Warrior Angel by Margaret and Lizz Weis - A Goodreads Review

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Posted on : 12/21/2015 01:13:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Warrior AngelWarrior Angel by Margaret Weis
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A 2 star review in my book is one that I just cannot recommend.

I made it through the first ~1/5 of the book and just couldn't get into it.

The premise of a 14th century Templar, warrior veteran of the wars in Purgatory, sent to protect someone in the 21st century seemed promising. That the person to be protected was a very modern woman who was a successful stock trader was a twist with a lot of great promise. Although romance isn't really a prime genre for me, I have read some romance over the years.

But the characters in this case were just so much rhetorical cardboard. She's good looking. He's good looking. Lots of emotional sparks. But no real depth of character.

I bought this book due to Margaret Weis' reputation. I've enjoyed a ton of books that she wrote and this outing was particularly disappointing.

But I also bought it at a dollar store, so perhaps that should have been my clue.

A minor nitpick was the description of the trading floor as well as the description of the trader research process. Most trading is done via computer these days. The days of the packed trading pit are long gone. Also, simply looking at the aggregate trend of a couple of trading charts has never been a meaningful means of selecting which commodities/stocks to buy and/or sell.


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Bats of the Republic: An Illuminated Novel by Zachary Thomas Dodson - A Goodreads Review

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Posted on : 11/30/2015 01:49:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Bats of the Republic: An Illuminated NovelBats of the Republic: An Illuminated Novel by Zachary Thomas Dodson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


A 2 star review on my scale is a book that I do not recommend. I did not finish this book.

The pitch for this book made it sound interesting. It was supposed to combine a number of graphic presentations to tell a larger story.

It does indeed use a number of different presentation formats. Some are hand lettered notes/letters between characters. One is book written in the 19th century; so a fictional book within a fictional book. Another format that is supposed to imply a transcription of events.

There are also a number of sketches scattered throughout.

The problem is that I made it halfway through the book and cannot see the major crisis/conflict issue. There are any number of small crisis issues, but they do not all point in the same direction.

The other problem is that at the halfway point I have yet to find a character that is worth following.

There are several suggestions of fantasy and sci-fi themes scattered about. But none of them appear to be going anywhere. We aren't exploring them. They aren't getting better. They aren't getting worse.

The writing and editing of the story have been fine thus far. But halfway in and I'm still waiting for the book to seize my attention and demand not to be turned loose until I've finished reading.



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Time Travelers Never Die by Jack McDevitt - A Goodreads Review

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Posted on : 11/18/2015 01:35:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Time Travelers Never DieTime Travelers Never Die by Jack McDevitt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A 2 star review on my scale is not a book that I would recommend. 2 stars is an accurate assessment of my experience.

The use of language and grammar were fine. This is a well edited tome.

My issues involve spoilers, so.....


Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse by John Joseph Adams - A Goodreads Review

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Posted on : 9/29/2015 05:11:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Wastelands: Stories of the ApocalypseWastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse by John Joseph Adams

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


3 stars on my scale is a book I enjoyed, but would not read again.  That is a pretty accurate assessment of my experience with this book.

Most of the stories in this collection were pretty good.  As expected, Stephen King and George R.R. Martin had entries that hit it out of the ball park.  The rest of the stories were intriguing and thought provoking.

Three stories stuck out as being truly sub-par within the context of this collection.

Salvage by Orson Scott Card - The nut of this story is that you shouldn't be surprised if you don't fit in with the dominant group if you don't share the dominant group's religion.  Please, keep religion out of science (fiction).

When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth by Cory Doctorow - The nut of this story is that as the world failed, a group of sysadmins kept the internet alive due to their presence in over pressured server farms.  The excess air pressure kept the bug that was killing everyone out.  There were two obvious holes in the plot.  1)  that there would be enough server farms with auxiliary power supplies to maintain some sort of network.  2)  that a bunch of computer geeks writing lengthy treatises could create a better world.

I am those geeks.  Even I know better.

Killers by Carol Emshwiller - Combines all of the worst propaganda about PTSD with the worst propaganda about climate change.  Erg.

Those three stories aside, give this collection a chance.  I'm sure you will find quite a few very thought inspiring stories.



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Armageddon by Leon Uris - A Goodreads Review

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Posted on : 9/28/2015 09:21:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

ArmageddonArmageddon by Leon Uris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


5 stars on my scale is a book that I will read again and one that I might buy for someone else to read.

This is a great book.  Leon Uris creates characters and weaves their person stories through the historical events beginning with the end of WWII and proceeding through the difficulties with the Soviet Union blockading Berlin.  He masterfully uses his characters to illustrate the difficulties that come when the victor in a conflict must eventually learn to live with the people they have beaten.  He also shows how difficult it can be for a defeated nation to recover in a positive way.

This story echoed our current difficulties in working with the governments of Iran and Afghanistan as well as their trials in re-building their nations in a positive direction. 

The story also highlights the documented belligerent behavior of the Soviets as was typical throughout the Cold War.

This book works on so many different levels.  It should be considered a "must read" for any serious reader.



