Monday, April 28, 2014

The Veiled Web

The Veiled WebThe Veiled Web by Catherine Asaro
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I've read other Catherine Asaro books and have enjoyed them. In fact, she autographed one for me many years ago and I follow her on Twitter. So I was intrigued when I read the description of this book. However, it was pretty dull and I gave up after getting a quarter of the way through. Lucia, the female protagonist, is a pretty pathetic excuse for a contemporary woman, in my opinion. She falls for a Moroccan stranger who is good looking and into software. She's into the World Wide Web. While this was set in 2010, the book was published in 1999 and feels dated. Lucia's into the old online services like AOL, Prodigy (did that even still exist in 1999?), Compuserve and even the old Genie. Ancient. Netscape is a browser that's still in use. There's AI in web browsing in the book, but that's about as "sci fi" as the book gets. It's more of a romantic "thriller," without many thrills.

Back to Lucia. She's a high school drop out who's a top ballerina. She goes to Italy with her dance company, runs into the Moroccan, takes a drive with him and is kidnapped along with her companion by the driver and several others. They are drugged. And this is where the plot started to bug me. Lucia sleeps. A lot. And is dazed while awake at other times. She leans on her soon-to-be husband, Rashid, (surprise!) for support and he has to carry her around. While he's up and going from his drug induced haze, she sleeps for days. And even after she's up, she can't eat because her dainty self is too queasy. She stumbles across his computer room, but gets weak and has to go back to sleep. Snore. Boring. Weak female in need of strong male presence. Pathetic female weakling. And this from a female author! Where's the strong female character? Is this meant to represent women in general? This bugged the hell out of me, to the point where it was distracting and thus caused me to stop reading. And I'm disappointed because I expected so much more from this author, who has a PhD and is a genius. I guess that doesn't always translate to good writing. If Asaro had been more adventurous in her predictions of computer and Internet usage in the near future, I would have appreciated it. If she had written one of her normal sci fi novels, I would have appreciated that too. This was just a poor excuse to write a weak romance with some religion thrown in. Not a good book and not recommended.

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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Eye in the Sky

Eye in the SkyEye in the Sky by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Eye in the Sky was great fun to read! I think it's Dick's funniest book ever. He had so much humor in his earlier books. The novel centers around Jack Hamilton, a scientist who's fired from his defense contractor job because his wife is a suspected Communist. The book was published in 1957, but the plot takes place in 1959, which is odd because Dick usually places his plots much further out than that. Anyway, Hamilton and his wife go on a tour of a scientific facility that has something called a Bevotron, a proton slicer or something. There are eight people in the tour group, including the guide. Something goes wrong with the device, and it slices through the group and the area they're standing on, leading them to fall a great distance and get knocked unconscious. For some reason, no one was killed. Hamilton wakes up in the hospital, is released, and goes home with his wife. Something is said, and locusts appear out of thin air and attack Jack. Odd. The next day, he travels to San Francisco to apply for a job. However, the place he goes to makes things for a bizarre, twisted, Old Testament-like religion with a god who's spiteful and petty. Hamilton leaves and everything he encounters points to this god, and everyone he meets plays a role in this religion. At some point, Jack and another character end up being taken up to Heaven via umbrella, where a great "eye in the sky" looks at them before hurling them Earthward. Hamilton gradually comes to the realization that this bizarre world is the internal construct of an old war vet who was in the tour group, as he was the only one who remained conscious. Everyone in the group is still at the Bevotron. How do they escape this messed up world? Well, they visit the old man in the hospital and knock him unconscious. Poof! New world. Turns out they're in someone else's world now, a prim and proper Victorian-type world where things disapproved of are wiped out of existence. This makes for a hilarious scene where Jack and the others in the group suggest things to obliterate and things just randomly disappear. Including air. There are several such worlds in this book and each is worse than the last. I think the book fails a little though in assuming that only half of the group is maladjusted enough to have a warped inner world. I think the book would have been better if everyone in the group got to have an alternate world with everyone trying to escape. But that might have made the book too long. The book ends on an up note with Jack and Bill Laws, the "Negro" tour guide, developing a recording company that's going to change the industry. I do want to point out one thing, in fairness to Dick. In past reviews, I've been critical of how black characters are treated, often wondering is the author was racist. In this book, however, the black character is a grad student in physics and is portrayed in a very good light, with criticism leveled at a racist character who shuns him. So that's good. That said, the female characters in this book don't come off very well -- Dick's not always been kind to his female characters. Still, this book was like a hilarious Twilight Zone and I enjoyed it immensely. It's not necessarily his best work, but it's heartily recommended.

