Monthly Archives: August 2012

Review: A Temptation of Angels

A Temptation of Angels
A Temptation of Angels by Michelle Zink
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a book that I guess you have to be a teen to love. As an adult, I was put off by all the historical details being so off – the social customs and mores were just not there, and conventions were thrown to the wind. Basically, Helen barely escapes from her home when some men come and start harassing her parents – her mother tells her to hide and use a small staircase and tunnel to get to a house where she will be safe, and gives her a necklace to “help” her. As she escapes her burning home, she know her parents are sacrificing their lives so she can live. She ends up at the house of two young brothers, who live alone – the only servant is a young boy who is never seen. She is cold, scared, and confused. But she soon learns that she is one of a few select, chosen ones who are part of the good side on the balance scale of good and evil, but someone is systematically assassinating them, and they are all that is left, and until they can find out who is doing this, no more will be brought and raised into this role of protector. And so begins her training in the arts of fighting and defending herself against demons and other beings from the dark side. It’s an interesting take on the angel meme, but what bothered me was the complete lack of adherence to any of the Victorian rules of etiquette. She is 16 – girls that age do not even spend a few minutes in the company of gentlemen unrelated to them without a female chaperone. She should be in mourning and seclusion for her parents and wear black and a veil. While seclusion may be difficult during this time of siege, black would be adhered to. She lives in the house without a woman, no cook, housekeeper, maid or chaperone, although there seems to be enough money to hire one, and she goes to some men’s tailors for new clothes, since hers were burned in the fire, allowing the tailors, men, to measure her, and make everything a young girl needs. No young girl would go out with two young men, unescorted by a woman, and got to a man’s clothing establishment and be touched and measured by men. And in their mode of travel through light, she allows one of the young men to hold her close, and eventually to kiss her. Again – not done. Only a hand at the waist with distance during a dance and with chaperones watching is allowed, and no kissing until after an engagement, or perhaps a small stolen one just before. I know a lot about the customs of that age, and it just upset me that all were overturned so easily, as if it were 2012, rathe than the late 1800s. So easy to fix, and add, and not detract from the story – I have read several YA novels of Victorian times where most of the conventions were observed. So three stars, to me, is a little high, but I take into account my age and experience, which a younger reader might have no knowledge of. Although at that age, I was well aware of what was expected of a young lady in Regency and Victorian times.

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Review: Strindberg’s Star

Strindberg's Star
Strindberg’s Star by Jan Wallentin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a slightly unusual entry into the DaVinci Code type thrillers that I call artifact thrillers. It’s about the story of a man who found pieces of an ancient device, buried in the sands in a city lost in the desert in Southern Russia/Mongolia. When the star shape is placed within the ankh shaped cross, they come together to form a celestial map to something. What that is, and how it is found, then lost,and found again now, is the exciting part. It’s a race against time, and several competing interests, all who want the power that is Strindberg’s Star. Wish I could give you more, but I forgot to write the review before returning the book, and without it in hand, my memory won’t allow me any more details. The main character is a reporter, tracking down the story of a cave diver who found a piece of the device, buried deep in a cave in Sweden, and a lawyer who tries to help him, but for his interests or her own? A race across the continent, through Belgium, Germany and Russia. And a caring sister, who’s hacking skills help them get away from those that would do them harm add to the cast.  No one is quite “clean” here – they all are hiding something, from minor issues to larger ones.

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Review: Directive 51

Directive 51
Directive 51 by John Barnes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a densely packed techno thriller. It is the first book in a trilogy, so not all questions are answered. It reminds me in many ways of Kim Stanley Robinson’s 40 Days of Rain. It is densely populated with a large cast of characters, from the people who helped bring about this end of civilization, called the Daybreakers, to the politicians and government types that make up the DC world. Most of the book is focused on the government – how it reacts, what department’s do, succession questions, policies, and procedures. I found it one of the most fascinating books I have read since the Jump 225 trilogy a number of years ago.

