back-story to her "Waking Late" series.

The story is quite engaging, but it was the sub-title that kept center-stage in my mind as I finished the read this morning. In fact, I had quite convinced myself that the name of the book was "The Sons of Martha," enough so that I had a moment of difficulty locating the right file to open, as I shifted from one Kindle platform to another. And that lead me to Kipling.

Not that Montgomery references Kipling in the book; the only identifiable reference is to one James Shirley, who wrote "Death the Leveller," presumably some time before his own death in 1666; I feel certain that a post-mortem poet would find it difficult to get published at that time, leveled or not.
I had actually conflated two of Kipling's poems in my memory. For some reason, I had remembered the SUBJECT of "The Sons of Martha," but had assigned to it the title "The Hymn of Breaking Strain." So, it was to that second poem I went first, quickly to disabuse myself of the mis-attribution. However, once there, I discovered the poem which constitutes the title of this blog post, "Hymn to Physical Pain."

I was interested. I am familiar intimately with physical pain, and slightly knowledgeable about the sad fact that Kipling suffered terribly from abdominal pain for the last 20 years of his life. In fact, four years after this poem was published, Kipling died after surgery to repair an intestinal hemorrhage. So, why does he write a hymn to it?

My first, quick reading lead me astray. I thought he was praising the remission of physical pain, which I can absolutely understand.

Subsequent, more careful review set me straight. Here's what Kipling is saying:
Physical pain is good, because it takes our mind off mental/emotional pain, which is far worse.

Hmmmm. I'm going to have to think about that one. As it happens, my current age matches that of Kipling when he wrote this poem; he was only 70 when he died. (ONLY 70? When did 70 become too young to die in my mind?)

My last bout with the intense, captivating pain that is referenced here was a few months ago, and I can absolutely testify to the fact that it drives every other thought from your mind. Surgery brought an end to my pain (want to see a picture of the incision?) but that wasn't available for Kipling. Frankly, I can't imagine enduring the intense degree of torment he must have felt for any length of time; I was only hospitalized for a week or so before they finally opened my belly, and until then I was watching the clock like a monomaniac, and ringing the bell for the nurse to come put the stuff in my IV IMMEDIATELY.

But Kipling says the other pain, that of his soul, was worse. I know he lost a daughter to pneumonia in 1899, and his son was killed in 1915 in WWI, after Kipling had used his influence to get him a commission in the Irish Guards. For the rest, I can recommend to you The History Guy's YouTube presentation.

I guess this will, ultimately, be my takeaway: I am EVER so glad that all I have is physical pain. I'm not denying or trying to minimize it; people who are close to me can verify that there are times when it is all I can do to drag myself out of bed. (Fortunately, those times are rare!) But, it IS just pain, after all. It's not suffering, it's not misery. Those are additives, which I can choose or not.

And today, I choose not.

Peace be on your household.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Sword and Blood: Vampire Musketeer #1, Sarah A Hoyt

And, for those of you running an ad blocker, here is an older cover:

This review is also found on Goodreads, and on Amazon.

“To me, musketeers! To me, of the king! TO ME, MUSKETEERS! TO ME, OF THE KING! "

Why in the HECK do they call them Musketeers? There is not a musket in evidence, EVER, in any of the literature or the movies. It's all swords and swordplay, and dashing to and fro.

Here's what I think: I think this is all elitist propaganda, designed to convince us that the ferocity and training of heroes is supreme. That's crap. If you want to triumph, ask the guys who are 5'6" and 130 pounds to get the job done, and the moderately sized sized non-heroic people will use muskets (or the modern equivalent) to win yer war for you and save civilization. Average guys, not some privileged small- brained aristocracy with feathers in their hats, flouncy capes, waving around sharp pointy things.


France, the jewel of the world (HA!) is overrun with vampires. Since this is before America, they have no one to turn to for rescue, and so they make a truce with the enemy.

Wow. Couldn't see THAT one coming, could ya? The French making a treaty with the enemy? Oh. My.