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Judgment on Janus

Judgment on Janus (Janus, #1)Judgment on Janus by Andre Norton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As I read this book, I kept waiting for it to get better. It never did. Now, it was intriguing enough for me to read and finish it, but I felt the ending was incomplete and anticlimactic and I was disappointed.

Naill Renfro's mother is dying, so he sells himself into indentured servitude to buy her drugs to ease her suffering. Next thing you know, he's on a world called Janus, owned and working for a "Garthman" who is like a cross between an Amish person and an expert from the Inquisition. I mean, these people are all about sinners and they're pretty mean. Rumors abound of people finding "treasures" in the forests and fields where they work, and as it turns out, they're often cast out because they develop a "Green" sickness. Naill wonders what this is about. And then he finds some treasure. He's taken by its beauty and hides some of it while the rest is destroyed by the Garthmen. One night, he steals out to go see his bounty. Next thing you know, he's been caught and has contracted this Green sickness. Hot and fevered, he runs into the forest where, kneeling before a pool of water, he catches a reflection of himself and is shocked to see a bald, large pointy eared green man staring back at him. Yes, he has turned into "Ayyar of Iftcan." And he remembers things from the Iftcan past. In spots. The Iftcan were an ancient race that lived in the forest and is seemingly long gone. He finds a huge tree with clothing and a sword and sets out to see if he can find others like him. He soon encounters a young woman who undergoes what he did, becomes green, and accompanies him on his adventures. Blinded by light, they move under the cover of darkness, but soon get captured by a being in an old space suit (Naill recognizes it because even though he's now an alien being, he still thinks human thoughts and has his own memories. Quite convenient.) They're herded into a white forest where everything's light and there they find three others like them, all of whom underwent the same thing. They escape their white prison, find a space ship, find goggles in it that will protect them from the sunlight -- but just one pair -- and they continue to try to escape some unknown, unseen evil entity out to get them. They escape to a pool of water called The Mirror, where a huge storm blows up and apparently beats the evil entity and that's the end of the book. I know I just gave away the plot and I'm sorry, but I had to relate just how insipid it is.

This book read more like a fantasy book than sci fi, and apparently Norton wrote fantasy, so you can see how she merged the two. It's okay. I think it would be best for teens. It's not "serious" sci fi. I reminded me of the Narnia series, for some reason. I've read two of Norton's books now and I'll probably read more, but with caution. I'm not convinced she's a sci fi writer who will be high on my list. I'll stick with Philip K Dick, thank you very much. Recommended for adolescents.



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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Pittsburgh Steelers: Men of Steel

Pittsburgh Steelers: Men of SteelPittsburgh Steelers: Men of Steel by Jim Wexell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was really excited when I got this book. It was supposed to have chapters that were stories about some of the more prominent Steelers and I was excited to read about Jack Lambert, Mean Joe Greene, Hines Ward, and others. However, the first half of the book was crazy. It focused on players from the 1950s, most of whom played one to three years with the Steelers and who had no impact on the team whatsoever. I have no idea what the author was thinking when he did this. Some examples: Pat Brady, a punter from 1952-54; Ted Marchibroda, a quarterback for four years; John Lattner, a running back from 1954 who gained 237 yards; Len Dawson, the famous quarterback who spent three years with the Steelers, throwing a whole 17 passes during his time with them; and on and on. Now, why in the world waste half a book on people who made no contribution to the team??? It makes no sense. The author thought they had good "stories," but they really didn't. It's sad. This book could have been good.

