Wednesday, December 29, 2010

March Upcountry

By David Weber and John Ringo

Due to sabotage, young Prince Roger and a battalion of Marines find themselves stranded in the back country on a primitive planet with only one space port. Now they are faced with a hike across a continent then a voyage across sea and a final push to the port, which is in the hands of unfriendlies. Add in the steamy jungle environment teeming with large, voracious predators and frequently hostile natives, and they are not looking at a walk in the park. But Marines are Marines, and it's their job to get Prince Roger back to safety, even if they have to wade through an ocean of gore to do so. But the Marines are pleasantly surprised to discover that Prince Roger, spoiled son of the Empress, is not quite the helpless boob they may have thought. Inexperienced he may be, but he is lacking in neither skill nor heart. Together, Marines and Prince will take on a whole planet, and God help any who get in the way.

This is the first in the Empire of Man series. It is a science fiction adventure and a military adventure story combined. Prince Roger and his crew get to have lots of exciting adventures, make new friends and new enemies and fight lots of battles. In this story, the Prince and company are only just beginning their adventures and by the end of the story, they have not even set out on their sea voyage to the space port.
When I first started reading this book, it became pretty clear that it was a military genre book, with its elaborate descriptions of military hardware and I almost stopped reading it because of that. But I kept with it and, when the Prince met his first native of the planet he and his people were stranded on, it became much more enjoyable. The "scummies" as they are called because they are naturally coated in mucus being amphibian-type beings, are captivating. They are amusing and charming and also evil and treacherous and fascinating. Prince Roger makes friends with them right away when he saves the life of a shaman of a barbarian tribe and soon they gain allies among the locals in their trek cross-country. True, there are a lot of battles and skirmishes in the story and a lot of the military strategy just read like so much gobbledy-gook to me and frankly, I just skimmed through most of that stuff. But the book contains enough adventure and alien stuff to make wading through the military sections worth while. I enjoyed the story and I especially liked the scummies. I do wish there had been more in the story about Dogzard, the friendly little reptile that Prince Roger adopts as a pet. I liked Dogzard a lot and I would have enjoyed reading a lot more about him.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Singers of Time

By Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson

Earth has been conquered by Turtles, alien beings who are not really turtles but who bear a superficial resemblance to them. The Turtles are a peaceful race and conquered simply through commerce. They love to buy and sell. They made humanity an offer we couldn't refuse and we sold them all our weapons and let them establish a benevolent dictatorship. In their eyes we were backward, slightly intelligent animals.
To the Turtles, physics was a sort of religion, laid down by the Mother turtle, of which there is only one. Like a queen bee, only Mother lays the eggs of each new generation, with several female handmaidens that can step in if the Mother dies. The Mother lives on the Turtle home planet and her word is law. And she has declared that quantum physics is superstition and untrue. As a result, back on Earth, people have stopped trying to expand their understanding of physics and simply go along with the Turtles' view of the universe. Basically, Turtle interference has caused human learning and creativity to stagnate. People no longer have to learn anything, they just insert a Turtle disc into a slot in their brains and instantly know everything they need to. Problem is, when the disc is removed, all memory of that knowledge goes with it.
But then the unthinkable happens. The Turtle homeworld has been devoured by a wormhole or a black hole, things that the Turtles deny can even exist. The Mother is destroyed along with all her handmaidens and the Turtles are doomed to fade away with no ability to reproduce. So two brave Turtles and four young humans and a Taur, an intelligent, cow-like being, set forth for the Turtles home world on a hopeless mission to rescue or restore the Mother and in the process the Turtles are going to learn that there is more than one way to skin a cat, so to speak.

This was a good book. The Turtles are really alien and different and even though they have been inflexible in the past, turn out to be willing to learn from their mistakes. The little group of aliens and humans go forth on a classic science fiction adventure, encounter strange new beings and situations and eventually manage to work together for the benefit of both Turtles and humans. It was an exciting and interesting story although there was quite a bit of physics in it, with snippets of physics lectures included. I just skimmed those parts, not being interested in physics myself. But other than the physics lectures, I enjoyed the story a lot.