And of course, Athos, one of the Famous Guys With Sharp Pointy Things gets bitten, and then we are off to the races.

Secret truth, here: there is a good reason he became a Famous Guy instead of living out his life as a Fabulous Aristocrat. It seems he killed his wife by hanging her, and has since then been filled with remorse. Seems he had spotted the sign of the COLLABORATORS (this is before the treaty) on her neck, and strung her up.

The incompetent Fabulous Aristocrat can't allow himself to do a competent job of his impulsive act, though, and carelessly leaves her body intact, instead of whacking off her head, driving a stake through her heart, burning her body to a crisp on the barby, etc. He's a Fabulous Aristocrat, and can't be bothered with doing things correctly, so, picking the absolutely worst choice available due to a combination of fear, shame, and the grinding edges of a broken heart, he runs away from her inviolate corpse to Paris. where he allows himself to marinate in guilt, brandy, self-hatred and doubt, while becoming a Famous Guy With A Sharp Pointy Thing.

Because there are no other options. It's a planned economy.

Meanwhile, D'Artagnan, a brave and talented, though unschooled, member of the country gentry arrives in Paris in the nick of time to hook up with Famous Guys With Sharp Pointy Things. They are killing vampires, and that's what he wants to do, since the vampires have killed his parents, among others.

Lots of running around and hiding secrets from friends and enemies, and some fighting.

Turns out that having yer blud sucked out is a lot like sex, at least for some people in some circumstances.

Wow. Never saw THAT coming, either!
(Okay, I jest, I jest. I know that there are certain tropes that are essential to the story, and that one is key. If you don't include the sensual aspect, you are betraying every writer in the genre since Bram Stoker, and also eliminating a lot of the reasons the vamps aren't all killed in about 15 minutes after discovery. Everybody wants good sex, it seems, and in a country formerly ruled/heavily influenced by a celibate clergy, vampires mean you can dance around the issue in confession. A bit. Until you die, or turn. )

BUT! Where do the vampires come from? What's the origin myth? It's been a LONG time since I read "Dracula," and I don't follow the genre, but I recall nothing about the origin of the monsters in Bram Stoker's . The Sparkly Vampire literature, of which I know nothing at all, may give a back story, but the letters of Jonathan Harker don't mention it. (I could be wrong about this. It has been some years since I read the original.)

I LOVE a good back story, and TA-DA!!! "Sword and Blood" provides it, quite nicely, thank you very much. AND that's one of my two favorite things about the book. Well, three, if you include 'it gives me an opportunity to mock the French.'

My favorite thing? Read the BIG WORDS at the top of the page.
( In my opinion, it's quite as well done as "Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father! Prepare to die!")

We Dare: An Anthology of Augmented Humanity, Chris Kennedy, Jamie Ibson, eds.

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

A condensed version of this blog post may be found on Goodreads, and it has been/ will be submitted to Amazon as well. And,  HERE'S THE LINK to THAT!

Greetings to all my internet friends and neighbors, and for those of you who are counting down with me to the Dragon Awards, YOU ARE TOO LATE!!! HAHA AHHHAHA!!!!! And to any of my family checking in, you might want to check out two oldies but goodies : one for “Leader of the Pack,” by the Shangi-Las, and the other “Leader of the Laundromat,” by the Detergents. 
Aw, shucks, watch the entire “I’ve Got A Secret” episode from 1964. We watched it back then, after all!

“We Dare” is one of the books I was reading when the Dragon dropped in, and disrupted all the plans that were in place. Now, that ended a week ago, and I haven’t been QUITE idle since then. In fact, almost as soon as the last review was filed, I grabbed up some Heinlein I keep for just such occasions, and lost myself in the tales of The Man Who Sold The Moon, and so on. Quite lovely. In fact, I doubt that I have reviewed those oldies, since I only started doing this a little over five years ago, and I really don’t know when I read some of his works. But, that’s for another time.

