Monthly Archives: February 2013

Review: The Rift

The Rift
The Rift by Walter Jon Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first book by this author I have read, and although it is what has been described as a doorstopper, the scoppe of what he wanted to accomplish needed a big book. I only wish it were longer or that there was a sequel. The lack of threads being tied up, and the rush to try and finish the story towards the end left me slightly dissatisfied. But the rest of the book was amazing in scope, and in depth. He chose a small central cast of characters, and how the successive quakes along the New Madrid Fault Line (which went in 1811, and about 1000 years before that), with earthquakes ranging from 8.9 to 8.3, affected them.

One of the main characters was a female general in charge of the Corp of Engineers, Mississippi Valley Division, so she had a great deal of prominence due to the role her agency played. The earthquake destroyed many cities along the Mississippi and further inland along some of the contributing fault lines, altered the course of the river in some areas, and left millions temporarily homeless, without power, telephone service, and even food and shelter. Three other characters stuck out – Jason, a young teen who got separated from his mother and managed to hook up with a man trying to ind his family, as they made their way down the river from Missouri to Louisiana. Brother Frankland, a radio end of times preacher had been stockpiling for years, with food, weapons, and shelter for people to come and gather and await the end, where they would be saved. But he became a tad over zealous in his attempts to “save” everyone. And in contrast, was the sheriff of Spottswood Parrish, a small traditional southern town, where he was a Kleagle for the KKK in his area, and proceeded to fall apart when his son became entangled in a group of hard core fanatics, and was persuaded to set up camps for whites and another one for blacks. The stories intertwine, and everyone suffers in one way or another, as the country is brought to it’s knees when the middle of the US is ripped apart, and commerce and traffic on the river is stopped, the river becomes contaminated, and millions flee. And many die. A good book that could have been great if he had taken the time and space to make sure that the ending was as carefully plotted and planned as the rest of the book. But still worth a read, as it shows the good, the bad and the ugly side of human nature when faced with a crisis, or a change in the power structure.

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Review: Scarecrow

Scarecrow
Scarecrow by Matthew Reilly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another re-read of Scarecrow. Amazing, since I love the series, that I had no recollection of it – sometimes my brain’s dysfunction surprises even me. This is pure Matt Reilly. Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield is on a covert ops assignment in Russia when he is attacked. As he fights his way through, he slowly pieces together what is going on. Someone has put a price tag on the 15 best “warriors” in the world, Mossad, Special Forces, Delta, MI-6, Hamas, SAS, etc. All have a bounty of $20 million on their heads, and must be dead by noon that day, with their heads delivered to a castle in France. It takes awhile to figure all this out, but Schofield is helped out by “Mother,” his girlfriend Libby Gant, “Book,” and the rest of his small team. Helped by a mysterious bounty hunter named “the Black Knight,” he keeps on following the trail to find out who is behind this and why. They are all over the world, chasing and being chased, and flying by the seat of their maghooks. The who is not as important as the why, and finding that will take all his skill and the help of Aloysius Knight, his guardian angel. Typical breakneck Reilly pace, but as always, he manages to imbue his characters with personalities in few words, more by way of action. And not all are as cookie cutter as they may seem. Over the series of books, each becomes clearer, and some get lost along the way, as in real life, but never forgotten. This is not for the faint at heart, or those looking for a great literary classic. But if you like pulse-pounding excitement, non-stop action, and improbable and impossible stunts (think 007, MI) then this is for you, but I would recommend going back and reading Ice Station and then Area 7 first. It’s not necessary, but there are occasional references to those missions, so it wouldn’t hurt.

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Review: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t read much zombie fiction, since there isn’t that much that I am aware of that is great stuff. I love zombie movies and The Walking Dead is one of my favorite TV shows. I had the book recommended to me by my daughter due to the movie which she insisted I watch the trailer with her – she knows I like zombies. She hasn’t read the book, but knew I’d be interested. Strangely, since the movie is coming out soon, there was no waiting period for it. And stranger still that I had no previous knowledge of the book – had never heard of it, although I had heard and seen his Zombie Survival Guide. But it is one that I want to own. That said, it started slow, and I wasn’t sure I’d like it. It is done as a sort of addendum to an official report after that paper on what had transpired was given to the commission, and most of the personal details left out – facts and figures only. So he compiled it into a book. It’s done in sections, like “Warnings”, “Blame”, and “The Great Panic.” etc. I don’t want to go into too much detail or it will spoil the fun. But it just sort of lodges in you as various people who were involved in the different stages were interviewed or simply told their stories for that period. Most of the people only showed up once, but a few showed up two or three times during the full accounting. Many times I wished for more of them – what happened later? Obviously they survived, since they were being interviewed, but how? It is done sort of dispassionately, and because it is in the interview format, some of the tension from a straight novel approach is gone, but it is replaced by a more factual appearance, and straight telling, in it’s starkness. Differing viewpoints, from various locations around the world round out the accounts as the author progresses through the events. By the end I was racing through it, and well, it is very real. Loved it! Simply loved it! Can’t wait to see how they make it into a movie though.