Monday, December 20, 2010


By Mike Resnick

Set a few hundred years in the future, this is the story of a man obsessed with an idea. He wants to go back to a time before Europeans came to Africa and introduced their knowledge and practices and changed Africa and its people forever.
Koriba and other like-minded Africans are given the chance to live out their tribal dream on a terraformed planetoid made to resemble old Africa. Here they will live as primitives, relying on Koriba, their witch doctor, to protect them from sickness, famine and predators instead of modern knowledge and technology. They will live in little round huts and raise cattle and goats and chickens and grow subsistence crops. Men will own the women and the women will do most of the work and serve the men. But they are not completely on their own, because Koriba has a computer terminal in his hut that allows him to communicate with "Maintenance." He uses this communication to control his people, arranging for timely rains and for droughts when he is angry at them.
At first, it goes pretty good. "Maintenance" gets upset though when Koriba kills a baby because it was a breach birth, which was the custom among the Kikuyu. They also put their old people out to be eaten by the hyenas and also if a twins are born, one is killed because it doesn't have a soul, or some such superstition. But Koriba, who is an educated man masquerading as a savage, knows that bureaucracy is slow to act and he figures he will have his people trained to resist any inroads Maintenance may attempt.
So his people are living the old timey life and Koriba is happy. But then one of the kids gets access to his computer and discovers a whole world of knowledge and that is the beginning of the end. Because Koriba and the other founders are getting old and the new generation is not content to conform to the old ways, especially as information about modern life continues to contaminate Koriba's little "paradise."

Koriba is a fanatic, a liar, a hypocrite, rigid and uncompromising. He is a creep. He is so dedicated to his fantasy that he has lost all perspective. He is not an appealing character. But even though I despised the main character, I still found the book very interesting. It is a science fiction story, but it is really about how modern ways changed tribal communities, but not to the better according to Koriba. I also enjoyed Koriba's parables which were amusing and illuminating and designed to support his beliefs, of course, but still very entertaining. So I may have hated Koriba but I really liked the book.

The Cave of the Moon

By Nancy McGill

Nan Caffery works for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington DC. She is sent to do an impartial report on a dam project that has a local tribe very upset, since the dam will flood their lands.
In her hotel room is a mask, a reproduction of an Seneca ceremonial mask. For some reason she finds this mask rather disturbing. But even more disturbing to Nan is the handsome, militant Indian man, Larry Audette, who leads the coalition of people opposed to the dam. Larry is openly contemptuous of Nan, seeing her mission as a rubber stamp for Washington authority. And when Nan tells him she has a distant Indian ancestor, he laughs at her, implying she is just an Indian-wannbe.
But when Nan pays her mother a visit, she finds a journal revealing that her great-something grandmother was Young Birch, a Seneca warrior maiden well known to the Indians concerned in Nan's investigation. In fact they have a legend about Young Birch and Nan finds herself the object of one man's obsession with that old legend.

This was an OK story. Nan climbs into bed with her coworker within a day or two of arriving at their hotel, but then soon dumps him and starts dating a local lawyer while making moon eyes at Larry Audette, so she is a bit of a slut. The Young Birch story is actually a lot more interesting that the Nan Caffery story, but it is not given as much space as Nan's story, which was too bad. The stuff about the Seneca masks was kind of interesting, but I can't say how accurate that information was. I remember seeing some pictures of False Face masks in a book and they are rather strange, creepy and oddly attractive, so it was interesting reading a story in which they figure so greatly. But I wish the book had more about Young Birch and less about the gullible Nan.

Real Murders

By Charlaine Harris

Aurora Teagarden is a young librarian in a suburban town and a member of club called "Real Murders." This club, consisting of about 12 members, looks into famous murder cases. Once a month they get together and one member makes a presentation about an old murder case. One of the members is a policeman. One is obsessed with the Lizzie Borden case. One is fascinated by massacres. On this particular night, Aurora is doing a presentation on the Wallace case, which concerns a man who was accused of bashing in his wife's head with a hammer.
As the meeting is just getting started, Aurora is concerned that one of the members who arrived early is now missing. She goes looking for her and finds her dead in another room with her head bashed in. The crime scene has been staged to resemble the Wallace crime scene, the case Aurora was going to present to the club. When the police arrive, Aurora points out the similarities to the old case, but the police are not that interested in her speculations.
Soon is becomes apparent that their town is in the middle of a murder spree. A politician is murdered in a manner similar to the murder of Marat, a French revolutionary who was stabbed to death while taking a bath. Two old people are chopped up in imitation of the Lizzie Borden case. And the logical suspects are the members of the Real Murder club, including Aurora Teagarden, especially when the murder weapons are discovered in the possession of the various members.