There ARE some others that were high on my list of TBR&R, and they will come in as rapid a fashion as I can honorably do so. So, Jennie, Mackey, Laura, Doug, Peter, Jerry, Chris, Nitay, Robert, and all of the others: YES, I have your books, and I am champing at the bit to get them into my brain and the results out of the ends of my fingers. Everybody else, all of you who have been patient,  have been patient, and have been patient, I’ll put out a request for new materials as I clear up space.

“We Dare: An Anthology of Augmented Humanity,” is a collection of fifteen stories from fifteen authors, and MOSTLY, the only thing they have in common is that they deal with implications of a world in which human beings are able to receive machine enhancements. Not a new concept, it received popular attention with the 1970’s series “The Six Million Dollar Man.” Good thing, or bad thing? It depends on who you ask, it depends on what you read.

“A handsome young cyborg named Ace
Wooed women at every base.
But when ladies glanced at
His special enhancement
They vanished with nary a trace.”
("Alpha Centauri," Firaxis Games)

Some who read this may be old enough to remember purchasing vinyl LP record albums. One of the marketing approaches was to take two hit songs by a group, add 10 mediocre songs, and form a playlist: the first song on side A was a hit, the last song on side B was a hit, and all the stuff in between was mediocre filler. That’s not the way these books are put together. ALL of the stories are good stuff.

KADE by Christopher Woods. The protagonist of “This Fallen World” has, somehow, managed to live to a ripe old age. He’s still a rapscallion, as much as his 90 year-old, much-abused body permits him to be. Rather than augmentation in the form of repairs and enhancements, he is offered a chance to start as a new adult, with additional features. However, this world is run by corporations, and they don’t like competitors to get advantages.

TAMING THE BEAST by Kevin Steverson. Sadly, I am not familiar with the universe this story is drawn from. I hope that changes sometime in the future. Here we have Gunny Harper, who has been given prosthetic legs to replaced the destroyed originals. The problem: while they are good for some activities, there is no way that he can operate with the pain which remains. The Beast referred to in the title is an obstacle course. If the Gunny can’t beat it, he is going to retire.

TANK by J.F. Holmes. The tank is a former cyborg soldier in the Army, now a NYC cop. The question is: are you still a human? He doesn’t really know the answer to that, but an encounter with a similarly enhanced criminal, and an astoundingly nasty criminal, and some criminals with suits and nice jobs, all conspire to force him to discover the answer.

CRADLE AND ALL by Quincy J. Allen. The corporation, no matter where it’s located, is always concerned about the bottom line. Who decides about the ethics of the situation? Usually, that’s someone else’s job. However, when we are referring to our own children, that answer isn’t good enough.

DO OR DIE by Jamie Ibson. “All problems can be solved with the proper application of C-4.” Or, Deton-8, in this future. Except, not really. Some jobs require a proper application of heart, In fact, without the heart, the jobs aren’t really worth doing. In this universe, people born with neurological conditions that are debilitating and ultimately lethal are, shall we say, re-purposed. But, the heart comes over, regardless of whether the pump is included.

YELLOW IN THE NIGHT by Philip Wohlrab. “The King In Yellow” is one of the creepiest, multi-level stories, ever, so why NOT add to it? These enhanced warriors KNOW they are being lied to from the beginning, but they also know the mission orders are valid. They hope the lies aren’t going to mean they don’t have a chance,

THE CHAOS OF WELL-SEEMING FORMS by Rob Howell. The Hatfields and the McCoys, or the Montagues and Capulets, on Mars. Howell can take a bizarre set-up like that, and ALMOST make you cry. Probably WILL make you cry, if you read it when you are alone, instead of in the car while waiting on teen-age girls to buy their school supplies.

FORTY ACRES AND A MULE by Luke R. J. Maynard. There is such sadness associated with this term; it comes from an attempt by the victorious North to provide the former slaves in the defeated South with property, that would have ended much of the economic disparity that prevented access to inherited wealth. In this story, we see the retirement longed for by a man given the strength of the mule by his enhancements.