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Review: The Trench

The Trench
The Trench by Steve Alten
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the 3rd book in the MEG series, about an ancient megaladon (giant great white shark), found in the Mariana Trench, and lured to the surface. In book one, after it savaged a bunch of people, a juvenile was finally caught and brought to a specially built aquarium for research on it. Enter Jonas Tyler, who was in on the first encounter, and nearly lost his life, and did lose the two divers who accompanied him when he made a rapid rise to the surface in a panic over the Meg. They were down in the Trench due to the presence of a substance that could spell unlimited energy. He went down a second time, due to the requirements of the company that was helping them out, a Japanese government scientific arm – they wanted a series of robotic sensors placed along the Trench to help warn of seismic activity changes to help with tsunami warnings.

The aging center is in urgent need of repairs, particularly to the sea gate. Jonas is still working closely with the Center’s director, Dr. Masao Tanaka, and is married to Masao’s daughter Terry. On his second dive in the Trench, he goes with Tanaka’s son, and that ends badly. Now, in order to fulfill the contract, and due to the financial mess the center was in due to the lawsuits that rose from the first encounter in the trench, they needed the help of financier Benedict Singer, who unknown to them, had an agenda of his own. Jonas was deathly afraid of the Trench by now, and was convinced he would die there – he had nightmares from which he awoke screaming. But he must go down, as one of the subs that went down to service Singer’s new scientific research station down there, had disappeared. Somehow, unknown to him, his wife Terry is lured down to the station itself by Singer – he wants to use her as bait to get some information from Jonas. But the Megaladon in the meantime, has left the Trench and is carrying on a bloody rampage up and down the Western coastlne, killing people right and left. Before leaving, Taylor and Matsao are trying to capture the female great white, and either destroy her or bring her to the lagoon, where they can decide what to do to them. Singers people have a different idea than they do – to sue her as a attraction. But Taylor and Matsao know better – the Meg cannot be contained. Between underwater shenanigans in the subsurface station, a Meg loose and on the run in the Pacific, and Jonas’s fear, it is a fun ride, as all Alten’s books are. Enough backstory is included that you don’t need to have read the first two – due to my memory, I had forgotten them, and it didn’t bother me, although reading them in order would highlight the whole story and make it more cohesive. Have fun with this one, and play some john Williams while reading. Dah-dah, dah-dah. (any errors in facts on the book are mine alone – since I read it in January, some of the details escape me, and I had to rely on going back to the book and checking, which can give you a skewed perspective as you hop around. But the basics are there, if not if perfect order – sorry!)

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Review: Nano

Nano
Nano by Robin Cook
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book further carries the adventures of Pia Grazdani, a headstrong, focused young woman, who graduated medical school, but due to the circumstances in “Death Benefit” decided to take some time off from her approaching residency to take a position at Nano, working on some bioengineering problems with their nano medical issues, to see if she wants to become a researcher or a doctor, or both.

The head of the company is a self-made billionaire, Zach Berman, who although he is not a scientist, has managed to learn a lot about the business and secured the services of top scientists in his quest to use molecular nanos in everything from paint and coatings, to medicine. His father died early from Alzheimer’s. His mother is in the last throes of it, and he has tested for the gene, so with this sword hanging over his head, he is pushing the bonds of medical ethics in a effort to make strides beyond what anyone else is doing. He has enlisted the help of some Chinese businessmen and representatives of the country, who, once they see the strides he has taken in developing some of the medical uses, will provide him with enough capital to continue his research, while they take the information on many of the other developments home with them. He is mostly interested in the microbivores, tiny little nano machines that eat “bad” things, like cancer cells, and the plaques that form on the brain in Alzheimr’s patients.