This was an OK story. The motive for the murders was weak, I thought. I just didn't buy it. Also, the author brings Aurora's little six-year-old brother in at the end of the story just to make him a target and for Aurora to risk her neck to save him. Other than that the boy did not factor into the story at all. I don't like reading about little children being tortured and abused even if they are just fictional children. It was an OK read, but I doubt I will read another in the Aurora Teagarden series.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Operation Pet Rescue

By Gregory N. Zompolis

In the fall of 1991, after several years of drought, a terrible fire raged through the brushy canyons of Oakland, California. People died, thousands of houses were destroyed and many pets lost their lives or were left homeless. The fire spread so rapidly that people were not able to get their pets to safety and were lucky to get themselves out alive. Worse off were pet cats which, in times of crisis are apt to run off or hide and their owners were forced to leave them behind.
So after the fire was out, an organized rescue was put into operation to find lost pets, get them into shelters and get them medical treatment and ultimately reunite them with their families.
This book tells not only the story of that rescue effort but of the experiences of individuals and their animals in the fire. One lady trying to flee the fire with her dog was overcome by smoke and died in the street. Her dog refused to leave her body. He was a large dog and had to be forcibly dragged away even as the flames raged around him. A mama cat was able to stash her kittens in a crevice safe from danger before she was overcome by smoke and died a few feet away from her babies. The kittens were discovered in the crevice a few days later by rescue workers.

It's a heartbreaking story, tragic and sad. But a lot of lost animals were saved and reunited with their families. A lot of them didn't make it though and in the back of the book is a disaster guide for pet owners. It has many excellent tips that anyone who cares about their animals should take to heart. One of the things it advises is not to leave your pets behind. When danger threatens, it says to get your pets confined and ready to go at a moments notice. Cats into a carrier, dogs leashed, birds, lizards and other small pets into a portable container and ready to be evacuated. When things start to go bad, and people are rushing around in a panic, animals can become stressed and frightened too. It is up to responsible, caring pet owners to learn how deal with their animals in a crisis.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Riding Shotgun

By Rita Mae Brown

Cig Blackwood is a widow with two teenage kids and a heavy mortgage. She has a full time job as a realtor and she is also running a boarding stable for horses and is very much involved in the local sport of fox hunting which involves riding cross-country on horseback, following the hounds as they track down a fox.
Her husband, Blackie, died about a year ago. Theirs was not a good marriage, as Blackie was either incapable or unwilling to remain faithful to his wife. Cig knew about his many infidelities but she put up with it because she loved him and also for the sake of their children. But on the fateful day at the start of this story, Cig has just found out, while in the middle of an intense fox hunt, that her beautiful younger sister Grace was in her husband's arms at the moment of his fatal heart attack. Naturally Cig is furious with her sister for her betrayal and for keeping it a secret from her for a year.
But then something strange happens to Cig while on the fox hunt. She spots the fox and follows it into a thick fog. As she trails the fox, she seems to travel through different eras of time, first passing some 1920s vintage cars, then a Civil War sentry with whom she shares her sandwich, then finally ending up in the 1600s, on the farm of her distant ancestors, who welcome her home with open arms, believing her to be their sister, Pryor, home from a voyage across the sea to London.
Cig finds that, despite its inconveniences, life in the 1600s suits her immensely. She likes the peace and quiet, she likes the closeness of the community, and she likes the simplicity of life then. She even meets a man who is a dead ringer for her own dead husband Blackie and he is just as smitten by her as her husband was back in her own time.
But nothing is ever as simple as it appears and the fly in the ointment is the unrest of the local native tribes. Just when it seems Cig has found a new love, the Indians start acting up, and no one can take anything for granted any more.

I have read quite a few of Rita Mae Brown's books and, for the most part, enjoyed them. But I can't say that I enjoyed this one, which I frankly found boring. Reading about Cig back in the 1600s was just not interesting. Even with the threat of the Indian uprising, the story just never captured my attention. I think part of the reason was Cig's constant moaning about how awful modern life is with its noisy conveniences like telephones and TVs and its smelly cars and factories, and the loss of the connection to neighbors that people had back when your neighbors were vital to your survival. It was a constant theme throughout the book, how much she hates modern life. I got pretty sick of it. One of the first things she does when she gets back to her own time was throw a perfectly good TV into the garbage and then she rips the phone connector out of the wall. Seemed really stupid to me and wasteful besides. I didn't really like the Cig character, but besides that, the story was just not that interesting.