IMPERFECT MIND by Jason Cordova. In a hard, cold, distant future, children born with imperfections are dumped into people warehouses until they age out. Then, they get dumped anywhere else. However, some of them get picked for other things, other uses that the elite might have for them. That could be anything, really; sex slave, dog food, whatever. One young girl gets picked to test-drive a cyborg-soldier package. It gives her the chance to experience love, for the very first time. And that’s what makes this story particularly nasty. I wish I could not draw a line between this fictional piece, and the brutal reality of the child soldiers; I really, really wish I could not do that.

BAG MAN by Jack Clemons. This one takes place in my semi-adoptive home town, and I recognize the place names, have visited a number of them, and I would prefer that we could find a path so that things will not work out this way. Humans with vastly modified brains and bodies do rough justice(?) for money. The choice of a theme park for some of the action clearly has nothing to do with the fact that it was the setting for gang activity in real life. It’s a sheer coincidence. But things won’t work out this way.

COME UP SCREAMING by Kevin Ikenberry. Captain Mairin Shields commands an armor unit used as a screening force for an assault team trying to re-take a formerly human city. In addition to her conventionally-acquired skills, she also has access to the memories of an ancestor who also drove a tank. This reminds me of a comic-book series from my youth; the tank was haunted by the ghost of Jeb Stuart, I believe.

ANGEL by Robert E. Hampson. I did my medic training at places found in this story. Some of my cadre could very well have been the models for medic sergeant Martin. He was given experimental nano-bots to save his life, and they do that, repeatedly. Not sure it really works to his benefit, in the end, but it sure does allow him the opportunity to pay it forward.

TO DUST by Marisa Wolf. Ignored and abandoned, and going insane. Who HASN’T had that experience? Well, hopefully, none of us. But even if that’s the case, you don’t just up and quit. After all, there are your comrades, and they are depending on you.

If you recall, at the beginning of this review, I said that anthologies no longer use the recording industry practice of placing the hits at the beginning and at the ending of the book. However, if I were to be persuaded otherwise, the next two stories would be the best evidence. Each one is excessively wonderful. Taken together (they are a pair), they are almost unbearably great.

NOW YOU SEE ME by Kacey Ezell. Ezell cheats, and it’s not fair. This is a collection of stories about enhanced humans, people who are given special powers, sometimes contained in their own skin, sometimes by being coupled to machinery. There IS such a thing, you know, and I have experienced it:
 I’m a biker. 

The physical limitations I feel in the flesh seem to vanish, when I throw a leg over the V65 Sabre in my garage, crank the engine, and move on down the road at the speed of heat. I am AUGMENTED, baby! And although I don’t know that Ezell has ever been a biker, I DO happen to know that she has strapped a big honken jet turbine to her spine, and danced the sky on laughter-silvered wings. So, when she tells you the story of Cary, who pilots a shell, and inhabits a body of a MOST powerful force, she is drawing from her own experience. It isn’t fair! It’s a lovely, lovely story, though, particularly because it’s half of a Rashomon.

NOW YOU DON’T by Josh Hayes. This is the other half of the Rashomon, and I THINK Hayes is a cheater as well. He’s got the perspective of Gage, the other POV in the story of techno-thieves, and his recounting of the sequence rewiring a crashing aircraft while waiting for an explosion are just a little bit too vivid to be completely selected from YouTube videos. Shucks, y’all, this is an excellent pairing of stories, and I would surely love to see more like it, ‘deed I would.

Conclusions: Do not, under any circumstances, plan on missing this book. Also, do not plan on starting it one month, and finishing it the next month, and then think you are going to dash off a quick review.

I’m a die-hard fan of Human Wave fiction, in which people find a way to survive, and technology is our friend. Most of these stories would not fit into that category; there is too much forced on individuals. However, I didn’t find anything here that really felt off; they are all possibilities. While I would hope that the possibility of augmented humanity will mean that those of us who are physically limited will have a shot at turning cart-wheels again, I also know that it’s not likely to be a technology available to everyone with a need. So, we will just take it as it comes.

Peace be on your household.