Review: The Reborn King


Posted on : 11/22/2017 10:40:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

The Reborn King The Reborn King by Michael R. Miller
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This is a 1-star review. I made it to chapter 3 before the ghost of Dorothy Parker rose from the pages. I rarely ever give 1-star reviews. Usually, the grammar and spelling have to be atrocious to warrant that sort of review. The grammar and spelling in this book are fine.

The characters and setting exuded an air of cardboard. Fortunately for the reader, this book does not feature any fire-breathing dragons. The resulting conflagration would have required the Herculean efforts of the entire firefighting staff of a minor metropolitan area to contain.

The characters were one dimensional and uninspiring. We start off with a villain being given some greater evil power. Why? Did they ask for the power? Were they on some sort of evil short list? Who knows. What does the greater evil power want? Again, who knows.

Then we get to the protagonists. The king of dragons is morose, defeatist, focused on his belief in an old religion. The king of humans is the only character to raise a modest amount of interest. He has lost one heir and seeks to protect his only surviving heir; a baby girl. The king of humans is in turns insufferably arrogant and incredibly spineless. The queen of the faeries is just.....there....barely.

The setting is sketched out in the barest of terms. The one feature this citadel has is that it includes a large number of objects made from a stone that looks like gold...or that has gold veins running through it. There are vague references to armor, arms, and other trophies of past wars. We have no idea what those wars are about or who the armor, arms and other trophies might be worth having. We really aren't given any idea what they look like, such is the generic description that is in play.

What drove me out of this book was the poor storytelling. Examples:

"I call this council of war to order. Scant as our numbers may be, we here are the leaders of the Three Races (humans, fairies, and dragons), and so our decisions cannot be contested"

This dialog is the king of the dragons speaking to the king of the humans, the queen of the fairies, and his son; the prince of dragons. There are a few servants, but this is essentially a private meeting. They all know that they are human, fairy, and dragon. So why the parenthetic clarification?

Later on, the dragon prince is running to save the baby princess. The forces of evil are battering down the gates and seizing the citadel. The princess' guard promptly begins to carry her down to the ship that awaits her at the port. It is so urgent that they get her out of there that they carry her in a crib that is so large that it requires 6 full grown men. If it is so urgent that she get to the ship, then why not just carry her without the crib?

The dragon prince eventually carries the princess in his arms in an attempt to get her to safety.

From the book - "As the door caved in, he fell with it, and saw a flash of black ripple past his face. His right cheek flared in pain as the arrow sliced through the top layers of his skin."

Wouldn't it be more direct to just say that an arrow grazed his cheek?

Moments later the dragon prince is attempting to bodily ram through a door while carrying the princess in his arms. The door, being magically sealed, rebuffs his attempt and he lands on the floor. His armor is dented badly enough that it now pierces his skin. Despite the obvious violence of the impact, the princess is unharmed.

Children playing with GI Joe action figures have more believable adventures.

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Review: Hell Divers by Nicholas Sansbury Smith


Posted on : 11/19/2017 06:44:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Hell Divers Hell Divers by Nicholas Sansbury Smith
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a 2 star "did not finish" review.

The hook for this book is that the world has been destroyed and the only pockets of humanity left alive are on airships. The airships send out skydivers....well Hell Divers (roll credits) scavenge for equipment/parts that are in short supply.

Part of the ability to suspend disbelief is the fact that there are other believable elements to the story. By chapter 5 I had more than enough plot holes that could not be filled except by just accepting that this was just a story.

A reader that just wants a cool read might well enjoy this book. The writing/grammar is fundamentally good. It's just that the plot holes drove me out of it early and often.

- So the promotional reading indicated multiple airships. There are two, so the plural is accurate....barely.

- Everything is in short supply on these airships. Yet the hell divers are ready to knife their way out of their parachute harnesses. Also, they don't spend much time recovering the useful gear of a diver that dies on the way down.

- Nuclear fuel is heavy. Nuclear fuels are very dense. They pack a lot of energy into very little space. But it still requires tons of the stuff to power a reactor that can power a city. One hell diver finds a "case" of nuclear fuel cells that weighs 40 lbs. This is supposed to be enough to power the airship for years if not decades. There isn't enough energy in 40 lbs of nuclear fuel to do that.

- Nuclear fuel is radioactive. Yet the hell diver opens the case to see what is inside.

- Again, things are in short supply. But when the hell diver returns to the airship via a balloon inflated using helium, they just let the helium escape.

- And the hell diver "steers" the balloon into the open bay of the airship by pulling ropes/lines like they were steering a parachute or a kite.

- Early on it is established that none of the hell divers has seen any significant signs of surviving down on the polluted/radioactive surface of the world. Yet the two teams that go down instantly run across semi-humanoid lifeforms.

- The divers have binoculars. Things that should have existed before the world was destroyed. Binoculars are normally used close to the eyes to get the focal length right. Yet the divers wear masked helmets. The shouldn't be able to use the binoculars effectively.

- The divers wear helmets and suits that seem to be uniquely well suited for jumping into a poisoned and radioactive environment. Yet it is established that no one knows who started the war that ended the world. Why would those suits exist on those airships before the world ended? How could they have been manufactured on an airship suffering from scarce resources after the world ended?

There were just too many plot holes for me to bother reading any further.