I felt, unlike some, that his cast of characters, although none perfect, showed humanity, and it was his attention to minute detail that brought the book alive for me – like the TV reporter following the Republican challenger around the campaign tour in the last week of the election just as Daybreak hits. He is hired by an elderly lady, who has a big rambling old house, and a friend with a printing press, for food and lodging, and to become the National Affairs editor of the new paper newspaper that she is starting up (the novel takes place an unidentified time in the near future -about 15-20 years), and he thinks about the job, wonders if he can find a fedora and maybe one with a hatband to stick a press card in it. A humorous aside, one of many, that shows the characters in a few brush strokes (although we knew him earlier as a brilliant TV journalist/cameraman), – the mention of the hat and press card shows that he understands the long history of journalism and the proud nature of it, and that the news must go on. I found many such small details to bring the book alive. Even throw-away characters had character. And some showed up again when you didn’t expect them to.

It is the story of a meme, one that seems to have no head – no person directing it’s activities, although maybe a large group, but it is self-replicating, found through systemic semiotic analysis that looks at patterns that emerge from nowhere, and unlike fads, seems to have a purpose, to grow, and subsume other splinter groups/ideas into it’s message. It is very hard to understand at times – the whole meme structure of it is explained in non-layman’s terms and again for us newbies, but it is exciting. I read until 3am, and then I still didn’t want to quit. It is somewhat dry at times, like KSR’s trilogy, but it also scary, plausible to me, and has great consequences for our lives, our political systems, and humanity itself. Having watched internet memes come along and grow in ever increasing numbers, I see how this book took that idea, fresh two years ago, and created this book from it. Two years ago, you only really heard of memes in an academic setting. Today they are part of the cyber vocabulary. Worth the time to read, IMO. Professional reviewers made comparisons to Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, and I find it apt – the picture not so much of the mechanics of what happens, but the people themselves. I found it exceptional and one of the best I have read in several years. I have done an inter-library loan for book two, Daybreak Zero, since our libraries around here don’t have it.

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Review: Earth Unaware

Earth Unaware
Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Although this is shelved in the adult section, as the pre-cursor to Ender’s Game, a YA book, I put it in that category. The plot revolves around what happened in the beginning – when the first alien ship is noticed as a blip on the radar when a young person manning the Eye – the station that keeps track of possible debris and rock chunks that might damage them. She likes to look beyond the ecliptic, and sees, way out there, past the Kuiper Belt where they are mining, a shape, moving fast. So she alerts the ship’s Captain. The El Cavador, owned and operated by a South American family family, had just docked with another small band of ships, the Italians, and traded goods, and socialized, but now it is time to get back to work mining the asteroid, and sending the ore back to Luna in fast ships that carry the ore, but can accelerate and deccelerate at levels that would kill a person. Victor, the ship’s apprentice, but genius engineer, is summoned to the Captain’s cabin and told that his best friend n the ship is being sent to the Italian ship – they have seen love blossoming between the two, although the kids themselves aren’t aware of it yet, and although they are only second cousins, such love is forbidden, and would lower their status – they are determined to keep the gene line clean out that far, and are obsessed with keeping to the rules. If his friend Janda had stayed, now that they were made aware of their feelings it would be awkward, since everyone would look down on them, and if word got out, cause the ship to be shunned. So they send her off – not to be zogged (married to a new ship’s crew person), but to stay there for two years until she is of marriageable age, and then pick whomever she chooses, or chooses elsewhere. Victor, or Vico as he is known, feels the loss greatly and throws himself into his work, wanting to leave the ship due to the embarrassment he feels, even though nothing had happened, and they themselves were unaware of it. But then Janda’s little sister, Edimar, a talented new apprentice to her father in the Eye, spots the ship, tells Vico, so he can see if it is real before running to the captain. She should go to her father, but is afraid he will laugh it off, and she feels it poses a high level of danger to the ship and others. A plan is devised to try and warn a few other ships in the area, but things go wrong. First there is a mining ship, far out beyond their usual mining grounds of the Asteroid Belt, on a secret mission to test a new device that will allow them to mine rocks faster, and which bumps them from the rock, causing damage to their communications and power, and the presence of a pod that has shot off from the big ship and is entering when they think the Italians are going – they were going to try and rendezvous with them again to warn them. And thus follows the beginnings of the first Formic War. An excellent book, just the right amount of adventure, even with teens populating it, to find favor among adults and teens alike. Solid SF, cool aliens, from a master of it. Waiting for the next installment.