Pia is again alone, having dumped her sometime boyfriend George in LA, where he is doing is residency in radiology, and come to Boulder, lured by the exciting new work being done. But as Berman becomes more and more infatuated with her, she stumbles onto some things that she finds questionable, and being Pia, is like a dog with a bone – can’t let it go, until she knows the truth. She enlists the help of a gay ER physician to help her, but he is only willing to go so far, not to bend the law. So she strikes out on her own, testing the security and patience of Nano. Once again she must be rescued from herself, which is the reason I gave it only 3 stars. her antics were enough for one book, and while I appreciated the bio-ethical implications of this new technology, I wish they had spent more time on that, and ramped up the tension, instead of concentrating on Pia, Berman, and her capers. She can be tiring in larger doses, and I guess, reading the two books back to back, I’d had enough. And the ending left you hanging, something I don’t recall as much in his previous books – sure, there have been loose threads, what thriller doesn’t have them, but this one had way too many completely dangling sections.

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Review: The Seeds of Time

The Seeds of Time
The Seeds of Time by Kay Kenyon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Seeds of Time is a terrific SF novel for those who are not as concerned with techno-wizardry, but more on sociological, and even ecological concerns. Set in the future on Earth, a break-through has been made in the ability not to do FTL (fast than light) travel, but in time travel. They can go back, but not forward. Th earth is dying. And so dive pilots, as the heroine CLio is, are used to take a ship back in time, away from the earth and any paradoxes that may occur, to a likely planet that would have been in a specific place in a specific year (i.e. knowing how the stars move within time). They search the planet for signs of flora, and bring them back, working tirelessly to see if they can be grown under the harsh, ozone depleted earth conditions.

Clio has dived over her maximum life-span amount, but she is still one of the best dive pilots around. Dive pilots are found from those people who don’t go into complete black-out mode on a dive through time as most people do. The find a planet that seems incredibly lush and verdant, and begin to take samples back. A previous mission had been lost on this planet. But things began to go wrong. Some of the crew want to “go native”, and others just to get back to the ship. The plants, as lush as they were, seem to be almost predators. After a fight, where some are killed, and one or two left behind, they manage to escape back to the ship, and bring back the seeds and fledgling plants. Grown under supervised conditions, the plants should be contained. But things begin to go wrong on the ship after it makes it’s dive back to their time, and is flying to meet the space station, often a several month long journey. Clio will do anything in her power to bring back the life to a dying earth, no matter the cost. Great stuff from Kay Kenyon. A flawed heroine, and an interesting premise, of how far will you go to avoid a future that seems doomed from one perspective. My second read (the first was in 2007.

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Review: Death Benefit

Death Benefit
Death Benefit by Robin Cook
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first robin Cook I have read in a while, and stands up to his previous books, giving me a nice thrill, although I did have trouble identifying with the heroine – not because of her previous life experiences, but rather the character that she became from them – scrappy, single-minded focus to the point of absurdity. Pia Grazdani is a 4th year medical student at Columbia, followed by her lapdog friend George, who is so obsessed with her, that he ignores her rude behavior to him, and comes begging for more. Pia is doing an elective in a research lab lead by the cold, but brilliant Dr. Rothmann, with whom Pia finds a compatible soul. He is working on organogenesis (organ growth from tissue samples of the host’s own body), as well as cutting edge work on virulent stains of salmonella. She becomes engrossed in the work, and in the doctor, finds a father figure she never knew.

Meanwhile, two ex Wall Street guys have hit upon a surefire scheme to make money – buying life insurance policies, with death benefits, for pennies on the dollar from cash-strapped people, and then paying the premiums and collecting the benefits when they die. Elaborate calculations have found that those in need of organ replacement are prime examples of certain money. The odds of one of them finding a compatible organ that gives them lots of extra time is outweighed by the chances of not finding an organ, rejection, etc. All goes well, until they find a ex-protegee who is short selling their stock. They go to her to find out why, and since she was rejected by one of them, she decides on some payback. Her in-depth research has led her to Dr. Rothmann and his cutting- edge work on organogenesis and what it would do for the bankers new business – if the organ growing business comes to fruition fairly quickly, and works, as it is suspected, then all those policies they bought will need continual premium payments, causing their business model to fail. They seek outside advice from another fellow who has dabbled in a number of areas, and since he invested heavily in their scheme, as well as setting up a secret competing one, he devises a plan that will fix the problem. But when things start happening, Pia decides to jump in head first, at the cost of angering the hospital, her colleagues, and even her place in medical school, as well as putting herself and George in danger. This is the first book to feature Pia – the next one is “Nano” which I am reading now. As always, a good, fun medical thriller, if a little implausible for the heroine’s absolute single-mindedness, although the author is at pains to explain in detail why she acts the way she does, but still…