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Review: The Red Knight


Posted on : 10/11/2017 01:04:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

The Red Knight The Red Knight by Miles Cameron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a 5-star review. There were a couple of minor issues with the book, but overall this is exactly what great fantasy fiction looks like.

On one level this is a straight-out swords and sorcery tale. One of the fae has created an incursion into the lands conquered by humanity. His objective is to retake a fortress that is home to a source of magic that is valuable to the fae.

A band of mercenary knights hire themselves out to the abbey that is housed in the fortress. They are led by a bastard son who is young for such a position. He leads this elite group of warriors on the field. He is also in the process of developing the skills needed to use magic.

The nuns of the abbey have rather unusual habits that end up being used to help heal those that are wounded defending the fortress/abbey from the fae siege.

The world suggests that it could be a version of the earth after some sort of cataclysm has wiped out modern technology and replaced it with magic. The religion in the world bears many of the forms of Catholic Christianity; including an opposition/revulsion of the use of magic. It is church teaching about children born out of wedlock that lead the young knight into a mercenary life.

And yet he and his group end up defending a church abbey.

Beneath this straightforward story is an examination of the difficulties of living in a world that uses social/cultural conventions to create a uniform populace. How can a person survive when their very existence is condemned by "the church"? How can a person actively foster a faith that teaches that they are damned?

This is a tremendous start to what I hope will be a fantastic fantasy series.

There are two nits to pick with this book. The grammar editing of the book was quite poor. Fortunately, the story is good enough to pull me right back in after encountering a plethora of easily identified errors.

The second is that the there are times when the book reads like the author just purchased a second-hand copy "Medieval Armor Illustrated". As it turns out, the author's other interest include medieval combat; including armor, natch! It wasn't a huge issue, but there were times when the examination/description of the armor worn by various knights got a little repetitive.

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A brief afterwords:

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Miles Cameron is a fellow United States Marine.  His love of martial experiences definitely comes through in his work.  Now I am looking forward to the next installment of this series even more.

After the afterwords:

Per his profile on Goodreads,  Miles was actually a Naval officer and suffered under the tutelage of firm Marine Corps hands in OCS.  I had misread a common on one of his blogs to mean that he was a Marine.  He's still a vet and still writes great fantasy.

Review: The Watchmaker: A Sweet Contemporary Time Travel Romance


Posted on : 10/10/2017 11:19:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

The Watchmaker: A Sweet Contemporary Time Travel Romance The Watchmaker: A Sweet Contemporary Time Travel Romance by Anna Erishkigal
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A 2-star review.

This is a sort of romance dressed up as a time travel tale that uses a watch as the McGuffin to get things moving.

The story consists largely of the main character thinking about how they could change the past while running through the city.

After the watchkeeper tells her how she cannot change the past, she ends up violating his rules. He explains how at the least, such an attempt will result in the same outcome, or at the worst a freezing her in a time loop. Despite the warnings about the negative consequences, there are no negative consequences after she changes the past.

Read it for the romantic aspect. Not very good as fantasy.

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Review: First Keeper - A Landkist Short Story


Posted on : 10/10/2017 11:19:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

First Keeper - A Landkist Short Story First Keeper - A Landkist Short Story by Steven Kelliher
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

A 1-star review. And a DNF.

While the world building had some promise, the plot consisted largely of children sitting around a fire while an adult evaluated their magical colors. Lots of description from within the heads of the characters and not much action or character development.

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Supporting Creators


Posted on : 10/10/2017 04:05:00 PM | By : Dann | In : ,

I enjoy podcasts.  This is not exactly earth-shattering news for regular readers of this space.  All 2.37 of you.

And I try to support content creators whenever possible.  To that end, I participate in Patreon to help support several podcasts.  To keep my budget under control, I limit my Patreon participation to $10 per month.  As of right now, this is how my contributions break down.

  • Tea and Jeopardy - $3/month.  Used to be $4, but I had a recent addition that I enjoy just about as much.  This is a Hugo award-winning podcast that is well worth your time.
  • The Project Entertainment Network - $3/month.  Again, it used to be $4, but...changes...they happen.  I am a big fan of The Horror Show with Brian Keene.   I haven't been attracted to the rest of their offerings. 
  • The Grim Tidings Podcast - $3/month.  This is that recent addition.  They just started their Patreon campaign.  As the name suggests, Rob and Philip focus on the Grimdark sub-genre.  This engaging duo that asks interesting questions.  And they have the best sound effects! 
  • The Once and Future Podcast - $1/month.  Down from $2.  It is a decent podcast, but my enthusiasm for it is waning.

People that create content may do it as a labor of love, but they also have expenses.  Support their advertisers when you can.  And hitting the tip jar every once in a while is also a good idea.

Review: Shift


Posted on : 10/02/2017 01:55:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Shift Shift by Hugh Howey
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a well-deserved 2-star review.

After the fantastic experience in reading Wool, this book was a notable disappointment.

In Wool, we learned of a world where everyone lived in silos that ran hundreds of stories deep. There was strict control of information and reproduction. And occasionally, people got fed up and took a walk out in an outside world so dangerous that the air itself was a confluence of corrosion and lethality.

At the end of that book, we learn that the decision to live in these silos was not in response to something that was done to us. It was the plan of action knowing what we would do to others.

Shift presents what we did. And it represents a thoroughly unbelievable belief about how the U.S. government functions. A single US senator creates funding for the design and construction of the silos. He sets of a program to evaluate and select those who would be "saved". He uses a pair of US Congressmen to do the design and construction management.

