Sunday, December 6, 2020

"The Cute Moose," by Cedar Sanderson

A great good morning to all my friends and neighbors out there in Internet Land! And for family members who have dropped by, I have a little something for the Little Somethings.

Cover art, and an Amazon Associates link:

Gentle reader, thou knowest that I don’t read and/or review many love stories. Yes, in some of my favorite stories of exploding spaceships, and blowing things up and destroying evil, there is often a love story INVOLVED.
However, these are introduced in order to demonstrate that the protagonist is not solely a killing machine, but is human. And, one of the essential components of being human is the ability to give and receive love. Or so they told me.

Personally, though, I have never cared for love stories. During the times when I felt unloved, they only served to make me sad. Today, sheltered as I am in the love of my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, love stories are but a poor, pale imitation of the love I experience every day. Thus: I don’t care for love stories.

But THIS is a love story I am delighted to read! This is a story about sister love; about the love of two older sisters, for the youngest sister who never learned how to read, although she tried and tried. This love story says, “You have always been the Cute Moose, and if you got loose, our search would be profuse!” This story describes that search for the missing Cute Moose.

Sanderson provides both the text and the art for this read-aloud children’s book.

Alas, lovers of blank verse, these lines RHYME! And, amazingly, they rhyme with MOOSE! Hey, the BOOK is about a moose! Wow! What a coincidence! Only the most irritatingly picky would suggest that one or two of the rhyming words might not actually exist in the wild, but I wish to point out that words are for communication, and even those theoretical neologisms, IF they are such (a point I have not yielded communicate with precision and beauty.

Speaking of beauty, let’s turn to the artwork. I have as near zero technical ability in art as anyone I’ve ever met; thus, I cannot say “this is water-color, this is pastel, this is oil, this is a jelly stain.” I can, however, discriminate between TWO types of artwork in the story: color, and black-and-white.

I AM inclined to believe that some of the color works are water colors. I could not defend that belief, though.
My terminology may be off, but some of this artwork is what I would describe as cartoons, or caricatures. These would include a cute moose wearing Groucho glasses, complete with nose, mustache, and cigar.
Other art is more ...detailed? (I just don’t have the terminology!) For example, a picture of a hen is painted with such detail in the head and neck, that I expect it to cluck any second now.
And finally, there are her GORGEOUS landscapes. Sanderson spent much time in Alaska; it shows. These are works I’d give my friend Susan, who grew up there, to give her a feeling of home.

Apart from color, Sanderson sprinkles pen-and-ink drawings throughout the book. My favorite, I believe, is the armored knight, equipped with a lance, mounted on a sturdy steed. Whimsy is introduced: the knight sports dragonfly-like wings, and the steed is a rhinoceros. Some are near photo-realistic, such as the raccoon wearing an Inspector Gadget hat. Inktail, a dragon featured in two of Sanderson’s Amazon coloring books, also pops up, both in color and in pen-and-ink.

It took just over five minutes to read this aloud to 14-year-old Alicia Ann, who agreed to be my test subject. I plan on reading this to my grandchildren, but I expect it will take longer, as they will be more interested in finding the moose hidden in some of the artwork.

I obtained my copy through the Kindle Unlimited program, but I believe this will make a great gift for my pre-school grandkids if it’s available in a dead-tree version.

I hope the Cute Moose enjoys the book about her, and recognizes the love that went into making it. It’s a lovely accomplishment.

Peace be on your household.

Friday, December 4, 2020

"Going Ballistic," by Dorothy Grant

 A great GOOD AFTERNOON on a Red Friday, to all my friends and neighbors out there in Internet Land! And to family members who have dropped by, I would have LOVED to have given this book to Ralph!

Cover art, followed by an Amazon Associates link. If you click the link, and buy something, I get a small referral fee. 

Every time I introduce author Dorothy Grant’s work to someone, I always add “...and she was an Alaskan bush pilot!” It’s such an amazing occupation. I already had mental images of life-critical flights under adverse conditions, having to buzz the strip to get the moose herd to leave prior to landing. WHY?