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Kenobi by John Jackson Miller - A Goodreads Review

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Posted on : 9/28/2015 09:09:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Kenobi (Star Wars)Kenobi by John Jackson Miller

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


3 stars on my scale is a book that I enjoyed, but would not re-read in the future.  This one barely made it to 3 stars.

I have not delved too deeply into the expanded Star Wars universe.  I enjoyed the original movies a great deal and the prequel less.

I thought this might be an interesting insight into the character of Obi-wan Kenobi.  It was a modestly interesting tale that takes placed between Episodes 3 and 4 of the movies.  The book delves a bit into the impact of Anakin Skywalker.  It also sets up a few of the things that we see around Luke Skywalker.

I just didn't get a lot of character development for Obi-wan out of the book.



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Bitten by Kelley Armstrong - A Goodreads Review

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Posted on : 9/28/2015 09:03:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Bitten (Women of the Otherworld #1)Bitten by Kelley Armstrong

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


1 star on my scale is a book that would actively advise against reading.  I did not finish this book.

The book suffered from two primary problems.

1)  A majority of the story occurs within the head of the main character.

2)  As a result, there are lengthy sections of exposition.  And a lot of that was about her "feelings".  The cardinal rule of "show me, don't tell me" comes frequently into play.

I ended up tossing this book because the main character exhibited beliefs that were misandrist and more than just a little bigoted.  Both attitudes were irrational even within the context of the story.

I bought the book because they turned this into a TV series.  The TV show wasn't good enough for me to continue watching.  But in my experience, the book is always better than the movie/TV show.

Except this time.





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Bone Gods - By Caitlin Kittredge - A Goodreads Review

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Posted on : 9/28/2015 08:56:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Bone Gods (Black London, #3)Bone Gods by Caitlin Kittredge

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


2 stars on my scale is a book that I didn't enjoy very much.  I did finish this book.

The book suffered from a several of weaknesses, any one of which would not be a problem but in combination undermined my experience of the book.

1)  The plot was a standard fantasy "something really, really evil is coming" plot where the protagonist must uncover the details and foil the Eeville Evil™ from destroying everything™. 

2)  This apparently was book 3 of a series.  That was not apparent based on the cover of the paperback that I bought, or I would not have bought it as I generally avoid series fiction these days.  In any case, this book runs afoul of Dann's Dictum regarding multi-book series.  It fails to deliver a good experience and the reader needs to know about the events in the prior books to make sense of some things.

3)  The story is set in the U.K.  I take it that the author, Caitlin Kittredge is from the U.K.  There is a fair amount of U.K.-centric terminology that is used. 

As with every other SFF fan on the planet, I have no problem with absorbing and understanding terminology that is specific to the setting of a book.  However, given the other issues with the book, this was a minor irritant that just further detracted from my reading experience.  I expect this will not be an issue for readers that are more familiar with U.K.-centric jargon.

4)  Last and most important, the protagonist was weak.  She was supposed to posses some magic power, but it could only be used if some other magic person filled her with magic in the first place.

I tend to enjoy strong female characters.  The protagonist in this case only possessed strength if it was first given to her.  She could not act on her own without someone else acting first.  In this case, it was her erstwhile boyfriend.

Combined, these four factors simply let me with a "why bother" reading experience.  YMMV.



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Edge of Tomrrow by Hiroshi Sakurazaka - A Goodreads Review

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Posted on : 9/28/2015 08:35:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Edge of TomorrowEdge of Tomorrow by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


3 stars on my scale was a good book, but not one that I would want to read again.  I'm being a little generous with the 3 star rating.

The book seemed to be derivative of John Steakley's Armor as well as R.A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers.  More like the former than the latter.

The endless time loop was obviously repetitive and just a little boring.



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Impaler by Kate Paulk - A Goodreads Review

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Posted on : 9/28/2015 08:24:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

ImpalerImpaler by Kate Paulk

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A 4 star book on my scale is one that I would want to read again.  3.5 stars is probably a more accurate assessment of my experience with this book.

Impaler by Kate Paulk takes the primary character from the Bram Stoker's Dracula and re-imagines him as a hero defending his land from the invading Turks.  Kate Paulk has re-inserted what little is known about the real-life Vlad Tepes and his family into the story.

If you want your vampires to rise at sunset and to drink blood until a village mob drives a stake through his heart and removes his head, then read something else.

I found the cast of characters to be interesting.  The sole plot perspective on Vlad was a bit tiring. While there were opportunities to examine other characters, those opportunities when unexploited.  A little variety in perspective and this would have made this a solid 4 star book.

The book included a modest amount of military strategy as well as some commentary regarding politics of eastern Europe as the Turkish empire was expanding.  Both were modestly interesting aspects that certainly added to the flavor of the book.



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Mammoth by John Varley - A Goodreads Review

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Posted on : 9/28/2015 08:08:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

MammothMammoth by John Varley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3 stars for means that it was a good book, but I wouldn't want to read it again. That is a pretty accurate assessment of my experience with this book.

Essentially, this is a book that is a derivative of a huge chunk of the Michael Crichton catalog. It deals with time travel and critters that have been extinct for thousands of years.