The US President isn't saved. The cabinet isn't saved. The only people that get saved are this senator and those he has selected. The US government simply doesn't work this way.

The book also indicates a lack of knowledge about geology and civil engineering. The location for each silo is excavated before the silo sections are placed. A void is left around the silos to allow remote detonation and destruction. The laws of physics and limitations of geology mean that this sort of construction methodology isn't possible. Structures of that size must be placed on deep piles to support the load. Deep excavations are subject to collapse of the pit walls.

As a last (but not final) criticism, the premise of having a multi-state political convention be the reason to drive people into the silos creates some further issues. The silos are portrayed as having spaces extending from the central hub for farming, manufacturing, etc. The silo residents are also described as largely having no idea that there are other silos in the world. Most of the residents think they are alone in the world. As vibrations will travel a long distance below ground (and a really far distance in stone/tightly compacted earth) the silos would have to be positioned miles from each other to prevent such vibration transmission.

Yet the campaign event that drives everyone into the silos suggests that each silo opening is close enough to the others to permit people to hear the activities at each adjacent location. It is also a short walk from one silo to the next. If the silos were that close together, then the residents in each silo would have easily heard activities in adjacent silos.

The one brief moment of respite in the book was when the political party responsible for this mess is revealed. I laughed.

Read Wool. Enjoy it. Skip the rest of the series.

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Review: Waiting Out Winter


Posted on : 10/02/2017 01:55:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Waiting Out Winter Waiting Out Winter by Kelli Owen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A 3-star review. Really more of a 2.5-star review.

Thought this was going to be a suspense/horror book. Not really a lot of either involved. Perhaps that explains my response as I was expecting this to involve some level of horror that simply was not there.

A fairly pedestrian "something bad happens and some people survive" storyline. The characters were not terribly engaging.

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Review: Fae: The Wild Hunt


Posted on : 9/29/2017 02:02:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Fae: The Wild Hunt Fae: The Wild Hunt by Graham Austin-King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a 3-star review. Really more of a 2.5-star review.

The world building is interesting. The characters also have a lot of potential.

But this is not a complete story. It is the opening to a good story. It appears to be the beginning of a multi-book saga. The book sets up plenty of conflicts, but it resolves none of them.

As a secondary nitpick, one of the societies involved has a significant physical barrier to keep outsiders from attacking them and maintains a capable and highly competent sailing fleet. When faced with the prospect of being an over-populated nation of islands, how do they respond?

By becoming traders? By becoming a place where wealth can be safely deposited?

Nope. They turn into bloodthirsty pirates abroad who have respect for hard work and private industry at home. Erg.

This book could have been so much more, but it ended up being so much less.

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Review: Black City Saint


Posted on : 9/28/2017 02:18:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Black City Saint Black City Saint by Richard A. Knaak
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a 2-star review.

While I have enjoyed some of the author's books in the Dragonlance series, this book was quite disappointing.

Most of the characters were pretty two-dimensional. The female lead character was the most frustrating as she had no existential motivation. She loved the male lead character because she loved him.

The plot was pretty straight-forward; mostly a hard-boiled detective does some detecting-with-magic-thrown-in. The setting (roaring 20s Chicago) was uninteresting.

The only redeeming character in the book was the dragon.

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Review: Truthwitch


Posted on : 9/26/2017 01:14:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Truthwitch Truthwitch by Susan Dennard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a solid 4-star review.

I am not in the target audience for this book. The story revolves around two teen girls developing their magical powers into something greater than themselves. It is a story of two girls that share a strong bond of friendship. And it is a story that involves a moderate amount of romance. I'm really not in the target audience.

I loved this book.

The girls were smart and determined. The world building was meticulous. The variety of magic available offered so many intriguing options for the story. It was largely a well-told story.

There were a couple of areas where it fell a little short.

(view spoiler)

Switch your brain into a slightly lower gear and then enjoy the fantastic story offered in this book.

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Review: Death's End


Posted on : 9/26/2017 01:14:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , , ,

Death's End Death's End by Liu Cixin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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

The one character that I cared about early on dies early on. What is left is a female character that does as she is told and a male character that is the epitome of a cardboard cut-out, mustache-twirling villain.

The plot early on involves a plan to send a very small spaceship towards an attacking force. To be of any use, the ship must be light with a light payload. They use a solar sail and a series of precisely time nuclear bursts as propulsion.

Not only is this a version of propulsion first envisioned by Vernor Vinge roughly over 30 years ago, it ends up failing.

Which is where I closed the book and went on to something better.

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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.

View all my reviews

Fun With Numbers - Hugo Version


Posted on : 5/23/2017 04:28:00 PM | By : Dann | In : ,

A discussion over at File 770 has recently included a bit of statistical analysis.  My statistics background is pretty mediocre.  And it has been a while since I've had to actively use any of the four years of calculus that I took in college.

So I cheated and used MSExcel.  The question I raised was how has Hugo attendance changed in relation to the recent Sad Puppies campaigns.

My point is illustrated thusly:

The Orange line includes all paid membership from Worldcon 36 up through and including Worldcon 71.  The Blue line has the same starting point and runs up through Worldcon 75.  A linear regression trend line has been added for both.  I extended the trendlines for illustration purposes.