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Review: Leviathan

Leviathan
Leviathan by David Lynn Golemon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Really good Vernesque classic romp. The Event group, as this is one of ther adventures, is a super black ops project, deep in a well concealed location in the Nellis Air Force Base. Down about 50-100 stories are levels for administration, research, a super computer that beats all super computers, and levels upon levels of vaults, large and small, that hold the treasures of the world, and the oddities of science, collected by the group. Think of the last scene in Indiana Jones, but instead of a warehouse, climate controlled vaults, and labelled, catalogued, etc. The Event Groups raison d’etre is to follow historical trends, and objects and see how events and things influenced history – to try and learn from it, good or bad. They study the past to help the future. Warehoue 13 thrown in. In this one, the Event Group’s headquarters is somehow infiltrated, and the top leaders are kidnapped, and two vaults are blown up. And the computer storage records on those vaults is missing. Left behind is a skeleton staff trying to recreate what those objects were, to better understand why the kidnappers came. The story starts out with a man in a famous prison, Chateau d’If, where he is languishing because he refuses to give the upstart Napolean his plans for batteries and a submarine that would help him win the war. He escapes, helped in part by a pod of dolphins, and what he calls”angels of the sea.” He eventually ends up in Norway, where the treasure he found on his escape has helped him to finance his further research. After he is killed to try and steal his a special artifact he has, his son continues to find a way to finish his work, and thus the Leviathan is born – a mighty submarine, built around the time of the Civil War, but 100 years ahead of it’s time, to be used for peace, and helping the world’s oceans. Knowledge of the sub disappears after the civil war, but something is out there in the seas now, sending out unknown weapons that can disintegrate a whole battleship in seconds. And then demands are made that oil shipping be stopped, and travel on the sea restricted to civilians. They want to preserve and protect the ocean life, much of which is dying, as well as a certain new element. Led by a fanatical woman, and a faithful crew, the story continues with the Event group working from outside and inside the sub to stop the attack, and find out the mysteries and discoveries of this vessel. Great, ripping yarn as they used to say. Fun, lots of references to books, people, etc. I always enjoy the books in the series, and this as no exception.

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Review: Partials

Partials
Partials by Dan Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A good, solid YA dystopian novel about a small group of survivors, all that seems to be left of humans on the earth, settled into Long Island, or what is left, after several wars. The first war is one where they created the Partials, part human, part machine, to give them advantage over the Chinese. They then used them as slave labor to help rebuild, and the Partials revolted, engineering a virus that wiped out 99% of the world’s population and leaving them childless, as babies die from the disease soon after they are born. They are hoping to find more immune ones, since all the survivors are immune, so girls are mandated to start having children by the age of 18, and the age is dropping. There are rebels in the woods around them, who do not agree with the council’s edicts on the forced pregnancies, esp. since the babies all die. One girl, Kira, a medic in training, works in the maternity ward, and is horrified by the dying babies, and the mothers who often don’t even get to see their own child – including her adopted sister. All teens in the book are adopted, since for the most case, only one in a family survived. So they formed new families. Life is down to the basics, since no one knows how to run the big machines, gas is getting old and destroying the engines, and all they have left are some generators, a little power, and a few high tech machines they save for the hospital. Otherwise they live a simple village life, growing herbs and vegetables, selling them in the markets, bartering for things they need. Clothing is not a problem, since there are tons of stores left open when the people literally died where they were, and lots to choose from, although they too are deteriorating in the salt air of Long island. It has been almost 14 years since the RM wiped out the people, and now the youngest kids are that age. So schools close, and the council works harder to bring the population to the only solution they can think of, more babies. Somehow, amongst these babies, they have to find the answer. But Kira believes differently – she was No. 1 in her Virology class, and thinks outside the box. She believes if they can capture and study a Partial, they can find out why the Partials are immune. So she gathers some like-minded friends together and they go off on a dangerous and hare-brained mission to bring back one of these super solders who can wipe out whole platoons single-handedly. But somehow they manage, but all is not as it seems. As more secrets are revealed, and more things discovered, they must fight for a way to get to the truth and make it be known. First in a series. Very good, and looking forward to the next.

