Review: Legionnaire


Posted on : 9/19/2017 10:49:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , , , ,

Legionnaire Legionnaire by Jason Anspach
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a 3 star review.

I originally bought this book because Nick Cole is a co-author. I've read a few of his other books and think he has some potential.

Legionnaire was a half step backwards. The first 2/3s of the book is a straightforward MILsf adventure. Fun to read. Several engaging characters. A relatable plot.

But there isn't any purpose to the adventure. We join the story in mid-plot. Our heroes are on a mission to meet leaders on an alien planet to obtain support for the planet's "senator" in the galactic assembly. And they get attacked.

Everything that follows is a series of errors resulting from overconfident officers and an ill-informed military. Read the story as it is worth the trip.

The book really slows down during the last 1/3rd of the book as the authors cram in a separate MILsf adventure story that illuminates one of the better officers from the first section. But it doesn't really do much to further the primary plot. The entire thing sort of dwindles down to nothing by the last page.

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Review: All Good Things


Posted on : 9/19/2017 10:47:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

All Good Things All Good Things by Emma Newman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a solid 4-star review.

The concluding book in the series was a very good conclusion that almost stuck the landing. While I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the series, the conclusion really failed to fill out the rest of the world building. In fact, it sort of undermined it.

Early in the series, we were treated to a comparison between late 19th century-ish England and a modern 21st-century world. The 19th-century version is dominated by fae and magic that maintains a rigid social order that is controlled by men. Our protagonist is a young woman who ran away to the parallel world is supposed to be non-magical and it largely is. It has also benefitted from the progress of over a century's worth of social advances.

As the tale unfolds, we have humans, the fae, sorcerers, and an elemental court with interests that are in turns competing and parallel. By the end, our young protagonist has successfully turned these groups and the world upside down. Sort of like a female version Captain Kirk that destroys social conventions and then sails away to leave the upended society to sort things out for themselves.

The entire series is both fun and thought provoking.

The last book barely misses as the entire creation of these split interests....or worlds to reference the blamed on "the patriarchy". There is no explanation of why "the patriarchy" established the 19th-century magical society. There is no exploration of any potential advantages to that arrangement.

It's a modest bit of niggling, but it took a bit away from the final book to have one of the central themes of the series remain unexamined in the ultimate entry.

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Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain


Posted on : 9/07/2017 01:12:00 PM | By : Dann | In : ,

The Art of Racing in the Rain The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An interesting book about a budding race car driver, his wife, their daughter, their dog, and how racing can be a metaphor for how one lives their life.

Some of the plot points were resolved a little too conveniently. Also, the use of the dog as the narrator is occasionally circumvented about allowing the narrator to know/think/feel based on events that should have been beyond the dog's ability to experience. There are many events that occur in places where dogs are not welcome but are later conveyed as discussions about those events that take place after the events occur. It seems like a bit of a cheat on the use of the dog as the narrator as a storytelling tool.

If you dislike cars and/or car racing, then this probably is not a good book for you. The author uses a lot of racing techniques as metaphors for dealing with challenges in life.

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Review: The Lost


Posted on : 9/07/2017 01:12:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

The Lost The Lost by Sarah Beth Durst
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Review: Fortress Beta City


Posted on : 9/07/2017 01:03:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Fortress Beta City Fortress Beta City by J.R. Handley
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a 2-star review of a book I did not finish.

This is one of the hardest reviews that I have ever had to write. Book 1 in the series was also the author's debut novel. I gave it 4 stars and nominated him for this year's Campbell Award. It was that good.

All of the heart, all of the connections to the characters, all of the MILsf action are gone in this sequel.

In its place are the fascinating implications of an ever-shifting TO&E. That is a Table of Organization and Equipment for those non-military folks. It is a paper-pusher's dream. People get promoted at the drop of a hat and the TO&E gets updated. Gripping action! There are no events that show characters struggling to fill these new roles. There are no challenges that foster character growth. Paperwork gets updated and the next chapter is up.

Another factor is that all of the "action" occurs over a handful of days after the characters come out of a cryogenic deep sleep. They go from being popsicles to being promoted and in charge of "doing things" within a couple of days. That includes fixing a leaky underground living space for tens of thousands of Marines and then decontaminating it to eliminate a nasty bug that would kill some of their alien allies in the span of a couple hours.

I like the author. From what I read about him and have exchanged with him elsewhere, he seems like a nice guy.

But this book was a big step backward.

Unless you fancy the tale of office pogues in the headquarters company winning battles with papercuts. In which case read on!