I think it is clear that the trend through Worldcon 71 was running slightly negative.  It is now running slightly positive.

The raw data comes from JJ's compiliation.

I disagree with nominating works that one has not read/viewed/heard.  So the point is not an endorsement of any of the SP tactics.  The ends do not justify the means.

For anyone interested in the trend line data, this is what was spit out of Excel.


If we compare a straight linear regression of the data from WC38-71 and from WC38-75, we see a shift from a negative trend denoted by a slope (m) of -11.2 to a positive trend (+44.4)

y = -11.201x + 5875.9   R² = 0.0045
y = 42.426x + 5221.6   R² = 0.0541

Making the same comparison over a longer time frame (WC28-71 and WC28-75) we see a similar upward/positive trend.

y = 70.864x + 3398.5   R² = 0.1989
y = 93.776x + 3044.8   R² = 0.3105

Hugo Awards - Novel - 2017


Posted on : 5/19/2017 02:50:00 PM | By : Dann

I concluded my reading of the novel category for this year's Hugo awards some time ago.  I recorded my thoughts about each book as it was read in this space.  Like others, my ballot changed a bit over time.  The following are my thoughts on this year's nominees.

I have tried to provide a longer narrative on each book after concluding my reading, but you may still encounter some very brief comments such as "a good read" that really isn't very descriptive.  I hope you can forgive the artifacts of my initial impressions.

All the Birds in the Sky

This book featured two very different characters who nonetheless found a great deal of common ground.  And then they lost it.

The boy was a technology geek back in school.  He was an outcast from school.

The girl was some sort of witch/magician.  She was once able to perform actual magic.  She was also an outcast.

Despite the obvious differences in their characters, they were completely connected on an emotional level.  Until that fateful day when they opened up enough to one another that they scared each other.  Then they closed down and went their separate ways.

Skip forward a couple decades and they are both coming into their complete capabilities respectively.  He is an inventor, developer, and technologist capable of achieving technological acts of magic.  She is a powerful witch capable of changing the world.

Yet they both retain doubts and fears about their capabilities as well as about those that they follow/work for.  The technologists want to save the world via technology that the world doesn't want them to use.  The witches/wizards want to save the world by shutting down the technology.  The two sides are diametrically opposed and do absolutely nothing to talk with each other about their concerns and aspirations.

As adults, our two protagonists get back together and learn to trust one another.  It isn't easy, but they find a way to value one another.  They learn the hard way the value of truly listening one each other's concerns.

I've been watching the world go pear shaped for a few decades.  The continuing trend is for people to fail to listen to one another.  Far too frequently, we presume the worst intentions and meanings from the words spoken by those with whom we disagree.

This book suggests listening.  I believe that message is worth repeating.  While world-building, character/reader engagement, and plot/storytelling were on par with Obelisk Gate, that central theme pushed this book into first place on my ballot.

The Obelisk Gate

As indicated above, the difference in the quality of writing between Obelisk Gate and All the Birds in the Sky was small.  One might say infinitesimal, in my opinion.

There were some problematic elements of the story.  One of the larger ones was the suspension of markets and trading due to the onset of this "fifth season".  People are trapped underground with limited resources.  The very best method for ensuring the most efficient and just use of those resources is to involve some sort of economic free trade system.  Instead, people are detailed to certain tasks by each villages leaders.

The characters were thoroughly engaging.  The unfolding world of the series continued to be interesting.

I think what got me most was the author's approach to several issues where I was thinking that in one circumstance I agreed, but in a different circumstance, I disagreed.  It was a book that kept me thinking without hammering on a rhetorical bell.

Now if we could just get Ms. Jemisin a history book so she could learn more about the shortfalls of socialism.  Or perhaps a Venezuelan newspaper?

A Closed & Common Orbit

A great read.  A little heavy handed on the virtue signaling.  A bit anti-science when it comes to the probability/utility of requiring more than 2 genders for procreation.  Very engaging characters.  Hard to put down.  The end was emotionally satisfying, but it felt like a forced happy ending.

There were a couple of very interesting topics that were addressed within the book.  In particular, one such topic was the possibility of an alien lifeform that shifts genders throughout its life.  I thought it was handled pretty well.

The flip side of that was the use of non-cis gendered pronouns relative to the child's game that occurs early on in the book.  That entire section seemed to smack of a saccharine "I know this, therefore, I'm a good person" vibe.

What worked better for me was the AI that ended up being stuck in a mechanical/android body and not being able to deal with the odd feeling that it didn't quite fit.  There are many different ways of translating that emotion.  The author left that aspect open enough so that readers could bring themselves into the story.

The short summary;  read it all, largely enjoyed it, just not as good as the other two.

No Award

Ninefox Gambit

The first book I finished was Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee.  My short take is this was a serviceable tale.  Enjoyable but not really work that is at the top of the field.  There was no real opportunity to develop an emotional connection with the main character, Cheris.  I was starting to develop an interest in Jedao by the end of the book.

Thematically, the book seems to embrace the idea that a change in perspective can shift power.  That can be an interesting theme.

In this case, the book uses mathematics as the mechanism for changing the religion that is the basis for power.  Mathematics changes the calendar which in turn changes their religion/social structure/government.  Mathematics in the form of physical geometry is also a tool used for combat.  If you line people up in a certain formation, then the formation has more or less useful weapons and/or defenses.