There were some decent twists and turns at the end. The antagonist achieves redemption.

However, the science part of the book steadily gave way to a sort of mysticism so that the cause of the ending is less than clear.

This is a fun little romp, but it isn't anything that I feel compelled to read again in the future.

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The Goblin Emperor - A Goodreads Review

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Posted on : 9/24/2015 12:54:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

The Goblin EmperorThe Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3 stars in my book was a book that I enjoyed reading, but would not want to read again. A more true rating would be 3.5 stars as I would not mind reading it again at some point in the future.

The first half of the story really dragged. Maia, a forgotten and banished son, is elevated to become emperor due to an unfortunate incident that took the life of his father, the emperor, and his older brothers. During the first half, Maia is not only a fish out of water, he is also a leaf upon the breeze.

It is only due to the kindness of strangers in the court that he begins to hold the reins of power. Unsteadily at first, and rarely with any sort of personal direction.

Such a situation is far more likely to result in a government run amok as various functionaries exercise unchecked power. It is far more likely that such a weak ruler would be killed or forced to abdicate. That all of these options are tried within the book does little to relieve the sense that it would have happened sooner and with broader support in any sort of more realistic setting.

So the emphasis is on fantasy in this fantasy tale.

A prime example is Maia's decision to select Csevet at his primary aide/personal secretary upon arriving at the capital. It appears to the reader that it is only blind luck that permits Csevet's selection to result in a solid guide as Maia navigates his new existence.

As with many works of SF/F, The Goblin Emperor contains many messages/passages that one could read as political commentary on the modern world.

Many of those passages and many of the larger themes would have been far more appropriate in the late 19th century and early 20th century than they are in the early 21st century. One such theme is whether women should be educated or if education simply ruins them for their only "fit" purpose of breeding and care of children.

This is largely no longer an issue for the English speaking world. Thankfully. It remains a more significant issue outside of western civilization/culture. The inclusion of this theme does not detract from the book. It is just an odd choice, IMHO.

The larger world is of elves and goblins who can and do intermarry and interbreed with predictable questions about race and identity. However, they refer to themselves as "men". This is an odd combination.

There is apparently some form of magic, but the details are unexplored. Also, the world contains some elements of steampunk which are also largely unexplored in any real depth. Steampunk is not a favorite sub-genre of mine and so I was grateful that it existed in a state where the details did not overly intrude on the larger story.

The first half of the book focuses on a number of secondary issues such as jewelry, attire, and dancing. While these are good ways of illustrating Maia's lack of preparation to become emperor, they are not terribly interesting for any other purpose.

[warning - semi-political rant ahead]

Another minor theme that is explored is the nature of "power". Within the context of the book, those in power are in some way affiliated with the structure of royalty. Apparently, "fortunes" may rise and fall. The relationship between this rising/falling relative to society, wealth, and the government are at best tangentially explained.

While there seems to be some sort of system of trade and while factories are present, the market is not presented as being free. Nor is it presented as "un-free".

Within those constraints, there is an exploration of a form of proto-socialism within the context of a letter to the emperor. One of the points made in that letter is that the most ardent advocates for this proto-socialism are really more concerned with seizing power from the powerful and have very little concern for the average citizen/worker. Rhetoric aside, they are more Stalinesque/Hitleresque/Mao-esque in their desire to impose their vision of "equality" and have little interest in actually improving conditions for anyone other than themselves. The lives of any who dissent are apparently regarded as disposable.

As a small "l" libertarian, my preferences run towards free market capitalism where the markets are regulated to prevent abuse of investors and workers. No sane person...to true Irishman....should want to see children laboring....and dying...in coal mines. Nor should one accept other labors that cost workers the valuable use of their limbs, senses, and rational thought.

And so the razor's edge we walk is how to balance the need regulate those abuses with the inherent progress that accompanies a free market.

The book offers some thoughts on those issues, but leaves further consideration as an exercise for the reader.

[end semi-political rant]

This is a free-standing book. It is not part of a series. For that we are mostly humbly grateful to the author. Dann's Dictum for authors remains in force.

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Dann's Dictum for Authors

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Posted on : 9/24/2015 12:49:00 PM | By : Dann | In : ,

My reading lately has slowly helped to develop the opinion that there are far too many book series being published.  Authors will develop a fictional world and a cast of characters.  They will then use those developments to create a series of stories.

This makes sense from an author's perspective.  World building takes time.  Character creation takes time.  Re-using the product of those efforts means less work needed to produce each book.  This process also enables an author to tell longer story arcs.

This also makes sense from a publisher perspective.  One successful book in a series is usually sufficient to ensure reasonable sales of other books in the series regardless of the quality (or lack thereof) in each individual book.

This preference for serialization only places the reader at a disadvantage.  Picking up book 4 of 6 (or 12, or....) means that the reader will not possess the knowledge of events in the preceding books.  This forces the reader to go back to the beginning of a series whenever a later book is recommended or otherwise achieves some measure of notoriety.

If every book in the series is a superior piece of artisan effort, then the only real harm is the time spent with a series of enjoyable books.  However, the more books in the series fail to favorably compare with the rest of the series, the more the reader's time and money is wasted just to remain current with the series.