My mom married Ralph, a commercial pilot, in 1958, when I was five years old. Despite what you may have heard of a party lifestyle, most pilots chose voracious reading to pass the hours spent in layovers and dead-heading home. I suspect that my first reading of science fiction came from the library he had accumulated, but ANYTHING aviation-related was fair game. 
When “Fate Is The Hunter” was published in 1961, Ernest K. Gann became a household word. The book is dedicated to the commercial pilots who had lost to The Numbers, the odds that something will go wrong. I remember my mom showing me the names of the pilots who flew for the Ralph’s airline. 
So, I have long respected those who slip the surly bands of Earth, bringing bodies, beans, and boxes to where they are needed. And: BUSH pilots? WOW!

As far as I can tell, this is the first of Grant’s work to draw on her experience as a pilot; if it was mentioned in the two prior novels of hers I’ve reviewed, “Scaling the Rim”   and Shattered Under Midnight,” I missed it entirely. 

Some books are so good, that a reader says “I couldn’t put it down.” Book lovers know that there is AT LEAST one level above that: “I put it down, because I didn’t want it to end.” 
And that’s how good this book is.
Yes, I DID go back and finish it. 
Michelle Lauden is a hard-core pilot. She’s not yet old, but if she ever WAS bold, she’s gotten it out of her system. Good enough is NOT for her; she seeks perfection, in every aspect, every time. What sets her apart from some other pilots is that she also seeks perfection in her courtesy and respect for her flight crew, the mechanics, and even the ramp rats who load cargo. 
Perhaps her respect doesn’t extend to the dispatchers, but she DOES honor the schedule, even when it’s radically changed at the last second.

And THAT is the state in which we find her at the beginning of the book. She has just brought in a ballistic flight (one of a very small number of pilots with that rating) and is expecting some down-time; instead, she discovers that she has a quick turn-around flight, that comes too close to putting her over the maximum time she is permitted to fly.

A small note here: beside rules like this (and others) there are some particular aviation terms that  some readers might not know. It will NOT harm your comprehension of the story; it WILL be a nice  extra for those with some prior knowledge.

Since she IS a hard-core pilot, Michelle adapts, and, with the help of some unexpected but welcome Organized-Muscle-With-Brains, she proceeds to get the bird in the air...
...only to have politics interfere. She is told at first that there are terrorists in the area, but eventually discovers that some smaller governments are attempting to become independent of the ponderous Federation. 

I will NOT write spoilers! Therefore, EVEN THOUGH the essential action sequences occur delightfully early in the story, I turn from narrative to themes.

Theme 1: Michelle is a female in a testosterone-laden environment. She can’t ignore it; part of her ability to form and operate a crew is the way she  deals with hazing, particularly of newbies.  It’s a nasty reality, and fragile people don’t survive.

Theme 2: Michelle is a civilian pilot, in a situation that QUICKLY becomes a military operation. Because she has a skill the military MUST HAVE, she is not given the option of sitting on the sidelines. However, she is also not in the chain of command.

Theme 3: The massive Federation is at war with the smaller Empire. Michelle is not truly affiliated with either, but has a Federated background. However, she can’t remain unaffiliated.

Theme 4: TECHNOLOGY!!!!! Humanity has expanded out to thousands of planets, using jump gates to get there, but that’s really not a story factor. More applicable to the story is the tech Michelle has available to fly the plane; it’s inserted into her body, and allows her to plug into systems, make changes, get data; all sorts of things. She has also received some upgrades to allow her to respond more quickly to emergencies. Those include a system diagnostic/communications port on her wrist, covered with synthetic skin. There are some advanced weapons mentioned, but a very interesting segment is devoted to Michelle being trained to use what seems to be a conventional projectile pistol.

Theme 5: Redliners. I’m using the term from the David Drake book but here there are two categories of burn-out. There are some former combat troops, now in a semi-civilian capacity, who appear to have misplaced the ability to play well with others. More common are the limits reached by the characters.  Despite advanced medical tech, or because of it, each individual has a limit to what they can accomplish before they crash.  