I had one constant thought while reading this book.  "So if their religion is altered by math, then what happens when they find out that someone forgot to carry the two?"

Mathematics doesn't work that way.  Incorrectly calculating your expected fuel efficiency on a road trip will not change the distance you travel before running out of gas.

The entire math/calendar/socio-political structure element had me thinking about the influence of delusions on characters.  If I wanted to read about how delusional characters impact a fictional world, I would have reached for Michael R. Fletcher's work long before I would have reached for this.

A couple of other features came to mind in the days after I moved on.

Military units were disbanded and "processed" after a successful battle.  My impression was that the processing involved some sort of memory alteration/erasure.  The simple act of disbanding a successful unit is counterproductive if the objective is to allow a unit to progress based on past experiences.  It undermines esprit de corps.

The "processing" was to have included their company commander.  The story included generals that had risen in the ranks.  How can a general develop memories/historical experiences upon which to base future actions if they cannot retain those lessons learned as a small unit commander?

The second feature of the book is that there didn't seem to be any better alternatives to the government/social structure that already existed.  That structure seemed to be very controlling and limiting.

This may well be a good book at the start of a great series.  As a stand alone novel, it just isn't at the top of the field.  I gave it 4 Stars on Goodreads.

Death's End

Did not finish.  As the book starts off at the fall of the Byzantine empire and then jumped to a future China, I wasn't really sure where the story was going.  But I found the characters in Byzantium engaging so that I gave it a good chance after the jump to China.

The primary character after the jump to China was interesting.  I was curious as to what the author had in mind.

Unfortunately, the rest of the characters were cardboard cut-outs.  I made it almost a quarter the way through when the one character I cared about died, the other protagonist did as she was told by the cigar smoking (and one presumes mustache twirling) antagonist executed an attack on an alien species that used an approach first broached by Vernor Vinge over 20 years ago.

And that attack failed to leave the solar system due to a mechanical failure.  So the first section of the book was pointless and there wasn't anything new within the story thus far.

Which is where I checked out.

Too Like The Lightning

Did not finish.  Not worth my time.  I put it down....enthusiastically!  It read like an indoctrination session where "big ideas" were presented without having logically thought them through to their conclusion.  There were far too many anti-science elements.

File770 denizen Standback had a review that I cannot quickly locate in which they pointed out that the use of ubiquitous and high-speed air cars allowed people to form living structures the superseded local national governments.  This was viewed as fostering human progress as the idea of national governments was considered counterproductive from the view point of the book.

Ironically, humanity already has experienced a technology that allowed individuals to extricate themselves from problematic localities, live in one remote location, and work in another.  It is called "the automobile".

In the American experience, people leaving problematic cities to live in suburbia were (and still are) called racists.  They are criticized for removing their talent and expertise from urban areas.  As we all know, what those urban governments really wanted was control of the wealth generated by that talent and expertise.

Why shouldn't we have a similarly negative view of this new group who propose to exempt themselves from the vagaries of their local neighbors?

The book wanders into anti-science territory by establishing a larger society where gender signaling is reduced to near nothing.  While this sentiment will not buy me any new friends, the fact is that gender is not a social/cultural construct.  Society/culture develop gender patterns as a result of biology and genetics.  Humanity has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years.  Our responses (sexual and otherwise) have been refined in that temporal crucible.

Now those social/cultural responses can certainly get weird.  Consider the practice of using bands of steel to elongate someone's neck to make them more "beautiful" - and easier to kill if they piss you off.  How the hell did any segment of human society come up with that arrangement?  So I am decidedly not defending any specific current iteration of society/culture.

I am suggesting that we cannot alter human responses that have been developed over hundreds of thousands of years of evolution over the course of a couple of decades.  Or even over the course of a thousand years or so as is suggested in the book.  That is particularly true when that change would run counter to the postive human responses are responsible for the propagation of our species.

At one point early in the book, a woman commits the rare act of appearing and acting to maximize her feminine qualities to get men to behave in a manner closer to her desires.  Men like women enough to alter their behavior.  Who knew!  The evolutionary process has made this a desirable feature in human interaction, thus our cultures generally reflect that desirability.

In a further run of anti-science in the book, the viability of the "hives" of human society are maintained by evaluating and balancing the "popularity" that is unattributed to any meaningful evaluation of the social/cultural/governmental conditions of each political faction or "hive".  Utter nonsense.

People do not immigrate to the United States (or every other western government) because the US (or those other western nations) is (are) "popular".  They come here because we have established societies that encourage individual economic and expressive freedom.  Those freedoms translate into the ability of the individual to provide for their families to the best of their ability while reasonably unhindered by their neighbors.

Again, Venezuelan references seem to be most apropos.

Now that I've ranted on these plot elements, here is the biggest problem with the book.  It kept interrupting interesting story lines and interesting characters with tedious demi-diatribes against most every positive feature of our modern society; to include the utility of national borders.

In an interesting twist is that I found the author's blog and was immediately interested in one of her more collegiately oriented pieces.  Time permitting, I would be most willing to read more of her academic work.

This book?  Not so much.


Alternatives?  My enthusiasm for Sebastien de Castell's Greatcoats series is well documented.  The third installment of that series dropped in 2016.  The fourth installment of Emma Newman's A Little Knowledge also dropped last year.  Both were, in my subjective opinion, superior to the books that I put below No Award.