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Review: Havoc

Havoc
Havoc by R.J. Pineiro
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Not read – couldn’t get past the silly simile’s scattered throughout the first few pages – trying to be a hard-boiled ex-spy and only seeming silly. Could have been good – nano-swarms, but just couldn’t get past the first few pages, and I have read others of his I liked. Strange. “Sudden terror grips my intestines tighter than cheap Salvadoran food … the thought of some terrorist a**hole tying me down and clogging my plumbing by supergluing my pee hole and my ass , watching me explode through my mouth, nose, and ears after a couple of immensely painful days without training the dew or…” Sorry to put you through that, but that was page 2 and as far as I got.

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Review: Fire and Ice

Fire and Ice
Fire and Ice by Paul Garrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A solid thriller about a man and his doctor wife who sailed the south China seas on their small yacht with their daughter, stopping at al the local islands and attending to people in distress. In reality they were running away from a past that had happened to them, not because of anything they had done. One day they get a distress call from a supertanker – someone needs help. But at the same time, on the atoll where they are to be picked up, is a man dying of gunshot wounds. The father, Michael, decides to stay and help the old Polynesian sailor, while his wife and daughter board the super tanker and help the passenger there. Before he know what is happening, their boat is picked up, swung aboard and the tanker leaves him stranded on the tiny atoll, while his wife and daughter are aboard the supertanker. Having no idea of who or why, Michael sets out on a journey across the China seas, looking for help along the way. In his search he goes to Palau, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and eventually Tokyo as he tries to unravel the mystery of his wife’s disappearance and apparent kidnapping, while he is being followed by thugs out to kill him. In between his adventures are the ones of his wife and daughter on board the tanker as they themselves try and figure out where they are, and how they can get safely back. Full of sailing terms and nautical stuff, it’s still a good yarn. You don’t have to know how to reef a sail to appreciate the majesty and terror of the high seas. Unique and powerful.

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Review: Angelmass

Angelmass
Angelmass by Timothy Zahn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a really different, but solidly written SF book – one of the best I’ve read recently. Characters you care about. Plots within plots, and some really unique ideas, but at the heart, a classic SF story. The Pax rules the known galaxies. An earth born initiative, they rule through a government that is increasingly being controlled by adjutors, glorified accountants/bean counters who want to squeeze every last dime out of everything they do, and try and make sure than all projects are cost-effective. Jereko, a scientist and academic, is plucked from obscurity, briefly trained, and in a wonderfully crafted bit of subterfuge, they manage to drop him in a pod in the air space of a rogue colony that broke off from the Pax thousands of years before. They want information on the “angels” that the Empyreans wear. The angels are said to keep them from doing bad things. All senators must wear them and incidents of greed, corruption, bribery, have gone done to almost zero. So Jereko is snuck into the colony through a land based agent already planted during peace talks between the Pax and Empyreans. Also bouncing around is Chandris, a young grifter, who keeps bumping into Jereko. Together, with a nice assortment of fellow conspirators, they set off to discover who/what the angels are, what is Angelmass, the black hole that emits these angels, and how to achieve peace. No easy feat. Fun, entertaining, and I hope that he writes again in this universe.

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Review: 01-01-00

01-01-00
01-01-00 by R.J. Pineiro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book, although written for the millennium, still is a good book. Since we have a newly calculated doomsday theory ready for us this winter, I thought it would be fun to drag this one out of the box and read it. It was sparked by a 01.01.00 marketing campaign, but the author is good, and keeps it to strictly a computer/SF/Mayan thriller. As the millennium approaches, a computer virus starts attacking virtually all computers across the wold, shutting them down at the same time each night, starting about 20 days before the millennium, for 20 seconds, and each succeeding day one second less – a countdown. Meanwhile, astronomers in Chile have found a signal coming from a planet in a nearby system that appears to be real – a SETI-type signal. And someone wants to learn what is at the ned of the computer virus, and or how to control or stop it, thus making themselves extremely rich and powerful, so they follow the FBI computer analyst who is trying to figure out what it means.. So begins the frantic search for clues, locations, and eventually tying together all the loose threads in the middle of the Yucatan. A bit touchy feely at the end, but then it is a millennium book. I enjoyed it, and found the chase to be good, some interesting characters, with some gruesome scenes of death.

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