Sunday, March 30, 2014

Alternities


AlternitiesAlternities by Michael P. Kube-McDowell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Boy, there wasn't a single character in this book that was likeable. Not one. The protagonist, Rayne Wallace, a "Runner" who goes between alternate versions of America, is an absolute asshole to his wife, who in turn is a total bitch to him. Wonderful marriage. In one of the worlds he visits, he happens upon an alternate old crush named Shan. We're supposed to applaud their falling in love as he can start a new life, possibly, and finally be happy. Never mind that he's cheating on his wife and leaving his little girl in the dust. Shan seems somewhat likeable -- until she turns him in to the government because of a strange gift he brings her from his world, thus ensuring his capture and interrogation, leading to the climax of the book.

There's also President Robinson, who's a psychotic intent upon starting a nuclear war with Russia, which in this world (the "Home" alternity) is a big bully to pussycat America and which has its nuclear subs appearing in our ports. Robinson's out to change that and nukes one of their subs, which is only a precursor to what he intends to do. And he intends to use these alternate Earths as escape vehicles for he and his government cronies so that they can continue to dominate worlds while their America is obliterated by Russian nukes. Real nutjob.

Then there's Senator Endicott, who discovered the "gates" to these alternative Americas, although we're never told how. He has women from these alternaties brought over for him to serve as sex slaves whom he ultimately murders. And he murders others in his quest for power. Real nice character. He tortures these women first, by the way.

Tackett and O'Neil are also characters and perhaps we can identify with them a bit because they're opposed to Robinson's plans, but O'Neil's a whiner and Tackett is in the dark, which is surprising because he heads the intelligence unit that utilizes these gates to steal things from alternate Americas and bring them back to improve the "Home" America's chances of evening the playing field with the Russians.

Then there's the mysterious maze that lies between the alternate gates with its own demon that destroys people it encounters. That's never really satisfactorily explained, although the author tries to late in the book, to my dissatisfaction.

I wanted to give this book four stars because I like alternate world stories -- Philip K Dick has it down. But the characters in this book have no redeeming qualities and I hated just about everyone I encountered and everything they stood for in this book, and for that reason alone, I can't recommend it.

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Man Who Never Missed

The Man Who Never Missed (Matador, #1)The Man Who Never Missed by Steve Perry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have a hard time rating this book because it started strongly, but after a few introductory chapters, it falls into a giant flashback that takes up about 80% of the book, much of it anticipated by the first chapters. Nonetheless, the book moves along and is engaging and then the end comes -- and it's not what I expected. Or rather, it was what I expected, but I was shocked Perry used this ending. If I tell what happens, I'll give away the story, so I won't do that, but I was somewhat disappointed with the ending, and that brings my ranking down from five to four stars.

Emile Khadaji is a military deserter who split during a gigantic massacre of unarmed rebels. The Confed is the government responsible for this, and he ultimately decides the Confed must go down. In the meantime, he finds a mentor who schools him in quasi-Eastern fighting monk methods and mentalities, goes to another planet to become a bartender -- while meeting a hot exotic chick and having hot, graphic sex -- and then goes to another planet to educate himself. This takes place over a period of years, so there's some potential for boredom in this phase of the book. Finally, he comes to the place where he decides he must make a move against the Confed, but needs funds to start his actions, so he becomes a smuggler in order to become rich (if only it were so easy) so he can fund his own personal war. He winds up on a planet with a special non-lethal weapon which he masters over the course of a year of training, and starts taking out soldiers. By the thousands. All the while, the Confed thinks they have a guerrilla army they're fighting -- but it's just Khadaji.

As I said, I'm not going to give away the ending, but I did think there were alternatives available to Khadaji and I didn't understand why he did what he ended up doing. It simply seemed senseless to me. This book is apparently the first one in a trilogy, so I would be interested in reading the others, but cautiously so. Mildly recommended.