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9 Easy Rules About Personal Finance


Posted on : 8/07/2017 07:42:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Coincidentally, or so it seems......

I've been talking to one of our sons about investing and planning for the future.  I have also been listening to the Freakonomics podcast quite regularly.  In one recent episode, they covered the essential rules for managing money.  Skip the expensive financial planners.  Skip investing in corporate stocks.  Just follow these rules and your odds of having a financially successful life experience will increase tremendously.

One might even say exponentially, considering the miracle that is compound interest.

Head on over to listen to the entire podcast.  They discuss sound investing and economic planning with Harold Pollack, Annamaria Lusardi, and John Bogle.  The additional discussion is worth your time.

If you are interested in a little more reading on the subject, you might also consider purchasing a book about those 9 easy rules written by Professor Pollack and Helain Olen about the ideas contained on that one little index card.  I can't vouch for the book, but Professor Pollack even admits that just following the 9....or 10....rules should be enough.  Sometimes more information is better than less information.

In the meantime, here are those 9....or 10....easy rules about personal finance that will lead towards economic success.

Rule No. 1: strive to save 10 to 20 percent of your income.
Rule No. 2: pay your credit card balance in full every month.
Rule No. 3: max out your 401(k) and other tax-advantaged savings accounts.
Rule No. 4: never buy or sell individual stocks.
Rule No. 5: buy inexpensive, well-diversified index mutual funds and exchange-traded funds.
Rule No. 6: make your financial advisor commit to the fiduciary standard.
Rule No. 7: buy a home when you are financially ready.
Rule No. 8: insurance. Make sure you’re protected.
Rule No. 9: do what you can to support the social safety net.

Rule 10 ought to be the easiest of the lot.  But you never know.

Rule No. 10: remember the index card.

As an after thought, you might also consider my rules for a successful life that I wrote many years ago.

Hugo 2017 Graphic Novels


Posted on : 7/23/2017 07:43:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Unfortunately, I was unable to read all of the graphic story nominees before voting closed this year.

I had previously read Monstress and was very taken by it.  I feel that in terms of art and storytelling, Monstress is a first rate piece of work that is worthy of the award.

So I voted for Monstress and didn't vote for anything else.  There were one or two other categories where I was familiar with one of the works but didn't think I could in good conscience only vote for it when I had not read/heard/seen the other nominees.  Monstress is definitely first class material.

Had I voted in time, this is how my ballot would have looked.

1.  Monstress - Volume One (The only vote actually cast)

Great art.  Great storytelling.  A unique perspective that is heavily influenced by Japanese anime.  (Is that a redundant phrase?)  One aspect of the story that I like is that women hold the positions of power in this fictional world.  The author doesn't explain it.  She doesn't lace the dialog with arsenic laden commentary suggesting many and varied deficiencies in men.  The women here have power.  Deal with it.

Hurrah!  Finally, an author that can get off of their gender studies soap box and just create something entertaining while remaining true to their perspective.

Straightforward story telling coupled with great art and inventive world building make this series a clear winner.

2.  The Vision - Volume One

The Vision series explores the attempt by The Vision and his family to live a prototypical American lifestyle.  Being a family of synthetic humans, they suffer from all of the usual tropes about clan/tribe behavior that is adjacent to outright racism.

At the same time, as they open themselves up to human behavior patterns, they become susceptible to human foibles.  They grow protective of their family.  They develop attachments with humans that attempt to have a normal relationship with them.  This is the dark side of a machine that becomes more human every day.

3. Paper Girls - Volume One

Paper Girls tells the tale of a small group of girls that deliver newspapers.  It is set in the 1980s and suggests that girls delivering the newspaper was some sort of major step for women.

We had paper girls in the 1970s.  There were not a lot of them, but they were there.

In this case, it is suggested pretty heavily that they had to work together to keep from being assaulted, kidnapped, and subject to all manner of abuse while delivering newspapers in suburbia.  Back in the day, kids delivering newspapers in suburbia were given extra protection.  People looked out for those kids. So on this issue, the plot is a little bit off.

Their world goes all wonky.  Almost everyone disappears.  Other entities/people start appearing to snatch up those that remain.  There are two different groups of people that are apparently traveling through time to do whatever it is they are doing.  The story gives you enough clues to keep the reader interested.  The artwork is pretty good and the storytelling is great.  It invites all sorts of readers to engage in the plot regardless of who the reader happens to be.  I'm glad that I encountered this series.

4.  Saga - Volume Six

OK.  I changed my mind.  Saga can thank Paper Girls for my moving it from just below No Award to just above it.  I thought about it for a few days and I was really more engaged in the story plot than my initial reaction suggested.