J.R.R. Tolkien Got Many Things Correct, And Many Others Wrong


Posted on : 5/15/2017 09:50:00 PM | By : Dann | In : ,

I originally wrote this back in 2002 on my now defunct Dain Bramage blog that was hosted elsewhere.  I've thought about re-posting it, and a recent discussion over on File770 makes this a good time for re-posting.  Enjoy!


Just this past Christmas, I received a copy of "The Lord of the Rings", "The Silmarillion", and "The Hobbit". J.R.R. Tolkien's series has always held an attraction for me. His writing borders on being magical.

The difference now is that it has been roughly 20 years since I first read his works. With a bit of experience under my belt, the series takes on new meanings. Here are some things that came to mind while reading his books.

J.R.R. Tolkien got so much right.

First of all, I find it ironic that this book should have become first popular in the 60's. One of the major themes of the book is the ability of power to corrupt. Frodo travels far and wide in his quest to dispose of the One Ring. The Ring will grant whoever wears it the power to essentially rule the world.

Frodo has the wisdom to discern between who would do evil with such power and who (he thinks) would do good. This is good for us as he is immediately assailed by those that would do evil (evildoers??) and if he had just turned the durned thing over, we would have a mighty short read indeed.

Consider all who are offered the ring.

Gandolf -- who is essentially immortal, to begin with as well as being a powerful wizard on the side of "good". He rejects the ring several times and comments as well on the burden of temptation.

Elrond -- who likewise recognizes that keeping and not using the Ring simply guarantees that Sauron would win it back someday. He also recognizes that using the Ring would inevitably cause him to either turn to evil or be consumed by the Ring.

Strider/Aragorn -- who in the end is not only proven to be brave and honest but a wise and powerful ruler as well. Strider rejects the Ring as being too great a responsibility for him to bear.

Galadriel -- who is pretty powerful in her own right and is demonstrated to be a very decent person, judges that she lacks the ability to master such power.

Then there is the case of Boromir and his father. Each feels that possession of the ring is within his ability to control. They have a certain unspoken lust for power. Boromir's father, Steward of Gondor in the stead of the missing line of kings, goes so far as to state his opposition to the returning king. He isn't inclined to relinquish power to some unproven upstart. How might things have worked out if HE had obtained the ring?

We also have the case of Sauron and Sarumon. Two who wanted to possess the Ring for their own purposes. One was just plain evil and the other thought his evil was good for other people. Let the world be ordered by the wizards and only good would come of it, or so Saruman thought. Sure, only the "best and the brightest" should have power and they will only do good.

As if those morality plays were not enough, we have the scenes of the hobbits returning to the Shire and finding that someone has claimed that realm for his own. Using big men to rough up any protestors, Lotho has set up whole lists of rules that aren't too be broken. He has set the men to collecting large portions of the local crops to be "shared". Of course, the sharing just means that men in his service have lots to eat while others go hungry.

Lotho also sets about seizing people's property, tearing it down, and essentially "remodeling" the countryside to meet his own needs. The new mill that spews waste into the river is his little piece of handiwork.

Just like any other government, Lotho takes what he desires, sets up poisonous works where he wants and cares little about who gets hurt.

The prosperity of the Shire that came from their previous freedom was destroyed by regulation and taxation. That prosperity was only recovered after Frodo reduced "the Sherriffs to their proper functions and numbers."

As I said at the start, I find it a bit ironic that J.R.R. Tolkien's work became so popular in the 1960's. After all, the politics on college campuses in that era essentially called for greater government intervention into everyone's lives. They were successful Boromirs and we are left with their mess.

J.R.R. Tolkien got so very much right.

He also got so very much wrong.

There is another bit of irony that goes with J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and its popularity in the 1960's. Fans of the book, then as now, point to the simplistic life led by the main characters as being virtuous. They also point out the chapters where a loathsome mill poisons the river as being indicative of economic "progress".

"Simplistic" is an apt word for such thoughts.

"The Lord of the Rings" is filled with metal. Steel swords and armor, iron columns, silver horns and goblets, and of course mithril are present on almost every page.

Metalworking, by its very nature, requires a very hot flame in order to purify, mold, and work the metal. Creating such heat inevitably creates some sort of pollution. Decades ago, Pittsburgh used to be a city of dense smog and smoke from the iron and steel works. Burning coal to refine iron ore cause a lot of pollution. Fortunately, we have better ways of producing steel and iron that are less polluting.

In order to have such a level of metalsmith knowledge in Middle-Earth, there must have been a great many forges. Such operations are by their nature dirty. And because they are labor intensive, they couldn't have been hidden back in the mountains someplace away from the population centers. To the contrary, the forges would have generated population centers.

Another explanation might be a sort of understated racism. The dwarves of Middle-Earth are known for their craftsmanship in metalworking. I guess the mess of metalworking is only acceptable as long as it is kept underground near "those" people. But hey! It is only a book.

Another great anachronism is the sort of idyllic life that everyone leads. Frodo lives the life of a country squire. He does nothing but enjoys life. It is somehow assumed that it is possible to prepare 6 meals a day (hobbit fashion) and then leave enough time for gardening and other interests.

Anyone who has tended a significant garden can tell you that such endeavors consume a great deal of time. When one has no other means of supporting oneself, it consumes all of one's time. There isn't time for 6 meals a day. There is barely enough time for two decent meals and a snack at noon.