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Simulacra

The SimulacraThe Simulacra by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Simulacra is the funniest Philip K Dick book I've read to date. There were some hilarious moments, very funny scenes. That said, it was often hard to follow and somewhat convoluted. I think one major thing that contributes to this is there are so many characters to keep track of. I think I read somewhere that there are over 60 characters in this book, and I believe it. There really is no primary protagonist. The story is told from the point of view of quite a few characters. Among them are First Lady Nicole Thibodeaux, who has somehow remained ageless for her entire 73 years in office (why no one questions this is beyond me), Richard Kongrosian, a psychokinetic pianist on the edge of complete psychotic collapse, who worries about his his "phobic body odor," as well as his turning invisible. We don't really know whether he has an odor or not or whether he turns invisible or not. It's never made clear. Dr. Egon Superb is the USEA's (United States of Europe and America -- basically the US with Germany now dominating) last practicing psychotherapist, as the practice has been outlawed due to the power of the drug cartels which are pushing their psychotropic medications as the real answer to mental illness. Vince and Chic Strikerock are brothers who are employed at rival simulacrum companies who become caught up in a love triangle with Vince's ex-wife and in corporate espionage as well. Nat Flieger is a record company exec who travels to atom bomb-ravaged northern California, which has a group of people called "chuppers" who are basically Neanderthals. He wants to record Kongrosian, only to find out he's at a psychiatric hospital in San Francisco. Bertold Goltz is a neo-Nazi street agitator who is also a time traveler, using the von Lessinger principle in order to accomplish this. There are two fellows who play classical music with jugs, who get to perform at the White House. There's more, much more.

One of the zany plots is for Nicole, whose presidential husbands of four years are all simulacrums, to try and bring back Nazi Hermann Goering from the past, yet we're never told why. We're simply told he has to agree to their plans (world domination?), but the answer is never really given and this piece of the plot is kind of just dropped when Goering is shot to death by the National Police (NP). There are Loony Luke car dealerships which disappear and move around at will, selling jalopies that make one way trips to Mars. There are aliens and talking advertisements the size of bugs that everyone hates. There's a device where people make confessions, although the confessing people are treated as though they're being given lie detectors, making for uncomfortable scenes. There are also characters who kind of disappear from the plot, such as Edgar Stone, a conapt resident, and Israeli prime minister Emil Stark. Why are they dropped? What happens to them?

Nicole is treated as the mother of the country, as well as the conceptual mistress, because she's totally hot and everyone loves her to death. Her secret? She's an actress. The original one's been dead for some time. She's really a pretty well developed character, unlike a number of the others, and it's a pleasure to watch her and Kongrosian in action.

Like many Dick novels, this one ends abruptly, but unlike many of his novels, I thought it wasn't tied up very nicely. I thought it was too open ended and could have been written for a sequel. I would give the ending 3.5 stars; actually the entire book 3.5 stars. This definitely isn't his best work, which is surprising since it was published in 1964, his best writing phase in my opinion. If you're new to Dick, I wouldn't start with this book, but for Dick fans, it's a must read. Cautiously recommended.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

KOP

KOP (Juno Mozambe Mystery #1)KOP by Warren Hammond
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Seldom have I enjoyed a novel so much as I enjoyed this one. It's a gritty, noir mystery wrapped up in a sci fi package and it doesn't disappoint. I feel drained from reading it and I don't think I can write anything worthy enough to do it justice, so I'll just highlight some things for those reading this review.

Juno Mozambe is a bad man. Yet he's a cop. A dirty cop. Very dirty. Former enforcer for the Chief of Koba’s Office of Police (aka KOP) on Lagarto, a world that once exported a type of wine that got taken off world and was produced elsewhere for cheaper, thus leaving Lagarto a giant slum, for all intents and purposes. When we meet Juno, he's working as a bag man for the boss, taking bribes, hiding a shaking hand and thinking of retirement. He's been on the force for 25 years. Things seem grim.