The story revolves around a series of otherwise pedestrian plot lines that focus on race and gender identity issues.  The artwork has improved since I encountered Volume 3 two years ago as another Hugo finalist.  That volume was a hot mess of marginal art and a messy story.  This was a definite improvement over that volume.

While this is a good nominee, it is not, IMHO, a great nominee.  If it weren't for all of the allegories to human race and sexuality issues, this would be a middling series at best.

Saga can also thank Ms. Marvel because.....

5. No Award

6. Ms. Marvel - Volume Five

I put Ms. Marvel - Volume One in first position in 2015.  It was definitely cutting edge in terms of art, character development, and story telling.

Volume Five is a big step backward.  The art isn't particularly inspiring.  The plot centered around the ubiquitous "evil corporation" that is gentrifying an urban area.  Quite frankly, the "evil corporation" stuff has been done to death.  Add to that the fact that gentrification improves an area rather than tears it down.  Essentially, gentrification is a positive change due to people making choices due to their free will.

Reading Ms. Marvel also provided some scale that moved Saga above the line.

7.  Black Panther - Volume One

Holy shnikes!  What a hot mess!

While the art was great, the storyline bounced around more than a freshly hit racquetball.  Black Panther would jump out to the jungle to fight someone.  Then he would jump back to the city for some consultation and introspection.

Other people (I hesitate to call them villains, yet) experience bureaucracy in the city before they are whisked out to the jungle for imprisonment and other events.

The cities are gleaming modern citadels that enjoy a broad panoply of technology and modern architecture while appearing bereft of average citizens.  Conversely, ordinary citizens live and work in the country under much cruder conditions with far less technology.

It is as if the people in control don't want to be bothered with actually interacting with common people.  That plot line alone should have me in love with this series.

The storytelling is so disjointed that it is no surprise that Marvel killed it after so short a run.

This arc/series was written by Atlantic Monthly writer Ta-Nehisi Coates.  I have read Mr. Coates columns in the Atlantic from time to time.  There are times when I am deeply affected by his work.  Other times less so, but that is as it should be in a world with a wide range of people.

Mr. Coates leftward leaning political tendencies are pretty well known.  So I was surprised that the Black Panther came so close to embracing capitalism!  The cities in the book are modern architectural confections, and the technology in the cities is so evident because they discovered a mount of vibranium elsewhere in the country.

This is (apparently) a highly valued commodity.  So Mr. Coates endorses the exploitation of the environment for the purpose of consuming valuable resources.  And he has no qualms about the profits of such activity paying for the aforementioned cities/technology.

Ta-nehisi Coates is apparently a capitalist at heart.

But wait!  In his attempts to "save" his nation, he kills men that were providing for their families.  He says that he will provide food and shelter.  The men's widows proclaim that their husbands were already handling those issues nicely before the Black Panther killed them.  Apparently, the wealth from the vibranium mines and industries is supposed to be spread around by the government instead of being earned by the companies and people doing the actual work.  Alas but capitalism dies another cruel and unjustified death.

The Black Panther then goes on to inspire a large group of women to become radicals that will provide for themselves (food, shelter, defense) rather than rely on the government.

What does this book lack for a moderately libertarian soul, such as myself, to not be in utter love with it?

A coherent story.  This series is unworthy of being nominated, much less making the short list.

Hugo 2017 Fancast


Posted on : 7/02/2017 12:51:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

I completed my review of the fan-cast nominees a few weeks back.

From my perspective, a good podcast will include the following;  good audio quality, news/information, an entertaining format, and engaging hosts.  With respect to hosts, I appreciate it when hosts know how to share the microphone in a conversation as well as know how to get out of their lane with respect to understanding other perspectives.  An additional consideration for the Hugos is whether or not I would recommend a podcast to someone else even if it might not be in my wheelhouse.  I also evaluated podcasts against my current list of regular podcast subscriptions.

1.  Tea and Jeopardy

I'm a fan.  They are on my list of regularly experience podcasts.  I donate via Patreon.  Emma and Peter Newman provide a great podcast.

For those that haven't listened to their podcast, they combine radio theater with an interview podcast.  Peter Newman portrays Emma's butler, Latimer.  Latimer locates unusual and frequently perilous locations for Emma and her guests to take tea.  Emma hosts her guests in a manner reflective to my American ears as that of a proper British lady.

She and her guests talk about books and writing and publishing and other oddments.  At the end of the show, there is another bit of radio theater as the guests encounter a peril uniquely associated with the locale for the tea lair and/or the guest in question.