This leads to Dann's Dictum for Authors.

Write one good book.  And then move on.

Do not offer a series unless you have the capacity to have every installment achieve the same high level of reader satisfaction.

This Dictum does not preclude telling multiple stories in one fictional universe.  Dragonlance was home to a great many good stories and several good series.  However they were usually crafted so that one need not be overly familiar with other books/series from that fictional world.  The Star Wars universe would be another decent example.

Authors, I entreat.  I beg.  I appear.  I conjure.  I implore.  I plead.  I supplicate.

Please write the best book you can.  And then move on.  Do not undertake a series unless every installment can be superlative.  Just as a short fiction author who lacks the ability to write books should avoid doing so, an accomplished book-length author that lacks the ability to craft a series should avoid that monumental task as well.

Population 485 - A Goodreads Review

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Posted on : 9/17/2015 12:46:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , , ,

Population: 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a TimePopulation: 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time by Michael  Perry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A fantastic read that combines emergency medicine, the realities of rural life, the gallows humor that is necessary to survive high social and career pressures, with a person journey.  This is a book that will grab your attention and hold it until the last page.



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Red Equinox by Douglas Wynne - A Goodreads Review

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Posted on : 9/09/2015 10:06:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Red EquinoxRed Equinox by Douglas Wynne

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


3 stars - on my scale, it was enjoyable, but I am likely to give the book away as I won't read it again.

A rather derivative take on the Lovecraftian mythos.



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Night Shifted by Kate Paulk - A Goodreads Review

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Posted on : 9/09/2015 10:02:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Night ShiftedNight Shifted by Kate Paulk

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


2 star review - on my scale, 2 stars is a book that probably isn't worth the time.

Vampire fan fic. 

I wouldn't have finished it if it was any longer.



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The Forgotten by Bishop O'Connell - A Goodreads Review

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Posted on : 9/09/2015 09:47:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

The Forgotten (An American Fairie Tale, #2)The Forgotten by Bishop O'Connell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


3 stars - barely - on my scale, a 3 star book was an OK read, but I'm likely to give it away as I won't want to read it again.

This book violated Dann's Dictum for authors.  Simply put, don't write a series unless you can make every installment top notch work.  While the first book was great, I had to work to get through this one.

There was far too much magic that was nebulous.  The protagonist almost wanders along in a bit of a fog.  The use of higher mathematical symbology for the protagonist's means of expressing magic was a little clunky.

Also, my digital copy of the book contained at least a dozen easy to fix grammar and spelling problems.  The publisher just didn't put enough effort into making this the best book possible.



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The Stolen by Bishop O'Connell - A Goodreads Review

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Posted on : 9/09/2015 09:41:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

The Stolen (An American Fairie Tale, #1)The Stolen by Bishop O'Connell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


4 stars - on my scale, if I loan out a 4 star book, then I want it back so I can read it again.  It probably was closer to 4.5 stars.

This was a great tale that created a new vision of faeries, magic, the Irish, and how they all work in our modern world.  The protagonist was particularly inspiring in his dogged pursuit of the kidnapped child.

I devoured this book.



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The Trench by Steve Alten - A Goodreads Review

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Posted on : 9/09/2015 09:34:00 PM | By : Dann | In : ,

The Trench (MEG #2)The Trench by Steve Alten

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


3 stars - on my scale, 3 stars was a good read, but not good enough that I would want to read it again.

This book violated Dann's Dictum for authors.  Essentially, don't bother writing a series if you can't have all of the books measure up.

While book one, Meg, was a fantastic read, The Trench simply was not that good.  It was an enjoyable read.  It was time well spent.  It simply was no where as ground breaking or engaging as the first book was.

The ending sort of lost me. The antagonist had apparently gone to a lot of trouble to "train" a megalodon shark to respond to certain noises with the intent of luring the protagonist into the shark's kill zone. It just wasn't a believable ending.

Add to that the fact that very little new information about megalodons was presented in the book and it was only mildly engaging.




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Meg by Steve Alten - A Goodreads Review

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Posted on : 9/09/2015 09:25:00 PM | By : Dann | In : ,

Meg (MEG, #1)Meg by Steve Alten

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


5 star review - on my scale, 5 stars is a book that I would be willing to buy for others.

And in this case I will have to buy it for myself as one of the dogs ate my copy.

Just a great read.  Excellent presentation of how dramatically different a dinosaur is from the animals we have among us today.  Very interesting characters and a well developed plot.

You just cannot ask for a better read than this book.



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George Washington's Secret Six by Brian Kilmeade, Don Yaeger - A Goodreads Review

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Posted on : 9/09/2015 09:18:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

George Washington's Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American RevolutionGeorge Washington's Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution by Brian Kilmeade

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Gave this a 4 star review, but it was closer to 3.5.

On my scale, 4 stars is a book that I expect to get back if I loan it out as I want to read it again and 3 stars is a book that I will recommend, give away, but don't want it back.

This was an engaging historical read.  It was a little short on details of the operational minutiae of the spy ring.  It did cover in broad strokes how the ring developed and operated.  Quite an interesting read.