Things get much more grim when a brutal murder occurs with potential political ramifications, in which he's pulled in to act as investigating officer, with a new partner -- a younger, attractive, rich woman who plays by the book. What follows is a brilliant novel of hard boiled twists and turns, mysterious characters and motives, a lot of violence, some of which can be hard to stomach, and it's a page turner til you get to the end. The characters are well written, and feel real and believable the entire way through the book. There's not a lot of technology here, though, so I guess the setting on a distant world makes this sci fi -- the plot could take place anywhere, any time -- but when you finally realize toward the end of the book what's actually going on, you could care less -- you've been sucked in.

Everyone in this book is dirty. Juno is a kind of anti-hero, but one you can identify with. His new partner starts playing by his rules soon enough, and you sympathize with her as she struggles with what she wants to do versus what she must do to solve this case. Juno reverts to his enforcer role, beating confessions out of thugs and criminals, but does this make him just as bad? That's never really answered, even though the book throws that out there.

Juno, and the boss he's so devoted to, his former partner Paul Chang, took over KOP 25 years ago by making a deal with the largest crime syndicate, effectively splitting up the city between them. The new mayor wants to clean house, but he's as big a crook as everyone else.

I kept waiting for the pacing to slow down, as many books have slow middle sections, but this one never did. It kept pushing the envelope. Furious pace. I strongly, strongly recommend this book to all sci fi and mystery fans. I don't think you'll be disappointed.






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Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself

Things I Overheard While Talking to MyselfThings I Overheard While Talking to Myself by Alan Alda
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I like Alan Alda. I think he's funny and smart. I enjoyed his first book, his autobiography, so I got this expecting more fun stories from his life. And I was disappointed. Essentially the book is a collection of commencement speeches he gave verbatim to various college and high school graduating classes, surrounded by supporting detail as to why the speech. There was some insight and wit displayed in the speeches, but there was nothing on MASH, nothing on his co-stars, little on his movies and plays, and I wanted that -- not fatherly advice to youngsters graduating. I got to page 124 and gave up. I feel let down. If he writes a third book, I doubt I'll read it. Not recommended for MASH fans.

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Friday, March 7, 2014

The Jericho Iteration

The Jericho IterationThe Jericho Iteration by Allen Steele
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not a bad book and a big departure from Steele's normal space adventures. This one revolves around Gerry Rosen, a reporter for a St. Louis alternative newspaper in a post-quake city disaster. It has been a good 10 months since the quake hit, but the Emergency Relief Authority (ERA) refuses to leave. They are the Gestapo in this story, and yet they're spoiled rich prep kids in uniform, trying to avoid normal military service. That was odd. When Gerry's best friend and fellow reporter ends up dead while investigating something mysterious involving the Tiptree Corporation and its recently released satellite, which is circling the earth in order to spy on American citizens and possibly engage in military action, Rosen retrieves his friend's notes and becomes a target of assassins himself.

While I enjoyed the book, it takes place in 2013, not too far off from the 1994 publication date of the book. Yet it's amazing how much Steele got wrong about future technology. He got palm computing right, I'll admit, but you've still got modems, floppy discs, etc., etc., and the artificial intelligence that he writes about toward the end of the book has probably already been duplicated 20 times over by now. I think he even used DOS. Pretty funny.

So, Steele's not a future teller, like Philip K Dick was, but he still tells a good story and it is pretty riveting, and while it's not a five star book, I do heartily recommend it for all.




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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Solar Lottery


Solar LotterySolar Lottery by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As this was Dick's first published novel (1955), I think it's a pretty good effort. It's certainly more straightforward than many of his later mindf***s. In this world of 2203, the world is ruled by the Quizmaster, who oversees a lottery which is supposed to give everyone an equal chance at the position. The thing is, you really don't want to win this lottery because with it comes the sanctioning of assassins who are chosen by a televised convention to kill the Quizmaster. The average Quizmaster lasts about a week.

However, Reece Verrick has been in the position for 10 years and wants to hold onto his power. The irony, then, lies in the spin of an actual bottle, which chooses a new Quizmaster, Leon Cartwright, a member of the Preston Society, an odd type of cult which is seeking the Flame Disc, the mythical 10th planet at the edge of the solar system which Preston had written about a long time ago.