It is just simply great fun, wonderfully written (where writing is required), and most informative.  The hiccups are few.

I have a tough time believing that any of the other nominees will be able to knock the Newmans out of first place on my ballot, but we shall see. (Yup!  I was right!)

2.  Coode Street Podcast

I listened to Episodes #286 & #292.

This is a fairly straightforward news and interview format.  The hosts shared the microphone quite well.  When they had guests, they asked relevant questions and then got out of the way to let the guests speak.

Those episodes were good enough for me to consider adding it to my regular list of podcasts.

One aspect of their program that I enjoyed was that it was conducted with a level of maturity.  One episode included Canadian author Jo Walton.  There was a discussion about preferential treatment of authors and their books.

Ms. Walton quite openly acknowledged that publishers, reviewers, and readers choose to focus their attention on a smaller range of the genre.  She indicated that she will frequently discover rare gems from prior years that were ignored when they were first published in favor of other works.

It was a refreshing exchange that acknowledged the reality of publishing and media promotion.  It is quite possible for Author X to write something superior to the work of Authors A, B, and C despite the publishing/media/fandom desire to promote Authors A, B, and C for any of a number of reasons.

3. Rageaholic

For the purposes of consideration for the Hugos, I limited my review to episodes that are limited to SF/F commentary.  The host is clearly pro-Trump.  I elected not to let that bleed over into my review.

I listened to the following episodes.  They covered three video games and one comic series.

  • The Rageaholic: Doom
  • Razor vs Comics: NIGHTWING Rebirth #1-5
  • Battlefield 1 - The Rageaholic
  • Mechwarrior 5: For Real, This Time! (A rant)

As with last year, I found the persona being presented to be over-the-top entertainment.  I wouldn't want a strict diet of this stuff, but it is entertaining in manageable doses.

What comes through all of the rapid-fire delivery of invective is a central concern for properties that provide a satisfying experience.  For video games, then need to provide an engaging experience within the respective sub-genres.  The host appears to have enough playing experience within enough titles to be able to offer informed opinions about what works to provide a reasonable gaming experience.

There is also the basic subtext that he believes gaming journalism is placing non-gaming factors ahead of game playability factors when assessing the relative merits of a given title.  Welcome to 2017.

His thoughts on various iterations of Nightwing were also interesting.  I followed that series for a while a decade or so ago.  It was pretty standard fare, so I stopped.  But it looks like there was one period that I might want to go back and review.  Specifically, the Nightwing/Huntress series written by Devin Grayson.

4.  No Award

5. Galactic Suburbia

After attempting to listen to a Galactic Suburbia debacle last year, I wasn't exactly keen on listening to them this year.  I ended up listening to Episode #148 (Ghostbusters Review).

On a positive note, the podcast was less of a hot mess than the episode I sampled last year.  The participants were better able to "share the mic".  A modest negative was that their commentary seemed to lean too frequently on viewing Ghostbusters (2016) via a feminist lens rather than simply relating the story elements that they found engaging.  That is an important perspective.  It isn't the only one worthy of their thoughts.

The moment that drove this podcast below No Award was when they started to suggest that they would consider alternative opinions once they purged stalking and threats of violence from that range of perspectives.  That is (or should be) a no-brainer.  But then they followed it up with a quick assertion that they wouldn't consider other perspectives anyway.

Exclusionary and eliminationist rhetoric isn't deserving of any reward.

I do have to give them credit as one of the co-hosts didn't really enjoy Ghostbusters (2016).  Her reasons dovetailed with others that I have heard/read.

6.  Fan Girl Happy Hour

I listened to Episodes #32 (No Fucks 2016) and #42 (2016 Hugo nominations announcement)

In episode 32, the hosts spent too much time talking about their other blogs/commentary projects.  So they consumed a significant amount of time on one commentary project talking about their other commentary projects.  Once they finally moved beyond talking about their opinions about their other opinions, the podcast became pretty informative and engaging.

Episode #42 was a reaction to the nominations for last year.  It amounted to a half hour's worth of guttural sounds of exasperation and a half hour's worth of "I don't understand".  Both of which are fine reactions, but not necessarily informative nor entertaining.

7.  Ditch Diggers

I listened to episodes #29 and #33.  Two people talking together.  Occasionally informative, but not terribly entertaining.  Presumptuous of the value of their opinions.  And I say that while agreeing with quite a few things that they said about people taking advantage of freelance writers by offering "exposure" or "beer money" in lieu of, you know, paying people based on the value of their work.