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Review: Endlessly

Endlessly
Endlessly by Kiersten White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The successful conclusion to Paranormalcy and Supernaturally, this settles up accounts, long standing feuds and brings it all to a satisfying conclusion. Not many, if any, threads are left hanging. Evie, a teen born without a soul, but having achieved a small one, was a member of the International Paranormal Containment Agency, a group that was dedicated to tracking down paranormals, tagging them, and taking into custody those deemed dangerous. In the first two books, she left the agency, found true love, and started life as a somewhat normal teen, considering that her boyfriend was half a water-elemental. She had no family but was taken in by a bunch of paranormals at the local diner where she worked part-time, including her vampire roommate, a tree sprite, some earth elementals, and various other paranormals. I don’t think there is a single one that isn’t in the book. 😉 It is tongue in cheek, the heroine having a fondness for pink including her taser. In this book, the Agency is under new management and they want Evie back for their own agenda, which includes plans from the Unseelie court (the “bad” fey). Her ex-boyfriend, a fairy from the Seelie court (the “good” fey, well as good as they get), tries to help her, along with a young boy, Jack, who got trapped in the fey land. Evie comes to realize that the paranormals are stuck here, and they want her to help them. But as ornery and pig-headed as she is, it takes a whole book, and a number of crises before she sees the light. Great fun, and an easy read.

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Review: The Last Man

The Last Man
The Last Man by P.T. Deutermann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book didn’t quite fit into any standard “tags.” It is an artifact thriller, but also a nuclear weapons thriller, a spy thriller, etc. It is about an American’s quest to find out what really happened on Masada, or Métsada as it is called in Israel. Our hero has a theory about why the people chose to commit mass suicide/murder and leave no survivors (although a couple of women and children did make it out alive), when the Romans finally were about to crash through the siege wall after 2 1/2 years of trying. According to legend and the ex-Jewish turned Roman historian Flavius Josephus, the 960 people on the mountain decided to kill themselves rather than surrender to the Romans, be taken prisoner, tortured, raped, and put into forced slavery, and have children flung from the ramparts. The Romans were NOT happy with them. They made sure to leave plenty of food, supplies and water so the Romans would know that this was their choice, not because they were forced into it by starvation. A last stand, thumbing their noses at the Romans. The men were commissioned with killing their wives and children, and then killing themselves. The men then drew lots, ten, to determine who would go around and do the clean-up, killing those men who couldn’t kill themselves, and anyone missed on the first round. And then one lot was drawn so that one man, the last man, could finish off any left and then kill himself.

But questions remain about treasure from the temple mount in Jerusalem when it was razed by the roman a number of years before – did some people take the treasure out of Jerusalem and hide it in the desert, or at Masada? David Hall, an American nuclear whistleblower physicist, now out of work because of it, decided to test the theory, so he plans an elaborate ruse of a man following a dream – to explore Masada more deeply, and “commune with the spirits.” Many have said that the dead walk there and in the Roman encampment still evident around it’s base. But as he clears it through the red tape and bureaucracy, he is assigned a scholarly “minder”, Dr. Yehudit Ressner, who is a widow – her husband died in a nuclear accident 5 years ago and she has retreated from the world. This little adventure is supposed to draw her back into the world of people. And so it goes – the American has deeper plans than what he has led the authorities to believe, and several Israeli spy agencies seem to be inordinately interested in his every move. For me, a slow beginning, gradually building up the tension and suspense to the level of more traditional thrillers, but it still kept me back at times, since I had been there, and so many places mentioned in the book I had visited or spent time at. I had gone to Israel in 1976, to Beersheva, to join an archeological expedition there on the site of Abraham’s well, as part of my college training. But we traveled to all the major historic sites, including Masada, Ein Gedi, the Dead Sea, etc. So I would stop, reach back into my memories, and go off on a tangent, coming back only 5-20 minutes later. So that may be the cause of the slowness at times. All in all, an interesting speculation, and as there have been a few books I have read lately involving Masada, it was a nice place to come back to.

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