The protagonist is Ted Benteley, a man released from his job with one of the powerful global entities which one has to swear fiefdom to. He attempts to get a job with the Quizmaster, not realizing Verrick has been deposed. He's cajoled into swearing allegiance to Verrick, and is then whisked off to their new headquarters where they're preparing the ultimate assassin.

At the same time, members of the Preston Society have boarded a rocket and are headed into outer space in search of the Flame Disc, a plot line which plays a far greater role toward the end of the book.

In this book, Dick's target for criticism isn't the usual black man, but females. They're all negative stereotypes of 1950s-era femininity, but maybe since he was writing in that decade, he can be forgiven. I don't know. The women are dependent and manipulative, and it gets annoying.

One of the cool things about the book, though, is the Corps, the teeps who are telepathic and whose duty it is to protect the Quizmaster. It's interesting to see them wrestle with the assassin, and the creation of this virtually unbeatable assassin is simply brilliant.

Dick deals with themes of power, corruption, telepathy, space travel, and more in this novel. As previously noted, it's more linear than his later novels, which was something I kind of appreciated. I wouldn't recommend it as his first book to read, but if you like sci fi or if you're a PKD fan, I heartily recommend it.

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His Way


His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank SinatraHis Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra by Kitty Kelley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kitty Kelley apparently interviewed more than 800 people in researching and writing this book, and at times, it really shows. There's a lot of detail here. A lot of stories I had never heard before. That said, it seems Kelley really slants this book toward showing what a complete prick Sinatra was. I mean it was it’s one nasty story after another about Sinatra acting like a horrible thug.

The book starts with Sinatra's upbringing in Hoboken, NJ. In later years, he would talk about his rough childhood, of running with the toughs of the neighborhood, but in truth his family was very well off, perhaps even rich, and he was a bit of a dandy running around with lots of fancy clothes and money to spend. His mom was the town abortionist! Sinatra's Italian roots are discussed in detail, so when he marries a nice Italian girl, it makes sense. At the time, his singing career was starting to take off, and he was a horrible husband, picking up girls left and right to have sex with as often as possible. He had several children with his first wife, Nancy, but ultimately the marriage didn't last, even though she spent her days pining for him, thinking he'd come back to her. He left her for the actress Ava Gardner, his one true love. They fought like crazy, but were passionate about each other. Ultimately, however, their marriage couldn't stand up to the craziness and it disintegrated, leaving Sinatra tortured for the rest of his life. He married a few more times after Ava, but kept pictures of her all over his house.

His manager really arranged things so that Sinatra was promoted brilliantly, ultimately becoming the number one singer in America on the strength of the "bobby soxer" teenage girls who went absolutely nuts when they saw him, many even passing out at his concerts. It was weird to read about.

A lot of the book deals with his relations with the Mafia. He was really drawn to the Mob, and became good friends with many important mobsters. Because of this, he was subpoenaed to testify before various committees and would outright lie about ever knowing any of them, even though there were countless eyewitnesses to them setting up singing deals for him, for their exchanging gifts, for all sorts of stuff.

And Frank had the temper to beat all tempers! Wow, that was something to read about. He hated the press and would threaten them, even having some beaten up by his bodyguards. He hated a lot of people and would rip anyone who ever dared criticize him, especially in print. He held grudges for life, and was just a total dick. I hated him when I read this book, which is sad because I've enjoyed his music for so many years. He told raunchy jokes in his acts and would savage writers and others in these same acts. Frankly, I have no idea why so many people put up with his crap over the years.

He turned from a Kennedy loving liberal to a Reagan loving conservative, and the author never really gives us a clear indication why. It just happened.

His movies are also treated in the book, although perhaps more emphasis is put on his bad movies than his good ones. Whatever the case, he was a jerk to work with and wouldn't rehearse, if at all, more than once. Perhaps that's why he was so bad in so many movies....

He sued to have this book stopped from being published, but he lost, so I'd guess that much of what this book asserts is probably true. If so, Sinatra was the devil and I've lost all respect for him, which is a pity. Recommended if you want an interesting behind the scenes look at Sinatra.

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