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Slow Apocalypse by John Varley - A Goodreads Review

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Posted on : 9/09/2015 09:12:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Slow ApocalypseSlow Apocalypse by John Varley
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

2 Star review - On my scale 2 stars probably isn't worth picking it up.

I read the first 1/4 of the book and did not finish it.

This was an interesting concept, but it failed in that the primary impact of the "apocalypse" simply didn't much impact on the primary characters.

Aside from losing electricity and having to camp out, they were not significantly impacted by the series of disasters. Given their proximity to one of the major impact zones, this wasn't a very realistic representation of the unfolding disasters.

I just couldn't get into it.

The book was well written and well edited. It just didn't grab my interest.

A better take on this general idea was Lucifer's Hammer.

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Spirit Gate by Kate Elliott - A Goodreads Review

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Posted on : 8/27/2015 04:20:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Spirit Gate (Crossroads, #1)Spirit Gate by Kate Elliott

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


From reading elsewhere, you will already know that Spirit Gate is the first of the Crossraods trilogy of books written by Kate Elliott (Alis Rasmussen).

I gave this a 2 star rating and thought about saying it was really a 2.5 star rating.  I also toyed with simply not finishing the book.  A 2 star rating is an honest reflection of my experience.

Ms. Elliott's other work may demonstrate an outstanding ability to tell stories.  This particular book left me with the impression that her skills fall well short of writers like Melanie Rawn, Sara Douglass, or George R.R. Martin.

Caution - spoilers ahead.


The Skull Throne - A Goodreads Review

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Posted on : 7/10/2015 12:00:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

The Skull Throne (Demon Cycle, #4)The Skull Throne by Peter V. Brett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


On my scale, a 5 star book is one that I would consider buying for someone else to read.

This is another great installment in Mr. Brett's "Demon Cycle" series of books.  It is frequently difficult for the middle books of a series to maintain a high level of interest in the reader.  It can be difficult to manufacture meaningful incremental plot points that service the larger plot.

Mr. Brett easily manages to continue to present unique perspectives on the story with a steady succession of plot points that engage and entertain.

This book and this series should be featured in every book award competition in the coming year.  This is award worthy fiction.



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Ressurection: A Zombie Novel - A Goodreads Review

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Posted on : 7/09/2015 12:00:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Resurrection: A Zombie NovelResurrection: A Zombie Novel by Michael J. Totten

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I have been a huge fan of Michael Totten's writing on the Middle East for years.  He has a deft ability to present a complete vision of the subject matter at hand.  He also has a great sense of narrative in developing a theme.

I was expecting that to translate into his fictional writing as well.  While this was a reasonably entertaining read, it just didn't hold my attention very well.  Something was missing in the plot as it seemed to play on all the usual tropes.

On my scale, a three star book is one I enjoyed reading once, but if I give you my hard copy, I don't want it back as I'm not likely to read it again.



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Knight's Shadow - A Goodreads review

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Posted on : 7/08/2015 12:00:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Knight's Shadow (Greatcoats, #2)Knight's Shadow by Sebastien de Castell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


An outstanding read.  Another clear 5 star book from Sebastien de Castell!

Just go read it.

In my book, a 5 star book is one that I would be willing to buy for others to read.

This book picks up where book one left off.

The magistrates have discovered the dead King's daughter; his heir.  We discover that he may actually have more than one heir.

The King's mother has been working behind the scenes to build a new force of fighters to oppose the Dukes who are now ruthlessly ruling their lands unconstrained by a King/Queen and their magistrates.

We learn a bit more about the politics between the Dukes.  They apparently only cooperate when it is to their advantage.

We also learn a bit more about the knights that serve the Dukes.  The knights and the magistrates are the two competing forces.  Where the magistrates serve the law, the knights follow a code where it is honorable to enforce the whims of their respective Duke.

The Dukes discover that the dead King's vision of government constrained by law has some merit.

Like book 1, this book's reflections on the theme of limited government are common sense.  Like book 1, the end provoked another significant emotional response.

This book is time and money well spent.  Go get a copy.



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Traitor's Blade - A Goodreads Review

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Posted on : 7/07/2015 12:00:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Traitor's Blade (Greatcoats, #1)Traitor's Blade by Sebastien de Castell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


What a great read!  Just go read it.

An outstanding first book.

In my world, 5 stars means that I'd be willing to buy a copy and give it away.

A fantastic book about three judges/magistrates that travel the land ensuring that everyone obeys the law.  The prospect of limited power naturally draws the ire of the Dukes that hold most of the power.

To ensure that the law is obeyed, the King has trained and equipped these magistrates to be able to personally enforce the law.

At the start of the book, the King is already dead.  He was killed by the armies of the Dukes.  What unfolds is the story of how the King as an unlikely heir became King and how the magistrates because magistrates.

Also unfolding is the King's quests that he gave to every magistrate before he surrendered to the Dukes.

I find the premise of the book to be fascinating in that it reflects some very common sense notions about government and the law.  The King, while he lived, had a small government that was only strong in the areas where it was able to be strong.  There is also the theme of ensuring that no one is every above the law.