On the plus side, Wexell does write some chapters on some more recent Steelers who didn't get much press, but did make contributions such as strong safety Donnie Shell, from the late 1970 Super Bowl teams. He was a Pro Bowler many times and should have made the Hall of Fame, but didn't. It was interesting to see what he, and the others, did after retirement and where they are now. Shell has worked for the Carolina Panthers for years now, but I remember him as the player who intercepted more passes (51) than any other strong safety in history. I wore his number, 31, when I was growing up playing football. Other forgottens include wide receiver Louis Lipps, who was great but whose career in the 1980s was cut short by injuries, offensive lineman Tunch Ilkin, cornerback Dwayne Woodruff, strong safety Carnell Lake, one of my all time favorite players, sack monster and outside linebacker Kevin Greene, who should also be in the Hall of Fame and who always gets close as a finalist in voting. I don't think he'll get in though, even though he holds the record for most sacks from a linebacker, beating out Lawrence Taylor.

However, another disappointment with the book was that it was written in 2006, after Jerome Bettis's Super Bowl win. But it was updated in 2011. I knew that, and I thought it'd be a great idea for the author to update all living Steelers' info that he had written about. However, he didn't do that. He only added two players: Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward. (Why not Troy?) Honestly, this book could have been so much better and it should have been. The author didn't do it justice. He chose players unwisely and didn't update info when he could and should have. Huge mistakes and that's why I'm only giving it three stars. Indeed, I don't know if it even deserves that. Not really recommended.

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Ex-KOP

Ex-KOP (Juno Mozambe Mystery #2)Ex-KOP by Warren Hammond
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was a good sequel to a good first book. It's a hard boiled detective story set in the future on the planet of Legarto. Juno Mozambe, an ex-cop who was a dirty enforcer while he was on the force and who was the protagonist of the last novel, is back, now as a type of private eye. His young ex-partner, Maggie Orzo, is a detective trying to get a promotion. Her new partner, Ian, is a first rate asshole, and I mean mega-asshole. The weird thing about Ian is that just a couple of years ago, he was a puny, perpetually frightened boy working in the prison. Now he's big and ripped and has an attitude. He's taken over as alpha male in the department and he has a crew of cops willing to do anything he says. And he's much dirtier than Juno ever was.

The book starts out with a murder. Apparently there's a serial murderer on Legarto, but it's not being publicized in the media. Only the cops know about it. And Juno. This first one (which is actually the 13th murder) takes place on a boat with flesh eating bacteria doing the job. Ian basically kicks Juno off the boat and things start. Another murder has also been committed. A couple were killed by a laser whip and their hot, young daughter has confessed and is scheduled to be executed in just a few days. The problem is, Maggie thinks she's innocent. So she hires Juno to help her prove it.

Meanwhile, Juno has troubles at home. His wife tried to commit suicide and is locked up in a hospital bed, waiting for a new spine (she threw herself from a bridge) to be grown offworld and waiting for Juno to find the funds to pay for it. The problem is, she still wants to die.

As Juno starts poking around, he starts discovering inconsistencies. He goes to the prison to interview the girl and when he leaves, Ian and his crew show up and rough him up, breaking his fingers on one of his hands while telling him to mind his own business.

Ian has a hot girlfriend, Liz. Ian summons Juno to a bar where he waits to strike a deal with Juno to spy on Maggie in order to eliminate her promotion and get it himself. Juno agrees, but tells Maggie and doubles back on Ian, feeding him information that makes Ian think Juno's doing a good job, but when in reality he and Maggie are working against Ian.