Similarly, the elves seem to do nothing. Food appears at the appropriate time and everyone eats their fill. Otherwise, the elves are heard singing in the trees.

These conditions could not exist anywhere in the real world. Only the wealthy and the powerful live such lives of leisure. Everyone else must work to create their leisure.

The only real acknowledgment of reality in the book is when Merry and Pippen end up serving the kings at the feast following the battle outside of Mordor. They stand and serve while others sit and eat.

The creation of wealth requires innovation and technological progress. Only the creation of wealth can end poverty. Attempting to live in a Luddite society only ensures that the poor will continue to remain poor.

On this count, J.R.R. Tolkien got so very much wrong.

Free Books!


Posted on : 4/19/2017 08:39:00 AM | By : Dann

The folks over at Free Novel List are running a sweepstake.  The winner gets 7 free books.  You get 7 more free books just for entering.

You also end up subscribing to their newsletter mailing list.  I use a throwaway address for such things.

Author W.J. Lundy has a couple books in the mix.  I thought his first book was a little weak (1 star), but it showed some promise.  His second book was quite a bit better (3 stars).

There are a couple other authors in the mix that are worth considering as well.

Review: Tales of the Forgotten by W.J. Lundy


Posted on : 4/19/2017 08:38:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , , , ,

Tales of the Forgotten Tales of the Forgotten by W.J. Lundy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I gave the first WTF novella one star. I had this one at two stars right up to the end.

If you have some military service, then this is a good book to read. You will bring to the book your knowledge and past experiences of small unit interpersonal dynamics. You will being your perspective of being deployed or otherwise kept from your family due to operational commitments. You will understand the many motivations that people have for serving, working together, and striving for excellence.

And it is a good thing that you will bring that personal history to the book because it is pretty much assumed that the reader understands these aspects of military life.

The book suffers from a lack of character development.

The characters are little more than cardboard cutouts. More effort is put into describing weapons and tactics than into developing each character's motivations and thoughts.

It reads quite a bit like a pretty good plot development piece for a movie. I think it might make a pretty good movie.

It just isn't that great of a book.

USMC 1984/1992

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Review: Brother Dust: The Resurgence by Steven Beaulieu and Aaron Hall


Posted on : 4/17/2017 05:19:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Brother Dust: The Resurgence Brother Dust: The Resurgence by Aaron Hall
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Brother Dust by Steven Beaulieu and Aaron Hall

3/5 stars. This was a strong 2.5+ star experience.

Brother Dust is properly classified as "science fantasy". The events in the book take place among a spacefaring society. However, the amount of actual science involved is negligible.

The book details the continuing travels of the Solovat empire. The Solovat home world has become infected with some sort of planet killing virus. This virus consumes a planet's "energy". To save their home planet, the Solovats roam from world to world mining each planet for its "energy".

They drill ever deeper into each planet core gathering planetary energy that is then transmitted to Solovat. Once the core has been breached, the planet dies and any remaining energy is sucked off to the Solovat home world. Also, a fair amount of the advanced Solovat technology also uses this planetary energy.

Brother Dust is born on a world that has been prematurely consumed as it is breaking apart. The native inhabitants of that world seem to reflect the native foliage is a sort of chameleon-like behavior. But as the world is broken, it is mostly just dust.

What follows is a meditation involving several different themes. One theme has to do with the environment. Another prominent theme is the relative merit of empires.

Against those themes unfolds the story of a Brother Dust who transitions from enforcing the Empire against a series of unfortunate civilizations to a Brother Dust that seeks to force the Empire to leave the Dastropian civilization alone. He ends up aligned with a nascent rebellion movement.

Brother Dust is so named because he can stop appearing as a Solovat. Instead, Brother Dust can become "dust" that is nearly impossible to kill and is exceedingly effective as a weapon that shreds the lungs of Solovat soldiers and can open doors by slipping through the slightest of cracks. Brother Dust discovers that there is a cure for his "condition". Having lived for so long as dust, Brother Dust gladly accepts this cure that must be re-administered every few days.

The first roughly half of the book is quite good. It is well paced and well written.

The latter half of the book turns cartoonish with Brother Dust turning into more of comic book superhero. Extensive narrative is used to describe fight scenes with round-house kicks, thrown punches, and foot sweeps. The rebellion decides to avoid using lethal force for some reason. Brother Dust continues to accept his treatments despite the fact that they severely limit his ability to fight. Characters start using persuasion in the middle of gun fights, fist fights, and fighting fights.

I dropped out of the narrative at this point and began looking at flaws in the plot and counting the number of instances of poor grammar. Both were found with little trouble. Some of the worst examples involved characters barely limping out of one scene but being able to beat fresh (and unwounded) opponents in the next scene. It takes longer than an hour or two to recover from significant wounds.

Brother Dust suggests that these authors have much to offer in terms of telling a compelling story. It also suggests that they have much to learn about it as well.

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Review: Darwinia by Robert Charles Wilson


Posted on : 4/10/2017 09:48:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Darwinia Darwinia by Robert Charles Wilson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3/5 stars. I'd call it 3.5 stars. Just a little short of what I'd call a 4-star book.

Darwinia has one foot firmly planted in the early 20th-century western culture and the other foot planted.....somewhere else.

For the first half of the book, we follow various characters as they navigate a world where the better part of Europe and the UK have been replaced by an alternative biome. Geographically the "new" old world is close to the same. Rivers make bends at different places. Bogs and marshes appear in different places. Mountain ranges rise up in a familiar but not quite identical fashion.