The ending provoked a very strong reaction from me.  I cannot recommend this book enough.

Hopefully, this series will live up to the expectations of this first book.  We should expect this book to be on the short list for every award.



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The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms - A Goodreads Review

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Posted on : 7/06/2015 12:00:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , , ,

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Inheritance, #1)The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


"The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms" by N.K. Jemisin was a great read.  I gave it a solid 4 star rating.

In my book, 4 stars means that if I lend you a physical copy of the book, then I expect to get it back so I can read it again in the future.

The book has as a central premise that one of the universe's three gods has been forced into service for one group of humans.  There are also a handful of lesser godlings that were created by the three gods that have also been forced into serving the same group of humans.

This small group of humans in turn uses the divine power at their disposal to dominate the rest of the nations of the planet; hence the hundred thousand kingdoms in the book's title.  It appears that they use this divine power sparingly, preferring instead to act through a sort of massive parliament that gives some measure of representation to each nation.

The division of divine power harkens back to morality in the early days of Dungeon & Dragons in gaming.  D&D began with the idea that being good equated to being lawful.  Similarly, being evil equated to being chaotic.  Neutral was in between as one might expect.

Later editions of D&D introduce the concept of being "chaotic good" and "lawful evil".

The one area where the rulers do lavish a bit of divine power is in the construction and maintenance of their castle/city that is located in the sky.  Ms. Jemisin had a very complete vision of such a city and shares it with the reader in loving detail.

The thumbnail sketch of the plot is that there was a war.  The now ruling group of humans aided one of the gods in the war.  As a result, another of the gods was killed....or so we think...and the rest were subjugated and sentenced to serve the humans that had been so helpful.

The daughter of the king falls in love with someone from one of the outlying nations.  Apparently such things are rare but do occur on the fringes of the noble family.  It was unheard of for someone so close to ruling to divert away from ruling.

The daughter leaves to marry and live in the remote nation.  She in turn has a daughter who ends up leading the remote nation.  Throughout her existence, this granddaughter has only known that her people suffer because her mother left the capitol to be with her father.  An embargo of sorts was placed against her homeland.  She presumes that the embargo was the will of her grandfather.

Eventually, she is called to the capitol.  She is recognized as a member of the royal family and declared to be one of three family members who will become the next monarch after her grandfather's impending death.  The other two candidates are an aunt and an uncle.  As you might imagine, there are some politics involved in just about everything that happens after that point.

Ms. Jemisin tells an intriguing and entertaining tale in a fully developed fantasy world that is imaginative and largely functional.

If this review has raised your interest, then please go borrow or buy this book and enjoy the read.  Nothing that follows will enhance that experience.  There aren't any spoilers, but I'm using the spoiler space just to save folks the trouble.

What follows is tangentially related to the Hugo kerfuffles that have been growing recently.  You have been warned.

There is one defect to the plot.  It isn't fatal, but it is there.


WaPo - Predicatable Bias

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Posted on : 7/05/2015 11:50:00 AM | By : Dann | In : ,

Welcome back to LaaC - formerly Dann's Dain Bramage - formerly where I used to write on a regular basis.  Hopefully, this is a trend away from "formerly".

We have a couple Kindle's in the house.  One of them has an app from the Washington Post.  They very wisely offer the first few months of reading for free to get you hooked.  Then they ask for $1 for six months and then $4 a month thereafter.  Thus far, it appears to be just their current stories.  I haven't found a way look for past stories.  But I'm working on it.

I had resisted paying anything to the WaPo.  Their leftist bias shows up far too frequently.  However, I have enjoyed a lot of their non-biased reporting.  So we ponied up the buck to start paying for content.

And what do we get on day #1?  Predictable drivel.

The first story is on the kerfuffle in Texas over the coming military exercises.  For the record, I think the concern is misplaced.  Mr. Obama isn't running a stealth offensive against Texas or any other state.  Even if he were, the military wouldn't go along with it.

Also for the record and as the story suggests, a least part of the problem is that there are still folks that don't trust Mr. Obama based on the color of his skin.  That's a problem that the folks in the GOP are going to have to solve.  But is not the primary problem.  Not by a long short.

From the story:

Inside, county Chairman Albert Ellison pulled out a yellow legal pad on which he had handwritten page after page of reasons why many Texans distrust President Obama, including the fact that, “in the minds of some, he was raised by communists and mentored by terrorists.”

I would add that his formative years included inculcation in an anti-colonialist perspective.  Mr. Obama seems to not understand the importance of American strength (economic, diplomatic, and military) on the world political stage in liberating billions of people from oppressive regimes and/or lifting them out of poverty.  Our advocacy of individual liberty has had a tremendously positive influence in the world.  Based on his words and his works, I don't think he appreciates of the positive influence America has had in the last 100 years.

From the story:

Obama “doesn’t take national threats seriously enough,” Ellison said, ticking off Obama’s policies toward Russia, Iran, Cuba and the Islamic State, as well as illegal immigration across the U.S. southern border and the deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya.