Theme 6: This is the central theme, worth every bit of attention given to it. It's NOT ham-handed, though; in fact, I don't know that it's directly referred to once. It’s about relationships, and individual differences; how you treat others MATTERS. Those most deeply affected by burnout seem to have fallen back on one treatment for everyone, and it’s usually abusive. That works well with some people, but damages the effectiveness of others. 

Because the early action is critical to the story development, I backed away from referring to it in this review. Action lovers have NOTHING to fear; from exploding spaceships to punches in the nose, there is plenty going on. And, while I’m not saying that someone points a loaded gun at their boss, someone points a loaded gun at their boss.

Yes. Magnificent. I do so hope more is coming….

Peace be on your household.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

"Who Can Own The Stars?" by Mackey Chandler

A great good morning to my friends and neighbors in Internet Land! And to family members who have dropped by, remember to keep limber, and move around every hour.

This is the cover art, executed marvelously by Sarah A Hoyt, followed by an Amazon Associates link to the book itself. If you buy something after clicking it, I get a small amount, I believe it’s 2% or so, but I’m not going to look it up.

This is installment #12 in Mackey Chandler’s “April” series, in which the astounding lady makes friends of people with no social skills, and enemies of countries with nuclear capabilities. 

Installment #12; keep that in mind! 

Twice, I’ve been tasked with writing reviews of books nominated for a Dragon Award. Frequently, those were installments in a series; so much so, that I think a separate award category ought to be established for them. Unfortunately, in some cases, the work was nearly opaque to me, as I had not read the prior material. 
Now: in an installment number TWELVE, I would have expected that there be at least SOME aspects of the story that I would find confusing. After all, there have been eleven books setting the stage.

There was NO preexisting story element missing that prevented me from knowing what was going on. That’s amazing, especially when you consider just how many stories are being told at the same time: financial skullduggery AND development (those are two different story lines; families in conflict; conflict with Earth government(s); conflict with Martian government(s); technological discoveries; the fate of people re-establishing a community among the ruins in California. 
In every case, Chandler (somehow) manages to present the reader with enough background so that there isn’t a single bit of confusion, and each one of those stories is INTERESTING!
I think it’s because he spent his life working with things. He MADE things. He FIXED things. And he doubtless had to EXPLAIN things to people who didn’t share his expertise.
He didn't learn how to tell stories from a university class in creative writing.
Anyway, that’s my theory.

Now, on to the book review; this part will be submitted to Amazon and posted on Goodreads:

“Who Can Own The Stars?” is a nice, catchy title; it’s also expressed as a question. While I will disclose that the question is answered in the course of the narrative, I will NOT spoiler by telling you the answer, or the page number on which it may be discussed.

Multiple story lines, some intermingled, are all presented coherently, and without requiring that the reader have access to the first 11 books in the series.  These include:

  • The financing and occupancy of a space habitat, designed for near-self-sufficiency.
  • The problems encountered by survivors of of a near-total collapse of civilization in parts of the former United States.
  • Trade interactions with a break-away Martian government, still in turmoil; in possession of potentially destabilizing alien artifacts, which they are fanatically determined to keep a secret.
  • At least THREE story lines involve individuals with social skills deficits; they range from predatory/vindictive, to merely clueless but potentially lethal on a global scale.
  • An exceedingly interesting series of events highlighting the difficulties of trade between governmental entities that have little or no common ground; thus, fiat currency, based on trust in a government is functionally useless in trade.

I found that each of these story lines was so compelling, that I almost shoved the conflict mentioned in the blurb, between the Lunar government and that of North America, into the background.

While there is much left to tell with the stories presented here, it’s not a cliff-hanger. Yes, I want to know more about what happens, but I don’t feel cheated in the slightest that I’m left with unanswered questions.

A note: I read FAST; I always have. Evidently,  I encode content-free words (such as proper names) and numbers into smaller units for transmission to wherever I process stories. Thus, I can recall a PLOT quite easily, but can’t tell you the names of the characters. With this book, I found it necessary to keep a log of people and places; there are enough characters and settings to make that essential for me to write a coherent review.  YMMV.

Peace be on your household.