An offworlder named Horst is also involved. He runs a travel agency on Legarto, seemingly for tiger hunts, but in reality, for sex. Oh, and snuff films. And getting to participate in making the snuff films by executing prisoners on death row privately. It's pretty sick and the author does a good job at getting it across to the reader. Indeed, there's lots of sick stuff in this book -- the kinky sex, prostitution, snuff films, incest, and more. It's easy to get grossed out. You have to have a hard stomach in order to read this book. It's gritty and it seems realistic -- the author is very good.

As Juno and Maggie race against time to get Ian and save the girl, things are happening frantically and you have to really keep pace. It's a real page turner and, as a result, a quick read. My only complaint -- and it's a big one for which I thought about eliminating one of the five stars I'm' giving it -- is that big, bad Juno-the-enforcer from the first book becomes a weak, pathetic pussy in this book, easily pushed around by Ian and his crew. It's kind of hard to believe. Juno toughens up as the book progresses, but I found it hard to swallow. Still, I enjoyed the book. Apparently there's a third one in the series and I'll have to get it to read. If it's like the first two, I'll definitely enjoy it. Recommended, but not for the faint of heart.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Forever Drug


The Forever Drug (Venture Silk, #2)The Forever Drug by Steve Perry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This sequel to Spindoc was just as good, if not better, than its predecessor. It was action packed, it read quickly, it was exciting, and it had just enough sci fi in it to justify it as a sci fi novel. Once more, Venture Silk is in the thick of a crazy spy game, this time with his new live-in love, Zia, the master spy. At risk is a new wonder drug concocted on the planet E2, which enables someone taking it to live for 500 or a thousand years or more. As a reward for her achievements on Earth (in the last book), Zia is administered the drug, but Silk is not. Interestingly, one of the side effects is developing telepathy. It makes for some fun scenes. You can tell Perry knows something about guns. Silk is followed and attacked, so he decides to buy a gun, and gets an 8 mm that shoots non-lethal darts. The darts being shot his way, though, are poisoned and quite lethal. A spy is sent from Earth to recover this wonder drug, meanwhile, and decides to take Zia as his prisoner/wife and to reverse engineer the biology of the drugs given her. He also decides to kill Silk and to turn on his handlers and head for another planet to sell the secret of the drug for a king's ransom, as well as taking it himself so he can live forever -- with Zia. Like the first book, there's a lot of sex in this one, but I was more prepared for it this time and didn't feel so much like a prude. Although I've never seen an author so taken with the term "mons" in my life. I've honestly never seen it used in a novel before.... Silk learns to take care of himself in this story, from taking martial arts classes to spying on the spies after him. You see, not only do he and Zia have to watch out for the Earth-based super spy, but other shadowy ones are after them too. It's explained toward the end of the book, and I have to say that I wasn't thrilled with the explanation, but I'll take it anyway because the book was so fun to read. If you haven't read this series, obviously start with the first one, but read this book because you'll likely enjoy it. Recommended.

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Monday, April 7, 2014

Dr. Futurity


Dr. FuturityDr. Futurity by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not a bad book by Philip K Dick. An early one, and therefore a little more linear than his later works. Although, truth be told, toward the end of the book it can get a little convoluted, so it was occasionally hard to follow.

Dr. Jim Parsons gets into a car wreck and is thrown 400 years into the future. He is nearly immediately run over by a young driver, who stops to pick him up. Parsons is confused when he can't understand the young man, and this could have been difficult, but Dick took the easy way out by telling us Parsons gradually started picking up the language and everything from that point on is in English.

Parsons is taken into San Francisco and sees the streets teeming with young people, all looking alike, with Native American looks and features. He enters a meeting in a warehouse, where the occupants are attacked and he successfully saves the live of a wounded girl. Only to be arrested. You see, in this world, death is glorified and institutionalized euthanasia is enforced around age 30. He's sent to a prison camp on Mars, but escapes and winds up on a planet where he finds a plaque made out to him, giving him instructions on how to operate the space ship. Weird, I know. It's actually explained on the last page of the book.