“What he views as alarming instead is conservatism,” Ellison said, alleging that the Obama administration has used the Internal Revenue Service to attack the Tea Party and other conservative groups, been hostile to gun owners, issued what conservatives consider an illegal executive order to avoid deporting illegal immigrants, and “been complicit in stirring riots” in racially charged situations in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore.
Again, for the record, Benghazi probably was not all that some folks think it was.  There was certainly a measure of incompetence involved, but there was also the fact that, contrary to some opinions, the U.S. does not exercise infinite control in every nation around the world.

The problem in the above has to do with illegal executive orders halting the deportations of illegal immigrants.  It isn't just "conservative groups" that have a problem with those orders.  So do the courts.  Perhaps the reporter that wrote this story should read more.

Administration lawyers lied in court. The technical term is perjury.  The only reason they aren't in jail is that our courts offer lawyers very collegial treatment.

The second article was on gun ownership in Japan.  The article describes a highly regulated activity that coincides with Japan's history as well as the character of Japanese culture.  It works for them and that is fine.

The problem...from the article:

In Japan, shooting is not something you do to let off steam. People don’t go to their local ranges in T-shirts and jeans to unload a few rounds into an Osama bin Laden target.
In which the author identifies herself as a hoplophobe with little experience with gun ranges in America.  Are there Osama bin Laden targets?  Of course.  Do people wear t-shirts and jeans?  Of course.  However, the article suggests that gun ranges are loaded with people burning ammo to "let off steam".  She suggests a lack of concern with marksmanship.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  People that shoot guns are obsessed with marksmanship.  An author that owned a gun and actually experienced life at a few gun ranges would know that and would accurately convey American gun culture.

Such cavalier misreporting by the media is frustrating.

Starship Troopers - A Summary

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Posted on : 5/21/2015 10:27:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,


Finally done.  Over at John Scalzi's Whatever, there is a discussion that wandered into questions about Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers.  Part of the discussion was a question about how the government of that book came into being.  The answer isn't terribly long, but several aspects of the book need some introduction.

There are few thematic elements to understand.

1)  The government in SST was not "the military".  It was veterans of military service and other life risking government service.  Active military (and other government services) were banned from voting until they had completed their service.  That means the generals couldn't vote until they retired.  Only veterans of the military (and veterans of other government services) were eligible to vote and run for office.

2)  It wasn't just military service that made one eligible to vote.  There were other services that also involved a lesser degree of risk to one's life.  They all involved being subjected to harassment and general irritation by government agents (who as part of the various services, also couldn't vote until their term was completed or they retired).

3)  Anyone could volunteer.  Even someone that was a quadriplegic could volunteer for one of the services testing harsh environment survival gear.  In doing so they placed themselves at modest risk of injury or death, placed themselves subject to the caprices of superior officers, and demonstrated their willingness to accept responsibility of dying for the polity before acquiring the political authority of being able to vote as voting included the power/authority of killing citizens.

4)  SST presents the risky government service requirement for the franchise as a sort of poll tax.  The point is made that various other sorts of requirements had been tried.  (i.e. only landowners, only one race, only men, only people above a certain age)

5)  One of the big themes of SST is the balance between responsibility and authority.  He suggests that anytime someone is made responsible for something without being given an equal amount of authority (or vice versa) that bad governance is the inevitable result.  He also suggests that the same thing is true at the individual level.

A couple of modern examples:

In Wisconsin, there is a bill in their legislature that would mandate that the government prevent SNAP funds from being used to purchase certain foods.  The objective being to have those funds used to purchase the most amount of food (emphasizing beef/chicken over "luxury" foods like lobster) and to have that food be healthy (i.e. fresh veggies over potato chips).

In New York City, the government has enacted regulations banning the sales of "super sized" soft drinks due to concerns about excess soda consumption causing ill health conditions that would eventually be the responsibility of the city government.

In both cases, as the government is responsible for providing certain benefits, they are seeking the authority to ensure that those benefits are used properly.

Conversely, as the citizens receiving those benefits have the authority to compel their neighbors to fund those benefits via taxes, shouldn't they also have the responsibility to live in a manner that uses those benefits wisely?

None of the above should be taken as an endorsement one way or the other.  I'm just trying to convey the themes from SST accurately.


As suggested in #3 above, the political system was developed to maintain a balance between the extreme responsibility (dying for the polity) and the extreme authority (voting for policies that might kill someone).

6) It is asserted that civic behavior and/or civilized behavior has to be taught.  This feeds back into the responsibility/authority theme as people at one point abandon their responsibility to teach their children to behave appropriately.

There are extended discussions about how civic/civilized behavior concerned for a population larger than the local family/clan level is much harder to learn.  It is suggested that the society has developed a set of ethics that satisfies large and disparate groups of humans.  It is suggested that a similar set of ethics for dealing with aliens is being developed as well.

6A) Towards the objective of reinforcing civic/civilized behavior, corporal punishment...primarily caning...is used for most lesser offenses.  Punishments are conducted in public.  The general idea is that humans....like other animals...are pain averse.  Thus the caning provides a motivation to learn from past mistakes.