There appear to be ancient remains of creatures unlike anything previously seen by humanity.

The world is in shock. British citizens around the world work to return to what was formerly Britain to rebuild what was lost. Citizens from various European nations do the same thing, but with less enthusiasm and effect.

With the loss of Europe, including Russia, America is left as the sole power in the world. The American government has decided that this "new" old world should be open to all for settlement rather than remaining the province for European expatriates to re-settle. A low-level conflict ensues.

Instead of trench warfare on a massive scale, we instead see a low-intensity conflict conducted that mainly involves small-scale raids. History has changed, but it still echoes.

And that is where the foot planted firmly somewhere else comes into play. Just when you think this is another alternate history tale, you discover that it is something else. Something more.

Something that involves conflict on a much grander scale.

I found the concept to be interesting. The characters were engaging and the events kept me coming back. The hook...that conflict on a grander scale...just lost me a bit. After the first half of the book intimating questions about religion and evolution, the shift was not only jarring, it undermined the earlier philosophical debate.

Curiously, this was a finalist for the Hugo award for best novel in 1999. This wouldn't be something that I would select for that level of recognition.

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Review: Servant: The Awakening by L.L. Foster


Posted on : 4/10/2017 09:25:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Servant: The Awakening Servant: The Awakening by L.L. Foster
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

L.L. Foster's Servant: The Awakening is the best book that I did not finish. I'm giving it 3 stars in this review.

The premise is straightforward.

God...or "god"...or "something" periodically compels our heroine, Gaby, to destroy demons. A feeling comes over her that is both painful and undeniable at the same time. The pain remains until the demon is dead. Or sent back to hell. The early part of the book is unclear on the religious connections involved.

At the start of the book, the characters bore more than a modest whiff of cardboard. Gaby is an angry loner. That's all you get; anger and purposeful separation from the rest of humanity. She doesn't understand why she has to kill these demons and she doesn't like the compulsion to kill them either.

Her landlord has poor self-esteem. Mort is just wishy-washy in every aspect of his life and relationship with others.

Then there is the handsome and dashing police Detective Luther. The good detective inspires feelings in Gaby. Feelings that she doesn't want to have. He is a bit of a mystery as he keeps showing up at all the wrong/right times. And Gaby experiences an unexplainable attraction to him that also messes up her demon-killing skills.

All very cardboardery. But then midway through the book, the interaction of the characters, as well as the developing threat of a continuing stream of new demons, starts to make things interesting. I bought this book at a Dollar Store and it could have been easily worth the original cover price in terms of entertainment.

The problem....cancer. The hook in the book is that all of the demons end up possessing cancer patients. The villain, in this case, is using the patients as potential hosts for the demons. Instead of doing his job and curing the patients, he is actively making it worse.

And I couldn't finish the book. I've lost too many people to cancer. Seeing their pain as a pathway to demon possession isn't fun for me. I think the book has some potential as the characters start to unfold. I would be open to reading something else from this author in the future. Just not any more of this.

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Rules For A Successful Life


Posted on : 3/25/2017 06:02:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

The following is something I wrote over a decade ago on my old (and now defunct) Dain Bramage blog.  I thought it was worthwhile then.  I think it remains worthwhile.


I've been mulling this over for some time. One of the things that bothers me is the idea that there are some sort of barriers that keep people from succeeding. Some will suggest that it is impossible to break out of poverty.

Impossible? Not at all.

Hard to do? Yup. It takes hard work and dedication.

But how to do it. That's the question. What follows is my answer to that very question.

  • Go to school.
  • Stay in school.
  • Don't do drugs (alcohol and tobacco inclusive)
  • Don't have sex if you can't afford to raise the results. Marriage before having children works best.
  • Graduate.
  • Get a job [or better still, start a business]. Any job. Any pay. Work hard. It's called paying your dues.
  • Get more education. A trade school. The military. College. Something. Something productive that is. It doesn't matter if you have to do it one class at a time. Make education a priority.
  • Get another job [or start another business]. Work hard. Repeat as necessary. It's called climbing the ladder.
  • Save. Make it a priority.
  • Invest. Make it a priority.
  • Avoid credit cards.
  • If one is so inclined, get married and if the inclination is incurable, have kids....after making sure that you can afford to raise them. Somewhere between the ages of 28 and 40 is a good spot for most people if the other rules have been followed.
You can violate a couple of these rules and things will still turn out OK. Perhaps not as good as they might have otherwise, but OK nonetheless. Follow all the rules and you can't miss.

This is the sort of advice that I wish I'd been given when I was much younger. I've fallen into a couple of those traps and digging out is a bear. Better not to fall into one of them in the first place.


An afterwords of sorts. Over the intervening years, I have had a chance to interact with more people.  One of the continuing observations that we encounter more frequently is that western society, and the United States in particular, contains certain cultural obstacles that make it harder for some people to succeed.

Well I agree to an extent.  There are cultural obstacles to success.  There are some people that start the race 100 yards behind the starting line.  There are some people that have to run with higher hurdles in their lane.

None of that changes the utility of this advice.  Where it is incumbent upon those that do not face those obstacles to help reduce those cultural barriers, it is equally incumbent upon those that want a successful life to assimilate the habits that create that success in the first place.