Parsons comes across a tribe of these people whose murdered leader is kept frozen in the hope that he can be restored to life. Indeed, these people are the ones responsible for bringing Parsons into the future in the hopes that with his medical knowledge and equipment, he can bring this man back to life. Turns out he died with an arrow to the heart. This group obviously knows about time travel and had gone back to the 16th century to kill Sir Francis Drake and get rid of all colonizers to establish a Native American society that would last to the present time and beyond. During one of these trips back, this leader was killed.

Parsons travels back in time to witness this and discovers that the man responsible for sending him to a Martian prison is posing as Drake and is there to kill Corith, the leader. However, to Parsons' horror, he confronts Corith to warn him of his impending doom, only to kill him himself in self defense.

Much more time travel takes place and this is when it gets confusing. At some point, there are four time travel ships at Drake's beach with four groups of people observing Corith die. All from the future, but appearing at different times. Parsons wonders which version of himself he'll encounter. He tries to find Corith another time to kill him again, so that when Corith is revitalized, he won't point to Parsons as his killer. Confusing, I know.

At the end, the female leader of the group, Corith's daughter Loris, shows him their two grown children brought about by the one night Parsons and Loris got it on 19 years previously. They ask if he wants to stay with them, but he elects to return home to his real wife and there the story ends.

This is a book about free will, if anything. It's not overloaded with numerous concepts like some of Dick's other works, but it's a good read nonetheless and I read it in less than a day. A must for Dick fans and recommended for others.

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Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Afghan


The AfghanThe Afghan by Frederick Forsyth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Unlike most reviewers I've encountered online, I really enjoyed this book. Perhaps it's because it's the first Forsyth I've read since Day of the Jackal, I don't know. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I really wasn't disappointed.

The plot revolves around British and American intelligence agencies finding out about a super secret Al-Qaeda plot to do something bigger and worse than 9/11. The questions are what, when, and where? Several people are brought in to do something about it and only a few people in both governments know about it. Mike Martin is a retired British paratrooper colonel who has olive skin and grew up in Iraq before moving to Britain. He's recruited to become "the Afghan." The *real* Afghan is a Gitmo prisoner who was a Taliban commander and who's never been broken, and has been in solitary for five years. Martin is going to become this man. A fake trial is put together where it's announced the Taliban leader is being let go and is being handed over to the Afghan government. There, Martin, as the Afghan, "escapes" and makes his was to Pakistan, where he finds help in getting back with the Al-Qaeda forces to fight against the West. Now, the plot was tiresome at times in going over the back story leading up to this. We have to wade through pages of Martin learning Pushtan (he already speaks Arabic), of his learning the Koran, of his learning how to pray properly so he won't trip up and expose himself. The book drags here. And frankly, it drags most of the way through, as it's bogged down with detail. Now I like detail, so I actually appreciated it, for the most part, and I think this is what many reviewers had problems with. Still, it was cumbersome, so I've lowered my rating from five to four stars. Along the way, Martin is connected with Al-Qaeda, who interrogates him to ensure he's really who he claims to be, complete with a scar of his thigh that he had to have made by a CIA doctor. Hints at what the big surprise will be come halfway through the book, as we discover Al-Qaeda operatives researching shipping companies to find a large boat big enough to transport a lot of "goods" from Asia to America. It's pretty easy to guess it won't be a load of silks. But what will it be? When the authorities discover it's coming on a boat, but don't know what or where, they start scanning the ocean and boarding boats, first large, and then smaller. They are operating under the assumption that it's a tanker that's going to be sunk in a canal to demolish things economically by blocking shipping traffic for months. When they realize that's not going to be it, they move on to plan B. Now, I'm not going to give away the ending, but I will say it's somewhat anticlimactic. I thought with everything leading up to it, it'd be bigger, bolder, brighter, more extreme. Instead it was largely docile. Oh well. Really, not a bad book. I read it in less than a day, so it's a quick, easy read. If you can get over extreme detail, I certainly recommend it. I found it fairly compelling.

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