6B)  Capital punishment is the only punishment for serious offenses.  The "logic" being that a person that knowingly commits such an offense is a long term threat and needs to be eliminated.  A person that is "out of their mind" is similarly killed because if they were ever cured, then they wouldn't be able to live with themselves knowing how much they had hurt others.

7)  Nothing in the book suggests any sort of the various regimes that I have seen attributed to the book.  There appears to be some level of independent business ownership.  (The protagonist's father owns a business and was upset about some government regulation early on.)  There appears to be some level of social spending; whether it was more than we have now, less, or about the same isn't really covered.  It is entirely possible that some sort quasi socialist system is developed by these veterans of endured service.




Now why the heck am I writing all this?  Another guest, Lurkertype, over at Whatever asked the following.

Regarding Starship Troopers: how the heck did the military get all-powerful in the first place? Was it before or after Stalin’s Bugs attacked? And if before… then how the hell did that happen?!

The development of the fictional polity in SST occurred over a long period of time.  It is explained early on that western democracies eventually failed because extensive social programs gave individual citizens the authority to make demands on their fellow citizens without also requiring that they conduct themselves in a responsible manner.  This is coupled with a criminal system that didn't punish criminals and instead simply housed them for some period of time.  This may be criticized as being "soft on crime", but in keeping with the themes discussed above, the book suggests that such a system failed to create enough inconvenience/discomfort/pain for the guilty to associate their punishment as resulting from their deviant behavior.

The analogy of house training puppies is used in the book.

Due to the twin issues of social programs without responsibility and a criminal system that did not teach criminals to avoid similar behaviors in the future, society lost any sort of moral position to establish and maintain a government.  Governments crumbled.  Gangs of youths roamed and ruled the streets.

During the same period of time, a war is fought with China.  China wins and keeps our POWs.  The POWs either are released eventually or escape and most come home via other paths.

As society crumbles, these veterans begin to take charge of local governments.  They find that some of their fellow veterans are committing crimes.  As some of those crimes are serious enough to warrant the death penalty, these veterans decide that if a veteran is going to hang, then only veterans will have a role in handing down that sentence.  From that basic premise, the society builds a system of governance where only veterans of some sort of risky service will be allowed to vote, create, and enforce the law.

In the intervening years, military service isn't really all that hazardous.  While anyone can apply for "federal service", not that many do apply.  The franchise is widely perceived as being less valuable compared with other pursuits.

In fact, the Bug War begins while the protagonist is in boot camp and other training.  The human worlds are essentially at peace when he enters federal service.  The bugs attack and start the war while he is in training.  The "veterans only" government has been successfully in place for some time before he was born.




My comments.  While there are lots of plot points to discuss, there are a couple of spots that I want to cover.

The first is why this unusual system of government continues to exist in the book.  The justification is pretty slim and amounts to little more than "it exists because it works, if it didn't work something else would have replaced it".  That is just a bit hand waving.  It isn't really an explanation.

As a veteran, I recognize that veterans are on average generally better educated on governmental issues than the average non-veteran.  But veterans as individuals can believe in some pretty wonky things.  And of course, some veterans end up being criminals after they get out.

I have more than a little trouble believing that veterans of military service would provide a guaranteed better system of governance than that created by any other select group.

The second issue is capital punishment.  While it is embraced in the book, the book was written well before DNA testing, advanced forensics, and investigative journalism were able to demonstrate that many people on death row really were as innocent as they claimed.  I believe that Robert Heinlein was intelligent enough that he would have recanted his support for capital punishment in the face of so many outright innocent people being released from prison years....decades....after being originally sentenced.

I do find Starship Troopers to be a thought provoking tome that is worthy of anyone's time.  It isn't a guidebook for setting up a new polity.  But it does present some unique perspectives about the relationship between an individual and the larger society.

Who's Counting - A Goodreads Book Review

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Posted on : 3/17/2015 07:45:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Who's Counting?: How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at RiskWho's Counting?: How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk by John Fund

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This was a frustrating book for me to read.

Voter fraud is an issue that attracts my attention.  Everyone should have the right to vote....once.

The first half of the book is a compendium of voter fraud tactics that are used by Democrats AND Republicans routinely use to skew election results.  Due to my past attention to this issue, there was little new material in the first half of the book.

One new tidbit came out of Florida where there are naturalized citizens who immigrated from Cuba running absentee voter fraud rings in areas with lots of senior citizens.  Their activities are for the benefit of local/state Republican candidates.  Given that they were active in 2000, I think it is legitimate to wonder how much their activities influenced the 2000 Presidential election.  (I still think that GW Bush was a better candidate and President than Al Gore regardless of the debate over elections issues.)

And then I hit the wall roughly half way through.  The theme of the book went from documenting voter fraud to strictly criticizing the Obama administration over the inaction of the various agencies to prosecute people that have violated federal elections laws.  A chapter or two about that lack of legal action would have been sufficient.

However, the back half of the book makes it much harder to recommend this book to those that are left of center.  When we need every political persuasion to participate in securing our elections, how can I recommend a book that so strongly disparages the left?  That is essentially the back 1/3 to 1/2 of this book.

This dichotomy was so strong that I had to put this book down for several months.

Read it for the first half.  That part of the book is worth 5 stars.



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