In one of the episodes, Mur announced that Netflix had announced that they were developing one of her properties.  She then went on a rant about the TV and film industries "white washing" properties.  A couple of her secondary characters are gay.  Mur was concerned that Netflix might change her work to make it more palatable to a wider audience.

Netflix is the same network that presents Sense8 that includes some pretty graphic scenes between gay and lesbian characters.  While I share the concern about the displacement of authentic/original characters, Nexflix has produced a number of Marvel properties that emphasize the use of characters as originally created.  Netflix isn't exactly a place where "whitewashing" is not a valid concern.

It just came off as a knee-jerk perspective as opposed to a reasonable concern based on the history of the production company.

While that seems like I'm teeing off on Mur, she was really the more engaging of the two hosts.  Her co-host, Matt, was pretty self-absorbed.  I kept picturing being stuck at a party with him and inevitably found that I would be seeking the quickest way out of the conversation as I could reasonably find.

I've listened to other SFF author based podcasts that offer similar advice.  Those authors have a better format, better sense of perspective, demonstrate interest outside of themselves, and generally are more engaging in their presentation.

So What Is Better??

In addition to Tea and Jeopardy, I also nominated Sincast, Sarcastic Voyage, The Post Atomic Horror Podcast, and The Horror Show with Brian Keene.  All of those other four podcasts are (admittedly subjectively) better than those that I put below No Award.  Sincast and PAH utilize a combination of entertainment and information that is comparable with Tea and Jeopardy.  The Horror Show uses a straight news/interview format.  The entire range of regular hosts of The Horror Show are more engaging and entertaining than the shows that I put below No Award.  The Sarcastic Voyage is a straight up bit of radio theater based on fantasy writing.

All of them deserve to have sufficient attention from fandom to be discussed as contenders for the Hugo awards.  They would (or should) easily beat out those that I put below No Award.



Posted on : 5/31/2017 04:09:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,


England is a cup of tea.
France a wheel of ripened brie.
Greece, a short, squat olive tree.
America is her sons.

Brazil is football on the sand
Argentina, Maradona’s hand.
Germany, an oompah band.
America is her sons.

Holland is a wooden shoe.
Hungary, a goulash stew.
Australia, a Kangaroo.
America is her sons.

Japan is a thermal spring/
Scotland is a highland fling.
Oh there are many lovely things,
Things of note to make one’s heart sing,
But America loves her sons above all these.

When others needed them,
America sent her sons
To fight, to bleed, to die
To settle the discontent of European kings
And force peace to reign again.

When evil arose most cruelly,
Demanding racial purity,
America sent her sons,
Black brown, white and yellow,
To stand against Siegrunen,
Totenkopfs, Hammers and Sickles.

She watched her sons bleed anew
On foreign sands in faraway lands
Places named Omaha, Utah,
Carentan, Bastogne and Arnhem.
Saipan, Tinian, Dong Ha,
Fallujah, Ramadi, and Helmand.

For the sake of millions they never met
They gave their lives.
Red blood poured out freely
To pay a high price for liberty;
With only fields of white crosses
To mark their passing.

You may criticize America her faults,
Her arrogance, her swagger
Her braggadocious bravado,
Her unrelenting roughshod manners.
But remember this most of all-
In numbers few could ever hope to match,
Time and again,
America will always give her sons,
To pay the butcher’s bill.

by Author and US Marine Corporal
Jonathan LaForce

Posted with permission of the author.

Review: The Emperor's Blades


Posted on : 5/25/2017 03:48:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

The Emperor's Blades The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a free set of all three volumes of this series from The Grim Tidings Podcast. I'm a huge fan of the podcast.

A brief review....

The world building is fantastic. Three siblings enter a new phase of life when their father, the Emperor, is murdered. One brother has been sent to live with a group of months. He was to learn their ways of meditation and perception about the world. Why? It isn't exactly clear until later on.

His sister has never been eligible to inherit the throne. Yet she was the one who studied everything her father did. Of the three, she is the one that knows the most about how the empire functions.

Their brother was sent off to serve in an elite military unit. Each combat detail flys around strapped to the legs of a giant raptor. (Brian Stavely rescued me from another author that had totally lost me on the concept of people riding below the body of a bird. Congrats, Brian!)

The murder of the Emperor opens up each of them to various elements of a coup intended to seize control of the empire. They are geographically separated, so each begins to do what they can to find the murderer(s) and to rescue the empire from chaos.

This is a fine first book in a series.

Books 2&3 were a little bit of a letdown. They both will get 4 star ratings from me. While both were well written, they just failed to take full advantage of the setup that was done in this book.

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