The Hunters

By Jack Lovejoy

Several hundred years afters the Hunters invaded and conquered Earth, a band of humans has managed to elude the Hunters and survive in northern Canada. They were fortunate enough to stumble upon this area where a strong magnetic anomaly exists that seems to foil the Hunter's instruments. Human knowledge has been carefully husbanded and handed down over the generations but knowledge of the outside world is scant. Thelon, a young scout and hunter, decides it is time to set out and try to gain some information about the alien Hunters and, if possible try to contact other human outposts. So he sets forth on a journey south and has lots of adventures, kills an alien monster, rescues a beautiful maiden, is captured by a group of degraded soldiers and eventually ends up in the alien's vessel where he finally gets a good look at mankind's implacable enemy, the Hunters, who have taken over the Earth in order to turn it into a giant game preserve, stocked with alien animals for the Hunters' hunting pleasure.

This was an exciting and enjoyable story and Thelon a very appealing and likable character. He has lots of exciting adventures and the story is prefaced by several chapters recounting the events that led to the current situation, as experienced by Thelon's ancestors. It was an very readable and engrossing book, I liked it a lot.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Day of Dissonance (Spellsinger Book 3)

By Alan Dean Foster

Jon-Tom and Mudge are off on a quest together. Clothahump, the wizard, is very ill and needs medicine that can only be found at a shop on the other side of the ocean. So Jon-Tom sets forth, first to get Mudge out of the brothel he is roistering in and then to cross the uncrossable Muddletup Moors and then the ocean, fighting off pirates and Jon-Tom's own unpredictable spells, gaining new friends and allies in the process and, of course, encountering and vanquishing new foes. They have lots of adventures, gain new comrades, including a young woman, Folly, a tigress, Roseroar, and a homosexual unicorn, Drom and, when they finally arrive at their destination, cause the shop owner so many problems that after they leave she hangs out a sign, "OUT TO LUNCH. BACK IN TEN THOUSAND YEARS."

This was a pretty good story. Lots of adventures, with Jon-Tom trying his hand at a lot more spellsongs than in the previous two books. As with all his efforts at casting spells, his spells always work out but with unforeseen consequences. It's makes for an interesting escape to strange, different place with endless possibilities. Mainly, the story is just a bunch of unlikely adventures for the main characters to experience. Kind of pointless but still an enjoyable read.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A Good School

By Richard Yates

Set in the beginning years of World War II, this is the story of a New England prep school, of its students and teachers. Dorset Academy has the reputation of taking boys no other school will accept. This is mainly because the school is so strapped for cash that it is pretty much obliged to accept any student. Also, because of the restrictions placed on it by its elderly, eccentric, female backer, the school doesn't participate in intermural sports, which will naturally limit its appeal for many potential students. So Dorset Academy is left pretty much with the dregs of preppydom.
On the other hand, dregs though they may be, it makes for a varied, interesting and strange cast of characters: bullies and homosexuals and sociopaths and wimps of all size and shapes.
The main character is William Grove who, at the start of the book, is described as incompetent and as a slob, and who was assaulted by a gang of his fellow students in an incident of forced masturbation. He makes it through this rocky beginning and finally achieves the exalted position of editor of the school paper.
The story isn't just about the students though, it also delves into the lives of the teachers and administrators and about the girls whose lives intersect with those of the students.

This was an interesting and rather sad book. Most of the students and teachers in the story seem basically unhappy and disappointed with life. The incidents of bullying and the behavior of the boys rang so true it was like reading a memoir and not fiction. It was a good read, despite its rather melancholy tone.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Hour of the Gate (Spellsinger Book 2)

By Alan Dean Foster

After having convinced the rulers of Polastrindu about the martial intentions of the Plated Folk, Jon-Tom and Clothahump and the rest of the gang set out to gather further allies. They travel to far off lands and brave terrible dangers, reaching the unreachable and surmounting the insurmountable. They have lots of adventures, make new friends, meet loads of strange folks and ultimately amass a huge army to stand with them against the enemy.

This second novel, in many ways, was a lot more interesting than the first. The gang gets to have lots of adventures and meet lots of strange beings. But one thing that I found rather disappointing was Jon-Tom doesn't work much magic in this story except at the very end. Other than that though, it was a pretty good read with a satisfying conclusion and I liked it better than the first book in the series. The next book in the series is The Day of Dissonance.